Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category
By AARON COLE
Adding to your flock is no easy feat.
Converting the masses to a new way of doing things is always a bit tricky.
There’s always the Scientology method — a bit scary maybe, but without Tom Cruise, who’s your face man? Chick-fil-A has a faithful following. But then again they also have delicious chicken sandwiches.
Then there’s the Subaru method. Although the automaker is known best for its quirky wagons, the Forester accounts for nearly 25 percent of their sales nowadays, second only to the Outback. Sales horse that it is, the Forester is really the Subaru with the most potential to sway new buyers to the brand. It’s front and center in Fuji Heavy’s plans for world domination. After all, the compact crossover segment overall attracts roughly one-bazillion buyers worldwide. Approximately.
I imagine that’s why, during the height of the third-generation Forester’s popularity in 2012, Subaru offered an evolutionary step with the new 2014 Subaru Forester. Why mess up a good thing already?
Then when engineers start talking about reflections off the hood distracting drivers’ eyes, you know you’re in for some seriously nerdy stuff. Subaru took the fanatical approach of opening up the Forester’s cabin like the Popemobile for better visibility, inside out. Besides the aforementioned hood reflection, Subaru moved the A-pillar forward nearly nine inches (for better outward visibility and smoother aerodynamics) added a quarter window to the driver and passenger’s windows (a la Impreza) and bumped the front seats up 1.4 inches for a taller riding position. In fact the Forester’s new optional power lift gate in the back was designed without sacrificing any portion of the rear D-pillar by beefing it up for the gate’s motor in the back. The effect is greater visibility around the car — engineers said they wanted a driver to notice a small child standing outside the car, all the way around — and a welcome departure from other automaker’s designs that focus on sleeker body panels on the exterior at the cost of some visibility.
A common refrain for Subaru owners has long been the trade-off between fuel economy and all-wheel drive capability. For 2012, the Forester was the first beneficiary of the newest boxer engine in over a decade, which returns again this year. That engine, a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder produces 170 horsepower, was hamstrung by a four-speed automatic transmission that was outdated the day it was announced. This year, the 2.5i model is mated to a CVT gearbox that wrings mileage out of the new mill, 24/32 mpg, or a new six-speed manual that returns slightly less in base models only. Keeping with tradition, Subaru is also rolling out for the first time its newest turbocharged engine in the Forester XT, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that bumps the horsepower figure to 250 horsepower and 258 ft.-lbs. of torque at 2,000 rpm. The application is exciting for enthusiasts because it’s likely the same engine to appear in the coming Impreza WRX and perhaps a variant in the BRZ. (Subaru officials said it couldn’t be the exact same engine as the XT’s as the bottom of the engine would drag on the ground in the BRZ. We can only dream.) The XT also receives bigger brakes and a suspension upgrade to add more value to the 5 percent of Forester buyers Subaru projects will pick the turbo over the base engine option.
Both models come with Subaru’s new 1990s-named X-Mode that tempers throttle input and adds a hill-descent control option. The XT also receives SI Drive, a carryover from WRX STI programming that allows drivers to select Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp modes with varying degree of suspension hardness and throttle response.
Outside, the exterior of the new Forester should be instantly recognizable to anyone with mildly operational eyesight. The 2014 model retains most of its boxy characteristics that were introduced when the car came stateside almost 15 years ago and unique to the Forester only — and barn doors. The newest Forester bags the old front fascia in favor of a newer more aggressive mug this time around however, and the XT gets special treatment with front inlets that give the Subie more menacing jowls, further distancing the turbo models from its base brethren. The grille gets new treatment as well, ditching the metal grid for a single solid metal bar across the top. (The barn door thing is just a joke, the car’s coefficient of drag is lower this year, a slippery .33 compared to .37 last year.)
Forester is bigger this year, albeit incrementally, to bring it more in line with the expanding offerings of its competition, the Honda CR-V and Toyota Rav-4. This year’s model is 1.4 inches longer, with one inch added to the wheelbase, a half-inch for the width, and 1.4 inches added to the overall height. Ground clearance remains the same, 8.7 inches, which is good enough to tackle 99.9 percent of anything that a normal Forester buyer would throw at it. To prove that point, Subaru’s staff threw miles of dirt driving in Tucson, Ariz., and an abbreviated off-road dipsy-do course to prove that point. Although the dirt drive was prolonged at points, it was effective at showing that the Forester should appeal to buyers eager to recreate their own Bio-dome 50 miles outside of the nearest paved road. What exactly fertilizes the basil there?
For kicks, or to prove that Subaru owners are willing to track any car they buy, we were offered a small sample of what the Forester could prove on a track — if you should ever find one between the store and home. Helmet on, tires screeching, we now know it’s possible to whip the family ‘ute around the bends at high-speed; considering the tall Forester’s body roll, however, it’s advisable to stock the front seatback pockets with plenty of air sickness bags if that’s the route you pick. Note: Acceleration in the XT model (the only one we could take on the track) was surprising, even if you forced the Forester into a higher gear to seek out lower revs. Low-range power is useful in mountain passing, especially considering the CVT’s bane has been kicking down gears and finding higher revs in high-altitude driving. That process has hardly been fixed in the 2.5i model, however the noise-reduction process undertaken by engineers this year seems to have flattened the traditional CVT whine during prolonged high revs. The turbo model remedies this transmission niggle by responding with plenty of pedal when you ask for it.
The base, 2.5i will appeal to most buyers, especially at $21,295 to start. Handsomely equipped, you can easily slide in under $27,000, a feat when considering how costly some small crossovers can be. (Range Rover, I’m looking at you.)
