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2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It doesn’t crumble and has plenty of frosting, but you could argue that the 2019 Jeep Cherokee is the automotive equivalent of having your cake and eating it too.

Most people think of Jeeps as Wranglers, rugged vehicles that can conquer any terrain anywhere but don’t offer much in creature comforts. In fact, Wrangler buyers want to be exposed to hardships, unprotected from the elements. That’s why roofs and doors can be removed, and modifications made to alter suspension systems to rock and roll over any obstacle.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

What is less noted about the current crop of Jeeps is refinement. The new-generation 2018 Wrangler Unlimited four-door wagon was remarkable for its coming-of-age as a family station wagon that handles well in traffic and around curves, tracks steadily in a straight line and delivers long-distance comfort that can eliminate complaints from the kids and other passengers. Yet it can still handle trackless terrain.

The same could be said, with more emphasis, about the 2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland tested for this review. This is a conventional compact crossover sport utility vehicle with pleasant styling, smooth and quiet operation, and the amenities that crossover buyers seek.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Overland and Cherokee Trailhawk

Sure, the doors don’t come off and the windshield doesn’t fold down. But the Cherokee is, in its soul, a Jeep with off-road capabilities that other manufacturers would envy — if they even bothered.

Most crossovers in this category simply offer front-wheel drive or automatic all-wheel drive that responds to on-road and limited off-road conditions. Drivers of all-wheel drive models don’t have to think about anything; simply get in and drive.

But the Cherokee comes with Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system, which allows the driver to choose the system for disparate conditions — after which it operates automatically. They are labeled as Automatic, Snow, Sand/Mud and Sport. They give the Cherokee capabilities that most other crossovers lack.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Still, it’s no Wrangler. If you are the sort whose idea of a vacation trip is bashing around trackless and boulder-strewn terrain at somewhere around two to five miles per hour, buy a Wrangler. The Cherokee can do some of that but is more of a multi-task machine, not great at everything but competent at most. On-road, it is the peer of most mid-priced compact crossovers like the Toyota RAV4 and even more expensive crossovers like the BMW X3 xDrive 3.0i.

The model tested for this review was the Cherokee Overland 4X4 model, which had a base price of $38,890, including the destination charge. The name prompts nostalgia because original Jeeps in World War II were built by the Willys Overland company.

As tested, it came with optional adaptive cruise control, panoramic motorized glass sunroof, collision warning with crash mitigation, brake assist, lane-departure warning, blind-spot and rear cross-path detection, leather upholstery and automatic high-beam headlight control.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Standard equipment includes Apple Car Play, Android Auto, SXM satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and power front seats with memory for the driver’s seat. With other features, the bottom-line sticker came to $41,510.

Unlike many other crossovers powered by the now-ubiquitous 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, naturally aspirated or turbocharged, the Cherokee is motivated by a 271-hp, 3.2-liter V6 engine that delivers 239 lb-ft of torque. The power gets to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission, which gave Jeep problems and delayed the original launch of the Cherokee, but which now is as refined as the rest of the vehicle.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Around town, the Cherokee has a responsive throttle that delivers sprightly acceleration. Highway cruising is comfortable and quiet with fatigue-free straight-line tracking. Curving roads are not daunting unless you have a lead foot on the go pedal.

As with other vehicles from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), it has one of the more intuitive infotainment interfaces, with a large center-mounted screen. Setting radio pre-sets, for example, is a simple matter of tuning to the station and touching the screen briefly — unlike some vehicles that force to you go through maddening steps.

Passenger space is about the same as in a midsize car, offering good head and knee space front and rear. Only the center-rear passenger gets disrespected by a hard cushion, large floor hump and intrusion of the center console. Better to think of the Cherokee as a four-passenger vehicle with a spot for a backpack or purse. Seatbacks recline but not much, and they fold almost flat for extra cargo if needed.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Overland

 

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.2-liter V6; 271 hp, 239 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with selective four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/28 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,960 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/27/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,890.
  • Price as tested: $41,510.

