Archive for September 2013
My father-in-law Jack was a proper Buick owner, a self-made businessperson with a South Hill rancher and a Century wagon in the driveway.
He worked hard to buy that car and I never saw him happier than the day he drove it home.
Like most achieving Americans of his generation, Jack lived the ethos of Large. He couldn’t have imagined what passes for full-size these days, nor could he have fathomed Buick’s new subcompact Encore crossover.
The smallest Buick ever built, the Encore is 10 inches shorter than Honda’s CR-V, and about the same size as a Kia Soul or a Scion xB.
Jack’s wagon would have outweighed it by two tons.
Since the day Jack brought home his Buick, the company has moved quietly downstream — it no longer builds wagons the size of Manhattan — and has grown increasingly global. Jack would have struggled to understand Buick’s popularity in China, whose middle class appreciates the brand’s focus on understated, affordable luxury.
With the Encore, Buick targets the same sliver of demand responsible for BMW’s X1 and Audi’s soon-to-arrive Q3. Each was built in the belief that buyers want a comfortable city-sized commuter rig. Buick’s answer is this small, affordably priced (from $25,085, including destination) crossover.
As with all modern Buicks, the Encore’s chief asset is its comfortable, well equipped and uncannily silent cabin.
Assorted sound-deadening measures, include Buick ’s first application of the Bose Active Noise Cancellation technology. Front-seat occupants enjoy broad and supportive seats and a tall seating position. I’d have preferred narrower seats and a broader center console; the existing arrangement prevents use of the handbrake when the cupholders are in use. Otherwise, four adults of average size will be comfortable in commute-length bits.
Rear-seat legroom is quite good, though hip and shoulder room is tight. Standard features highlights include A/C, cruise control, full power accessories, power driver’s seat, rearview camera, heated side mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, OnStar telematics, satellite radio, a USB/iPod interface and auxiliary audio jack. Buick's IntelliLink control interface features a 7-inch touchscreen and integrated smartphone apps.
Front-wheel-drive is standard, AWD is optional.
Power is by a 138-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter four rated at 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway/28 mpg combined (FWD) and 23/26/30 (AWD). It’s yoked to a six-speed automatic tuned to maximize efficiency, which means quick upshifts and slow (sometimes painfully so) downshifts. The Encore saunters from zero-to-60 in 9.8 seconds. Passing requires care, especially with a full load.
That said, we folded the rear seatbacks, packed the cargo hold with camping gear and headed into British Columbia’s high country. The Encore was willing, if not robust. Ride quality is good, though the Encore’s short wheelbase and 18-inch wheels can produce choppy performance over broken pavement. The electrically assisted steering is responsive and has good on-center feel, but at speed may strike some as twitchy.
Despite a handful of quibbles with interior materials — most notably, the hard-plastic surround housing the Intellilink screen — and the poorly located handbrake, the Encore succeeds quite admirably.
Jack might not have understood, but Buick wagers a new generation will.
Contact Spokane freelancer Don Adair at email@example.com.
2013 Buick Encore FWD Premium
Vehicle base price: $24,160
Trim level base price: $28,190
As tested: $29,735
Optional equipment: Our tester included navigation.
EPA rating: 25 city/33 highway Regular unleaded fuel specified
There’s a new buzzword in the RV trade. Seems like half the trailers, campers and fifth-wheels one sees these days are emblazoned with a logo bearing some — usually misspelled — version of the word “light.”
Super Lite! Ultra Lite! Ever Lite!
Like every buzzword, this one must be taken with a grain of salt, says Jerry Wagner, general manger at Spokane’s R&R RVs.
“Every brand in the industry claims they have a light or ultra-light product,” Wagner warns, “but they use that term pretty loosely.”
The benefits of weight reduction are obvious. A 30-foot travel trailer built using lightweight materials and construction techniques can weigh hundred of pounds less than a conventional trailer.
There are savings at the gas pump — towing a lightweight may reduce fuel consumption by a mile per gallon, Wagner says — but equally important is the impact of weight loss on the tow vehicle.
“If you’re towing less weight, there’s less strain on the tow vehicle, on the drive train and brakes, especially,” Wagner notes. “Over time, any extra weight takes a toll on the vehicle.”
But, despite their virtues, not all lightweight towables are built equally. “Normally, ‘lightweight’ means there’s more aluminum in the frame structure,” Wagner says, “but some manufacturers use that as a big tease.”
Some cut corners using lightweight but substandard materials; others simply make less extensive use of aluminum.
For years, most RVs had a wood frame to which aluminum sidewalls were attached. More recently, the advent of fiberglass and modern composites enabled another style of construction from which the lightweight segment emerged.
In this new style of construction, several layers of materials are laminated or vacuum-bonded into a single piece, which is joined to a frame made either of wood or aluminum.
