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Don Adair's Seat Time

Posts tagged: crossover

Hyundai Tucson is a tidy package

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By the terms of the unwritten rules of the automotive world, every car must grow larger with each succeeding generation. 

Larger, roomier, more powerful. It’s the automaker’s mantra.

While Hyundai complies in nearly every case, its 2014 Tucson goes against the grain. The compact crossover has remained resolutely compact; it exists in a no-man’s-land between large hatchbacks like the Nissan Juke and almost-midsize crossovers like Honda’s CR-V.

The Tucson ($22,235, including destination) is ideally suited for the urban grind; it’s large enough to accommodate four adults but small enough to slip easily into tight parking spaces. Its dimensions translate into a small-car highway ride, but its rigid unibody and Euro-tuned suspension produce better-than-expected responsiveness. 

On the winding, two-lane road I drive into town, my Tucson Limited ($27,075) tester felt composed and stable. Body lean through the corners was controlled and the ride remained unruffled over broken surfaces.

The Tucson is updated for 2014 with refreshed sheet metal, standard projector headlights and LED running lights, new touch screens and an enhanced navigation system. Tucson’s two four-cylinder engines add direct injection for improved power delivery.

Its cabin is stylish, modern and smartly organized. Controls are clearly labeled and easily understood. Excellent Fit-and-finish and materials quality complete the picture. 

Rear-seat legroom is adequate for all but larger adults. The second row reclines in two stages, but doesn’t slide fore and aft.

For 2014, Hyundai drops last year’s entry-level GL, leaving the previous mid-grade GLS as the new base. Standard features include a/c, power accessories, 60/40-split folding and reclining second-row seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, a trip computer, privacy glass, rear spoiler, cloth upholstery, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with redundant controls.

The six-speaker audio system includes iPod/USB connectivity and satellite radio. Illuminated cupholders and rear-seat a/c vents are useful flourishes.

The Tucson’s ride is stiff-legged by US standards, but most owners will judge that an acceptable trade-off for its dynamic handling characteristics. Hyundai’s SACHS Amplitude Selective Damping, standard this year across the line, allows improved shock-absorber control and better management of the tire-to-road contact patch.

A 164-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine powers the GLS. Front-wheel-drive models earn EPA-estimated fuel economy of 25 mpg combined (23 mpg city/29 mpg highway); AWD is rated at 23 combined (21 city/25 highway).

SE and Limited trims get a 182-hp 2.4-liter four rated at 23 mpg combined (21 mpg city/28 mpg highway) with FWD, and 22 combined (20 city/25 highway) with AWD.

Neither engine is much more powerful or efficient than before, but improved low-end torque produces quicker and more immediate acceleration at low speeds. All-wheel-drive is now available on all Tucson trims.

Equipped with the larger engine, my AWD test car had enough grunt to pass slower traffic easily, though the engine grew noisy when pushed hard. The six-speed automatic made smooth and relaxed shifts; a manual-shift function allows drivers to hurry things along as needed.

By defying the bigger-is-better convention, the Tucson carves out a unique, city-friendly niche for itself.

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

2014 Hyundai Tucson Limited AWD
Vehicle base price: $20,633
Trim level base price: $27,700
As tested: $28,700
Optional equipment: carpeted floor mats
Tow rating: 2,000 lb
EPA rating: 20 city/ 25 highway/22 combined
Regular unleaded fuel specified

2014 Highlander: Toyota delivers

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Now might be a good time for Toyota to revive the old “You asked for it, you got it” slogan.

Buyer input played a large role in this year’s make-over of the midsize Highlander crossover.
Customers asked for a roomier cabin, so the 2014 Highlander is three inches longer and a half-inch wider. A redesigned rear suspension makes room for a third passenger in the third row, boosting capacity to eight, and increases behind-the-seats cargo capacity by 34 percent. 

Men said they wanted the Highlander to lose its bland mom-mobile facade, so Toyota bulked it up with muscular wheel wells, bold body-side lines and a taller hood. The front fascia was redesigned around the new corporate wide-mouth grille.