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

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Photos (c) FCA North America

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2018 Audi A4 allroad: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If you’re done with conventional sedans and station wagons but not quite ready for a tall crossover sport utility vehicle, take a look at a ‘tweener like the 2018 Audi A4 allroad.

It is a station wagon, yes, but taller — though not as tall as the crossovers that are steadily taking over the marketplace to the point where sedans and wagons are an endangered species.

2017-Audi-A4-allroad-582Unfortunately, tall wagons are few in number and mostly  tilted toward the luxury class. Besides the A4 allroad, they are the Volvo V60 and V90 Cross Country models, the Jaguar XF Sportbrake and the Buick Regal TourX.

All of these offer all-wheel drive and a lower center of gravity for more sporting handling than most crossovers. They also are slightly taller than their station wagon brethren.

The Audi allroad is the granddaddy of the tall wagons, dating back nearly two decades in A6 and A4 trim. For 2018, as in 2017, the A4 allroad arrives with a 252-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 273 lb-ft of torque.

A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission sends the power to Audi’s famed quattro all-wheel drive system, now with a new wrinkle. For economy, it operates in front-wheel drive under normal conditions. As soon as slippage is detected, it switches instantly and seamlessly in milliseconds to all-wheel drive.

2017-Audi-A4-allroad-583We know this only because we have been told verbally and in the literature. Driving the A4 allroad, you never detect the changeover. The twin-clutch automatic is similarly quick, said by Audi to shift in 1/100thof a second.

All of this conspires to launch the allroad to 60 miles an hour in less than six seconds, according to Audi and independent tests. Top speed is governed at 128 mph, though most owners likely will never bother to experience it.

However, the rapid acceleration can’t happen if you allow the engine stop-start to be turned on. Then you get that dreaded hesitation off the line, although it doesn’t shudder as much on the allroad than on some other vehicles. Fortunately, the stop-start can be turned off, though you must do it every time you start the engine.

Of course, you don’t buy a tall wagon like the A4 allroad to compete in autocrosses or bounce over trackless terrain like a Jeep or Land Rover. However, it is equipped with five driver-selectable drive modes, including an off-road setting that optimizes transmission shifting, steering and adaptive suspension settings that enhance performance off the pavement.

2017-Audi-A4-allroad-571Besides off-road, the other settings are comfort, automatic, individual and dynamic, with the last the tightest for on-road performance. The individual setting can be tailored for the driver.

Most owners are unlikely to do much off-roading in any case. The allroad, like other Audi models, is a classy, luxury vehicle to be polished and admired, not bashed and scratched.

The quattro all-wheel drive does impart an ambiance of confidence in foul weather conditions, especially deep snow, and does so with the panache of a quiet butler in a palace, always ready with a tray full of capabilities.

One of those, of course, is utility. The allroad has midsize sedan space for passengers, though the center-rear position, as is usual in almost every vehicle, is cramped and uncomfortable. But the big payoff lies in cargo space. There’s 24 cubic feet of it behind the second-row seats, more than enough for everyday favorite things. Flop the rear seatbacks and it expands to 59 cubic feet to haul the dorm room stuff of a new college freshman.

2017-Audi-A4-allroad-578Though it is a luxury vehicle, the allroad is not outrageously expensive given its features. The base price is $45,475 and, with options that included a Premium Plus package, the tested price came to $53,750.

That covers full safety equipment, including Audi’s pre-sense collision avoidance system, which detects objects and pedestrians, and can bring the allroad to a stop anywhere under 25 mph — a boon in modern urban stop-and-go traffic.

Other equipment included LED lighting all around, Audi telematics with navigation, Bang & Olufsen audio with SXM satellite radio, tri-zone automatic climate control, perforated leather upholstery with heated front and rear seats, eight-way power front seats with memory settings, power tailgate, garage-door opener, heated and folding outside mirrors, and a parking assistance system.

However, the equipment did not include such items as adaptive cruise control, lane departure mitigation or blind-spot warning.

