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all-wheel drive

2017 Subaru Outback: A DriveWays Review . . .

by Frank A. Aukofer

Some day someone will carve or cast a monument to the Subaru Outback, in 2017 still a steady success because of an imaginative modification.

In 1995, sport utility vehicles were coming into their own, led by the Ford Explorer, which used a pickup truck chassis with a station wagon body. It became the best-selling SUV. Other manufacturers took note.

But Subaru was a passenger car company with no truck experience. It finessed the situation by taking its existing Legacy station wagon, adding all-wheel drive and jacking up the body to deliver better ground clearance and a taller ride height.

17_Outback_SnowNot much later, the company decided to make all-wheel drive standard in all of its models. That exists to this day except for the rear-drive BRZ sports coupe, developed jointly with Toyota, which sells it as the 86 (formerly Scion FR-S).

Though automobile engineering is way more complicated than most people imagine, adding all-wheel drive to the Outback and other Subaru models was relatively simple.

That’s because Subaru is the only vehicle manufacturer to exclusively install horizontally-opposed engines, also called “boxer” or “flat” engines, in all of its vehicles. It’s a design used from the 1930s to the mid-1970s in all Volkswagen Beetles and microbuses.

Boxer engines have their cylinders lying horizontally, feet to feet, on both sides of the crankshaft, instead of leaning or standing upright like engines with a V or vertical design. To add all-wheel drive to a front-drive vehicle the engineers ran a driveshaft off the back of the engine.

17TDI_OBKb049Boxer engines, because of their low profile, also deliver a lower center of gravity for improved handling. Some of that gets canceled out by the Outback’s tall profile but it works well.

With 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the Outback can negotiate many off-road trails. However, it lacks some equipment needed for serious boondocks duty — though it does have hill descent control. Its orientation is toward more secure handling in nasty weather conditions.

Subaru never did produce a typical truck-based SUV. Instead, almost every other manufacturer came around to Subaru’s concept. Truck-based SUVs now are in the minority while unit-body car-based crossover SUVs like the Outback rule the sales charts.

Moreover, Subaru’s vision enabled the company to survive and even improve sales in the great recession a decade ago. And it continues. Buyers signed up for 182,898 Outbacks in 2016. It was far and away Subaru’s best seller, better than the acclaimed Forester and the smaller Crosstrek, its other crossovers.

16Obk_Touring-intThe Outback 2.5i tested for this review was the Touring model, which came so well equipped that it carried no options. The starting price, $36,870, is the same as the bottom-line sticker. Power comes from a 175-hp four-cylinder boxer engine that delivers 174 lb-ft of torque. If you want more, the Touring can be upgraded for $2,200 with a 256-hp 3.6-liter six-cylinder boxer engine with 247 lb-ft of torque.

Both versions get the power to all four wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that can be shifted manually with paddles mounted on the steering wheel.

A CVT, which uses a system of belts and pulleys to multiply the engine’s torque, ordinarily has no shift points. Some sound and feel as if the transmission is slipping. That doesn’t sit well with some drivers, who prefer the feel of automatic shift points.

17TDI_OBKb010Subaru mitigates most of that and also programs the transmission to impart artificial shift points under hard acceleration. The manual shift mode on the 2.5i mimics a six-speed automatic. EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is a respectable 25/32/28 miles to the gallon.

One shortcoming: If you shut off the engine in Drive and forget to shift into Park, the Outback can roll away. There’s no automatic fail-safe.

Though the Outback is a midsize, it feels and drives like a bigger vehicle. Interior space is generous, especially in the back seat, which has enough knee and head room to accommodate NBA basketball players. The drawback is the center-rear seat, which is compromised by a hard, high cushion and a large floor hump.

The tested Touring model came with Subaru’s Eyesight system, which includes such safety items as collision mitigation, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning and automatic braking when reversing.

The Outback still resembles a station wagon. But it’s doubtful prospective customers see anything but a fully-equipped midsize crossover SUV that comes with a promise of durability and a long-term relationship.

17_ObkSpecifications

  • Model: 2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder, 175 hp, 174 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with six-speed manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 105/36 cubic feet. (73)
  • Weight: 3,684 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/32/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,870.
  • Price as tested: $36,870.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

17TDI_OBKb003Photos (c) Subaru

2017 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

To get a leg up usually helps, but the all-new and newly independent 2017 Subaru Impreza surpasses that by getting two wheels up on the competition.