Models will start hitting dealers later this month, but advertisements are already hitting the airways, complete with cute puppies and heartwarming stories.
Maybe Scientology would do better with an ad campaign.
Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He knows he’s wrong, but he’d rather hear it from you. Reach him at email@example.com or at @ColeMeetsCars on Twitter.
By JORDAN JOLLEY
When Hyundai first introduced the redesigned
Sonata in 2010, the press was blown away. They dubbed it “fluidic sculpture”. No one had ever seen a Hyundai look so… well, ridiculously attractive. Suddenly, Camrys and Accords were shaking in their sheet metal everytime the in-your-face-styled car pulled up. The Sonata made a massive dent in the midsize sedan class that no one saw coming. In fact, the Sonata went from one of the lower-volume selling midsize sedans, to the top five in its first year and has stayed there ever since.
Whether you decide the base GLS model is for you or the top-of-the-line Limited model, both embodying the fluidic sculpture inside and out. The showstopper exterior styling is exceptionally sleek and fluid. Its sleek exterior design is synonymous with its interior features and controls. The smoothly flowing center stack and vertical vents are adorned with attractive, rich materials all encompassed in its Y-shape.
It’s easy to see that Hyundai doesn’t mess around when it comes to properly equipping each model, including the base model. The GLS is still packed with all sorts of goodies like cruise control, keyless entry, power locks and windows, adjustable steering wheel with audio controls, CD and MP3 player, a plethora of airbags, traction control, ABS, Electronic Stability Control and goes on. The GLS engine is a 2.4 direct injected inline 4-cylinder that produces a healthy 200 horsepower and 186 lb. ft. of torque all pushing power smoothly through a six speed manual or automatic transmission.
Thanks to the Sonata’s 35 highway mpg rating, road trips are no longer a thing of the past– due to gas prices of course. All of this starts around $20,999. For just under $3,000 more, the next option is the SE trim, which includes navigation and a sunroof.
For more eco-conscious drivers there is the Sonata Hybrid. The hybrid still features the beautiful body of its siblings, yet can achieve an even more impressive 40 highway mpg rating with pricing starting at $25,850.
And then there is the Limited, which I had the extreme pleasure of driving for nearly a week. If the standard list of equipment isn’t enough, this bad boy has all of the bells and whistles. It handles extremely well in the snow, which is pretty important if you’re going to live in Utah, where we not only have snow storms, but apparently ice storms now too. Oh, and did I mention that the Sonata’s four heated front and rear leather seats was a favorite feature for all passengers in the car. Sonata owners don’t have to suffer through Utah’s subzero temperatures with just the touch of a button.
Along with heated seats, the Limited model also includes Hyundai’s Bluelink, voice controls, paddle shifters, and infinity sound system. The Limited 2.0 turbo engine is so quick that I almost forgot I was in a sedan. Every time I punched the throttle I found myself with a grin from ear to ear. It feels like a V6, but has the fuel economy of a 4 cylinder– 34 highway mpg rating to be exact. To make things even better, Hyundai priced the Limited model starting at an affordable $27,595. Who would have ever guessed fast, fun, safe, affordable, and fuel-efficient could all go together?
A special thank you to Ken Garff Hyundai for giving me the opportunity to become a believer in Korean cars, especially in the Hyundai Sonata. Ask for Andy at Ken Garff Hyundai to show you exactly what I am talking about. He can help you get into this lean machine with qualifying discounts of up to $5,000 dollars. Tell him Jordan sent you.
By AARON COLE
Syndicated Auto Columnist
Like tectonic plates crashing to form the Rocky Mountains, the middle U.S. that calls itself the Mountain Time Zone is an automotive smashup of separate evolution that creates the most interesting traffic jams.
Today in the dead-reckoning of winter, for instance, while observing a flustered mother of three haranguing her children in the back seat of a carrier-class SUV hybrid I also spied a rear-wheel drive sports car (no snow tires), a Reagan-era wagon (snow tires installed) and a micro car shifting through them all on the interstate (probably from California.)
Oh and every other car on the road seemed to be a Subaru.
Look closer into that traffic jam and you’re likely able to spot what used to be the automotive equivalent of a wild panda cub running down a city street too, the Subaru Legacy. Binoculars not necessary.
(Did I mention our mountain states were weird? Maybe that’s why one of us legalized marijuana.)
That’s not to say that the four-door Subaru Legacy sedan is rare for the sake of being unusual. As a brand last year, Subaru posted 26 percent growth thanks to a renewed, more fuel-efficient Impreza. Sales of the Outback were up 13 percent thanks to a better engine-transmission marriage.
Sales of the Legacy were up 11 percent last year too — and that’s not because everyone in Boulder bought a new one.
See, in the Galapagos Islands of mountain state car dealerships, we embraced the idea of an all-wheel drive sedan early on. Traction to all-four wheels is an evolutionary necessity like the ability to function at high altitude with less oxygen. Call it allopatric speciation.
We understand the importance of all-wheel drive through most of the year, the rest of the country does not. Therefore the Subaru Legacy — all-wheel drive first, sedan second — thrives in areas like ours, but didn’t make much sense anywhere else.
That started to change in 2010 when Subaru introduced the newest generation of the Legacy. This iteration had grown up over previous years like a pressed pantsuit and carried a serious attitude when it came to normal sedan detail. The back seat was bigger, the powertrain was more responsible with fuel and the exterior looked like it had rolled out of an life insurance convention.
