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Don Adair's Seat Time

Archive for March 2014

Honda Ridgeline: Right-sized trucklet

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Just as the first robin announces spring, the arrival of a Special Edition Honda foreshadows the arrival of an all-new model.

Honda’s short-bed Ridgeline pickup ($30,405, including destination) is due for its first full makeover since debuting in 2006. 

To sweeten the pot until the 2015 Ridgeline arrives, Honda gives us the new, top-of-the-line Special Edition (SE) trim ($38,335). The SE incorporates the stepped upgrades built into the Ridgeline’s five-trim strategy and adds navigation with voice recognition; Bluetooth phone connectivity; and a handful of cosmetic upgrades.

The SE is the full-meal deal, with 18-inch alloy wheels, foglights, sunroof, leather upholstery, ambient console lighting, heated front seats and side mirrors, a 115-volt AC power outlet and satellite radio.

Unibody construction provides car-like ride and handling and the Ridgeline cabin is as quiet and comfortable as any crossover’s. Honda’s latest infotainment and telematics systems aren’t here, though; they won’t be available until the new model arrives.

There’s no such thing as an under-equipped Ridgeline. All trims get a power-sliding rear window, air-conditioning, a 60/40-split lift-up rear seat (with under-seat storage), a rearview camera, full power accessories, cruise control, a trip computer and a six-speaker sound system with CD player.

The Ridgeline is available in a single four-door, five-passenger body style. It’s powered by an all-aluminum 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 250 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque. All Ridgelines are equipped with an integrated trailer hitch, oil and transmission coolers, heavy-duty brakes, dual radiator fans and the necessary prewiring for a 7-pin trailer hookup. Maximum towing capacity is 5,000 pounds.

All-wheel-drive is standard. The system can be locked in AWD mode at speeds of up to 18 mph.

The five-speed automatic transmission makes good, sure shifts and Grade Logic Control minimizes gear-hunting in hilly country. Its powertrain is dated, though, and produces anemic EPA numbers: 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway/17 mpg combined.

The Ridgeline’s broad seats provide abundant thigh and lumbar support and the rear bench accommodates two adults. Large knobs and buttons are easy to reach and to use. There’s plenty of storage for CDs and enough power sources to keep phones and tablets charged. 

One rides high in the Ridgeline cab and sight lines are ideal. The cabin is quiet at speed, body lean is minimal in turns and the unibody rides lightly over broken surfaces. 

The Ridgeline’s footprint is smaller than that of a conventional pickup, so it’s lighter on its feet and less of a handful in a parking lot.

For all its strengths, though, I hadn’t fully grasped the Ridgeline’s appeal until now. Its 5-foot bed seemed too short to be of real value.

But this time around, I piled my black Ridgeline tester full of pine branches and serviceberry limbs and carted them in the snow to the burn pile. I fetched firewood from the barn. I carted my bike to Portland for a grandson weekend. 

Neither fully fish nor fowl, car nor truck, the Ridgeline occupies a middle ground where comfort and versatility meet. Suburban ranchers, boaters and light-duty haulers can all find something here to like.

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

2014 Honda Ridgeline SE
Vehicle base price: $29,575
Trim level base price: $37,505
As tested: $38,335
Optional equipment: The Ridgeline SE is a fully equipped trim level; our test vehicle included no options.
EPA ratings: 15 city/21 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Jeep Cherokee: Old name, new crossover

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Jeep goes retro this year, dusting off the fabled Cherokee nameplate and affixing it to an all-new compact crossover.

The recipient, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee (from $23,990, including destination), doesn’t possess its namesake’s off-road cred, but a properly equipped Cherokee goes places most other compact crossovers won’t.

Other competitive advantages include a roomy, tech-festooned cabin and available six-cylinder engine. It’s a heavyweight among compact crossovers and has a stable, big-car feel on the road.

The original Cherokee debuted in 1974. A two-door variant of the Wagoneer, it gave rise to the term “Sport Utility,” which appeared that year in a Cherokee print ad. 

