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Don Adair's Seat Time

Posts tagged: crossover

Jeep Grand Cherokee: Diesel revisited

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Among many updates to the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, none is more important than the return of diesel.

Jeep deleted the diesel option in 2009 but restores it this year with a powerful new turbodiesel. The 3.0-liter V-6 can tow up to 7,200 pounds and, with rear-wheel-drive, return 30 mpg highway.

Like the other engines in the Grand Cherokee family, the diesel is paired with a new eight-speed automatic transmission. It replaces last year’s five-speed on all trims and  makes smooth, quick shifts while boosting efficiency.

The exterior gets attention, too, with new LED daytime running lights, available bi-xenon headlights and mildly freshened sheet metal. Inside, there’s a configurable driver-information screen and an available 8.4-inch touch-screen control panel.

Grand Cherokee trims range from the entry-level, V-6-powered Laredo ($30,985, RWD/$31,990, AWD) to the rear-drive-only 470-hp, $64,500 SRT, which is marketed as a separate model. 

All other trims (Limited, Overland and the new top-level Summit) are available with a choice of three engines, a 290-hp V-6, the 360-hp Hemi V-8 or the turbodiesel, which makes 240 hp and 420 stump-pulling pound-feet of torque.

Back in 2009, when Grand Cherokee transitioned from truck-based SUV to car-based crossover, fans feared the loss of its off-road chops. Electronics saved the day, though, and today buyers choose from three 4WD systems, a height-adjustable air suspension and a traction-control system that can be adjusted for optimal performance on varying surfaces (snow, mud, sand and rocks).

Few true SUVs, let alone crossovers, can best the Grand Cherokee’s capabilities in rugged terrain.

Equipped with the top-level QuadraTrak II 4WD system and Quadra-Lift air suspension, my loaded Overland 5.7L was smooth and quiet around town and on the road. At speed, ride quality was very good and the air suspension quickly damped excessive body motions. 

The GC’s cabin is spacious and nicely finished, though the driver’s seat cushion lacks thigh support and. In the mother of all first-world problems, the seat warmed unevenly. 

The new transmission includes an Eco mode that optimizes shift points for fuel efficiency and, in V-8 models, deactivates cylinders under light loads. On models equipped with air suspension, Eco mode lowers ride height by a half-inch at highway speeds, enhancing aerodynamics.

Equipped with 4WD, the 3.6L V-6 earns EPA ratings of 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway/19 mpg combined; RWD fetches 17/25/20. Properly equipped, a 3.6L Grand Cherokee can tow up to 6,200 lb. 

The EcoDiesel optional is good for 21/28/24 4WD and 22/30/25 RWD. The 5.7L V-8 weighs in at a substantially lower 14/20/16 and 14/22/17. 

Less expensive than the diesel by $1,300, the gas engine matches the diesel’s towing power, though with a hefty efficiency penalty. At current fuel prices, diesel owners should recoup their investment at about 35,000 miles.

Its superior low-end power gives diesel the edge when towing and in low-speed, off-road conditions. Grand Cherokee buyers owe it to themselves to explore its many benefits.

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

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4X4
Vehicle base price: $29,990
Trim level base price: $46,195
As tested: $51,680
Optional equipment included adaptive cruise control; Forward Crash Warning with Accident Mitigation; Advanced Brake Assist; blind-spot warning and Rear Cross Path Detection; 5.7L Hemi with engine fuel-saver technology; heavy-duty brakes; 3.09 rear axle.
EPA rating: 14 city/20 highway
Mid-grade fuel recommended

Subaru Outback: Beyond Crocodile Dundee

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If Crocodile Dundee comes to mind when you hear the words “Subaru Outback,” it’s time for a reboot. That car went away in 2009.

The Outback debuted in 1996.  A lifted version of the Legacy wagon, it was quick, nimble and durable and went places other wagons wouldn’t. It was a huge hit and gave birth to the crossover craze. The new competitors were larger and roomier but generally less capable than the Outback off-road. Americans couldn’t get enough of them. 

Subaru retaliated in 2009, with an all-new Outback. Predictably, it was larger, roomier and more SUV-like than the original. 

Use of high-tensile steel cut weight and boosted chassis strength. Structural revisions improved ride quality and cut noise and vibration. A trio of safety technologies — electronic stability control, brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution — joined all-wheel-drive on the standard features list.

The new-gen Outback boasted an SUV-like 8.7 inches of ground clearance, yet had a lower profile than other crossovers, easing the task of loading gear onto its roof. 

Last year, Subaru debuted its new crash avoidance system, called EyeSight. EyeSight uses a pair of windshield-mounted cameras, to produces a stereo image that informs the adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane departure warning systems. It can detect pedestrians, tell you if you’re swaying within your lane and, under certain conditions, bring the vehicle to a complete stop.

Almost immediately, EyeSight-equipped Subies earned Superior ratings in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s new Front Crash Prevention test. This year, it’s available as part of a $2,740 package that includes a moonroof and is available on the Limited ($26,620) and 2.5i Premium ($25,795) trims.