Likely then, shoppers looking for a mid-size sedan in the Sunbelt didn’t pass by the Legacy and discard it only as a mountain-state tumbler. The dressed up outside seemed to attract — gasp — new adult buyers.
For 2013, the Legacy’s biggest improvements get even more mature. New this year is Subaru’s EyeSight management system, a two-camera safety setup at the top of the windshield that detects pedestrians, cars and road hazards if the driver isn’t paying attention.
The system governs the adaptive cruise control in the Legacy (the cruise control that regulates speed based on how far away the car ahead of you is) and can completely avoid crashes if the Legacy is behind another car with a closing speed of less than 20 mph. For instance, if the car ahead of you is doing 75 mph and you’re behind at 65 mph, the system can avoid the crash altogether. If you’re closing in faster than 20 mph, the system will use it’s pre-collision braking system to reduce the impact, but not avoid it.
The same system also performs more menial things like lane departure and lane sway and the ever more increasingly important task of avoiding pedestrians if you choose to text behind the wheel of a moving car in the parking lot of the grocery store and nearly hit me on Tuesday. Thanks a lot, guy in red flannel shirt.
All of the features that the EyeSight provides aren’t really new. Some automakers have offered similar systems, such as Volvo and Mercedes, for a few years now, however most are bundled with multiple other safety systems and packages that can run into the thousands of dollars quickly. Subaru’s EyeSight runs around $1,300, and like the others, is currently only available on premium models with navigation and a moonroof options ticked bringing the total cost up $3,500 over the car’s base price. In other words, if you’re worried about the safety of others feel free to enjoy the night sky too.
The trump card Subaru can play with the Legacy is that it’s priced competitively to begin with. Starting at $21,095, the sedan features the newest horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine from Subaru, a 2.5-liter mill (my pick) with 173 horsepower and 174 ft.-lbs. of torque, married to a six-speed manual transmission. For $1,000 more you can get a CVT transmission that wrings the motor out for every mpg available, up to 32 mpg. That price runs all the way up to $33,667 like our tester with a 3.6-liter, six-cylinder boxer engine (256 horsepower) and normal five-speed automatic transmission (my preference) with nearly every gadget and option marked along the way. (That also drops the fuel economy down around 20 mpg too)
That puts the mid-size Legacy in the wheelhouse of every other sedan in the world albeit some of those competitors do not offer all wheel drive. To its credit, the Legacy sedan is a sportier drive than most, with a chassis that hammers through the corners better than others and a steering feel that’s lively and responsive without being too taxing during everyday drives. To its detriment, the Subaru’s interior may not be as welcoming or as palatial as others.
But the evolution of the Legacy is unmistakable. Features like added safety gear and a stuffed-shirt exterior means that the Legacy is looking to move from the automotive island of Dr. Moreau into the mainstream.
We’ll still be here, Subaru. Probably stuck in traffic too.
Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He knows he’s wrong, but he’d rather hear it from you. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @ColeMeetsCars
By AARON COLE
Meat sandwiches. More than 70 minutes of whale sounds. Xanthan Gum. Half-used brick of Speed Stick.
All of the above meet my criteria for “Things more exciting than a crossover.”
That’s not necessarily a dig at the 2013 Chevrolet Equinox — a compact crossover that gets overlooked more than table salt — at all.
Do you find the dictionary exciting? Probably not. But you find words in the dictionary, and that’s what makes it highly useful. Same goes for the Equinox.
Nearly 184,000 people found the Chevrolet Equinox useful in 2012, (that’s how many GM sold last year) which was good enough for a top 15 finish among all auto sales for the U.S. and the fourth-best selling model for General Motors behind the Silverado, Cruze and Malibu. That’s a lot of meat sandwiches.
The name alone evokes somewhat of a sleeper feeling already. The car is equal parts family car and cute commuter, identically feature-less and feature-rich, symmetrically uniform and proportionate to whatever the task you’re asking.
For the highly competitive segment that the Equinox competes in — alongside the Toyota Rav4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Hyundai Santa Fe — that kind of anonymity is preferred by automakers because “unique” equals “alienated buyers.”
The 2013 Chevrolet Equinox therefore mostly falls in line. The body is nearly identical to the 2012 edition, which was nearly identical to the 2011 edition, which was nearly identical … you get the idea. The four door crossover is handsome in its presentation, with a 6.9-inch ground clearance and 112-inch wheelbase that is deceptively larger. The second-generation Equinox holds its own three years into its life cycle as other models, such as the Rav4 are rolling out significant updates to their body styles for 2013.
New this year for the Equinox, however, is a curiously upgraded V6 option. Last year the Equinox was offered with either a 2.4-liter EcoTec four-cylinder engine that produces 182 horsepower and a 3.0-liter V6. The former engine option remains, but the latter has been replaced by a 3.6-liter V6 that offers 301 horsepower, up from 264 last year, while returning the same fuel economy figures from the smaller 2011 engine.
Whereas most compact crossovers are either downsizing V6 engines, or eliminating them altogether in Ford’s case, Chevrolet has increased the size and horsepower of its bigger engine offering year-to-year in their best-selling crossover. That may be interesting to some — although not likely — but the bump in spec is likely due to a broader application and engineering enhancements on the 3.6-liter engine instead of an across-the-board call for Equinoxes to hit drag strips across America.
Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that helps the four-cylinder engine hit the mid- to high-20s in MPG and the V6 make around 22 to 23 mpg in cruising.
Although our test model was fitted with the larger engine, I’m guessing the four-cylinder is adequate for most applications — including all-wheel drive.
