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2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The most important and difficult thing in the automotive business is an institutional ability to predict the future. Bavarian Motor Works has actually managed some of that soothsaying, of which the 2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i is a prime example.

Starting with the X5 in 1999, the German manufacturer has expanded its lineup of crossover sport utility vehicles to plug every size and power niche in the premium category—to the point where there are now seven distinct models: X1, new X2, X3 reviewed here, X4, X5, X6 and the upcoming X7, plus higher performance versions.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-001Whether the company was reacting to a trend or sucking its collective thumb contemplating where the market was headed, it has caught the wave of buyer infatuation with crossover SUVs, which are proliferating in every price class.

It remains to be seen whether this is a passing fad, but no matter. BMW also has a garage full of sedans, coupes, convertibles and sports cars in case there’s a course correction. We’ll skip self-driving cars for now.

Meanwhile, the company, which manufactures many of its crossovers at its plant in Spartanburg, S.C., entices high-end customers with machines like the new X3 xDrive 30i and the higher-performance — and higher-priced — X3 M40i.

P90263768_highResA note about BMW nomenclature: a lower-case i identifies a sedan like the 330i or 550i, the i3 electric car, or even the i8 hybrid sports car. If a capital X precedes a number, it is what BMW calls a “sports activity vehicle,” known in the business as a crossover SUV. A lower-case x, as in xDrive, designates any BMW with all-wheel drive. Oh, there’s also the Z4 two-seat sports car. And if there’s an M somewhere in the title, it’s a higher-performance or better decorated model. Write it down.

The model numbers actually don’t mean much anymore. You might assume that the tested X3 xDrive 30i comes with a 3.0-liter engine. Nope. Because modern engines with turbocharging are getting smaller, this one actually delivers 248 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder motor.

Step up to the higher-performance X3 M40i and the engine actually is a 3.0-liter V6 with twin turbochargers that makes 355 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Enough said.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-003Back to the subject, the U.S.-built X3 30i. This is a nicely executed compact crossover with the power and features expected in this category. However, as with other automakers, BMW has an extensive options list and charges extra for equipment that is standard elsewhere.

For example: The $3,300 Premium package includes a heated steering wheel, navigation system and head-up display. Tack on another $350 for the heated front and rear seats. The $2,850 Convenience package gets you a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry, lumbar support and SXM satellite radio.

Continuing: The $1,400 Dynamic Handling package includes M Sport brakes, dynamic adaptive shock absorbers and variable sport steering, while the $900 Driving Assistance package covers blind spot and lane departure warning. The Parking Assist package covers a surround-view camera, active parking assist and distance control.

P90263747_highResThere also are individual options, including $1,700 for Vernasca leather upholstery, $875 for a premium Harman Kardon audio system, $300 for Apple CarPlay, $500 for wireless device charging and $550 for metallic paint.

You get the picture. All of that brought the test X3’s base price of $43,445 up to $57,620. Of course, there also were many desirable items that were part of the standard equipment, including the eight-speed automatic transmission, driver-selectable driving modes, hill-descent control, automatic stop/start, garage-door opener, dark oak wood interior trim, leather-covered steering wheel, tri-zone automatic climate control, 19-inch alloy wheels, LED low-beam headlights and fog lights, and a power tailgate.

P90263757_highResMuch of that, of course, is frosting that doesn’t affect the basic driving goodness of the X3, which hews to BMW’s traditional dedication to performance, handling and braking. The X3, however, also delivers a luxury ambiance enhanced by a quiet cabin. You hear the engine under hard acceleration but highway cruising at a steady speed is almost tranquil.

Overall, however, this is an inviting modern conveyance that delivers a competent, pleasurable and comfortable driving experience with a dose of excitement. With sales of 40,691 in 2017, it is BMW’s third-best selling model, behind the 3-Series compact sedan and midsize X5 crossover SUV.

X3 competitors include the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5, Jaguar F-Pace, Land Rover’s Range Rover Evoque and the Mercedes-Benz GLC.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-006Specifications

  • Model: 2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 248 hp, 285 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/29 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,156 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/29/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,445.
  • Price as tested: $57,620.

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

P90263762_highResPhotos (c) BMW.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2018 Buick Enclave Avenir may become as popular in its own way as its cousin, the GMC Yukon Denali, but it already was famous in typographical circles as a modern sans-serif typeface or font.

However, it may be that the Avenir name was chosen because it is the French word for “future.” Either way, it represents Buick’s effort to push its three-row crossover sport utility even more upscale to mimic the Denali versions in its GMC sibling division at General Motors.

