Wednesday, June 21, 2017


You probably are well aware that Ford’s F-Series pickup truck is the America’s top-selling vehicle. The company rarely misses the opportunity to pass on that information through print and over-the-air ads.

But what do you think is the company’s No. 2 seller?

The Fusion sedan?





No. No. No. No. And definitely no.

Nope, Ford’s No. 2 seller is the Escape, which is still going strong since the company introduced it into the small SUV segment for the 2001 model year. In 2016, Ford reported sales of 307,069 Escapes, up slightly from 306,492 for the year before. That’s well behind the 820,799 F-Series trucks reported sold last year, but also comfortably ahead of the Fusion (265,840), Explorer (216,294), Focus (168,789), Edge (134,588), and Mustang (105,932).

And the trend is continuing in 2017. The company recently announced it was cutting its usual summer two-week production layoff at its Louisville, Kentucky, plant to just one week because of stronger demand.

Escape sales through May were at 129,805, an increase of nearly 3 percent for the same time period last year and the strongest start yet for the versatile vehicle that provides nice room for both passengers and cargo alike, especially for its class.

Ford has significantly updated the Escape for 2017, adding a new 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder to the engine choices, giving the 2.0-liter turbo a power boost, and adding a stop-start feature for the fuel-conscious on both Ecoboost engines. (It’s not as intrusive as some others, and it can be turned off with the push of a button on the lower end of the center stack.)

Designers gave the roomy cabin a somewhat classier look with a push-button electronic parking brake replacing the large hand brake that rested alongside the center console. (It’s just back of the gearshift lever.) They also moved the gearshift back a bit to open up access to the climate controls.

Other refinements include redesigned cupholders, a spot on the center console for a USB port and power outlet and controls on the steering wheel for operation of the phone, audio, cruise control, and information systems.

The Escape is available in three trims, S, SE, and Titanium with SE likely hitting the sweet spot for most buyers. It offers more niceties than the base S, including the 1.5-liter turbo that boosts horsepower and torque to 179 horsepower and 177 pound-feet over the 168/170, respectively, of the S’s 2.5-liter naturally aspirated 4-banger. The optional 2.0-liter turbo takes the power figures up to 245/275, respectively. A six-speed automatic transmission with SelectShift capability is standard in all trims.

Other standard features on the SE include dual exhaust tips, fog lamps, LED taillights, 60/40 split fold rear seat, dual zone automatic climate control, steering wheel mounted paddle shifters (imagine that!), rearview camera, roof rails, and more.

The Titanium edition picks up where the SE leaves off and among other things adds a foot sensor to operate the power lift gate (after all, pushing a button on the key fob is so demanding), keyless entry and ignition, a 10-speaker Sony sound system, and memory settings for the driver’s seat.

My vehicle for the week was the Escape SE which came with option packages that included such features as blind spot warning, a power lift gate, panoramic moonroof, and a voice-activated navigation system. That added $5,475 to the base MSRP of $25,100 for a total of $30,575 (including destination and delivery). That’s pretty much in line with others in the genre.

Overall, it was a pleasant time. Operating the 1.5-liter turbo-4 in Sport (S) mode added noticeable punch to the driving performance, but even in Drive (D) the throttle responses were quick enough to assure safe entry into heavy traffic lanes.

The 1.5L Ecoboost engine also offers decent enough fuel economy. EPA ratings are 23 miles-per-gallon city, 30 highway, and 26 combined with front-wheel drive compared to 21/29/24 with the base 2.5L and 22/29/25 for the more powerful 2.0L Ecoboost. That’s using regular fuel. AWD knocks off a couple of miles-per-gallon, of course.

The cabin is very quiet — you can hardly notice with the stop/start kicks on and off — and roomy. Up to 43.1 inches of legroom is available up front, and the three backseat riders get 36.8 inches. Cloth seats are standard with leather optional.