The Equinox comfortably seats five adults, albeit at the cost of a little cargo room in the back. The interior is quiet and unobtrusive, exactly what crossovers should be. The center console and display feels a little too far away from the driver, although the menu system and Bluetooth setup for streaming audio is solid. Our tuning knob on our test model didn’t work properly when the temperature dropped, but that’s just small stuff to look at when buying a crossover.
On-road handling probably doesn’t fall within most crossover buyer’s checklists, although the Equinox’s suspension is among the best in its segment. The Equinox’s FE2 suspension package comes on the V6 LTZ model, like our tester, and gives somewhat of a reason to look forward to corners in an Equinox. All-wheel drive comes as a $1,600 option, and it’s likely preferred for mountain states. Same goes for the upgrade from the four-cylinder to V6, that’s $1,500, and it’s probably worth the cost for mountain passing and not having to flog the smaller engine.
The entry price is likely the most attractive option for buyers as the Equinox starts at just over $24,000 and can rise quickly to $36,685 like our V6, all-wheel drive test model. Value for money might be exciting like Speed Stick but it’s useful and it’s a good reason as to why so many people might be interested in the Equinox.
As for the runaway popularity of the Equinox, it’s clear the unassuming characteristics may be the most popular part of one of GM’s best-selling cars.
A bigger, more robust engine coupled with a better suspension for the class helps the Equinox stand out, but the compact crossover’s ability to meld into everyday life and be more than serviceable.
What’s the definition of functional?
I think I know something that can help with that.
Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He knows he’s wrong, he’d just rather hear it from you. Reach him at email@example.com or @ColeMeetsCars
By Aaron Cole
for Utah Rides
Sometimes playing it safe amounts to playing it right.
Thus is the case with the 2012 Lexus CT200h.
Lexus, the luxury arm of uber-seller Toyota, has been making a name for itself in recent years by “manning up” its line of softer-stanced cruisers, making cars that appeal more to grand aspirations than grandpas, as it were.
Recent overhauls of the Lexus GS and ES series prove that point. Both car lines received more aggressive styling — in the case of the GS and CT, F-sport trim lines that visually mimic the over-the-top performance F Sport series — and in all cases a corporate kick in the pants that’ll help the automaker appeal to younger audiences.
In the case of the hybridized CT200h, that’s all well and nice. But for the Prius-platform version of the Lexus, the younger crowd was already in the bag.
From the beginning, the CT200h was meant to capitalize on the green luxury car business that would eventually spring up from higher mileage requirements.
According to Toyota, the average Prius buyer wasn’t exactly the same compact consumer that would typically shop that type of car. Toyota discovered that Prius buyers had more money to spend than the $24,000 Prius entry price begged, and that some were asking for a little more glitz with their green. Offering a Prius-inspired Lexus model that starts at $5,000 more, and with more options that could run the asking price up to nearly $40,000 (our $39,940 test model was equipped with nearly every option, including $1,100 for premium stereo, $2,500 for more tech and $2,330 for added F-sport equipment) the CT200h would appeal to affluent, carbon-conscious buyers.
The four-cylinder Atkinson motor paired with a nickel-metal hydride battery made the generational leap for the automaker a few years ago when it supplanted the Lexus HS as the company’s flag-bearer for green living. Younger buyers appreciated the content that the Lexus could offer above the Prius — leather-esque seats, upgradeable navigation and stereo — and the company reported record sales year-to-date for the CT, up over 12,000 units from around 7,000 this time last year.
Part of that can be attributed to more distance from the press Toyota received several years ago and part of it can be attributed to an increased awareness for the brand over a year ago. Part of it too could be that the CT200h doesn’t look like a well-worn moccasin either.
For 2012, the company went all Carly Rae Jepsen on buyers and added an F-sport trim line that adds bigger 17-inch alloy wheels, sport pedals and bigger spoiler to an already attractive package for younger, well-heeled buyers. Not to be confused with the F Sport line, the trim level offers the face without the force of a say, a neutron bomb, under the hood.
Meaning, the F-sport package doesn’t add performance to the relatively homely CT200h. That is to say, the combined 134-horsepower engine/motor is the same, as are the lateral performance dampers and hydraulic mounts that limit body roll in the corners. The car still accelerates from 0-60 mph in the same 10-second range as the un-sportier models, but like standard CT200h, the car is spry without being too fast.
Based on the same architecture as the Prius, Camry, Corolla and Scion tC, the CT200h makes its case as a hatchback with a (slight) attitude. The CT offers a sport button that doesn’t increase output, but rather shortens throttle tip-in and changes the dash display to a red color that lets drivers know they’ve ordered medium this time instead of mild. Performance off the line for the front-wheel drive CT200h isn’t blistering, but it doesn’t really need to be.
When it was launched a few years ago, engineers at Lexus were eager to point that the CT200h was designed with a driver-focused cockpit display. Translated into English, that means that the driver is the focal point of the instrument display, navigation and seating position that’s both lower and more enveloped by the car’s controls than the nature-loving Prius it was based on. The front seats feature side bolsters not found on the Prius too.
Outside that dynamic language is pronounced by the car’s aggressive take on the four-door liftback idea. The teardrop roof and sculpted front face are accented with the F-sport’s mesh grille and L-shaped lamps in the back. The rear windows feature a pronounced — if not a little high off the beltline — Hofmeister kink in the windows that appears to be all the rage with the rock-and-roll set these days.
The CT200h appears to have escaped the more radical styling changes that the rest of the Lexus fleet is currently undergoing. The spindle grille is relatively absent in the CT, as are the rear styling features found on the new ES and LS that Lexus is calling its “signature style.” Undoubtedly, the CT will undergo the same plastic surgery those models have endured in future years — albeit likely muted as the “signature style” is being diluted in subsequent models — but the current models look nowhere near dated.
