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2017 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Inscription

Volvo’s new XC60 sporty, powerful2017 Volvo XC60

Hey, this newfound idea of putting some sport into small sport-utility vehicles, or crossovers, is getting to be a trend.

Now Volvo joins the sportster market with its 2017 XC60, a compact ute crossover that handles like a sports sedan and kicks some booty with 302 horsepower. And get this, that boost of power hits quickly, no long lag as so many turbo I4s exhibit, even when they’re trying to be sporty.

First, the XC60 is crisply styled so it looks elegant, with tall Volvo taillights to distinguish its looks. But the combo supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 gets your attention in a hurry. Linked up with an 8-speed automatic, it gives the Volvo instant power when you want it. I admit it was a happy surprise.

But equally surprising was how well the XC60 handled. I know this has 20-inch tires, but I fully expected some squish in the steering wheel feel and typical lazy crossover handling.

No siree! The Volvo delivers good feedback via the power-assisted rack and pinion steering and with a  precise feel and handling. Put the XC60 into a turn at speed and there’s no ute-like lean. Cornering is like a sport sedan and feels much the same on winding roads.2017 Volvo XC60

Continue reading 2017 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Inscription

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2016 MINI Cooper Clubman

Bigger MINI makes Clubman more useful …2016 MINI Clubman

When does a MINI become so big that it’s not, well, mini?

There’s a fine line to be sure, but the new MINI Cooper Clubman seems to straddle it pretty well. Visually the Clubman is still cute with the round headlights and profile of a MINI, but there’s no doubt it’s longer and, to be honest, more useful than its predecessor.

The new Clubman is roughly 12 inches longer than the former model with a wheelbase that’s five inches longer. The upshot is more rear seat room, decent cargo space with the rear seats folded down, and a smoother ride. There are four doors too, making it easier for folks to slide into the rear seat. The former model had just one rear-open back side door, making seat access a bit clumsy.

Like before, the Clubman keeps its rear panel truck-style doors, which allows for easier loading and unloading. Plus it means wider loads will slide out easily.

All that increases usefulness.

2016 MINI Clubman
Clubman is a lot longer, but still carries the MINI profile.

Continue reading 2016 MINI Cooper Clubman

2015 Volkswagen Golf TSI S 4-Door

New VW Golf looks old, feels newgolf2

There’s a saying about everything old being new again, and the reworked 2015 Volkswagen Golf is a sterling example.

The Golf and Rabbit hatchbacks have been sold by VW since 1974, this latest iteration being the seventh generation. Toyota’s Corolla is one of the few competitors to be around longer, it launching in 1966.

Still, the essence, the useful four-door hatchback that’s fun to drive remains the same for Golf. And while its lines have been tweaked a bit and the car stretched by 2.1 inches, you’ll have no trouble picking out of a crowd. Golf looks like a Golf, for better or worse.

That’s a matter of taste, but from a performance standpoint, the Golf is easily one of the more fun compacts on the road. Handling and ride are as good as, or better, than most of its competitors, and it has a lot of worthy competitors, such as the Mazda3, which also is a delight.

Golf is just flat out fun to drive. Its steering is light and easy, helped by the car’s modest 2,963 lbs., about 79 lbs. lighter than the previous Golf. The car also is responsive so you can toss this hatch into a corner at speed and feel good about it.

There is precious little body roll and Golf’s front-drive layout helps it track well through a corner, while the electrically assisted steering is speed variable, so firms as you hit the highway. Naturally we’re not racing these, but you feel sporty in the Golf and more importantly on Wisconsin’s deteriorating roads, the car handles and rides well over bumps. This is what surprised me most. Continue reading 2015 Volkswagen Golf TSI S 4-Door

2013 Chrysler 200

Chrysler 200 Touring feels like a rental car, but scores with good MPG

I wasn’t expecting much when the silver Chrysler 200 Touring arrived. It’s not a styling leader and isn’t far removed from its Sebring predecessor. It looks like a rental car and feels like one too.Chrysler

This one tried to spiff up a bit with a $495 package that ups the tires from 17-inchers to 18 and adds the S appearance package that blacks out the grille and light bezels and puts an S initial on the trunk. For the price, it helps gussy it up a bit.

But I don’t want to demean the 200, its build quality seems light years ahead of the Sebring, and actually seemed better than the Convertible version I drove last winter. Fiat, which owns Chrysler, has, ironically, improved build, fit and finish at Chrysler.

Yet I have to say, on a 600+ mile trip to Indianapolis and back via back roads in central and northern Indiana, the 200 was comfortable and paid big gas mileage dividends.

Its standard 2.4-liter I4 with variable valve timing delivers a moderate 173 horsepower. But its gas mileage was stellar. I got between 25.5 and 28.5 mpg and topped out at 32 mpg in a straight highway drive. The EPA rates this car at 20 mpg city and 31 highway and the trip computer estimated I could travel 502 miles before a fill-up. That makes for a stellar long-distance driver. Continue reading 2013 Chrysler 200