2016 Subaru Crosstrek impresses

2016_ctk_photos_ext_13By Gerry Miles

In the mix of utilitarian, quasi-cute and versatile, Subaru created one of its most popular model in recent history in the Crosstrek.

A small package with an equally small starting price, the Crosstrek builds upon Subaru’s go anywhere at anytime versatility with its all-wheel-drive that supports a small yet rugged appearing package that provides the economy, surprisingly roomy interior and versatility the import firm is known for.

Given a 2016 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Premium to test, I found exactly why people like the heck out of this vehice. It’s size belies interior room, it didn’t squander safety features and it just looks different enough from its stablemates to make ponder what car they’re actually looking at. One look inside requires the doors to open to see if the interior is fit for clowns or accommodates humans.

Like most trendy automakers, Crosstrek is also offered with a Hybrid setup, but given its efficient 4-cylinder Boxer engine, small packaging and relative light weight, there’s really no need to empty you greenbacks on that model. With EPA estimates of 26 in the city and 34 on the highway (29 combined) you’d be hard pressed to complain when you pull up to the pump.

Back to the economy or the sticker: Priced with a base of $22,395 for a vehicle with the model name Premium is a refreshing double-take no doubt. There’s a ton of standard features that includes a rear backup camera, HD radio, Bluetooth, and the required large touch screen in the dash and leather wrapped on the steering wheel and shifter.

Adding to the sticker was a CVT transmission for another grand to handle the power sent from the 2.0-liter, Boxer engine. A five-speed manual mixer is standard. The CVT made me harken back to the days of the Subaru Justy and then-unknown star Kirstie Alley plugging it in TV commercials. The Justy was hard to justify and moreso with the underpowered motor and CVT package.

Unlike the Justy, the 2-liter powers the Crosstrek just fine in normal daily driver use. Equipped with 148 horsepower and 145 lb.-ft. of torque, it provides potent power for the masses that may not notice the sometimes hesitant nature of the CVT (critics look for such things) or the accompanying sounds of it summoning strength to surge on. It’s not overly obtrusive, yet somewhat noticeable.

16_ctk_photos_int_02Creature comforts includes the $1,995 option package that included the Subaru Starlink multimedia system, featuring an upgraded infotainment system, pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, pre-collision throttle management, and eyesight driver assist. It’s a hefty upgrade but it’s a bunch of safety stuff you’d want in a pinch and to help you out. For that complete package and comparable offerings it’s a good deal.

While I was constantly amazed at the interior room and functionality in the front and back seats I also discovered a compliant ride that sometimes felt too firm. The suspension handles the bumps and road rash keeping it from the cabin. Handling was solid, steering input was direct and road feedback was solid.

Subarus are known for laughing at winter conditions in New England and when they first appeared I asked the owners how they liked their new cars and they all responded with a single phrase: love it. With its AWD Subarus are known to saunter through snowdrifts with the footing of a mountain goat with hiking boots.

While somewhat utilitarian in its features and appearance, the ride, versatility and capabilities have clearly matriculated down the model line….as they should.

ctk_lifestyle_01Crosstrek is a very capable crossover that packs a lot into a small package with big league versatility, features and functions.

Buyers seeking more room, a taller greenhouse and creature comforts should move across the showroom to the vaunted Forester or additional upscale offerings in the showroom. With its year-round capabilities, Subaru has something for everyone.

But for those on a budget, a small garage and a car to haul a canoe, biccyles, or stow the snowshoes, the Crosstrek is a great selection.

2016 Subaru Crosstrek Premium

Base price: $22,395

Options: $2,995

As tested: $25,390

Toyota’s puny Prius C passes the pumps

Toyota Prius C Three All photos by Gerry Miles

Toyota Prius C Three
All photos by Gerry Miles

BY GERRY MILES

Officially, the C in the Prius’ name stands for “city” where the smallest and most affordable aka cheapest edition of Toyota’s famed hybrid car line will provide the most dividends.  DSC_1764Perhaps, though, it should be an “e” for economy to get an EPA-rated 50 combined mpg is the prime factor folks will buy one.

As the runt of the four-model Prius litter, the C is also the smallest and the least expensive ($19,080) or cheap, but the C could also stand for the compromises needed to achieve the feat in this subcompact.

Compared to its larger midsized Prius – the only car introduced at the NY Auto Show where a hall full of auto journos in 1997 actually went silent to hear its intro price $19,995 – the C is 19.1 inches shorter (157.3 vs. 176.4 inches) and 542 pounds lighter (2,500 lbs. vs. 3,042 lbs.) to achieve its fuel efficiency.

That diet helps boost the fuel economy but it compromises the C in several other ways: the seats are supportive but relatively thin and best for short, city commutes and not visiting Aunt Bessie in Philadelphia; there’s a lot of plastic on the dash – the better to save weight with, and those hoping for a responsive time behind the wheel are shopping for the wrong car.

Bathed in 2014’s newest color – a retina-searing yellow called Sun Fusion – the C shows off a funky, wind-cheating style so common on many smaller cars today. It’ll appeal to the younger groups but still provides reasonable room up front.

