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sport utility vehicles

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.

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2018 MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Upsized to the point where it rivals the interior space of a midsize sedan, the 2018 MINI Cooper Countryman offers a practical and sporting driving experience in a tidy package.

It also delivers luxury in the tested S model with all-wheel drive, a more powerful engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted with paddles mounted on the steering wheel.

P90240629_highResIn modern parlance, the Countryman ALL4 is classified as a small crossover sport utility vehicle. It is British in origin, assembled in the Netherlands and uses an engine built in Germany. It is based on the BMW X1, no surprise because MINI is owned by the Bavarian Motor Works.

The Mini dates to the 1960s in Great Britain, where it pioneered the use of a transverse-mounted engine and front-wheel drive. Though only 10 feet long, its two-box design enabled it to carry four adults, though comfort depended on their size.

After BMW bought the company, it resurrected the Mini in 2001 and named it the MINI Cooper, using a name that had been attached to performance-oriented models. Now the performance models are labeled “John Cooper Works.” Like the original, the MINI Cooper started as a two-door sedan.

P90240631_highResBMW is a company seemingly dedicated to plugging every niche in the market so nearly two dozen MINI Cooper variants eventually appeared, including convertibles, a four-door, the Clubman, Paceman and, eventually, the Countryman.

There’s no mistaking any MINI for anything else. All models bear a familial resemblance. But the Countryman, since getting stretched by more than eight inches for 2017, now has gotten pudgy looking, though not to the point of turning off the brand’s fans.

Inside, it retains vestiges of the original MINI, though with changes. The large circular screen in the center, which once held the speedometer, now is a multifunction location. The speedometer, tachometer and other mainstay instruments reside behind the steering wheel and move up and down with it. However, the steering wheel does not telescope.

P90240757_highResFor 2018, the Countryman has been modestly modified. The fuel gauge has been re-designed and a toggle switch controls the drive modes: Sport, Normal and Eco. Previously, the modes were selected by a ring at the bottom of the automatic transmission shifter.

With 97 cubic feet of space for the driver and up to four passengers, the tested Countryman offered plenty of headroom and ample knee room for four, especially in the outboard back seat positions. However, the fifth passenger relegated to the center-rear position gets shortchanged on headroom, foot space and comfort.

P90240747_highResA negative is the perforated cloth sunshade for the panoramic glass sunroof, a current fad among luxury cars that admits too much hot sunlight. Sun shades should be opaque. The motorized front section of the sunroof opens to the sky; the back is fixed glass.

Front seat comfort is improved for many drivers by a thigh support that is manually adjustable for length. The front seats also have substantial bolsters to hold the torso in place during spirited driving.

That sort of motoring is the Countryman S ALL4’s strong suit, specially in the Sport mode, which delays transmission shifts to higher engine revolutions for more rapid acceleration. The steering and suspension system are oriented toward sharper handling, though the firm ride is not punishing.

P90240662_highResPower comes from a 189-hp 2.0 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that makes 207 lb-ft of torque, delivered to all four wheels through the snap-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted with paddles on the steering wheel.

The engine emits a satisfying growl under hard acceleration, though some drivers used to muted sounds might find it annoying. Zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time in the Sport mode is in the seven-second range.

A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard. The 8-speed automatic is a $1,500 option. The tested Countryman had a base price of $32,550. With other options that included parking assist, head-up display, power front seats with memory, power tailgate and “Chesterfield” leather upholstery with “British Oak” tanning, the suggested delivered price came to $41,050.

P90240630_highResStandard equipment included dynamic stability control, electronic brake force distribution, the panoramic sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, SXM satellite radio, Apple Car Play, LED fog lights and 18-inch alloy wheels.

If people find the pudgy look endearing and the price is not daunting, MINI buyers will find a lot to like.

P90240627_highResSpecifications

  • Model: 2018 MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4 four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter 4-cylinder, turbocharged, 189 hp, 207 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 97/18 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,671 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/31/26 mpg. Premium required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $32,550.
  • Price as tested: $41,050.