The roofline is lowered for improved aerodynamics.

The fully redesigned cabin is roomier, more elegant and more refined. An array of noise and vibration-reducing measures elevate ambience to near-luxury levels. Soft-touch surfaces and silver-painted, satin, and chrome-plated accents add spice. 

Most trims include contrasting seat stitching.

High-tech features include a 6.1-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, an optional 8-inch screen with phone-based Entune apps.

Controls are well laid out and easy to use. The 8-inch touch-screen responds quickly to touch, but could be improved with the addition of one-click access to the navigation menu. 

A backup camera and hill-start assist are standard on all ’14 Highlanders.

Toyota accounts for the needs of the modern family with abundant storage. A center-console storage bin is large enough to hide a small horse and shelf that runs nearly the width of the dashboard includes a pass-through for charging-cables.

Apparently, no one asked specifically for a personality upgrade,  but the Highlander got one. Like the rest of its recently redesigned siblings, the ’14 Highlander is more enjoyable to drive than its predecessor; it’s tauter and more responsive, with improved handling and crisper feel. Fast cornering induces the expected understeer. 

Safety features include a standard rearview camera, hill-start control, parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, lane departure alert, rear cross-traffic warning and a pre-collision system.

The Highlander's engines carry over from last year. The base 2.7-liter four generates 187 horsepower, while the optional 3.5-liter V-6 makes 270 hp. A hybrid model pairs the six with an electric motor for a cumulative 280 hp.

An excellent new six-speed transmission replaces last year’s five-speed. Front-wheel-drive is standard, with AWD optional.

To maximize efficiency, the AWD system now sends power only to the front wheels until wheel slippage occurs, or during mid-turn acceleration. At low speeds, a driver-selectable “lock” mode distributes power evenly between front and rear.

The new transmission helps bump six-cylinder efficiency to 21 mpg combined (19 city/25 highway) for front-wheel drive and 18/24/20 for all-wheel drive.

The four-cylinder engine, available only on the base LE, is only marginally thriftier, at 22 mpg combined (20 city/25 highway). The Hybrid is rated at 27/27/28.

Highlander owners asked and Toyota answered. If only everything in life went as smoothly.

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

2014 Toyota Highlander Limited AWD Vehicle base price: $26,673 Trim level base price: $43,590 As tested: $44,500 Towing capacity: 5,000 lb. Optional equipment: The Highlander Limited is a fully equipped trim; our tester included no options. EPA rating: 18 city/24 highway/20 combined Regular unleaded fuel specified

Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid: Subaru’s green-car bid

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In just its second year of sales, Subaru’s XV Crosstrek has become the company’s third most-popular vehicle.
It trails only Forester and Outback in the sibling sales race and easily outsells the compact Impreza it’s based on.

Following the trail blazed in 1994 by the original Outback, the XV Crosstrek plays off the company’s outdoor-friendly image. Its 8.7-inch ground height bests that of many crossovers and even an SUV or two. Lower body cladding fends off the nicks and scratches that accompany off-roading. Standard all-wheel-drive boosts its year-round utility and off-road chops.

This year, the Crosstrek, already one of the more fuel-efficient crossovers, gets a hybrid variant The hybrid inherits most features of the up-level Limited trim and offers a modest fuel-efficiency bump.

Regular trims are powered by a four-cylinder engine that makes 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque. It can be paired with a five-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

The same engine powers the hybrid, with the addition of an electric motor that adds 13 horsepower and 48 lb-ft. It is available only with the CVT.

EPA estimates for CVT-equipped Crosstreks are 28 mpg combined (25 city/33 highway). The manual drops those numbers to 26 mpg combined (23/30). 

The Crosstrek Hybrid registers 31 mpg combined (29/33).

The gas-only Crosstrek is available in 2.0i Premium ($22,820, including transportation) and 2.0i Limited ($25,320) trims. The Hybrid can be had in Limited ($26,820) and Touring ($30,120) trims.