Denali models, named for a mountain and national park in Alaska, have been an unqualified success for GMC, which is primarily a manufacturer of trucks and SUVs. It seems that many of its customers are eager to pay more for luxurious surroundings, so the Denali trim is available on six GMC models, including the Acadia Denali, a striver that is named for not one but two US National Parks, with Acadia located in Maine.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir
2018 Buick Enclave Avenir

A luxury ambiance also is the purpose of the new Enclave Avenir, a new, upscale trim level of Buick’s seven-passenger crossover SUV. It delivers stylish, flowing lines and is roughly the same size as the Chevrolet Traverse but a bit larger than the GMC Acadia.

The Avenir doesn’t directly compete with the three-row Yukon Denali, which comes in two lengths and is a fully-realized SUV built like a burly pickup truck with a body-on-frame. But the Avenir, properly equipped like the one tested for this review, can tow up to 5,000 pounds and accommodate six adults in reasonable comfort. A seventh can squeeze into the third-row seat.

Unfortunately, access to that third row is difficult and only available through the right-rear door. Plus, it takes muscle to flip the right-side second-row seat forward for access to the third row. However, the second row consists of two captain’s chairs so more nimble family members can scurry between them and get back in steerage.

2018-Buick-Enclave-Avenir-016The immediate impression when first seated in the Enclave Avenir is the plush surroundings — soft and supportive leather seats, heated and ventilated up front with heated second row seats; memory settings for the driver’s seat; pushbutton starting with remote locking; powered third-row seat that folds with the touch of a button; tri-zone automatic climate control; power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel; dual-pane panoramic sunroof; full infotainment functions including navigation, Wi-Fi hotspot, inductive device charging; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and SXM satellite radio.

2018-Buick-Enclave-Avenir-014The tested Avenir also came with 20-inch aluminum wheels and a $2,095 technology package that included adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking that augmented the standard safety equipment of lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, front pedestrian braking, rear cross-traffic alert and a 360-degree surround-vision camera.

However, the inside rear-view uses not a mirror but a camera, which makes for confusion because the driver’s eyes must constantly adjust for depth perception to see what’s going on. Better to stick with a standard mirror.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir
2018 Buick Enclave Avenir

On the road, the Enclave Avenir feels like the big vehicle it is. At 17 feet long and weighing 4,565 lbs, it is more of an easy-riding rolling comfort zone than a frisky conveyance with quick moves. In that sense, it’s just the thing for a long family road trip, mostly on freeways. Though it doesn’t have the interior dimensions of a minivan, it comes close. Among its competitors are similar luxury crossover SUVs like the Acura MDX, Infiniti QX70 and the Volvo XC90.

There’s 24 cubic feet of space for cargo behind the third-row seat. Press a button to fold it and the space expands to 58 cubic feet. If you have to move something big like a side table, folding the second row as well opens 98 cubic feet of cargo space.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir
2018 Buick Enclave Avenir

The Avenir’s 310-hp 3.6-liter V6 engine with 266 lb-ft of torque is more than adequate to any motoring task, from merging onto freeways or passing on two-lane roads. It runs on regular grade gasoline.

The Avenir is available with standard front-wheel drive or—as on the version tested here — all-wheel drive. Power gets to the wheels through an easy-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. It is controlled by a new shift lever that requires some attention before you learn to use it without thinking about it.

Overall, the Enclave Avenir would work for anyone with a minivan aversion and a desire for luxury. The tester started at $56,690 with a bottom-line sticker of $59,435.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir
2018 Buick Enclave Avenir

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Buick Enclave Avenir AWD 1SP four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:6-liter V6, 310 hp, 266 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 17 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 157/24 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,565 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/25/20 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $56,690.
  • Price as tested: $59,435.

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

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir
2018 Buick Enclave Avenir

Photos (c) Buick.

2018 Subaru Crosstrek Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With a reservoir of affection from loyal fans, the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek boosts the Japanese company’s relentless climb up the staircase to automotive nirvana.

Few vehicle manufacturers have been as successful as Subaru since industry sales tanked in the 2007-2009 recession. When other nameplates sagged and struggled, Subaru surged. Starting in 2008, its sales increased every year until they reached 615,132 in 2016.

In 2012, Subaru introduced the Crosstrek XV, a small crossover sport utility vehicle based on the same platform as the Impreza sedan and hatchback. It, too, has succeeded with sales up every year since, reaching 99,677 in 2016.

18_Xtrek_Lmtd-Front_in_motionSubaru insiders credit a chunk of the success to an epiphany that many owners loved their cars for their durability and reliability, and expected them to last a long time. The company morphed those sentiments into advertising that equated ownership with love.

Crossovers like the Crosstrek are generally described as SUV-like vehicles built with unit bodies like cars, where traditional SUVs are built like trucks with body-on-frame construction. Usually, crossovers have front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive but all Subaru cars and crossovers, with the exception of the rear-drive BRZ sports coupe, come standard with all-wheel drive.