DSC_1783The overall interior is clean, simple, and uncomplicated except for the number of options displayed on the information screen. The main dash features are centered, electronic and display a myriad of the car’s functions as well as tracking your prudent pedal pushing with each trip. However most controls are touch screen with only the temperature as the largest knob and the other climate controls as small buttons.

There’s plenty of leg and headroom up front, less so as expected in the back. The wind-cheating wedged-shape of today’s cars leaves little cargo or head space for adults in the back. Although the hatch opens wide, remember this is a subcompact built to sip gas and not perform weekend duty as a cargo mule.

A spare tire is included, housed under a two-piece large foam-like structure underneath a trunk mat that comes with the carpeted floor mats ($225) and a cargo net ($49). I wonder if the spare will be eliminated, as it has been in most cars these days, for an additional battery pack.

DSC_1762Power tops out at 99 horsepower with the 1.5-liter DOHC that boasts variable valve timing – just like Toyota’s Yaris – but produces just 73 hp compared to the 106 hp in the Yaris. The Hybrid Drive is tucked into the engine well while the battery is optimally placed under the left rear seat for weight distribution.

Output can be regulated in three modes: Eco, Normal and EV. To use the EV or battery mode, the shifter slides next to a large “B” however this mode requires one to drive under 25 mph for less than a mile.

Under way, the C is, as a certain coach is known to say, is what it is: an economy car that’s not meant to leave rubber from its 15-inch wheels behind. Even during city commutes the C’s motor protested too much when pressed for additional power before responding. At highway speeds the noise ratio rose, as did the wind noise and road noise. Passing a car becomes a planned event requiring time and distance. Merging onto the Spaulding Turnpike in Dover, N.H. was a tad frightening waiting for the automatic CVT trying to accumulate enough speed to stake out some pavement in the right lane before the oncoming traffic rushed upon the sawed off hatch’s backside.

Tradeoffs and piercing colors fade when your normal days to fill up are passed as the tank gauges shows plenty of petrol to keep motoring. When you can get 51 mpg, the C almost makes you want to slow down, watch the dashboard gas numbers rise, switch into Eco and be as stingy as Silas Marner.

Its diminutive size makes it easy to park in the city. Handling is somewhat light despite the thick steering wheel that’s meant to imply sturdiness and sportiness. Braking is reasonable, not that you’ll go that fast, and returns power to the battery in its regenerative form, as shown on the dash’s display.

At a time when gas prices are still fluctuating, the C offers an entry-level price into the hybrid market from the famed Prius lineup. Going green usually costs about $5,000 more green backs than a conventional model in many car lines. One has to consider if it’s mainly city stop-and-go driving where the benefit will be realized or not. A $5,000 hybrid tag can purchase more than 1,400 gallons of gas figured at $3.50 per gallon and provide a smaller monthly payment.

In comparison, the Yaris has nearly the same footprint as the C, more horsepower, a smaller suggested price that’s about $5,000 less and still owns EPA numbers in the 30s. It’s nice to have options.

The Prius C meets its mission as an affordable, non plug-in hybrid from the first family of hybrid technology. For a city commuter looking to max out the mileage and not the payment at the pump, the C is worth a look and a test drive.

Toyota Prius C Three

Toyota Prius C Three

2014 Toyota Prius C Three

THE BASICS

Price, base (with destination): $21,765 ($810)

Options: $743

As Tested: $23,318

Fuel economy: 53-mpg city/46-mpg highway.

Globe observed: 51.0 mpg

Drivetrain: 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder, Hybrid Synergy Drive, Automatic CVT

Body: Four-door hatch

THE SPECIFICS

Horsepower: 73 hp

Torque: 82 lb-ft @ 1,850 rpm

Overall length: 157.3 inches.

Wheelbase: 100.4 inches.

Height: 56.9 inches

Width: 66.7 inches.

Curb weight: 2,500 lbs.

THE GOOD

Not stopping at gas stations. Fuel economy. Rear hatch, folding seat augments cargo space. Spare tire.

THE BAD

Awful color, dash gauges too busy, thin seats.

THE BOTTOM LINE

A non-plugin hybrid that meets its mission of providing superb economy for city commuters.

Also consider: Toyota Yaris, Scion iQ, Ford C-Max Energi, Honda CR-Z, Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2

2014 Chevy Sonic RS is a surprising, solid ride from the Bowtie Boys

2014 Chevy Sonic RS

2014 Chevy Sonic RS

BY GERRY MILES

So-called sport package editions for various cars leave me cold. They often indicate a slow selling car, traditionally put few upgrades or “spiffs” in dealer parlance on them beyond new wheel covers, decals, maybe a spoiler atop the trunk, an exhaust that sounds like it’s falling off the chassis to sound “sporty,” different fabric and red blazed “RS” letters on the dash and shifter to indicate it’s a rally sport. Of course, it costs more cash but hardly the cache one desired.

