The Truth About Cars » Compact Crossover http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 13 Dec 2014 03:07:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Compact Crossover http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Question Of The Day: Who Will Win The Luxury Compact Crossover Sales Race? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/question-of-the-day-who-will-win-the-luxury-compact-crossover-sales-race/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/question-of-the-day-who-will-win-the-luxury-compact-crossover-sales-race/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 17:28:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=875425 With pricing for the Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA announced, the fight for the luxury compact crossover sales crown is officially on. It’s going to be the most important battle of the year for the luxury car market. Crossovers are, without a doubt, the hottest sales segment right now, and one of the most profitable […]

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With pricing for the Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA announced, the fight for the luxury compact crossover sales crown is officially on. It’s going to be the most important battle of the year for the luxury car market.

Crossovers are, without a doubt, the hottest sales segment right now, and one of the most profitable segments for OEMs. Take some normal car underpinnings, add a bit of cladding, a higher ride height and a two-box body and all of a sudden, you can charge a hefty premium over what you’d normally have to sell a sedan for. And what better way to lower your CAFE rating than to sell a ton of “light trucks” that get the kind of fuel economy that you’d normally find in a compact or mid-size car? These little trucklets/wagonlets are going to float the ability of the German brands to keep making AMG, M and RS cars by keeping things kosher with the Feds. Remember that when you bemoan the lack of wagons on sale today.

Audi’s Q3 starts at $33,325, versus $29,900 for an A3, though the Q3, unlike the A3, does come standard with AWD .  The Q3 is front-drive, but it does have a 2.0T engine, unlike the A3’s 1.8T mill. A Mercedes-Benz GLA starts at $32,225 for a front-drive model versus $29,900 for a front-drive CLA. The one wildcard is the BMW X1, which is both rear-wheel drive and $30,900, making it the cheapest BMW in the entire model range.

I’m going to put my money on the Q3 taking the crown, just because Audi is very much the brand of the moment. This segment is a fickle, fashion-driven one, and products live and die by how cool they are. The Audi A3 quickly toppled the Mercedes-Benz CLA from the small sedan sales charts, and this won’t be any different.

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Infiniti ESQ: Infiniti Gets A Small Crossover, But Only For China http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/infiniti-esq-infiniti-gets-a-small-crossover-but-only-for-china/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/infiniti-esq-infiniti-gets-a-small-crossover-but-only-for-china/#comments Wed, 11 Jun 2014 16:41:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=842514 That Infiniti-badged Nissan Juke that seemed so outlandish? It’s coming – but only for China. A Nissan spokesman confirmed to Jalopnik that the Infiniti ESQ, pictured here, is indeed a Chinese-only Infiniti product. Essentially a rebadged Nismo Juke, the ESQ makes next to no attempt to disguise its origins – it’s literally a rebadge job […]

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That Infiniti-badged Nissan Juke that seemed so outlandish? It’s coming – but only for China.

A Nissan spokesman confirmed to Jalopnik that the Infiniti ESQ, pictured here, is indeed a Chinese-only Infiniti product. Essentially a rebadged Nismo Juke, the ESQ makes next to no attempt to disguise its origins – it’s literally a rebadge job that only the least discerning consumers would ever confuse for a distinct Infiniti product. But it does give Infiniti a toehold in the red-hot compact crossover segment.

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Look What We’re Missing: Suzuki Launches New Crossover For Europe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/look-what-were-missing-suzuki-launches-new-crossover-for-europe/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/look-what-were-missing-suzuki-launches-new-crossover-for-europe/#comments Thu, 15 May 2014 13:45:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=820922   The compact crossover market is so hot that even a moribund auto maker like Suzuki is getting into it – and what you’re looking at could very well be the next Vitara. Built in Hungary, the new B-segment CUV is expected to resemble the iv-4 Concept shown above. With a 2015 launch, we’ll have […]

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The compact crossover market is so hot that even a moribund auto maker like Suzuki is getting into it – and what you’re looking at could very well be the next Vitara.

Built in Hungary, the new B-segment CUV is expected to resemble the iv-4 Concept shown above. With a 2015 launch, we’ll have to wait a while to find out whether it’s a rugged off-roader like past Suzukis, or just another milquetoast urban runabout. The latter would be more profitable, thanks to leveraging the Swift architecture, while providing a more civilized driving experience – perhaps at the expense of Suzuki’s brand image. Or whatever is left of it.

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New York 2014: Chevrolet Makes Trax With New B-Segment Crossover http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-chevrolet-makes-trax-with-new-b-segment-crossover/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-chevrolet-makes-trax-with-new-b-segment-crossover/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 05:18:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=799298   It’s impolite to gloat, but we called the introduction of the Chevrolet Trax back in March. It’s nice to be right once in a while. Using the same underpinnings and 1.4L drivetrain as the Buick Encore, the Trax will go up against the Jeep Renegade, Nissan Juke, Honda Vezel and other entrants in the […]

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It’s impolite to gloat, but we called the introduction of the Chevrolet Trax back in March. It’s nice to be right once in a while.

Using the same underpinnings and 1.4L drivetrain as the Buick Encore, the Trax will go up against the Jeep Renegade, Nissan Juke, Honda Vezel and other entrants in the subcompact crossover segment. The Korean-made Trax is already on sale in Canada, starting at about $17,000 USD. That price probably won’t change much when it comes to America. Though versions with AWD and more equipment will get pricier.

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Chart Of The Day: Here’s What The Jeep Cherokee Is Up Against In 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/chart-of-the-day-heres-what-the-jeep-cherokee-is-up-against-in-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/chart-of-the-day-heres-what-the-jeep-cherokee-is-up-against-in-2014/#comments Tue, 21 Jan 2014 14:00:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=704050   With the first month of 2014 sales nearly wrapped up, we’ll soon get our first look at how the Jeep Cherokee has fared, following the initial shipment of delayed units. Much has been made of the Cherokee selling 10,000 units in November and 15,000 units in December: it was a great storyline for Chrysler […]

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With the first month of 2014 sales nearly wrapped up, we’ll soon get our first look at how the Jeep Cherokee has fared, following the initial shipment of delayed units. Much has been made of the Cherokee selling 10,000 units in November and 15,000 units in December: it was a great storyline for Chrysler to promote in the run-up to NAIAS, and one for the hometown media (in both Detroit and Toledo) to rally around. Left out of the cheerleading was the fact that these figures accounted for the 25,000 units reportedly sent to dealers in one fell swoop. Can you say “pent up demand”?

But even if the Cherokee continued to sell at that pace – say, 15,000 units per month as an optimistic projection, where would that place it in the larger picture of the small crossover segment?

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Small crossovers may not be popular with enthusiasts, but it’s impossible to deny how important this is to the industry at large. In 2013, five of the top 10 best selling SUVs in America were small crossovers, while the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape (the top selling small crossovers) were the 8th and 10th best selling vehicles in America. Together, those two made up just under 1/3rd of the segment’s volume. Add in the third place Chevolet Equinox and fourth place Toyota RAV4 and you have 57 percent of the segment represented in just four nameplates.