Back inside and behind the leather-wrapped wheel, the CT200h makes mincemeat of thirsty drivers. Even in sport mode, F-sport trim, full throttle, whatever-you-like, the CT200h is a fuel-sipping commuter at heart. The hybrid powertrain delivers mileage in the 43 mpg range in combined driving, which is below the 50 mpg mark of the Prius but above any of its luxury subcompact competition.
Stamp on the gas pedal and you’re rewarded with an engine-based fuss that gradually picks up steam on the highway on its way to 60 mph and beyond. Back off the throttle and the CT200h settles into a near silent subcompact that is more composed and informing than a Joseph Campbell special on PBS.
The CT200h won’t fool many as a purebred racer, but that’s the point.
Despite having a more aggressive interior, the Lexus CT200h doesn’t compromise overall performance on safety and mileage.
Call it playing it safe, but it’s still playing it right.
Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He knows he’s wrong but he’d rather hear it from you. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Andy Stonehouse,
for Utah Rides
As you may have begun to notice in even the most middle class of vehicles, the future is now: Even the high-volume, plain-vanilla, mass-market automobiles that make up the bulk of U.S. auto sales have suddenly become … well, rather good.
It wasn’t that long ago that real auto enthusiasts turned up their noses at the Altimas and Accords and Tauruses of the world. With good reason. They were boring, ugly and about as fun to drive as a Kenmore refrigerator.
But things have changed, and the much-anticipated 2013 Chevy Malibu is a good example. The long-time cornerstone of middle-class automotive anonymity (the car you best associate with life insurance agents in Ohio) has, rather cunningly, morphed into a pretty decent ride, with good looks, a variety of high-efficiency engine choices and a generally spiffy take on the four-door, midsized sedan world.
Granted, the competitors are all pretty nice now, too. And there’s been some tongue wagging that the new Malibu would have been really hot stuff if it had appeared two years ago, as scheduled, rather than being delayed as part of GM’s fall-from-and-return-to grace, with the whole bankruptcy/bailout deal.
Whatever the case, the car’s here now, and the model that I got to cruise around in for a few days – powered by the optional 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo engine getting up to 30 MPG on the highway – was a nice automobile, resplendent with Chevrolet peculiarities that Chevy enthusiasts seem to love.
It’s not a small car, either, with ample proportions, a long, swoopy cabin and smartly dressed wheels and chrome trim. Though the back-seat passengers I carried briefly remarked that it’s not necessarily the largest car on the inside, as me and the front passenger had to considerably skootch up our seats to let the back seat folks have more than minimal legroom.
That engine does change the car’s character rather considerably. If you’ve been following trends, you’ll notice that the gassy V6es of the old days are now a real rarity in most cars in this segment; now you can’t get one on the new Malibu, even if you wanted one. The standard engine is a 2.5-liter Ecotec four-cylinder rated at 197 horsepower, good for 34 MPG on the highway; there’s also a new 2.4-liter version with electronic assist (a mild hybrid configuration, though they’re not advertising it as such) that’s good for 37 MPG highway.
In the interest of literally keeping up with the Joneses and their V6es, I found the turbo to be just about right. It’s not explosively fast like those European automobiles, but the power was consistent and meant that cruising was easy, even up at oxygen-deprived higher altitudes. Gun it a lot and you certainly won’t get the full 30 MPG, but … you will go as fast as you’d like.
You may ask yourself, “well, how did we get here, with those seemingly tiny engines now all the rage?” And with gas prices now back at seemingly affordable levels, our short-term memories may get the best of us. But consider that the Malibu is also positioned to be sold in almost 100 countries around the globe, and I bet you they don’t all have $2.95 a gallon gas. Nor will we, in the future. Smaller and more efficient is the name of the game, unless you want to go out and buy a ZL1 Camaro.
In the meantime, that long cabin design certainly has a lot in common with some of the competitors (the Altima looks practically identical from the front-side aspect view), but Chevrolet has chosen to fully differentiate things by adding distinctive LED tail lamps.
Which look as though they came off a Camaro. Literally. It’s quite an unusual choice, more striking when the back-up lights turn on for extra illumination when you get in and out of the car at night.
Beyond that, it’s a nice and up-to-date design, with a broad grille and a very broad stance. The upgraded LTZ model also gets some nice-looking 18-inch wheels and fog lamps to brighten things up in front.
Inside, I see that Chevy was really doing its best to get that European-inspired, multi-level, multi-surfaced, wraparound cockpit-style cabin thing in effect. And they’ve accomplished it, though the brown-on-cream-colored interior my tester sported did make for some unusual notes to the hide-like stippled leatherette and stitching on the dash. The dark-edged striping on the leather seating was also … uh, let us say, unique.
There’s real leather at both of your elbows and on the wheel, plus wood grain highlights, chrome inlays and plastic surrounds on the center stack. That’s a lot of competing surfaces, almost Kia-style, when you think about it.
Blue nighttime mood lighting effects do add something special, though, and I also appreciated the Volt-ish trip computer screen (featuring fuel range and such).
As is the case with the other two domestics, you can also order it with a touchscreen audio and information system you’d swear contains navigation, but actually does not (you need to call OnStar to download turn-by-turn directions). The very bright, audio-only control panel also, curiously, pops open to provide a hidden cubby space underneath.
