Monday, September 17, 2018


Chevrolet apparently has been busy lately in updating its fleet of crossovers and SUVs.

The 2018 Traverse is the fourth SUV/crossover that the manufacturer has updated within a year, joining the Equinox, Trax, and Bolt EV in that category.

Introduced as a 2009 model to replace the truck-based Trailblazer, the Traverse moved into its second generation as a 2018 model with new, bolder styling, more safety features, two new trim levels, and other updates that make it a very viable option in its class, especially for growing families who need lots of room for both passengers and their stuff.

Modifications to second-row seating accommodations (either a folding bench seat or captain's chairs, depending on the trim level) provide easy access to what is a roomy third row (33.5 inches of legroom, 38.2 for headroom) that still leaves a nice cargo space (23 cubic feet and over 98 cubic feet with the second and third rows folded).

The Traverse is offered in several trim levels that start at $30,875 for the base L trim (including $945 destination and delivery) running to over $54,000 for the new High Country edition.

The all-wheel-drive Premier model that served as my test vehicle for a recent week started with a base MSRP of $47,350 and finished at $50,140 with Redline Edition features and the destination charge added on.

Other trim models are LS, LT, and RS with the LT ($37,040 with cloth seating, $43,640 with leather) expected to be the best seller.

Leather is standard on the Premier along with such features as keyless entry and push-button start, remote start, LED headlamps and taillights, fog lights, power hands-free lift gate, roof rails, trailering equipment, heated second-row seats, 8-way power driver's seat, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, tri-zone climate control, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Safety equipment includes rear park assist, teen driver technology, rear cross traffic alert, lane change and blind spot alert, lane-keeping assist and departure warning, forward collision alert, low-speed forward auto braking, and surround vision camera, the latter an especially nice feature for vehicles of this size.

Finally, techno features include Chevrolet MyLink system with navigation, Bluetooth streaming, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto access, OnStar capability, and satellite radio (3-month trial).

Chevy has been very aggressive in the tech area so naturally the Traverse gets a 4G LTE wi-fi hotspot to keep you in touch with the world outside.

A 3.6-liter, V6 engine that produces 310 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque is standard across the line. It is mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission, and that combination produces ratings of 18 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway with front-wheel drive and 17/26 with available all-wheel drive. A 2.0-liter turbo available on RS models is earns numbers of 20/26.

That's a bit more horsepower and slightly better fuel mileage than what was offered by its predecessor and results in a performance that should satisfy all but the most power-hungry drivers. I never felt that I needed more in the situations I encountered.

What I liked about the 2018 Chevrolet Traverse Premier: Technological features are plentiful and operate off a user-friendly, 8-inch touchscreen. That touchscreen can be raised with the push of a button, giving access to a small storage space. Its spacious cabin gives the feel of a full-size SUV with lots of room for passengers and cargo. Captain's chairs provide easy to the third row.

What I didn't like about the 2018 Chevrolet Traverse Premier: You can't turn off the stop-start system, though you can override it by gently -- and slightly -- releasing brake pressure once you come to a complete stop. Some of the more exotic options, like adaptive cruise control, are not available on lower trim levels.

Would I buy the 2018 Chevrolet Traverse Premier? Though classed as a midsize, the Traverse is a bit too big for my needs and tastes, but it could be just right for a couple with a growing family. It is functional in an attractive package.

Friday, September 7, 2018


Ford may be getting out of the sedan market, but that doesn’t mean the company is getting out of the car business.

In fact, the Detroit News last month reported in an interview with Hau Thai-Tang, Ford's executive vice president of product development and purchasing, that the company actually expects to have three more new vehicles in its lineup by 2023 as it puts its emphasis on trucks and SUVs/crossovers.

That would give the company 23 vehicles in all, which would include the Mustang but not the familiar Fusion or Taurus sedans.

"This is not us shrinking and reducing our size in the marketplace,” the article quotes Thai-Tang. “It’s all about reallocating resources and capital where we can win, also consistent with some of the consumer trends we're seeing.”

The consumer trend Ford is seeing is a reduction in sales numbers for traditional passenger cars like the Toyota Camry and Honda Civic in decline and those for crossovers and SUVs on the rise.

Of the top 10 sedans, eight are showing sales declines for the year of over 20 percent in some cases. Even the leading seller for the segment, the Toyota Camry, was down 18.65 percent for August over the same month for 2017 and off 5 percent for the year.

Perhaps in reaction to last spring’s news about the oncoming end of production, Ford Fusion sales are down over 21 percent and Ford’s Focus numbers are down 16.33 percent for the year. For August, the Fusion was off over 35 percent, the Focus 30 percent.