18_Xtrek_Lmtd_Red-FrontAs newer compact and subcompact crossovers threaten to engulf the marketplace, the 2018 Crosstrek (the SV designation has been dropped) is positioned to expand its reach as well.

In concept and size, the new generation Crosstrek is the same as the original, which made its debut as a 2013 model. But the 2018 is built on an all-new platform that will be used for Subaru vehicles world-wide and, according to company officials, it is 95% new with 80% new parts and a 70% more rigid structure.

A test drive fortified the claim. Though the original Crosstrek was a modestly capable vehicle, it did not have an overall aura of substance. In contrast, the new car has a rigid, solid feel. The steering, suspension system and tires contribute to confident handling and stable straight-line tracking. The Crosstrek also employs torque vectoring, which adjusts wheel speed in cornering.

18MY_Crosstrek_Lmtd-interior5The weak point is the power train, which despite a new 152-hp 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder engine, does not differ much from the 148-hp engine in the original Crosstrek.

With a horizontally opposed engine, also referred to as a boxer or flat engine, the cylinders lie supine on both sides of the crankshaft instead of leaning or standing upright as on V or in-line engines. The squat design results in a lower center of gravity for better control.

The Crosstrek’s relaxed power is not as noticeable with the continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT) as with the 6-speed manual gearbox.

18_Xtrek_Lmtd-interior_2toneOn modest uphill highway stretches with the manual transmission, the driver often finds that downshifts to as low as third gear are required as the engine struggles to supply enough power. It’s as if the drivetrain were designed to maximize fuel economy over performance.

The power shortage is not nearly as noticeable with the CVT, which uses belts and pulleys to seamlessly adjust engine revolutions as needed. There are two CVT versions. On lower trim levels, the CVT adjusts to enhance acceleration and off-road performance. On the Limited model tested here, the CVT came with a computerized 7-speed manual-shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel.

Although the Crosstrek is not designed as an all-out boondocks buddy, it does have enough ground clearance and capability to handle some off-road territory, as well as delivering confident performance in snow and other foul weather conditions.

18MY_Crosstrek_Lmtd-2tone_rear_seatWith the manual gearbox, the all-wheel drive system distributes power 50-50 to the front and rear wheels. If slippage occurs, it automatically transfers the power to the wheels with the most traction.

On CVT equipped models, the system automatically adjusts the torque distribution based on available traction, acceleration and deceleration. There’s also a hill-descent control to maintain traction at low speeds downhill.

18MY_Crosstrek-engineThe 2018 Crosstrek arrives with three trim levels: Base, at $22,710 including the destination charge; Premium, at $23,510; and Limited, at $27,210. Both the base and Premium versions come with the new 6-speed manual gearbox (up from a 5-speed before). The CVT is a $1,000 option, but is standard on the Limited.

Premium and Limited models can be equipped with Subaru’s optional EyeSight driver assist technology, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, pre-collision braking, blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert.

18_Xtrek_Lmtd-Rear_in_motionSpecifications

  • Model: 2018 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter 4-cylinder, 152 hp, 145 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with 7-speed manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 98/21 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,230 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/33/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,210.
  • Price as tested: $30,655.

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

18_Xtrek_Lmtd-wheelPhotos (c) Subaru.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Volkswagen ups its game in the crossover SUV arena with a triple-double by a new player, the 2018 Tiguan.

It has nothing to do with points, rebounds, assists or blocked shots in a basketball game, though the German manufacturer would be delighted if the Tiguan managed some steals from competitors.

To that end, it has doubled its overall warranty to 72,000 miles and six years from the standard 36,000 miles and three years. It also has added a third row of seats to all Tiguans, standard on front-wheel drive models and a $500 option on all-wheel-drive models.

2018_tiguan_-_sel_premium_7316It’s all part of VW’s effort to win over new fans and rebuild trust among existing ones who were angered and disillusioned by the company’s cheating on diesel-engine emissions. Not surprisingly, the new Tiguan is powered by a gasoline engine, though a gasoline/electric hybrid could eventually follow.

The Tiguan’s triple-double certainly enhances its appeal, although the South Korean Hyundai and Kia brands currently offer an overall warranty of 60,000 miles and five years, as well as 10 years and 100,000 miles on the engine and transmission.

For now, the Tiguan’s power comes from a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that delivers 184 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque through an 8-speed automatic transmission. City/highway/combined fuel economy is 21/27/23 mpg.

2018_tiguan_-_sel_premium_7283The Tiguan plays in the current automotive version of March Madness, in which crossover sport utility vehicles of all sizes are knocking sedans out of the game. That’s particularly true in the compact cluster where the Tiguan competes against such proven competitors as the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-5.

