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Japanese SUVs

2022 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL 2.5 S-AWC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The all-new 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander comes with a description that a 2-year-old child would enjoy: “I-Fu-Do-Do.” The company says it’s a product concept that means “authentic and majestic.”

Not sure whether the tested Outlander SEL 2.5 S-AWC, a three-row crossover sport utility vehicle, is majestic. But it is an attractive, capable, and comfortable rendering of Mitsubishi’s goal to deliver quality, strength and confidence.

It’s cultural. And who’s to argue? The Japanese produce some of the finest motor vehicles, though they are increasingly challenged by the South Koreans — and Americans, and Europeans.

According to a well-placed and impeccable source, “I-Fu-Do-Do” at Mitsubishi is “Kinda like Mazda’s ‘rider and horse as one.’ It’s a high-level concept that led the development of the vehicle. Not a literal translation, but a Japanese higher-level concept.”

We’re not smoking anything here. Concepts are important to automotive designers and engineers, who spend entire careers to divine what customers in the future will embrace.

As a new rendering of Mitsubishi’s flagship vehicle, the company went to great lengths to include everything anyone might expect in a modern automobile, and even some hardly anybody would expect.

For example, in addition to a suite of engineering and insulation measures designed to, among other things, reduce tire noise and deliver a quiet and comfortable ride, the Mitsubishi engineers also devised a system to suppress vibrations through the steering wheel. 

Everywhere you look, there are unexpected features, given the Outlander’s price point. Examples: six selectable drive modes on all-wheel drive models — Eco, Normal, Tarmac, Gravel, Snow and Mud. Garnishing on the rocker panels to reduce dirt that clings to trousers and dresses when passengers swing legs out to exit. Both A and C USB ports. Smartphone stowage for every seat. Side window shades in the second-row seat. Outside mirrors that automatically tilt downward for backup parking. A smartphone app to locate the Outlander in a crowded parking lot.

The new-car window sticker for the tested Outlander, called the Monroney after the senator who introduced the 1958 law requiring it, is numbingly extensive, with 108 separate items of equipment, features and options. The tester had a starting price of $34,940 and a bottom-line sticker of $37,995.

Taking a cue from South Korea’s Hyundai and Kia, the Outlander also comes with the best warranty in motordom: Five years and 60,000 miles overall limited warranty, and 10 years and 100,000 miles on the engine and transmission. 

The Outlander competes in the compact class against such worthy crossovers as the Honda CR-V, Volkswagen Tiguan, Ford Escape, and Toyota RAV-4. But it looks bigger with a prominent, almost menacing grille set off by triple stacked headlights on both sides, and a new one-piece hexagonal tailgate with horizontal T-shaped taillights.

The tested Outlander SEL 2.5 S-AWC comes with all-wheel drive and a 181-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 181 lb-ft of torque. With more than 3,800 pounds to move, it’s not the fastest in stoplight sprints but it’s not embarrassed on the public roads. 

Power gets to the pavement via a continuously variable automatic transmission that has no shift hesitations in sedate driving. But if you punch the loud pedal for a quick getaway, it incorporates shift points to feel like a conventional automatic. There’s also an eight-speed manual shift mode controlled by steering-wheel paddles, adding an entertainment quotient.

Handling and ride are first rate, with composed tracking around mountain curves and cutbacks. Front seats deliver support and comfort with substantial bolstering to hold the body in place. Straight line highway cruising is uneventful.

Second-row outboard seats mimic the front seats and even the center position is not as horrible as those on many other vehicles. There’s still a high, hard cushion, but the floor hump is shallow so there’s space for feet.

The third row should be saved for emergencies or small items like purses and pets. Fortunately, the second-row seats have adequate fore and aft travel. Run them all the way forward and the third row has some tiny foot space. 

Really old-timers will recall that Mitsubishi produced the Japanese A6M Zero fighter plane that battled American aircraft in the Pacific in World War II. Now Japan is a staunch ally and an Olympics host, and the company has evolved into a conglomerate that produces quality merchandise for the world, including the tested Outlander.