Imagine the surprise sliding behind the wheel of the 2014 Chevy Sonic RS that wiped away all of those premonitions.

Yes, the RS had the aforementioned upgrades, but this time it has the sizzle to muscle to match the marketing. While the court of public opinion will easily agree that a turbo, in and of itself dropped into an car does not a go-kart make, the ability to weave, pass and stay at speed from the South Shore up Route 495, 24, 128/95 and 93, not to mention the underground race track that is the Big Dig’s tunnel, handle the expansion joints on the upper deck or play with the lines, swerving through Storrow Drive are bona fides that the Sonic RS can handle Boston’s most notorious roads and motorists.

The Sonic, the only subcompact car assembled in America says Chevy, got another boost when it was selected as one of the 10 Best Back-to-School Cars of 2014 by Kelley Blue Book’s KBB.com.

The RS cues were immediate upon sliding behind the wheel: firm supportive seats and bolsters, black dash panel and instruments, padded steering wheel and accents all around.

Sonic Dash

Sonic Dash

Sonic’s dash was a neat cluster that seemed up-to-date in today’s wired world yet intuitive. Befitting this model the tach is extra large, underscoring the car’s intentions, speed is displayed in eye-friendly digital blue light, there’s a large information screen in the middle of the dash and knobs for fan speed, temps and the like. Although Sonic bears an irritating up-shift arrow, it was in a small space that’s hard to notice, so why bother?

On the outside there’s a sportier front fascia that’s curved to create wheel well space for standard 17-inch wheels. Two round headlights on each side standout for the fact that they’re not small LEDs, and a large grille opening, which a neighbor’s child thought would suck up the road, is tied off with a garish gold Chevy “bowtie” in the middle. The logo would be better if it matched the grille’s color was the size of the smaller trunk logo not a leftover piece from the Avalanche parts bin. A single, bright exhaust pipe is subtle as is a single, red RS on the trunk to announce its athletic pedigree.

Under way the RS is always fun to drive, sliding the six-speed manual to and fro to make the engine growl or adapt to a twisting road that invites you to want to carve the apex and hit the go pedal on the way out. Fear not, an automatic transmission is also available for those who have no idea what the third pedal next to the brake.

Sonic engine

Sonic engine

The 1.4-liter Ecotec turbo feels stronger than its listed 138 horsepower and 148 lb.-ft. of torque that arrives between 1,850 and 4,900 rpm. That’s prime power for passing, merging or scuttling past slower commuters. There’s no discernable turbo lag from days bone by and I experienced little torque steer as well.

Sonic stays composed and calm, due to the lowered suspension and sport-tuned dampers, adding to the fun, feeling as well built as a mid- or full-sized car.

Even more surprising is the estimated 40 mpg and constant reading of 33.78 mpg that was displayed on the dash. During my drive I pulled 34.48 mpg in more than 200 miles of mixed driving.

What you’re left with is a car that doesn’t feel like a compromise to get the fuel economy or the composed, spirited ride and comfort. The lack of wind noise on the highway and road noise even over milled roads waiting to be repaved was another surprise.

An optional safety package provides lane departure warnings and forward collision alerts on the dash.

Sonic isn’t a tarted up pretend toy to take to the track and wrung what you brung. It is a spirited, well-composed, efficient daily driver that will take the monotony of the daily coffee commute.

One could make comparison to the Ford Fiesta ST since you’ll be in the low $20s but with nearly 200 horses in the ST, the cross-check stops there. Sonic is also more fun and roomier than say the Mazda2, Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta, and Honda Fit.

While it doesn’t force you into the seatback like a Corvette, the RS Sonic does surprise and give you a drive that’s more than expected while breaking the mold of special editions that really weren’t special.

2014 Chevy Sonic

2014 Chevy Sonic

2014 Chevy Sonic RS

THE BASICS

Price, base (with destination): $19,705 ($825)

Options: $620

As Tested: $21,150

Fuel economy: 27-mpg city/34-mpg highway.

Drivetrain: 1.4-liter, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. Body: Four-door sedan

THE SPECIFICS

Horsepower: 138 hp @ 4,900 rpm.

Torque: 148 lb-ft @ 1,850 rpm

Overall length: 159 inches.

Wheelbase: 99.4 inches.

Height: 59.7 inches

Width: 68.3 inches.

Curb weight: 2,847 lbs.

THE GOOD

Fun to drive, composed, balanced ride. Fuel economy. Available with automatic or more versatile hatchback.

THE BAD

Gaudy large logo on grille, upshift light, $55 smokers package (ash tray) available. The black granite metallic paint cost $225.

THE BOTTOM LINE

A subcompact car that delights, more than meets its mission with comfort, economy and pizzazz.

Also consider: Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2

 

2014 Range Rover Sport a wash and wear SUV on the ruts or the road

A Range Rover Sport high atop the mountains in Santa Cruz, CA with a view of the lands behind it. ALL PHOTOS: Land Rover North America

A Range Rover Sport high atop the mountains in Santa Cruz with a view of the lands behind it.                                                                                                                                          ALL PHOTOS: Land Rover North America

BY GERRY MILES

SANTA CRUZ, California – One of the last times I heard a former editor taking a PR folk at Land Rover to task was a classic and with good reason.

