Rogue is Nissan’s top-selling vehicle, has been around awhile and proved itself reliable, and if you’re a Star Wars geek, its name appeals like none other on the market.
What it has going for it in the small sport-utility/crossover market is that it’s not too small. It has good interior space for four adults and generous cargo room behind the rear seat. It’s comfortable, has supportive seats and is priced competitively. Last year its styling was updated and Rogue remains a handsome SUV.
But it has its limitations. Some of its competitors perform better, for instance the Subaru Outback, which is of similar size. Both have AWD to make them appealing in our sometimes snowy climate, and all the utes in this class offer that feature.
For instance Rogue’s power is modest with its 2.5-liter I4 kicking out 170 horsepower. Mated with a smooth, but uninspiring automatic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), its acceleration is mild. Rogue doesn’t feel terribly heavy, which is good, but if you want or need quick acceleration you won’t find it here.
In fact, if you press the accelerator to the floor demanding more power you’ll get some, but the engine noise grows substantially, the growl often disturbing to riders. Rogue sounds like it’s working hard to get up to highway speeds if you tromp it. There is a Sport mode button that once engaged will give the Nissan more torque, but again, engine noise becomes an issue. Read more
New Santa Fe a luxury sleigh ride …
Leading up to Christmas I spent a week luxuriating in Santa’s sleigh.
Say what? It was Hyundai’s Santa Fe? Well then, never mind!
Yet then again Hyundai’s mid-size SUV is certainly big enough to haul a lot of goodies to good girls and boys all over southeast Wisconsin. The Santa Fe is a luxurious ute that if it had sliding side doors could pass for a minivan. In the tested Limited Ultimate AWD trim it would haul six adults with its two second-row captain’s seats and twin fold-down third row seats.
If you opt for a bench seat in the second row, Santa Fe will seat seven, which matches most minivans. And the cargo space behind the second row for gear, suitcases and such is sizeable. Even with the third row in place there’s plenty of room for grocery bags and odds and ends.
The AWD makes the Santa Fe a champ in sloppy weather too, giving it even better footing than say a heard of reindeer.
Hyundai revamped this ute for 2017 and drastically improved its looks, moving it away from boxy minivan and old ute styling to a fresher, more muscular stance that gives it a bit of a BMW’s swagger.
Handling is among the best for mid-size crossovers and utes too. Santa Fe feels responsive and corners well with just a slight lean in fast tight turns. Steering feedback is on the heavy side in Normal drive mode, of which there are three, including Eco and Dynamic.
Punch the Drive Mode button for Dynamic and the wheel firms up even more, maybe more than most drivers would want to deal with. But it also allows the 6-speed automatic transmission to hold the lower gears longer in order to boost acceleration. So in this mode the Santa Fe jumps, not up onto house tops, but onto the freeway like an aggressive sport sedan. Read more
There is now a 707 horsepower Jeep.
You read that right, and the first question most folks ask is, Why would Jeep do this?
The answer: Because they can.
There’s no reasonable or logical reason, except that Fiat/Chrysler, which is the overindulgent parent of Jeep and Dodge, has been playing up its youthful exuberance via high-powered vehicles for several years now. Yes, this has a Hemi in it!
First it was the Hellcat, both as a Dodge Challenger and Charger, using the same 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8 that powers this Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. Then there’s the Demon, another Challenger with even more power and aimed directly at the drag strip crowd. But there’s little chance many folks will be buying a Jeep to race at the local drag strip, especially when the tested Trackhawk’s price tag nudged $91 grand.
Yet a few folks, and you know who they are, always need to have the biggest, well, engine on the block. They are the buyers that previously have snapped up the top-end sports cars and muscle cars of the past. Think Corvette envy.
The Hellcats, Demons and Trackhawks are shoving that with both hands to a new level, and doing so with in-your-face marketing. Read more
This week’s drive begs the question of style and performance vs. reputation and performance. How so?
The tested BMW X3 compact SUV is a direct competitor of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio I tested a week prior. Darn near the same dimensions, the Alfa is just an inch longer. Similar power too, the BWM having 20 more ponies under its hood.
The difference is in looks, styling if you will, and reputation. While Alfa has a performance reputation, the long-term reliability of its vehicles has historically been a bit sketchy. BMW boasts of being the ultimate driving machine, and generally has a stronger long-term reliability rating.