Specifications

  • Model: 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL 2.5 S-AWC four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter direct injection four-cylinder; 181 hp, 181 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with eight-speed manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 121/12 cubic feet (34, 78, seats folded).
  • Weight: 3,803 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/30/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $34,940.
  • Price as tested: $37,995.

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

Photos (c) Mitsubishi

2021 Subaru Ascent Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

When the Subaru Ascent crossover SUV made its debut as a 2019 model, the conclusion here was that it was among the most family-friendly vehicles available, minivans notwithstanding. Now in its 2021 guise, it adds refinement to its attributes.

It’s a full-size, three-row vehicle with 148 cubic feet of space for seven or eight passengers, depending on whether you choose a second-row bench seat or separate captain’s chairs. Even the third row can accommodate three skinny adult passengers with enough head and knee room because the second-row seats have ample fore and aft adjustments.

There are only 18 cubic feet of space for cargo behind the third row. But folding it opens up 47 cubic feet and 86 cubic feet if you also fold the second row. 

Power comes from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which makes 266 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque, enough to take the 4,600-pound Ascent to 60 mph in milliseconds less than seven seconds. The EPA rates the Ascent’s city/highway/combined gasoline consumption at 20/26/22 mpg.

The engine is a horizontally opposed design of the same type that powered the old Volkswagen Beetle, which chugged around worldwide from World War II to 1975. Also called a pancake, boxer or flat-four design, the cylinders lie feet-to-feet on both sides of the crankshaft instead of the more common standing upright or leaning in a V design. 

You won’t hear any chugging sounds from the Ascent’s boxer engine. The Subaru engineers have refined it and added insulation to the cabin so occupants can barely hear engine noise. Moreover, with its short vertical profile, the engine can be mounted low in the engine bay. This position gives any vehicle a lower center of gravity, enhancing handling and stability. Subaru is the only manufacturer installing boxers in all its vehicles, though you can also find them in some Porsche models.

The transmission is one of the better continuously variable designs that deliver decent fuel economy. Continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVTs) use a system of belts and pulleys to multiply power and have no shift points, though the Ascent’s can be shifted manually like an eight-speed automatic. Braking is relaxed and confident with a solid pedal feel.

There are four Ascent versions, called trim levels in the industry: Base, which starts at $33,345, including the destination charge; Premium, $35,845; Limited, $40,645, and Touring, $46,495. Tested for this review was the Limited with second-row captain’s chairs and a $2,950 option package that included a surround-sound Harman Kardon audio system with 14 speakers, panoramic sunroof, navigation system, and a cargo area cover.

As with all Subaru vehicles except the rear-drive BRZ sports coupe, the tested Ascent has all-wheel drive as standard equipment, enhanced by the company’s vehicle dynamics control. 

Safety equipment includes forward and reverse automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping warning and assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, and side-curtain airbags with rollover sensors.

The tested Limited Ascent also came with 20-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, the captain’s chairs, tri-zone climate control, heated seats, memory driver’s seat and power front passenger seat, Bluetooth connectivity, SiriusXM radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Pandora and iHeart radio, power rear tailgate with height memory, and six USB charge ports — two in front with phone connectivity and four in back. 

Oh, and don’t miss the 19 (count ‘em) cup holders and the retractable sunshades in the second-row windows.

Much appreciated were the ergonomically designed instrumentation and controls. A couple of examples: A button on the dash behind the steering wheel resets the trip odometer. And the center screen displays pre-sets on the radio home page. Simplicity eliminates the maddening search through menus and sub-menus.

On the road, the Ascent cruises quietly unless you hammer the throttle for maximum acceleration. It also has comfortable front-row and second-row seats. The suspension system and tires combine for a comfortable ride — except when you encounter the many severely pockmarked roads that are candidates for infrastructure enhancement.

With active torque-vectoring and quick-ratio steering, handling is the Ascent’s forte. It validates the old automotive adage that a big vehicle should drive small, and a small vehicle should drive large. The Ascent combines light, responsive and communicative steering with an instant throttle, making it almost pleasurable to maneuver in heavy traffic. 

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Subaru Ascent Limited AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.4-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, turbocharged; 266 hp, 277 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with eight-speed manual mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 148/18 cubic feet. (47, 86)
  • Weight: 4,600 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/26/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,645.
  • Price as tested: $43,595.

