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2018 GMC Terrain AWD SLE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

GMC scheduled the introduction of its redesigned 2018 GMC Terrain to coincide with the momentous eclipse of the sun over the United States on Aug. 21, 2017.

The intro took place in Pittsburgh, Pa., so the Terrain did not experience totality. The moon’s coverage of the sun there was about 81%, according to the experts, and that seemed fitting because it’s a good grade that roughly matches the achievements of the new Terrain, especially in the top-line Denali version.

GMC, the truck division of General Motors, manufactures a full array of pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles, vans and crossovers. It has been riding the current wave of customer infatuation with crossovers, which resemble but differ from SUVs because they are built like cars with unit bodies. True SUVs have body-on-frame construction like pickup trucks.

2018-GMC-Terrain-Denali-050This second-generation Terrain, a crossover SUV, is an upscale fraternal twin of the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox. They share three new engines: a 170-horsepower, turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder; 252-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, and a 137-hp, 1.6-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder.

However, the Terrain uses a nine-speed automatic transmission on its gasoline-engine models, where the Equinox has a six-speed automatic. Diesel engines on both cars connect to the wheels via the six-speed automatic.

The Terrain features a new system for shifting the automatic transmission, which GMC says was developed with an eye toward the future when cars will be able to drive autonomously. A set of switches are mounted on the dash. You pull out the ones for “drive” and “reverse,” and push in for other functions.

2018-GMC-Terrain-059Terrains are available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Driven for this review were three versions: luxury-oriented Denali 2.0 AWD with a starting price of $40,245 and, with options, tested at $44,450; an SLT FWD diesel starting at $35,140 and tested at $39,545, and the focus here: SLE AWD with the 1.5-liter engine, starting at $30,545 and $33,210 as tested.

Of the three, the diesel is the fuel economy champ with an EPA certified city/highway/combined fuel consumption of 28/39/32 mpg. The 1.5-liter gets 24/28/26 and the 2.0-liter is rated at 21/26/23.

Though the Terrain’s all-new styling graces a vehicle that is slightly smaller than its predecessor, it is a roomy compact crossover with passenger room similar to that of a midsize sedan and a cargo area of 30 cubic feet, which is about double that of most midsize cars.

2018-GMC-Terrain-SLT-011It also is distinguished by an unusual design element: each trim level — SLE, SLT and Denali — has its own distinct grille, so astute neighbors can instantly detect your Terrain’s snob appeal.

The top-of-the-line Denali, which has standard and optional features intended to rival those of luxury vehicles, can be equipped with state-of-the-art safety features, including low-speed automatic braking, forward collision alert, lane-keeping assist with lane-departure warning, blind-zone alert and rear cross-traffic alert. Especially appreciated is the notice to the driver to check the back seat after parking. It could save a child’s or pet’s life.

Another welcome innovation was teen-driving parental control, which can set speed limits and audio volume, as well as produce a report card on the teen’s behavior behind the wheel.

2018-GMC-Terrain-066The Denali also features such comfort items as leather upholstery, heated and ventilated eight-way power front seats with memory settings, automatic tailgate, automatic dual-zone climate control, Wi-Fi hotspot and a full-fledged infotainment system. Curiously for this luxury-oriented trim, the right front seat has manual adjustments and the right front window does not have express up and down.

If you’re willing to give up some of the luxury and convenience items, the all-wheel drive SLE version is a satisfying vehicle in its own right — and in this test had a price tag $11,240 lower than that of the Denali.

Its smaller 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, with 170 hp and 203 lb-ft of torque, delivered sprightly acceleration with the nine-speed automatic transmission. Its main drawback is that its towing capability is 1,500 pounds compared to the 3,500-lb rating with the 2.0-liter engine.

The SLE’s front seats are comfortable and supportive, upholstered in sturdy cloth that keeps the torso cool in summer and warm in winter. The ride is pleasant on all but the roughest surfaces, and the Terrain handles securely on curves as long as it is not pushed too hard.

Overall, it is a competitive offering in the burgeoning compact crossover class and a good alternative — depending on an individual’s tastes — to the excellent Chevrolet Equinox.

2018-GMC-Terrain-Denali-032Specifications

  • Model: 2018 GMC Terrain AWD SLE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 170 hp, 203 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 103/30 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,622 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/28/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,545.
  • Price as tested: $33,210.