The graph above represents the uneven distribution of the segment’s sales, with the top four nameplates sitting comfortable, while a number of small players compete for scraps at the bottom of the graph. This isn’t unique in the market either – Juan Barnett’s analysis of the midsize market shows a somewhat similar distribution of nameplates clustered at the top and bottom. Like the midsize segment, the small crossover category is a crowded one, and the addition of the Cherokee just adds to the competition.

Assuming the 15,000 unit pace holds through 2014, that would give the Cherokee 180,000 units at year end, placing it above the Nissan Rogue (which sells roughly 160,000 units) but below the RAV4. In that context, the 15,000 unit per month figure being bandied about is far less impressive, but it’s important to note a couple things.

The Toldeo, Ohio factory that builds the Cherokee is capacity limited to about 250,000 Cherokees per year. Even running flat out, Jeep wouldn’t be able to catch the CR-V or Escape. Considering that some of the 250,000 units will go to Canada and other global markets, 180,000 is a respectable number. Even more significant is what the Cherokee will do for the Jeep brand compared to the Liberty (as demonstrated in the chart below).

 

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The comparison with the Rogue will be an interesting one. In the same way that the 200 should sell at the level of the Optima, Malibu or Sonata, the Cherokee and Rogue will likely inhabit the same stratosphere in the segment. The new Rogue has also undergone Nissan’s patented process of making cars suitably bland for American tastes, through their expanded dealer network. Similar to the Altima’s gradual climb through the midsize ranks, the combined capacity for 180,000 units of the Rogue (100,000 in Smyrna, Tennessee and 80,000 at the Renault-Nissan facility in Korea), combined with additional units of the Rogue Select (which Nissan will likely not break out from Rogue sales) should enable to Rogue to post higher sales figures by the end of 2014. On the other hand, don’t expect things to change at the top.

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Review: 2014 Toyota RAV4 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/review-2014-toyota-rav4-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/review-2014-toyota-rav4-with-video/#comments Fri, 20 Sep 2013 12:58:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=520441   When the RAV4 landed, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. In a world of unified corporate identity the RAv4 goes off script with a look all to its own. While the old RAV sold on mini-truck looks, the new one is undisguised crossover. The new nose has grown on me slightly since […]

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2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

When the RAV4 landed, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. In a world of unified corporate identity the RAv4 goes off script with a look all to its own. While the old RAV sold on mini-truck looks, the new one is undisguised crossover. The new nose has grown on me slightly since I recorded the video above, but I still find the look a little awkward. Since I was scolded for wearing striped pants with a striped shirt the week I tested the RAV4, feel free take my style opinion with a grain of salt as you click through the jump.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior
The big change for 2014 out back. It’s not what you see, it’s what you don’t. The spare tire that clung to the back of the 2013 model like an octogenarian clinging to the past is gone. The removal of the tire makes completes the RAV4’s exterior transformation from Toyota Trucklet to crossover. By going hatch-mainstream, practicality is greatly improved allowing easier access when parallel parked or parked on a hill. Because of the RAV’s increased dimensions and the new hatch, it is possible to fit 4×8 sheets inside if you leave the hatch cracked.

The RAV4’s cargo hold has one of the lowest lift-over heights for loading in the compact crossover segment. While this makes loading easier, it means the hatch is closer to the ground and makes opening it more awkward. I thought I was alone, but some of our Facebook friends commented that the hatch hit them in the abdomen if they didn’t take a large step backwards when opening it.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

The RAV4’s interior is a sea of shapes, not all of which jive with one another. It’s as if the engineers couldn’t decide which styling direction to take, so they gave the interior a bit of everything. On the flip side, the majority of the cabin materials are above the likes of the Kia Sportage. The stitched pleather pieces of the dash help bring the cabin up-market but the urethane steering wheel lets the cabin back down. The carbon-fiber looking plastic trim seems to scratch easily as well and it’s located in high-traffic areas like the cupholder surround and by the window switches. This dichotomy is unique to the RAV4 with rest of the competition being uniform in terms of style, quality and feel. On average the RAV4 is in the upper-middle of the pack, but this double personality leads people to see what they want to see in the interior.

Front seat comfort is merely average in the RAV4 thanks to seats that lack adjustable lumbar support or a power adjustment mechanism. Continuing Toyota’s move away from leather, the Limited model gets SofTex faux-moo instead. Out back, the big change is the lack of a third row option for 2014. Toyota tells us that the take rate was low with most 7-seat shoppers opting to step up to the Highlander. The loss of the extra seats should have given Toyota a bit of room to expand the second row but it has actually shrunk for 2014 by one inch and the rear seats have lost their ability to slide forward/backward. Cargo room slots in at a massive 38.4 cubic feet jumping to 73.4 if you fold the rear seats flat, well above the competition.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment
2013 brought Toyota’s refreshed 6.1-inch Entune system standard on all models, and starting in a few months will receive another update to their latest software debuting in the Corolla. I should note now that Toyota has not said if the system can be upgraded to the new software, so if you like what you hear in the upcoming Corolla review you may want to wait.

The current touchscreen unit includes standard Bluetooth and a backup camera in addition to the usual combination of AM/FM and a single slot CD player. The standard 6-speaker audio system is moderately well balanced for a compact crossover. The system is easy to use and offers full voice command of your USB/iDevice media library. Optional on the XLE and Limited models is Entune smartphone app integration and flash-disk based navigation. The nav system is intuitive and easy to use but the system’s screen is easily washed out in strong daylight. Although the system is intuitive and highly functional, Entune is outclassed by the larger touchscreen products in the Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Kia Sportage and the new Jeep Cherokee to name a few.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain
Toyota decided to kill off optional V6 for 2014, leaving the 2.5L four-cylinder the only powerplant. While the switch is likely to offend a few, the vast majority of RAV4 sales were four-cylinder anyway. Toyota’s logic was this: the prime competitor is the CR-V and it’s four-cylinder only. The 2.5L engine is good for 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of twist placing it in the thick of the competition. Since the 2.5L is no longer the base engine Toyota fitted it with their 6-speed automatic transaxle to improve performance and fuel economy. MPGs rise to 24 City and 31 Highway in FWD trim which is above the CR-V and GM crossovers but well below the Mazda CX-5’s impressive 26/35 score (2.0L engine and manual transmission.)

For $1,400 Toyota will toss in their full-time AWD system on any trim level. The RAV4’s AWD system follows the same formula as the rest with a multi-plate coupling acting as a quasi center differential. This system is somewhat unusual however because the driver can lock the coupling on demand via a button in the dash. Although the lock will self-disengage over 25MPH, only the Jeep crossovers offer a similar touch. Engaging the car’s “sport” mode alters the throttle mapping, transmission shift points and encourages the coupling to lock more frequently to try and limit the FWD nature of the RAV.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

The loss of the V6 is a big blow to the RAV4. In our tests, the RAV4 ran from 0-60 in 8.64 seconds in AWD trim, faster than the CR-V but slightly slower than the 2.5L CX-5. If you want anything other than middling performance, you’ll need to drop by the Chevy or GMC dealer for a 301HP Terrain or Equinox.

