Saturday, October 21, 2017

THINKING PINK? THE GOOD FOLKS AT VW CERTAINLY DID WITH THE 2017 BEETLE


This was a few years ago when Volkswagen was bringing updated versions of its famed Beetle back to the U.S. that it cleverly labeled the New Beetle. (I wonder what kind of bonus the deep thinker who came up with that got for Christmas?)

I was to have a New Beetle Convertible for the week and was stumped by what was stuck on the dash.

It was a plastic cylindrical tube that seemed to serve no real purpose other than to distract me.

Was it a place to store coins for tolls? No, because it was too thin for anything but a dime, and even back then the toll collectors were demanding more than 10 cents a pop. Not to mention it would be tough to get even a dime out of it, let alone a quarter.

A champaign flute? Of course not. No way would an automaker include such a blatant promotion to drinking and driving among its options.

A finger bowl?

Of course, if you know the history of the original Bug, which I obviously didn’t, you are aware that the object that had me stumped was a bud vase. It was put back in when the Beetle was revived in 1998 as a nod to the 1950s and ‘60s models and their appeal to the “flower children” of that generation. I was never a “flower child” and missed out on that. (I wasn’t at Woodstock either.)


In my defense, the fleet manager had neglected to put a bud or any kind of flower into the New Beetle I was driving to give me a hint, so how was I to know?

VW dispensed with this particular option in the major redesign it gave the Beetle for 2012, because, the thinking went, the Bug had become too much of a “chick car” and the bud vase played a major part in promoting that image. (Hey. Don’t blame me for that phrasing. It’s what Adweek said when it reported that the vase had been scrapped.)

Apparently, that is no longer a concern with the VW image makers.


If I thought a bud vase was stretching the limit when it came to automotive cuteness and the VW Beetle, and I did, I was wrong.

Witness the latest version of the Bug, the 2017 #PinkBeetle.

Yes, it comes with a hashtag. Yes, pink is incorporated into the name. And yes, of course, it comes in a shade of pink — VW dubs it Fresh Fuchsia Metallic — that changes color depending on the lighting. At times, it can look red or raspberry, though in struck me as looking more like a huge purple grape as I walked up to it in the parking lot one evening last week.

#PurpleBeetle?

No. #PinkBeetle.


The color scheme is carried over to the interior but not overly so. Doors and the dash get touches of the color., and pink stripes replace red ones in the plaid cloth seats,. The restraint makes it easier on the eyes.

Other than the color scheme and other design notes like the gloss black mirror caps and black side skirts with chrome accents, the #PinkBeetle is very much a regular Beetle. It has a 1.8-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine that produces 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, and a shiftable, six-speed automatic transmission is standard. 

That combination provides enough oomph for a vehicle of this size (168.4 inches long with a wheelbase of 100, 71.2 inches wide, 58.5 inches tall and a little over 3,000 pounds) and results in fuel economy ratings of 24 miles-per-gallon city, 33 highway, and 28 combined, which, frankly, are somewhat disappointing for the class.

As is usually the case with smaller vehicles (the Smart ForTwo being an exception), it gives you a feeling of speed, agility and sharp handling that larger vehicles don’t provide even if they are faster, more agile, and sharper handling. Motor Trend reported a zero-to-60 mph clocking of 7.3 seconds for the #PinkBeetle in coupe form. (It also is available as a convertible.) For more in the way of response, you can shift into Sport mode. Alas, no manual transmission is offered.


The #PinkBeetle gives you a comfortable, fairly quiet ride on the highway, and its compact size makes it an ideal vehicle for crowded city environs. Obviously, you can squeeze into small parking spaces and still have room to open its doors without dinging a car next to it. But it’s big enough that it isn’t intimidating to be around SUVs or even semi trucks. The government gave it a five-star overall safety rating.

The #PinkBeetle comes with a nice list of standard equipment that includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, rearview camera, keyless access with push-button start, an adjustable, flat-bottom, leather-trimmed steering wheel, heated front seats with manual lumbar support, manual climate control, eight-speaker sound system, satellite radio capability (three-month trial subscription included), Bi-Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and VW’s Car-Net suite of features.

That’s all included in the starting MSRP of $22,710 (including destination and delivery), which is about $1,500 more than the standard Beetle’s price tag.