For many years, Subaru has distinguished itself by making all-wheel drive standard on every one of its cars and crossover sport utility vehicles. In the current lineup, there is one exception: the BRZ rear-drive sports coupe. But that was developed with Toyota to give both manufacturers an entry in that category.

Subaru’s other distinction is that all its vehicles use horizontally-opposed engines. Also called “boxer” or “flat” engines, the cylinders lie flat on both sides of the crankshaft — unlike engines with upright cylinders or V-type engines, where the cylinders lean at an angle.

1-_2017_impreza_2-0i_sport_sedan__midIn the last century, boxer engines were ubiquitous in Volkswagen Beetles and microbuses. The other major manufacturer currently installing them — in some models — is Germany’s Porsche, the sports car specialist. The advantage of a boxer is its squished vertical profile, which contributes to a lower center of gravity.

The Impreza — Subaru’s entry in the compact sedan and hatchback class — is newly independent because it now is separate from the company’s high-performance WRX and WRX STI models, which formerly were versions of the Impreza.

For 2017, the Impreza is built on a new platform, which the company says will underpin all its new vehicles for the foreseeable future — even an expected new three-row large crossover SUV. In manufacturer-speak, a platform contains the essentials of a vehicle that can be used in multiple models.

17cl_imp_4c_af37567_032921__midThough marketed as a compact, the new Impreza, in both sedan and hatchback configurations, is classified as a midsize by the EPA based on its interior passenger and cargo space. For the first time, it will be built in the U.S., in a plant in Indiana.

It competes directly against two other outstanding new compacts—also classified as midsize cars — where it gets its two-wheels-up advantage. They are the 2017 Honda Civic and 2017 Hyundai Elantra. Both the Civic and the Elantra, like the Impreza, come in multiple versions. But the most apt comparison here involves each nameplate’s Sport models.

All three, close to 15 feet long and nicely equipped with either automatic transmissions or manual gearboxes, have similar price tags of around $23,000. The Elantra Sport is a standard four-door sedan; the Civic Sport is a hatchback. Both have front-wheel drive.

9-_2017_impreza__midThe Impreza Sport can be ordered as either a four-door sedan or as a hatchback. Alone among the three, it comes with all-wheel drive.

Of the trio, the Elantra Sport delivers the most horsepower. Its turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 201 hp with 195 lb-ft of torque. The Civic Sport’s 1.5-liter four, also a turbo, delivers 180 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. The Impreza’s 2.0-liter four-banger comes in third with 152 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque.

The different power ratings are reflected in the city/highway/combined fuel economy numbers: Civic 30/39/33, Impreza 27/36/30 and Elantra 22/30/25.

4-_2017_impreza_2-0i_sport__midBut power alone does not tell the tale. All three are superb choices in their own way. The focus here is on the tested Impreza Sport four-door sedan, which has a rigid chassis that makes for quiet highway touring with taut handling abetted by its full-time all-wheel drive.

The tester was equipped with Subaru’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which uses belts and pulleys to deliver acceleration without shift points. Recognizing that some potential buyers might prefer the sensation of shifting, Subaru includes software to mimic a seven-speed automatic under vigorous acceleration. The CVT also can be shifted manually.

Though not quite as quick off the line as its Sport competitors, the Impreza delivers acceptably strong acceleration and confident power on the highway. It cruises comfortably and quietly, and the Sport includes automatic brake-activated torque vectoring to hustle the Impreza on curves.

8-_2017_impreza_2-0i_sport__midOf course, the Sport is not the only Impreza. There’s also a base version, Premium and Limited versions in both sedan and hatchback models. The hatchback is six inches shorter than the sedan but can carry 21 cubic feet of cargo—more if you stack it higher than the beltline—compared to the sedan’s trunk of 12 cubic feet.

For peace of mind, you also can order Subaru’s state-of-the-art Eyesight driver assist suite, which includes reverse automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, blind-spot detection and rear cross traffic alert.

Even without two wheels up, the Impreza would bow to no Sport in its sector.