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

2018-GMC-Terrain-055
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Photos (c) GMC.

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.

 

2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4MATIC forges a strong link in the longest chain of luxury sport utility vehicles in America.

In a move that was prescient but a gamble in 1997, the German manufacturer introduced the first luxury SUV, the 1998 ML320, at a surprisingly low price of $34,545.

Following the practice of the era, the ML320 was built like a truck, with the body mounted on a welded steel frame. As such, it had significant off-road chops but also delivered great highway handling from an independent suspension system and decent performance from a 215-hp, 3.2-liter V6 engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Moreover, it was American-made in a brand-new Mercedes plant in Alabama.

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300

The ML320 was an immediate hit, with some customers waiting as long as eight months for delivery, and soon Japan’s Lexus countered with its RX, which was manufactured with a passenger-car unit body. That configuration now is called a crossover. Mercedes switched to a unit body for the second-generation ML-Class in 2005.

The company’s prescience paid off and it expanded its lineup as buyer interest remained steady, then soared for crossover SUVs in every price class, especially in recent years.

With two decades of experience, Mercedes now sells five models, starting with the subcompact GLA. It also has re-named others in the lineup to match their size classes. The tested compact GLC300 used to be called the GLK; the old midsize ML now is the GLE and the full-size GLS used to be the GL. Also in the lineup is the G-Class, based on a Mercedes military vehicle.

_AS_0724-source

As a compact, the 2018 GLC300 is a solid contender in its luxury category, available with almost every modern safety, driver involvement and infotainment feature. Many come as options, which inflated the base price of $42,975 to $62,795.

Power is delivered by a responsive 241-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 273 lb-ft of torque. A nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by steering-wheel paddles sends the power to all four wheels. If you don’t need all-wheel drive, the GLC300 can be ordered with standard rear-wheel drive at a saving of $2,000.

The GLC300 is two inches longer and nearly 500 lbs heavier but with less interior room than the best-selling compact Honda CR-V, which has 106 cubic feet of passenger volume and 39 cubic feet for cargo. The GLC’s passenger volume is 98 cubic feet with 19 cubic feet for cargo.

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300

The two-ton weight and an air suspension system translate into a hefty, planted and comfortable ride on the highway with good road feedback through the steering wheel. Likely the acceleration would be better if a few pounds were extracted but the GLC300 is no slouch, reaching 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, according to Mercedes’s specifications.

Some of that weight obviously has gone into insulation and other sound-deadening materials. This is a quiet highway cruiser with little intrusion of road, mechanical and wind noise.

There are five driver-selectable driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual, which adjust shift points and suspension settings to maximize fuel economy and move up from there to enhance performance.

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300

Seats on the test car were upholstered in perforated leather, heated and cooled up front. There are three memory settings for the front seats and mirrors. Outboard back seats are similarly accommodating and even the center-rear position, hampered by a large floor hump, offers room and some comfort. The seatbacks fold flat with a finger pull on a switch.

There’s additional hidden space for small items under the cargo floor because the GLC300 now comes with run-flat tires. The under-floor space comes with a nice touch: two small bags that hold bright yellow vests to wear in an emergency.

A few criticisms are in order. Though there’s an easy-to-use fingertip shifter, if you turn off the engine and forget to put the transmission in Park, the GLC300 will roll forward or backward. Infotainment functions require learning and attention, and should not be attempted underway. The sunshade for the panoramic sunroof is flimsy and admits sunlight. Also, the window controls on the door would be more intuitive placed on the sides of the front seats.

Still, if you have interest and the money for luxury surroundings, state-of-the-art driving and safety features — all in a tidy package — the 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 strongly hints at the self-driving technology of the future.

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4Matic four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 241 horsepower, 273 pound-feet torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 98/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,001 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/28/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $42,975.
  • Price as tested: $62,795.

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

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz.

2017 Ford Edge Sport AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Like their products, vehicle manufacturers historically develop recognizable characteristics, as Ford does with the 2017 Edge crossover sport utility vehicle.

Over the years, the Ford Motor Co. acquired a reputation for expertise with pickup trucks and station wagons. Its F-Series pickup has held the sales championship among all cars and light trucks for 40 years in a row. Though station wagons have fallen out of favor, the company built many excellent wagons over the years.