Face value though, that impression that hits you when you first see a vehicle, is all in the Alfa’s favor. It looks lean and fast and, well, a bit sexy if you can see that in a car. Its nose is distinctive, like no other. It turns heads. Read more
Even if Italian beauty were only skin deep, maybe that would be enough when it comes to cars and crossovers.
The new Stelvio, Alfa Romeo’s first crossover or SUV, whichever you wish to label it, is a beauty. Its face is unique in today’s bland auto world with a rounded distinctive nose that immediately signals to car connoisseurs that this is an Alfa. And what the hay, a little Italian styling passion can be easy on the eyes.
Stelvio, named for a famed road in Italy’s Alps, also embodies the Alfa heritage for sporty performance. For years Alfas were major competitors and winners at European racetracks. Heck, Enzo Ferrari got his start managing Alfa’s race team pre-World War II.
Even in the tested base trim Stelvio performs more like the sport sedan it’s based on, the Giulia, than you’d expect in a modest-sized crossover. Like so many of today’s new vehicles, the Stelvio goes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 under its lean and long hood. That might sound small for an SUV, but this unit cranks a spritely 280 horsepower with a 306 torque rating.
There’s not a lot of rumble since it’s a turbo, but the Stelvio gallops up to highway speeds like a race horse that has just been spurred in the rump. There’s a bit of engine yowl from under the hood, but only a twinge to let you know you’re not driving a domestic.
Not surprisingly the Alfa prefers premium fuel’s higher octane to light the fire in its belly. Power kicks in quickly with no noticeable turbo lag and the sporty 8-speed ZF transmission seems beautifully suited to the turbo, providing smooth, efficient shifts. Read more
Chevrolet updated the Equinox for 2018 by doing something carmakers rarely do these days, shrinking it.
Equinox is nearly 5 inches shorter than its predecessor, but it feels lighter and livelier to drive, another rare accomplishment. Usually carmakers add inches and weight to increase their appeal to a wider expanse of the buying public.
So for compact sport-utility and crossover buyers looking for something less trucky and more nimble like a car, Equinox becomes a solid choice along with Mazda’s CX-5.
In its base trim, the L model, Equinox is both inexpensive and mildly powered. It starts in front-drive mode at $25,525 including delivery fee, and its I4 is a 1.5-liter turbo that creates 170 horsepower. In the Equinox L the tranny is a six-speed automatic and that combo leads to an EPA rating of 26 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. Laudable!
Ah, but the majority of buyers are likely to move up to the LT model, which is what I tested in its pumpkin spiced Orange Burst Metallic paint scheme. The OBM color gets your attention, and that of friends and co-workers, all for just $395 extra.
The LT is the first Equinox with Chevy’s new 2.0-liter I4 turbo that cranks 252 horsepower and is rated at 260 for torque. This creates a much speedier and more satisfying drive as the turbo spools up quickly to get the crossover up or down a highway entry ramp before a big 16-wheeler is breathing down your tailpipe.
The tested LT with just front-drive seemed light and lively on the weeklong drive. It cornered well and steering effort was light. Parking was simple. Read more
There was a day, not all that long ago, when Toyota’s Tacoma, along with the likes of Ford’s Ranger and Chevy’s S-10, was a small, personal-sized pickup.
These were young guy “first cars” because they were inexpensive wheels, macho enough to get the young girls to pay some attention, plus useful enough to help other young friends move into their first apartments, houses, whatever.
Today the Tacoma, along with other compact pickups, have grown up into bigger mid-sized models that some could almost mistake for full-size trucks. Certainly when you add a double cab (a full back seat and second set of doors), and a long bed (6 feet in the Tacoma’s case), and 4-wheel-drive, you’ve got a vehicle that’s big, long and tall.
Then make it a TRD version, which stands for Toyota Racing Development, and you’ve pretty much “machoed” the thing out to the max.
This week’s test truck though went with what Toyota calls a Quicksand color, which is a tan that screams utility service truck. Not a great color for a personal truck. But then the test truck did feature the TRD 4×4 Off-Road decals on the bed’s rear side panels. Tough!
How big has the long-bed Tacoma double-cab become? Well, it rides on a 140.6-inch wheelbase and is 225.5 inches long. Weight is 4,425 lbs. Compare that with a comparable Nissan Frontier SL 4WD Crew Cab, which has a 139.9-inch wheelbase, is 219.4 inches long and weighs about 170 lbs. more. Read more
Mostly my test drives are a couple hundred miles around Southeast Wisconsin over the course of a week, but this week was a rare exception when I drove the Lexus RX 450h to Omaha and back, more than 1,100 miles.