2017-Audi-A4-allroad-592Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Audi A4 allroad 2.0T quattro S tronic four-door station wagon.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 252 hp, 273 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed twin-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 94/24 cubic feet. (59)
  • Weight: 3,815 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/30/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,475.
  • Price as tested: $53,750.

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

2017-Audi-A4-allroad-570Photos (c) Audi.

2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Refinement appears to be the order of the day at the Jeep Division of Fiat Chrysler, adeptly achieved by the 2019 Cherokee Trailhawk Elite with its new look and on-road performance.

Sometimes it seems as if nearly every buyer wants to end up with a stylish sport utility — or a crossover version of one. But crossovers, built with unit bodies like automobiles, are mostly wannabes when it comes to venturing into the boondocks. They usually have all-wheel drive and decent ground clearance, but the capabilities end there.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Trailhawk

Not so the Jeep Cherokee. Like every Jeep, it has solid off-road credentials, abetted by such enhancements as four-wheel drive with a low range and lockable rear differential, crawl speed capability, hill descent control and skid plates — all there to match up against rocks, snow, sand and mud.

At the same time, it’s a decent highway cruiser with a new 270-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 295 lb-ft of torque — useful both for difficult slow-motion off-road adventures and on-road acceleration off the line, which happens without that dreaded turbo lag.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Trailhawk

However, there is hesitation if you use the default engine stop-start system. Fortunately, the stop-start can be disabled by simply touching a button on the dash, which was the preference of this driver.

The engine sends its power to the wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. However, the system negates some of the satisfaction that comes with the absence of turbo lag. Though the Cherokee gets quickly off the line, punching the gas pedal underway to downshift into a passing gear usually results in an annoying lurch before the power comes on.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Trailhawk

Though mechanical and road sounds are mostly muted during freeway cruising, plenty of engine noise intrudes during hard acceleration. The ride, as might be expected with a solidly sprung off-road capable vehicle, is choppy on all but the smoothest roads.

However, that suspension system stiffness, along with stable steering, paid off in capable handling with little body lean on curving roads as long as the Cherokee was not pushed too hard.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Trailhawk

With a curb weight of 4,260 lbs, including that off-road hardware, the tested Cherokee Trailhawk was anything but an economy vehicle. On the government’s city/highway/combined fuel consumption ratings, it managed just 20/26/22 mpg on premium gasoline.

The most noticeable styling change from the 2018 Cherokee is its front face. It has Jeep’s signature seven-slot grille but the low-down headlights have been relocated and combined with the daytime running lights, giving it more of a family resemblance to its bigger sibling, the Grand Cherokee.

173091_0050_Ds8et5sinrd3lvaomkev7m4d7n7Inside, the tested Cherokee Trailhawk Elite was fitted out as well as some luxury SUVs. Standard and optional equipment included collision alert with automatic braking, rear and parallel parking assist, blind-spot warning, cross traffic alerts, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SXM satellite radio, navigation system, memory setting for the power driver’s seat, perforated leather upholstery, heated front seats, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, panoramic glass sunroof and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

Infotainment functions are displayed on FCA’s UConnect 8.4-inch center touch screen. The system has been praised by critics for its ease of use. However, there have been criticisms of the quality of the Cherokee’s audio for hands-free telephone calls.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Trailhawk

Inside accommodations included multiple seat adjustments and a fat-rimmed steering wheel for a confident grip. Front seats were comfortable and supportive with big seatback bolsters to hold the torso in off-road rocking and pitching.

Comfort was similar in the outboard back seats, with okay head and knee room for average-sized adults. However, the center rear position was severely compromised by a hard cushion, big floor hump and the intrusion of the center console.

Rear seatbacks fold nearly flat for additional cargo space. The Cherokee Trailhawk has 102 cubic feet of space for passengers—about what you find in a midsize sedan—and 25 cubic feet for cargo behind the rear seat. A full-sized spare wheel and tire is stashed underneath the cargo floor.