In a quirk obscured by time, the second-generation Cherokee (XJ) was the world’s first crossover, its unibody replacing the traditional body-on-frame structure. It retained the front-engine/rear-drive convention, though, and possessed legendary off-road chops. Today, the XJ remains the purist’s choice.

The Cherokee was replaced in 2002 by the Liberty, which failed to flourish and was decommissioned in 2012.

The new Cherokee offers a choice of engines and 4WD systems. The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine makes 184 hp and 171 pound-feet of torque. An optional 3.2-liter V-6 is rated 271 hp and 239 lb-ft of torque.

Jeep mates both engines with a new nine-speed automatic transmission.

Either engine can be paired with either 2WD or 4WD systems. A light-duty 4WD system called Active Drive I is standard on all trims but the trail oriented Trailhawk. An available Active Drive II system includes low-range gearing for improved off-road performance. It’s standard on the Trailhawk, which also adds a locking rear differential.

All 4WD Cherokees get Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system, with its driver-selectable Auto, Snow, Sport and Sand/Mud modes. The Trailhawk adds a Rock mode and hill descent control.

Four-cylinder models equipped with Active Drive I are rated at 21 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 24 combined; V-6-powered Cherokees are rated at 19/27/22. Active Drive II produces 21/27/23 and 19/26/21.

My tester included options packages that added the larger engine, leather upholstery, navigation and a tech bundle that included parallel and perpendicular park assist, adaptive cruise control, rain-sensitive wipers and more.

The vulnerability of such technology surfaced during periods of heavy snow, when blizzard-like conditions threw the adaptive system into a frenzy, setting off warnings, applying the brakes and generally misbehaving until I figured out how to shut it all down.

I suspect all radar-based systems would be equally useless in serious weather. 

On the other hand, Selec-Terrain worked like a champ in deep snow.

The Cherokee’s attractively designed cabin features an especially roomy second-row seat, though behind-the-seats cargo room suffers as a result. Ride and handling are very good, but heavy A and C pillars compromise driver sight lines.

Jeep would be foolish to let a name as rich in heritage as Cherokee sit on the shelf, collecting dust. How well the new rig lives up to the promise of its name is a matter of what you want from it.

Contact Don Adair at don@dadair.com.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4x4
Vehicle base price: $22,995
Trim level base price: $29,995
As tested: $37,030
Options included V-6 engine; Technology Group; Luxury Group; Uconnect with premium navigation system.
EPA ratings: 19 city/27 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Toyota Tundra: Work ready. Or not.

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Toyota’s redesigned 2014 Tundra pickup family adds a premium trim called the 1794 Edition.

It is, says Toyota, a “tribute to the ranch, founded in 1794, on which the Tundra plant is located in San Antonio.”

With its embossed “saddle-brown” leather upholstery, ultra-suede cabin trim and JBL audio system, the 1794 is a refuge of glitz in a world of straw bales and horse poo. It reminds us that not everyone thinks of “work” and “truck” in the same context.

Unless you consider towing a fifth-wheel or horse trailer work.

The 1794’s lesser siblings are better suited to the workaday world. Five trims include SR, SR5, Limited, Platinum and the 1794. Each gets its own interior design theme and all but the 1794 and Platinum are available in two-door regular cab, extended four-door double cab or four-door crew cab body styles. The 1794 and the similarly equipped Platinum are available only in the crew cab format.

The entire family is redesigned this year, with bolder styling and a more refined and user-friendly cabin.

Responding to complaints that the previous-generation Tundra looked like a “bubble truck,” Toyota squared off its rounded edges, elevated its hood line and fitted a larger, brighter grille. The tailgate is stamped with a big, bold “TUNDRA.”

Inside, a panel of easy-to-read gauges replaces last year's deep binnacles. The center stack moves 2.6 inches leftward, easing the reach required to access the HVAC controls. Knobs are large enough to be operated with gloved hands. Seats are redesigned for increased comfort. Interior materials have a higher-quality look and feel and Toyota has upgraded the quality of the leather used in upper trims.