He opined that Rovers were made to off-road as pictures from Camel Trophy adventures showed them as metal pigs in mud, crossing rivers, winching fallen trees to build bridges and clear roadways. It was where Land Rover excelled. A New England road, even with spring’s potholes was not a true test and the handling or lack thereof was proof it handled like a bloated water buffalo. It was simply out of its element.  The debate ended with his slamming the phone down. A cooled off LR guy called back a few days later, offering a mea culpa.

That used to be true for Rover portending to have both first-class on-road and off-road capabilities…back then. If you were immune to the vehicle’s body roll and didn’t need Dramamine you were lucky.

Recalling the animated phone call, and listening to the 2014 Range Rover Sport spiels, I wondered if it could indeed be the fastest, most agile and roadworthy vehicle LR had ever made and that Dramamine was no longer needed.

Range Rover Sport climbs a hill with ease

Range Rover Sport climbs a hill with ease

As if they had heard the old scribe’s lament, the 2014 Sport shed 800 pounds from its old frame, offers two engines: a 3.0-liter, 340 hp, supercharged V-6 or the upscale 5-liter, 505 hp, supercharged V-8 that mate to an 8-speed ZF transmission, is swathed in leather and luxury, sports a new aluminum chassis to attain its on-road sports car handling goal while retaining the marque’s heritage to climb 60-degree loose dirt hills like a gazelle.

The result is that the Sport has usurped the matriarchal Range Rover as the sales volume leader and shows no signs of relenting. Overall sales are up 13 percent and could improve if they could get more.

The SUV’s scarcity almost left Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones walking last Christmas. A secretary seeking the SUV for Jones allegedly told the local Rover shop if money was the issue, it should not be an issue, hint, hint. The reply, again, was that there were none in stock. Rover folks audibled,  calling around until a white on white Sport was found after the holiday but in time for Mrs. Jones to ring in the New Year.

In Silicon Valley, we put it to the test driving along the Pacific Coast Highway and twisting roads in the Santa Cruz mountains before tackling a five-mile off-road course in the same Sport that had just cruised down the Route 1 with the greatest of ease in a hushed, cosseted environ without any tire or equipment changes.

On the straights of the PCH, and in the hills, the V-8 Sport easily ran up to 60 mph in the posted 5 seconds, (better than a Porsche Boxster: LR) and is several tenths tall or overstated, on purpose, according to LR.  The V-8 also benefits from an all-aluminum design. Paddle shifters and a tap/slap manual shift option are engaging and never missed. Shedding 165 hp to pilot a vehicle with 340 hp was hardly detrimental.

Immense time was spent on perfecting the handling, feel and tuned exhaust note to provide a sports car feel, attributable to the diet and shift from the old steel ladder frame chassis to aluminum. The fully independent suspension is made of, you guessed it, aluminum. There’s double wishbones at the front and a multi-link setup in the back. Of Rovers previous, we felt like we were sitting on the Rover with its odd controls around us in a madcap pattern. You’ll now sit in the Rover, with the controls more digital, common, clear and intuitive at hand and first glance.

Second row seating is just fine, there’s another inch of knee room. There’s a third-row seat that folds flat into the cargo floor in what Rover calls “5+2” seating. It’s a space best left for wee folks who’d think riding way back is cool. An adult would call it punishment.

The interior, and the vehicle, is quite authentic. The wood trim is wood and not a dark veneer appearing as burled walnut. Aluminum accents are actual aluminum. There were no short cuts, no substitutes. What you see is what you get.

Had any passenger been blindfolded, they’d never had guessed they were in an SUV based upon the whisper quiet cabin, boasting a near complete lack of road noise from the mud/snow tires and the Sport’s eight percent smoother coefficient of drag (.cd) that’s dropped to 0.34.

In the Santa Cruz mountains, the Sport cut through Redwood lined roads that were as tight and narrow as Maui’s “Road to Hana”, showing off its electronic power steering that deftly handled the switchbacks, 180s, blind corners and bicyclists who endlessly pedaled up drastic inclines.

The author guides the Sport through water up to its door sills.

The author guides the Sport through water up to its door sills.

For the off-roader, there’s two full-time 4WD systems: a new single speed transfer case or optional two-speed transfer case. It can wade deeper than a Jeep Wrangler at 33.5 inches or 6 inches higher than old models, has a 25.8” approach, 26.4” departure and 20.6” breakover angle at standard heights. The suspension provides for 21.5”of wheel articulation, with 10.2” of front wheel travel and 10.7” in the rear.

Rover no longer has to explain away its lack of handling with its heritage to justify its being. Instead, competitors might be fielding phone calls why they can’t perform like the Sport given the huge lead they once had and how they can meet the Range Rover benchmarks. It’s better than it ever was and has been.