That’s if you can find one. The 2017 #PinkBeetle is a limited edition model that went on sale some time ago, and you won’t find it in the 2018 list. You will find a new “Coast” trim, however, and the Beetle Dune is a nice alternative with a distinctive, though less polarizing, look. But the Dune’s MSRP approaches $27,500 including the destination and delivery charge.

If you want to stand out from the crowd, the new Coast trim comes in an optional “Deep Sea Teal” color. Frankly, my impression of “Deep Sea Teal” is that it would make a great color scheme for a bathroom, but not so much on a car.

But, as they say, to each his own. Which explains the #PinkBeetle. The young lady in the drive-thru loved it.


What I liked about the 2017 Volkswagen #PinkBeetle: It’s a small thing, but I liked the double glove box for extra storage. I also liked the car’s handling. Like many small cars (with the exception mentioned about), it’s fun to drive. And the front seat is comfortable and roomy enough for two.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Volkswagen #PinkBeetle: Fresh Fuchsia Metallic just doesn’t do it for me.

Would I buy the 2017 Volkswagen #PinkBeetle? Yes -- as a graduation gift for my daughter/granddaughter. It's not that I don’t like the Beetle, because I do. But I can’t get away from that color.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

IT WASN’T THE FIRST, BUT FORD EXPLORER SET THE BAR FOR SUVs TO COME


The Ford Explorer wasn’t the first SUV, which dates back to the 1930s with the wagon-like Chevrolet Carryall Suburban, nor was it the first of the modern version inspired by the post-World War II Land Rover and Jeep.

In fact, it wasn’t even the first vehicle of it type out of Ford factories. That would be the Ford Bronco that was promoted as a multi-purpose vehicle and was manufactured from 1966 through 1996, long enough for Al Cowlings to try to spirit away O.J. Simpson on the infamous low-speed chase through Los Angeles freeways.

But certainly the case can be made that the Ford Explorer quickly became the iconic vehicle of its class when it was introduced in 1991, outselling (according to Motor Trend’s history of the Explorer) the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chevrolet S-10 Blazer combined with 300,000 units the first year and over 400,000 units by the end of the second generation a decade later.


It took just three years (1994) for the Explorer to become the No. 9 best-selling motor vehicle of any type, not just trucks and SUVs.

It no longer occupies such a lofty perch, ranking behind the Escape as far as Ford’s SUV sales and behind the F-Series, Escape, and Fusion for all Ford cars/trucks. Not that it is anywhere near it deathbed.

According to September reports taken from the website goodcarbadcar.net, the Explorer ranked 16th in U.S. September sales and a total of 21,207 vehicles sold, an increase of nearly 11 percent over the 19,146 reported for 2016 with an increase of 5.6 percent to 199,034 for year-to-date sales.


Considering all the bad publicity that the Explorer got in the late 1990s and early 2000s (Remember the Firestone rollover controversy?), it’s a wonder it isn’t on life support if around at all.

The Explorer of today is very different from its predecessors in one especially key aspect. It no longer is of body-on-frame construction as typical of early SUVs. The truck-based platform is good for off-road vehicles and towing but the ride is generally less than friendly, and, considering the time most people spend off-roading with their SUVs is minimal, that makes them less practical for most buyers than the unibody frame crossovers. (Think sedan.)


Ford made the switch for unibody construction for the Explorer with the 2011 model after a 20-year run, so, no, the 2017 Ford Explorer is probably not your father’s Explorer and certainly not your grandfather’s. (Or grandmother’s. I don’t want to be sexist here.)

That’s not a bad thing, but maybe kind of a good thing. After all, the Wilderness Society estimates the percentage of people who use their vehicles to actually go off-roading at a mere 1.5 percent.

As with many Ford products, the Explorer comes with a lot of choices. It is offered in five trims — base, XLT, Limited, Sport, and Platinum — with three engines available. Sport and Platinum editions are all-wheel drive only, but others get front-wheel as standard with optional AWD. All models get a six-speed automatic transmission.


As is usually the case, my vehicle for the week was the top-of-the-line Platinum edition that bears an MSRP of $54,180 including the $945 destination and delivery charge. That’s about a $22,000 jump over the price for the base model, but naturally, you get a whole bunch of equipment that is standard on the Platinum but optional (if available) on the base or other trims.