With the new Tiguan, VW reckons that it now can brag that it is a family-oriented full-line company. It joins the midsize Touareg and new full-size Atlas, along with the Golf Sportwagen, Golf hatchbacks, Beetle, and Jetta, CC and Passat sedans.

The new Tiguan is nearly 11 inches longer than its predecessor, now stretching to 15 feet 5 inches in length. That delivered enough space for the third row, which increases the passenger capacity to seven. However, the third row should be reserved for athletic small children and forbidden to senior citizens of any age. It takes a gymnast’s twists and turns to get back there, where there’s barely enough space for backpacks and watermelons.

2018_tiguan_-_s_7268Likely most owners will reserve the third row for dire emergencies and simply leave it folded to expand the cargo area, which in two-row versions has 38 cubic feet of space, about triple what you find in compact sedans.

The Tiguan comes in four trim levels with a starting price of $24,245 for the base S and ranging up to $38,450 for the all-wheel-drive top-of-the-line SEL Premium. The focus here is on the two-row all-wheel-drive SE, which carried a price tag of $31,280.

To get all the goodies like navigation, lane departure and collision mitigation, blind-spot warning, rear camera, SXM satellite radio and other safety, connectivity and convenience items, you must order one of the more expensive versions.

2018_tiguan_-_sel_premium_7325Accommodations vary with cloth seats on the S, leatherette on SE and SEL, and leather on the SEL Premium. The choice here was for the comfortable and supportive cloth seats on the S, which look durable enough to survive many years. The leatherette should be durable as well, though it is less comfortable for long distances, especially in summer.

The Tiguan has a character that owners often refer to as its German feel. It tracks cleanly down the road, has a suspension system that absorbs bumps and, with accurate steering, handles curving roads without fuss. In addition, the ride is comfortable and very quiet with little intrusion of mechanical, road or wind noise.

2018_tiguan_-_sel_premium_7290A couple of quibbles are in order. The CD changer, in a nod to the past, resides in the glove compartment. Also, on models with the panoramic sunroof, the shade is made of a flimsy material that mimics cheesecloth and allows too much sunlight to intrude. Sun shades should be opaque.

Another cheesy item that saves a couple of bucks: The driver’s side sun visor slides on its support rod to fully block sun from the side; the passenger does not get the same courtesy because that visor is rigidly fixed.

Overall, this is an improved and more competitive Tiguan in a tough fight.

2018_tiguan_-_s_7266Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter 4-cylinder, turbocharged, 184 hp, 221 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/38 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,858 lbs.
  • Payload: 970 lbs.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/27/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,280.
  • Price as tested: $31,280.

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

2018_tiguan_-_s_7265Photos (c) Volkswagen.

2018 Volvo XC60: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Sweden’s Volvo resumes its unprecedented product push with the 2018 XC60 crossover sport utility vehicle, another in  a string of solid contenders.

It endured a long drought as the company adjusted to new ownership and sought a fresh path to success as a competitor in the luxury sedan, station wagon and crossover sport utility categories.

The new Volvo XC60

In mid-2015, the onslaught started with the well-received 2016 XC90 three-row crossover, followed by the S90 sedan, V90 station wagon and the V90 Cross Country, a rugged all-wheel drive version of the V90 wagon.

Now Volvo loyalists have another choice in the new two-row XC60 crossover, a solid performer that handles competently and delivers a creamy smooth and quiet ride.

The interior is estate-level plush — the sort of place where you don’t mind spending long hours and many miles. Workmanship and materials epitomize top quality, including genuine driftwood trim finished to a silvery satin sheen.

The new Volvo XC60

Although the redesigned XC60 competes in the luxury compact class against BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, it looks and feels more like a midsize crossover. It is a bit longer than the best-selling compact Honda CR-V and weighs about 500 lbs more. However, its passenger/cargo volume is less than that of the CR-V, owing mainly to its posh surroundings and sound deadening materials.

The X60 features three different drive systems, though all use versions of the company’s efficient 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. Power is sent to all four wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode.

The new Volvo XC60

Over many years, Volvo’s vehicles were powered by engines with four, five, six and even eight cylinders. After Geely of China bought the company in 2010, its engineers and designers embarked on a mission of efficiency and cutting-edge safety innovations. Geely smartly pumped in money but left the Volvo experts to their own devices.

To that end, Volvo has abandoned all but its family of 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engines. This fits an industry trend of designing smaller engines with fewer cylinders that deliver greater power and fuel economy. Much of it is made possible by clever computer software, though the engines also were engineered to be stronger.

The new Volvo XC60

On the new XC60, three powertrains embrace the all-wheel drive and versions of the four-banger: The base T5’s 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder delivers 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Step up to the T6 and the four gets both turbocharging and supercharging for a 316-hp output with 295 lb-ft of torque.

Both turbochargers and superchargers enhance power by forcing air and fuel into the cylinders. The supercharger is engine-driven and boosts power off the line. The turbo, which runs off exhaust gases, does the same as the engine revolutions rise.