11199_019Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport four-door sedan.
  • Engine:0-liter four cylinder, 152 hp, 148 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 100/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,179 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/36/30 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $23,615.
  • Price as tested: $23,615.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Subaru.

 

2017 Audi S3 quattro: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With its 2017 A3 and S3 models, Germany’s Audi redefines the meaning of “entry level.”

Yes, they are the first-step introduction to the company’s extensive lineup of luxury/high performance sports cars, sedans and crossover sport utility vehicles. But they are anything but base.

Their only nod to the entry label is their classification as subcompact cars. With a total of slightly more than 96 cubic feet of interior volume, they reside in the U.S. government’s subcompact range of 85 to 99 cubic feet. That includes 86 cubic feet for passengers and 10 cubic feet of trunk space.

That has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is a tidy footprint. At 14 feet 8 inches long, they exhibit quick and precise handling, especially in the all-wheel-drive quattro models, along with a capability of doing rapid U-turns almost anywhere.

news-2017-audi-s3-10The main disadvantage is a small trunk and a back seat that anyone over 6 feet tall likely would find challenging, with restricted knee and head room. As with most sedans these days, the outboard rear seats are comfortable but the center-rear position—with a hard cushion and big floor hump—should be reserved for backpacks or watermelons.

The A3 was introduced to plaudits as a 2016 model. Now, for 2017, there’s a family of four: A3 in sedan and convertible (Cabriolet) models with either front-drive or all-wheel drive; high-performance S3 sedan with quattro all-wheel drive, and the e-tron plug-in hybrid four-door hatchback.

Audi chose the new S3 as the 2017 launch vehicle. With standard all-wheel drive, it is powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 292 horsepower and 280 pounds-feet of torque. That considerable power gets to the pavement through a snap-shifting six-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission that also can be manually shifted with paddles on the steering wheel.

news-2017-audi-s3-9Audi says the S3’s zero-to-60 mph acceleration time is 4.7 seconds, with a top track speed of 155 mph (or 130 with all-season tires). It’s unlikely anybody would try that on a regular basis, but the confidence of instant power is always present.

The A3, with a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, comes with 186 horsepower and 221 pounds-feet of torque. That’s with front-wheel drive and a starting price tag of $32,150. Order it with Quattro all-wheel drive, and the 2.0-liter four-cylinder delivers 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The sticker is $35,100.

None of the prices are in economy car territory and options boost the stickers even higher. The tested S3 had a starting price of $43,850 and when the extras were added the bottom-line cost came to $51,325.

news-2017-audi-s3-24Leather upholstery is part of the standard equipment, unlike the man-made faux leather on some other luxury cars. It also includes full safety equipment, automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, satellite and HD radio, smart phone interface with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, and a seven-inch infotainment screen that hides in the dash and rises majestically when the S3 wakes up.

Among the options were a navigation system, Bang & Olufsen premium audio system, 19-inch custom wheels with high-performance summer tires, magnetic ride control, cross traffic alert, sport seats and soft Nappa leather upholstery. Curiously for a car in this price class, all the S3’s front seat controls are manual, although they offer a myriad of adjustments to accommodate almost anyone.

One minor annoyance is the shade for the panoramic sunroof, which is made from a perforated cheesecloth-like material that allows way too much sunlight to intrude. This is a current fad embraced by too many luxury cars. Sun shades should be opaque.

news-2017-audi-s3-23But driver satisfaction and entertainment is the bottom line on the S3 sedan. Under any circumstance you might imagine—short of rough off-roading, which you would never do anyway—the S3 accelerates strongly, shifts swiftly, brakes strongly, handles with intuitive competence, tracks cleanly on straightaways, promises reliability and delivers a ride that is sporting stiff but compliant and not uncomfortable.

The only thing some owners in areas of foul weather might do would be to swap out the 155-mph summer tires for the 130-mph all-season tires. As much grip as they deliver in handling and stopping on dry surfaces, the summer tires get tricky in messy circumstances.

Because of its price, the S3 is not a car for everybody. However, you can order a lightly optioned A3 with front-drive and almost as much driving satisfaction—at a price near what an average new car sells for nowadays.

news-2017-audi-s3-11Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Audi S3 quattro four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder, turbocharged, 292 hp, 280 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 86/10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,462 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/28/24 mpg. Premium recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,850.
  • Price as tested: $51,325.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Audi.