Taurus sales also are down, but not nearly as much. Meanwhile, the Mustang’s were up over 35 percent for the month and are up just under 1 percent for the year-to-date.

On the other hand, six of the top 10 selling SUVs and crossovers are experiencing sales increases for the year, and of the four that aren’t, two are off by less than 9 percent over their 2017 numbers and two others are down by less than 2 percent.

Given that, Ford’s decision, while certainly attention-grabbing, is a reasonable one. (Nice of me to say that considering the guys who made it are making the big bucks.)

Thus, it’s not surprising that a new vehicle added to the Ford Fleet is a crossover dubbed EcoSport, which for some reason is pronounced as “Echo Sport.” It was introduced in Brazil for 2004 and launched globally in 2012, but didn’t arrive in the U.S. until last year as a 2018 model.

It is aimed at the rather competitive compact crossover/SUV segment. (Think Kia Soul, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Mazda CX-3, and Nissan Kicks and Rogue Sport here) and comes in four trim levels: S, SE, SES, and Titanium.

At 161.3 inches long with a wheelbase of under 100 inches, the Ecosport is about 17 inches shorter and with a wheelbase that is 6.7 inches shorter than the Escape, which in itself is 10 inches shorter than the Edge and 20 shorter than the Explorer.

The base engine on S, SE, and Titantium models is a 1.0-liter, Ecoboost 3-cylinder (123 horsepower, 125 pound-feet of torque) that is enough to get its 3,021 pounds moving but not at much of a pace. A 2.0-liter 4-banger is standard on the SES, and it boosts horsepower to 166 and torque to 149 pound-feet.

Neither engine is all that great on fuel numbers. The government rates 3-cylinder models at 27 miles-per-gallon city, 29 highway, and 28 overall and the AWD models at 23/29/25.

The only transmission offered is a 6-speed SelectShift automatic, which is a bummer but also pretty much the way life is these days. The S, SE, and Titanium are all front-wheel drive, the SES all-wheel. You can opt for both the bigger engine and AWD on the S, SE, and Titanium, which, frankly, I would recommend.

The Titanium (with the standard 3-cylinder engine and FWD) served as our test model for the week. Though it sits at the top of the EcoSport lineup, at $25,880 the FWD Titanium comes in just under the $26,880 for the SES with its larger engine and AWD, but the AWD Titanium tops the price list at $27,330.

The cabin features lots of hard plastics and doesn’t have the upscale feeling of some of its competitors, but it’s not what you would call spartan either.

With the Titanium, you get such standard feature as an easy fill capless fuel filter, fog lamps, LED signature lighting and automatic Halogen headlamps, power moonroof, second-row fold flat (by adjusting the cargo floor) seats, leather-trimmed heat front seats, leather-wrapped shift knob, Smart charging USB port, auto start/stop technology (which you can switch off), keylesss entry and push-button start, and Sync3 with 8-inch touchscreen.

Oh, yes. One kind of unusual thing. Instead of the usual lift gate, the back door swings open horizontally to provide access to 20.9 cubic feet with the second-row seats up and 50.9 with them folded.

Frankly, that “fifth door” may be its most distinctive feature.

What I liked about the 2018 Ford Ecosport Titanium: Ford's Sync system for operation of infotainment functions came under some criticism when it was introduced a few years ago, but now Sync3 is one of the most user-friendly around. The side mirrors also are of a nice size to give you a good view of vehicles coming up on your blind spots (assuming you have set them correctly.

What I didn't like about the 2018 Ford Ecosport Titanium: The base engine lacks punch. With no manual transmission offered, there is no opportunity to make up for that with your driving style.

Would I buy the 2018 Ford Ecosport Titanium? Probably not. Frankly there are better choices in this segment that provide more in the way a fun experience behind the wheel as well as being functional. Its ordinary fuel economy numbers don’t make up for that shortcoming.

Friday, August 31, 2018


Nissan followed up its redesign of its popular Rogue crossover with several midyear enhancements 2017, and the updates keep coming for 2018 with added technology that represents a step — albeit a baby one — to self-driving capability.

The system, dubbed ProPilot, is available on the top trim Rogue SL model as part of a $790 Platinum Package suite of features that also includes 19-inch wheels (replacing standard 18-inchers) and an electronic parking brake.

To activate ProPilot assist technology, you simply push a button on the right side of the steering wheel spoke, then set the desired speed for the adaptive cruise control for the system to kick in.

In addition to keeping your Rogue at a proper distance from the vehicle in front of you, ProPilot also gently helps keep you in your proper lane via a camera-based system that works in a variety of conditions.