A touchscreen display is now standard, and most Tundras can be had with the Entune suite of smartphone-based services, including the Bing search engine, Pandora streaming radio, real-time traffic and sports and stock information.

A rearview camera is now standard across the line, and blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems are newly available.

New noise-reduction measures reduce the amount of engine and transmission noise that reach the cabin.

But for a few suspension tweaks meant to improve ride quality over harsh road surfaces, mechanicals are essentially unchanged. The three engines — a 4.0-liter, 270-horsepower V-6; a 310-hp 4.6-liter V-8; and a 381-hp 5.7-liter V-8 — carry over. The six is mated with a five-speed automatic, the eights with a six-speed. Its engine choices are varied and, though none is especially fuel-efficient, all are strong enough to get the job done.

Toyota is the only manufacturer to employ the industry’s agreed-upon but seldom-used SAE J2807 tow-rating procedure. Ratings produced by J2807 appear lower than those resulting from other makers’ methods but are more realistic. Properly equipped, the Tundra can tow up to 10,400 pounds.

Tundra remains steadfastly a truck. Its ride is smooth and stable under normal conditions but grows bouncy and irregular when the road surface deteriorates. Its hydraulically assisted steering system is accurate during turn-in and in the corners but is not particularly responsive.

In all the ways that matter, the Tundra is all truck and ready for work. Or not. It’s your choice.

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

2014 Toyota Tundra 1794 4x4
Vehicle base price: $26,200
Trim level base price: $47,320 \
Optional equipment included blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert; 20-inch chrome-clad wheels; running boards; bed liner.
EPA rating: 13 city/17 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Hyundai Equus: Aiming for the top

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Quickly, now: Name the first five luxury sedans that spring to mind.

Done? Good. I’m guessing the Hyundai Equus was not among them. I’ll also guess that in five year’s time, it could well be.

The Equus is a $62,000, full-size, rear-drive sedan, with its sights set on the industry’s best. It won’t be easy, but Hyundai can never be counted out. 

Following a disastrous U.S. debut, in which it replaced Yugo as the punchline in a million lousy-car jokes, the Korean giant roared back to become one of three makes whose sales grew during the recession.

Hyundai introduced the Equus to U.S. buyers in 2011 and has given it a 2014 model-year refresh.

Exterior styling is updated front and rear and the instrument panel and controls are all-new. The suspension has been modified and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert systems join the standard-features list.

That list also includes such exotica as heated and ventilated front seats, heated power-reclining rear seats, with rear-seat climate controls, and a power rear sunshade.
A 17-speaker Lexicon audio system has discrete surround-sound capability and includes satellite radio, HD radio, a six-CD/DVD changer, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.

The system is so good Hyundai doesn’t bother to offer an upgrade.

This is the Hyundai game plan, played out a higher level than usual. As large as its competitors — and stronger than most in their base forms — the Equus lays on the tech and goes heavy on standard features, while undercutting the competition by several thousands of dollars.

Hyundai pitches the Equus as a sport-luxury vehicle, with the clear focus on luxury. In many ways, the car reminiscent of the first Lexus LS — it’s quiet, comfortable and well behaved, but perhaps gentle to a fault. 

Its two-mode air suspension is updated this year to produce a firmer ride in the Sport setting and a softer one in Comfort. And while the Equus rides agreeably over the roughest of surfaces, it never holds out the promise of a little back-roads entertainment.

Similarly, while the seats are large and soft, they may prove to be too soft for comfortable long-distance driving.

Equus is available in two trims, Signature and Ultimate. Both employ a 9.2-inch navigation display and most functionality is controlled by way of a console-mounted rotary knob.

Traditionally the master of tech, Hyundai comes up short with this nav system. Though its rotary controller is preferable to a touchscreen, it has frustrating inconsistencies. Online, some owners say they prefer handheld GPS devices to the Equus’s system.  