The new Volvo XC60

There’s a third XC60 choice: the T8, which is a hybrid that sends the 2.0-liter engine’s power to the front wheels while an electric motor drives the rear wheels. The total system makes 400 hp and a zero-to-60 miles an hour acceleration time of 4.9 seconds, according to Volvo’s specifications. The T6 runs to 60 in 5.6 seconds and the T5 in 6.4 seconds.

Each of the three power train choices comes with three trim levels: Momentum; R-Design; and Inscription. The base T5 Momentum starts at $42,495 and the price ranges up to $57,695 for the T8 Inscription eAWD  hybrid model. Tested for this review was the T6 Inscription, which started at $49,695.

The new Volvo XC60

Not surprisingly, there are plenty of extras. The tester, for example, came with the $1,800 air-suspension system, $3,200 Bowers and Wilkins audio system, and option packages that included adaptive cruise control; a rear surround-view camera; head-up windshield display; heated windshield wipers; headlight washers, and heated and cooled front seats with massagers and power-adjustable bolsters.

However, you don’t have to pay extra for the XC60’s panoramic sunroof, which comes standard on all versions. Yet you will not be able to totally block sunlight because the sunroof shade is made of a perforated cloth. Moreover, you will have to tolerate sun visors that do not slide on their support rods to fully block sunlight from the side — something that is standard on many less expensive vehicles.

Volvo continues its traditional emphasis on safety, working toward the goal that by 2020 nobody will be killed or severely injured in one of its vehicles. The XC60 has a full complement of features, including a new lane departure mitigation system that will steer away from an oncoming car.

The new Volvo XC60

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Volvo XC60 T6 four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged and supercharged, 316 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 100/30 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,045 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: estimated 22/28/24 on premium fuel.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $49,695.
  • Price as tested: $60,040.

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

The new Volvo XC60

Photos (c) Volvo.

 

2017 BMW X4 M40i: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The dictionary definition of an anomaly as a “departure from the regular arrangement, general rule, or usual method” perfectly describes the 2017 BMW X4 M40i.

It’s a high-performance car that’s not really a car. It’s a crossover sport utility vehicle that’s designed to look like a coupe. But it’s not a coupe. Nor is it really an SUV.

What BMW’s designers did was to simply slice off half of the top over the cargo area to give it a fastback roofline, reminiscent of a coupe. The result is a tall, awkward looking all-wheel drive vehicle. Its close garage mate is the more conventional X3, with four doors and a standard crossover roofline.

p90151342_highres_the-new-bmw-x4-xdriv

It is nothing new with BMW, which parks its ultimate driving machines in more niches than anyone in the business. This sloped design started with the X6, a bigger crossover with cramped quarters, little cargo carrying capability and a price tag north of $62,000.

Almost anyone would surmise that would be a non-starter with potential buyers. But there usually are at least a few customers who like to be different, have the bucks to indulge their tastes and probably own another vehicle to do their hauling.

The X4 and X6 actually have a modicum of respectability despite their unusual design. In 2016, Americans bought 7,117 X6s and 4,989 X4s. But BMW’s more conventional crossovers—X1, X3 and X5—each had five-digit sales with all three totaling 119,649.

That said, the new X4 M40i is still a BMW, with all that entails for driver involvement. Its all-wheel drive system, with BMW’s dynamic stability control, is biased toward the rear wheels for improved handling. The setup includes stiffer springs, responsive steering, sturdy anti-roll bars and tuned shock absorbers, resulting in flat cornering with little body roll.

p90151390_lowres_the-new-bmw-x4-xdriv

Power comes from a 355-hp 3.0-liter turbocharged in-line six-cylinder engine that makes 343 lb-ft of torque. It gets the power to the pavement through an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel.

The combination makes for exhilarating performance, notwithstanding the X4 M40i’s tall profile. Car and Driver Magazine clocked the acceleration time at 4.4 seconds to 60 mph, which is more than anyone could use except occasionally. Top speed is rated at 150 mph. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is 18/26/21 mpg.

p90151371_highres_the-new-bmw-x4-xdriv

There are four driver-selectable driving modes: Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. They do what they suggest, including enhancing fuel economy, a better ride, more precise performance and handling, and all-out racetrack style driving.

The Comfort mode is the best for daily motoring, yet it has a sporting feel that is lacking in many crossover SUVs. Although 20-inch alloy wheels are a $950 option, the tested X4 M40i, with its standard 19-inch wheels, delivered a ride with sharp jolts on rough pavement.

p90151359_highres_the-new-bmw-x4-xdriv

The interior is accommodating for four passengers, though the sloped roofline — despite the tall profile — requires some ducking for entry. The center-rear seating position is problematical, and the fastback roofline keeps the cargo space to 18 cubic feet, which would be fine in a big four-door sedan but is mediocre in a compact crossover.