Standard equipment on all Crosstreks includes heated mirrors, a windshield wiper de-icer, air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, heated front seats, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The Limited adds automatic headlights, automatic climate control, leather upholstery and a rearview camera.

The Hybrid gets all the features of the Limited, less the leather upholstery, and adds keyless entry and ignition, chrome door handles, quick-ratio electric power steering, wind-cheating active grille shutters and foldable side mirrors.

The Hybrid Touring trim adds sunroof, leather upholstery, a 6.1-inch touchscreen, voice-activated navigation, smartphone integration (featuring Aha radio), high-definition radio and satellite radio.

The low-key Crosstrek cabin emphasizes utility at the expense of luxury. Soft-touch materials cover the dash and door panels and switchgear has a sturdy feel. Understated trim bits add visual variety but minimal flash. 

Even with such techie updates as voice-activation, iTunes tagging and SMS text-messaging, the Crosstrek’s cabin electronics fail to impress. Its audio systems are subpar and the navigation display is cramped and challenging.

The Crosstrek Hybrid suffers from lackluster performance and from the CVT’s distinctive elastic-feeling characteristics. Ride quality and handling are average for the class, though the Crosstrek’s unique drivetrain architecture minimizes body lean.

Subaru’s reputation for quality and its appeal to practical, no-nonsense buyers practically guarantees a market for the hybrid. And the tendency of Subaru owners to extract every last mile from their cars may enhance the hybrid’s cost-to-benefits outlook. However, a close look may tip the scales toward the conventional model.

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

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid
Vehicle base price: $20,876
Trim level base price: $29,295
As tested: $30,120
Optional equipment: The XV Crosstrek is a fully equipped trim; our tester came with no options.
EPA ratings: 29 city/33 highway/31 combined
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Honda CR-V: Pint-size colossus

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Honda’s CR-V made its US debut in 1997. For most of the intervening years, it has stood like a pint-sized colossus over the compact crossover class, piling up a succession of sales titles.

Honda has proven remarkably surefooted as it tweaked its five-passenger crossover to meet demand and fend off the competition. Relying on solid engineering, efficient powertrains and a stream of passenger-friendly innovations, the CR-V’s tenders have kept it fresh and relevant.

The arrival of the fourth-generation CR-V in 2012 underscored Honda’s commitment to efficiency, safety and practicality. Marquee updates included a more powerful and efficient engine, a proactive new AWD system and an innovative second-row seat design.

A large center console became standard across the line, boosting the CR-V’s casual storage capacity. A revised rear suspension made room for a lower cargo floor that boosts cargo space and improves access. 

Other new features include an “intelligent” Multi-Information Display (i-MID), Pandora Internet radio interface, SMS text messaging function, and available rear entertainment system.

The new Easy Fold-Down 60/40 Split Rear Seat allows each section of seat’s sections to be folded nearly flat by using a pair of small levers located near the tailgate or a pull-strap positioned on the seat side. The operation is quicker and simpler than most other manual methods.

The CR-V also became the second North American Honda (after Civic) to adopt Honda’s new Motion-Adaptive Electric Power Steering. It works with the vehicle stability program and power steering system to detect the potential for a skid and helps the driver correct for understeer and oversteer, either of which can cause the vehicle to skid out of control.

Finally, Honda dramatically improved the overall feel of the CR-V. It stiffened its chassis, re-calibrated its suspension and added noise-suppressing insulation to reduced noise, harshness and vibration (known in the trade as NVH), within the CR-V cabin.

The new CR-V is more efficient than its predecessor and no less responsiveness or engaging. However, it’s now quieter and more serene underway. New high-capacity shock absorbers contribute to a more sophisticated driving feel.

The CR-V cabin is short on flash but long on practicality. Even when packed with the latest cabin tech, the controls remain intuitive and easy to use, with minimal reliance on a distracting touch screen.

There are more luxurious cabins in the class, but few are better organized, or more comfortable.

A 185-horsepower four-cylinder powers all CR-Vs. The only transmission offered is a five-speed automatic. With front-wheel-drive, the EPA-estimated fuel economy is 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway/26 mpg combined. Each number drops by one with AWD.