 

2017 Ford Focus RS: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though not widely lauded, the 2017 Ford Focus RS epitomizes the ongoing revolution in the world-wide automobile industry.

First, it’s a four-door hatchback, a body style that American buyers rejected but now is getting new respect because of the way manufacturers reconfigured and renamed hatchbacks as crossovers.

A crossover generally is defined as a tall utility vehicle that is built with a unit body like a car, instead of with a body on frame, like a traditional pickup truck.

The biggest current change in consumer preferences is away from traditional sedans and toward compact and mid-size crossover sport utility vehicles. They are now setting sales records across the board, from popular priced to luxury. Even a high-altitude luxury brand like Bentley weighs in with its $229,000 mid-size Bentayga.

_42a1075_hrMany crossovers are little more than jacked-up four-door hatchbacks with all-wheel drive. They demonstrate the ingenuity of automotive designers and engineers, who took an orphan design and turned it into a star.

The Focus RS also has all-wheel drive, though it’s more of a performance feature than a utilitarian, all-weather enhancement. That, too, is a trend with no end in sight.

Most of all, however, the revolution is under the hood as manufacturers, thanks to creative computer software, extract ever more power from smaller engines.

No longer do people repeat the old mantra that “there’s no replacement for displacement.” That was once true. Muscle cars of the last half of the 20th century, despite poor handling and brakes but with big V8 engines, now are history though avidly sought by collectors.

16fordfocusrs_11_hrFour-cylinder engines, including the one in the new Focus RS, are becoming the norm. Often with turbocharging, they deliver horsepower and torque, along with fuel economy that only could be imagined even a decade ago.

The RS four-banger has a displacement—the total volume inside the cylinders—of 2.3 liters. That’s not much more than that two-liter soft drink bottle at the supermarket. Yet it delivers a whopping 350 horsepower and 350 pounds-feet of torque. With its six-speed manual gearbox and curb weight of 3,460 pounds, it can rocket to 60 miles an hour in less than five seconds.

That sort of performance doesn’t come cheap. Basically, the Ford Focus is a compact economy car with a starting price of about $18,000. The RS, with its high-zoot power, all-wheel drive and handling refinements, starts at $36,995. The test car, with options, had a suggested retail price at $40,475.

Base equipment includes Brembo high-performance brakes, selectable drive modes, pushbutton starting, launch control, satellite radio with Ford’s Sync system, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lights and a rear spoiler.

focus-rs_12An options package on the test car included a navigation system, performance summer tires on painted alloy wheels, heated front seats, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel and heated outside mirrors.

Except for the custom 19-inch wheels and a few other styling fillips, the Focus RS does not betray its economy compact origin, which makes it something of a stealth bomber on the highway.

Even the interior does not depart much from the base car except for the aftermarket Recaro bucket seats with their generous side bolsters and high friction cloth upholstery with leather trim to grip the torso in spirited driving. They feel terrific but take a bit of extra effort to settle into.

focus_rs_09The RS’s standard launch control minimizes wheel spin in acceleration runs. It also comes with four different drive modes: normal, sport, track and drift. The last is a bit questionable because the motor sport of drifting involves busting the rear end loose around a corner in a display of tire burning smoke.

The RS all-wheel drive mitigates the drift. It features a standard torque vectoring system that can send about 70% of the power to the rear wheels.

The operative description of the Focus RS is “tight.” The steering, shifter, clutch, ride, seating—everything about this so-called “hot hatch” is tight and stiff. It’s a characteristic well loved by enthusiasts but not endearing to commuters. Despite that, however, the shift linkage is direct and intuitive.

The sport, track and drift modes deliver a rock hard ride so most owners likely will engage normal for everyday driving. The different modes adjust the suspension system.

This obviously is not a casual car. Many drivers likely would reject it out of hand after one test drive. The Focus RS requires skill and effort to bring out its considerable qualities. But over time it can deliver the automotive equivalent of a teenage crush.

_p9a2215_hrSpecifications

  • Model: 2017 Ford Focus RS four-door hatchback.
  • Engine:3-liter four cylinder, turbocharged, 350 hp, 350 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 91/20 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,460 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/25/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,995.
  • Price as tested: $40,475.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Ford.