Malibu’s overall ride is also pleasantly supple, with good steering feel and adequate braking. I did get a lot of road noise in the cabin, though the car was running on absolutely brand new tires.
I did like the option of throwing the six-speed transmission into manual and then flicking through the gears using a toggle on top of the shift knob (no wheel-mounted paddles here); I also appreciate the audacity of the car telling me “Shift Denied” when it feels like it doesn’t want to make the gear-shift move I request. Oh well.
2013 Chevy Malibu Turbo 2LZ
MSRP: $30,156; As tested: $34,145
Powertrain: 259-HP 2.0-liter I-4 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 24 combined; 21 city, 30 highway
By Aaron Cole
for Utah Rides
I feel like I’ve spent more time in a Jeep Grand Cherokee over the last three years than Taylor Swift has spent with any one of her 238 boyfriends I get to hear about over the radio.
I just don’t whine about the time I spend with my part-time spouse like she does.
Sure, there are quirks that I wish weren’t there. Like flyaway hairs I could be finding everywhere, like — What?! Why is there hair in over my checkbook?! — never mind, I get it, a car is a faithful companion you learn and love.
I understand the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It was the first identifiable vehicle that rolled off of Chrysler’s line after the company’s finances went through a tsunami of uncertainty. Jeep, as a brand, was wholly profitable even though rest the company under than Chrysler family umbrella siphoned money from it faster than a desperate housewife from Orange County.
That’s why the new Grand Cherokee was such a revelation when it was unleashed halfway through 2010. The fourth-generation Jeep looked different like a spinoff show without being wholly separate from the brand. If the rest of Jeep brand looked like it was stuck in 1997, the new Grand Cherokee was Lisa Bonet in “A Different World” who visited her ungainly siblings on the car lot every once in a while.
Now, entering its 40th month on sale in North America, Jeep has only a few more little tricks to pull out of its bag to make the Grand Cherokee seem brighter or newer.
Like the 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland.
For the most part, the Overland exists as an option down from the Overland Summit if you don’t want your Jeep to power through a brick wall while ventilating your rump and giving you and overhead perspective of the carnage above. The Overland lives to knock a few thousand dollars off the price of an Overland Summit — which starts at nearly $48,000 for four-wheel drive — to give buyers pause: “Am I going to have to pay room and board for my child’s last semester at college? Or will he move in with his girlfriend that I don’t really by then? Which is really better, in my opinion?”
Even though your son might not be powered by such motivation, the Grand Cherokee Overland is. The standard 3.6-liter V6 is among Chrysler’s best and brightest. The V6 Pentastar engine produces 290 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque, which is plenty for the 6,500-pound SUV. A 5.7-liter V8 Hemi is also available as an option ($1,695) but also packs the preferred transmission for both.
Which is to say despite having a standard V6 engine that packs enough gumption and frugality to power other Chrysler vehicles to 31 mpg (Chrysler 300) Jeep curiously mates the 3.6-liter engine to a 5-speed transmission that feels like a holdover from the last generation. What gives?
Nonetheless, the interior of the Grand Cherokee Overland is much more refined and up-to-date. The top grain leather and seating arrangement feels more akin to luxury than stripper Jeep, and the upgraded dash materials are worth forgetting that you’re driving a car that was developed more than 75 years ago to haul GIs from one muddy field to another.
Even better still, the Overland offers the same interior features as the Overland Summit, save a sunroof and stitching in the headrests, and even the same capability — which is to say, a lot.
A couple years ago, we were given the opportunity to take one of these “soft roaders” or 4-wheel drive luxury yachts off road to the proving grounds in Moab and proved once and for all that, yes, you can blast Ludacris and have your rump cooled while descending slick rock in a Jeep.
The Overland is built by Jeep to withstand 99.9 percent of everything you can throw at it short of a day trip to Chernobyl, without busting a gasket here or throwing a rod there. And If I had to answer the most commonly asked question I get about Jeeps in few words it would be this:
“I love Jeeps, but I hear they’re unreliable past 50,000 miles. Is that true?”
“Well, I don’t know about 50,000 miles, but I once hit an engine mount on red rock harder than an asteroid plummeting to the face of the earth and it seemed to be just fine. Does that work?”
That’s not to say there aren’t things I wouldn’t change. I’d ask for a new transmission here, a new navigation unit there, but for the most part the Grand Cherokee is as good now as it was more than 3 years ago when it first came out. I really believe that.
I would know. I feel like I’ve been in a Grand Cherokee longer than I’ve been in some pants I’ve owned over the same stretch.
Next year may see diesel in the Grand Cherokee for the first time in nearly a decade, and a few more special editions like this year’s Trailhawk, but for the most part, it’s the same.
And the same is still plenty good.
Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He knows he’s wrong, he’d just rather hear it from you. Reach him at email@example.com or at @ColeMeetsCars
by Aaron Cole
There’s a 47 percent chance the car sitting in your driveway right now is a crossover.
If you do own a crossover, there’s a 67 percent chance you own a dog too.
If you own both aforementioned dog and crossover, there’s a 83 percent chance it’s a sporting breed as far as the American Kennel Association is concerned, i.e. retriever, spaniel or some other water dog.
There’s also 100 percent chance that’s all totally made up.
The point however, should not be lost. Crossovers used to have jurisdiction only in high school parking lots. Safe, but not too big and thoroughly unexciting — like second period study hall.
The Nissan Rogue was unleashed into that world a few years ago.
Keen followers of the automotive world will know that many good cars — nay great cars, were not born from good ideas. Pony cars exist today because designers hadn’t heard of creativity in the 1960s; the DMC-12 existed because John DeLorean lost touch with reality and old man Enzo’s love affair and constant emulation of anything with a Y chromosome is the only reason I want a Ferrari. Or a date. I forget.