Large underbody covers and a rear spoiler enhance efficiency and reduce wind noise.

The new AWD system, Real Time AWD with Intelligent Control, improves performance in all conditions, whether slippery or stable. The electronically controlled system anticipates wheel slip and automatically acts to minimize its impact.

No brand clings to its sales lead forever; This year, Fin fact, Ford’s Escape is making a good run at the CR-V. Nevertheless, the little colossus of the compact crossover segment seems like a solid pick to retain its title.

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

2014 Honda CR-V EX-L AWD w Navigation
Vehicle base price: $21,718
Trim level base price: $30,620
As tested: $31,450
Options: Our EX-L tester was a completely equipped trim, with no optional equipment.
Tow rating: 1,500 lb
EPA ratings: 22 city/31 highway/26 combined
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Honda Pilot: Old-timer scores heavily

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Park it among a crowd of slope-roofed, slippery-sided competitors, and Honda’s Pilot plays the role of grizzled old-timer.

Upright and boxy, it looks like the crossover that time forgot.

There’s a method behind that madness, though. That old-school styling obscures one of the segment’s roomiest, most comfortable and most utilitarian interiors. The Pilot’s slab sides and flat roof enable three rows of adult-size seating and a cargo hold that boasts superior real-world capacity.

The midsize Pilot debuted in 2002 and received its first makeover in 2008, when a larger, roomier version arrived. Since then, the segment has exploded and the Pilot faces a new generation of slick-skinned competitors. 

Despite its age, though, the Pilot remains a popular pick; 2013 sales soared to a record 126,628 units.

Most observers expected an all-new, third-generation Pilot this year. Honda appears to have pushed back its launch to fall 2015, however; perhaps in part to improve its performance in the Institute for Highway Safety’s new small front overlap test.

The last round of updates arrived last year, with the addition of a standard rear backup camera, 8-inch high-resolution LCD display, USB port, Bluetooth phone and audio and tri-zone climate control.
 
All pilots are powered by a 24-valve all-aluminum V-6 engine that makes 250 horsepower. It’s mated with one of a pair of five-speed automatic transmissions, depending on whether it’s FWD or AWD. Variable cylinder management allows the engine to run on fewer cylinders in light-load conditions for the sake of full efficiency.

Though dated, its drivetrain produces best-in-class efficiency and provides the Pilot with a 4,500-pound towing capacity. 

The Pilot's EPA-estimated economy stands at 21 mpg combined (18 city/25 highway) for front-drive models and 20 mpg combined (17 city/24 highway) for AWD variants.

Pilot is available in front- and all-wheel-drive configurations. Its AWD system automatically shifts as much as 70 percent of power to the rear wheels if the front tires begin to slip. For maximum traction in slippery conditions, the driver can select a “lock” feature that sends maximum available power to the rear wheels at low speeds.

Shoppers who place a premium on glitzy interiors and the latest gadgetry may find the Pilot wanting. Though materials quality is good and standard Honda fit-and-finish prevails, the cabin is a sober place and its layout and design could stand a good freshening.

Such desirable features as blind-spot monitoring, keyless ignition/entry and second-row captain's chairs are not available.

Honda masters the day-to-day practicalities, though. One example: The hood sheltering the multi-information display lacks glamour, but it effectively blocks those annoying — and fatiguing — nighttime windshield reflections. 

True to its throwback appearance, the Pilot is a large rig and drives like one. It’s stable and planted at speed and over rough surfaces the ride remains smooth and composed. The tradeoff is  body lean during fast cornering.

Ultimately, time respects no crossover and the world awaits the third-generation Pilot. In the meantime, this grizzled old-timer continues to hold its own in the company of younger and shinier competitors. 

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

2014 Honda Pilot 4WD Touring
Vehicle base price: $29,670
Trim level base price: $41,420
As tested: $42,250
Optional equipment: Our 4WD Touring tester came with no optional equipment.
EPA ratings: 17 city/24 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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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