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

Photos (c) Subaru

2021 Toyota Venza Limited Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

When the Toyota Venza made its debut in 2009, it was something of a novelty. Billed as a crossover utility vehicle, or CUV, it looked and felt more like a traditional station wagon, albeit a bit taller than most.

Automotive News, the most prominent trade publication in the automotive industry, listed the Venza as a car in its U.S. sales statistics, not in the truck category along with sport utility vehicles and crossovers. 

Though the terms get mixed up and misused, a sport utility vehicle generally is a wagon-like vehicle with body on frame construction, like a truck. Crossovers are built like cars with unit-body construction. 

The Venza crossover lasted just seven years. Its best sales year was 2009, the year it was introduced, when 54,410 were sold in the United States. But sales dwindled and Toyota dropped it after the 2005 model year.

But now it’s back for 2021 as a fully realized crossover SUV, better than ever with economical gasoline-electric hybrid power, not unlike its garage-mate Toyota Prius. Both are hybrid-only, a system with which Toyota has vast experience. The Venza also comes with standard all-wheel drive.

On the tested Venza Limited as well as other trim levels, the hybrid combination delivers 219 horsepower from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with 88 hp and three electric motors, one of which drives the rear wheels. The system earns an EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 40/37/39 mpg. 

Power gets to all four wheels via an electronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Standard CVTs use a system of belts and pulleys to multiply engine torque. Toyota’s ECVT, also used in the Prius, uses electric motor generators to control a planetary gear set, allowing the transmission to continuously change the gear ratio and keep the engine’s rpms at maximum efficiency.

The hybrid system incorporates four driver-selectable drive modes: EV for purely electric motoring, Eco for maximum fuel efficiency, Normal for everyday commuting, and Sport for horsing around (carefully, of course).

There are three Venza versions: Base SE, midlevel SEL and top-line Limited. The last, tested for this review, came with a base price of $40,975, including the destination charge. With options that included a $1,400 panoramic glass sunroof and a $725 technology package with a head-up display and rain-sensing windshield wipers, the bottom-line sticker came $43,525.

The panoramic sunroof is unusual. The glass changes from nearly opaque gray to a translucent white fog at the touch of an overhead switch. But it does not open to the sky for fresh air. There is an opaque power-operated sunroof shade. 

The Venza slots in Toyota’s crossover SUV lineup between the less-expensive RAV4 and the larger Highlander. Curiously, though it shares its basic platform with the RAV4, the Venza actually has less interior space. It has 95 cubic feet of room for passengers and a cargo area of 29 cubic feet. The RAV4 has 99 cubic feet for passengers and 38 cubic feet for cargo.

The Venza is 15 feet 7 inches long compared to the RAV4’s 15 feet 1 inch. But the RAV4, at 5 feet 7 inches, is an inch taller than the Venza’s height of 5 feet 6 inches.

Overall, the Venza presents itself as a stylish and comfortable conveyance, more luxury-oriented than the RAV4. Following a trend among luxury crossover SUVs, it has the roofline of a coupe, though taller, and an interior that has prompted some critics to opine that it looks more like a Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, than a Toyota.

Inside, the upholstery and many surfaces are covered in leather or leatherette. Front and outboard rear seats are roomy, supportive and comfortable. Even the center-rear seat is not horrible, thanks to a shallow floor hump and a decently soft cushion. Rear seatbacks fold flat to expand cargo space to 55 cubic feet.

On the road, the Venza feels strong under acceleration, though there’s some growling from the gasoline engine when you get your foot heavily into the throttle. Once settled on the highway, the ambiance mostly becomes quiet.

For a vehicle that leans toward luxury, the Venza has some sporting road manners. Select the Sport driving mode and it handles curving roads with aplomb as the ECVT transmission keeps the engine on the boil. Not bad for a machine that can deliver 40 mpg.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Toyota Venza Limited four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 176 hp; with three electric motors; 219 combined system hp.
  • Transmission: Electronic continuously variable automatic (ECVT) with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches. 
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 95/29 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,880 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 40/37/39 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,975.
  • Price as tested: $43,525.

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

Photos (c) Toyota

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