Despite its height, outward visibility is not the greatest, especially out back, where the rear window resembles a machine gun lookout in a World War II pillbox bunker. The pillars on both sides of the backlight (called C-pillars in the car biz) also restrict visibility so it’s important to adjust the outside mirrors correctly to eliminate blind spots.

p90151387_highres_the-new-bmw-x4-xdriv

The X4 M40i comes with a starting price of $59,095, which includes an expected suite of standard features: automatic climate control, automatic engine stop-start, adaptive cruise control, motorized sunroof, leather upholstery, remote locking, power tailgate, premium audio system with satellite radio, rain-sensing windshield wipers, power front sport seats and run-flat tires.

Options on the test vehicle included a $2,750 technology package with navigation and a head-up display; $1,950 for LED exterior lighting and automatic headlights; $950 cold weather package with heated seat and steering wheel; $1,150 for a surround view rearview camera, and $750 for the “glacier silver metallic” paint job. The bottom line sticker came to $66,545.

If your priority list requires driving a high-performance machine that handles well, rides hard and is impractical, different and somewhat exclusive, and if you have the wherewithal to buy or lease this anomaly, the X4 M40i should not disappoint.

p90151320_highres_the-new-bmw-x4-xdrivSpecifications

  • Model: 2017 BMW X4 M40i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged, 355 hp, 343 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 95/18 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,272 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/26/21 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $59,095.
  • Price as tested: $66,545.

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

Photos (c) BMW.

p90151378_highres_the-new-bmw-x4-xdriv

 

2017 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2017 Subaru Forester proves, once again, that excellence does not necessarily equate with popularity.

As a competitor for the growing consumer infatuation with compact crossover sport utility vehicles, the Forester consistently earns praise from critics and has been the top choice in the class by Consumer Reports.

_as_1357Yet it ranks sixth in sales among popular compact crossovers, behind the best-selling Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape and Chevrolet Equinox. That’s an achievement given the fact that Subaru, which enjoys a fine reputation and enviable owner loyalty, ranks eighth in overall sales among vehicles offered in the United States.

For 2017, the Forester achieves a level of technological advancement that makes it safer and a better performer than before, especially in the top tier 2.0XT Touring model tested for this review.

On the performance front, the 2.0XT comes with a 250-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that develops 258 pound-feet of torque. Its horizontally-opposed design (also called a boxer, flat or pancake configuration), in which the cylinders lie flat on both sides of the crankshaft, contributes to a lower center of gravity that aids the handling of this tall crossover.

_as_1983All-wheel drive is standard and the power gets to the wheels through an innovative continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which can be shifted manually with paddles on the steering wheel.

The transmission has three shift modes: Intelligent for routine driving chores, in which the CVT multiplies the engine’s torque without shift points. But for sharper performance there are two additional shift modes controlled by paddles on the steering wheel—Sport and Sport Sharp.

All three modes make for sprightly acceleration off the line but the Sport and Sport Sharp modes deliver a more flexible and involved driving experience.

_as_1236Shift into Sport and the transmission mimics the shift points of a six-speed automatic transmission for quicker response. Sport Sharp takes it one level better with eight speeds. Both the six- and eight-speed modes operate automatically or manually with the paddles.

They’re a lot of fun to play with in different circumstances and give the Forester a sporting manner that belies its practical crossover SUV orientation. Also, handling is enhanced by brake-activated torque vectoring to more precisely point the Forester around curves.

The suspension system soaks up softer bumps but the ride gets choppy on the many rough roads that have developed everywhere because federal, state and local jurisdictions are short of money to maintain them.

_as_1320On the safety side, the tested Forester 2.0XT arrived with Subaru’s EyeSight suite of driver assist features. They include adaptable cruise control, which automatically maintains a set distance from the car ahead; pre-collision braking, which will stop the vehicle if it detects an imminent collision; lane-departure warning and mitigation, which steers a wandering vehicle back into its lane; reverse automatic braking if an object is detected; rear cross-traffic alert; sway warning; automatic headlight high beams, and blind-spot warning (superfluous if the outside mirrors are adjusted properly).

There are also aids for modest off-roading: hill descent control, which maintains downhill speeds at 12 miles an hour or less, and pushbutton activated X-Mode, which reduces wheel slip by automatically adjusting engine and transmission responses below 18 miles per hour.

_as_1267With its tall, somewhat boxy shape, the Forester delivers exemplary passenger and cargo space. Headroom inside is generous enough for ten-gallon hats and the tall windows provide excellent outside visibility.