2014 Range Rover Sport

Range Rover Sport SE: $63,495

Range Rover Sport HSE $68,495

Range Rover Sport Supercharged: $79,995

Range Rover Sport Autobiography: $93,295

2014 Range Rover Technical Specifications

 

 

3-Liter Supercharged V6

5-Liter Supercharged V8

Height mm (in)

1780 / 70.1

Width excl. wing mirrors /  wing mirrors folded mm (in)

1983 (78.1) / 2073 (81.6)

Length mm (in)

4850 (191)

Wheelbase mm (in)

2923 (115.1)

Approach angle deg

25.8 (standard height)
33.0 (off-road height)

Departure angle deg

26.4 (standard height)
31.0 (off-road height)

Ramp breakover angle

20.6 (standard height)
27.0 (off-road height)

Wading depth mm (in)

850 (33.5)

Turning circle m (ft)

12.6 (41.3)

Drag coefficient (Cd)

0.37

0.37

Estimated Weight (kg)

2144 kg  (4727 lbs.)

2310 kg (5093 lbs.)

Front suspension

SLA suspension  with twin lower links with air springs/CVD with Passive ARB or optional ARC

SLA suspension  with twin lower links with air springs/CVD with ARC

Rear suspension

Integral link suspension with air springs/ CVD with Passive ARB or optional ARC

Integral link suspension with air springs/ CVD with ARC

Brakes

350mm ventilated disc front / 350mm ventilated disc rear

380mm ventilated disc front / 365mm ventilated disc rear

Steering

Electric Power Assisted Steering (EPAS) rack and pinion

Four wheel drive system

Permanent four-wheel drive with standard locking center differential & Terrain Response® 2, Available locking rear axle differential.

Engine type

Longitudinal / 90 degree V6 / 24 Valve
Quad cam DIVCT (Dual Independent Variable Cam Timing)

Longitudinal / 90 degree V8 / 32 Valve
Quad cam DIVCT (Dual Independent Variable Cam Timing)

Displacement cc (cu.in)

2995 (182.8)

4999.7 (305.1)

Bore / Stroke mm (in)

84.5 / 89.0 (3.33 / 3.50)

92.5 / 93.0 (3.64 / 3.66)

Compression ratio: 1

10.5

9.5

Max Power US bhp

340

510

Max Torque Nm (lb ft)

450 (332)

625 (461)

Transmission

ZF 8HP70 Eight Speed Automatic

ZF 8HP70 Eight Speed Automatic

Fuel Economy  Manufacturer’s Estimated City/Highway MPG (Combined)5

17 / 23 (19)

14 / 19 (16)

Fuel tank capacity

105 liters (27.7 US gallons)

105 liters (27.7 US gallons)

2013 Nissan Juke can shake and bake deceptively

2013 Nissan Juke AWD CVT

2013 Nissan Juke AWD CVT

BY GERRY MILES

If you’ve been juked, you’ve been fooled, deceived, and surprised. In football, a juke means that a player’s moves have been deceptive, allowing him to run freely, catch a pass, or simply avoid being caught.

The Nissan Juke is perhaps so named because it is also deceptive. It doesn’t react like the other small crossovers of its size, mostly due to its bug-eyed, polarizing style.

The Juke is unlike the competition with its small, stubby body; more than one onlooker thought it resembled a bulldog, with its ugly face and strong, muscular front shoulders that tail off to a slender, sleeker backside.

While it may look more at home in a Toontown sequel of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” Juke is no mechanical and technical joke. Its face may well be the factor that draws in customers who don’t want a ride that looks like every other cute crossover on the road.

Regardless of whether it’s a hot hatch on large wheels or a sported-up crossover, Juke offers a competent small package with big appeal in the form of 188 hp, available in all-wheel-drive, and a separate, new 2013, NISMO high-output model that will likely have the largest appeal for those with the need for speed. The NISMO adds a turbo to boost output to 197 hp, 18-inch rims, a savvy AWD system, tuned suspension, a more friendly automotive façade, and an $22,990 MSRP.

For the mainstream crowd, every Juke is powered by the same 1.6-liter Direct Injection Gasoline (DIG™) turbo, 188 hp, 16-valve DOHC, inline 4-cylinder engine.

Buyers can select either the tested Xtronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) with S-Mode or a 6-speed manual in the SV and SL front-drive models.

Unlike most AWD systems that split the power and grip from front to back, Juke’s torque vectoring AWD also splits the grip from left to right across the rear axle. Through its technology, monitors, and sensors, torque can be boosted to the outside rear wheel in corners to reduce understeer and increase cornering. This means it’s more of an around town AWD system; without a true low range, it’s no rock crawler or mud bog maven.

2013 Juke interior

2013 Juke interior

The Juke’s accentuated exterior belies the snug subcompact interior and skimpy cargo room. Everything is within arm’s reach and the arched roofline creates a spacious feel, but it’s far less so in back. The Juke is supposed to seat five but sitting in the rear is an assignment to steerage. If it’s room you need, move up to the Murano.