I’m drifting. Back to the Rogue.
Here’s an immutable law of carmaking: If it sells well, make one bigger or make one smaller. If possible, do both. If impossible, make possible.
For Nissan, it was the success of the Murano that led to the Rogue. Pure, plain and simple. And it was the almost unilateral acceptance of the crossover one day, say, back in 2007 (we’ll say June 19 for no particular reason at all) that led to the success of them all.
Now, the Rogue is the Swiss Army-everything answer for Nissan and is in almost just as many pockets. But it didn’t come without effort.
How can you pack utility and 126 cubic feet of interior space for under $23,000 in something that doesn’t look, drive and smell like a dumpster?
Good question. The tale of the tape could provide some insight as to that answer.
For starters, the Rogue needs only 105 inches of wheelbase for all that interior space. That’s a small shadow to cast, but as a result, you don’t need a big motor to get it running.
The Rogue’s mill is a frugal 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 170 horsepower that can aptly move its 3,000 lbs. curb weight in exurban duty with occasional inclement weather. If you’re looking for a six, you’re missing the point.
Available in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, Nissan planted the Rogue firmly in its powertrain wheelhouse by bestowing it with the option to move any of the four corners. The Rogue’s all-wheel drive, available on any trim package at any level — a smart move — adds $1,300 to the final sticker price and is well worth it for buyers that haven’t felt the mythical hand of global warming yet, i.e. snowy states.
The Rogue exudes approachability that I do not. The eager and enthusiastic exterior is complemented in the way the Rogue handles in everyday driving.
Stamp on the throttle and it wails. Wrench the stereo to full blast, drop the windows and give everyone on the road a free concert. The Rogue is the perfect friend sometimes: Accommodating, yielding and without judgment.
And like a good friend, the Rogue takes care of what you don’t want to. Over-cook the wheel and it tempers your unnecessary exuberance with the un-embarrassing, standard Vehicle Dynamic Control and Traction Control System features.
There’s a good chance that the Rogue is a better nanny most times than Mary Poppins could have ever been.
And there’s a need for those right now.
Because, in every car-guy or car-gal’s heart, they know: packing a wrench for a grocery store trip isn’t fun all the time. Roasting Pirellis everyday is another word for wasting money. Packing gear and friends in something together is useful and fun for weekends because of course is it.
The next generation knows it. Sometimes it’s not so much about arriving in style as it is arriving in the first place.
We’re social animals that crave stability at some level, and the Rogue delivers it.
It ticks the right marks: affordable, approachable and almost always applicable.
If only the Rogue shook its leg when you scratched it behind the mirrors.
Then you might even consider letting it sleep in the bed with you.
Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He knows he’s wrong, but he’d rather hear it from you. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
By AARON COLE
You’re the type of person that comparison-shops Campbell’s Soup in your spare time.
You bulk buy with coupons salvaged from other people’s newspapers dumped in Wal-Mart parking lots on Tuesday afternoon.
Shopping without promo codes, you wrote in college, is for Neanderthals.
“Budget-minded” would describe you, if only the words themselves weren’t so long.
Is there any way to encapsulate your thrifty attitude in one word sans hyphen? (Compound modifiers are so unnecessary sometimes, you know?)
Call it what you want, but providence is seldom found in the same room as style. For example, Warren Buffet isn’t known for wearing Mahnolos to get the morning paper in Omaha.
I recognize that there are exceptions to that rule. For one, the 2013 Kia Soul, most certainly fits that deviation.
If you don’t know the Soul by sight, then you surely remember it by its commercial campaign. Hamsters dancing to “Party Rock” in a post-apocalyptic world ruled by cyborg warriors? Movies have been made by Michael Bay out of less.
Despite the half-baked commercial routine, the way this car gets noticed is by word of mouth. True patrons of the boxy hatchback segment (read: young, first-time buyers) watch TV long enough to fast-forward through “The Daily Show” and tweet immediately after.
Therefore, the car must be as short and succinct as a tweet. Loud styling is a must. So are speakers that glow in sync with the beats coming from the stereo. Unsurprisingly, Kia has both in the Soul.
Also included in the 2013 version, Kia upgraded the Soul where it desperately needed rehabilitation. The Soul’s base powerplant now produces 138 horsepower, up 16 from last year, and the stressed 2-liter engine—an option—makes 164 horsepower, up 22, thanks to direct injection in both. The Soul also makes use of two new transmissions, both with six forward gears.
There are little exterior improvements too; a new fascia here, a rear light there, but largely it’s the same car as it was last year.
Also, it’s mostly the same price as last year too. The Soul starts at $14,400, which is $500 less than the base Nissan Cube (natural competition) and nearly $3,000 less than the Scion xB (which makes up ground when both are outfitted with the same options.)
But the Soul makes up ground in an area that budget buyers regard more than their spouses: value.
As an idea, the Soul is a winner. It combines funky looks with a few tech niceties that appeal to the generation that gravitates toward Urban Outfitters. As an economy vehicle, the Soul is nearly unparalleled.
The Soul’s 29/36 mpg (24/29 with the bigger engine) is better than respectable for the class, and the four-door, five passenger layout is spacious for most college-age technophiles. Taken alone, strictly on specs, the Soul would appeal to a set of buyers that would consider buying a Soul less than they would
consider buying a Burberry handbag to carry their dog food.