When the going got twisty, the FWD RAV4 we borrowed from a dealer proved to be competent but not exceptional. Like most crossovers the RAV is softly sprung and exhibits plenty of body roll, tip and dive but it never felt sloppy. Toyota’s structural improvements are noticeable with the rear hatch no longer creaking on uneven driveways. Adding AWD improved the RAV4’s dynamics thanks to software that is programmed to send power to the rear wheels when driving aggressively or when in Sport mode. The system not only prevents the few hints of torque steer the FWD model exhibits, but it also makes the RAV4 more dynamic on the road. Regardless of the model, the steering lacks the precision of the Mazda or Ford, possibly due to the RAV’s higher profile tires but it does rank above the CR-V. If handling is important to you, the Mazda CX-5 is quite simply the best small crossover on the market right now.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Toyota has a history of playing to the “meat” of every segment. Rarely does Toyota build anything extreme, be it the cheapest car in its class, the most expensive, fastest, slowest, etc. That describes the RAV4 to a tee. After a week with the RAV4 I wasn’t offended but neither was I enraptured. Toyota’s trucklet is reasonably priced ranging from $23,300-$28,410 and in most trims represents a decent (but not extreme) value compared to the competition. Yes, the CX-5 is more exciting, but like the more luxurious and gadget-rich Escape, it’ll cost you more. The CR-V is quieter but it’s also a few bucks more expensive. The Cherokee is more off-road capable but Chrysler’s reliability reputation isn’t exactly stellar. The Forester is the better choice for wagon lovers and the Sportage and Escape have powerful turbo options that speak to my heart. The GMC Terrain and Chevy Equinox have been refreshed and feature 301 horsepower mills for those that like to count ponies and an infotainment system that’s more attractive than Entune.

The new RAV is, without a doubt, a better 2-row crossover than the model it replaces. It’s also a very pragmatic choice delivering a blend of good fuel economy, large cargo hold, an AWD system that’s more capable than most in the segment and, being a Toyota, it’s likely to have a good reliability record as well. The 2014 RAV4 is a solid crossover and you can’t go wrong by putting one in your driveway. If however you want my advice, and since you’re reading this I assume you do, check out the CX-5 and Escape before you sign on the dotted line.

 

Hit it or Quit It?

 

Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance and and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.17 Seconds

0-60: 8.64 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.88 Seconds @ 82 MPH

Sound Level at 50 MPH: 68db

Average Fuel Economy: 25 MPG over 483 Miles

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Lexus Launches A Compact Crossover http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/lexus-launches-a-compact-crossover/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/lexus-launches-a-compact-crossover/#comments Fri, 06 Sep 2013 18:34:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=512105   Officially this is just a concept, but the Lexus LF-NX is supposed to preview an upcoming competitor to the BMW X1 and Audi Q3.  Using the familiar 2.5L 4-cylinder hybrid powertrain, the LF-NX will be available in FWD or AWD variants, though specific figures like power output have yet to be announced.

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Officially this is just a concept, but the Lexus LF-NX is supposed to preview an upcoming competitor to the BMW X1 and Audi Q3.  Using the familiar 2.5L 4-cylinder hybrid powertrain, the LF-NX will be available in FWD or AWD variants, though specific figures like power output have yet to be announced.

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Review: 2013 Buick Encore (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/review-2013-buick-encore-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/review-2013-buick-encore-video/#comments Mon, 01 Apr 2013 15:00:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=480264 Buick’s been on a roll this year, their sales are up and their owner demographics are younger than they have been in recent memory. The cynic in my says that’s because half their clientele died of old age, but it has more to do with their product portfolio. Say what? Yep, it’s true, the brand […]

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Buick’s been on a roll this year, their sales are up and their owner demographics are younger than they have been in recent memory. The cynic in my says that’s because half their clientele died of old age, but it has more to do with their product portfolio. Say what? Yep, it’s true, the brand I wrote off for dead last decade is targeting younger buyers with designs imported from Europe and finding sales success. The Verano turbo shattered my preconceptions, but can Buick do it again? A brown Encore arrived one rainy morning to see if it was possible.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

The Encore isn’t new, but neither is it an American rehash of a tired Euro model. Instead, it is “badge engineering” 21st century style. When I was a kid you knew a new Buick was coming when Chevy or Oldsmobile announced a new product. You also knew what to expect: the same sheetmetal with a Buick logo on the grille and some padded velour thrones. 30 years later Buick is up to the same old game with an important twist: Buick takes Opel models from Europe. Consequently you won’t find a brother-from-another-mother running around with a Chevy logo.

Like its sister-ship, the Opel Mokka, the Encore is a small crossover/hatchback closely related to GM’s other small car offerings. Euro origins are obvious when you park the Encore in an American parking spot, this Buick is tiny. The Encore’s tall profile further accentuates the Encore’s 168-inch overall length, which is surprisingly 6-inches longer than a MINI Countryman. My usual panel of passengers were mixed in their opinion of the styling, I found it slightly cartoonish, in a bubbly and cute sort of way. I kept resisting the impulse to smile every time I walked out to the car, but then again I’ve been told my style sense is not to be trusted. (Seriously Sajeev, what’s wrong with a sports coat over a Hawaiian shirt?) My only complaint on the outside, and this is a big one for me, are the trademark “Ventiports” which seem to be growing like a disease. In addition to getting larger, they have migrated from the fenders (where you only had to see them on the outside) to the hood where they are now visible behind the wheel as well.

Interior

Buick’s reinvention has focused on value pricing and interior quality. The latter is something new for Buick, and something that has impressed me the most about Buick’s latest vehicles. The Encore isn’t a terribly expensive crossover starting at $24,950 and ending at $31,110 for a full-loaded AWD model. Despite the low starting price, the cabin makes extensive use of soft touch plastics lending a more premium feel to the cabin than vehicles like the MINI Countryman, Acura TSX or Lexus CT. Speaking of MINI, the Countryman, (like the rest of the MINI lineup) is a mixture of trickle-down BMW technology, great switchgear, high-style, cheesy plastics and chintzy headliners. Of course MINI’s biggest asset is brand perception while Buick’s brand is more of a liability in some demographics. That’s really a shame because the Encore has not only a quality feel but a very uniform feel as well. While MINI’s cabins are full of highs and lows, everything in the Encore is consistently a notch above the rabble. Equipping the Contryman and Encore as closely as possible reveals the Encore is about $1,500 cheaper once you add to the MINI the features standard on the Encore. Comparing the top-trim of the Encore to the MINI the difference grows to $3,800 in the Encore’s favor. Want AWD? The difference grows by about three-grand.

It seems journalists have a genetic condition that causes us to love brown interiors. The trouble with most manufacturer’s attempts at “thinking outside the black” however is they go half-way. They give you brown seats and some brown trim on the dash, but they leave out the carpets, button banks, etc. Not so with the Encore. GM took the extra step to color-match the Encore’s interior which makes the transformation look well-executed instead of half-assed. I should point out that our Facebook readers didn’t feel the same sort of brown-love as I did, but they are of course wrong. (Sorry guys.)