Still, with its small, squat stance, this car is perfect for running around town. Three transmission settings—normal, sport, or eco—change the shift points to coax a more spirited intervention with the CVT. But pushing the pedal too far down induces torque steer and accentuates the light steering wheel feel when you’d rather have a firmer wheel.

 

The directional lamps jut out from the fender and won't be an easy replacement item if damaged.

The directional lamps jut out from the fender and won’t be an easy replacement item if damaged.

The Juke is fun to drive and easy to park—the bulging directionals on the fenders are like illuminated guides at night—and despite the downslope of the roof and narrow rear views, the sightlines are good, buoyed by oversized exterior mirrors that also contribute to the paradox in styling that is the Juke.

The engine is rated at 27 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway, but I found the motor to be thirsty, providing just 24.2 mpg on the computer for 485 mixed miles, and the first fill up produced a disappointing 23.58 mpg. No doubt having a turbo tucked under the hood and 17-inch tires underfoot for increased rolling resistance offsets the mileage numbers.

The rear spare is exceptionally well packaged.

The rear spare is exceptionally well packaged under the cargo floor.

New for this year are three new colors. atomic gold, brilliant silver, and pearl white, and there’s a revised Rockford Fosgate audio system added to the navigation package on SV and SL models.

The ride was firm and compliant but rough roads rough meant its short, stocky wheelbase transmitted more bumps into the cabin that expected, even with the MacPherson independent front strut and multi-link rear suspension that came with our tester. Front and rear stabilizers are standard across the model line. Juke also carries a spare tire under its rear cargo floor in a neat bit of packaging.

For the package, performance, and price, the Juke is a pleasant surprise to anyone interested in the same size grouping of cute/crossovers.

My guess is that the performance crowd will embrace the NISMO edition very soon. If you never expected a vehicle to look like this, have a turbo, all-wheel-drive and a CVT with 32 mpg on the open road … the Juke may fool you too.

DSCN0752

 2013 Nissan Juke SL AWD CVT

 THE BASICS

  • Engine: 1.6-L, DOHC, turbocharged, 4-cyl.
  • Output: 188 hp.
  • Transmission: Xtronic CVT.
  • Curb weight: 2,939 lbs.
  • Wheelbase: 99.6 inches.
  • Length: 162.4 in.
  • Width: 69.5 in.
  • MPG: 27/32. Testing: 23.58 mpg.
  • Base price: $26,650
  • Delivery: $780
  • As tested: $29,205

THE GOOD

Fun, quirky, unique.

THE BAD

Gas mileage, high price, small interior room.

THE BOTTOM LINE

An alternative for the non-conformist in a crowded segment.

Forget the jokes, Scion’s iQ is a real (small) car

2013 Scion iQ

2013 Scion iQ

BY GERRY MILES

Where’s the rest of the car?

Will it become a sedan after you add water? How many clowns can you fit inside … besides yourself?

Those are the most frequent comments I received based on a week of driving in the 2013 Scion iQ. Anyone who opts for this bulldog cute city commuter car should be prepared for similar remarks should they fall for any microcar.

Aimed at attracting youthful buyers, Scion scored street cred supporting dance parties or raves, skateboarding, and events where attendees customized their rides on two or four-wheels. They also learned a lot about what drivers wanted, and they provided it. With that blueprint, Scion offered a solid, basic car set: the xA (it looked likeadoorstop) and xB (boxy with a spoiler off the back). The xD, a more squat, square-ish offering, and the tC later followed.

Today’s review vehicle, the iQ—no, the “i” has nothing to do with Apple products—is what Scion calls the premium microcar. That seems high praise for a car that at one time competed only with the Smart Car but now finds itself battling the Fiat 500, Mini Cooper, and Mazda2 in the crowded small/microcar corral. The Cooper is the largest feeling and heaviest (2,535 pounds) of the group. Mazda’s 2 is the longest (35 inches longer than the iQ’s 120-inch length) and weighs as much as the 500 but its 100 hp output puts it in the middle of the offerings.

The iQ is offered in one mode: the two-door hatch with a 1.3-liter, 94 hp, I-4 engine mated to a CVT transmission, lots of standard items such as ABS brakes and electronic brake distribution (EBD), plus 11 airbags and combined EPA numbers of 37 mpg.

That’s a lot packed into a little car that’s much roomier inside than it outwardly appears. Though it claims room for four (Scion calls it a 3+1 setup), allowing for three adults and one small child, but that is an overly generous claim of space.Two average adults can sit in comfort upfront. With the driver’s seat fully extended, however, you’d be hard pressed to place some groceries behind it, nevermind a small human. A shorter front passenger might allowasimilarly short person—say the late Hervé Villechaize from “Fantasy Island”—behind the front seat, but only if the trips are short. If revenge is a motive, by all means take an extended ride along the Jamaicaway, seek out the potholes, tightly cutting the apex of the corners.Toss in a rotary for good measure, and the iQ’s short wheelbase should leave the reprobate shaken and stirred.