2017 Audi A4 2.0T quattro S tronic: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

To those with more than a passing interest in automobiles, sports sedans like the 2017 Audi A4 represent the epitome of automotive excellence.

Though more expensive in most cases than midsize and even near-luxury cars, they do everything well and more than meet expectations.

They can carry four passengers—five in a pinch, with luggage—and deliver outstanding performance, handling and braking with a comfortable enough ride.

Most of all, they provide a high level of driver satisfaction of the sort that prompts owners to go for a drive for the pure pleasure of it.

They are a fairly rare breed. Besides the Audi A4, they include the Jaguar XE, BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus IS, Acura TLX and Cadillac ATS. They are not exactly the same size, classified both as compact and midsize by the U.S. government. But they’re close enough.

news-2017-audi-a4-l-16In such company, it is enough simply to be competitive. It takes a lot more to stand out and, when that happens, it’s usually by a narrow margin.

Such is the case with the tested Audi A4 2.0T quattro S tronic. That’s a nomenclature mouthful, but it aptly describes the compact A4 with the turbocharged 252 hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. “quattro” is Audi’s name for its renowned all-wheel drive system. The S tronic is the company’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

For traditionalists, especially those who enjoy shifting for themselves, Audi also will offer a six-speed manual gearbox. That’s unusual in an era when stick shifts are vanishing from the scene even in ultra high performance sports cars.

The vast majority of customers, however, will order and enjoy the S tronic automatic, which has a manual shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. It’s entertaining on twisting mountain roads, where you want to hold the transmission in a gear to keep the engine revs up.

news-2017-audi-a4-interior-3-wBut as with most of these setups, the onboard computer uncannily computes when shifts up or down should be triggered, and can nearly always shift faster and more accurately than any human.

The A4’s S tronic does that, though occasionally there is an almost imperceptible slip when accelerating off the line—a characteristic of some twin clutch automatics. Mostly, you don’t notice anything and the A4 rockets to 60 mph in slightly more than five seconds, according to Audi and independent tests. Top speed is rated at 130 mph.

The A4 has selectable drive modes—automatic, comfort, dynamic and individual—but even in the softest setting it exhibits athletic moves. It also delivers enviable fuel economy. The EPA rates the city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 24/31/27 mpg.

news-2017-audi-a4-interior-4-wThe base A4 quattro, designated as Premium in Audi-speak, starts at $40,350, including the destination charge. If you don’t want or need the all-wheel drive, you can knock $2,100 off the sticker by ordering the front-wheel drive version.

Standard equipment includes three-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof, rearview camera, leather upholstery, xenon headlights, eight-way power front seats, pushbutton starting with engine stop-start, 17-inch wheels, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

The heavily optioned test car, with a $54,275 sticker, added 18-inch wheels, Bang & Olufsen audio system, memory power seats, head-up display, digital gauge cluster, cooled and heated front seats, heated rear seats, adjustable suspension system, and an option package that included navigation, blind-spot warning and rear-end collision warning.

Also on the tester was a $1,800 driver assistance package that included adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and traffic sign recognition. The combination enables the A4 to drive itself for short distances but should not be mistaken for a fully autonomous vehicle. Those are still way down the road.

news-2017-audi-a4-l-8The A4 provides supportive and comfortable seating for four passengers, with manual front seat thigh support extensions. It has five seatbelts but the center rear seating position is hopelessly compromised by a giant floor hump and a center console that intrudes into the back seat. It’s best to simply pull down the center armrest with the two small cup holders and leave it there.

Another negative is the automatic transmission shifter, which requires the driver to press a separate button on the back side to engage “park.” You can get used to it over time but, following longstanding habit, most drivers push the shifter forward, think they’re in “park” and wind up in “reverse” instead.

Overall, the Audi A4 stands out in a group of standout sports sedans.

news-2017-audi-a4-l-13Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Audi A4 2.0T quattro S tronic four door sedan.
  • Engine:0-liter four cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled, 252 hp, 273 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed twin clutch automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 94/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,670 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/31/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,350.
  • Price as tested: $54,275.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Photos (c) Audi.

 

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