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.
Auto shows have a personality and the Chicago Auto Show is described by automakers and autowriters as a “down-home” show—and they love it! There’s even an event sponsored by all the automakers for the press and other early attendees called “Sweet Home Chicago”! But, don’t let its slower pace and more comfortable setting make you think it’s small. In fact, the Chicago Auto Show is the largest auto show in North America and this year’s show marked the 105th annual event, which makes it the longest-running and one of the best-attended shows in the world. Sponsored by the Chicago Automobile Trade Association dealers, the show is held at the McCormick Place Convention Complex where the enormous amount of space on hand brings an ease for car makers to offer free concerts and set up experiential test tracks. There’s also a ‘social media day’ now held annually that draws a wide variety of presenters and consumers to come together to evaluate and promote this new landscape and its effect on the automotive industry. AskPatty.com was one of the presenters this year, helping to showcase the exciting and rapidly-growing arena of Marketing to Women.
But, at the end of the day, an auto show is really about new sheet metal and the introductions of new models soon to hit the streets along with the unveiling of concept vehicles that are experiments in design and technology and are meant to take the temperature of the audience, plus help automakers make decisions about whether to move forward with a particular model or technology. There were a number of both-new models that will be in dealerships soon and a few hot concepts. My personal favorites were the 2014 Toyota Tundra, the 2014 Ram Promaster, the 2014 Nissan Juke NISMO and Nissan NV200, and the Kia Crossover CUT Concept.
Quebec, Canada, December of 2012: We were invited to Quebec to drive a trio of 2013 vehicles from Jaguar and Land Rover: the company’s flagship Jaguar XJ, the smaller XF and the compact SUV Land Rover LR2. The driving conditions were perfect—snow, ice, rain and wind. Just the kind of weather we wanted to test the goods!
The news: With the addition of all-wheel drive, the XJ and XF are making themselves available to a new market, one that wants to be prepared for all types of weather conditions. The drive: Our route started off in Mont Tremblant and took us over snowy back roads to Mecaglisse, a driving school and racetrack in the belly of the Laurentian Mountains and a 90 minute drive from Montreal.
I am one of those people who loves to drive on snow and ice. I got my wings after spending a couple of wild winters in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. But in those days, I had an aging four-wheel drive Jeep. How my life has changed! This time, I was driving luxury sedans with AWD and feeling very confident! At the track, an instructor coached us in the art of dancing through cones, making quick stops and starts on the ice and drifting in circles around a track. One word: SUPERB.
But a real life test had me totally convinced. On the drive back, a huge snow machine veered into our path, spewing ice and mud. The lake was on our right, the truck on our left. When we lunged right and slipped minimally, the AWD system kicked in. The magic of this technology is what kept us from a potentially serious accident.
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.
The news: The Land Rover LR2, a premium compact SUV, has been totally renovated for 2013.
A short history: In the 1990’s, the Rover Group tried to partner with Honda to build a compact SUV. But the companies had their differences, and Honda left to pursue building the CR-V. When BMW acquired the Rover Group in 1994, they infused cash into the SUV project. As a result, the original Freelander debuted in 1997 to directly compete with Honda’s effort. In comparison to the first generation, the second generation Freelander had a remodeled engine set on a different frame with more off-road capability.
Flash forward to 2006, when the first LR2 (replacing the Freelander in the US) launched in London to great applause. This complete redesign of the original Freelander 4 X 4 was a new direction for Land Rover into the small luxury SUV market. The LR2 didn’t compromise form for function—it still contained all of the off-road capabilities that were part of its DNA combined with on-road dynamics.
Santa Monica, California: The Beetle is a model that needs no introduction; it’s not simply that the “bug” is known around the globe- it’s unique and carries with it a rich history of fun motoring.
Volkswagen brought its latest iteration, a convertible version of the updated Beetle, to the Los Angeles International Auto Show for the global debut of the 2013 VW Beetle Convertible. Although Beetle isn’t the best seller in this German automaker’s lineup, it is definitely the ‘halo’ for the brand and there was no better place than trend-setting LA to take the top off of the halo and also to talk about VW’s increased sales momentum in the U.S. and around the world. VW also brought a group of auto writers to the show and to the sunny and fun California coastal region that runs from Santa Monica to Malibu for a day of top-down motoring in the new Beetle Convertible. It is priced starting at $24,995, with its high-level version priced at $31,195.
What defines the new Beetle is an updated sleek, redesigned exterior and reworked interior. Volkswagen’s convertible bug is an airy, cute and clever version of the car that once redefined the very term “automobile” in the U.S.. Introduced in 1949 as the ‘type 15’ and reinvented in 2003 after a hiatus from the mainstream, the Beetle is an icon of the internal combustion engine, with seating for four adults and a happy-go-lucky character.
This year’s model looks both more modern and more retro at the same time, with a flattened-out, aerodynamic stance that juxtaposes design elements like plain button wheels.
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.
2013 Jetta Hybrid:
By Sue Mead
Santa Fe, New Mexico: Introduced at the 2012 North American Auto Show, the updated four-door Jetta Hybrid is Volkswagen’s second hybrid offering, following the Touareg SUV, and it both looks and drives like a success. We recently drove the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta hybrid in the trendy high country of New Mexico and parked overnight at Santa Fe’s luxury-appointed Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado. The new Jetta Hybrid is most fuel-efficient car in this German automaker’s U.S. lineup, and gets up to 45 mpg. It will travel at speeds of up to 37/44 mph on electric power alone. The SE model starts at $27,785, including a $795 destination charge, while the SEL has a sticker price of $30,120; a base hybrid model, which is only available by special order, stickers at $25,790.
The Jetta Hybrid has modernized and sporty-practical styling as the other models in the Jetta lineup, has a narrow front grille and, by today’s big-badge standards, relatively modest “VW” logo in the center. The sedan’s overall profile looks lower, sleeker and coupe-ier than past Jettas, which have tended toward the boxy.
A low front air dam, side skirts and an integrated spoiler help to lower the car’s drag to 0.28 – lower than a standard Jetta by 0.02. Fifteen-inch steel wheels, featuring a windmill-like design unique to the hybrid, are standard, with 16-inch and 17-inch alloys available on higher end models. Up-market Jetta hybrids also come with standard fog lights.
Inside, Jetta hybrid is comfortable and somewhat spartanly-dressed.
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.