If you’re not sitting in steerage, the ride upfront is quite nice.The seats are slim but stronger than believed and best suited for short stints. The curious will want to slide in, just to see if they can, and ask where you hide the clowns.

Front seat room has been maximized by some engineering feats. By putting the differential in front of the transmission, Scion produced a shorter front overhang. A high-mounted steering rack and compact AC unit also saved space while spurning traditional placement and designs.The gas tank is flat and placed under the floor to reduce rear overhang.

There is some storage space behind the rear seats, if you’re stowing a magazine or two. Folding the rear seats will provide more storage room, but only in relation to the car’s size. The optional cargo net ($65) is a waste as is the rear package shelf ($20), since there’s so little room behind rear seats that nearly touch the rear window.

The more I drove the iQ, the more I liked its spritely manner, smirking at gas pumps, and parking anywhere I wanted, courtesy of its 13-foot turning radius. Its size let me squeeze into a space on Plum Island while seeking a late breakfast at Mad Martha’s.

Scion's 1.3-L engine

Scion’s 1.3-L engine

The small engine is purposeful, but, as expected, will protest under heavy demands and uphill. Many blame the CVT and the missing interaction that a manual provides with timely downshifts, but in the words of a famed football coach, “It is what it is.”

Acceleration can best be achieved by leaving your right foot down to keep the revs up. Driving was more spirited than expected and for an urban shuttle car, it was just fine.

But having the speedometer even show three digits indicates how silly the marketing department is. Does anyone really think the iQ could hit 100, nevermind 120 mph? Hello, McFly.

Its small size was amplified along Route 101 to New Hampshire’s seacoast where strong crosswinds and trailing air off tractor trailers pushed the Scion’s 2,127 pounds around.

The tall headrests on the rear seats obscure any chance of reading the nameplates of vehicles behind you and are best removed. Honestly, no one will ever sit there.

Economically, the EPA numbers were less than billed. With the low fuel gauge blinking, often indicating 50 miles to go, it needed only 6.5 gallons to fill up its 8.5-gallon tank, yielding 30.7 mpgs in 200 mixed miles of mostly highway driving. The car sticker proclaims an overall EPA of 37 mpgs. I expect city driving would produce higher numbers, since that’s part and parcel of the car’s primary mission.

Scion iQ's bobtailed backside

Scion iQ’s bobtailed backside

One neat part of the car’s styling is the way two side spoilers slip around off the rear quarter windows and around the rear glass window.

The tester came with a few spiffy options, the Pioneer Premium HD radio ($479) and XM Satellite ($449) that spiked the total options added to $1,203.

With a starting point of $15,265 that ended at $17,198, the car likely will have folks dividing the cost per foot as they would a house. That said, there are many other options and competition that will provide a similar, if not more powerful, ride with a small trade-off at the pump.

2013 Scion iQ

2013 Scion iQ

If you believe that good things truly come in small packages, you’ll admire the Scion iQ microcar. If you’ve followed what Scion’s done in the past, expect more technologies and customizations to transfer down the line.

THE BASICS

  • Price, base/as tested (with destination): $15,265. / $17,198.
  • Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 36 mpg city / 37 mpg highway.
  • Fuel economy, observed: 30.2 mpgs.
  • Drivetrain: 1.3-liter I-4 front-engine, Continually Variable Transmission (CVT), front-wheel-drive.
  • Body: 4 passenger, 2-door hatchback, microcar.
  • THE SPECIFICS
  • Horsepower: 94
  • Torque: 89 lb.-ft.
  • Overall length: 120.1 in.
  • Wheelbase: 78.7 in.
  • Height: 59.1 in.
  • Width: 66.1 in.
  • Curb weight: 2,127 pounds.

THE GOOD: Fuel economy, easy to park city car. Options allow customization.

THE BAD: No real rear seat room. Rear seat headrests block view out back window. No manual transmission.

THE BOTTOM LINE: A contender in a competitive small car segment.

ALSO CONSIDER: Smart fortwo, Mini Cooper, Mazda2, Fiat 500.

Ford Taurus SHO: Subtle Showoff or SHO Stopper?

2014 Ford Taurus SHO

2014 Ford Taurus SHO

 

2013 Taurus SHO: Medicine for the mid-life crisis or subtle SHO-off?

BY GERRY MILES

It’s been a while since I was first spirited around Road Atlanta in high pursuit of the other cars with Bill Elliot behind the wheel, recreating what it had to feel like to ride along in a midnight moonshine run down south.

With every corner he cut, sure to make a rider squirm in the front seat, the down-home boy took delight in kicking up the revs from the 220 hp Yahama motor and a 5-speed manual as much as he kicked up dirt during the hot laps. As much as the ride showed the driver’s prowess in a production showroom car, one could only imagine his talent behind the wheel of his stock car in a NASCAR race. He had to know something to earn the monicker “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” Georgia, that is.

The original edition had a 220 hp Yamaha engine V-6 engine stuffed under the hood mated to a 5-speed manual that had trouble withstanding the 200 lb-ft of torque the engineers created in that midsized sedan.

