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Don Adair's Seat Time

Posts tagged: suv

Escalade: Bigger and better

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As long as there are big buyers, big loads and big families, Cadillac’s Escalade will always find a home. 

A big home.

For 23015, Cadillac’s large luxury SUV is redesigned inside and out. It’s bigger, stronger and quicker. Its cabin is quieter and its ride smoother. GM’s most advanced electronics and infotainment systems bring luxury-level amenities to its 5,100-pound frame. 

Longer than last year by 1.4 inches, wider by 1.5 inches and heavier by about 100 pounds, the 2015 Escalade (from $72,690, including destination) carries eight, tows up to 8,300 pounds and accelerates from zero to 60 in 6.1 seconds.

We tested the extended-length Escalade ESV ($75,690), whose wheelbase is 14 inches longer than the standard edition.Approximately 20 inches longer than standard, it maximizes third-row seating and space nearly doubles the cargo space behind the third-row seat. 

On the outside, the edges and angles of Cadillac’s Art and Science design language bring an assertive edge to its blocky lines. Inside, an army of digital interfaces nests comfortably among the high-grade, cut-and-sewn leathers, genuine wood trim and lush soft-touch surfaces.

New functionality — i.e., power-operated third-row seatbacks, hands-free liftgate, running boards that retract automatically — increase utility. A new 16-speaker Bose surround sound system makes rich, full noise and can be configured to suit occupants’ preferences.

Triple-sealed doors, acoustic laminate glass and Bose Active Noise Cancelation cut wind and road noise. The latest version of OnStar includes 4G LTE and built-in Wi-Fi.

A new four-wheel-drive system has an Auto mode that automatically engages the two-speed transfer case when road conditions grow iffy. There are separate, driver-activated modes for difficult (4 Hi ) and normal (2 Hi) conditions.

Despite the upscale flourishes, the Escalade is at heart a body-on-frame sport-utility vehicle — a truck — with all the attendant pluses and minuses. Its fully boxed frame liberally uses high-strength steel — it’s both lighter and stronger than the standard stuff —to produce a platform  sturdy enough to support lofty towing and payload (1,500 lb.) ratings.

A two-mode air suspension helps control the Escalade’s bulk but never really tames it. Roll stiffness dialed into the chassis reduces body lean during cornering but contributes to a ride that can grow brittle on rough surfaces, a tendency exacerbated by the optional 22-inch wheels.

Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, the Escalade’s 420-horsepower V-8 returns EPA ratings of 17 mpg combined (15 city/21 highway); 4WD trims  are rated at 16 mpg combined (14 city/21 highway).

As noted, acceleration is swift and sure, even between 40 and 60 mph, when it’s needed for passing.

The electrically assisted power steering system is well weighted but numb on-center.

The new power-operated third-row seat folds flat into the cargo floor, replacing a seat that until this year had to be physically removed. The new setup raises the cargo floor 4 inches. 

New owners must resign themselves to an electronics learning curve. Cadillac’s Cadillac User Experience (CUE) is a touch-screen system that uses proximity sensors to detect the approach of a user’s hand and automatically serve up a context-based menu. It’s powerful and elegant in theory, but its voice-recognition function may be its saving grace.

Escalade sales declined sharply in the wake of the recession, but this year’s model has reversed that trend. Big buyers with big needs — and big garages — take note.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at
2015 Cadillac Escalade EXV AWD Premium
Vehicle base price: $71,695
Trim level base price: $85,795
As tested: $90,895
Optional equipment included Kona Brown interior with Jet Black accents; power retractable running boards; 22-inch dual 7-spoke ultra-bright finish aluminum wheels.
Towing capacity: 8,300 pounds
EPA ratings: 16 combined (14 city/20 highway)
Premium unleaded fuel recommended

Updated Suburban wears refinement well

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For much of its 80-year lifespan, the Chevrolet Suburban was a blunt instrument. Heavy, inefficient and crude, it possessed a logging camp’s rustic charms. 

But as it enters its twelfth generation, the plus-sized SUV has evolved into a well-rounded rig, with virtues that extend beyond its massive people- and load-carrying capacity.

Fully made over for 2015, the Suburban ($48,295, including destination) rides on a sturdy new platform it shares with the Silverado pickup. Its cavernous, three-row cabin is quiet and comfortable and upper trims are luxuriously outfitted. OnStar with 4G LTE makes every Suburban a rolling WiFi hot-spot. 

Considering its heft and the ruggedness baked into its bones, ride and handling are better than what one might expect. We tested the top-grade LTZ trim ($62,695), whose adaptive suspension smoothed out rough road surfaces.

Twelfth-gen Interior upgrades include a new touchscreen, enhanced smartphone integration and a suite of electronic safety features that includes lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and a frontal collision warning and mitigation system.

The Suburban can be equipped with three rows of bench seats, yielding seating for nine adults. New this year is a third row that folds into a well beneath the cargo floor. It replaces a pair of heavy and awkward seats that had to be removed completely and stored when not in use.

The new setup reduces total cargo capacity by a few cubic feet and elevates the cargo floor, but adds flexibility to the cargo hold. The split-folding seatbacks — a total of four — are power operated and raised and lowered via a set of buttons mounted at the back of the cargo area.

Chevy targeted fuel efficiency as a priority for the 2015 Suburban and developed a new 5.3-liter V-8 engine that makes 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission manages power distribution.

Chevy powertrain engineers employed direct injection, cylinder deactivation, continuously variable valve timing and an advanced combustion system to achieve substantial efficiency gains over last year’s ratings. 

The EPA estimates fuel economy at 18 mpg combined for both 2WD (16 city/23 highway) and 4WD (16/22).

All 4WD Suburbans are equipped with a locking rear differential that improves traction in deep snow or mud. A traditional 4WD system, with a two-speed transfer case and low-range gearing is available. 

In two-wheel-drive form, the Suburban can tow up to 8,300 pounds and, with 4WD, 8,000.

The 2015 Suburban has a more subtle and sophisticated feel from the outside. Its lines are simple and bold. The windshield has a deeper rake and projector-beam headlamps flank the familiar dual-port grille, wrapping deeply into the front fenders. An aluminum hood and liftgate panels help control weight, while new inlaid doors reduce wind noise and improve aerodynamics.

The quality of interior materials, along with fit and finish, are vastly improved, especially in the upper trims. Useful cargo spaces are scattered throughout the cabin.

The Suburban weighs in at nearly 6,000 pounds and building a head of steam requires a heavy throttle foot. Underway, the ride is settled and the cabin quiet. 

Its critics would assign the Suburban to the elephant burial ground, but the stubborn Suburban shows every sign of sailing past the century mark.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at

2015 Chevrolet Suburban 4WD LTZ 
Vehicle base price: $47,300
Trim level base price: $64,700
As tested: $71,880
Options included sunroof; MyLink audio system and navigation; adaptive cruise control; Max Trailering package.
Towing capacity: 8,300 pounds
EPA ratings: 15 city/22 highway/18 combined
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

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

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

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

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

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

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