While other makers have invested their big cars with turbocharged sixes, the Equus relies on good, old eight-cylinder power. Its 5.0-liter V-8 makes 429 horsepower and is mated to an eight-speed automatic. Zero-to-60 comes up in a mid-pack 5.7 seconds but efficiency suffers. The Equus is EPA-rated at 15 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined.

Over time, Hyundai is certain to build on the Equus’s strengths and rectify its weaknesses. As it sits, Hyundai’s flagship will make value-oriented buyers a happy bunch indeed.

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

2014 Hyundai Equus Signature
Vehicle base price: $61,000
Trim level base price: $61,000
As tested: $61,920
Optional equipment: Our Equus Signature tester included no options.
EPA ratings: 15 city/23 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified 

Nissan Rogue: Smart choice

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There is no shortage of choice in the compact crossover segment. Virtually every maker of any size fields a small crossover, ranging from the barebones to the ultra-luxurious, each with its own unique value proposition.

For its part, the fully made-over 2014 Nissan Rogue hangs its hat on a roomy cabin, with available three-row seating and a spacious cargo compartment; class-leading fuel-efficiency; and a healthy supply of cabin tech. 

The Rogue’s truncated overhangs and bold character lines lend it a strong physical presence. The fully — and handsomely — redesigned cabin sports abundant soft-touch materials and looks and feels more upscale than its $23,350 price tag suggests.

The Rogue loses an inch in overall length, but its wheelbase grows by a half-inch and height is up by 1.2 inches. By reducing the front and rear overhangs, Nissan increases overall cabin space and boosts behind-the-seats cargo capacity by 10 cubic feet, from 29 to 39 cf.

Total cargo space of 70 CF handily bests the class average.

Redesigned rear doors open a full 77 degrees to improve ingress and egress and make it easier to install child seats. Every seat but the driver's folds down to allow transport of long items. The 50/50 split-folding third row bench is tight for adults but the second row is not just roomy; it also offers 9 inches of fore-and-aft travel. 

Up front, a pair of bucket seats borrow from NASA’s space-capsule “zero gravity” design. Articulated to provide continuous support from pelvis to chest, they’re designed to reduce fatigue over long distances.

The new cabin is rife with storage cubbies. There are six front storage areas, two front cupholders and two front bottle-holders.

The Rogue’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine makes 170 horsepower and is paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The combination can be noisy under acceleration and, though Nissan’s CVTs are among the best in the business, the rubber-band effect exacerbates engine noise.

To cut aerodynamic drag, improve efficiency and reduce wind noise, Nissan redesigned the A pillar and mirrors, installed a new roof spoiler and implemented a number of underbody devices.

Fuel economy is rated at 33 mpg highway for front-wheel drive models – an 18 percent improvement. City fuel economy is rated at 26 mpg, while combined fuel economy is 28 mpg. AWD Rogues are rated 25/32/28 mpg combined.

All 2014 Rogues receive standard halogen headlights, with LED running lights; power mirrors with LED turn-signal indicators; cruise control; a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, air-conditioning with rear climate vents; a 5-inch color infotainment display; a rearview camera; and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity. 

Available tech includes NissanConnect telematics, with navigation and smart-phone apps; 360-degree Around View Monitor with Moving Object Detection, Blind Spot Warning, Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Warning.
 
Though Nissan positions itself as a sporty alternative to more mainstream makers, it dials out of the Rogue any hint of sportiness. Its newly lengthened wheelbase pairs with a number of suspension upgrades to reduce ride firmness and give the Rogue a smooth, comfortable ride.

It’s doubtless the correct choice in a segment where practicality and comfort trump performance.

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

2014 Nissan Rogue SV AWD
Vehicle base price: $22,490
Trim level base price: $25,580
As tested: $27,985
Optional equipment included NissanConnect telematics with navigation, touch-screen display, traffic, weather, SXM TraveLink, Google Places; USB/iPod port; Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity; handsfree text messaging; AroundView monitor; blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning; moving object detection; heated outside mirrors; floor mats.
EPA ratings: 25 city/32 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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