(From tomorrow's Metro Weekly):
Around the time enormous SUVs began to inspire more than a twinge of guilt in many of their owners and gas prices caused a steady ache in gas-hog drivers’ wallets, auto manufacturers devised a new marketing niche to alleviate those pains: the crossover.
A crossover means to take the best of the large SUV -- all-wheel drive and copious cargo space -- and merge it with the best of the passenger car -- a lower road profile and far better gas mileage. It is the Goldilocks solution to the SUV problem, neither too big nor too small, too profligate nor too parsimonious.
Which brings us to the case of the Suzuki SX4 Crossover.
Suzuki has made headway in the U.S. market as of late with some snappily designed, easily affordable and energy efficient cars and SUVs. The SX4 line -- the Crossover is one of two models, alongside the Sport -- is a compact urban driver well suited to densely traveled commuter paths.
The SX4 Crossover provides a solid-feeling all-wheel drive system in its compact frame, granting a greater sense of control and safety in foul weather situations -- and for less than $17,000, which is certainly no bad deal.
Adding to the SX4’s plus column is a sharp exterior that manages to rise above the bland without succumbing to the faux-bling effect that some other brands use to gussy up their lower cost models. The interior feels a bit austere, but not cheap -- and it comes with front and side airbags, plus a decent sound system.
But while the rear cargo area is adequate for a five-door compact -- once the back seats fold-and-tumble out of the way -- it’s not exactly the Goldilocks solution for storage.
That doesn’t detract from the fact that the SX4 is a solid little car with plenty of desirable features for a good price. It just isn’t exactly the “crossover” it wants to be.
From tomorrow's Metro Weekly:
In a time of four-dollar-a-gallon gas, nothing primes the pump of personal satisfaction quite like driving a hybrid. You can sigh with self-important relief as you cruise along under the power of your own electrically-assisted engine and gaze with pity upon all those poor souls who bought big, honking SUVs back in the days when $3 gas seemed an outrage.
You know, back in 2007.
But while you may crave the cultural significance of driving an eco-mobile, you may not be quite ready to give up your SUV-loving ways.
Enter the Lexus RX 400h.
Powered by the same technology behind Toyota’s blockbuster green machine, the Prius, the RX 400h near seamlessly blends the distinctive style and design of the Lexus mid-size SUV with the near frugality of a hybrid.
Note that second “near.”
As an SUV, the RX 400h delivers exactly what we’ve come to expect from a Lexus: a nicely appointed interior that doesn’t cross the line into extravagant; a roomy interior that still feels a touch cozy; and a smooth driving experience that slots directly between a car and a fuller-sized SUV.
As a hybrid, the RX 400h delivers a taste of what new technology offers in terms of greener autos and reduced dependence on fossil fuels. But it’s helpful to remember that there are two overlapping, but distinct, reasons for buying a hybrid.
One, you want to save yourself money by reducing the amount of gas you use.
Two, you want to save the environment by reducing the amount of gas you use.
If you can afford about fifty grand for a spanking new hybrid SUV, then you’re likely focused on reason number two. While the RX 400h improves on the mileage of its gas-only brethren, it’s a far cry from the mileage you would wring out of the far thriftier -- and cheaper -- Prius.
That’s not a bad thing -- the continuing growth and popularity of hybrid technology in the American market is truly welcome. Just be clear with yourself about your goals, and you’ll be happy with your pick.
It takes a certain kind of style to make ugly an asset, a style generally limited to small dogs and Subarus. Toyota's (supposedly) youth-targeted brand Scion has been making some impressive gains in the field of desirable ugliness, particularly with its boxy xB line. I drove the original xB and right now I have the redesigned version sitting in my driveway like an overgrown Sluggo, ugly as all get out yet still possessed of charm.
The funny thing is that the new xB is actually far less ugly than its more angular predecessor, even as Toyota/Scion has launched an ad campaign built around the car's love-it-or-hate-it design. Hard edges have been smoothed over -- the hood now rolls easily downward into a plastic grille marked by playful circle cut-outs. The more extreme headlights provide a lot more character than the previous rectangular ones. But looked at from a distance, it's clear that xB is as slab-like as a side of beef.
That oddly boring yet compelling profile is the direct result of the xB's primary asset -- you can haul around a lot of crap in it. For years people have rationalized the purchase of giganto SUVs by focusing on their roomy cargo areas. Really, in an urban area and with rising gas prices, you're likely going to be better off with an $18K Scion that gets 28 mpg highway (22 city). Anyway, I suspect 75 percent or more of the Land Rovers, et al, cruising around the Beltway have never seen anything heavier or larger than a load from Whole Foods or a shopping spree at Tysons. Both of which the xB handles well.
The Scion showed up the day that I was catering a wedding for about 45 people, so I decided to test that hauling capacity. I got everything in, from crates of platters to coolers of food, to bags of tools and uniforms. The only thing that had to go separately was the four-feet-tall foliage arrangements -- the xB has a lot of width and depth, but with the back seats folded down to increase space, it lacks a little bit in height. But it's not anything different than what you might find in a Subaru Outback or Forrester.