The 2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite came with a starting price of $34,765, including the $1,445 destination charge. With options, the suggested delivered price was $41,245. Competitors include the Subaru Forester, Volkswagen Tiguan, GMC Terrain Denali AWD and Jeep’s own Wrangler Unlimited four-door, which also has been considerably refined for on-road performance, making it a contender as a family wagon.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Trailhawk

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite 4X4 four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 270 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode and selectable four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 103/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,260 pounds.
  • Towing capability: Up to 4,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/26/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $34,765.
  • Price as tested: $41,245.

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

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Trailhawk

Photos (c) FCA North America.

2018 Jeep Compass Trailhawk 4×4: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Whatever else you might conclude about the 2018 Jeep Compass Trailhawk 4×4, it has mastered the spirit of the KISS Principle — a design precept that admonishes, “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Though the new Compass is anything but stupid, its designers have done their best to keep it simple.

Because the tested Compass came in the off-road rated Trailhawk version, it has more versatility than its competitors, who lurk in a class of crossover sport utility vehicles parked between subcompacts like the Honda HR-V and compacts like the Toyota RAV4.

Its size is close to the new Subaru Crosstrek, which comes standard with all-wheel drive but without much of the off-road sophistication of the Compass Trailhawk.

2018 Jeep® Compass Trailhawk

The Trailhawk is three inches shorter than the Crosstrek but has more interior room — a total of 127 cubic feet to the Crosstrek’s 119. However, the Trailhawk also is more powerful, heavier by about 400 pounds, more expensive and less fuel efficient.

It’s all about orientation. The Crosstrek, though it has some off-road capability, focuses primarily on highway performance in foul weather. The Compass Trailhawk can handle that and also deal with rough stuff off the road — though not as capably as its garage-mates Jeep Wrangler and Unlimited.

Its all-wheel drive system has five all-terrain drive modes: auto, rock, snow, sand and mud, along with four-wheel drive low range, four-wheel drive lock, and hill-descent control.

2018 Jeep® Compass Limited

This is where it exhibits simplicity. All modes are controlled by buttons on the console that are legibly labeled and easy to operate. They complement the 8.4-inch touch screen in the middle of the dash, which also is a paragon of simplicity for controlling infotainment and navigation functions.

That contrasts with other vehicles, many of them in the luxury category, that are so obtuse in operation that they prompt angry tirades and an increase in blood pressure.

The Compass replaces its previous generation sibling and the Jeep Patriot, a similar crossover SUV. Fiat Chrysler discontinued the Patriot after 2016, although some leftovers are being sold as 2017 models.

2018 Jeep® Compass Limited

There are four Compass trim levels with front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, three different transmissions and one engine: a 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder that delivers 175 pound-feet of torque. The four trims are Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk and Limited, the last being the loaded luxury model.

A six-speed manual gearbox is standard on the Sport 4×2 and 4×4, and the Latitude 4×4. The Latitude 4×2 comes with a six-speed automatic transmission. Jeep’s nine-speed automatic transmission, with a manual-shift mode, is standard on Trailhawk and Limited, both of which come standard with all-wheel drive. The nine-speed also is an option on the Sport and Latitude 4×4 models.

2018 Jeep® Compass Trailhawk

Though not a scorcher on acceleration, there’s enough power for anything the Compass encounters. It handles decently on and off the road and delivers a compliant, somewhat choppy though quiet ride with some intrusion of engine and road noise.

The tested Trailhawk came with a starting price of $29,690 and, with options, topped out at $33,560, which is slightly below the average price of a new car now in the U.S. Equipment was extensive, including roll mitigation, front and rear tow hooks, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot warning, along with navigation, parking assist, satellite radio, remote starting and a power tailgate.

One handy item, especially for adventuresome backwoods boomers, was a full-size spare wheel and tire, though the wheel was plain steel and not handsome alloy like other four.

