The Truth About Cars » crossover http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 01 May 2015 16:00:57 +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 » crossover http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com 2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4×4 Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/2015-nissan-pathfinder-4x4-review-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/2015-nissan-pathfinder-4x4-review-video/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 12:00:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1049737 Nissan’s path to the modern Pathfinder has been long and wandering. In 1985 the 2-door truck based Pathfinder was the answer to Chevy’s Blazer and Ford’s Bronco. In 1995 Nissan changed absolutely everything and made the Pathfinder a 5-door unibody SUV to compete head-on with Jeep’s successful Grand Cherokee. Nine years later, Nissan started over, […]

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2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior

Nissan’s path to the modern Pathfinder has been long and wandering. In 1985 the 2-door truck based Pathfinder was the answer to Chevy’s Blazer and Ford’s Bronco. In 1995 Nissan changed absolutely everything and made the Pathfinder a 5-door unibody SUV to compete head-on with Jeep’s successful Grand Cherokee. Nine years later, Nissan started over, yet again, with a body-on-frame design to do battle with the myriad of General Motors midsize SUVs choking up suburban expressways. Then, in 2013, Nissan went back to the drawing board for a fourth time with a new mission: build a spacious and well-priced soft-roader to battle the new Explorer and the GM Lambda platform triplets (Acadia, Traverse, Enclave).

Exterior

Before we dive deep into the Pathfinder, we have to identify this breed’s natural habitat, and that means forgetting every Pathfinder that came before. While you’ll still find WD21 Pathfinders climbing rocks, this Pathfinder is more at home on the school run. I mentioned GM’s Lambda CUVs earlier because this Pathfinder is big. Really big. That means the Pathfinder isn’t the most direct competitor to entries like the Kia Sorento that’s more than a foot smaller or even the Toyota Highlander that is 6 inches shorter. The mission of the Sorento and Highlander is to carry 4-5 adults in comfort while providing a third row for children, mothers-in-law or emergencies. The Pathfinder however was intended to carry 7 adults in relative comfort.

Because the new Pathfinder’s mission is people hauling, not rock climbing, you won’t find aggressive approach and departure angles on the nose and rump. Instead, we get slab sides, a variant of Nissan’s truck grille up front and a rather vertical hatch in the back. The overall look is simple and clean but lacks the excitement (yes, I used that word in a CUV review) you’d find in entries like the new Sorento.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Third Row Seat-001

Interior

The Pathfinder sports the most combined legroom in this segment (1st row + 2nd row + 3rd row) and combined legroom is important. Other entries claim to have more third row legroom (like the Traverse), but if the other two rows are cramped, you end up sliding those seats back cutting down on the room left in the mother-in-law-row. Looking deeper, the Traverse claims 3.4 inches more 3rd row room but you’ll find that the Chevy’s 1st row is 1 inch smaller and the middle row is 5 inches smaller. This means with the driver’s seat adjusted ideally for me at 6-feet tall (not giving a toss about the folks in the back) I can adjust the second row seat to have 2-3 inches of leg room and have a similar 2-3 inches of legroom in the third row of the Pathfinder as well. I’m a little surprised Nissan chose not to make an 8-passenger version of the Pathfinder because the 3rd row is as accommodating as the Highlander’s 3-seat rear bench. Speaking of the Highlander, you’ll notice upper trims come only with captains chairs in the middle row, meaning passenger number five has to sit in the cramped third row.

The second reason to buy a Pathfinder is for the trick second row seat. If you’re a parent with two or three child seats in the middle row, you’ll appreciate that Nissan designed the 40% section of the bench to contort in a way that allows adults to get in to the third row. While it is possible to get into the back in other 3-row vehicles with a child seat in the middle, it isn’t easy.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Second Row Folding Child Seat

Legroom isn’t everything, of course, so Nissan kept the roofline high at the rear of the Pathfinder giving a generous 37.8 inches of 3rd row headroom. If you want this kind of room without a Nissan logo on the hood, you’ll be looking at full-size SUVs. I am talking Suburban-sized since the Tahoe actually offers 6 inches less total legroom than the Pathfinder. If you need something bigger than that, you’re in Blue Bird bus territory.

The Pathfinder’s generous legroom comes at a price: the small cargo area. Admittedly, the 16 cubic feet of space behind the last row is 1 more than you get in the Tahoe, but it’s 8 less than the Traverse and 23 less than the Suburban. So, while the Pathfinder is as accommodating as a Suburban for 7 adults, you can’t fit 7 suitcases in the back.

Also on the down side is a cabin that’s starting to show its age. The seats are class leading in terms of comfort, but the cabin is full of hard plastics. I’m not one to bash hard plastics off-hand, but casting the primary dashboard touch points out of hard plastic is unusual in this segment and it makes entries like the Durango, Sorento and Enclave look and feel more premium.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Interior Infotainment.CR2

Infotainment

Although the Pathfinder isn’t that old, the base “S” trim gets you a 6-speaker audio system and in-dash 6-CD changer … and that’s it. No Bluetooth, no AUX input and no USB/iPod interface. If you want those, you have to step up to the $32,990 SV trim which includes a 7-inch infotainment LCD. Although I dislike the stripper trim concept, you should know the SV is still about $2,000 less than a comparable Highlander. (Keep in mind Toyota’s base model lacks a V6.) SL Tech trims get an 8-inch infotainment display and the same 13-speaker Bose sound system as the Infiniti QX60. At $38,090, it’s also the cheapest way to get navigation. Any way you slice it, however, Nissan’s infotainment options are a step behind the new entries like the Sorento, Highlander, Durango and 2016 Pilot.

On the up-side, Nissan’s touchscreen infotainment system was one of my favorites last decade, so in terms of functionality it fares quite well. GM’s Lambda SUVs all get small infotainment screens set low in the dashboard due to the age of the platforms and, interestingly, a Traverse with navigation is just $250 less. On the down-side, the Pathfinder is at least five years behind the rest, especially compared to Toyota and Chrysler’s latest systems. GM’s refreshed infotainment options in the Lambda CUVs operate on a smaller 6.5-inch screen but look more modern.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 AWD control

Drivetrain

Under the hood lies Nissan’s ubiquitous 3.5-liter V6 tuned to 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque, 5 hp and 8 lb-ft less than the same engine in the QX60. In addition to being down a few ponies compared to its luxury cousin, it’s also the least powerful in its class. As you would expect from Nissan, power is sent to the front wheels via a CVT, but this one has been revised to handle a 5,000 lb tow rating. The new transmission uses a steel chain instead of a steel belt for durability, but importantly the ratios stay more-or-less unchanged. Nissan’s reps confirmed the transmission is the primary reason for the QX60 and Pathfinder’s different tow ratings.

If towing with a FWD crossover doesn’t sound like fun, $1,690 buys you AWD. The system normally defaults to FWD mode for improved fuel economy but as a (small) nod to the Pathfinder’s history, the system has a lock mode mechanically connecting the front and rear differentials so power flows 50:50 (front:rear). Unlike more traditional transfer case setups, the clutch-pack allows a small amount of slip so the system can be used on dry pavement without binding. Leaving the AWD system in “Auto” keeps power to the front unless fairly significant slippage occurs (in order to improve fuel economy).

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Gauges

Drive

The Pathfinder is loosely based on Nissan’s D-Platform which underpins the Altima, Murano and the last generation Maxima. One thing all those vehicles have in common is being light for their category and that’s true of the Pathfinder as well. At 4,317 lbs in FWD trim and topping out at 4,506 in AWD trim, that’s about the same weight as Toyota’s Highlander V6 and 300-500 lbs lighter than a comparable GM crossover. The weight reduction and other efficiency differences pay dividends with real world fuel economy in the AWD model coming in around 21.5 MPG in mixed driving. That’s around 11 percent better than the Traverse, 15 percent better than the Enclave and 18 percent better than the Tahoe on my same fuel economy route. While a few MPG doesn’t sound like much, at this end of the scale it equates to $450 lower annual fuel bills vs the Buick.

The comparatively light curb weight and CVT compensate for the lower torque numbers and allowed our tester to scoot to 60 in 7.1 seconds. While not the fastest in the pack, this is better than the majority of three row crossovers on the market. This is despite the CVT’s final drive ratio being tuned toward fuel economy. The CVT’s main benefit is it allows the engine to hang out at the peak of its power band for maximum acceleration. For 2015, Nissan programmed the CVT to imitate a traditional stepped automatic when in “D.” Not surprisingly this results in lower performance because it negates the major benefit of a CVT in the first place and actually causes a 2/10th longer run to 60 (7.3 seconds) than when the transmission is in “L” and ditches the imitation shifts.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior Hitch Receiver

Everything has a trade off and so it is with the Pathfinder. The CVT’s low ratio isn’t terribly low at 13.5:1 (low gear and final drive), this doesn’t compare all that well with the lower 15.2:1 that you find in the Ford Explorer and higher overall than basically all the competition. This tall starting ratio conspires with the soft springs and compliant sway bars to make the Pathfinder feel about 1,000 lbs heavier on the road. In the stop-light races, most of the competition will beat the Pathfinder to 30 mph because of that ratio choice. Past 30, the Pathfinder picks up steam and may win the race overall, but in the real world that 0-30 time is more important.

More than most new cars, we have to separate lateral grip from handling “feel” when discussing this Nissan. Why? Because the Pathfinder actually road-holds as well as a Mazda CX-9 according to most publications (TTAC doesn’t have access to a skidpad) but the feeling is night and day different. Steering turn-in is lazy. Soft springs that give one of the best rides in the segment make body roll excessive. There’s plenty of pitch and dive when accelerating and braking. This is the prefect example of numbers not giving you the complete picture. The Pathfinder is faster than almost all of the competition, it stops from 60 mph in a short 125 feet and pulls lateral Gs like a Mazda crossover. Get behind the wheel however and the Pathfinder feels enormous.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4x4 Exterior-007

Towing with a CVT is an unusual experience to say the least. I attached a 5,000 trailer and gave it a whirl. As expected, the tall starting ratio in the transmission makes for sluggish starts, but when I started climbing hills things went just fine. Like Chrysler’s 8-speed automatic, the ability to find an “ideal” ratio for the moment is what saves the Pathfinder here. Sure, you hear plenty of the 3.5-liter V6 in the cabin when the engine is revving its nuts off, but it feels peppier on a 15 percent grade than a GMC Acadia with the same trailer.

With the Pathfinder, Nissan has created one of the best crossovers on paper. It has legroom to spare, the highest fuel economy among its direct competition, and delivers great acceleration, braking and handling numbers, but it looses something by the time you add it all up and drive one yourself. Perhaps the toll to be paid for checking every box the crossover shopper wants is engagement. The Pathfinder is a crossover I have recommended and will continue to recommend if you want an honest to goodness usable third row and great fuel economy. It also remains one of the better buys in this segment thanks to its low starting price and aggressive equipment bundles. Unfortunately, if driving pleasure, interior refinement, or modern infotainment are higher on your shopping list, there are better options.

