Category Archives: SUV/Truck Reviews

2014 Jeep Patriot Latitude 4×4

Inexpensive new Patriot fills roll as soft-roader

jeep-patriot-latitudeI like the Jeep Patriot for what it is, an inexpensive sport-utility truck that’s available with four-wheel-drive.

In that, it’s simple and straight forward and has a much Jeepier look than its twin, the Jeep Compass. Let’s get this out of the way up front. Compass and Patriot are the same mechanically, but Patriot looks square and boxy like a Jeep, or the old Cherokee, and Compass is more rounded. Word on the street is that women buy the Compass in larger numbers and the Patriot is a guy buy.

The best line I’ve heard calls both soft-roaders, as they are less likely to be taken out in the muck than a Wrangler, with its high ground clearance and big off-roading tires. Indeed, these Jeeps are most likely to turn up roughing it at a soccer match or Pick N Save lot. Jeep will tell you both can be equipped to be Trail Rated and go off-road, but in reality, these are mainly Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V competitors.

And there, Patriot competes on price. The base front-drive Sport model starts at a modest $15,995, while the upscale Limited 4×4 lists at $25,895. I drove a “rugged brown” (metallic bronze) Patriot Latitude 4×4, which begins at $23,395. With options and a whopping $995 delivery charge mine was $26,055. That’s still moderate for a compact 4-wheeler. Note that the Compass is priced a bit higher. Continue reading 2014 Jeep Patriot Latitude 4×4

2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Premium

Subaru adds some macho to its 2014 Forester 

Simply put, I have a new favorite small sport-utility vehicle, the 2014 Subaru Forester.

While the rest of the small ute world is going toward crossover status and swoopy designs, the Forester, one of the early crossover/utes with AWD, is going away from that. It’s going all macho angular and edgy.

A black pre-production Forester reflects its Darth Vader looks.
A black pre-production Forester, shown in this Motor Trend photo, reflects its Darth Vader looks.

I like it, particularly the sparkling black test ute’s Darth Vader look to its nose and accented with sexy black and chrome five-spoke wheels.But looks are only sheet metal deep and for love to blossom (and Subaru tells us their vehicles are all about love), there has to be a deeper connection. There was in the tested mid-level 2.0XT Premium model.

This isn’t your base Forester, the one with a mild 170-horse 2.5-liter Boxer 4-cylinder engine. Oh, that would be fine, but No, this XT baby comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injection Boxer 4-cylinder. And get this, it bangs out 250 horsepower, that’s 26 more horses than in the comparable turbo model previously.

The funny thing is you don’t notice that power right off. You can drive this around town like it’s a regular Forester, just cruising from stoplight to stoplight and getting decent gas mileage, considering its an all-wheel-drive ute. But Subaru has created an absolutely delicious CVT (continuously variable transmission). Continue reading 2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Premium

2013 Infiniti FX37 AWD

FX37, a love-hate relationship

Infiniti’s racy FX37 sport-ute is a classic case for a love-hate relationship.Infin Fx

If you enjoy performance, and don’t really expect such from a sport-ute, you’ve got to love how the FX37 responds. It feels like a tall Porsche, with oodles of power from its new 3.7-liter V6. In fact, Infiniti rates it a 325 horses and even that seems as if it might be a tad low.

The 3.7 replaces the former 3.5-liter V6, which wasn’t too shabby itself. And the bright metallic blue test ute was the all-wheel-drive model, so right out of the blocks it had power and road grip on its side. Toss in a healthy helping of fine handling and the FX37 delivers premium performance at a modestly premium price.

The base FX37 with rear-wheel drive starts at $44,950, while the tested AWD model lists at $45,750. And at that you get a silky 7-speed automatic with Adaptive Shift Control that allows you to shift manually.

Where the hate comes in, and hate may be a bit harsh, is subject to one’s design leanings primarily. That, and depending on whether you expect a cushy ride, or one reflecting the sporty nature of this beast, you may feel luxury dictates the former. Continue reading 2013 Infiniti FX37 AWD

2013 RAM 2500 SLT Crew Cab

CNG powered RAM aims at farms and fleets

cng4
The RAM 2500 with CNG power has a huge bed, but that’s mostly filled with a huge steel container to house the large CNG tanks.