2018 Jeep® Compass Trailhawk

Receiving increasing attention are vehicles that roll away if the driver inadvertently turns off the engine while the automatic transmission still is in Drive. Some systems automatically shift into Park, but the Compass finesses the situation by refusing to let the engine shut down. An instrument message orders the driver to shift into Park.

Though the interior contained a number of plastic trim items, the seats were upholstered in a combination of sturdy cloth trimmed with leather. The front seats had well-bolstered seatbacks to hold the torso in cornering and off-roading.

The outboard back seats had plenty of head and knee room for average sized adults, and even the center-rear position, hampered by a floor hump, intrusion of the console and a cushion instead of a real seat, actually could accommodate a fifth passenger.

Overall, this new Compass is a bundle of compromises that delivers a potpourri of capabilities.

2018 Jeep® Compass Trailhawk

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Jeep Compass Trailhawk 4X4 crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:4-liter four-cylinder, 180 hp, 175 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode and adjustable all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 100/27 cubic feet. (60)
  • Weight: 3,633 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/30/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,790.
  • Price as tested: $33,660.

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

2018 Jeep® Compass Limited

Photos (c) Jeep.

 

2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Now presenting its all-new 2017 V90 Cross Country, Volvo demonstrates again that it has a way with wagons.

Going back generations, the Swedish vehicle manufacturer has persisted in developing rugged, safe and dependable station wagons, even when — as in the United States — they fell out of favor.

Now Volvo has added another element: refined luxury and off-road capability that should please its stalwart band of disciples as well as win it some converts.

Volvo V90 Cross Country

The resurgence of this venerable company arrived with its 2016 XC90 crossover sport utility vehicle, which earned it Truck of the Year Honors from an independent group of automotive journalists. It followed with the S90 luxury sedan and V90 station wagon.

Now it has taken the genre a step further with the Cross Country, which slots between the V90 station wagon and XC90 three-row crossover. It’s not a new concept; Volvo has been delivering Cross Country models for several decades.

Volvo V90 Cross Country

The new one is distinguished from the V90 by a taller ride height, bigger wheels and 8.3 inches of ground clearance — about the same as a standard Jeep Wrangler, which gives the Cross Country some solid off-road chops. However, its long wheelbase — the 116-inches gap between the front and rear axles — erodes that capability somewhat.

If it can’t go everywhere, the Cross Country can certainly handle terrain that would frustrate most luxury cars. Plus, its automatic all-wheel drive system makes for confident motoring in foul weather conditions.

Volvo V90 Cross Country

Curiously, early Volvo cars and wagons came with rear-wheel drive, a challenge in wintry Sweden. Back in the middle of the 20th century, if you wanted front-wheel drive, your Swedish car of choice was a Saab. But Volvo eventually also moved to front-drive and now sophisticated all-wheel drive as well.

Unlike vintage Volvo wagons, the new V90 Cross Country is no truck. It is a luxury car with quality construction, fine materials, comfort and convenience features, and most of all, the driving experience sought by buyers who can spend north of $60,000 on a refined five-passenger car with copious cargo space.

It is quiet and controlled on the highway with minimal intrusion of mechanical, wind or road noise. The steering has the heft and feel common to expensive luxury cars. And, should you happen to encounter dirt and gravel, the Cross Country grips the terrain and easily absorbs bumps, though the ride deteriorates because of tires that were chosen for looks as well as capability.

Interior

Volvo has forsaken V6 and V8 engines in favor of four-cylinder power. But its 2.0-liter is no ordinary four-banger. It uses both a supercharger and a turbocharger, with direct fuel injection. The supercharger, driven by the engine, provides boost at lower engine revolutions and the turbo, which runs off exhaust gases, kicks on to enhance horsepower and torque.

On the V90 Cross Country, the engine delivers 316 hp with 295 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. The power gets to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy is 20/30/25 miles per gallon.

Android Auto start screen

Acceleration from zero-to-60 miles an hour happens in six seconds, with a top speed of 140 miles per hour, according to Volvo’s specifications. That’s a bit faster than the larger XC90 crossover — but the V90 Cross Country weighs 360 pounds less.