The Encore may be small, but the interior is spacious thanks to the tall profile, stubby nose and upright seats. Taller folks will have no problems getting into or out of the front or rear seats thanks to large door openings and a low step-in height. I grabbed a few willing tall people for lunch and successfully (and comfortably) took two 6’5″ passengers, one 6’2 gentleman and myself (6′) on a 50 minute trek to the prefect burger joint without a single complaint.

Because the Encore shares seat frames with GM sedans, there are a few compromises. The lack of a power recline mechanism seems odd, especially considering the 2-positon memory seat found in our tester. Using the sale seat frames and rails as a sedan or coupé meant creating some unusual “platforms” in the floor stamping so the seats could be mounted high to get an SUV-like seating position. Consequently the rear footwells might be a problem for big-footed passengers on long trips. A manual front passenger seat is standard, but most models on dealer lots have the optional power seat

Four adults can travel in comfort in the Encore, along with four large carry-on roller bags in the back thanks to a cargo cubby that holds 18.8 cubes with the seats in place. Just don’t push your luck with a 5th passenger unless the trio in the rear are skinny folk, the Encore is a narrow vehicle. If you’re a skier or love box furniture from IKEA, the Encore’s front passenger seat folds flat allowing you to put long, wide items all the way from the dashboard to the rear hatch.

Infotainment and Gadgets

The Encore uses the same standard 7-inch “IntelliLink” infotainment system I praised in the Buick Verano. There’s just one problem, it isn’t exactly the same. Instead of positioning the LCD within arm’s reach, Buick located it in a “pod” on the dash. While the location keeps your eyes closer to the road, it makes the screen look smaller and it means it’s too far away to touch. Logically because of this Buick removed the touchscreen feature and that’s what I find vexing. The same software I found so intuitive and easy to use with a touchscreen made me tear my hair out when entering an address via an on-screen keyboard and the control knob in the dash.

Thankfully I didn’t need to use the keyboard often and the rest of the system is still one of the best infotainment units on the market at any price. The graphics are pleasing to the eye, its responsive and the menus are logical and intuitive. The system also sports one of the best iPhone/USB/Media voice command interfaces available. Compared to the Ford/Lincoln systems, the voice is natural sounding. Compared to the Toyota/Lexus systems, IntelliLink handles large media libraries with ease rather than turning off certain voice commands if you exceed a certain library size. I’d like to compare it to Cadillac’s CUE but I’m trying to forget that experience.

As if Buick’s hushed cabin wasn’t enough, even the base $24,950 Encore models use active noise cancelling technology by Bose. All Encores also get XM satellite radio, Bluetooth audio streaming/speakerphone and a backup camera. Stepping up to the $25,760 “convenience package” adds dual-zone climate control, remote start and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Leather will set you back $27,460 and brings with it heated seats, a power passenger seat, heated steering wheel and 2 memory positions for the driver’s throne. The $28,940 Encore “Premium” brings rain sense wipers, park assist, collision warning and lane departure warning. The $800 sunroof, $795 navigation system and $595 Bose premium audio system are standalone options on all trims. The collision and lane departure systems are worth skipping in my book since they are warning-only systems and not combination warning and prevention as found in other vehicles. Unless you want the rain sensing wipers and parking assist, spend the money on AWD, navigation or the excellent Bose speakers.

Drivetrain
The Encore uses the same 1.4L four-cylinder engine as the Chevy Sonic and Cruze. Producing 138 HP at 4,900 RPM this mill isn’t targeted at speed addicts. On the bright side, thanks to a turbocharger and some direct-injection magic, the engine manages 148 lb-ft of twist from 1,850-4,900RPM.

GM wisely mated the 1.4L engine to their “small” car 6-speed transaxle which features a low 16.17:1 effective first gear (including the 3.53:1 final drive) which helps make the Encore feel more sprightly in the stop-light races. A tall 2.65:1 effective top gear ratio is what allows the Encore to deliver fuel economy numbers of 25/33/28 (City/Highway/Combined) and 23/30/26 when equipped with the $1,500 optional AWD system. During our week with the Encore we averaged an impressive 32.1 MPG over 862 miles of mixed driving, 0-60 tests, photo shoot idling and my mountain commute.

The day the Encore arrived I needed to take a road trip to Sacramento (100 miles away) so I piled a few day’s worth of supplies in the Encore and hit the road. The Encore devoured highway miles, but not in the way I had expected. The small crossover’s cabin is eerily quiet, the driver’s seat is comfortable and upright but the suspension isn’t marshmallowy soft like my father’s Buick. This meant I changed course and decided to take the long way (you can’t get very excited about Sacramento anyway) through some of my favorite California coastal roads.

My opinion of the diminutive engine changed constantly during my week with the Encore. In the city the low-end torque provided by the turbo and the low first gear make easy work of 0-40 MPH traffic and the Encore effortlessly zipped into narrow gaps on busy expressways. Thanks to the way the throttle is mapped the engine doesn’t feel out of breath cruising on the highway, until you need to pass someone as getting from 60 to 80 MPH takes a Prius-like 8 seconds. Load the Encore up with two people and some luggage and forward progress is noticeably stunted in all situations. However, every time I wished for more power I glanced down at my fuel economy and was reminded that more power consumes more gasoline.

On the coastal switchbacks in California’s mountainous redwood forests, the Encore is back in its element thanks to a low 1st gear, moderately low 2nd gear and a well-tuned suspension. Let’s go over that statement again. A Buick that is “in its element on tight mountain roads.” Never thought you’d hear that did you? Neither did I. The Encore’s relatively low center of gravity, 215/55R18 rubber and tight turning radius make [relative] mince meat of tight curves. Let me be clear, the Encore is still down on power, but I have always said I prefer the slower, better handling vehicle to the vehicle that’s only fast in a straight line. The Encore’s suspension handled broken pavement with such composure I was surprised to find it still uses ye olde torsion-beam suspension in the rear. Could the Encore have what it takes to become Buick’s first hot hatch? I hope GM decides to put the Verano’s 2.0L turbo under the hood so we can find out.

It’s right about now that I realized I had the love that dare not speak its name. Could I have fallen for the charms of a Buick? Had I suddenly aged 30 years without knowing it? That is the only real problem I found with the Encore: brand perception. In many minds, people need a new car and their first thought is “I’ll pop over to the Buick dealer” are the same people in the market for a new mobility scooter. If Buick keeps producing products like the Encore however that may change.

Back in the Encore’s native habitat (the Taco Bell drive-thru or the parking garage at the mall), engine power complaints once again disappear. With a ground clearance of 6.2 inches, the Encore is about average for the modern crop of crossovers meaning you won’t catch your bumper cover on parking lot “headstones” and only tall curbs will cause you worry. The well-appointed interior will make you feel special and the value pricing will keep your accountant happy.

 

Hit it

  • High quality interior for a vehicle in this price range.
  • Buick continues to “think outside the black.”
  • The second Buick in 2 months I would actually buy. Seriously.