Frankly, the technology isn’t all that ground-breaking. I have driven many vehicles that give you a warning, either by an annoying buzzer or by gently vibrating the driver’s seat, to let you know if you are drifting out of your lane, and even been in some will give your steering wheel a nudge to keep you aligned properly.

Those, however, were a bit too aggressive, and even ProPilot takes a bit of getting used to.

Probably the most important thing to note about the ProPilot Assist is the the word "assist." It does not turn the Rogue (or the Leaf) into a self-driving car.

You still must perform basic functions, like keeping your hands on the steering wheel and keeping track of traffic around you. You can’t haul out your cell phone and start dialing calls (though you can I guess if you have synced your phone through the Bluetooth system).

Frankly, other than the adaptive cruise control, I’m not sure I would opt to include ProPilot among the options I would pay extra for, especially with adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning now standard on the SL, but it's not like the cost runs into four figures.

It’s kind of like off-road capability. Even if you don’t use it, it’s nice to know it’s there.

Other changes to the Rogue for 2018 are NissanConnect with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and an additional USB port to all trim levels (S, SV, and SL) and standard Intelligent Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, Intelligent Lane Intervention and Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection for the SL grade.

S and SV trims also get some revised features and colors.

All three are powered by a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine that is rated at 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque and mated with — dare we say it? — a continuously variable transmission.

Three driving modes are offered with Sport to enhance (a little) performance and Eco to save (a little) fuel along with standard or normal mode that earns mileage ratings of 25 miles-per-gallon city, 32 highway, and 27 combined.

Those are good figures and, according to the government, you will spend zero, yes zero, more dollars on fuel costs over a five-year period for the Rogue over other compact crossovers/SUVs.

But, thanks to that CVT, the fun driving quotient is very low.

The Rogue’s other qualities, however, weigh heavily in its favor.

The cabin design is very pleasing to the eye and the materials first-rate. Put an analog clock in the middle of the center stack and slap on Infiniti badging and it very easily could match up to offerings from its upscale siblings.

Price for the Rogue starts at $25,395 (including $975 destination and delivery) for front-wheel-drive S models. The SL with all-wheel drive starts at $33,385, and the SV trims sit in between. Hybrid models start at $27,615 for FWD and go up to $38,885 for SL models with AWD.

What I liked about the 2018 Nissan Rogue SL: The well-trimmed cabin is roomy and comfortable, and there's nice storage space (32 cubic feet) in the back with the elimination of the third row seating. The technology is plentiful and user friendly, especially for us non-geeks. And the exterior appearance doesn't take a backseat to any other vehicle.

What I didn't like about the 2018 Nissan Rogue SL: Nissan has refined the CVT to a fine point, but there is one thing it can't get away from. It's still a CVT. Whatever the engine might deliver in the way of performance, the CVT takes away from it.

Would I buy the 2018 Nissan Rogue SL? I basically have struck two vehicle types off my list of potential purchases: Plugin hybrids and vehicles with CVTs. Thankfully, this isn’t a plugin. If those features don't bother you, and you don't care about sporty performance in a crossover, then yes, the Rogue is a good choice. I might even overlook that it has a CVT next time I go vehicle shopping.

Friday, August 24, 2018


Maybe the first thing you might notice about the 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 is that it isn’t quite so mini, and I’m not talking about just the name.

At nearly 170 inches long and with a wheelbase of just over 105 inches, it isn’t exactly reaching “maxi” standards, but it’s nearly the size of a Kia Soul (and with a longer wheelbase) and approaches the standard for classification as a compact rather than a subcompact vehicle as with some other Minis.

It seats five, offering decent legroom up front (40.4 inches) but slightly less in the back (37.6) because of the placement of the electric motor and its battery pack. And it lists cargo capacity as 15.9 cubic feet, which is a bit less than non-hybrid Countryman models but is adequate for most daily hauls.

The all-wheel-drive plugin is new to the Countryman lineup for 2018. The hybrid setup matches a 1.5-liter 3-cylinder with an electric motor for a combined 221 horsepower (134 from the gas engine alone) along with 284 pound-feet of torque.

That’s considerably more oomph than the other Countryman models (especially the base model’s 134/162) and results in a zero-to-60 mph clocking of 6.8 seconds, which is among the quickest any Mini has to offer.

This could be considered further evidence that a plugin hybrid with an electric-only mode doesn’t have to be a dullard when it comes to performance.

The only transmission available on the plugin is a 6-speed shiftable automatic, and it earns a 65 MPGe rating.