The full-size Country Squire, for example, had a run of 41 years, ending in 1991 when Ford introduced the Explorer as the country trended away from wagons and toward sport utility vehicles. Unlike the Country Squire, the Explorer started as a truck-based vehicle with optional four-wheel drive, taller and wagon-like, but not a wagon. Now it, too, has morphed into a car-based crossover.

In its time, the Explorer became the most successful SUV in the U.S. market. Its best year came in 2000, with sales of more than 445,000. More than seven million have been sold over the years.

2017 Ford Edge

The Edge, on the other hand, is a relative youngster, celebrating its first decade in 2017. It resides in the middle of Ford’s lineup of four crossovers and one full-size truck-based SUV, the Expedition. Others are the crossovers: the compact Escape, the best seller with 307,069 sold in 2016, the midsize Edge (134,588) and full-size Explorer (248,507) with three rows of seats. The Flex (SALES FIGURES) fills out the lineup as a three-row wagon.

With the Edge, Ford shows that it has not lost its touch in designing desirable wagon-like, family friendly crossovers. There are four trim levels, starting with the SE with front-wheel drive at $29,845. Add $1,495 for all-wheel drive. Other starting prices are the SEL at $32,685, Titanium at $36,495 and the tested Sport at $41,795.

There are three engine choices: 245-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, 280-hp, 3.5-liter naturally-aspirated V6 and the 315-hp, 2.7-liter turbocharged V6. The last is standard equipment on the tested Edge Sport. All use a six-speed automatic transmission.

2017 Ford Edge

The Sport also comes with all-wheel drive, a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel and Ford’s innovative adaptive steering, which changes the steering ratio based on the wheel position and the vehicle’s speed. Housed in the steering wheel with the air bag, the system weighs just two pounds and can automatically vary the left-to-right lock-to-lock from 2 to 2.6 turns.

However, as sophisticated as it is, most drivers would be hard-pressed to notice any difference unless an adaptive steering Edge were driven immediately after one without the feature.

What it does is impart an unobtrusive, relaxed feeling of straight-line control in long-distance highway driving, which is the Edge Sport’s forte. It responds quickly to steering corrections and emergency moves when needed.

2017 Ford Edge

With deep and supportive seats upholstered in suede-like cloth trimmed with leather, along with a supple suspension system that delivers a comfortable ride, driver and passengers can settle back on an all-day trip. The interior is quiet with little intrusion of mechanical, road or wind noise. Rolling Wi-Fi would be welcome but the tester was not equipped with it.

Primarily, the Explorer Sport is a fine family vacation machine. Though it’s a five-passenger, two-row crossover, the back-seat passengers have plenty of head and knee room with seatbacks that recline. Even the center-rear position, which is punishing in most vehicles, is usable though not as comfortable as the outboard back seats.

Behind the rear seats, a cavernous cargo area can swallow 39 cubic feet of luggage, food and drink, coolers, and beach chairs and umbrellas. On the Sport, the lift-gate is motorized for added convenience loading and unloading.

2017 Ford Edge

Standard equipment includes Ford’s Sync3 touch screen with voice activation to control infotainment and other functions, along with pushbutton starting, perforated leather upholstery, satellite and HD radio, dual-zone climate control, hill start assist and a garage door opener.

The Sync3 system improves on the earlier Ford MyTouch system. On the Sport, the touch screen worked in concert with in-dash displays that could be controlled from the steering wheel. But it takes some skill to set up and should not be tinkered with while driving.

The tested Edge Sport also had option packages that included adaptive cruise control, voice-activated navigation, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, remote starting, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, split-view rear camera rain-sensing windshield wipers and active parking assist. All of that brought the as-tested price to $47,925.

2017 Ford Edge

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Ford Edge Sport AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:7-liter V6, twin turbochargers, 315 hp, 350 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 117/39 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,337 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/24/20 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $41,795.
  • Price as tested: $47,925.

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

2017 Ford Edge

Photos (c) Ford.

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 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.

2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Two common reactions emerge when people see the 2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible. If the person knows little about the brand or model, it’s “Wow.” One who is more informed asks, “Why?”