SHO stands for Super High Output and the work of another acronym department – SVO – Special Vehicle Operations that became SVT – or Special Vehicle Team – which is now relegated to the Blue Oval’s Raptor and Tremor sport trucks. It was almost redundant to use Cobra, Mustang and SVT in the same sentence years ago, but that’s how it went down.

Recently a well-heeled Taurus arrived and like the original, except for a few SHO badges, no would be the wiser that underneath the hood of a sedate sedan sat the DNA of a boy racer ready to rock.

The journey from a plastic interior that defied my attempts to imprint my fingers into the dash with Awesome Bill from Dawsonville at the wheel, whipping around Road Atlanta’s 12 turns to the present day is impressive.

The new, aka fourth generation and current SHO returned from an extended hiatus in 2010 at the Chicago Auto Show with 145 more horses under the hood than the original offering, to keep Taurus bullish on the mission of high-speed motoring.

There’s a single motor: the 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged, 365 hp, EcoBoost V-6 that mates to a 6-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive all the time.

Although the original SHO, which was supposed to run for a year but continued due to demand, had a five-speed stick future versions tried automatic transmissions. Asked why Ford was going with automatics in a performance car, then-CEO Alex Trotman replied, “It doesn’t matter what (transmission) we put in. You guys (autowriters) will say we should have the other, so we’ll always be wrong, right? We’ll do what makes the most sense and most people buy I suppose.”

Thus the current SHO also bears paddle shifters for visceral involvement if a desire to turn the caffeine commute into a road course seems right or an open ribbon of road beckons you to hit the upper limits of the speedo’s top mark of 140 mph you dare reach. Tachometer watchers will need 20/20 vision or the Hubble telescope to find the smaller numbers inside the speedo’s numbers, however.

That the instrument panel and center stack of slick, hard to use touch surfaces looks like it’s straight from a Fusion or Edge hints that the SHO isn’t a hard and fast muscle car despite its twin-turbocharged engine.  And perhaps that’s the brilliance or the confusion depending upon your preference. The original SHO didn’t scream race car while serving as a daily driver and neither does our tester, yet it’s able to serve a dual purpose.

Equipped the package’s sport-tuned suspension, stiffer springs, 18-inch brake calipers and an advanced trac ESC that can be switched off, a 3.16-to-1 final drive ratio, and enhanced cooling system this Taurus is ready to SHO off on the track.

However, I suspect most will find it easier to run down Route 128 in the left lane easily eclipsing the slowest to dart in and out with the greatest of ease. One second it’s a sedate sedan keeping pace in the caffeinated conga line that is a long commute. In the next, it’s Walter Mitty jabbing the pedal to produce a roar from the engine and scuttle down the road to the next open spot, moving like a two-ton lineman that benefited from off-season yoga and Pilates and diet of leafy greens instead of fried foods.

Underway the car is library quiet, comfortable, has a huge trunk, split-folding rear seat and reasonable spare tire under the trunk’s floor.  The rear seat is roomy and fold in a 60/40 setup to augment cargo carrying. Trunk is cavernous. It’s also the daily driving that turns up some niggles. Taurus’ length (202.9”) and width (76.”) make it almost unwieldy to park at the mall. Practice your k-turns or you’ll be performing them to dock this boat. Its size contributes to a rather large 39.7-foot turning circle.

SHO ecoBoost engine

SHO ecoBoost engine

All that power and two-ton heft comes with a price at the pump. Despite the EcoBoost engine and 17/25 EPA numbers I could produce no better than 21.2 mpgs over 381 miles consuming 17.9 gallons in mixed city and highway driving.

Maybe that’s the conundrum. If you’re going to spend over $40K for a car with nearly 400 hp, should it not feel like it behind the wheel instead of coming really close to it? Should there be more interaction, a more raucous reaction from the motor instead of a geriatric growl and stronger stiffer seating, things that sell the feeling that you can run moonshine to Marblehead from Melrose if desired?

The Dodge Charger and its variants come perhaps closest to the SHO in size, price and performance but provides a more visceral interaction that speaks to the history of those who owned and loved them then and still do today.

The Taurus SHO is a relative newcomer that has the power pedigree and DNA at its disposal. Ford has to find a better way to deploy it as either a strict SHO stopper or middle of the road Walter Mitty mobile.

2013 Ford Taurus SHO

THE BASICS

Price as tested (with destination): $39,995. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 17 city, 25 highway. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 21.2. Drivetrain: 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, 6-speed SelectShift automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive. Body: 4-door sedan.

THE SPECIFICS

Horsepower: 365. Torque: 350 lb.-ft. Overall length: 202.9 in. Wheelbase: 112.9 in. Width: 76.22 in. Curb weight: 4,343 lbs.

THE GOOD

This sedan can hurry without being harried with all-wheel-drive for year-round fun.

THE BAD

Wide turning radius, heavy car.

THE BOTTOM LINE

This is a daily driver that packs a subtle punch.
ALSO CONSIDER

Dodge Charger