Though it has three different driving modes (Auto eDrive, Max eDrive, and Save Battery), which can be confusing, it’s a bit of stretch to call this an “electric” vehicle. Electric-only range is only up to 24 miles depending on the speed driven, and some sources report it at only half that.

With the gasoline engine kicking in seamlessly when the electric charge is depleted, however, the limited electric range is of no real concern. What is a concern is the somewhat small tank of 9.5 gallons, which means many fill-ups of premium fuel if you don’t keep the battery charged to let the electric motor contribute.

In addition to the hybrid-related driving selections you may also engage Sport, Mid, and Green modes to suit your desires. Green dulls performance, Sport jacks it up a bit.

The 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 carries a starting MSRP of $36,900, which puts near the top of Mini’s price chart. The base Cooper Countryman starts at $10,000 less, however, and the Cooper ALL4 is still under $30,000.

The Cooper S and Cooper S ALL4 start just under $32,000. The John Cooper Works Countryman carries the biggest starting price tag of $37,900.

What I liked about the 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4: This is a fun car to drive and does so in style, with quality materials throughout the cabin. Seats are comfortable, though getting to the handle to adjust the front-seat backs is kind of tricky.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4: The traditional ring at the top of the center stack is bit too much in-your-face for my tastes and provides a limited view for the navigation map. I know that ring been around a while, but enough is enough! The turn signal’s loud clicking and the chimes that greet you when entering can get annoying.

Would I buy the 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4? To repeat a common theme with me, I wouldn’t buy any plugin at this stage. I just don’t think this one offers enough electric drive miles to go through the trouble of going through the process of keeping it charged. Also, I’m not sure the $5,000 premium over the cost of the Countryman S ALL4 model is worth it.

Saturday, August 18, 2018


Now in its sixth generation, the Elantra remains Hyundai’s top seller with over 113,000 sold so far in 2018, the only vehicle in the South Korean automaker’s stable of sedans, hatchbacks, and SUVs/crossovers to reach six figures in total sales to date.

Hyundai says that more than 2.9 million Elantras have been sold in the U.S. since it arrived in the United States in 1990, and it is easy to see why. It still offers a comfortable ride and a many technological and safety features for under $20,000 on all but the high-end models.

Though redesigned for 2017, the 2018 Elantra added a new trim level for 2018 with the Elantra SEL replacing what was sold before as the SE with Popular Equipment Package.

For an MSRP of $19,735 including the $895 destination and delivery charge, the Elantra SEL comes with such features as blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist, rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, auto headlamps, heated outside mirrors, a 7-inch display audio system with SiriusXM satellite radio (unless you live in Alaska or Hawaii), 16-inch alloy wheels, and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with cruise and audio controls.

That’s a nice array of equipment that will satisfy most of your needs. A good thing, too, because the only option offered on the SEL is an auto-dimming mirror with HomeLink and compass.

For navigation and leather seats over the standard premium cloth, you’ll have to step up to the Limited trim that checks in at just under $22,000 including destination and delivery.

Under the hood of the 2018 Elantra is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that offers excellent fuel economy of 28 miles-per-gallon city, 37 highway, and 32 overall, but not a whole lot in the way of performance and an engaging driving experience.

Setting the 6-speed automatic transmission in Sport more helps, but there is only so much you can get out of 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. A manual likely would add to the fun potential, but that is offered only on the SE and Elantra Sport.

For more performance, you might want to take a look at the 2018 Elantra GT Sport that is offered with a 1.6-liter turbo-4 that ups horsepower and torque to 201/195, respectively, but with a tab of just over $25,000.

Space is a plus for the Elantra. Legroom for all trims is a generous 42.2 inches in the front and an adequate 35.7 in the back. The trunk is 14.4 cubic feet — good for the class.

The Elantra also comes in other trims with the SE serving as the base and starts at $17,845 when equipped with a six-speed manual transmission and $18,845 with the 6-speed Shiftronic.

Other Elantra sedans, including the SEL, come with either either a 6-speed automatic or a 7-speed double-clutch transmission. The Elantra Value Edition models start at just under $21,000 with the destination and delivery added in, and the Eco, which is rated at 35 mpg combined with the 1.4-liter turbo-4 and the double-clutch tranny, starts at $21,435,

Limited Edition starts at $21,985. The Elantra Sport is $22,685 with the 6-speed manual and $23,785 with the 7-speed dual clutch tranny.

That pretty much leaves the SEL as the more popular choice.