As many a high-end suburban household has discovered, before me, the RX is a perfect prescription for an enjoyable highway drive. And the 450h, the hybrid model, adds fine fuel economy to its other attributes of style, comfort, ride and room.
The RX, which some claim started the crossover fad, is stylish with a grille that no amount of overstatement can describe beyond large and aggressiveness. It’s distinctive, and not many vehicles can make that claim.
Overall the RX looks chiseled and modern and with its C-pillar blacked out at its base the Lexus’s roof appears to float. Pretty cool for a crossover!
But loaded down with boxes and luggage and two passengers the RX proved it can haul and do it comfortably. We folded down the rear seats, triggered the power hatch and piled in suitcases, overstuffed boxes and photo equipment. The RX swallowed it all and we could even see out the back window, mostly.
Ride is luxurious and smooth. Highway driving (and there was plenty) was a breeze and we barely felt a jiggle or bump inside the Lexus. As with many luxury vehicles there are several ride modes here, Eco, Normal and Sport. Normal was fine and provided moderate steering feedback and good acceleration from the 3.5-liter V6 combined with an electric hybrid system to create 308 horsepower. Read more
A Dream Day for driving
As members of the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) Mark and I make the trip to Road America where we get to drive new cars from the manufacturers. This year, we drove the Ford Focus ST, BMW M40i, Dodge Challenger Hellcat, and GT, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, Lexus RC F, Alfa Romeo Giulia, and Chevy Bolt. What fun. Below are videos from some of the drives.
A road trip to Louisville with a couple buddies, and plenty of cargo, proved Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid to be a perfect transport choice.
Ours was a medium metallic brown, what Toyota calls Toasted Walnut Pearl. Probably should have been pecan since we were headed to the South. But, color aside, this fine family mover will carry eight folks and their stuff, or in our case, three and luggage, boxes, a monster camera bag, etc.
There was plenty to like and really nothing to irritate a crabby old guy and his friends.
Start with power. There’s a bunch. Toyota puts a new 3.5-liter V6 under the hood, mated with its reliable hybrid power system. Combined these get 306 horsepower and operation is silky smooth. Creeping through Chicago traffic on the return trip, at about 5-20 mph, the Highlander hummed along on electric power. Once I needed to accelerate somewhere near Gurnee, Ill., its electronically controlled CVT (continuously variable transmission) eased right into it and off we went at 70+ mph. In fact, cruising through Indiana the Highlander is so quiet and comfy that we had no difficulty commenting on how far we could see in any direction.
Ride is super. Highlander rides on a 109.8-inch wheelbase and the independent front McPherson struts and rear double wishbone suspension eat up highway imperfections. Few vehicles feel this smooth on rough Midwestern roads. Read more
Honestly, the new Volvo XC90 is a bit overwhelming.
It’s a big luxury crossover or ute, whichever you prefer. It looks buttoned-down collar sharp and has nearly every conceivable electronic doodad, safety device and feature one could expect. But there’s just so much here to enjoy and learn it’s a bit like going to flight school straight from junior high shop.
There’s no denying Volvo has been a fuddy-duddy brand for years, the square car in the round hole that is the wagon and now crossover marketplace. Safety was its gig, which is laudable, but styling and luxury were, let’s say, well down Volvo’s best practices list.
First, the XC90 ranges from moderate luxury to full-on eye-popping price tag luxury. The base T5 Momentum starts at $46,745 in front-drive mode and still features the potent 2.0-liter, supercharged and turbocharged I4 that runs throughout the lineup. It creates 250 horsepower in the base model and 316 horsepower in the tested T6 model with all-wheel drive. Both feature a smooth shifting 8-speed Geartronic automatic transmission.
The tested T6 AWD Inscription lists at $51,600, plus $995 delivery, but the Inscription package adds another $5,600. The metallic black test ute ended up at $72,805 after adding nine more options and packages.
Now hold on for the upper end. Volvo’s plug-in hybrid, the T8 Excellence lists at $105,989 with delivery. You read that right, but it adds an 80-horse electric motor to the equation to boost gas mileage to a still mild 25 mpg, but can run 25 miles on an electric charge. It also includes heated and massaging rear seats, a built-in fridge and a 20-speaker Bowers & Wilkins stereo.
OK, back to reality, sort of! Read more