A giant motorized glass sunroof provides an expansive overhead view. Side view mirrors are mounted back on the doors, affording shorter drivers an unobstructed view of close obstacles like curbs. One shortcoming: despite slide-out extensions on the sun visors, they are not long enough to completely block sunlight from the sides.

_as_1348Though the rear seatbacks fold flat, they do not line up with the cargo floor. But there’s a generous 32 cubic feet of space for cargo behind the seatbacks, which grows to 69 cubic feet when they are flipped down.

Outboard back seats pamper tall passengers with plenty of knee room in addition to the head room. Even the center rear position, hampered by a floor hump and a hard seat cushion, is usable.

As the top of the line, the tested 2.0XT arrived with the highest Forester price. It starts at $35,170 and, with a navigation system, the Eyesight driver assistance and Subaru’s Starlink roadside assistance services, had a tested price of $36,765.

_as_2140Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Touring four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder, turbocharged, 250 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with six-speed and eight-speed manual modes; all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 108/32 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,479 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/27/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,170.
  • Price as tested: $36,765.

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

Photos (c) Subaru.

_as_1719

2017 Nissan Rogue SL Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In its opening weekend, the new Star Wars movie “Rogue One” dominated box offices with $155 million in ticket sales. Nissan hopes the Force will be with its namesake, the 2017 Nissan Rogue crossover SUV.

The movie came along at an opportune time, which Nissan seized. It trimmed up a 2017 Rogue, mainly with logos, badges, decals and black paint, cut a deal with the movie producers and introduced it at the Los Angeles Auto Show as the Star Wars Rogue One Limited Edition.

Nissan Rogue: Rogue One Star Wars Limited EditionBased on the Rogue’s midlevel SV version, the Star Wars model comes only in Glacier White or Magnetic Black. There’s a charcoal interior and Limited Edition floor mats along with Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire cup holder inserts, among other fillips. Production is limited at 5,000 U.S. units and the price works out to $33,920. Buyers also are entitled to a replica Death Trooper black helmet.

Actually, the Rogue has been doing quite well without venturing into the cosmos. It now is the best-selling vehicle in the Nissan lineup, totting up 329,904 sales in 2016. It now parks in third place among compact crossovers behind the Honda CR-V (357,355) and Toyota RAV4 (352,154).

2017 Nissan Rogue

Also new for this year is a Rogue Hybrid, the subject here. It joins the Rogue’s other models: S, SV and SL, in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Non-hybrid models offer optional third-row seats to boost the accommodations to seven passengers. The Hybrid’s battery pack nestles under the cargo area, precluding a third-row seat.

2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid

Because of the batteries, the cargo floor is raised a couple of inches. But there’s still a generous 30 cubic feet of space. Outboard second row seats deliver ample head and knee room, and even the center position is usable. Seatbacks fold down for additional loads.

Like most hybrids that are not super-performance cars, this new Rogue’s strong suit is fuel economy. It links a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with a 30-kWh electric motor. Together, they deliver 176 horsepower and EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption of 33/35/34 mpg in the tested front-drive version. The front-drive gasoline model is rated at 26/33/29 mpg.

2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid

Like other Nissans, the Rogue Hybrid sends its power to the wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which uses a system of belts and pulleys to seamlessly multiply gear ratios and transfer the engine’s power without the shift points of a traditional automatic transmission.

Nissan has extensive experience with CVTs connected to engines of different power and has largely eliminated characteristics that have prompted criticisms, like a noisy sensation that the transmission is slipping.

2017 Nissan Rogue

However, Nissan finesses even minor criticisms with computer programming that mimics shift points under hard acceleration or when manually shifting the CVT. On the Rogue Hybrid, there’s also a Sport mode that holds the shift points to higher engine revolutions for better acceleration, which of course guzzles extra gasoline.

Like other hybrids, the Rogue can be driven for short distances on electric power alone. But the gasoline engine soon kicks in for hybrid driving. It also employs an automatic stop-start system to contribute to fuel economy.

As a result, there’s a bit of hesitation off the line when the driver punches the throttle. Once underway, the Rogue Hybrid feels strong and has no problem keeping up with traffic, though you wouldn’t want to engage in many stoplight drag races.

2017 Nissan Rogue

Overall, this hybrid doesn’t feel much different from its internal combustion counterpart, mainly because its gasoline engine runs most of the time. It cruises comfortably and quietly, with a ride that’s a touch on the soft side, and tracks truly on straight roads. There is a bit of body lean on curves but nothing that causes anxiety as long as you slow down.

With its top-line SL trappings, the Rogue Hybrid comes well heeled with full safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert.

There’s also a panoramic glass sunroof, leather upholstery with heated front seats and memory settings for the driver’s seat, seven-inch touch screen with navigation and a rear overhead camera view, SXM satellite radio with real-time traffic information, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone automatic climate control, and Siri Eyes Free operation of vehicle functions. Exterior touches include LED turn signal lights and daytime running lights, roof rails, fog lights and heated outside power mirrors.