The 2014 Outback ($24,320) is offered with two engines. A 173-hp 2.5-liter horizontally opposed (“boxer”) four-cylinder engine powers 2.5i trims and is paired with either a six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT).

EPA estimates for the four-cylinder with CVT are 24 mpg city/30 mpg highway/26 mpg combined. Models with the manual return 22/29/24. Excellent numbers for an AWD crossover.

The Outback 3.6R Limited comes with a 256-hp 3.6-liter six-cylinder boxer engine. The only transmission offered is a five-speed automatic that earns so-so ratings of 17/25/20.
 
I tested a 2.5i Limited, with CVT. Given the choice, I’d have preferred the manual gearbox. Though it improves efficiency, the Subaru CVT has the high-revving rubber-band feel that afflicts the breed. 

The new Outback is less spry than its predecessor. Ride quality is quite good, but the tradeoff for SUV-like ground clearance is excess body motion during transitions. 

Subaru customers tend to be outdoorsy, “active-lifestyle” types to whom opulence holds limited appeal. Strong sales — Subaru is experiencing its fifth straight year of sales growth — suggest that hard-plastic interior surfaces and lackluster navigation and audio systems are of little concern.   

The world changes and we move on. The Outback of Crocodile Dundee notoriety is history but there’s a new Outback in town and it’s ready to make you forget the old one.

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

2014 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited
Vehicle base price: $23,495    
Trim level base price: $29,395
As tested: $35,260
Optional equipment included keyless access and start; auto-dim mirror with Homelink; unique wood-patterned trim; rear bumper cover; leather trim; floor mats; unique 17-inch wheels; power driver seat with memory and adjustable lumbar; rearview camera; voice-activated navigation system with Aha infotainment; Eyesight driver-assist program.
EPA ratings: 24 city/30 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Encore: Buickā€™s pint-size proposition

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 don@dadair.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

Kia Sorento turns up the heat

Determined to be a big-time player in the States, Kia continues to turn up the heat on its competitors.
 
Just three years ago, Kia replaced its compact, truck-based Sorento SUV with an all-new crossover of the same name. The new Sorento quickly began to ring up sales against such august company as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape.
 
But vehicles in competitive categories can take nothing for granted. So, with the 2014 model year, Sorento gets a mid-cycle refresh so extensive other brands would pitch as a full makeover.
 
Indeed, Kia calls the updated Sorento “80 percent new.” Its chassis is new, interior materials are updated and the telematics and infotainment systems are refined. Last year’s base, four-cylinder engine goes away and a new and more powerful V-6 debuts in the premium-level slot.
 
Its optional all-wheel-drive system adds torque-vectoring, a sophisticated technology that sends power to individual wheels, improving handling in slippery conditions and fast corners. 
 
The Sorento is one of the larger compact crossovers and one of just two to offer third-row seating (the other being the recently reviewed Mitsubishi Outlander). Though its wheelbase is unchanged, this year’s chassis revisions boost rear-seat legroom. A pair of  full-size adults will find abundant leg- and headroom. 
 
As always, the vestigial third row is best left for children too young to know a better world exists just inches ahead.
 
The new chassis produces an 18 percent gain in structural rigidity, allowing the fitment of a new front suspension and a significant retuning of the rear suspension. Both measures improve ride and handling. In town, the Sorento rides smoothly over broken patches. At speed, it’s composed, with minimal body lean in fast corners.
 
Focused on helping consumers forget its cut-rate origins, Kia has replaced hard plastic cabin materials with soft-touch surfaces. Extensive sound-reduction measures cut cabin noise to impressively low levels.
 
Kia pioneered cabin tech in the lower price ranges. The new Sorento’s upper trims feature the latest version of Kia’s voiced-activated UVO eServices infotainment and telematics systems. The color touch screen grows to eight inches, the menu structure has grown more intuitive and graphics are sharper. 
 
The addition of a secondary control knob makes this one of the most user-friendly interfaces available, regardless of price (though I continue my one-man campaign against onboard touch screens).
 
Sorento engine choices include a 2.4-liter, 191-horsepower four-cylinder engine. The optional six measures 3.3 liters and makes 290 hp. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is available.
 
The weak link here is efficiency. The FWD four is rated at 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 22 combined. AWD cuts that to 19/24/21. The six is rated 18/25/21 and 18/24/20.
 
The four is generally regarded as a bit underpowered. The six, which on most trims represents a $1,600 upgrade, provides abundant power without a significant efficiency penalty.
 
Other significant ’14 updates include available blind-spot monitoring, front-seat cooling and a height-programmable power liftgate.
 
Whatever you want to call it — makeover or refresh — is immaterial. Fact is, the updated Sorento adds fuel to the already incendiary compact crossover battle.
 
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.
 
2014 Kia Sorento SX AWD
Vehicle base price: $24,100
Trim level base price: $36,700
As tested: $38,550
Optional equipment included third-row seating; rear air conditioning.
EPA ratings: 18 city/24 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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