I mean, true to the “we’ll probably look back at this as a bad idea” generation we’re living in, the Soul is offered in Base, + and ! packages. (Plus and Exclaim if you can’t bring yourself to think about cars labeled with punctuation.) Plus and Exclaim models offer the bigger engine along with features like navigation and rear backup cameras.
Our test car, topped out at around $24,000 with everything misers would roll their eyes at, though it’s mostly warranted here, the car you get for around $15,000 is largely the same car that you’d get for over $20,000. Standard features such as Bluetooth on entry-level models should be commonplace nowadays like four tires and steering wheel on all cars.
So what happens if the Soul is all starch and no shirt? Who would buy $15,000 worth of econobox if it weren’t worth driving? Good question, but it doesn’t apply here.
This year Kia beefed up the sound deadening from the engine compartment and used a thicker dash to swallow more sound. That means less racket from the hood (which used to be a symphony of stressed tappets at highway speed) and a more refined ride than previous years, despite the short 100-inch wheelbase.
While the direct injection engine adds a little more hum from between the front tires, the Soul is relatively sedate at 60-plus and in the city it makes less of a statement than the USSR shirt you just bought from the thrift store.
So what if the Soul looks like Warby Parker glasses five years from now? The underpinnings of the Kia make the boxy buggy a good buy like dented can specials.
Just don’t expect a car dealer to give you the same discount if you “accidentally” find one with a dimple in the driver’s side door.
Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He knows he’s wrong, he would just rather hear it from you. Reach him at email@example.com
By Aaron Cole
Here’s the good news: The Ford Explorer is exactly what you want it to be.
That’s not to say that the 7-passenger SUV is all things to all people. Far be it.
If you want to see automotive uproar from the general public, just circle back to 2010 and look what happened when Ford announced the Explorer would not be body-on frame— apparently one of the commandments given to Moses the Moab tour guide — but rather the unibody construction reserved for, of all things, the Toyota Camry. You’d think the blue oval company single handedly voided every Explorer owner’s registration simultaneously.
I’ve seen Greenpeace anti-whaling vessels with better manners than those who took to Internet message boards.
But as Ford was derided for fundamentally changing the Explorer’s DNA, the company had it’s sights set on what really mattered to Explorer buyers of late: on-road performance.
See, the magic of the Explorer was not that it was a groundbreaking SUV — it certainly was. What made the Explorer so popular in the first place was that it capitalized on a market, especially when the market was in its infancy.
It’s the same with the 2012 specimen we have before us: If you think there isn’t a market for three-row SUVs willing to be treated like minivans, make your way to Sandy.
I know mothers that would rather deal with projectile vomit every day than drive a minivan. There’s a genetic predisposition against driving something with sliding doors like there’s a trait for blue eyes and blond hair out there. Must be the water.
The proof however, is on the road.
Suburbanites cling to their Escalades, Suburbans and — depending on proximity to private schools — Range Rovers like they cling to TGIFriday’s: it may not be for everyone, but it works for us, and darn if it isn’t convenient.
But the problem with each of those models is that for years those SUVs have been body-on frame, which means that no matter how hard you finagle the final model they’ll be all of three things: heavy, cumbersome and fuel-swilling.
Ford got it right when they switched the Explorer to a more efficient, better riding unibody model. They got it right when they offered the Explorer with a four-cylinder EcoBoost model. They even got it right by offering the Explorer with every single convenience and amenity the Flex already has.
That’s right. The Explorer gives you everything the Flex already did.
To be fair, there are a few differences between the two. For starters, the Explorer maintains some sort of semblance of an off-road vehicle by offering a terrain select knob that allows you to dial in response from the engine and all-wheel drive depending on conditions. Purists will snub the computer controlled locking rear differential as electronic handholding; the 99 percent of the rest of the world won’t care so long as it works.
The powertrains too, are slightly different. The Explorer comes equipped with the aforementioned four-cylinder, turboboosted model that achieves 20/28 mpg in front-wheel drive only. The six-pot model doesn’t shun those numbers completely. That engine achieves a 17/23 mpg rating in full time four-wheel drive configuration as well.
Our test model was the latter, the 3.5-liter, 24 valve model that accelerated from stoplight to stoplight briskly. The six-speed automatic shuffles through gears nicely, although there may be an eight-speed in the coming years that can get more from the engine in long hauls.
Seating in the second and third rows is possible, however access to the third rows may be a bit of a challenge for anyone other than nimble-toed youngsters. The third row folded flat with our testers electronically controlled rear seat arrangement, and by asking the Explorer to only seat five, owners are rewarded with acres in the back for hauling cargo.
And speaking of cargo, the Explorer is rated at 5,000 lbs. towing, only a few hundred pounds shy of its previous mark with the 2010 frame that was perceived to be “sturdier” in construction.
Outside the Explorer is definitely sleeker and more refined. The boxy sheet metal has been shifted to a more svelte crossover-type body, although Ford doesn’t call the Explorer a crossover anyway.
The single foible we found with the Explorer is the oft-maligned Sync navigation and entertainment system developed by Microsoft and executed by Sony (what could go wrong there?) that seems to be a little too complicated for its own good. Granted, it’s not the first-generation system that relied solely on touch screen controls, but the sensitive controls still felt a little unresponsive for first time users or drivers occupied with actually driving instead of focusing attention on turning the sound up.
Still, the Explorer represents the future of family hauling for the next 5 years. It offers a bevy of seating and driving options for whomever is behind the wheel, provided you’re not trekking across unforgiving Himalayan terrain.
It’s exactly what you want it to be.
Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He knows he’s wrong, but he’d rather hear it from you. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org