Quit it

  • Top level Encore trims still have a manual front seat recline mechanism.
  • Collision warning this late in the game without auto braking seems silly.
  • Buick’s reputation for elderly clientele.

 

Buick provides the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.27 Seconds

0-60: 9.6 Seconds (9.1 with overboost)

1/4 Mile: 17 Seconds at 80 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 32.1MPG over 862 miles.

2013 Buick Encore 2013 Buick Encore, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-004 2013 Buick Encore-005 2013 Buick Encore-006 2013 Buick Encore-007 2013 Buick Encore-008 2013 Buick Encore, Infotainmane, Buick Intellilink, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-010 2013 Buick Encore-011 2013 Buick Encore-012 2013 Buick Encore-013 2013 Buick Encore-014 2013 Buick Encore-015 2013 Buick Encore-016 2013 Buick Encore-017 2013 Buick Encore-018 2013 Buick Encore, Engine, 1.4L Direct-Injection Turbo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-020 2013 Buick Encore, Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore, Interior, Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-023 2013 Buick Encore-024 2013 Buick Encore-025 2013 Buick Encore, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-027 2013 Buick Encore-028 2013 Buick Encore-029 2013 Buick Encore, Interior, Driver's Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-031 2013 Buick Encore-032 2013 Buick Encore-033 2013 Buick Encore-034 2013 Buick Encore-035 2013 Buick Encore-036 2013 Buick Encore-037 2013 Buick Encore-038 2013 Buick Encore-039 2013 Buick Encore Rear Seats Folded, Front Passenger Seat Folded, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Review: 2012 MINI Cooper S Countryman All4 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/review-2012-mini-cooper-s-countryman-all4/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/review-2012-mini-cooper-s-countryman-all4/#comments Sat, 11 Aug 2012 13:00:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=454503 MINI is the most unlikely successful new brand in America. Why? Because the brand’s “tiny transportation” ethos is at odds with America’s “bigger is better” mantra. Of course, these contradictory philosophies explain why the modern MINI is nowhere near as mini as Minis used to be. Still with me? Hang on to your hats because […]

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MINI is the most unlikely successful new brand in America. Why? Because the brand’s “tiny transportation” ethos is at odds with America’s “bigger is better” mantra. Of course, these contradictory philosophies explain why the modern MINI is nowhere near as mini as Minis used to be. Still with me? Hang on to your hats because the German owners of the iconic British brand have decided American domination hinges on making the biggest MINI yet. Enter the MINI Countryman. Or as I like to call it, the MINI Maxi.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

The outside of the Countryman is full of firsts. It is the first MINI with 5 doors, the first MINI with available AWD, the first MINI longer than 13-feet. And the most dubious honor of all, the first MINI to weigh over 3,000lbs. To be exact, our Countryman S All4 weighed in at 3,220lbs. MINI fans will note this is 655lbs heavier than a two-door Cooper S. The MINI maximization makes the Countryman look like somebody was inflating a MINI balloon and forgot to say “when.” Your opinions will vary, but this overinflated MINI is quite attractive to my eye. From the perky round headlights to the signature hood scoop and the optional sport stripes, nobody will confuse the Countryman for anything-but a MINI.

Interior

A logical shopper would look at the Countryman and assume four doors equals five seats. Not so fast. Keeping with MINI tradition, the Countryman is a four passenger vehicle at heart, and on the lot. A quick search revealed that between the four local MINI dealers, only six of the 134 Countryman CUVs were equipped with the $250 fifth seat option. Availability aside, the middle seat should be thought of as an “emergency” seat due to the narrow proportions of the Countryman. Adding that fifth seat causes another unexpected problem: no rear cup holders. You see, the Countryman uses an interesting center “rail” system that normally stretches from the instrument panel to the rear seat backs. The rails allow you to snap-on various accessories like storage boxes, phone holders, sunglasses storage and most crucially; cup holders. Family minded shoppers should keep in mind that the rear door pockets won’t hold fast-food style sodas. In compensation for the rear amenities, the Countryman offers three times the cargo space of the Cooper with the seats up (16.5 cubic feet) and twice with the seats folded (41.3 cubic feet.)

As with all MINI models, a low rent headliner coexists with snazzy switches, rich leather upholstery, a thick rimmed steering wheel and an occasional smattering of hard plastics. Style rather than luxury is what MINI is all about, as is made most obvious by the ginormous “Disneyesque” speedometer/infotainment/HVAC vent cluster. Practical folks will find the switchgear positioned too low in the dashboard for comfort (it’s an eyes-on-the-road nightmare), but the look is undeniably swish and unlikely to bother the MINI faithful.

Infotainment

Frugal shoppers should skip this section as MINI infotainment price tags are far from mini. All Countryman models start with MINI’s AM/FM/XM/HD Radio/CD unit. Should you want some iDevice love and a Bluetooth speakerphone, add $500 to your tab. An additional $500 (or $250 if you planned to get the armrest anyway) gets you the MINI Connected system sans nav. MINI Connected is BMW’s iDrive (circa 2011) adapted to the smaller screen and MINImalist controls. As with BMW’s iPhone app, you can Tweet, Facebook, stream internet radio, Google, and view some extra “sport” themed instrumentation on the LCD.

MINI takes “the app thing” to a new level with “Dynamic Music” and “Mission Control.” Dynamic Music plays digitized, beat-heavy, music that changes as you drive. Speed up and the tempo increases while the system adds more instruments. Flip your turn signal on and cymbals start ringing out of the speaker on the side that you’re indicating. Mission Control plays canned phrases in stereotypical British accents in response to driver inputs. Floor the MINI and the system says “fulllll throttle!” Press the Sport button and several canned voices have a conversation about sporty driving. While it is entertaining for a day or two, I can’t imagine owners using this app daily.

Like a gateway drug, once you have MINI Connected, it’s hard to say no to the $750 nav up-sell. Once you have the nav, the $750 Harman/Kardon speakers aren’t a huge leap. After all that’s been added, your MINI sales rep will tell you “if you select the Technology Package you can add the parking sensors for half price” ($250.) Total up-sell: $2,750. “Ain’t technology grand?

Drivetrain

Under the hood you will fine the same engines as the rest of the MINI lineup. The base 1.6L engine is good for 121HP and 114lb-ft. As you would expect, pitting 121HP against 3,000lbs results in leisurely acceleration. Our tester was the “Cooper S” which means direct-injection and a turbocharger have been added to bring power up to 181HP and twist to 177lb-ft from 1,600-5,000RPM. MINI’s turbo engine employs an “overboost” feature to bump torque to 192lb-ft from 1,700-4,500RPM under certain conditions for a limited time. Either engine is mated to a standard 6-speed Getrag manual or an optional 6-speed Aisin automatic.

Once you’ve selected the option box for the turbo engine, you have access to the $1,700 Haldex AWD system dubbed “ALL4.” The system is essentially the same as other Haldex implementations and uses a wet clutch pack in place of a center differential. The clutch unlocks during low-speed maneuvers for better handling feel, locks completely during hard acceleration, and varies the connection depending on traction requirements. MINI tells us the system is programmed to keep the clutch pack connected more often than competing systems to improve feel.