What I liked about the 2018 Hyundai Elantra SEL: Setting the transmission to Sport mode results in a much more livelier performance, though a manual transmission — not available on the SEL — likely would make it even better. Basic infotainment features, including SiriusXM satellite radio, are user friendly operating off a generous 7-inch touchdown. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard. Connecting a cell through Bluetooth is a snap.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Hyundai Elantra SEL: The engine is quiet enough, though we found it necessary to turn up the audio volume when at expressway speeds because of road noise. Navigation is offered only on the Limited trim (but you probably prefer our smart phone any way).

Would I buy the 2018 Hyundai Elantra SEL? Yes. This is a good value for the money. The SEL comes with lots of standard features and still keeps the MSRP at under $20,000.

Monday, August 13, 2018


Volkswagen executives were expecting (hoping for?) much success when the Atlas was launched as a replacement for the Touareg in the midsize SUV segment in the U.S., and the latest sales reports seem to confirm their expectations (hopes?).

The Atlas enjoyed its best sales month yet this past July and was one of three vehicles from the German automaker’s stable that helped spur overall sales growth of nearly 13 percent for the company over the same month for the previous year.

In fact, without the Atlas those numbers would have been down for the month as the company’s top seller, the Jetta, actually showed a sales decline of 37.2 percent for the month and 40 percent for the year-to-date just past the midpoint of 2018.

VW reported total sales of 6,938 for the Jetta for July and 39,961 for the first seven months of the year while the redesigned Tiguan small SUV and the all-new Atlas showed July sales of 6,636 and 6,499, respectively.

Those numbers represents huge percentage  jumps of 1,019.1 and 397.6 percent, respectively, for the two SUVs.

For the year, VW reports that 52,738 Tiguans and 34,657 Atlases have been sold so far in 2018 compared to 593 and 5,329, respectively, at this point in 2017.  Percentage-wise, that represents jumps of 8,7934 and 550.3 percent, respectively.

With a new 5-passenger Atlas in the works for 2019 to join the current 7-passenger version, that momentum is likely to continue into the future.

VW says the Atlas was designed with American audiences in mind, which means lots of interior room overall and legroom for third-row passengers. It is put together at the company’s assembly plant in Chattanooga with 46 percent of the parts coming from the U.S. and Canada and only 27 percent from Germany.

The understated interior features a nice clean design with the emphasis on functionality, not gee-whiz gizmos and techno features. Seating capacity is seven with those in the second and third rows getting 37.6 and 33.7 inches of legroom, respectively, and a generous 41.5 up front. The 60/40 split second row has a sliding row of up to 7.7 inches, and Captain’s Chairs also are offered on higher end trims for six-passenger capacity.

Cargo volume behind the third row is 20.6 cubic feet, and with the third row folded it’s a generous 55.5.

The Atlas is offered in five flavors (S, SE, SE w/technology, SEL, SEL Premium) with either a 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder or an available 3.6-liter V6 under the hood. V6s also are offered with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive.

The 4-banger is rated at 235 horsepower at 4500 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque starting at 1600 rpm when using premium fuel, but it also runs on regular unleaded.

The V6 boosts those numbers to 276 hp at 6200 rpm and 266 lb.-ft. of torque at 2750 rpm. That power gets to either the front or all wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Fuel economy with the turbo-4 is 22 miles-per-gallon city, 26 highway and 24 combined. Numbers for the V6 are 18/25/30 with FWD and 17/23/19 with AWD.

AWD models feature four settings — Onroad, Snow, Offroad, and Custom Offroad — with Onroad as the default setting. Onroad can be further set to Normal, Sport, Eco, or Individual modes depending on your preferences and conditions.

My test vehicle was the AWD SEL and was a joy to drive.

Equipment like the V6 engine and Triptronic transmission, 18-inch wheels, power sunroof, 60/40 split second-row seating, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, 8-way adjustable front passenger seat, adaptable cruise control, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, Park Pilot system, blind-spot monitor and rear traffic alert, 8-inch touchscreen for infotainment features, and push-button start was included in the MSRP of $43,615, including the $925 destination and delivery charge.

The base S model starts at just under $34,000 while the SEL Premium nudges the $49,000 mark.

What I liked about the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas: Though it seats seven passengers, the Atlas has the feel of a much smaller vehicle when it comes to handling and drive-ability. It looks good as well, and the inside is very roomy. Access to the third row is accomplished easily by sliding second-row seats forward, and you can move the second row forward a bit to give third-row riders more legroom.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas: Response to voice commands was a bit irregular, and voice command protocol required the frequency first be selected and then the station number to change radio stations. I also never did get my cell phone connected via Bluetooth.

Would I buy the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas? Yes. It is one of the few three-row SUVs that I would consider. But if you simply don’t want that third row, a five-passenger Atlas is in the works for 2019.