The driving experience for the xB has improved with the redesign -- it feels far more solid now. The excellent iPod integration is a plus for Mac fanboys such as myself, though with Bluetooth now a more common addition to cars even on the lower price end, it would be nice to have that included as well. As it is, I'll be sorry to see the charmingly ugly little bastard leave on Friday. He does tend to grow on you.
One of the first things you learn after buying a Jeep Wrangler is the Wrangler wave: whenever you meet a fellow Wrangler driver on the road, you give a quick wave. It's so ingrained in me after eight years bouncing around behind the wheel of my Jeep that I often wave at Wranglers when I'm actually driving something else. It's one of those long-standing traditions of the roadway that's kind of silly but feels good -- just like having a secret handshake at the fraternity, actually, but with less beer and vomit.
Maybe that's why Wrangler-driving women almost never do the wave. Marines, farmer dudes, obvious homosexuals such as myself, all generally give a wave. Women, almost never. Do they wonder whey all these guys are waving at them? Maybe it really is just a guy thing.
That's me, a big male bonder.
I was planning on taking the Suzuki SUV out for another couple of spins today as I need to do some errands. But it turns out that this is the kind of day that makes me believe I'll never sell my Wrangler: clear blue sky, direct sunlight leaving just a hint of chill in the air, trees not yet spewing pounds of pollen into the atmosphere.
The Jeep may need a new top, it may be operating sans floor carpet and the black plastic fenders may be closer to gray, but there are times when driving it seems like the only good choice I have.
At least until it rains.
Via Autoblog, Cadillac's 2009 XLR convertible has been caught running around naked in public. While I'm generally a fan of Caddy's CTS and STS, the XLR is a model that I initially liked, but have grown less enamored of over time. This new version doesn't look like it'll change that, at least from the outside. In fact, this looks like it could be the answer to the question, "What if Spider-Man had a Spider-Car?"
The actual answer to which is:
Frankly, I'm seeing more similarities than I should. Though if the XLR came with web-rockets, I'd so totally be there.
Note: "First Impressions" and "In the Driveway" posts are basically my initial impressions of cars I'm currently driving for review. Given that they are initial impressions, sometimes my opinions will change -- for good or ill -- between the time I post and the time I actually review. I'll post links to reviews as they're finished, as well, and try to explain any evolving opinions.
Mitsubishi strikes me a bit of an odd car company, with some exceptionally strong entries for both performance (the go-go Lancer) and style (the seductively curvy Eclipse). Balancing those out are some, well, not-so-strong models.
Case in point, the Outlander "crossover" SUV -- crossover meaning, basically, a car that's been jacked up to ride kind of like an SUV but without some of the downsides like excessive weight. The Outlander definitely rides more like a car than an SUV, but that's not necessarily a good thing. It feels soft and disconnected in its handling.
The SE version I drove comes standard with straight-four engine, which provides decent gas mileage for a part-time four-wheel drive -- 20 mpg city, 25 highway -- but that comes completely at the expense of power. With only 168 horsepower at your disposal, getting out onto a busy road requires a touch of caution and some good timing, and I imagine jamming the accelerator to the floor over and over to hit merging speed won't do much to help those mpg numbers.
Looking at the outside, the Outlander is competent without being compelling. The prow-like nose recalls some Acura's beak-nosed SUVs, but I don't consider that a plus. While the Outlander doesn't stand out with beauty, neither does it stand out with ugliness. It's simply average.
Inside the economy roots show pretty heavily, with oddly textured hard plastic -- the honeycomb pattern isn't as big a sin as some other manufacturers' fetish for faux-carbon-steel patterns, but it doesn't make a lot of sense, either. But there's definitely more to like with the interior than the exterior of the Outlander. Numerous power outlets make it easy to juggle your portable electronic life, and the navigation system (should you choose to spring for it) works pretty well. The cargo area is fairly large. The front seats provide a lot more support than I expected, particularly lateral support. Unfortunately, the back seat was so hard and bench-like that if I closed my eyes I half expected the coach to call me out to play right field. An extended time in the back would not be a pleasant experience.
If you're on a budget but need a larger vehicle, the Outlander might have some appeal for you. The base model starts at under $20K -- the SE model I tested starts around $25K (I'm still waiting to see the invoice that includes the extras on my test model). But if you have some financial wiggle room, you'll definitely want to do some comparison shopping.
I've got a new Gears up at Metro Weekly on the 2008 Mini Cooper S. In short, there's a lot to love about the Mini, and the new enhancements, mostly stylistic, don't do anything to change that. The new Mini Clubman -- a larger version of the car that should address some of the Cooper's problems with storage area and back seat passengers (it doesn't have any and it doesn't hold any) -- is out soon and I'm awaiting my chance at the wheel. Given the interest in the car, though, I don't expect to get a crack at it until mid-summer at the earliest.
Because I'm slacking, I've neither noted the earlier review of the Lexus IS 350 nor finished the logo for this embryonic site. Soon, soon, I promise.