MINI has confirmed that 2013 will bring some JCW love to the Countryman. The engine will be the same 1.6L direct-injection turbo as the S model, with the boost cranked to the maximum. MINI has yet to release power figures, but expect it to slot in around 220HP.

Drive

Expectations are important in drive reviews. If you expect the Countryman to drive like a regular MINI despite having AWD, seating for five and a large cargo area, you’ll be disappointed. When the road gets twisty, the Countryman responds exactly like an AWD MINI that’s been jacked up a couple of inches and gained 26% in weight. That being said, expecting the Countryman to handle like a Cooper means you’re missing the point. Compared to the premium CUVs on the market however, the MINI is small, nimble and tight in the corners bringing the classic MINI feel to a CUV. The ride height increase and greater suspension articulation make the Countryman lean in corners but the tradeoff is the ability to tackle some soft-roads when required.

The addition of the Haldex AWD system takes away the perverse pleasure I find in torque steer, but enthusiast drivers will appreciate the change. Enthusiast drivers will also appreciate the fact the ALL4 system makes the Countryman far more neutral than the other MINIs when applying throttle in the bends. Don’t get me wrong, this MINI is still nose-heavy and will head for the grass like a wild horse if you push it too hard, but I wonder what a JCW Cooper hatch with AWD would be like.

MINI has never been known to make fast cars, they make quick cars. As you would expect, 655lbs more car, an additional passenger and twice the cargo causes forward progress to fall from swift to average. A run to 60 took 6.89 seconds with overboost and 7.3 without, which is about the same range as a Camry… Hybrid. Ouch. If you have a need for more speed, MINI has announced that 2013 will bring a JCW Countryman that will hit 60 in a claimed 6.6 seconds, or 0.6 seconds slower than a V6 Camry.

When the Countryman arrived, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. As MINIs go, this thing is huge, but as crossovers go, it’s quite MINI. If you want a German vehicle with British styling, mild off-road prowess, four doors and four seats, this is the vehicle for you. It’s also the American-sized MINI destined to introduce the brand to a wider variety of shoppers. There are only two problems. The first is price. While the Countryman may start at $22,450, the S should be the real base model at $26,050. Why get the CUV if you don’t get AWD?  We’re up to $27,750. Add the minimum in gadgetry and you’re over $30,000. With pricing like this, styling becomes the only reason to buy a MINI Countryman over BMW’s own internal competition: the BMW X1.

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MINI provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.46 Seconds

0-60: 6.89 Seconds

1/4 Mile:  15.38 Seconds @ 88.8 MPH

Average fuel economy: 24.9 over 248 miles

 

2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior,  Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, Driver's side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, steering wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, dashboard, MINI Connected, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, dashboard, MINI Connected, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, MINI Connected controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, door panel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, rear seats folded, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman S-011 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, rear seats folded, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Engine, 1.6L Turbo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Engine, 1.6L Turbo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, all 4 logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, wheels, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, Cooper logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, MINI Logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, MINI Connected, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, speedometer and MINI Connected, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, speedometer, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI Countryman, Interior, tachometer, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Mazda CX-5: Mazda’s New Look Hits The Streets http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/mazda-cx-5-mazdas-new-look-hits-the-streets/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/mazda-cx-5-mazdas-new-look-hits-the-streets/#comments Wed, 16 Nov 2011 22:20:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=418460 As a small, independent, enthusiast-oriented automaker, Mazda is constantly in a fight for its life, and with its profits eaten away by a rising yen, this is more true than ever. And though Mazdas tend to consistently receive critical praise for their handling characteristics, styling has long been something of a sticking point for the […]

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As a small, independent, enthusiast-oriented automaker, Mazda is constantly in a fight for its life, and with its profits eaten away by a rising yen, this is more true than ever. And though Mazdas tend to consistently receive critical praise for their handling characteristics, styling has long been something of a sticking point for the brand. Last year Mazda launched a new look, called KODO, which aimed to position the company as “the Japanese Alfa-Romeo.” And though the first KODO car ever shown was a rather stunning sedan (since nicknamed the “Mazda-rati”), its first production KODO design is a rather more prosaic compact crossover, the CX-5. Which, in a way is fitting: if Mazda wants to survive to build Miatas and Speed3s, it will need to sell a grip of compact platform-variants like this one. Not only does this CX-5 look like it should sell better than the aging Escape-rebadge Tribute it replaces, its fuel economy (ranging between 26-33 for FWD/MT and 25/30 with AWD/AT) is finally competitive too. Now, as long as it drives like a Mazda…
IMG_4877 IMG_4878 IMG_4879 IMG_4880 Hurray for crossovers! IMG_4882 IMG_4883 IMG_4884 IMG_4885 IMG_4886 IMG_4887 IMG_4888 IMG_4889 IMG_4890 IMG_4891 IMG_4892 IMG_4893 IMG_4894 IMG_4895 IMG_4896 IMG_4897 IMG_4898 IMG_4899 IMG_4900

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: French For “Outlander Sport” Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-french-for-outlander-sport-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-french-for-outlander-sport-edition/#comments Fri, 30 Sep 2011 21:41:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=413072 As a global vehicle, the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is already something of a name-shifter. In Europe the compact crossover is called the ASX, and in Japan (and Pacific Rim export markets) it’s part of the proud RVR lineage that dates back to the Eagle Summit. And now it’s shifting shapes as well, morphing into a […]

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As a global vehicle, the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is already something of a name-shifter. In Europe the compact crossover is called the ASX, and in Japan (and Pacific Rim export markets) it’s part of the proud RVR lineage that dates back to the Eagle Summit. And now it’s shifting shapes as well, morphing into a set of French twins: the Citroen C4 Aircross and the Peugeot 4008. And unlike their big siblings, the blatantly Outlander-based 4007 and C-Crosser, these twins are from the new school of brand-engineering. In terms of sheet metal, only the doors carry over directly from the Outlander Sport… although the roofline gives away the secret. But the fact that PSA is rebadging Mitsubishis at all might just give you a little insight into why Mitsu is doing relatively well as a company, despite a weak image and sagging sales in the US: a little market share in a lot of markets still pays the bills.

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Review: 2011 Audi Q5 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/review-2011-audi-q5/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/review-2011-audi-q5/#comments Fri, 16 Sep 2011 19:27:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=411473 Tick off all the boxes on an Audi Q5 order form, and you’ll find yourself staring at a $58,350 tab. Too much for a compact crossover? Well, the example seen here will set you back $20,000 less. Now I know what you’re thinking: “A mere $38,400 for a right-sized chunk of German engineering? Sign me […]

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Tick off all the boxes on an Audi Q5 order form, and you’ll find yourself staring at a $58,350 tab. Too much for a compact crossover? Well, the example seen here will set you back $20,000 less. Now I know what you’re thinking: “A mere $38,400 for a right-sized chunk of German engineering? Sign me up!” Not so fast—to save twenty large you must give up something. But what?