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

P90240671_highResPhotos (c) MINI.

 

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reinforces its incursion into the luxury/performance class with the all-new 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

It is part of a determined push to rebuild the storied Italian brand. It started with the 4C coupe and roadster, continued with the Giulia compact sedan and now takes on high-end crossover SUVs: Porsche Macan, BMW X3, Audi Q5, Jaguar F-Pace, Lexus NX, and Mercedes-Benz GLC.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Sport

The Stelvio, named for the highest mountain pass in the Italian Alps where 12 highway miles encompass 48 hairpin turns, is a crossover version of the Giulia. They share the same wheelbase—the distance between the front and rear axles—though the Stelvio is two inches longer at 15 feet 5 inches.

Like its sibling, the Stelvio is a stellar performer with quick throttle response, rapid acceleration, precise steering and accurate handling. For now, it comes in two versions, both with a 280-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that delivers 306 lb-ft of torque, enough to accelerate to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds with a top speed of 144 mph, according to Alfa Romeo’s specifications.

The company markets the Stelvio as a midsize crossover but its size belies that. It fits into the EPA’s “small” classification, which includes small and medium-sized SUVs like the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Kia Sportage

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport

Moreover, its 89 cubic feet of passenger volume actually is less than the Giulia’s 94 cubic feet, though the Stelvio has a larger cargo area of 39 cubic feet compared to the Giulia’s trunk of 13 cubic feet.

There’s plenty of space up front and, on the tested Ti Sport model, beautifully bolstered leather sport seats. But the back seat passengers do not fare as well. In the outboard seats, head and knee room are tight and the seatbacks do not recline. The center-rear position is cramped and nearly unusable.

But the Stelvio is biased toward sport. It has a 50/50 front and rear weight distribution, and the standard all-wheel-drive system can automatically shift 100% of the power to the rear wheels for optimum performance. In nasty weather conditions, the system can send 60% of the power to the front wheels.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport

Road clearance is 8.1 inches, which provides some confidence in the unlikely event an owner ventures off-road. But the Stelvio has no other boondocks assists. It is first and foremost a roadie, competing in what currently is the hottest segment of the market from popular-priced to big-bucks luxury.

It offers three driving modes, controlled by a knob on the center console: Dynamic; natural; and advanced efficiency. The last enhances fuel economy by, among other things, shifting the 8-speed automatic transmission at lower engine revolutions.

The natural setting is slightly more aggressive. But the dynamic setting is the choice for maximum performance, including shifts at higher revs, quicker response to throttle inputs, tighter steering, enhanced braking and driver-oriented stability control.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport

Both the base Stelvio and the upscale Ti can be ordered as Sport versions, the main difference being large aluminum paddles mounted on the steering column to manually shift the automatic transmission. Though every Stelvio can be manually shifted, only the Sport versions get the paddles.

None of this, as might be expected, comes cheap. The base Stelvio has a starting price of $42,990, which includes leather upholstery, power seats for the driver and front passenger, automatic climate control, remote locking and a power lift gate. Add $1,800 for the Sport version and you get the paddle shifters. There’s also a luxury-oriented Ti Lusso.

The tested Ti Sport model started at $47,490. With options that included adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, autonomous emergency braking with forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, blind-spot detection, automatic-high headlight beams, auto-dimming mirrors and an infrared-heated windshield, the tester’s bottom line came to $55,240.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport

Other than the usual question mark about Italian build quality and whether the Stelvio will deliver a confident owner experience, there are a few quibbles with the opening act: The tight back seat with no reclining seatbacks, a cheesecloth-like sunroof shade and a fussy navigation system whose traveling instructions underway block the trip odometer.

Enthusiasts with plenty of bucks await next year’s debut of the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, analogous to the sedan of the same name, which sports a V6 engine with 505 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. That Stelvio should hit the showrooms with a price above $80,000.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 280 hp, 306 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:
  • Weight: 4,004 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/28/24 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,490.
  • Price as tested: $55,240.

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

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Lusso

Photos (c) Alfa Romeo.

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