SYNC Connect is available as part of a technology package on SE models and is standard on the Titanium edition. It’s easy enough to operate and responds quickly and accurately to voice commands.

If you want to dress up your Escape a bit, for an extra $1,295 a Sport Appearance package adds 19-inch ebony black aluminum wheels, black headlamp and taillamp bezels, and black upper grille and side vents.

What I liked about the 2017 Ford Escape SE: Storage space is excellent. There’s 34.3 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the second row. Fold those seats and it increases to 67.8 cubic feet. The overall driving experience was excellent.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Ford Escape SE: I know the dash looks cleaner with a minimum number of knobs, but I still like to have one to surf the radio dial. There is a knob to adjust volume, but not change stations.

Would I buy the 2017 Ford Escape? Sure (but not this color). It’s a competitive segment with some really nice choices these days, and the Escape is among them. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


According to Shakespeare, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Maybe that works in cases of love — the quote is from Romeo and Juliet, in case you missed that lit class — but maybe not so much when it comes to automobiles.

Consider, for example, the Infiniti Q60.

When introduced as a G35 replacing the outdated G20 in the company’s lineup, it played to generally good reviews. Car & Driver’s Aaron Robinson wrote: “The G35 coupe is the most appealing article to slide down the Infiniti chute since the original Q.”

When it morphed into the G37 because of its slightly bigger engine, the G37 coupe still carried a lot of verve. The anonymous reviewer for called the 2008 G37 coupe “a hoot to drive” while praising the interior for its abundance of quality materials and high-tech features offered.

Then a couple of years ago, when the company announced its policy of labeling its cars with a “Q” designation and its SUVs “QX” followed by a number corresponding to the vehicle’s place in the overall lineup, the G37 coupe became the Q60 and the G37 sedan the Q50.

So what do we hear about the redesigned 2017 Q60?

Well, the U.S. News & World Report’s usual analysis of reviews of luxury small cars rates the Q60 no better than tied for 18th with the Acura ILX and Buick Cascada in a field of 20 luxury small cars. Not that it is a bad car, the magazine notes. Just that in such high class competition, it rates as merely “OK.”

When it comes to performance, Autoblog says the Q60 “underwhelms,” and the New York Daily News groans that “despite its performance-oriented specifications, gorgeous body, and promise of a relaxed driving experience, it’s still tough to get excited about the new 2017 Infiniti Q60.”

At least Automobile Magazine had good things to say about the “clean and elegant finish” of the interior.

So what happened? Did Nissan engineers and designers take a dose of stupid pills along with the name change?

I don’t think so.

After spending a week in the 2017 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with 17 cars to put ahead of it in its class.

First, it has the inherent sexiness of a coupe’s profile. You can even see a familial resemblance to parent company Nissan’s 370Z sports coupe in its profile.

Next, inside it has the requisite luxury leather and niceties for its segment, like some carbon fiber trim touches. Door handles are placed at a convenient spot, and the steering wheel and shift lever get the full leather treatment.

Riders in front get up to 43.1 inches of legroom while the two in the back, who are separated by a mini-console featuring two small cupholders and a small flat space for, um, well I’m not really sure that it would be for, get 35.1 inches of legroom and, despite the sloping roofline, 34.5 inches of headroom.

Infiniti calls the overall theme for the cabin “driver-centric” and “passenger-minded.” I call it elegant and comfortable.

The center stack features two screens for operation of Infiniti’s In-Touch infotainment system. This cleans up the dash from an excessive number of buttons and knobs, but it doesn’t make for the most intuitive of operating systems. Also, without the available navigation system, the top screen has a rather bland look about it that takes away from the overall appeal of the flowing dash design.

The powertrain is where the Q60 really delivers.

The Red Sport 400 that served as my test vehicle came with a new 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 engine tuned to 400 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, which folks running the website clocked at 4.5 seconds from zero to 60 mph.

With that engine mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, the Red Sport’s fuel mileage ratings are 20 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway, and 22 combined, though the computer showed that I was getting closer to 24 in mostly around-town driving.