The Q5’s outer shell is very much current Audi…except it also strongly resembles the latest Cayenne. (And the latest VW Touareg for that matter. Time for a Fortune cover?) If these lines are viable for the far pricier Porsche—and dealers can’t keep the peppers on the lot—then certainly they’re sufficiently upscale for this Audi. One wrinkle: the full tab nets the twenty-inch five-spoke wheels the designers had in mind when they penned the Q5’s exterior. At the other end of the spectrum, you get the 18s seen here. Not bad rims, and certainly far from tiny by historical standards, but ensconced in a clean-to-a-fault soap bar with wheel openings sized for dubs they take the whole downmarket.

When optioned with the Luxury Package, the Q5 contends with the Infiniti EX35 for the segment’s best interior, with soft leather covering not only the seats but also the door armrests and the hood over the instruments. But with this package the price jumps well into the fifties—it’s only available with the V6 and top trim level. The base interior, though it shares the same Teutonically tasteful design and solid construction, is a decidedly less opulent place. The door armrests are molded soft-touch plastic with hard plastic door pulls, and the seat upholstery, though technically leather, like much automotive cowhide easily passes for vinyl. (In fact, I have in my notes that “the vinyl isn’t as convincing as some.”) All-black with a smattering of wood trim not your thing? Any of the three two-toned color schemes, offered at no additional cost, warms the cabin up considerably. But even then the interior doesn’t have the cozy, custom-tailored ambiance you’ll find inside the Infiniti (assuming you can fit). My wife loved that Infiniti. She was not a fan of the Audi, to put it politely.

Keeping the price under forty means the standard audio system (pretty good, but no 505-watt 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen, that’s another $850) and no nav. The latter omission isn’t a problem for me personally, except it also means that the primary “MMI” (climate, audio, etc.) control knob and its surrounding buttons are on the center stack, where they’re not nearly as comfortable to reach or as easy to operate. With the nav these controls are much more ergonomically located aft of the shifter on the console. My wife’s comment on the controls: “Every time I had to do something new I had to sit there and think about it.” Even starting the Q5 poses a challenge for the unfamiliar. I was baffled for a number of minutes (I don’t want to admit how many) until I noticed a slot tucked up next to the center stack’s air vents. Stick the entire fob into it, push till it goes click, and—what do you know—the car starts. Want to keep the fob in your pocket? Then spring for the V6.

In general, automotive infotainment systems won’t let you do various things while driving. Click over to the Q5’s phone dialer, and you’re informed: “Distraction causes accidents. Never enter data while driving.” Click to accept this…and the next page lets you enter a phone number. Better than not being able to do this at all, but making habitual liars out of drivers one click at a time.

You get the same firm but supportive seats regardless of how the Q5 is optioned. If you want to feel like you’re sitting on a sofa, an Audi is not the car for you. The high, unobstructed view forward from the driver’s seat is a key reason people buy this sort of vehicle instead of the wagon (“avant” for those who speak Audi) most driving enthusiasts would favor. Huge mirrors do the same for the rearward view. The Q5 is only 182 inches long, about the same as a BMW X3 or Infiniti EX35 but much less lengthy than a Cadillac SRX or Lexus RX 350, which really compete with the others in terms of price rather than size. Still, unlike in the Infiniti there’s plenty of room in back for the average adult. A high-mounted cushion provides good thigh support and the seatback reclines. The compact exterior has a larger impact on cargo space, but there’s still more of it than in the Infiniti. More of a bother: the artfully shaped tailgate affords no good grips and opens so high that women of below-average height will need a step ladder to reach it. Or get one of the upper-level trims, which include a power tailgate.

The stopwatch will tell you that the 2.0T’s 211-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine is nearly as quick as the 3.2’s 270-horsepower V6, thanks to a plumper midrange (peak torque of 258 foot-pounds at 1,500 rpm vs. 243 at 3,000) and two extra cogs in the autobox (for a total of eight). But the six feels smoother and sounds far sweeter. The turbo four is more than capable of moving the Q5, but the six is much more likely to move the driver. With eight speeds, manually downshifting to second or third for a turn requires a lot of taps. The solution: shunt the shifter into S and the transmission will find a suitably low gear (or an even lower one) on its own.

The advantage of the turbo four + eight-speed combo: fuel economy. The EPA ratings of 20 city, 27 highway are tops for the premium compact crossover class, though BMW’s mighty turbocharged six is close behind. In casual suburban driving the (possibly optimistic) trip computer reported high twenties and low thirties.

Last winter I attended a comparison drive for the new BMW X3…and came away impressed with the Q5. The BMW had a steadier, more composed ride and more balanced handling, and when fitted with a (conservatively rated) 300-horsepower turbocharged six is much quicker. By any objective measure it’s the best performer in the segment. But the Audi’s chassis felt livelier and somehow more natural, and on curvy roads I enjoyed driving it more. The biggest difference: steering that clearly communicated what was going on at the front contact patches. This was the standard steering and suspension: a $2,950 “Audi Drive Select Page” offered only on the top trim substitutes active steering and adaptive shocks, but unlike on some other Audis doesn’t include an active rear differential. With the moderately rear-biased all-wheel-drive system and conventional rear differential a heavy right foot can coax the rear end to step out, but this is a more practical possibility with the BMW.

I wasn’t quite as impressed with the Q5’s steering this time around. Part of the reason could be that I didn’t have the other vehicles (X3, RX, SRX) on hand for a direct comparison. But the Q5’s steering also isn’t as exemplary during daily driving as it is when hustling along a curvy road. When driven casually, steering effort varies dramatically and somewhat unpredictably, and the feel is more artificial. The positive spin: when you most need the steering to talk, it talks. The Audi wants to be driven hard. Ignore its needs, and (like the high-strung, high-maintenance mistress I don’t have) it misbehaves while refusing to talk to you.

One mystery: the tested vehicle was fitted with W-rated Goodyear Excellence tires. Such “grand touring summer” tires, though commonly fitted as standard equipment in Europe, rarely appear in the all-season-loving U.S. On the Q5, we get performance-oriented rubber only with the “S Line” package, which is only offered with the V6. By accident or otherwise, the press fleet Q5 2.0T was wearing relatively sticky Euro-market treads.

So, to get to a $38,400 sticker (up $400 from the tested 2011 model), you’ve given up the wheels the designers intended, leather that feels like leather, ergonomic controls, a broad array of conveniences, the sweet sounding six, the trick shocks, and sticky tires. But do other cars offer more at this price point?

Not the related A4 Avant wagon, which lists for $800 more while including fewer features as standard equipment. You get a standard panoramic sunroof with the wagon—one’s an option on the Q5—but no power lumbar on the passenger seat, no wood trim, no three-zone automatic climate control, no automatic lights, no rain-sensing wipers, no trip computer. Tally up the differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and the Q5’s price advantage widens to about $1,500. Detroit’s product strategy favored SUVs because they found car buyers were willing to pay more for them than for a wagon. The Germans didn’t get the memo. By this yardstick, the Q5 is a bargain: 380 pounds more car (4,090 total), less money.