The latter folk recall the ill-fated Nissan Murano convertible, called the Cross Cabriolet, which was spun off in 2011 from the company’s midsize crossover sport utility vehicle. Its size and bulbous styling did not translate well into chop-top treatment and it vanished after the 2014 model year.

RREvoqueConvLADRAFTND058-resize-1024x683But the Evoque ragtop could soldier on despite total sales so far of about 1,200. For one thing, it is a British Land Rover, with all of the cachet of the storied brand. With America’s Jeep, it has earned world-wide renown for its go-anywhere capabilities.

But both companies have strayed. Some Jeep models, even with all-wheel drive, don’t measure up to purpose-built versions like the Wrangler and Unlimited.

Similarly, for all of its off-road heritage, the Range Rover Evoque is not as Serengeti-ready as its siblings. When introduced, the Land Rover trail masters had to remove the front bumpers from the test vehicles to improve the approach angle for off-road obstacles. It obviously was intended as a small luxury crossover SUV.

RREvoqueConvLADRAFTND046-resize-1024x683That orientation bleeds over to more adept Land and Range Rovers. Many of them spend their lifetimes in garages of luxury homes, parked in front of designer stores or tooling majestically around in swanky shopping centers.

The Evoque convertible fits that paradigm, especially in the tested top-of-the-line HSE Dynamic version, which arrived with a comprehensive suite of safety and luxury equipment, much of it standard, especially Land Rover’s sophisticated systems that augment the all-wheel drive.

Among them: terrain response adjustable for different conditions, special off-road antilock braking system, and roll-stability and hill-descent controls. Others enhance on-road performance: torque-vectoring control, cornering-brake control, emergency brake-assist and hill-start assist.

RREVQConvertibleStatic09111507-resize-1024x768The tested Evoque also came with blind-spot warning, leather upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, pushbutton starting, automatic stop-start system, 19-inch alloy wheels, power seats and keyless locking.

Though you might find a base SE model at $51,470 — by itself out of reach for many buyers — the tested HSE Dynamic came with a $58,270 price tag. Add its long list of extras and it topped out at $69,685.

lrevoqueconvertiblespotifyimage20091605-resize-1024x683Options included lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking, parallel parking assist, a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, surround-view camera, SXM satellite radio, folding rear armrest with a ski pass-through and a heated steering wheel.

However, there were a couple of negatives. The sun visors did not slide on their support rods to fully block sunlight from the side. And with the obtuse controls on the center screen, owners should carefully read the owner’s manual or they may spend frustrating hours trying to figure out how to re-set the trip odometers or save favorite radio stations.

lrevoqueconvertiblespotifyimage20091610-resize-1024x721The Evoque convertible is set up for four people, though the back seat is tight. Moreover, it doesn’t have enough space for everybody’s luggage. Its trunk measures less than nine cubic feet because the convertible top boot gobbled space. So, the shallow trunk is down low with a lid that sticks straight out when opened, requiring the loader to duck underneath. Awkward.

Dropping or raising the top, however, is a breeze. A single switch folds it in about 18 seconds, even moving at up to about 30 miles an hour. It nestles into its cubby and forms its own cover. Raising the top takes a few seconds longer. There’s a wind blocker stashed in the trunk that can be manually installed, but you mostly don’t need it.

RREVQConvertibleInterior09111506-resize-1024x948Road performance is so-so. The Evoque convertible uses the same turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that was developed when Ford owned Land Rover. It delivers 240 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque, sent to all four wheels through a 9-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

But at 4,525 pounds the convertible weighs about 400 pounds more than the two-door and four-door hardtop Evoque models. Though it boasts of a top speed of 130 mph, the zero to 60 mph acceleration time is more than eight seconds.

Of course, as a luxury convertible its orientation leans toward leisurely cruising on pleasant summer days. And it does have more off-road chops than other convertibles except for vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler or the fabled Land Rover Defender.

RREvoqueConvLADRAFTND007-resize-1024x683Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Range Rover Evoque HSE two-door convertible.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 240 hp, 250 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 87/9 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,525 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/28/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $58,270.
  • Price as tested: $69,685.

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

RREVQConvertibleDriving09111502-resize-1024x683Photos (c) Land Rover.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Like a Major League Baseball team with strong hitters, Chevrolet continues its winning streak with the 2018 Equinox compact crossover sport utility vehicle.