As an unabashed luxury/performance vehicle, the Cross Country starts at $56,295 with a full suite of safety, convenience and comfort features. Among them: Volvo’s Pilot Assist semi-autonomous drive system with adaptive cruise control, run-off road protection, blind-spot warning, panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, navigation system, satellite radio and walnut wood inlays.

The tested Cross Country also arrived with the $1,200 optional rear air suspension system, premium Bowers & Wilkins audio, park assist, a surround view camera and metallic paint. All of the items brought the tested price to $63,545.

New Volvo V90 Cross Country Studio detail

You can spend more by tacking on the $4,500 luxury package, which includes ventilated Nappa leather upholstery, leather trim on the dash and doors, power load cover, front-seat backrest massage and rear sunshades.

With all that, however, the V90 Cross Country has several curious shortcomings. Steering wheel tilt and telescope adjustments are manual, not power; the sun visors do not slide on their support rods to fully block sun from the sides, and the sunroof shade is a perforated cloth that admits too much sunlight.

Nevertheless, for a small number of luxury wagon aficionados there are few, if any, other choices.

New Volvo V90 Cross Country Studio detail

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country four-door wagon.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged and supercharged, 316 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 98/34 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,221 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 3,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/30/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $56,295.
  • Price as tested: $63,545.

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

Volvo V90 Cross Country

Photos (c) Volvo.

 

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

Yokohama Geolandar A/T G015 Tire Review

by Tod Mesirow

They’re the most important single thing on your car, and the thing you probably think the least about.  Okay, maybe you don’t think much about all the stuff hidden underneath the rear seats that’s fallen there over the years.  Fair enough.  But tires – they are worth thinking about.

Read Tod’s Yokohama Tire Review here.

Photos (c) Tod Mesirow

2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition Real World Review

by Jason Fogelson

I’ve never owned a Jeep Wrangler, but I’m always tempted. The more that Jeep keeps tweaking the Wrangler, the more tempted I get. The 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition very nearly ticks all of my boxes.

It starts with styling. The exterior of the Wrangler has been a near-constant for years, with just a few changes here and there. The basics have remained the same, from the seven-bar grille to the level fender tops to the big flat hood. Headlight shapes have morphed from round to square to round again. The 75th Anniversary Edition comes with cool badging and graphics.

Two major features have made the Wrangler more appealing and more usable on an everyday basis. The Unlimited part of things is the big one. The four-door variant first appeared as a 2007 model, and along with two additional doors it has a longer wheelbase than the standard Wrangler. Off-road, this presents a compromise, as it has a worse breakover angle and turning radius. But on-road, the Unlimited’s longer footprint makes it much more stable and inspires more confidence. Unlike the standard Wrangler, the Unlimited isn’t twitchy, and doesn’t feel like a quick change of direction at speed might upset its apple cart.

And speaking of speed, that brings us to the other major feature upgrade that I appreciate. For most of its history, the Wrangler has derived its power from a straight-six engine. The torque characteristic of this workhorse made it great for off-roading, but it was honestly a dog on the road. In 2012, Jeep gave Wrangler the 3.6-liter PentaStar V6 engine, and purists howled – but the dog was dead, and a new beast was born. Finally, Wrangler could merge onto crowded highways without holding up traffic. It was transformed.

2017JeepWranglerUnl75thJF-9Some may quibble with the additional interior amenities, like power windows and door locks, a steering wheel with integrated audio buttons and cruise control. Wrangler’s interior is almost civilized, which doesn’t hurt at all.

Wrangler still has a horrible canvas top that’s impossible to retract and put back up without a manual. It still rattles like a Tonka truck, and blows all over the road like a kite.

Despite its flaws and throwback technology, Wrangler is still cool. And that’s why it remains popular among off-roaders – and people who just want to look like them.

Read my 2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Real World Review on Autotrader.com.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson

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