That list includes (but is not limited to) LED signature lighting, chrome exhaust tips, power moonroof, rear spoiler, roof rack with side rails, heated and ventilated front seats, second-row heated seats, adaptive cruise control, leather touches throughout the interior (including seat surfaces), power-fold third-row seat, power tilt and telescope steering wheel, woodgrain interior accents, a trailer towing package (towing capacity is only 5,000 pounds), park assist, lane-keeping assist, premium audio, front 180-degree and rearview camera, remote start, Sync3 infotainment functions (including voice-activated navigation) with 8-inch screen, and a terrain management system that adapts to different conditions (normal, mud, snow, and sand) and includes hill descent control.


That eliminates the need for a lot of options, but the model I had was a special red color (ruby red metallic tinted) and featured 20-inch bright machine face wheels, second-row bucket seats, and a second-row console that put the final tab at $55,420.

The Explorer is smaller than the full-size Expedition, but that doesn’t make it a small vehicle, of course. I prefer to drive it in Sport mode, which adds to the driving experience and gives you more active responses, but no doubt impacts the fuel mileage ratings of 16 miles-per-gallon city, 22 highway, 18 combined for the optional 3.5-liter V6 Ecoboost engine (365 horsepower, 350 pound-feet of torque).

You can shift gears via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which you don’t find on every SUV, though with Sport mode setting available, there really isn’t a lot of reason to use them.

Other engines available on the Explorer are a 2.4-liter, Ecoboost 4-cylinder that offers the best fuel mileage (19/27) while compromising only slightly on power (280 hp, 310 lb.-ft.) and a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 17/24 (290 hp, 255 lb.-ft.)

The Explorer is an excellent highway cruiser and not all that difficult to negotiate around town taking into consideration its size. It looks bigger than it really is, which is 198.3 inches long and 70 inches tall with a curb weight of 4,453 pounds. It seats seven, though those in the back get less than 34 inches of legroom. The two in the front get over 41 inches, and the second row is in-between, a cozy 39.5 inches.

All in all, it’s easy to see why the Ford Explorer enjoyed the success that it has, but unlike when it was introduced, it has a lot of competitors in the segment now, especially since it now is a crossover. Maybe it should have kept that body-on-frame construction.


What I liked about the 2017 Ford Explorer Platinum: There’s a lot of room for storage behind that third row (21 cubic feet) and if you need more, the back row seats fold flat with the push of a button giving you nearly 44 cubic feet of cargo volume with a flat floor.


What I didn’t like about the 2017 Ford Explorer Platinum: The starting price tag of over $53,000 seems a bit much for an Explorer, but it does include a lot of equipment. But even the Explorer’s base MSRP starts at well over $31,000.

Would I buy the 2017 Ford Explorer Platinum? I’d give it a look. I liked the performance and it does a lot of things well, which accounts for its popularity. No, the rollover issue is not a concern. It got a 4-star safety rating from the federal government in rollover and 5-star score in other crash tests (front and backseats, front and side crash) an 5-star overall mark.



Sunday, October 8, 2017

IT’S A TRUCK! A CROSSOVER! A TRUCK!

NO, IT’S A 2018 NISSAN PATHFINDER SUV!


A few years back I had a friend who said the reason she had bought her Pathfinder was because she had decided that if she was going to buy an SUV, she wanted a real, truck-basedSUV with body-on-frame construction, not one of the new unibody crossovers that were just coming onto the market.

Like she was going to go rock crawling or drive it up a mountain or something. Right.

I don’t remember what year that was, but the considering the time frame here (sometime in the early 2000s), she may not have gotten what she wanted.


Unless she had bought an older, used model from the Pathfinder’s first generation (1987-95), she just may have gotten the crossover SUV she was trying to shun. That’s because for its second generation (1996-2004), Nissan switched the Pathfinder to a unibody platform.

Or maybe my memory is such that this actually came up later than I recall and she got a third generation (2005-12) Pathfinder, which was back to body-on-frame.

Does Nissan have trouble making decisions? Well, yes and no.


Frankly, though, unless she really was going to take an off-roading adventure, my friend probably was better off in the crossover version of the Pathfinder. It has all the hauling capability of the truck-based model while providing the kind of smooth ride and handling that I suspect she is used to.