In the compact crossover SUV category, there currently is only one other hybrid competitor: the Toyota RAV4.

2017 Nissan Rogue

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Nissan Rogue SL Hybrid four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder gasoline with 30 kWh electric motor, 176 combined hp.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic; front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/30 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,685 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 33/35/34 mpg.
  • Estimated as tested price, including destination charge: $33,920.

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

Photos (c) Nissan.

2017 Nissan Rogue

2017 Infiniti QX30 Premium AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The Greek philosopher Aristotle, who pondered concepts of matter, substance and form, might have enjoyed analyzing the 2017 Infiniti QX30 crossover sport utility vehicle.

That’s because a good share of the QX30’s matter — the stuff of which something is made — comes from Mercedes-Benz. Its form, or its essential characteristics and attributes, give it substance as an Infiniti, which is the luxury division of Japan’s Nissan.

OK, enough armchair philosophy. In the real world, where small crossovers are the current hot fad, Infiniti needed to economically deliver a competitive successor to the old small EX in the luxury category. Mercedes-Benz was willing to sell the innards of its GLA-Class compact crossover, including the engine, transmission and some other smaller components.

2017infinitiqx30fogelson-3The QX30 gets its Mercedes motivation from the GLA250’s turbocharged 208-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which delivers 258 lb-ft of torque. All four wheels get the power to the pavement through the German manufacturer’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which also can be shifted manually with paddles on the steering wheel.

There are three selectable driving modes: Eco, Sport and Manual, which are reminiscent of the “Goldilocks” fairy tale, where the girl tries out beds belonging to the Three Bears. Papa Bear’s is too hard, Mama Bear’s is too soft and Baby Bear’s is just right.

But the QX30’s settings don’t include a just right, or Normal, selection. Eco maximizes fuel economy with lazy shifts and Sport maximizes performance by shifting at higher rpms. It is possible to mimic a Normal setting by using the Manual mode but that takes attention and practice.

2017infinitiqx30fogelson-8Likely most motorists, in everyday driving, won’t notice much of a difference between Eco and Sport. The QX30, responsive to throttle inputs, delivers plenty of pep either way. There sometimes is a bit of hesitation off the line that could be attributed to either turbo lag or a bit of slippage from the dual-clutch automatic transmission.

With a curb weight of 3,530 pounds, the QX30 earns a city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 21/30/25 mpg. On the road, it tracks true with few corrections and is capable, with some body lean, around tight curves.

In any category of vehicle, of course, styling sells — though whether it’s exciting or off-putting always is in the eyes of the beholder. That said, the QX30 exhibits flowing, sculptured lines that bespeak a low-slung, sport/luxury orientation more than that of a utilitarian tall crossover.

2017infinitiqx30fogelson-9It becomes evident entering and departing both the front and back seats, where you have to remember to duck or you can bang your noggin overhead. Inside, the front seats feel roomy and the back outboard seats tight. The center-rear position is hopelessly compromised by a large floor hump and a hard cushion.

Despite that, the Infiniti designers managed to scoop out more interior space than in the Mercedes GLA. The QX30 has 108 cubic feet of interior volume — about what you get in a compact car — divided into 89 cubic feet for passengers and 19 cubic feet for cargo behind the back seat.

Though the GLA’s overall length of 14 feet 6 inches is the same as the QX30’s, the GLA’s numbers are 99 cubic feet of interior volume, with 87 cubic feet for passengers and 12 cubic feet for cargo.

2017infinitiqx30fogelson-11The QX30’s luxurious interior, especially its infotainment systems, is distinctly Infiniti, though its Mercedes underpinnings become immediately obvious when you go to adjust the front seats. It uses the same clumsy power switchgear mounted on the doors that is a Mercedes hallmark. Though you can get used to them over time, controls down on the sides of the seats are way more intuitive.

2017infinitiqx30fogelson-12Tested for this review was the top-line QX30 Premium AWD, which had a $38,695 starting price. That included the all-wheel drive, run-flat tires on 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, powered and heated front seats with memory settings, cruise control, roof rails, power folding outside mirrors and rain-sensing wipers with heated windshield washers.

The tested QX30 also came with $7,340 worth of options, bringing the suggested delivered price to $46,035. They included a panoramic sunroof, navigation system and a technology package with adaptive cruise control, lane departure and blind spot warning, parking assist and Infiniti’s around view monitor, which displays an overhead view of the vehicle and its surroundings.

Competitors include the Mercedes GLA250, Lexus NX200t, Audi Q3 and BMW X1.

2017infinitiqx30fogelson-4Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Infiniti QX30 Premium AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 208 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 89/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,530 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/30/25 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,695.
  • Price as tested: $46,035.

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

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson.

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