A 300-hp V6 and 2.0-liter 4-banger rated at 208 horsepower are the other engine choices in the Q60 portfolio.

Starting MSRP for the 2017 Q60 is $39,855 (including destination and delivery) for the Q60 2.0t with rear-wheel drive. The top-of-the-line Q60 Red Sport 400 checks in at $52,205. All-wheel drive adds $2,000 to the MSRP.

What I liked about the 2017 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400: Set in Sport-Plus (one of six driving modes along with Standard, Sport, Personal, Snow, and Eco) it delivers a fun driving experience. Some reviews criticize it for poor steering feedback, but I have found that’s not uncommon for steer-by-wire systems. I experienced no issues.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400: Though the system responded quickly and accurately with voice commands, the operation of the In Touch system overall could use some fine-tuning. I happen to like the two-screen approach (some don’t) but the steps for the various functions need a review to make it more intuitive.

Would I buy the 2017 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400? Yes. The small luxury segment is a competitive one with lots of good choices, but the Q60 needs to be on your list if you are shopping in the segment.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


The Camaro is celebrating its 50th anniversary with the 2017 model, though Chevy folks got the jump on the occasion by giving it a full redesign for 2016 that included a new turbo-charged 4-cylinder engine that probably caused conniption fits among Muscle Car purists.

Now, as it moves into the second year of its sixth generation, the Camaro features special “Fifty” badging on the steering wheel of all trims, a teen driving package that allows parents to set limits and review driving habits of the new drivers in the family, and a new exterior color, Arctic Blue Metallic.

Also available for an extra $2,695 is a 50th Anniversary package that adds, among other things, special “Fifty” exterior markings, hood stripes and illuminated sill plates, unique 20-inch 50th wheels, special front grille, and orange front brake calipers to give the car a special look.

Like its No. 1 rival the Ford Mustang — the Camaro was introduced three years after the Mustang debuted, the Camaro is available as a coupe or convertible, each in several different trims and with three engine choices.

The base trim, designated 1LS, and the next two up the ladder, the 1LT and 2LT trims, get the 4-banger as standard with a 6-speed manual transmission with a V6 and 8-speed automatic transmission as an option. The upper three trims get V8 power with the 1SS and 2SS getting a 6.2-liter, 455 horsepower version and the ZL1 getting a supercharged, 6.2-liter V8 rated at 650 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque.

My vehicle for the week was the 2LT convertible with the available V6 engine and 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters. With 335 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque, the engine provides plenty of power for daily drives and with three driving modes — Tour, Sport, and Snow/Ice — to choose from, you can enhance performance to your liking. (A fourth mode, Track, is offered on V8 Camaros.)

Fuel mileage is decent enough. The V6 Camaro earns ratings of 19 miles-per-gallon city, 28 highway, and 22 combined drinking regular 87 octane fuel. (Premium is recommended for best performance with the turbo 4 or V8.)

Like the coupe, the convertible seats four passengers, though those in the back don’t get a heckuva lot of room (less than 30 inches of legroom) and the driver’s rear visibility is restricted with the roof raised. Thank goodness for the standard rearview camera! Blind spot warning, available in the Convenience and Lighting Package, is a nice feature to have, though setting the side mirrors properly can alleviate the situation.

Other than that, the Camaro is comfortable enough for a Muscle Car. There’s a bit more refinement than in the earlier models, of course, but you’re not going to confuse it with the interior of a German luxury car. A lot of hard surfaces abound in the interior.

Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system with a 8-inch diagonal screen is not as complicated to operate as some other manufacturers have made their systems, and response to voice commands is accurate and quick. MyLink Audio is standard while MyLink with Navigation and the 8-inch touchscreen adds another $495 to the $35,605 MSRP.

The convertible top operates with the push of a button at the top of the windshield and can be raised or lowered at speeds of up to 30 mph, which is nice if you get caught in an unexpected shower. Lowering the roof cuts an already tight trunk space to less than half the available 7.3 cubic feet. You’ll likely going to have to place a second golf bag in the back seat.

Standard equipment includes a couple of service visits, capless refueling, the usual safety features as regards to seat belts and air bags, halogen headlights, LED daytime running lights, dual exhaust tips, rear spoiler, push-button start, 8-way driver and 6-way passenger power adjustable front seats, leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, Bose premium sound system, Bluetooth, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.

With the options, my test vehicle came to a total of $45,480 including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

What I liked about the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro convertible: The retro styling, introduced when Chevy resurrected the Camaro in 2010 after an eight-year production hiatus, is eye-catching. Adjusting the temperature for the A/C and heater is accomplished by turning large rings around the large blower outlets on the center stack, kind of a neat touch.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro convertible: Getting in the backseat is a chore with the roof raised. But you can say that about just about any convertible (or coupe, for that matter). Visibility also is restricted with the roof raised as well, not just out the back but on the sides as well because of the shallow side windows.

Would I buy the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro convertible: Sure would. I’d get the manual transmission, though. Paddle shifters just aren’t the same.

Thursday, May 18, 2017


One of the most appealing things about an SUV is its cargo hauling capability.

You’ll find it listed among the top 10 attributes potential buyers give as their reason for shopping in the segment. (The website lists cargo capacity as the No. 8 reason to buy an SUV right behind “dogs love SUVs” and “SUVs are better in a flood” and ahead of “SUVs have a commanding seating position.”

Which is why if you are considering an SUV or one of its crossover cousins you might want to include the Dodge Durango on your list. When it comes to providing passengers with nice room for themselves and their stuff, the Durango is among the best in its class. Even those riders relegated to third-row seats get decent space.

Launched 20 years ago as a midsize SUV built on the Dodge Dakota platform, the Durango grew a bit as it moved into its second generation as a 2003 model and after taking a year off from production, the 2011 model added a third row of seats in moving the Durango into its third generation.

The Durango was updated for 2014 and for 2017 a new trim level dubbed the GT is being introduced to replace the Limited model in the Durango lineup to go with the base SXT, SXT-Plus, Citadel, and R/T trims.

Late this year, the company also will have in showrooms an SRT version as a 2018 model packing a 6.4-liter HEMI V8 that pumps up performance to 475 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. The company says it will have a towing capacity of 8,600 pounds and a zero-to-60 time of under 4.5 seconds, which is borders on the unbelievable in a vehicle that offers three rows of seating.

But getting back to what I first was talking about, which was hauling stuff and not hauling you-know-what, the Durango provides passengers with good room in all three rows (38.6 inches of legroom for the second row, 31.5 inches for the third). With optional captains’ chairs ($995) in the second row instead of the usual 60/40 split bench seat, third-row occupants also pick up a little more knee room from the open space in the middle. It just seems less cramped.

And it doesn’t skimp on cargo space. With the two third-row seats in place, capacity in the far back is 17.2 cubic feet, good to handle a standard grocery run. Fold them flat and that opens up to 47.7 cubic feet. Maximum cargo space with the second row folded is 84.5 cubic feet, which is surpassed by only the biggest full-size SUVs on the market today.

Encompassing all that space is an interior that I would describe as “spartan sophisticated” that complements a bold, in-your-face exterior. By that I mean a cabin that doesn’t hit the level of luxury but with leather trimmed bucket seats (either Capri leather or Nappa leather is standard on all but the SXT trim, which gets mesh cloth), a leather-wrapped steering wheel that is pleasant to the touch, rear-park assist and backup camera and a version of the company’s UConnect telematics, including one that features navigation (again standard on the upper trims), the Durango is pleasing to the eye if not luxurious.

Such options as a Customer Preferred Package that included Beats premium audio, navigation, and power sunroof and power rear lift gate plus a rear entertainment center, trailer tow group, safety features like blind spot and cross path detection, and a power tilt-and-telescoping steer wheel nicely topped off the features of the Durango GT that served me for a week.

Mechanically, the Durango offers two different engines.

A 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine (295 horsepower, 260 pound-feet of torque) is standard for the SXT, GT, and Citadel trims and a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 (slightly smaller than what will be in the SRT and tuned to 360 hp and 390 lb.-ft. of torque) is standard on the R/T and available on the Citadel.

An 8-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for manual gear selection is standard on all trims, and all trim lines are available with all-wheel drive in addition to the standard rear-wheel configuration. Towing capacity is 6,200 pounds for V6 models with either RWD or AWD, 7,400 for RWD V8s and 7,200 for AWD V8s.

As for fuel mileage, the V6 is rated at 19 miles-per-gallon city, 26 highway, and 21 combined with RWD and 18/25/21 with AWD. Figures for the V8 are 14/22/17 with RWD, 14/22/17 with AWD. Considering the V6 provides adequate punch for everyday tasks, I’d go with that over the V8. And if you really want that extra power, just save up over the next few months while waiting for the SRT.

MSRP for the Durango starts at just under $30,000 for the SXT and runs to nearly $45,000 for the R/T V8 with AWD. The GT that I had featured AWD and started at $40,095 but with all the extras added, plus the destination and delivery charge of $1,095, it topped out at $49,065.

The low end is a bargain but, of course, lacks many of the features that give the Durango some advantages over its competitors. The high end is just that — high end.

What I liked about the 2017 Dodge Durango GT: It doesn’t have the feel of a vehicle of its size when it comes to handling, and the ride is comfortable and quiet. The real plus is the simplicity of operation of infotainment systems like audio and navigation. Very, very intuitive. Also, you can turn off the annoying start-stop system that shuts down the engine when you come to a complete stop.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Dodge Durango GT: The center console is on the small side, especially for an SUV, and doesn’t offer as much in the way of stowage as the optional second-row console ($300) that rests between the two captain’s chairs.

Would I buy the 2017 Dodge Durango GT: I don’t have the need personally for a three-row SUV, but yes, I would at least take a look if I were shopping in the segment.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


A full redesign of the Audi A8L sedan is in the works for 2018, and if the 2017 model is any indication, the new version should really be something.

Serving as Audi’s flagship vehicle for over 20 years, the A8 doesn’t garner the attention or plaudits of its Teutonic brethren in the full-size, luxury sedan segment, but it is every bit the equal of the Mercedes-Benz S Class or BMW 7-Series when it comes to sophistication, performance, comfort, and good looks.

That it may be underrated or under-appreciated lies more with the biases of reviewers than it is anything Audi has or hasn’t done with the A8. 

With the W12 and diesel versions on hold for at least a while, the Audi A8L comes with the choice of one of two engines for 2017.

A turbocharged, 3.0-liter V6 sends 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels via Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system, and a turbo, 4.0-liter V8 ups the numbers to 450 and 440, respectively. Both get an 8-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with paddle shifters for manual gear selection if desired.

The difference in performance is just over a second in zero-to-60 mph times with the V8 accomplishing it in 4.4 seconds and the V6 in 5.5, according to the company. Fuel economy is only slightly better with the V6. EPA figures are 19 miles-per-gallon city, an impressive 29 highway, and 22 combined for the V6 compared to 18/29/22 for the V8.

Essentially, then, the choice basically comes down to your willingness to pony up $9,000 more for the V8 over the starting MSRP of $82,500 for the V6. But you won’t be disappointed with the V6.

Operating mostly in Sport and dynamic modes, I found that the V6 offers all except what the most power-hungry would want out of a full-size luxury vehicle in the way of performance and without infringing on the comfort of more, um, sensitive passengers. The ride is extremely smooth as even in dynamic setting bumps are absorbed with alacrity.

The L, for long wheelbase, is standard on both the V6 and V8 models, which means backseat riders get up to 42.9 inches of legroom. Despite its length of 207.4 inches, however, the trunk space is kind of stingy for the segment, only 14.2 cubic feet. Both the S-Class sedan and BMW 7-Series sedan offer more.

The list of standard features is what you would expect from the class. Navigation, lots of leather, suede trim, Audi’s MMI interface for operation of infotainment features, full LED headlights (daytime running, high and low beam, turn signals), four-zone climate control, keyless entry and start-stop, Audi Parking System Plus with rearview camera, and Bluetooth hands-free communication are included.

My test vehicle came with extras like 20-inch, 10-spoke wheels over standard 18s, a panoramic sunroof, top-view camera system, head-up display, Valcona sport seats with diamond stitching, rear-seat comfort package with ventilation and massage functions on outboard rear seats, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist. Add the $950 destination and delivery charge the total price ran to $92,500, which included a $5,400 executive package credit.

Even that price makes the A8 one of the bargains in the segment.

With buyers apparently holding off until the 2018 comes out (sales for the 2017 A8 were only 291 vehicles in April compared to 330 for April 2016 and are down 17.6 percent for the year over the first four months of last year), some good offers could be forthcoming on the 2017 Audi A8.

Also, one of the major updates for the 2018 A8 is expected to be in the area of technological features. It will be interesting to see what that will include. What’s next in tech features? Are our cars going to do our taxes some day? Let’s hope that the Germans avoid their usual tendency of over-complicating these tech refinements.

Styling no doubt will get some attention, too, but a radical departure in overall appearance isn’t likely. So you’re not going to be all that much dated if you go with a 2017 A8.

What I liked about the 2017 Audi A8L: This is a good size sedan that rides and handles like a smaller vehicle. As noted earlier, operating in Sport and Dynamic modes provides a fun driving experience.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Audi A8L: The dial for operating the MMI interface for audio and navigation features is placed at an odd spot just in front of the gear shifter. The driver has to reach forward to turn the knob. It needs to moved back a bit so that your hand falls naturally at the right spot. More irritating, however, is responses to voice commands. It was the most frustrating I’ve ever dealt with. No, dammit, I want Channel 55, not 50s on 5!

Would I buy the 2017 Audi A8L? Yes. Even with a redesign coming up, you’re not going to have buyer’s remorse if you opt for the 2017 A8L.

Thursday, May 4, 2017


Chances are if you look for info on BMW’s X4 you’re going to find it listed with SUVs or maybe crossovers. For example, U.S. News & World Report in its compilation of reviews includes it in luxury compact SUVs along with its sibling the X3.

But that’s really not quite right.

The 2017 BMW X4 is what you might call a “tweener.” When it comes to hauling your stuff, the X4 comes up short of its competitors. It can handle a grocery run but a trip to Home Depot or Lowe’s could be another matter depending on how big your home improvement project is. Luggage for a family vacation also could be an issue.

At the same time, it is a bit too big to be considered a mere hatchback or luxury sedan/coupe.

So how does one classify the X4?

BMW solves the issue by calling it a SAC, or Sports Activity Coupe. (Which brings up the entirely different issue of having four doors while being called as a coupe, a debate we’ll save for another day).

The X4 followed the somewhat controversial X6 when it was shown at the 2014 New York Auto Show and marketed as a 2015 model. The X6 had been unveiled at the same show five years earlier and its radical styling, particularly when viewed from the back, made it a rather polarizing vehicle. You either liked the look, which had vestiges of Pontiac Aztec when viewed from the rear, or you hated it.

Because it is a bit smaller, however, the X4 gets away with that same general profile.

The first X4 came in two trims, the xDrive28i and the xDrive35i. The former featured a 4-cylinder power plant, the latter a 6-cylinder. Both were turbocharged, and the xDrive designated both trims as all-wheel drive.

The xDrive28i version is still offered for 2017, but the top-of-the-line model has since grown into X4 M40i with a Twin-Power Turbo, 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine that produces 355 horsepower between 5800 and 6000 rpm with a maximum 343 pound-feet of torque between 1350 and 5250. It is mated to an 8-speed Sportronic transmission with sport and manual modes (steering wheel-mounted addle shifters). That combination results in fuel mileage numbers of 19 miles-per-gallon city, 26 highway, and 21 combined drinking using recommended premium fuel.

BMW says it will zip from zero-to-60 mph in 4.7 seconds, which puts it near the top of its segment.

Slip the transmission into sport mode and the damping control from comfort to sport or sport-plus gives you the kind of responses and handling you might expect from a top-of-the-line sports car.

And therein lies its strength. This so-called Sports Activity Vehicle is more about performance than it is anything else when it comes to SUV functionality — with the possible exception of its good looks and wealth of niceties.

The latter include Nevada leather upholstery (look it up), power glass moonroof, M design touches such as the leather-wrapped M-Sport steering wheel, Harmon Kardon premium sound system, power sport seats, and automatic dual zone climate control as standard or no-charge options included in the base MSRP of $58,100.

Add in some extras like a Technology Package that includes navigation, a head-up display for your speed (which is useless if you are wearing sunglasses with polarized lenses), and BMW Online and BMW Apps, and other options like 20-inch wheels instead of the standard 19s, a surround view camera, adaptive LED headlights, heated front and rear seats, and rear-view camera and the MSRP goes up to $67,495 (including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

That makes for a pretty well-equipped vehicle, but when it comes to things you expect in an SUV like hauling capacity, forget it. The 17.7 cubic feet of storage space behind the backseat is barely more than what you get in a full-size sedan, and it is further compromised by the slanting roofline that limits the height of your cargo. Fold the backseats and capacity is increased to 49.4 cubic feet, still short of several of its competitors, which include its sibling BMW X3.

But the “M” design tweeks are nice.

What I liked about the BMW X4 M40i: Besides the impressive driving performance, a little feature caught my fancy. It’s not new, in fact it’s been around for at least a decade on even non-luxury vehicles, but the auto hold function is a very nice addition. I don’t know why more manufacturers don’t pick it up. You press a button on the console and then every time you come to a complete stop, the parking brake is automatically set. This keeps the car from creeping forward and tapping the rear of a vehicle in front of you and also keeps you from rolling backward if you are on an incline. Yes, you can keep your foot on the brake and accomplish the same thing, but auto hold allows you to scramble to pick up anything that may have fallen on the floor. Please note: This is not the annoying start-stop system that shuts off the engine (though the X4 M40i has that feature as well) but simply a braking system. Responses to voice commands also are quick and sure.

What I didn’t like about the BMW X4 M40i: I tested the navigation system just once, and it took me on a rather round-about route to my destination, routing me to parallel streets for seemingly no particular reason. Turn directions kept referring to streets as State Route X instead of their more common name or street number. I don’t know what it may be like in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the final assembly point for the X4, but in South Florida, not many drivers are going to recognize many roads by their State Route number. 

Would I buy the BMW X4 M40i: No. The biggest thing in its favor is its driving dynamics, and it does have the advantage of giving you a high seating position over the usual sports sedan or coupe. But that’s not what I’m looking for in a Sports Utility, er Sports Activity, Vehicle.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017



Back a few years ago, I knew a guy who owned a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and whenever I would show up driving one of the Jeeps at the other end of the food chain, like say the Patriot or Liberty, he would kind of scoff and say, “That’s not even a Jeep!”

There was a tad of snobbishness in the way he said it, as if anything less than a Grand Cherokee wasn’t really up to Jeep’s traditional standards. (I’m assuming he didn’t include the Wrangler in his castigation of the smaller models.)

But in a way, he did have kind of a point. If still very much a part of the Jeep family, these models were kind of mired in the awkward adolescent stage. A couple of them were around for five years or less before the company gave up and took another crack at the compact/midsize SUV/Crossover segment with another product.

The Liberty, introduced as a 2002 model, almost made it to its teen years before giving way to the revived Cherokee about three years ago.

At one time, the Jeep Compass, introduced along with the Jeep Patriot at the 2006 New York Auto Show, seemed headed for a similar fate as the Liberty. Reviews knocked it for its sluggish performance, its fuel appetite, its poor handling, its small cargo area, and its general lack of features and overall quality. The best thing it had going for it was its relatively cheap price.

Even that couldn’t prevent a serious sales dip recently for the Compass, however. The numbers for March 2017 were off a whopping 66 percent from the same month the year before with a drop of 63 percent for year-to-date sales over the same period for 2016.

But the new Compass has taken the model in a new direction. (Couldn’t resist!)

Its engine packs more punch, it’s a bit more economical, and passenger and cargo room as been increased so as to make it at least competitive in a class that includes such notables as the Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, and Chevy Equinox, the sales leaders in the segment. The Compass also has the advantage of more off-road capability than others in the class.

The 2.4-cylinder Tigershark engine in the new Compass boosts horsepower and torque figures to 180/175, respectively, over the 158/141 of the 2016 base models as well as the 172/165 of the top-of-the-line offerings of last year. Fuel mileage increased slightly over 2016’s numbers, and both front legroom and rear cargo stowage area have been increased.

Jeep says cargo capacity behind the second row is up to 27.2 cubic feet from 22.7 and with the second row folded is up to 59.8 cubic feet from 53.6. Considering that hauling capability is one of the features you’re usually looking at when it comes to an SUV/Crossover, that’s a significant improvement.

My test vehicle for the week was the Compass Limited trim with four-wheel drive. The Compass also is offered in base Sport, Laramie, and Trailhawk trims, the latter for more serious off-roading enthusiasts, and with both 2WD and 4WD. The Compass Limited comes with a 9-speed automatic transmission as standard over the six-speed automatic or six-speed manual offered on other trims.

That combination results in fuel economy numbers of 22 miles-per-gallon city, 30 highway, and 25 combined, which I found fairly accurate after about 10 days of mostly highway driving. The computer showed me hovering around 25 mpg after approaching 30 earlier in my 240-mile stint.

FWD and manual transmission models vary by about a mile or two per gallon with the most efficient being 2WD models with manuals (23/32/26). Many of its competitors offer better numbers, but to be fair, some are worse as well.

The Limited 4WD has a base MSRP of $28,995, but adding such optional equipment as the UConnect 8.4 NAV system, Sirius satellite radio, a power liftgate, 19-inch black pocket aluminum wheels, Beats premium audio, and safety features such as blind spot warning, rear park assist, HID headlights, lane departure warning ran the total cost to $34,955, including the $1,095 destination charge.

We should offer up an alert here. Jeep is selling the 2016 Compass as a 2017 model under what FC Authority (an enthusiasts’ website) labels a “budget alternative” to the “all-new” 2017 Compass. It seems a little confusing, but Jeep attributes the reason to plans to market the new Compass later as a 2018 model while the old one (the 2016) will continue to be sold globally as a 2017. FC Authority notes some “wicked” deals are being made on the “old” 2017 models in the interim. Just make sure you know what you are getting.

What I liked about the 2017 Jeep Compass: All the technological functions in the Limited are extremely user-friendly. The 8.4-inch screen in the optional UConnect system is well worth the $895 cost. We also made good use of the extra cargo space!

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Jeep Compass: Though there is decent legroom in the front, the seats could offer more in the way of comfort. I’d like a bit more in the way of throttle response as well.

Would I buy the 2017 Jeep Compass: Unless I really wanted that off-road capability, which I don’t get to test much in South Florida environs, I probably would go for one of its many competitors first. But the Compass is worthy of a look.