There are big trucks and Monster trucks, no not those with the giant wheels that crush cars in arenas around the Midwest all winter, but Really Big trucks, like the RAM heavy-duty beast I just drove.I’ve been on the commercial test truck list for Chrysler Corp. of late. So this week I ran the RAM 2500 SLT Crew Cab 4X4, with the CNG option. That’s a long name for a giant truck, but the key differentiator is that it runs on both gasoline and compressed natural gas (CNG).

To be honest, no one who isn’t into the construction trades or farming is likely going to even consider this monster. RAM says it only offers the truck to fleet and commercial buyers. But here’s the lowdown on it, in case you fall into one of those categories.

The RAM, formerly known as Dodge, is the normal three-quarter ton heavy-duty crew cab model with a long (8-foot) bed. It needs the long bed because it hauls along two large CNG tanks (130-liters each and equivalent to 18.2 gallons of gasoline) under a steel cover in the bed, just behind the cab. You can fill the tanks via an outlet in the normal fuel filler area, or fill its 35-gallon gas tank in the same spot. Continue reading 2013 RAM 2500 SLT Crew Cab

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek 2.0i Limited

 Attractive Crosstrek a bit of sedan, wagon, crossover 

Subaru_XV_Crosstrek-2Subaru’s new crossover, the XV Crosstrek, is an attractive vehicle that splits the difference between sedan, wagon and crossover, with many of the good characteristics of each.

But the Crosstrek, which rides on the compact Impreza platform, is underpowered, so keep that in mind if you plan to haul four people or a load of stuff under its roomy hatchback.

I like that Crosstrek has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, but looks more like a tall hatchback than a true crossover or SUV, now a dying breed as most truck-based SUVs have switched to car chassis. But, like a Subaru sedan, this has good road manners. It’s easy to drive and handles well with a moderately light steering feel from the electronic power assisted steering system.

Best of all, it’s useful. Not only will four adults fit in the Crosstrek, but you can haul a load of junk, er stuff, in back with its 22.3 cubic foot cargo bay. Fold flat the split rear seats and it’ll haul 51.9 cubic feet of your best stuff, just like a wagon. And it has AWD, like an SUV. Continue reading 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek 2.0i Limited

2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL AWD

No longer truck-based, Pathfinder a softer, more civilized crossover

            Back in the day, which wasn’t long ago, Nissan’s Pathfinder was a sport-utility truck that was truck tough and set for off-roading and hauling gear.path1

Today, like many of us as we age, it has gotten a little softer and is tailored now more for comfort. Oh, it can haul and is available with all-wheel-drive, but you are not going to take this off road. In fact, with its remodel for 2013 it is pure crossover, leaning toward minivan. That’s because it’s no longer truck-based, instead riding on the Nissan Altima sedan’s platform.

The silver test vehicle, a pre-production model, was the almost upper end SL model, so begins at $36,070 and with just a trailer towing package at $400 and the $780 delivery charge ended up at $37,250. You can spend less if you opt for the entry-level S model with front-wheel drive. It begins at $28,650 and bumping up to an AWD model moves you to $30,250. There’s a mid-level SV with cloth seats and then the SL, plus a Platinum edition 4×4 model at $41,150.

If mall cruising and hauling a family is your main purpose, the Tennessee-made Pathfinder is accommodating. Its interior is spacious, like a minivan, with oodles of head and legroom in the first two rows of seats, plus a third row is standard and folds easily into the rear floor to boost cargo room. Continue reading 2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL AWD

2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD

Sporty looks, but handling falls short

I’ve always liked Mazda vehicles because they look and drive a little sportier than most brands that us average middle class folks can afford.

mazda1That’s why I’m disappointed with the new Mazda CX-9, the large sport-utility/crossover I just tested. It only delivers on half the equation. It still looks a bit sportier than its competition, models like the boxy Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, but handling wasn’t up to Mazda standards.

My dark metallic gray CX-9 did have a new grille, less smiley and cartoonish than the previous model, but with a nose that still looks sleeker in profile than most large crossovers, sort of a tall sport wagon look. And its interior feels high-brow and is well finished. Plus this was the Grand Touring with all-wheel-drive, so it was loaded with electronic goodies.

But here’s the deal. I expect more responsive steering from a Mazda and, sorry to say, this just felt like other large sport-utes or crossovers. Steering is extremely light, but not as responsive as I felt in the last CX-9 I drove. It feels a bit vague with more wheel play than I had expected from past experience. That leads to a bit of lane wander on the highway. Continue reading 2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD