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Don Adair's Seat Time

Archive for February 2014

Audi Q7 a rare combination

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Audi’s Q7 is a big, meaty slice of German engineering, a seven-passenger crossover with a lust for the open road.

Though it hasn’t had a significant makeover in its seven-year existence, the Q7 offers fully modern levels of comfort, safety and luxury.

Three engine choices — two gas, one diesel — provide the motivation. A silken eight-speed automatic dishes torque to the standard quattro all-wheel-drive system. Four or five adult occupants ride in sumptuous comfort. Small children will survive in vestigial third-row seating.

From behind the wheel, the Q7 feels exactly like the large, powerful rig it is. It’s a road-going machine, designed to cover large distances and rugged conditions. Because it’s an Audi, ride and handling is a sizable cut above. 

And though its best side shines brightest out on the two-lane blacktop, the Q7 also has a city side. Ride quality is very good and instant throttle response provides the thrust and surge necessary for successfully negotiating traffic-clogged thoroughfares.

At its $47,700 base price, the Q7 is well-equipped. Leather, adaptive xenon headlights and a premium 11-speaker sound system are just the tip of the standard-features iceberg. Too many ticks of the options list, thought, elevate the price into astronomical ranges — and can impair performance.

To wit, our diesel-powered tester was optioned with the S line plus appearance package, which replaces the 18-inch all-season radials with 21-inch summer tires that perform poorly on rutted and snow-covered roadways.

Such as the hill that gets me home. 

Twice during my weeklong test, I was forced to park at the bottom of the hill and hoof it home, and every drive on packed snow evoked a tense tiptoe ballet between traction and skid.

This is not to warn buyers off the S plus line — it comes with killer titanium-finish 5-spoke alloys — but to illustrate the hazards of ill-chosen options. Just keep a good set of snow tires to back up the hotrod rubber.

The turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel that powered my tester ran quiet and smooth. It makes 240 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque and earns EPA ratings of 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway/22mpg combined.

Despite those lofty numbers, the diesel doesn’t lack for get-up-and-go. Acceleration is strong and certain and the Tiptronic gearbox makes swift, sure shifts that keep the engine in the heart of its power band.

A supercharged 3.0-liter gasoline engine produces 280 hp on base trims and 333 hp on the performance-oriented S line. Both versions earn a 18 combined mpg (16 city/22 mpg highway).

The Q7 cabin earns top marks for style, materials quality and ergonomics. Audi’s MMI electronics interface presents the usual learning-curve issues, but is easier and safer to use than the current crop of touchscreen systems.

Cargo capacity is the weak link in the Q7 chain, with a total capacity of about that of a compact crossover. 

The Q7 offers a rare combination of drivability, functionality and comfort. Crossover buyers seeking something out of the ordinary would do well to shoot it a glance.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact  him at don@dadair.com.

2014 Audi Q7 TDI quattro Tiptronic
Vehicle base price: $47,700
Trim level base price: $52,900
As tested: $81,795
Key options included navigation; Bang & Olufsen sound system; air suspension; corner-view camera system; S line and S line plus appearance packages; parking system with rearview camera
EPA rating: 19 city/28 highway
Diesel fuel required

Toyota 4Runner: One of a kind

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My traveling companion wasn’t sure what to make of the 2014 Toyota 4Runner.

“It’s not quite as comfortable as some of the other cars you drive,” she offered. 

“Of course, not,” I said, trying to scrub any hint of condescension from my reply. “It’s not a car; it’s a truck.”

I may have proceeded to elaborate on the difference between a true SUV, like the 4Runner, and the more common car-based crossover. The 4Runner, I probably explained, as her eyes glazed over, is a throwback, a truck-based SUV of the old school.

She demurred when I offered to take her out to the off-road park to show her what this baby could do. She probably thought I’d scare her within an inch of her life and most likely was right.

Not everyone wants or needs a rig as durable, sturdy and rugged as Toyota’s venerable midsize SUV. For those who do, there are precious few alternatives. 

What my TC couldn’t know is that the today’s 4Runner is a far more refined version of its former self, with ride and handling that would have been thought impossible just a few years ago. 

For 2014, the 4Runner receives a handful of exterior updates, including a more aggressive front fascia. On the inside, there’s a redesigned instrument panel and touchscreen audio interface with smartphone integration.

A rearview camera is newly standard across all trim levels. Three-row seating continues to be available, though the third row is only marginally useful. With the second- and third-row seats folded, 4Runner has a healthy 90-cubic-foot cargo capacity. 

4Runner is available in three trims, SR5, Limited and Trail. Each has its own 4WD system, a kind of Goldilocks scenario. For hardcore off-roaders, there’s the Trail edition, with its part-time 4WD system, locking rear differential, crawl control and driver-selectable terrain-responsive modes.

The SR5 has a part-time 4WD system that includes a low-range transfer case.

Limited gets a full-time AWD system, with low-range gearing, that requires no driver intervention. It also adds Toyota’s X-REAS suspension enhancement system that provides a car-like ride.Less capable off-road than either the Trail or SR5, it will meet the needs of most drivers. 

Every 4x4 4Runner is outfitted with underbody skid plates and a traction control system that sends torque to the wheel with the most traction. A 4.0-liter, 270-horsepower V-6, paired with a five-speed automatic transmission, powers all Runners. A properly equipped 4Runner tows up to 4,700 pounds.

Fuel efficiency counts for little in this segment. EPA estimates for the 4Runner are typical: 19 mpg combined (17 mpg city/22 mpg highway) for rear-wheel-drive models and 18 mpg combined (17 city/21 highway) for four-wheel-drive 4Runners.

4Runner is a proud holdout in a world of unibodies and electronic mediation. Sure, you’ll give up something in terms of ride quality (though not as much as you’d think) and fuel efficiency, but I argue that’s a small price to pay for the Runner’s durability and go-anywhere capabilities.

Even my traveling companion would grant me that.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2014 Toyota 4Runner Trail Premium
Vehicle base price: $
Trim level base price: $38,645
As tested: $42,175
Options included sliding rear cargo deck; Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System; rigid running boards; carpet floor mat & cargo mat.
EPA ratings: 18 city/21 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Jeep Compass: Transmission transformation

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Jeep’s 2014 Compass crossover earns my nod as the year’s most improved car.

Achieving this crowning standard didn’t cost Jeep much; mainly, it meant adding a conventional six-speed automatic to the transmission mix, where in most instances it replaces last year’s continuously variable transmission (CVT).

CVTs use engine power more efficiently than conventional transmissions do, but their downsides are well documented. In particular, they tend when accelerating to produce an elastic — or rubber-band — feel as the belts and pulleys race to catch up with engine speed.

Not all CVTs are created equal, of course, and the Compass’s was particularly distracting. It’s not entirely gone — the optional Freedom Drive II Off-road system requires it — but for most buyers it’s now a non-issue.
 
The compact Compass (from $20,085, including destination) also receives a handful of styling updates. The best and most important are found inside, where materials are improved and the console and armrests are now vinyl-wrapped.

A comprehensive standard features list — air conditioning, power windows, power locks, heated exterior mirrors, keyless entry, fog lamps, etc. — includes such useful novelties as a cooled glovebox, a rechargeable LED cargo light that can be removed and used as a flashlight and optional liftgate speakers. Bluetooth and a USB port are optional.

Compass is available in three trims — Sport, Latitude and Limited — and three drivetrain configurations. Besides the standard front-wheel-drive, there are the AWD packages, Freedom Drive I and Freedom Drive II.

Freedom Drive I is a conventional full-time AWD system with locking AWD, a bonus in deep snow. Freedom Drive II adds low-range gearing and hill-descent control.

FWD Sport and Latitude trims are powered by a 2.0-liter, 158-horsepower four. A 2.4-liter four that produces 172 hp is standard on the Limited trim and on all AWD models.

Sport comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission, while Latitude and Limited get the new automatic. With the stick and the smaller engine, FWD Compasses earn EPA ratings of 23 city/30 highway/26 combined. The automatic reduces that to 21/28/24. 

With the 2.4-liter engine and the automatic, mileage is 21/28/24. The manual bumps that to 23/28/25. With AWD and the 2.4, the automatic manages 21/27/23, the manual 23/28/25.

Freedom II requires the 2.4 and CVT and adds 17-inch all-terrain tires and aluminum wheels, a one-inch raised ride height, full-size spare, skid plates, tow hooks, fog lamps and manual seat-height adjuster. Fuel economy lags at 20/23/21.

A properly equipped Compass can tow up to 2,000 pounds.

My AWD Latitude tester paired the 2.4-liter engine with the new transmission, and found it transformative. The slightest nudge on the throttle no longer produces a roaring engine and muted forward motion. Throttle response is immediate and the gearbox makes quick, clean shifts.

Among compact crossovers, the Compass’s ride is on the firm side and can grow harsh when the road surface deteriorates. Cabin noise and other comforts are about average, though some of the competitive rigs offer greater sophistication.

Sometimes the only way to go forward is with a step backwards. Jeep’s decision to move away from the CVT was the right thing to do. 

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2014 Jeep Compass Latitude 4x4
Vehicle base price: $18,395
Trim level base price: $24,295
As tested: $27,275
Optional equipment included security alarm; tire-pressuring monitoring system; auto-dimming rearview mirror; remote USB port; satellite radio; rearview camera; upgrade audio system with voice activation and display screen; remote start.
EPA rating: 21 city/27 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

 

Acura ILX: Affordable, tech-laced luxury

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Two years ago, Acura introduced the compact ILX sedan in hopes of easing young buyers into the near-luxury classes.

Its ILX (from $27,795, including destination) wraps Acura’s core values — affordability, quality and low-key, tech-laced luxury — in an attractive and well-equipped package. 

Though it’s Acura’s entry-level vehicle, the ILX doesn’t scrimp. The base price brings a raft of standard equipment, including sunroof, leather upholstery, keyless entry and ignition, automatic dual-zone climate control, heated seats, active noise cancellation and all the expected connectivity.

A pair of packages — Premium and Technology — take buyers deep into options land, with such extras as xenon headlamps, foglamps, navigation and a terrific 10-speaker surround-sound audio system with digital music storage.

A loaded ILX slips off the dealership floor for $32, 495.

The ILX is unexpectedly roomy given its exterior dimensions and will accommodate four adults comfortably, though the sunroof reduces headroom. The cabin lacks the elegance of both design and materials as those found in some of its stablemates, but it’s attractively designed and ergonomically sound.  

Seats are well designed and provide plenty of lumber and thigh support. The noise cancellation system cuts cabin noise to well below compact-class standards.

Acura bills the ILX as a sport sedan and makes a reasonable case for itself. The ILX’s front-wheel-drive platform is rigid enough to allow suspension tuning that yields a ride that’s firm but not punishing, and that handles fast corners with minimal body lean.

The electrically assisted power steering system is over-boosted at highway speeds and lacks road feel, but it’s accurate and has excellent on-center feel.

Three powertrains are available. The standard 2.0-liter inline four makes 150 horsepower. It’s paired with a five-speed automatic transmission and returns EPA ratings of 24 mpg city/35 mpg highway/28 mpg combined.

Buyers hoping to exploit the ILX’s sporty nature can step up to a 201-hp 2.4-liter four that can be mated with either a close-ratio, six-speed manual transmission or the automatic. It’s rated at 22/31/25.

Acura also offers the ILX in hybrid form ($28,900). Its Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology comprises a 90-hp four-cylinder engine and a 23-hp electric motor and produces a combined output of 111 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque. 

The system can’t power the ILX on electricity alone; the electric motor occasionally helps boost power but primarily functions to convert braking energy into electricity that helps charge the battery pack.

Opting for the hybrid fetches efficiency ratings of 39/38/38. Be advised, however, that a) the ILX Hybrid needs 10.4 seconds to arrive at 60 mph from a standstill and b) this version of IMA is not as refined as the one that debuts in this year’s Honda Accord — and that will someday make its way to the family’s Acura wing.

The battery pack’s location reduces the trunk capacity from 12.3 cubic feet to 10 cf, though the rear seatbacks fold in compensation. 

Buyers are turning in increasing numbers to small cars that offer big comfort and compelling efficiency. It’s an attractive scenario into which Acura’s ILX slips comfortably. 

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2014 Acura ILX Hybrid w/Tech Package
Vehicle base price: $26,900
Trim level base price: $34,600
As tested: $35,495
Options: The ILX Hybrid with Technology is a fully equipped trim; our tester included no options.
EPA ratings: 39 city/39 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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