Moreover, there hasn’t been a strikeout or even an error in a string that includes the Impala, Malibu and Cruze. It is the strongest lineup that the General Motors mainstay has fielded in its history.

2018-Chevrolet-Equinox-018When it was introduced as a 2005 model, the Equinox was something of an anomaly: a bit bigger than a compact crossover like the sales-leading Honda CR-V but smaller than the midsize versions like the Ford Edge.

For 2018, it slots neatly into the compact class, which, along with its crossover brethren, constitutes the most popular vehicle configuration in the U.S. market. Compact and midsize sedans are no longer the champs.

Equinox hasn’t lost any interior space but is nearly six inches shorter and almost 400 pounds lighter than its predecessor. One result: there no longer are any six-cylinder engines in the lineup; the tested Equinox uses a 170-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 203 lb-ft of torque. Later in the model year, a 252-hp 2.0-liter four-banger and a 137-hp diesel engine will be added.

2018-Chevrolet-Equinox-016The 1.5-liter engine — tiny by traditional measures — is used in other Chevrolets as well, including the desirable new-generation Malibu. To send the power to the front wheels or all four wheels, Chevy installs its competent six-speed automatic transmission.

Short on muscular power, the Equinox feels quicker than its sub nine-second 0-to-60 mph acceleration time. Turbo lag is nonexistent. The torque, or twisting force, is more than adequate for stoplight sprints, on-ramp acceleration and freeway lane-swapping. To enhance fuel economy, it uses a stop-start system to shut down the engine at stoplights.

Many stop-start systems tend to be annoying, restarting the engine with a shudder or with so much hesitation it feels as if the engine bogs down. That’s not the case with the Equinox. It engages instantly and smoothly, so there’s no anxiety getting a jump off the line. That’s a good thing, because the stop-start system cannot be disengaged.

2018-Chevrolet-Equinox-023The Equinox also shines with effortless handling. There’s good grip and almost no lean around corners and it changes lanes smartly and smoothly without tossing passengers around.

Inside, the Equinox delivers generous head and knee room for five people, plus 30 cubic feet of cargo space that expands to 64 cubic feet if the rear seatbacks are folded flat. There’s also a bit of extra out-of-sight stash space under the cargo floor. A power tailgate can be adjusted for height from a button on the driver’s door.

Front seats are supportive for long-distance comfort with modest bolsters on the seatbacks to hold the torso in cornering. Outboard back seats offer full comfort and even the center-rear position, a punishing place on most vehicles, is half-way decent thanks to a flat floor and minimal intrusion of the front console, though the seat itself is flat and hard.

2018-Chevrolet-Equinox-017Tested for this review was the topmost Premier trim line with all-wheel drive. It’s a bit pricey for a compact crossover with a starting sticker of $35,330 and, with options, a bottom line of $39,645. However, the interior had an upscale look with quality materials and trim.

Equipment included full basic safety equipment plus forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist, automatic low-speed braking, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, rear park assist, and a rearview camera with an overhead view. However, there was no radar cruise control.

Other items: a panoramic sunroof with one of the biggest openings anywhere, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot with GM’s OnStar communications system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, navigation system with an eight-inch touch screen, SXM satellite radio, HD radio, dual-zone climate control, perforated leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, electric parking brake and 19-inch alloy wheels.

2017-Chevrolet-Equinox-Pothole-Awareness-06Also included was Chevrolet’s innovative teen-driving parental control, which can set speed limits and audio volume, as well as produce a report card on the teen’s behavior behind the wheel.

One critical note: If you shut off the Equinox and forget to put the transmission in “Park,” the vehicle will roll as if it is in neutral. It should automatically shift into park. However, a chime sounds and a message appears to remind the driver to shift.

On the praiseworthy side, a chime and message reminds the driver to check the back seat when the Equinox is parked. It could save a child’s life.

2018-Chevrolet-Equinox-015Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier 1.5T four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 170 hp, 203 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 99/30 cubic feet. (64)
  • Weight: 3,640 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/30/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,330.
  • Price as tested: $39,645.

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

2018-Chevrolet-Equinox-013Photos (c) General Motors.

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