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

Specifications as testesd

0-30: 2.7 Seconds

0-60: 7.1 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.24 Seconds @ 93 MPH

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2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-bmw-x4-xdrive28i-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-bmw-x4-xdrive28i-video/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 12:00:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1044242 Lately, BMW has been accused of answering questions nobody was asking. Looking at things a different way, however, BMW has taken personalization of your daily driver to a level we haven’t seen before by making an incredible number of variations based on the same basic vehicle. Once upon a time, BMW made one roadster and […]

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Lately, BMW has been accused of answering questions nobody was asking. Looking at things a different way, however, BMW has taken personalization of your daily driver to a level we haven’t seen before by making an incredible number of variations based on the same basic vehicle. Once upon a time, BMW made one roadster and three sedans. If you asked nicely, they would cut the top off the 3-Series, add a hatchback, or stretch it into a wagon. If you look at the family tree today you’d see that the 2-series coupé and convertible, X1, X3, X4, 3-Series sedan, long wheelbase sedan, and wagon, 3-Series GT and 4-Series coupé, convertible and gran coupé are all cousins. (Note: I didn’t say sisters, but they are all ultimately related.) That’s a product explosion of 400 percent since 1993 and we’re talking solely about the compact end of their lineup. You could look at this two ways. This is insanity, or this is some diabolical plan. Since sales have increased more than 300% since 1993, I’m going with diabolical plan.

Exterior

The “same sausage in multiple lengths” concept has been a staple design philosophy of the luxury industry for decades, but BMW’s “something for everyone” mantra takes that to the next level. You see, the X4 and the 3-Series Gran Tourismo are two entirely different sausages that (although related) manage to look the same yet share very little. Stranger still, the same shape elicits two different responses from people. Some see the GT and think “that liftback looks practical and roomier than a trunk” and then they look at the X4 and say “that’s less practical than an X3, why would I want it?”

To create the X4, the X3’s rear was raked and the bumpers were tweaked but it still retains the same hood, headlamps and ride height. You’d think that would make it a crossover, but BMW prefers “Sports Activity Coupe.” Whatever. The GT is a 3-Series that has been stretched and a liftback grafted on. The GT is lower to the ground and actually longer than the X4, but the differences don’t stop there. The GT is built in Germany, the X4 is made in South Carolina. Like many Americans, the X4 is 2-inches wider, has a more aggressive look up front and weighs 200 lbs more. (Before you ask, I was born in Ohio and that describes me as well.)

The trouble with making so many models is that it makes comparisons difficult. (Or is that part of BMW’s diabolical plan?) Aside from the GT, the X4 lacks any natural competition, especially in our xDrive28i trim. The V60 Cross Country, Macan, allroad and Evoque all come to mind, but only the Macan uses a similar silhouette. The Volvo and Audi are lifted station wagons, the Evoque is much smaller and front wheel drive.

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Interior

The X4 shares the majority of its interior with the X3. Likely because the X3 and X4 are a little more recent than the current 3-Series, I found the interior to be more harmonious in terms of plastics quality. Instead of the iDrive screen perched atop the dash like in the 3-Series, it’s nestled into it. Perhaps because the X4 is made in America, the cup holders are larger, more functional and lack the funky lid 3-Series owners always lose track of.

Because the X3’s roofline was drastically altered to create the X4, BMW opted to drop the seat bottoms in order to preserve headroom. The difference isn’t too noticeable up front, but in the rear the X4’s seat bottom cushions ride much closer to the floor than in any of the competition. Despite lowering the seating height, headroom is still very limited in the back and best reserved for kids or shorter adults. This is a stark contrast to the 3-GT which has an inch more headroom in the rear, seat cushions that are higher off the floor, seat backs that recline and a whopping 7 inches more combined legroom.

At 17.7 cubic feet, the X4’s cargo area is about 33% smaller than the X3 [The Porsche Macan loses almost 40 percent of its cargo volume in comparison to its platform mate, the Audi Q5. -Ed.]. On the flip side, this is a hair larger than a 328i sedan and the cargo hatch is a more convenient shape. Once again, however, the 3-GT comes out more practical with a larger cargo hold and the same practical liftback for accessing it. Interestingly enough, the V60 CC and the Porsche Macan have cargo areas nearly identical in size.

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Infotainment

iDrive has long been one of my favorite infotainment systems and that continues with the latest version. Our tester included the full bevy of infotainment options including smartphone app integration ($500), navigation ($2,150) and the iPhone snap-in adapter ($250). If that sounds expensive, you’re right. However, it is less expensive than the options list on the Macan. Like Audi and Mercedes, BMW has inserted a cell modem into top end iDrive systems allowing online service access.

iDrive’s interface has received continual tweaks over the years to improve usability and I find the interface easy to navigate and intuitive. A little less intuitive is the finger-writing input method which allows you to “write” on the top of the controller knob to enter addresses. While that sounds like a good idea, I discovered it took 25% longer to enter a destination vs rotating the dial. All the latest in connected infotainment can be had in the X4 (for a price) including integrated Pandora, Stitcher, Audible, pass-thru voice commands for iOS and Android, and Wikipedia integration which will read Wiki articles to you via a built-in text-to-speech engine.

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Drivetrain

X4 xDrive28i models get a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder (N20) good for 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque at just 1,450 RPM while xDrive35i models get the 300 horsepower, 300 lb-ft 3.0L turbo (N55). Both engines are mated to an 8-speed ZF automatic and standard AWD. Sound familiar? That’s the same lineup in the 3-GT. Oddly enough you can get the X3 in RWD, but the X4 with its (in theory) sportier image is AWD only.

If you’re shopping for the X4 outside of the USA, you get more choice with an available 181 horse 2.0L gasoline turbo, a selection of diesel engines ranging from 187-309 ponies and a manual transmission on some engines.

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Drive

I’m no track junkie like Jack Baruth, but I do appreciate a well-balanced vehicle. That said, I am frequently distracted by straight line performance and “moar powah.” X4 shoppers will need to choose between these two. The 2.0L may be down on power vs the 3.0L , but it is also 33% shorter and 165 lbs lighter. In addition, the 2.0L sits behind the front axle instead of above it. The effect of the weight reduction and nose-lightening is obvious when you start pushing the X4 on your favorite mountain road. The lighter 2.0L model doesn’t feel as eager, but it does feel more composed and more willing to change direction. The 3.0L has more low-end grunt and a more refined sound, but because of the added weight, AWD and chassis tuning, it tends toward understeer more readily.

The key to understanding the X4 on the road is simple: it weighs only 20 lbs less than the X3 and despite the sheetmetal changes, the center of gravity isn’t all that much lower. As a result it drives almost exactly like an X3. Since the X3 is one of the most dynamic options in its class, that’s no dig. 0-60 happened in a quick 6.14 seconds in our tester(the 3.0L is a full second faster) and the lateral grip is impressive for a crossover. On the downside, the 3-Series sedan and GT will do everything a hair faster with better grip and better feel. BMW will swap out the 245 width tires our tester had for a staggered 245 / 275 tire package. I suspect that may give the X4 more of a performance edge on the less sporting trims of X3 or 3-GT, but fuel economy and your pocketbook will suffer. Thanks to the wide tires, the X4 took just 119 feet to stop from 60 MPH.

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The standard AWD system dulls what little feel you might otherwise get from the electric power steering system, but in return it allows drama-free launches on most road surfaces and plenty of fun on soft roads. Speaking of soft roads, the X4 reminded me a great deal of Volvo’s V60 Cross Country: both vehicles prioritize style over practicality and both are soft-road vehicles designed for folks that live down a short gravel road and commute on winding mountain highways. The suspension in all forms of the X4 is stiffer than I expected and the M-Sport is stiffer than I could live with long-term on the crappy roads in Northern California. If you’re contemplating the M-Sport, be sure to option up the adaptive suspension system. The $1,000 option doesn’t dull the X4’s responses, but when in the softer modes it may just save your kidneys.

Competition for the X4 is hard to define as I have said. On the surface of things, the styling premium over the X3 will set you back $6,200, but the X4 has around $4,200 more in standard equipment, like AWD and HID lamps, which drops the real difference to about $2,000. That may not sound like too much of a premium for the added style you get in the X4, but the 328i Gran Turismo, despite standard AWD and the panoramic sunroof, is about $2,500 less than the X4.

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Now we must cover the Porsche Macan. In the same way that the X4 is a less practical X3, the Macan is a less practical Audi Q5. If you look at the Macan closely, you’ll see almost the same profile as the X4. Dimensionally they are quite similar inside and out. However, the Macan’s conversion from the plebeian Q5 was much more involved. Porsche also starts their lineup with a 340 horsepower twin-turbo V6, 7-speed DCT, and made major changes to the structure of the Q5 platform. On top of that, they fit wider tires all around. Obviously our 2.0L X4 doesn’t compete with the Porsche, but the X4 with the turbo six is an interesting alternative. The X4 xDrive35i manages to be a hair faster to 60 in my limited tests (1/10th) thanks likely to the ZF 8-speed automatic. The BMW’s transmission is smoother, I think the exterior is more elegant and depending on how you configure your Porsche, the cost difference can exceed $10,000 in the X4’s favor. The Macan handles better and had a nicer and more customizable interior, but the options are so expensive that it’s easy to get a Macan S over $75,000 without really trying.

Although I like the X4’s interior more than the 3-GT, the  GT makes more sense to me. You get more room inside, it’s more nimble out on the road and the fuel economy in the real world is a hair better. The X3 is more practical and gives up little when it comes to performance and handling and the 3-Series sport wagon is probably the best blend of cargo practicality and performance handling. This brings me back to BMW’s diabolical plan: comparisons. No matter how I tried to define or categorize the X4, the competitive set was littered with BMWs. Aside from the xDrive35i being the value alternative to the Macan S, all that can be said of the X4 in the end is that it is a less practical X3 and a taller GT with a nicer dash.

Sound off in the comment section below: what would you cross shop with the X4?

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.4 Seconds

0-60: 6.14 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.83 Seconds @ 92.8 MPG

Average Economy: 23.8 MPG

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Capsule Review: 2015 Nissan Pathfinder http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/capsule-review-2015-nissan-pathfinder/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/capsule-review-2015-nissan-pathfinder/#comments Sat, 04 Apr 2015 13:00:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1037369 Before you read this road test of the 2015 Nissan Pathfinder, I must write that it isn’t as comprehensive as I want it to be, even though I put well over 1,000 miles on it. There was supposed to be a road trip from San Jose to Lake Arrowhead with at least three other people […]

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Before you read this road test of the 2015 Nissan Pathfinder, I must write that it isn’t as comprehensive as I want it to be, even though I put well over 1,000 miles on it. There was supposed to be a road trip from San Jose to Lake Arrowhead with at least three other people on board. They were supposed to critique the car’s features, evaluate the interior comfort during the trip, and simulate the amount of stress that most families would put on a seven-passenger crossover. It wasn’t meant to be, though, with all three bailing out with various reasons, from studying to the CPA exam (a very valid excuse) to needing to visit family (again, a valid excuse) to saying they would come if the destination was changed to Santa Barbara (not a valid excuse and grounds for a passive-aggressive e-mail).

Such an experience was supposed to make up for the fact that actual, live families would potentially read this review of the Pathfinder and seriously regard what I, a childless, flip-flops-wearing, Gran Turismo-playing millennial, wrote about their possible next family car. “Oh, he actually carted around 4 full-size adults for over 1,000 miles rather than using it alone on his daily commute,” they would think, “This test really simulated family use. He probably even yelled at the back seat passengers to turn their music down.” Unfortunately, I never got my chance. Instead, the long trip consisted of tuning into Christian rock stations throughout the Central Valley while trying to find an alternative rock station, until I got to Pasadena, where I began loudly complaining to myself about traffic in Southern California.

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But enough about Southern California traffic (and I could really go on), I must discuss the history Pathfinder nameplate. In 1985, Nissan debuted the Pathfinder, which was intended to compete with the Jeep Cherokee and Toyota 4Runner, though it was only available with two doors at launch. It was a very capable vehicle off-road and was built on a truck platform. It eventually gained two extra doors as well as a third seat in later generations while retaining the off-road capability of the original. The last-generation Pathfinder was even available with a V-8. But it became difficult to market as a family vehicle due to its body-on-frame construction, which didn’t help its fuel economy and limited interior space.

Other car platform-based seven-passenger family crossovers like the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Mazda CX-9 were taking away sales from truck-based SUVs like the Pathfinder. The Pathfinder needed to be significantly updated for better fuel economy and better internal packaging for the needs of most families, many of whom didn’t need the extensive off-road and towing capabilities of the old Pathfinder.

As a result, my 2015 Pathfinder 4×4 test car is completely different from the old Pathfinder. It’s based on the same platform as the Murano and Altima. It handles better than the old truck-based Pathfinder and gets significantly better fuel economy largely due to its much lower weight. Its door handles aren’t on the C-pillar. The exterior design is a lot cleaner and a lot more rounded. The interior is a much nicer place to be and has more space to move around in. The transmission is continuously variable rather than having actual gears. The competition is now vehicles like the Pilot and Highlander rather than the 4Runner and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

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Since I spent well over 1,000 miles in the driver’s seat, I’m going to first focus on comfort. As potential Pathfinder buyers will be spending a good deal of time behind the wheel, driving the kids to numerous activities like fencing and jai alai (kids really need to stand out for those college apps) and taking long road trips (jai alai tournaments are perhaps very few and far between), I can definitively write that the front driver’s seat of the Pathfinder is a satisfying place. There’s no other way I could have lasted six hours straight driving back from San Bernardino to San Jose without a long pause. Some sections of highways I drove on were very bumpy, yet the Pathfinder’s ride soaked up the bumps and didn’t provide a jarring experience. During the trip, I didn’t find out myself shifting around in the seat after 300 miles like I would in other cars. When I arrived home, I didn’t feel stiff and felt I had the energy to do things.

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The back seat isn’t such a bad place either. There’s an easily accessible 120V power outlet for plugging in a laptop or other equipment and the second row can also control its temperature. It’s possible to recline the seats and relax. I wouldn’t recommend the second row for people well above six feet since there wouldn’t be enough legroom for them. Meanwhile, the third seat is strictly for two people who haven’t hit their growth spurt. Anyone above 5 feet and 5 inches would have a rough time sitting in the third seat after 90 minutes. Extra legroom can be derived by moving up the middle row, but then adults in the middle row would lose plenty of legroom and become uncomfortable too. All passengers in the back have their own air vents, so there’ll little question of keeping cool during the summer.

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When it comes to cargo capacity, with the third row up, there’s enough room for two large suitcases and one airplane carry-on bag. There is some extra space for miscellaneous objects below the trunk which can accommodate two small backpacks. With the third row folded down, the cargo capacity substantially increases, making the Pathfinder a good match for four to five person road trips. The middle row folds down too, so the car can fit long surfboards and bikes inside rather than affixing them to the roof or an attachment to the tow hitch. Furthermore, the spare tire is mounted underneath the car behind the tow hitch, not impeding the interior cargo space.

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To move all 4,500 pounds of the car, Nissan equipped the Pathfinder with the 3.5-liter V-6 which makes 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque, which is right in line with the V-6 options of the Pilot, Highlander, Kia Sorento, and Santa Fe. Unlike the competition, the Pathfinder’s V-6 is pared to a CVT, which helps considerably with the fuel economy numbers. The powertrain had no problem keeping up the very fast traffic on Interstate 5, with the car traveling between 75 and 80 miles an hour for two hours straight. Even from a stoplight, fully loaded the car doesn’t have trouble getting places.

A common complaint about the Pathfinder is its continuously variable transmission. For 2015, the CVT in the Pathfinder received “D-Step Shift Logic” which makes the CVT feel like a traditional transmission. During my time, I had no problems with it. The only thing I noticed involving the CVT occurred when driving on a particularly hilly section of highway (the Grapevine section of Interstate 5). The CVT was constantly trying to find the right planetary gear to climb up the hill, acting like a seven or eight-speed automatic transmission. Despite that, the transmission was still maintaining a constant speed of 65 mph, and didn’t have a problem with how much throttle I gave the car. However, the CVT didn’t have that issue when driving up the mountains to go to Lake Arrowhead, perhaps because of the lower speeds with the winding roads.

However, the fuel economy of the Pathfinder was exceptional, considering mine had four-wheel-drive and can seat seven people. Granted, the Pathfinder carried two people at most, and a majority of the miles I drove were on the highway in two-wheel-drive mode, with air conditioning off some of the time, but the Pathfinder managed a little bit over 25 miles per gallon, which is on the upper end of the EPA estimate of 19 city and 26 highway. The CVT definitely helped in achieving than figure.

As for utilizing the four-wheel-drive system on the car, I didn’t have a chance to do so. Unfortunately, no snow fell around Lake Arrowhead, and though taking the Pathfinder to my local off-road vehicle park was thought about, I didn’t think Nissan intended the current Pathfinder to face obstacle that even some current Jeeps have some difficulty completing. Nonetheless, Nissan’s intuitive 4WD system has 2WD, automatic, and 4WD lock modes as well as hill start assist and hill descent control. All of those features may come in handy when driving in snow or climbing and descending steep dirt or gravel roads.

My test car was the SL 4×4 model which had leather seats, a power passenger seat, power lumbar support, power liftgate, rear SONAR, a blind sport warning system, and a remote engine start system, useful for warming up the car in cold weather. Mine also had the SL Tech Package, which included navigation, a Bose sound system, the Around View monitor, and a tow hitch receiver with the trailer harness. With the $860 destination charge, the MSRP came to $40,850. Considering the amount of equipment on the Pathfinder, I think it’s very well-priced and the MSRP is very similar to other seven-passenger crossovers with a similar level of equipment as my Pathfinder test vehicle such as the Pilot Touring trim and the Highlander Limited model.

In the end, the Pathfinder should be on most families’ shopping lists. Those families who don’t want a minivan and are only willing to consider either a Honda Pilot or Toyota Highlander are missing out on a very nice interior, much cleaner and classier outside styling, and many, many features for the price. After over 1,200 miles with it, I can write the Pathfinder is an excellent vehicle for driving long distances. What I can’t write is whether four millennials can tough out 1,200 miles as passengers in a Pathfinder, which in hindsight, is for the best. Otherwise I’d be writing this review with a hoarse voice.

Satish Kondapavulur is a writer for Clunkerture, where about a fifth of the articles are about old cars and where his one-time LeMons racing dreams came to an end once he realized it was impossible to run a Ferrari Mondial. He’s still proud and amazed of the fuel economy numbers he achieved with the Pathfinder.

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2015 Chevrolet Trax: Reviewed! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/2015-chevrolet-trax-reviewed/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/2015-chevrolet-trax-reviewed/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 14:00:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=996354   The plan was simple. Fly into New York City at some ungodly hour, a time when only drunks and degenerates are still awake. Drive to Massachusetts. The wedding, my buddy Jay’s, with whom I grew up in Boy Scouts, started that evening. Drive back to New York. Fly back to LA at 9pm. Land […]

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The plan was simple. Fly into New York City at some ungodly hour, a time when only drunks and degenerates are still awake. Drive to Massachusetts. The wedding, my buddy Jay’s, with whom I grew up in Boy Scouts, started that evening. Drive back to New York. Fly back to LA at 9pm. Land at some ungodly terrible hour, thereby earning my jet-set stripes: from the Best Coast to the Beast Coast, sneering at flyover country the entire way. How trendy!


People were freaking out about the impending blizzard that I was flying into: twenty feet of snow, roads clogged with snowdrifts, cars abandoned in the street, New Yorkers huddled around barrels for warmth. Cats and dogs living together, you know. But it was not to be. By the time our flight landed, the mercury had risen to a positively balmy 35 degrees—any impending doom snow had conveniently turned itself to rain. The sort of thing East Coasters just shrug off underneath our Burlington Coat Factory peacoats. It was 5am. The world was aglow in amber, and the air was crisp yet warm, and I was landing with probably two hours of sleep—but there was to be no sleep til Brooklyn, so I climbed into the bright orange Trax LTZ AWD and set off.

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The Trax is a quiet little thing, for the most part. The engine doesn’t speak unless spoken to, and its 1.4-liter turbocharged four-banger musters 138 slightly frazzled horses. But there’s precious little sound deadening from below. And in the waning hours before the snowplows, every invisible chunk of ice explodes in the wheelwells like a landmine, ka-pinging across the cabin…

There’s an expansive view out of the windshield, coupled with an absurdly upright seating position where your legs will form perfect 90-degree angles, just the way your Catholic schoolteachers intended. But the headlights, for some reason, are painfully dim. And small side mirrors are strangely shaped, and 18-wheelers to disappear in the Trax’s blind spots—somewhere out there is one such truck, headed to Massachusetts, who helped remake Duel within the span of an on-ramp.

The Trax’s steering is full of feedback, building resistance evenly, a pleasant surprise. So too is the ride, nicely controlled and cushy. You can shift your own gears, but you wouldn’t want to. The Hydra-Matic 6T40 automatic moves slowly through six gears, via a dorky button on the side of the shifter: all the power and control, in your thumb! GM loves that, for some reason, in the Trax’s only transmission. Rowing your own is so passé.

For smartphone obsessives, there is one USB port tucked away in the upper glovebox. There’s no good place to put your phone where you can see it. This is a problem, because Chevy’s MyLink runs navigation from a smartphone app. It’s called BringGo. And it costs 99 cents, which might not seem much, but still smacks of nitpicky hidden fees: “I already paid for the car, now I gotta pay for this?

This press photo of the Chevy Trax shows all of the fun places where you can misplace spare change, iPhone cables, and half-empty tubes of ChapStick.

This press photo of the Chevy Trax shows all of the fun places where you can misplace spare change, iPhone cables, and half-empty tubes of ChapStick.

The lack of phone visibility is a strike against the supposedly car-hating #millennials to whom GM must grovel. The rest of the interior is straightforward, yet strangely forced: no armrest, sure, but two weird cubbyholes on either side of the center vents, which look like vents themselves, but are instead destined to store loose change and loose rectangles of Trident gum and not much else. Sonic-ish motorcycle-aping gauges make a welcome appearance. The steering wheel is wrapped in smooth leather, but the seats are faux leather, grippy cloth evidently too plebian for eager-to-impress, moneyed types buying Chevrolet’s cheapest CUV. The Bose sound system, however, is bitchin’—sharp and punchy, especially for 90s hip-hop.

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By 8am I was in Carroll Gardens, getting a coffee and a #saturdaymorningbagelrun sandwich with whitefish and smoked salmon, which shall all go on the record, Your Honor. (It was an “everything” bagel. No more questions.) For this urban-hopping business, the Trax is quite good. It’s easy to park and has a great turning radius, both boons to the snowed-in New Yorker who has a full 24-hour weekend solely reserved for standing in line to get brunch—the two-hour wait for the still-hungover Manhattan- or Brooklynite, compounded into various Bennies and unlimited mimosas, an epicurean wonder that lasts until 2pm and a good three meals.

#saturdaymorningbagelrun

A photo posted by Jeff (@jeffjablansky) on

I didn’t have time for this. I still had three good hours of driving, in shaky weather, to get through. So around 10am I jumped back into the Trax and headed up I-95 through Connecticut, where the snow was still falling. But the storm gathered a second wind by Massachusetts, and the fresh powder was racing the snowplows on the freeways—and, truth be told, the Trax doesn’t inspire very much confidence when the snow starts falling…

A photo posted by Blake Z. Rong (@bzrong) on

The front wheels tug at every little bit of slush, following like an excited bloodhound, and the steering wheel pulls accordingly. The AWD system is fairly rudimentary, sending half the torque to the rear wheels only when needed. (At $1,500, it’s Chevrolet’s cheapest AWD option.) LTZ also adds heated seats. So even if one were to buy a Trax as a winter beater, as I suspect an adolescent New Englander will in ten years to deliver pizzas to used-car lots, one minor detail prevents it from being weather-ready: the wipers don’t flip up. I readily noticed this when pulling into a parking lot of Harrington Farm, in the foothills of Wa-Wa-Wachusett Mountain, packed full of Subarus with their blades turned skyward like anti-aircraft guns. How more New England does that get?

Alright dogg let's get MARRIED! Let's get married to a LADY!

Alright dogg let’s get MARRIED! Let’s get married to a LADY!

“We ah gathahed heah today,” said the officiant, “heaht to heaht, foah the union of Jess and Jay—” Jay, it must be noted, had become an Eagle Scout with me, who once owned a Pontiac GTO and a Subaru Legacy Spec B, in that order. I’m never going to own anything front-wheel drive, he swore over margaritas the week before. That to me sounded like a good goal to have—to have and to hold, in sickness and in health.

The cutting of the ice cream cake. Because ice cream cake is awesome.

Ice cream cake is awesome.

The next day, I drove back to New York. I filled up on the way back and found 24 miles per gallon, most of which was bounding down freeways. (The AWD Trax is rated at 24/31 mpg, city/highway.) That’s what happens, I suppose, when Connecticut drivers will curb-stomp you below 75mph while the AWD system adds 400 pounds to a car resembling a squishy shoebox.

That Sunday night, I flew on a redeye to Los Angeles. (“JFK->LAX: #TodaysOffice,” and all that.) The next day, the real blizzard hit.

Before I left, I eyeballed the sticker on my LTZ, AWD Trax: $27,995.

Twenty-eight thousand Tricky Dick Fun Buxx for a plasticky, uncharismatic Sonic that resembles a children’s toy and deserves to be $5,000 cheaper, at most—that’s what it comes down to. That’s what you get for over $300 per month. It just so happens that immediately after my time with the Trax, two other young, #hip, #activelifestyle #millennials spent time with it. Jablansky drove a red one. Patrick George of Jalopnik drove an orange one. The exact same one as me, down to the window sticker, but Texas-plated. “You can do better,” George noted, before concluding: ” I’m sure the Trax will sell in respectable numbers, possibly even great ones. But I can’t say it’s a great choice to make.”

Jablansky spoke in similar terms. “Gutless,” he said, “and way overpriced. The Trax is dumpy, like a summer camp girlfriend: she’s durable but kind of flimsy. But Becca didn’t have AWD.”

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We all know the refrain, from our mouths to God’s ears: “there are no bad cars anymore.” No, there are no bad cars: twenty, thirty years ago, the only people brave enough to drive a Korean-built car through a snowstorm would be serial killers, presumably on the way to their next victims. But believe me, there is plenty of mediocrity, sheer and yawning mediocrity, and plenty of mediocre cars that leave no impression in its users, nothing particularly negative and certainly nothing positive. Mediocrity is the enemy of the car enthusiast, but it is also the bane of the daily driver. It is insidious to spend the second most amount of money anyone will shell out in a lifetime, on a car that doesn’t do anything particularly well.

Competent but never confidence inspiring, the Trax reflects the notion that sometimes, mediocrity is more expensive than you ever expected.

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Acura Mulling Sub-RDX Crossover http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/acura-mulling-sub-rdx-crossover/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/acura-mulling-sub-rdx-crossover/#comments Thu, 05 Feb 2015 15:25:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=994042 While Acura is making a renewed push on the passenger car side, with the TLX and a thoroughly refreshed ILX, the brand’s crossovers are arguably its strongest offerings. But there’s little room for growth above the three-row MDX, meaning Acura has only one way to go if they want to expand their offerings. Speaking to Ward’s […]

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2016 Honda HR-V

While Acura is making a renewed push on the passenger car side, with the TLX and a thoroughly refreshed ILX, the brand’s crossovers are arguably its strongest offerings. But there’s little room for growth above the three-row MDX, meaning Acura has only one way to go if they want to expand their offerings.

Speaking to Ward’s Auto, American Honda Executive Vice President John Mendel said that Acura was currently studying a version of Honda’s new HR-V crossover, which is the same size as vehicles like the Buick Encore and BMW X1.

Aside from a new offering in the North American market, the addition of a small crossover would be a big boost for the brand in markets like China and Russia, where CUVs, particularly small ones, are all the rage. Presumably, the business case for such a vehicle isn’t so tough to make. Finding production capacity might be a different matter. While the HR-V is built in Honda’s all-new plant in Mexico, the HR-V is destined to be a hot seller. An Acura version will bring higher profit margins, but could also put a crimp on volume.

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Capsule Review: 2015 Buick Encore http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/capsule-review-2015-buick-encore/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/capsule-review-2015-buick-encore/#comments Wed, 04 Feb 2015 14:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=989690 Against all odds, the Buick Encore has managed to sell in fairly decent numbers. Despite looking like a four-wheeled rollerskate, Buick’s trucklet moved nearly 49,000 units in 2014, up from roughly 31,000 during its debut in 2013. Part of the Encore’s success must be attributed to the fact that it was the first to show […]

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Against all odds, the Buick Encore has managed to sell in fairly decent numbers. Despite looking like a four-wheeled rollerskate, Buick’s trucklet moved nearly 49,000 units in 2014, up from roughly 31,000 during its debut in 2013. Part of the Encore’s success must be attributed to the fact that it was the first to show up to the party. The small CUV craze is only just heating up now in America, and the Encore is arguably the premiere (in terms of chronology, not quality) premium entrant in the segment. Demand is strong enough that GM has expanded production to two plants (Mexico and Spain as well as the initial Korean location) and will import 50 percent more units versus last year.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why. The Encore is one of the worst cars I’ve driven in a long time.

Ok, to be fair, there is a case to made for an Encore – a flimsy one – but it does exist. According to Automotive News, the Encore is a hit with empty-nesters who are between the ages of 45 and 65 and looking to downsize. This is right in the sweet spot for Buick’s demographic, and the Encore lets buyers have the comfort of a CUV (the ride height, the ease of entry and exit) in a compact package that’s easy to park and maneuver. Seriously, it’s not half bad to steer around, owing to its Chevy Sonic roots.

The steering is light but responsive and the chassis seemed, dare I say it, agile, while providing a comfortable, utterly silent ride. The Buick version of MyLink isn’t bad either. Not as good as UConnect, but so much better than Cadillac’s CUE system, and right around the same level as the new MyFord Touch system. And that’s about it. And really, that’s probably all that the target buyer is looking for. From any other perspective. The rest of the car is an absolute mess.

The Encore could very well be GM’s ugliest car since the Aztek. It’s difficult to make a vehicle with the proportions of a roller skate look attractive, but the Buick-appropriate levels of chrome (including the wheels, grille and ventiports) make the car look like a four-wheeled approximation of an apple-shaped, post-rehab Liza Minelli sashaying in a sequined evening gown. Inside isn’t much better. The materials and surfaces deserve some credit, but GM’s approach to the center stack appears to be “stick all of the buttons, everywhere”.

In concept, this isn’t a bad idea. Older buyers are more likely to gravitate to tactile controls rather than complicated touch screens. In execution, it rarely works (Acura is also guilty of this on the last generation TL, for example), since there are so many functions on modern cars that a button-based user interface ends up looking cluttered and haphazard. In the Encore, they don’t feel very good either. For a $32,000 car, it’s not much better than what you’d find in a $14,000 Sonic, and no amount of faux-stitching on the dashboard panels can make up for that.

The Encore’s chassis and 1.4T engine are worthy of merit on their own, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. With a curb weight of 3200 lbs, 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft is simply not going to cut it – especially when the power is delivered by GM’s 6-speed automatic. This unit, which appears on a wide range of transverse-layout cars, is a wretched one. Shifts occur in what seem to be geological ages, and it only serves to exacerbate what should be “plain old underpowered” into a situation where 60 mph comes up in over 10 seconds. It’s not particularly smooth or conducive to outstanding fuel economy either. While the EPA rates the Encore AWD at 23/30/26 mpg city/highway/combined, you’ll end up hammering the gas to make any reasonable forward progress – about the worst thing you can do for a turbo engine. Replacing the transmission would be one of the best things GM can do for its entire lineup, and would go a long way to redeem the Encore. Not even a Trifecta Tune can solve this problem. It looks like GM is considering a larger engine as well.

As a crossover, the Encore doesn’t hold up particularly well either. At 18.8 cubic feet of cargo room (48.4 cubic feet with the seats down), it’s not particularly spacious. Honda’s HR-V has 24.3 feet of space for stuff with the seats up, and an additional 10 feet over the Encore when the seats are down. At best, the Encore is built for four. You can forget about stuffing an adult in the rear middle seat, and anybody over 6 feet is going to have a miserable time on anything approaching a long trip.

Our tester, a fully loaded AWD model, stickered at $32,000. That’s big money for a tiny crossover with a barely premium badge and equipment that is shared with lesser GM models. If I were to invoke the hyperbolic prose that journalists tend to fall back on, I’d question why anyone bought this car (particularly when there’s the Jetta Sportwagen blah blah blah). But I get it. Even though it’s not very good at doing anything particularly well, there’s a growing demographic of older, affluent buyers who want something with the ride height of a CUV and the footprint of a smaller car and the soft, quiet driving experience of a luxury car. The Encore fills that niche. When placed in the wider context of the automotive market, it starts to look silly.

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Reader Review: 2015 BMW X3 28i http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/reader-review-2015-bmw-x3-28i/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/reader-review-2015-bmw-x3-28i/#comments Sat, 31 Jan 2015 17:30:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=991458 If you’ve been around the automotive journalism long enough (and by long enough, I mean like three months in total), you’ll begin to realize that a lot of press vehicles you drive aren’t indicative of what most people actually buy. Most test vehicles have five figures worth of options, with features that at most, an […]

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X3 Exterior

If you’ve been around the automotive journalism long enough (and by long enough, I mean like three months in total), you’ll begin to realize that a lot of press vehicles you drive aren’t indicative of what most people actually buy. Most test vehicles have five figures worth of options, with features that at most, an auto journalist will expend 50 words on. Meanwhile, on lots across the country, most dealers probably have one or two very loaded cars which end up being discounted heavily towards the end of the quarter.

My experience of full-optioned press cars had to do with a silver BMW 335i xDrive Gran Turismo at a local auto journalist event. While the base price of the car was $47,775, this car had almost $12,000 in options, or enough to buy an E36 M3 in good condition. “Let’s give it the more powerful engine, all-wheel-drive, the dynamic handling package, and the M Sport package” the person in charge of configuring the 3-Series GT must have thought, “at least auto journalists will say it handled very well and forget about the styling.” This car even had head-up display and the $650 M Sport brakes.

Even when I was searching for road tests of the X3 online, I good majority were reviews of the powerful xDrive35i version or for the new diesel model. So when I had access to a 2015 X3 xDrive28i for a few days, I leapt at the opportunity to write a review on it, because it was the version most X3 buyers purchased.

Now, this 2015 BMW X3 xDrive28i that I’m writing about is not a vehicle designated for press people. In fact, it belongs to my dad, and while he chose the color combination, I chose most of the options. As a result, I can’t blame whoever specs BMW’s press vehicles. So the fact it doesn’t have the navigation system, which saves me a paragraph describing it? My fault. That it doesn’t have heated seats? My lapse. The fact that it doesn’t have parking sensors or a rear-view camera? My bad. The fact that I still don’t know what the $500 “Enhanced USB/Bluetooth with Smartphone Integration” option does? I really need to get on that.

As for the things I am proud of, it’s the Deep Sea Blue exterior color and Oyster color interior. (A quick note on the Oyster leather: it’s surprisingly easy to stain, so be careful when wearing jeans or leaving a pen on the seat.) This one also has the Premium Package with a massive moonroof and keyless entry, the xenon lights, and the Harman/Kardon sound system. And all of it was available at an MSRP south of $50K.

Before reading the rest of the review, you might think, “He must have recommended this car to his dad if he’s writing about it! This is totally going to be a love story about the X3!” Believe it or not, I recommended the Jeep Grand Cherokee Ecodiesel, as a very well-equipped one came in easily under $50,000, got good fuel mileage, and I thought it handled very well for its size. But my dad drove it and dismissed it as too big.

Other cars considered were Lexus RX (too soccer mom-ish), Toyota 4Runner (too truck-ish), Toyota Highlander (this is for replacing the minivan). The Mercedes GLK, Audi Q5, and Range Rover Evoque were dismissed as my dad is a BMW person. (For background, the man kept an E39 530i running for 13 years, which is two more than the 1990 Accord he had.) I don’t think he drove any of those alternatives, and neither have I, so I won’t definitively say the X3 is the best out of all those alternatives.

First, I’ll focus on the interior, which is about the same size as the interior of the first-generation X5. It’s a pleasant place with chrome accents and wood trim in the right places. The Oyster interior helps considerably too. The cupholders are usable, which is important when coming from a car in which both cupholders (if you can call them those) are broken. The panoramic moonroof that’s part of the Premium package was great for the scenic photos when driving down Highway 1. In fact, the X3 managed to easily fit five adults and their luggage for a weekend. Moreover, the Harmon/Kardon sound system is a pretty good upgrade from the normal sound system.

However, if you’re over 6”3’, more than 200 pounds, and might need a third seat, don’t consider the X3. Otherwise, when sitting in the driver’s seat, your head will hit the ceiling and you’ll probably find the seat not wide enough. Additionally, while I wrote in the last paragraph that the X3 could seat 3 full-size adults, just make sure the cumulative weight doesn’t exceed 500 pounds. And if you’re a family of four who takes their dog with them on road trips, the X3 is not your car.

Though the options list is long, there’s surprisingly (for a BMW) a lot of standard features. The storage package, which includes cargo nets, a collapsible cargo box, and a reversible mat, is standard. So is the automatic climate control. Even the ambient lighting that I praised is standard. The tailgate and side mirrors are power-operated. However, the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel is not power-operated, which coming from the 530i, was a disappointment.

Whenever I discuss the exterior, I generally don’t focus too much on styling. But the X3 was facelifted for the 2015 model year, with most of the differences being on the front clip, with the headlights that connect to the grille. BMW offers two appearance packages: the xLine package and the M Sport body kit. Personally, I don’t like the look of the M Sport package (or sport packages in general), while the xLine has the silver trim bits for the faux off-roader look, which I don’t mind. There are also turn signals on the side mirrors. One thing I did like was the exterior lighting beneath the door handles when getting into the car. BMW got the ambient lighting very, very right. Also, the X3 comes with the foot sensor as standard

Regarding performance, I didn’t push the X3 to its limits because a) it belongs to my dad and not BMW of North America, and b) it has less than 1400 miles on the odometer so the drivetrain still needed to be broken in. It has a 2.0-liter inline-four with a twin-scroll turbo that makes about 240 hp. According the BMW website, it can go from 0 to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds, which is quicker than the 530i it’s replacing. On the highway, I never found myself complaining about lack of power, even when it was fully loaded with five people. If you need something faster, the xDrive35i with 300 horsepower is about $5,000 more.

I briefly played with the different powertrain modes, which were: Comfort, Sport, and Eco Pro. Eco Pro makes the X3 rear-drive only and ensures the transmission is in the highest gear possible for the best mileage. I found myself using it in high traffic situations, where quick throttle response wasn’t needed. Sport mode sharpened up throttle response, but I found myself never using it and suspect most owners won’t either. Usually I drove the X3 in its default mode, Comfort, in which I didn’t need to press the throttle closer to the floor and when all-wheel-drive was on.

For those of you contemplating the diesel version of the 2015 X3 (the xDrive28d model), I considered that one too. In fact, I even put a deposit on one until we were informed that Hawaii (no joke!) was allocated the last X3 diesel build slots for a 2014 delivery. However, since the diesel is $1,500 more expensive and the price of premium gas has gone down significantly, the normal xDrive28i is a viable alternative. Also, my dad test drove the diesel X3 (while I was in the back seat playing with the air vents) and found the power deficit noticeable compared to the normal version and noisy at lower speeds.

Ultimately, if you have $50,000 to spend on a luxury five-passenger crossover, you can’t go wrong with the X3. When we were buying the X3 at the end of last year, it became easier to find a 7-Series in a dealer’s inventory in Northern California than any version of the X3. It was even easier to find an Audi S4 than an X3. They’re that popular. So BMW must be doing something right with the X3 (or they’re exporting more abroad for higher profits, or the X4 took up a good portion of the assembly line) that people are snapping them up left and right.

In the end, I understand why. The xDrive28i is surprisingly well-priced as long as you don’t go overboard with the options.  It handles nicely, can accelerate quickly, has a pleasant interior, has four years of free maintenance, and can take a lot of cargo. My dad, and not me, made an excellent decision, and neither of us have any regrets. Except for the “Enhanced USB/Bluetooth with Smartphone Integration” option. I still haven’t figured that one out.

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Satish Kondapavulur is a writer for Clunkerture, where about a fifth of the articles are about old cars and where his one-time LeMons racing dreams came to an end, once he realized it was impossible to run a Ferrari Mondial. He still prefers the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel.

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Capsule Review: 2015 Jeep Renegade http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/capsule-review-2015-jeep-renegade/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/capsule-review-2015-jeep-renegade/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 15:00:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=987530 When the Jeep Renegade made its official debut at the 2014 Geneva Auto Show, I initially described it as “… a Panda 4×4 dressed up in Carhartt jeans and Red Wing boots.” With a Fiat platform, powertrain and assembly plant, the Renegade isn’t the first CUV to come from the Fiat Chrysler braintrust – but […]

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When the Jeep Renegade made its official debut at the 2014 Geneva Auto Show, I initially described it as “… a Panda 4×4 dressed up in Carhartt jeans and Red Wing boots.”

With a Fiat platform, powertrain and assembly plant, the Renegade isn’t the first CUV to come from the Fiat Chrysler braintrust – but represents the most ambitious attempt to create a global crossover suitable for all markets. And it’s also FCA’s best effort yet.

The Alfa Romeo – excuse, Compact U.S. Wide – platform underpinning the Jeep Cherokee ended up providing the mid-size Jeep with some sub-optimal packaging characteristics, namely inadequate rear seat space and a dearth of cargo room. While I happened to like the controversial styling, the Cherokee’s look polarized many observers. For the Renegade, Jeep has played it safe, with a slab-sided exterior that looks like a “super-deformed” version of a Wrangler Unlimited.

Although the Renegade’s footprint is about the same size as a Nissan Juke or Kia Soul (which FCA had on hand as competitive vehicles), the Renegade is far heavier. While the Juke weighs in on either side of 3,000 lbs depending on spec, the Renegade starts at 3,300 lbs, and can approach 3,500 lbs at its heftiest. And you feel every additional pound behind the wheel.

In a vacuum, it’s not such a bad thing. The extra el-bees lend a substantial feel to the car, which makes it feel like a more solid vehicle than a B-segment crossover that shares a common ancestor with the less-than-stellar Fiat 500L. Half of the drive route consisted of winding, Northern California backroads, which we tackled in a fairly simple 1.4T equipped Latitude FWD model. While the 6-speed Renegade is no speed demon, it felt as lively and responsive as a Nissan Juke – which is a pretty fun vehicle in its own right. The long, EPA-optimized gearing of the 6-speed box means constant shifting between second and third to keep the buzzy little 1.4 motor on the boil, but it only adds to the fun of whipping the boxy little Jeep through switchbacks. The clutch is easy enough to modulate and the shifter is decidedly mid-pack in the “transverse shift quality” sweepstakes.

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Driving the Renegade was such a hoot that I completely forgot to take pictures of the interior. The photo above, borrowed from Auto Express, shows what a well-equipped Renegade looks like on the inside. You will get a smaller version of UConnect, and Cherokee-like HVAC knobs and an electronic parking brake. Lower trim models get a more stripped down version of UConnect, with a less intricate display unit. Both of our demos had light fabric interiors which were quite handsome, especially when paired with the earth tone exterior colors. Avoid the black and heavier hues, lest you be mistaken for a Patriot owner.

The other half of the drive route was set up on an off-road course at California’s Hollister Hills State Vehicle Recreation Area. In addition to the 2.4L/9-speed Renegade, we also took out a Soul, a Juke, (both of which had been tested not long ago) and a Buick Encore. And holy hell does the Jeep feel like a porker. Despite handling the twisty roads with aplomb, the weight penalty over the competition (including the 3200 lb Encore) was immediately noticeable when getting out of the AWD 2.4L Renegade. Between the need for a diesel engine, a stout, Trail Rated 4×4 system, five-star crash test ratings on multiple continents and the appropriate “macho” looks, FCA engineers had to juggle numerous competing requirements that conceivably led to the Renegade weighing as much as 200 lbs more than a brand new Honda CR-V. Still it’s hard to wrap your head around such a porky figure for a B-segment CUV.

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While Jeep laid out two different off-road courses for us to test the Renegade Trailhawk on, it’s difficult to evaluate its prowess, namely because I’m a city kid who thinks that a gravel driveway calls for switching into 4WD. With a five-mode selector switch and a first-gear low range (ala the Cherokee Trailhawk), the automatic only Trailhawk version of the Renegade easily handled the rocks and whoops on the Jeep designed course. A more qualified off-road driver is a better source of impartial information. On road, the 9-speed seems to have become a smoother, more civilized gearbox than the frenetic iterations found in other FCA vehicles.

Starting at $17,995 for a bare bones Sport (and we’re talking A/C as an option), the Renegade slots in between the $16,995 Patriot and the $18,995 Compass, which are vastly outdated, less visually appealing both inside and out, and likely unable to match the Renegade’s off-road abilities. But they represent a greater hurdle for the Renegade, even more so than the Juke, the Soul or any of the upcoming compact CUVs from Honda, Mazda and Chevrolet. Just as the qualitatively inferior Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger torpedoed sales of the Dart, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where heavy incentives and a dealer body eager to move the older CUVs could push prospective buyers into a Patriot or Compass – especially if they want an automatic vehicle but don’t want to pony up for the 2.4/9-Speed versions. Assuming the two older vehicles are phased out (or replaced by a single model), volumes in the USA should rise from our initial estimates of between 60,000-70,000 units. FCA didn’t mention a number during their briefings, but that’s our best guess.

In any case, North America is hardly the most important market for the Renegade. China, India, Brazil, Russia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East…these are the locales where the Renegade must really make it happen for Jeep. The B-Segment CUV is the hottest segment in the world market, and the combination of Fiat diesel engines, Jeep styling and brand image and a global manufacturing base will help the Renegade achieve FCA’s long desired push to turn Jeep into a global SUV brand – and a premium one at that. Don’t bet against it.

 

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Ssangyong Making Moves Towards US Market Launch http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/ssangyong-making-moves-towards-us-market-launch/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/ssangyong-making-moves-towards-us-market-launch/#comments Wed, 24 Dec 2014 13:00:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=964530 Ssangyong has trademarked two nameplates in America, ostensibly in preparation for an American launch. Consumer Reports claims that the two models will be known as the Tivoli (the small SUV shown above) and the Luvent (a compact car based on the same platform). The Tivoli will launch in the South Korean market in January at […]

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Ssangyong has trademarked two nameplates in America, ostensibly in preparation for an American launch.

Consumer Reports claims that the two models will be known as the Tivoli (the small SUV shown above) and the Luvent (a compact car based on the same platform).

The Tivoli will launch in the South Korean market in January at the equivalent price of $15,000 with a six-speed manual transmission; a six-speed automatic transmission will add about $1,500 to the cost. The base two-wheel drive Tivoli will come with a 125-hp, 1.6-liter  gasoline engine. All-wheel drive and a 1.6-liter diesel variant will be available as part of Ssangyong’s build plan. 

Standard safety features in the South Korean market will include seven air bags, electronic stability control, brake assist, hill start assist, and seat-belt pretensioners. If extreme brake force is applied, the car will automatically illuminate the emergency flashers in the rear taillamp cluster. About 40 percent of the car’s body will be made of advanced high-strength steel.

Although Ssangyong’s target markets have been in Central America, Eastern Europe, Africa, China, and India, the Tivoli was designed with U.S. crash and emissions certification in mind, Ssangyong sources told Consumer Reports.

While CR notes that Ssangyong has trademarked names in the past without ever making an appearance in America, there have been sustained rumors about a launch for the brand. The brand itself, backed by Mahindra, would likely change its name to sound less Korean.

 

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VW Inches Closer To Badly Needed Crossover http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/vw-inches-closer-badly-needed-crossover/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/vw-inches-closer-badly-needed-crossover/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 17:15:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=958305 After throwing enthusiasts a few wagon-shaped bones at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Volkswagen is set to debut the long-roof product that really matters for the auto maker’s American division: a crossover. A concept version of a future Tennessee-built crossover is set to debut at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show. Unlike the high-end Touraeg and the […]

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After throwing enthusiasts a few wagon-shaped bones at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Volkswagen is set to debut the long-roof product that really matters for the auto maker’s American division: a crossover.

A concept version of a future Tennessee-built crossover is set to debut at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show. Unlike the high-end Touraeg and the compact Tiguan, the future CUV will be a traditional five and seven seat affair, like a Ford Explorer or a Honda Pilot.

A VW CUV may be anathema to the enthusiast idea of VW as a purveyor of Euro-diesels and GTI hatchbacks, but the CUV represents a way to fill a glaring hole in VW’s American lineup, which is not getting much traction in a constantly-growing American car market.

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Quote Of The Day: The Sports Car Is Dead http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/quote-day-sports-car-dead/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/quote-day-sports-car-dead/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 17:04:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=944129 “The sports car market is roughly half of what it used to be,” Ian Robertson, BMW’s head of sales, said in an interview at the manufacturer’s headquarters in Munich. “Post-2008, it just collapsed. I’m not so sure it’ll ever fully recover.” Speaking to Automotive News, Robertson noted that SUVs and crossovers have replaced the sports car’s […]

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“The sports car market is roughly half of what it used to be,” Ian Robertson, BMW’s head of sales, said in an interview at the manufacturer’s headquarters in Munich. “Post-2008, it just collapsed. I’m not so sure it’ll ever fully recover.”

Speaking to Automotive News, Robertson noted that SUVs and crossovers have replaced the sports car’s function as a status symbol, while emerging markets tended to gravitate towards large sedans that one can be driven in.

While those of us who love driving will scoff at the notion that a CUV could ever replace a sports car as the most desirable automobile, market data has shown that the CUV is the most desirable body style not just in North America, but in many emerging markets – in both locales, it serves as a symbol of affluence and high status, despite what we may consider to be inferior attributes vis a vis a passenger car.

The other factor is that driving conditions have changed. Increased congestion, urbanization and a demonization of speeding (backed by harsh, if not draconian penalties) has made the notion of a sports car an outmoded one for many people. Even the latest 991 Porsche 911 GT3 has abandoned the manual transmission. And while Porsche claims this was done in the name of technological advancement, let’s not fool ourselves: it was a careful, calculated move designed to appeal to the poseur who wants the GT3 because of its racing heritage, despite never intending to take it on track, much less above 60 mph.

 

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Capsule Review: 2015 BMW X1 28i http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/capsule-review-2015-bmw-x1-28i/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/capsule-review-2015-bmw-x1-28i/#comments Mon, 10 Nov 2014 19:13:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=941049 At a base price of $30,900, the BMW X1 is the cheapest new vehicle you can buy with a Roundel. That price tag, as well as the crossover body style and a lack of a manual transmission, hasn’t endeared the X1 to the BMW faithful, or the enthusiast crowd. When a friend of mine asked […]

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At a base price of $30,900, the BMW X1 is the cheapest new vehicle you can buy with a Roundel. That price tag, as well as the crossover body style and a lack of a manual transmission, hasn’t endeared the X1 to the BMW faithful, or the enthusiast crowd.

When a friend of mine asked for suggestions for a compact CUV, I initially suggested segment favorites like the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5. She ended up stopping by the BMW dealer, drawn in by the heavily subsidized lease deals and the idea of driving something with a roundel on the hood.

She ended up walking away with the X1 shown above: a 28i xDrive model with the Technology Package, Driver Assistance Package, Panoramic Moonroof and heated front seats. A $32,700 CUV (base price for an AWD X1) suddenly rang up to $41,720. A backup camera, front and rear parking senors, navigation, Satellite radio and wood trim are just some of the items that you have to pay extra for – and you still don’t get real leather (though the Sensatec leatherette is quite good). Of course, you have to pay to play if you want a German luxury vehicle (specifically, the badge that comes with it). At least the X1 has a value add. It’s still quite good to drive.

With its roots in the outgoing 3-Series, the X1 still feels, well, like a proper BMW, and not like the reasonable facsimile of a 3-Series that is the defining vehicle for this generation of Bimmer. Hydraulic power steering is still present on the all-wheel drive X1, though it’s not as heavy or direct as the E90 3-Series. Nevertheless, its far ahead of what one could expect from the F-Series 3 and 4-Series cars, which feel like a video game force feedback wheel in comparison.

The now-ubiquitous 2.0L turbocharged I4 and 8-speed automatic transmission are present on the X1, and while the N20 engine may lack the character of the much-loved I6, it delivers plenty of power. 240 horsepower is on tap, but with 260 lb-ft available from just 1250 rpm, the X1 never lacks forward motivation. The 8-speed transmission is a great match for this motor, delivering great fuel economy (on a trip from Indianapolis to Nashville, we just touched 29 mpg despite doing 70 mph on the Interstate) while also reacting with verve when a downshift was called for.

Dynamically, the X1 doesn’t seem to suffer from a slightly higher ride height and center of gravity. The culprit here appears to be the Goodyear Eagle LS run-flat tires, which I suspect impose an artificial ceiling on the car’s dynamic envelope. But for the target buyer, they do the job just fine. The ride is quiet and comfortable, and those interested in something more performance oriented can opt for the Sport package, which comes with a brawnier wheel and tire package (and likely, a harsher ride).

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As this graphic from Car and Driver shows, the X1 is dimensionally similar to the 328i wagon – but that doesn’t seem to insulate it from verbal barbs from the enthusiast community, which regards it with the same kind of disdain it tends to reserve for the Nissan Rogue. I’m not one to talk – I held that view until I actually drove the X1 and realized that it’s basically a wagon, but not marketed as such, lest the X1 become a commercial failure. I know that my friend feels the same way. She was all set to buy a Volvo V60, but as a new immigrant to the United States, she had no credit, and was thus given no lease or financing options. If that weren’t the case, she might have been one of a handful of people who bought a new Volvo station wagon. But now she’s behind the wheel of a BMW wagon, marketed as a crossover and sold for thousands of dollars less than a comparable 328i wagon. She’s as happy as I am impressed by the least expensive Bimmer. If only it had a manual.

The owner provided this vehicle to TTAC for the purposes of this review.

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Chevrolet’s Fleet Queen Abdicates The Throne http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/chevrolets-fleet-queen-abdicates-throne/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/chevrolets-fleet-queen-abdicates-throne/#comments Thu, 06 Nov 2014 12:00:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=941353 Chevrolet is ending American imports of the Captiva Sport, a fleet-only crossover that was popular with rental car companies. With the introduction of the Trax, Chevrolet no longer needs the Captiva Sport in its lineup. The Captiva was originally designed to pick up the slack of the Equinox, which was in tight supply when the […]

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Chevrolet is ending American imports of the Captiva Sport, a fleet-only crossover that was popular with rental car companies.

With the introduction of the Trax, Chevrolet no longer needs the Captiva Sport in its lineup. The Captiva was originally designed to pick up the slack of the Equinox, which was in tight supply when the Captiva Sport was introduced in 2011. Automotive News reports that the Trax, built in Korea, is expected to take up the position that the Captiva did, and also offer a third crossover option for Chevy’s retail customers.

Despite the enthusiast interest generated by the Captiva’s fleet-only status, the Captiva received two damning reviews from both Jack and Bark M.  On occasion, I’ve been offered a Captiva as an “upgrade” from my usual Escape or Impala at the Avis counter, and I’ve declined every single time, based on the condemnation of Jack and Bark. I may not get a chance to review a rental Captiva, but it doesn’t look like I’ll be missing much.

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Mazda Planning Product Onslaught For Los Angeles Auto Show http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/mazda-planning-product-onslaught-los-angeles-auto-show/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/mazda-planning-product-onslaught-los-angeles-auto-show/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 15:51:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=937106 Mazda will debut an all-new crossover, and facelifted versions of two of its most popular models at next month’s Los Angeles Auto Show. The CX-3 crossover, shown above, will be unveiled, alongside revised versions of the larger CX-5 crossover and the Mazda6 sedan. The CX-3 will be based on the Mazda2’s underpinnings, and compete with […]

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Mazda will debut an all-new crossover, and facelifted versions of two of its most popular models at next month’s Los Angeles Auto Show.

The CX-3 crossover, shown above, will be unveiled, alongside revised versions of the larger CX-5 crossover and the Mazda6 sedan. The CX-3 will be based on the Mazda2’s underpinnings, and compete with the Nissan Juke, Honda HR-V and other small crossovers.

The CX-3 is expected to get a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine, but will likely only be offered with all-wheel drive. The CX-5 and Mazda6 will get styling updates both inside and out, as well as a new infotainment system currently used on the Mazda3.

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American-Spec Honda HR-V Revealed http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/american-spec-honda-hr-v-revealed/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/american-spec-honda-hr-v-revealed/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 18:05:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=934570 As we learned last week, Honda’s first SUV wasn’t a Honda at all. Caught flat-footed by the SUV boom, Honda took some desperate measures to get bring something to market that had an “H” on the grille. While the CR-V came out at exactly the right time, Honda waited nearly a decade after the Passport’s […]

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As we learned last week, Honda’s first SUV wasn’t a Honda at all. Caught flat-footed by the SUV boom, Honda took some desperate measures to get bring something to market that had an “H” on the grille.

While the CR-V came out at exactly the right time, Honda waited nearly a decade after the Passport’s launch to come up with a large SUV. This time, they’re a little quicker in responding to the next wave of the SUV boom – the subcompact crossover.

The HR-V, already revealed as the “Vezel” in world markets, will go head to head with the Nissan Juke and Chevrolet Trax. Next month will bring the HR-V’s debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show, along with details on powertrain, equipment levels and maybe even pricing. Given the success of the CR-V and Pilot, it’s safe to assume that this will be a huge hit for Honda.

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The Narcissism Of Small Differences, Part 2 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/narcissism-small-differences-part-2/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/narcissism-small-differences-part-2/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 15:42:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=928161 Following our discussion on the difference between a CUV, a wagon and a hatchback, (and the ever blurring line between them), we got a note from AutoGuide.com‘s Mike Schlee, via our Facebook page. According to Schlee, even the GLA lineup is split amongst the designations. Schlee, who was at the GLA launch, claims that The […]

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Following our discussion on the difference between a CUV, a wagon and a hatchback, (and the ever blurring line between them), we got a note from AutoGuide.com‘s Mike Schlee, via our Facebook page. According to Schlee, even the GLA lineup is split amongst the designations.

Schlee, who was at the GLA launch, claims that

The GLA 45 AMG is actually classified as a car (hatchback) due to it’s lowered height and lower sitting bumpers. Mercedes was not allowed to classify it official as a ‘truck’ in the USA.

But the taller GLA 250 is classified as a ‘truck’ and is allowed to have crossover things like rear and side tinted windows.

So, there you have it. I never knew that the ubiquitous “privacy glass” was a”truck” only item, but that can easily be solved with a $200 trip to the tint shop.

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Question Of The Day: The Narcissism Of Small Differences http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/question-day-narcissism-small-differences/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/question-day-narcissism-small-differences/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 13:00:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=927562   “When you decide to be something, you can be it. That’s what they don’t tell you in the church. When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?” – Jack Nicholson, The Departed […]

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“When you decide to be something, you can be it. That’s what they don’t tell you in the church. When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?” – Jack Nicholson, The Departed

So why is the Mercedes-Benz GLA a crossover, and a Porsche Macan is a crossover, but something like a Mazda3 Sport is a hatchback?

Well, two reasons

  1. CAFE
  2. Calling something a crossover makes it sell. Calling it a wagon or a hatchback does the opposite.

This, of course, is the opposite of what happens in the strange, insular world of automotive enthusiasm. There is a reflexive hatred of anything CUV, even when the CUV in question, like the Mazda CX-5, drives better than some passenger cars. Or witness the gnashing of teeth that accompanied the Audi Allroad’s rise and the death of the Audi A4 Avant. Both vehicles drive like lifeless appliances for those who think a Toyota Venza is beneath their station in life. But the Allroad attracted the scorn of countless forum posters, even though the two cars are basically the same, minus some cladding and a raised ride height that has zero effect on handling dynamics.

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As tempting as it is to rail against the ill-informed knee-jerk disdain for crossovers, I’ll bring it back to the original question. What is the tangible difference between the GLA “crossover” and the Mazda3 Sport “hatchback”? Why does one raise the ire of enthusiasts merely by virtue of its classification (a discrete criticism on its own, rather than being lumped in with the idea of a front-drive, entry level Benz) while an identical car is lauded with Hossanas for carrying to hatchback/pseudo-wagon torch.

Over to you, B&B.

Photo Credit: Alex Nunez/Road & Track

*For the record, I think the base GLA is a cheap, nasty looking thing designed to fleece the terminally self-conscious out of their $299 each month. I’d take the Mazda3 all day, every day. But the 345 horsepower GLA45 AMG? Well, that’s another story.

**As far as the CUV hatred phenomenon goes:  You might think they are the worst attributes of an SUV and a car combined in one, but millions of Americans couldn’t care less, and have very rational reasons for buying them, nor are they in the grip of some false consciousness and in need of a vanguard to liberate their minds from the shackles of automotive marketing. Get over it, or start buying new station wagons in meaningful numbers again.

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Paris 2014: Renault Espace Crosses Over http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/paris-2014-renault-espace-crosses/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/paris-2014-renault-espace-crosses/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 19:58:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=924985 The latest victim (or beneficiary, depending on how you look at it) of the crossover craze currently captivating Europe is the Renault Espace, which has transformed from Europe’s first minivan to yet another two-box CUV. With 1.2 million versions of the Espace sold, Renault has a ton of equity in the nameplate. While Renault’s Dacia […]

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The latest victim (or beneficiary, depending on how you look at it) of the crossover craze currently captivating Europe is the Renault Espace, which has transformed from Europe’s first minivan to yet another two-box CUV.

With 1.2 million versions of the Espace sold, Renault has a ton of equity in the nameplate. While Renault’s Dacia brand and the subcompact Captur crossover have been huge hits for Renault, their large car business – including the now 11-year old Espace – has been lagging. Renault is hoping that the Espace will act as a de facto flagship for the brand, while also keeping current customers in the fold (a three-row version will remain on offer).

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The First Minivan Becomes The Next Crossover http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/first-minivan-becomes-next-crossover/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/first-minivan-becomes-next-crossover/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 13:12:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=922249 On October 3rd, 1984, American Motors announced that the Renault Espace would be imported to North America as an AMC product. 30 years later, the Escpace’s minivan heritage will come to an end. The Espace is to Europeans what the Chrysler minivans are to us – the first example of a modern, mass-produced minivan that […]

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On October 3rd, 1984, American Motors announced that the Renault Espace would be imported to North America as an AMC product. 30 years later, the Escpace’s minivan heritage will come to an end.

The Espace is to Europeans what the Chrysler minivans are to us – the first example of a modern, mass-produced minivan that set the standard for the entire segment. A front-drive, neatly packaged three-row people mover that proved to be far more modern than the Fiat Multipla or Volkswagen vans.

At this week’s Paris Auto Show, the Espace will be revealed, after undergoing a radical transformation. No longer a minivan, the Espace is now being marketed as a crossover. No more sliding doors or the distinctly French two-box profile that was a trademark of the Espace. The new version is a bling-bling pseudo-CUV with shades of CR-V in the D-pillar.

For Renault minivan customers, the Scenic will still be available. But the Espace, like the wildly successful Captur, is an attempt to give consumers more of what they want – in this case, crossovers – but with the people carrying abilities of the minivan (or MPV) body style.

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2015 Honda CR-V: Will it Hang On To Compact SUV Sales Crown? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/2015-honda-cr-v-will-hang-compact-suv-sales-crown/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/2015-honda-cr-v-will-hang-compact-suv-sales-crown/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 13:28:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=921713 The Honda CR-V has been the compact SUV sales champion for 7 of the past 10 years. But with competition in the segment heating up, Honda is hoping that their mid-cycle refresh will keep the CR-V attractive to buyers in the fastest-growing segment in the new car market. Styling tweaks aside, the CR-V gains a […]

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The Honda CR-V has been the compact SUV sales champion for 7 of the past 10 years. But with competition in the segment heating up, Honda is hoping that their mid-cycle refresh will keep the CR-V attractive to buyers in the fastest-growing segment in the new car market.

Styling tweaks aside, the CR-V gains a new direct-injection 2.4L engine. Horsepower is unchanged, but torque is up 11 percent to 181 lb-ft, while a CVT replaces the venerable 5-speed automatic gearbox. The interior has also undergone a restyling that adds a more modern look and what appear to be better materials.

As of September 1st, the CR-V led the Ford Escape by just under 10,000 units in year-to-date sales. The new mid-cycle changes should help put a bit more distance between the two vehicles, but the CR-V must also contend with new entrants like the Nissan Rogue, Jeep Cherokee and Subaru Forester, which are vying for market share in a segment ripe with conquest sales.

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Capsule Review: 2015 Lincoln MKC http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/capsule-review-2015-lincoln-mkc/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/capsule-review-2015-lincoln-mkc/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 18:38:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=917954 You all know the story by now. Journalist gets Lincoln. Lincoln has some obvious flaws. Journalist says some over the top (but accurate) things about Lincoln. Lincoln gets mad, pulls access. TTAC’s commenters step in to save the day. But the story isn’t over. In the 12 months since, Lincoln has been hard at work […]

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You all know the story by now. Journalist gets Lincoln. Lincoln has some obvious flaws. Journalist says some over the top (but accurate) things about Lincoln. Lincoln gets mad, pulls access. TTAC’s commenters step in to save the day. But the story isn’t over.

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In the 12 months since, Lincoln has been hard at work at their most critical launch since the MKZ. Other vehicles in their portfolio might be more important from a brand standpoint, but this is the four-wheeled ATM, the high-margin version of the Ford Escape that will lead a Lincoln renaissance among a crossover-crazed consumer set both in the United States and the all-important Chinese market.

The Fusion may have been a game changer in what we expect from mid-size sedan styling, but the MKZ didn’t move things forward in terms of value proposition. At the very least, the MKC offers some appreciable advantages over the regular Escape.

For starters, the interior is much nicer than either the rental-spec Escape I drove, or the higher grade Titanium versions I’ve seen while helping friends and family members shop for a new crossover. I still don’t like the push button gear shifter – it feels unnatural, and I instinctively reach for a gear shifter the same way that I find myself pressing on a phantom clutch pedal when I get in an automatic transmission vehicle.

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Everything else, from the response of the MyFord Touch system, to the fit and finish of the interior materials, to the paint work and the panel gaps, seemed to be far beyond what I last experienced with a Lincoln product. I invite readers to take a look at the MKC on dealer lots and let me know if they see anything unsavory. I plan on doing so in the near future.

Although the Ford 6-speed automatic has never been one of my favorite transmissions in the industry, the new 2.3L Ecoboost engine is a peach. Throttle response is crisp, lag is minimal and the power delivery is linear and strong through the rev range. Given that this engine needs to move 4,000 pounds of crossover, it should be more than enough to motivate the 2015 Mustang Ecoboost. Hit the “S” button, and the throttle mapping, shift points and the active dampers all heighten their responses. It’s a bit much for what is ostensibly a plush luxury SUV, but it adds to the MKC’s already impressive dynamics. Then again, the Escape is one of the better handling CUVs, and starting with strong bones always helps.

That also comes with downsides. Like the Escape, the MKC’s rear seats aren’t the most comfortable or the roomiest. Fuel economy, never a strong point with the Ecoboost engines, was rather poor, returning about 15 mpg in town and 23 mpg on the highway. As I’ve said before, there’s plenty of boost with Ford’s newest engines, but a dearth of “Eco”.

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Unfortunately, my time with the MKC was cut short, since Ford of Canada apparently needed the MKC back early for a charity event. I hope they weren’t afraid that a certain writer had gotten their hands on a Lincoln and was about to take it out behind the woodshed. The MKC may not be the best luxury crossover in its class, but it’s undoubtedly competitive – and that’s more than can be said for other products in its lineup. Not to mention, an encouraging sign for the future of the brand.

Ford of Canada provided the fuel, insurance and vehicle for the purposes of this review.

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Volkswagen’s American Phaeton Will Start At $70k, Will Surely Fail Again http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/volkswagens-american-phaeton-will-start-70k/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/volkswagens-american-phaeton-will-start-70k/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 15:15:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=916994 Hot on the heels of Volkswagen’s apparent plans for a Chinese-market luxury sedan, Automotive News is reporting that Volkswagen’s next-generation Phaeton, destined for the American market once again, will start at $70,000. According to AN, the next Phaeton will include a plug-in hybrid, as well as a V8 TDI engine. A W12 is also expected to make […]

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Hot on the heels of Volkswagen’s apparent plans for a Chinese-market luxury sedan, Automotive News is reporting that Volkswagen’s next-generation Phaeton, destined for the American market once again, will start at $70,000.

According to AN, the next Phaeton will include a plug-in hybrid, as well as a V8 TDI engine. A W12 is also expected to make a return, though this will likely not be sold in the United States.

Despite sorely needing a larger crossover and a refresh for key products like the Jetta, Volkswagen is persisting with their dream of selling a high-end sedan in the United States, at a price point that is encroaching on their premium marques like Audi and Porsche. The Phaeton, for all its engineering excellence, was a massive flop in the United States. 

On the other hand, the product VW most sorely needs in America, is conspicuously absent from their lineup, and VW has only just settled on where it will be produced, after a round of serious horse trading and internecine squabbling. The Phaeton, according to AN, has apparently been completed already, but VW seems content to continue the current car’s production run, owing to its popularity in China.

This, dear readers, is a great example of how the company continually seems to misunderstand the American market. Rather than get to work on plugging the biggest hole in its lineup, the company persists on a fool’s errand masquerading as a vanity project.

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Editorial: Cadillac Reversing Course On Crossovers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/editorial-cadillac-reversing-course-crossovers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/editorial-cadillac-reversing-course-crossovers/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 17:54:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=916490 This summer, we heard news that Cadillac was scrapping plans for a three-row crossover set to slot between the SRX and the Escalade. But according to new Cadillac head Johann De Nysschen, that vehicle might be back on the table, along with a slate of new products designed to raise the stature of Cadillac in […]

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This summer, we heard news that Cadillac was scrapping plans for a three-row crossover set to slot between the SRX and the Escalade. But according to new Cadillac head Johann De Nysschen, that vehicle might be back on the table, along with a slate of new products designed to raise the stature of Cadillac in the minds of a new generation of buyers.

In an interview with Automobile Magazine, De Nysschen outlined his vision for Cadillac over the next 10 to 15 years. Among the products De Nysschen talked about were two large sedans above the upcoming RWD flagship, a successor to the ELR plug-in hybrid, more performance variants and crucially, more crossovers.

Yes, I can hear the groans now, but even De Nysschen recognizes the need for more crossovers as a part of Cadillac’s lineup, stating

We only have two sport/utilities. It’s a sad day when the Germans have more crossovers than we. There’s clearly some room for us to do something between SRX and Escalade; I think there’s an opportunity even to do something sub-SRX.

 

De Nysschen clearly knows which way the wind is blowing. Cadillac wants to expand in the all important Chinese market, not to mention Western Europe and North America. A larger crossover and a sub-SRX model (ala the BMW X1, Audi Q3 or Mercedes-Benz GLA) is also a great way to bring in Millennial buyers, who De Nysschen expects to account for 50 percent of premium car purchases by the end of the decade. A larger crossover slotting between the SRX and Escalade is a no brainer, especially given the easily accessible Lambda architecture used by the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave. Such a vehicle will be a veritable ATM for Cadillac, and it’s shocking that the program was canned in the first place.

Like it or not, these two products alone will mean more for Cadillac than any number of rear-drive, V8 powered models. The automotive market is inexorably moving towards crossovers as the bodystyle of choice for global automotive consumers. But as we stated before, his grand plans are all contingent on GM getting out of his way and letting him do things his way: slowly, gradually, with a deliberate, focused effort on building Cadillac up into the brand that it needs to be.

 

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2015 Honda CR-V Gets New Look, New Transmission http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/2015-honda-cr-v-gets-new-look-new-transmission/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/2015-honda-cr-v-gets-new-look-new-transmission/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 14:23:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=916346 Our own Jack Baruth is full of praise for Honda’s CVT transmission, and it looks like the 2015 CR-V could be the next vehicle from the Big H to adopt it, replacing the 5-speed automatic gearbox. While Honda has released just a single photograph of the 2015 CR-V, we have it on good authority that […]

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Our own Jack Baruth is full of praise for Honda’s CVT transmission, and it looks like the 2015 CR-V could be the next vehicle from the Big H to adopt it, replacing the 5-speed automatic gearbox.

While Honda has released just a single photograph of the 2015 CR-V, we have it on good authority that the CVT will be part of the CR-V’s mid-cycle refresh. It’s unlikely that consumers will notice the changeover, despite the howls of protest from certain corners of the enthusiast community. And the CR-V is unlikely to lose its dominant spot on the top of the crossover sales charts.

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Fiat’s Renegade Revealed http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/fiats-renegade-revealed/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/fiats-renegade-revealed/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 15:29:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=913362   What you’re looking at is the Fiat 500X, the sister car to the Jeep Renegade and the most important Fiat-brand product in memory. This leaked shot of the new subcompact Fiat SUV shows what Fiat’s third North American vehicle will look like. Expect it to use the FCA 1.4L MultiAir Turbo 4-cylinder engine, along […]

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What you’re looking at is the Fiat 500X, the sister car to the Jeep Renegade and the most important Fiat-brand product in memory.

This leaked shot of the new subcompact Fiat SUV shows what Fiat’s third North American vehicle will look like. Expect it to use the FCA 1.4L MultiAir Turbo 4-cylinder engine, along with front or all-wheel drive (though it won’t be as rugged as the Renegade Trailhawk’s off-road oriented AWD).

Why is the 500X so crucial for Fiat? Simple. The Fiat brand is struggling globally – its push into the American market has been less than successful, and it has little traction outside of South America. Fiat recently idled its Serbian factory (which produces the 500L) due to weak demand, and American dealers are crying out for new product. The small crossover market is the one global bright spot in the automotive industry and this is Fiat’s chance to capture some market share in the segment. The Renegade might be a little too bold, brash or “American” for some consumers both at home and abroad. This is FCA’s chance to give them an alternative.

 

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