The Infiniti EX35 that seduced my wife lists for $1,800 more, but includes a standard 3.5-liter V6. So is the Q5 3.2 a more appropriate comparison? Load up both the Infiniti and a Q5 3.2, and the Japanese crossover ends up about $5,500 less. The Germans charge top dollar for options, who knew?

A similarly-equipped BMW X3 xDrive2.8i lists for about $4,000 more, partly because you must specify the “Premium Package” to get the leather, wood trim, and dual four-way power lumbar adjustments standard on the Audi. This brings along some features not on the tested Audi, most notably a panoramic sunroof. Adjust for these, and the Audi retains a roughly $2,200 advantage. Enough to sway some buyers? Maybe. At a minimum the Audi is competitively priced.

So, with the Audi Q5 car buyers face a quandary. It’s fun to drive compared to any other compact crossover save the BMW, but anyone who makes this a top priority will (or at least should) go with the A4 Avant or BMW 3-Series wagon instead. So the Q5 is more likely to sell to those seeking the perceived superior comfort and convenience of a crossover. But a sub-forty Q5 lacks many comforts and conveniences. Check off the boxes to get these, and the price tag rapidly ascends into the mid-forties and beyond, at which point the Q5 isn’t as good a value.

Audi provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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Currency, UAW Doom US Production Of Ford’s Kuga http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/currency-uaw-doom-us-production-of-fords-kuga/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/currency-uaw-doom-us-production-of-fords-kuga/#comments Thu, 09 Sep 2010 18:14:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=365221 Bloomberg reports that Ford will not build its Kuga compact crossover at its Louisville, KY plant due to the falling Euro and UAW recalcitrance. According to the report The promise of Kuga production in Louisville began to fall apart in November when UAW members rejected Ford’s request to match givebacks it gave General Motors Co. […]

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Bloomberg reports that Ford will not build its Kuga compact crossover at its Louisville, KY plant due to the falling Euro and UAW recalcitrance. According to the report

The promise of Kuga production in Louisville began to fall apart in November when UAW members rejected Ford’s request to match givebacks it gave General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC. Ford’s U.S. rivals, which each reorganized in bankruptcy last year, were granted a six-year freeze on wages for new hires and a ban on some strikes until 2015… The euro has fallen 14 percent against the dollar since Ford reached a tentative deal with the UAW in October to build the Kuga in Louisville alongside its mechanical twin, the Escape. At the time, the dollar had declined against the euro, lowering the cost of U.S.-made goods. Since then, the euro has dropped amid concerns Europe’s debt crisis may trigger another recession.

Barclays analyst Brian Johnson explains

This is a reminder to the UAW that Ford’s U.S. cars don’t have to be produced in the U.S. Ford’s global architecture allows them to build anywhere. That’s good news if the U.S. has competitive labor costs. It’s bad news if they don’t

Ford will, however build something based on its global compact car architecture at Louisville… they’re just not saying what. Spokesman Mark Truby tells Bloomberg

We are on track to begin production next year of a new vehicle from our global C-car platform at the Louisville assembly plant. Though we are not providing product details, we intend to fully utilize capacity at the transformed facility.

When plans were initially made to produce the Kuga at Louisville, German wages were $10/hour more than the UAW rate. Thanks to a 14 percent decline in the value of the Euro, that advantage has been wiped out. And thanks to Ford’s global architecture, production is now flexible enough to switch factories with only a year before the Kuga launches. The Kuga is likely to continue to be built in Saarlouis, Germany.

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Chart Of The Day: Compact Crossover Sales In July http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/chart-of-the-day-compact-crossover-sales-in-july/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/chart-of-the-day-compact-crossover-sales-in-july/#comments Tue, 10 Aug 2010 18:30:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=362577 The Compact Crossover segment has changed a bit since last month, as the Honda CR-V enjoyed strong demand en route to over 20k monthly sales. Rogue had a strong month as well, but still ended up about 5k units shy of last month’s segment leader, the Ford Escape. Terrain seems to be going a bit […]

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The Compact Crossover segment has changed a bit since last month, as the Honda CR-V enjoyed strong demand en route to over 20k monthly sales. Rogue had a strong month as well, but still ended up about 5k units shy of last month’s segment leader, the Ford Escape. Terrain seems to be going a bit weak compared to recent months, and even Equinox was down a bit from its July 2009 number. Sportage is way off ahead of its new model rollout, but once the 2011s come in, expect Kia cute ute to mix things up in the 7k-ish and above monthly volume range.

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2011 Sportage Priced Starting At $18,990 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/2011-sportage-priced-starting-at-18990/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/2011-sportage-priced-starting-at-18990/#comments Thu, 22 Jul 2010 16:02:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=361330 With Ford and Honda running away with the compact crossover segment, a tight pack of competitors is gathering around the 100k annual unit mark (graph after the jump). Hyundai has already thrown its redesigned Sorento into this fearsome battle with promising results so far (20k units YTD), but Kia’s Sportage has been battling in this […]

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With Ford and Honda running away with the compact crossover segment, a tight pack of competitors is gathering around the 100k annual unit mark (graph after the jump). Hyundai has already thrown its redesigned Sorento into this fearsome battle with promising results so far (20k units YTD), but Kia’s Sportage has been battling in this segment since before it was cool. Literally. As far as we can tell, it’s the oldest continuously-sold compact CUV nameplate in the US market… which makes you wonder what a continuously-evolved Chevy Tracker might have become. Anyway, after years of Tracker-like neglect, Sportage is coming back with a fresh set of Peter Schreyer-tailored duds. Not to mention a direct-injection, turbocharged engine option (“270-plus horsepower” according to the press release), Bluetooth, and the UVO hands-free system (think SYNC). As you can imagine, the price has gone up some…

Available in three trims – Base, LX and EX – pricing for the dynamic compact CUV will begin at $18,295 for the base trim, offering standard convenience features, including air conditioning, power windows, door locks and mirrors, SIRIUS® Satellite Radio capabilities with three months complimentary service, MP3 connectivity and Bluetooth® wireless technology. LX will start at $20,295 and will include standard outside mirrors with LED turn signal indicators and privacy glass. Moving up to the EX trim level offers a beginning price of $23,295 with standard features such as 18-inch alloy wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

The crazy part? Adjusted for inflation, the $14,500 base MSRP of a 1995 Sportage actually comes out to $20,758 in 2010 dollars, meaning the base Sportage actually offers a of of inflation-adjusted value compared to its predecessors. But will it be enough to take on this brutal segment? Only time will tell…

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May Sales Analysis: Compact Crossovers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/06/may-sales-analysis-compact-crossovers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/06/may-sales-analysis-compact-crossovers/#comments Thu, 03 Jun 2010 21:16:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=358055 These cars may never go off the road, but it’s also beginning to look like their sales won’t go off the rails any time soon either. Kia’s Sportage was the big year-over-year loser last month, but it’s about to be replaced with an all-new model. The battle continues…

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These cars may never go off the road, but it’s also beginning to look like their sales won’t go off the rails any time soon either. Kia’s Sportage was the big year-over-year loser last month, but it’s about to be replaced with an all-new model. The battle continues…

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