The more aluminum, the greater the weight savings.
Some makers use aluminum only in the segments of the structure to which the sidewalls are attached, while using wood trusses for the floors, roofs and end caps.
Besides its vulnerability to moisture, “There's nothing wrong with wood,” Wagner says. Indeed, some manufacturers pride themselves in the quality of their wood-frame construction.
There are those who worry that lightweight construction techniques produce less durable trailers. But Wagner says lightweights built by reputable firms are as durable as those that use traditional methods. However, some manufacturers use the lightweight banner as a reason to cut corners.
Like sidewalls, floors are built in layers. To attain weight savings, some makers substitute chip board or plywood for a sturdier, more rigid material.
“You can walk into some ultra-light trailers and the floor feels bouncy and springy,” Wagner says.
Manufacturers also tout other weight-saving techniques and materials, including such items as tankless “instant-heat” hot water systems and European-style window assemblies.
Each offers benefits, says Wagner, but not without attendant downsides. Plastic European windows weigh less than conventional glass windows, but are easily scratched during cleaning.
Water from conventional storage-tank systems is hotter than the water from tankless system. Moreover, tankless systems can be powered only by electricity, while conventional systems can run on either propane or electricity.
Finally, says Wagner, the choice to go lightweight or go traditional is a personal one.
Buyers should educate themselves about the techniques and materials — or mix of them — that were used in the construction of any trailer they’re considering, he says. He urges buyer to “slow down and really look at the method of construction. Reputable manufacturers will include that information in the brochures and websites.”
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2004, the Chrysler 300 landed like a body slam to the midsection of the full-size sedan segment, its brooding, broad-shouldered presence a poke in the eye of convention.
The 300’s dark beauty masked an array of shortcomings, though. On the verge of bankruptcy, Chrysler cut more than a few corners. Neither the interior nor the suspension fulfilled the exterior’s promise.
Six years, one recession and a change of ownership later, the second-generation 300 arrived. No less bold stylistically than the original, the new 300 was more than just a comely face.
Suspension upgrades tamed the 300’s wayward ways and mechanical updates boosted fuel efficiency. The cabin finally received the attention the first-gen 300 so richly deserved.
Now, in 2013, the 300 ($31,340, including destination) has matured into a comfortable, efficient and sumptuously outfitted adult conveyance. Its 122-inch wheelbase dwarfs the domestic competitions’. Its cabin is large enough and back seat roomy enough that it’s sold in other parts of the world as a limousine.
The 300 is built on a rear-drive platform, with available all-wheel-drive. This RWD architecture produces a driveline hump that reduces rear-seat foot-room but yields superior driving dynamics. Despite its bulk, the new 300 handles confidently, even through fast sweepers.
Ride quality is very good, although larger wheel sizes — base trims come with 17s, AWD gets 19s and 20s are available — reduce compliance on rough surfaces. With its large and supportive seats, compliant suspension and well-weighted steering, the 300 will doubtless prove to be an efficient and comfortable long-distance cruiser.
And, though it won’t be mistaken for a sport sedan the equal of BMW’s 7 Series or an engineering marvel like Mercedes-Benz’s S Class, the 300 takes a back seat to none in the value sweepstakes. It’s with comfort, convenience and safety features at surprisingly low price points.
The base 300 receives automatic headlights, heated mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, cruise control, an 8.4-inch central touchscreen interface, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, an eight-way power driver seat (with adjustable lumbar), tilt-and-telescoping steering, Bluetooth connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio jack, iPod/USB connectivity and satellite radio.
A 292-horsepower V-6 is standard (it’s tweaked to 300 hp on the sport-tuned 300S). Paired with a new eight-speed automatic, it produces EPA estimates of 19 mpg city/31 mpg highway/23 mpg combined; AWD fetches 18/27/21.
A 363-hp eight is available on all but the base trim and the high-performance, 470-hp SRT8. Mated with a six-speed gearbox, the eight earns RWD ratings of 16/25/19 and 15/23/18 with AWD. The RWD-only SRT8 earns EPA numbers of 14/23/17.
The handful of downsides include limited rearward visibility and vague shift-lever detents. A balky storage-cubby door hinted at cabin cost-cutting.
Our admiration for Chrysler’s reborn flagship remains undimmed, though. A roughhewn beauty in its youth, the 300 wears its new maturity like a champion.
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at email@example.com.
2013 Chrysler 300 AWD
Vehicle base price: $30,345
Trim level base price: $32,845
As tested: $35,840
Options included back-up camera; power passenger seats with four-way lumber adjust; fog lamps, security alarm; remote start; universal garage door opener; center high-mount stop lamp.
EPA ratings: 18 city/27 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified