Brasada Ranch, Redmond, Oregon: Attractive new styling, more powerful and efficient engines and some of the latest creature comforts, even at the entry-level model, define the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander; it’s a crossover sport utility vehicle that seats seven. Mitsubishi says the third-generation Outlander has some “ground-breaking safety features for its class”—and we agree. It is also the only SUV at its price in its segment with three-row seating that comes standard. The new model also gets improved aerodynamics and better sound insulation; high-end technologies include adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and a crash-mitigation system. While Mitsubishi has not announced exact pricing, the new model will be priced close to the outgoing version, with an impressive array of added content over the previous generation.
Austin, Texas: Jeep’s update of its 2014 Grand Cherokee model makes it new; there are new drivetrains, more luxury and a bevy of options for off-road prowess define it and its sizzling sibling- the high-performance, lap-of-luxury 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT. One of the original mid-sized luxury SUVs to come to market in 1992, the newest version seats five and is an authentic competitor to VW, Land Rover, BMW, and other high-end sport utes. It’s priced from $28,795 to $50,995; the Grand Cherokee Limited with Jeep’s new EcoDiesel V6 is the lowest priced diesel SUV in the market at $40, 295, says Chrysler.
The exterior strikes a nice visual balance between refinement and ruggedness, with a grille that has been redesigned to give more luxo character overall, with distinguishing trim around each of the signature vertical slots. Slimmer headlamps and a shorter upper grille put a check in the “more refined” category, while 17-inch all-season tires (standard on base Laredo models) and a beefy lower grille have “rugged” cred – plus, depending on the trim level, tires get as big as 20 inches. The rear has new, larger tail lamps with smart LED lighting, a larger, more aerodynamic rear spoiler, and a re-sculpted tailgate. Dual exhaust tips are standard on all Limited, Overland and Summit models. Front and rear LED lighting, including bi-xenon high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps on higher end models, make Grand Cherokee grandly bright on the road.
For its fourth birthday as a unibody crossover SUV, the Kia Sorento is getting the equivalent of a pony, a piñata party and a wardrobe of amazing new clothes all at once. Among its gifts: a completely new chassis, a new V6 engine, a redesigned interior and some vamped-up, top-of-the-line features including an entirely new high-end trim line. Kia wants to be known for design, safety and value.
The Sorento’s facelift freshens its design, while inside you’ll find improved conveniences, upgraded materials and more amenities. A top IIHS safety pick, Sorento seats five or seven (there are 2-row and 3-row versions), and comes in front-wheel drive and all-wheel-drive models that start at $24,950, including destination charges. In case you have not noticed, there are a lot of vehicles in the competitive compact and medium-sized utility vehicle (CUV) segment – and they start to all look alike after awhile. Although Sorento doesn’t look radically different from its contemporaries, it has a few distinctive features that help it stand apart. Among them: a beefy grille and deep front air dam with black hexagonal grille inset behind chrome trim. Vertically set rectangular fog lamps offset sleek, slanted headlamps.
The rear end sits high and is capped at the bottom by a kickplate with a sweet-looking oval tailpipe.
General Motors says that today’s pickup truck buyers don’t just use their trucks from 9-5, but also from 5-9, too! They want trucks that have the DNA or core technology of toughness for work, carrying payload, and hauling trailers, but also comfort and room for taking their kids to ball games and ferrying their family around town, as well as connectivity and good gas mileage. Listening to their customers, who are also buying more extended cab models, GM has just taken the wraps off of its next generation Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500 that have been updated and renovated for 2014.
Scheduled to go on sale later this year, the stablemates have a refreshed exterior, a completely redesigned interior and upgraded powertrains for more power—but also improved fuel economy. We took a ‘first look’ at the new models recently in Detroit; pricing has not been announced. While General Motors played it safe with this model year update, and kept some familiar exterior design cues and, in some areas made modest changes, there are also some significant improvements, particularly with some technology features – the improvements offer a welcome change and are clearly a sign of many new and good things to come from The General.
Although southern California is celebrated as a sports car mecca, sport utility vehicles of every size and type were among the biggest hits at the 2012 Los Angeles International Auto Show. More than 40 different brands parked their new models and concept renditions on the ‘red carpet’ at the Los Angeles Convention Center, as 50 new vehicles made their premier entrance or global debut. The LAIAS is among the most significant shows in annual big-city show season in the U.S. and the home of the Greater Los Angeles Auto Dealers Association (GLANCDA), the umbrella organization for local and regional dealers. The LAIAS is followed by 2013 auto shows in Detroit (January), Chicago (February), New York (April) and other cities across the nation.
People need to move—and carry things. Adding some all-new and updated game-changing, people-and-cargo-movers to its line-up, Ford has recently expanded its truck brand in the U.S., with new models that go on sale later this year. The Blue Oval is already the best-selling truck maker in North America and now adds two new vehicles for 2014-an updated Transit Connect Van and an all-new Transit Connect Wagon.
We recently took a look and climbed aboard the two new vehicles in Detroit, with Ford’s designers, engineers and marketers on hand to educate us about the new models. First, let’s take a closer look at the van, which came to the U.S. in 2010 as a creative solution for small business owners and others that had the need or desire to own a somewhat utilitarian, compact panel van. If you’re not familiar with the first-generation version that came stateside from its popular run in Europe for close to a decade, you might think of a bulky, rectangular box with four wheels and the “Airport Shuttle” image, or the name of your electrician painted on the side of a van. You might even think back to the velour swivel seats and dastardly fuel economy of vans in the 1970s and 1980s.
San Antonio, Texas: One of my favorite car stories is about my friend Bob’s elderly grandmother, who drove a Toyota Avalon. She would take four right-hand turns to avoid a left. For a number of years, I thought of this driver as the demographic for this four-door, full-sized sedan. I surmised that this Toyota model was designed to appeal to older, more cautious drivers who loved rolling along in large and long lumbering boats. Times have changed, cars have changed, and so have my impressions of Toyota’s flagship Avalon. I have an all-new impression of the all-new 2013 Toyota Avalon which, by the way, is named for a mythical island in Camelot lore.
Atlanta, Georgia: I thought I knew a lot about Buick and its changes. I know this General Motors brand has been busy putting the mojo on a cadre of new or updated models, building a stunning stable of quiet, beautifully-appointed, and fine-driving vehicles. But, I didn’t know that Buick is attracting younger buyers and attracting some new buyers from others brands. Nor did I know that Buick sales are up close to 25 percent this year and this luxury brand is outselling Acura, Audi, Infiniti and Lincoln.
I just drove the all-new 2013 Buick Encore, an addition to the marque’s crossover SUV stable. It lets you ride high while keeping a low profile, thanks to its elevated driving position along with its compact character. It has room for five and a bunch of techno-luxe features befitting GM’s marquee brand, it’s available in both front-wheel and all-wheel drive versions--and priced starting at $24,950, including destination. Come along on our test drive! Buick brought a group of automotive evaluators to Atlanta for the first drive of the new model. Our venue included an overnight at Atlanta’s Twelve Hotel, located in the upscale section of the city known as Atlantic Station, a live-work-play community.
And, just like Buick’s customer program that offers a drive and fine dining experience, we were treated to a cooking demonstration at the trendy restaurant Empire State South, co-owned by Top Chef Hugh Acheson. Buick has invited some 10,000 potential buyers to this program that has different venues across the country, using this same theme.
It’s a statement about the brand! Encore doesn’t look like a typical luxury SUV – its wedge-like doorstop shape, contrast-color bumpers and scooped out sides evoke the aggressively sporty Nissan Juke, the Toyota RAV4 or even the before-its-time outdoorsy angles of the late Pontiac Aztek. But a closer look shows the same chrome accents and wide grille with signature vertical slats that adorn the Enclave, Encore’s larger, seven-passenger stablemate. Extending back from that grille, which is set high in the snubbed nose and capped by trapezoidal blue-accented halogen headlamps, is a roofline that rises high before sloping steeply back toward the rear end. A relatively narrow-looking rear windshield sits high up in the liftgate, and a contrasting bumper with metallic inset rests above a stainless exhaust tip. Standard wheels are 18-inch, five-spoke aluminum, with seven-spoke chrome wheels available. Inside, the massive front windows and windshield provide a nearly panoramic view of the road and the scenery. The dash and instrument panels seem to integrate almost seamlessly with the doors on each side, giving a wraparound effect to the front of the cabin.
The driver’s seat has a six-way power adjustment with lumbar support; all seats are covered in a cloth/faux leather trim, although leather is available as an option. Storage abounds in Encore, which includes eight beverage holders, storage in all four doors, four bins in the dash, a double glovebox, pockets in the seatbacks, an optional bin beneath the passenger seat and bins under the rear load floor around the spare tire. With the rear seats in place, there’s room for all the groceries to feed a houseful of holiday guests; rear seats also fold flat for additional storage.
A standard 7-inch color screen in the center stack provided controls for infotainment systems, from the Sirius XM audio system to the rearview camera; GPS navigation is available as an option. The AM/FE/Siruis/CD stereo includes six speakers and an auxiliary jack for iPod and other devices; Bluetooth is standard. Under the hood is a 138-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder motor delivering 148 lb.-ft. of torque. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission; drivetrain is either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. EPA gas mileage estimates are 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway for front-wheel drive models, 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway for those with all-wheel drive.
We drove both the front-wheel-drive and the Active On-Demand all-wheel-drive models of the new Encore over a course of some 150 miles out of Atlanta. While the drive included a variety of roads, there was no opportunity to try out the traction-enhancing capabilities of the AWD system that sends torque to the rear for every launch and redirects torque only when the wheels are slipping. When there is no slippage, the vehicle is a front-driver, just like its bigger sibling the Enclave. The benefit is increased fuel economy (23 city/30 highway), which compares with only two others the Mazda CX-5 (31 highway) and the Ford Escape (30 hgwy). Macpherson struts with coil-over springs are the backbone of the front suspension, while compound crank and coil springs hold up the rear. Steering is power-assisted rack-and-pinion. Both stability and traction control are standard handling technologies for Encore, as is “QuietTuning,” which uses Bose noise cancelling technology to quiet the cabin. Brakes are four-wheel discs with ABS (vented discs in front, solid discs in rear); ten airbags including knee and side curtain bags are standard. Things that stood out for us during the drive were the well-appointed cabins in each trim, great steering, comfortable and quiet ride.
We also noted the fold-flat front passenger seat, enhancing bigger utility in Encore’s small package. Buick Encore comes in four trim levels: standard, convenience, leather and premium. The base Encore (1SB – starting at $24,950) includes the seven-inch infotainment screen with six-speaker stereo, Sirius XM and Bluetooth; rearview camera; cruise control; manual air conditioning; cloth and faux-leather seats; heated outside rearview mirrors; power driver’s seat adjustments, door locks and windows; leather-wrapped steering; rear cargo cover; roof-mounted luggage rails; dual gloveboxes; 18-inch aluminum wheels; and compact spare tire with mechanical jack. Encore Convenience (1SD – starting at $25,760) versions add an electrochromic inside rearview mirror, remote start, dual automatic climate control, 120V outlet and fog lamps. Up another level, Encore Leather (1SL -- $27,460) models include leather-appointed seating, heated steering wheel, power passenger seat, heated seats and a driver memory package that includes driver presets for seat position, outside mirrors and climate control. Encore Premium (1SN -- $28,940) adds rain-sensing wipers, Bose seven-speaker audio system, front and rear park assist, Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, cargo net and cargo mat. Options include the premium Bose audio system (Encore Convenience and Leather); GPS-enabled navigation (Encore Convenience, Leather and Premium); 18-inch chromed aluminum wheels (Encore Convenience, Leather and Premium); sunroof (Encore Convenience, Leather and Premium); and an oil pan heater. All-wheel drive on all models is a $1,500 option.
Nissan brought a group of automotive testers to the Solage Calistoga Hotel and Spa to cool our heels at night in quiet luxury, and spend our days motoring on the Calistoga Wine Trail, along twisty and scenic coastal routes. We also drove the 4WD version of the Pathfinder on the dirt track of a nearby ranch, and used the SUV to tow a trailer to assess its pulling prowess. Just as many modern SUVs have evolved, the Pathfinder’s looks have changed to give it a more car-like, crossover appearance. The new model is lighter by some 500 pounds, more aerodynamic, and has changed from body-on-frame architecture to a unibody build; this makes it ride less like a truck and more like a minivan. Pathfinder’s front end is distinguished by an attractive curved grille, dominated by a large Nissan badge and backed by a black honeycomb design; it stretches like a pair of wings across the entire front end. Large halogen headlamps wrap around to the sides. Optional fog lamps are mounted in the lower part of the grille. The roofline slants downward from the shoulders to the tail end, giving the Pathfinder a more coupe-like stature despite its longer, three-row size. Character lines scoop out the middle section like a waist, and the rear liftback has an integrated spoiler. Standard wheels are 18-inch alloys, with bold 20-inch wheels available on the highest-end models. Inside, Pathfinder is bigger than the previous generation version by 8.4 cubic feet overall, and there is ample room for seven passengers in the three rows of seats.