Nissan moved the Pathfinder back into the crossover genre in 2017 for its fourth generation. Following that makeover, it has added several new features for 2018 some of which are standard (Automatic Emergency Braking and a Rear Door Alert system that lets you know if you have left a package, pet,  bottom of milk, or child in the backseat after you have turned off the ignition and left the vehicle).

The Rear Door Alert system is one of the best innovations I have seen recently. It works simply enough. If you have opened the rear door prior to driving to put a package, pet, bottle of milk, or child in the backseat but haven’t opened the rear door at the end of your trip, it alerts you to the fact that you might have forgotten something (like a package, pet, bottle of milk, or child) if you leave the vehicle without opening that door.


After making its debut on the 2018 Pathfinder, it will be made available later on other Nissan models. The system can be turned on or off, though that would seem to defeat its purpose.

That the system is standard may be what the Pathfinder needs to set it apart in what is a very crowded midsize SUV segment with offerings like the Honda Pilot, the Toyota Highlander, and new Volkswagen Atlas, not to mention Nissan’s own Murano, all competing for buyers’ attention.

The Pathfinder also offers three-row seating for up to seven passengers with a decent amount of space behind the back row for storage. It’s kind of a pet peeve with me that engineers would design an interior to hold that many people and then not give them any room for their stuff.

If you need more cargo capacity than the 16 cubic feet behind the third row, you can fold that back row and capacity is boosted to nearly 48 cubic feet. For really big hauls, nearly 80 cubic feet is available with the second row folded as well.

Nissan offers the Pathfinders in four models starting with the base S followed by SV, SL, and Platinum trims.

All come with a 3.5-liter V6 engine that got a power boost for 2017 up to 284 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque. The only transmission offered with either standard 2-wheel or optional  4-wheel drive is a CVT (continuously variable transmission) that functions as an automatic.


I’m not a big fan of a CVT, but Nissan, generally recognized as the first mainstream company to go with the technology in a big way, has refined it to the point where I can live it.

CVTs are supposed to provide better fuel economy, and that is reflected in numbers for the Pathfinder of 20 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway with FWD and 19/26 with AWD. Zeroto60times.com clocked the 2017 Pathfinder going from zero to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds. Towing capacity is cited at a hefty 6,000 pounds.

I found the ride comfortable and quiet with little to no wind noise, and features like the navigation system — optional on SV models and standard on SL and Platinum editions — are fairly easy to operate. NissanConnect, which features automatic collision notification, emergency call and stolen vehicle locator, and other customizable alerts, also is standard on SL and Platinum models, optional on SVs.


Consumer Reports recently included the Pathfinder on its list of 10 vehicles as the worst for visibility, citing its small back windows and the head restraints on the back rows as major factors. But, as with lots of things the magazine dives into when it comes to automotive vehicles, I find the criticism overwrought.

The Intelligent Around View system (standard on the SL and Platinum models) helps alleviate visibility issues when parking, and setting the mirrors right eases the issue when at speed.

The 2018 Pathfinder S with FWD starts at $31,765 including the $975 destination and delivery charge and the top-of-the-line Platinum with AWD checks in at $44,985. That’s well within line of its competitors as well.

What I liked about the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder Limited: The list of standard equipment on the lower trims is fairly extensive. It’s nice to see that Nissan didn’t keep the Rear Door Alert system just to the more expensive models.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder Limited: I am not a big fan of CVTs, but that’s what you often have to live with with Nissan vehicles.

Would I buy the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder Limited? I’d give it a good look, but with so much competition, I’m not sure where I would wind up. If I didn’t need a third row of seating, which I personally don’t, I’d likely go for the Murano.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

2017 HYUNDAI IONIQ: A TRADITIONAL

HYBRID THAT DOESN’T ACT LIKE ONE


I have never been a big fan of the Toyota Prius, no matter what version (Prius Hatchback, Prius C, Prius Prime, or Prius v Wagon) you are talking about.

When they first came to the U.S. 17 years or so ago, I ran a few numbers and immediately thought, “Wow. You're going to have to drive a lot of miles to make up in savings on gas what you are paying in up front costs.”

Plus, I thought the interior was full of a lot of cheap materials, likely a necessity to make up for the cost of the hybrid technology. (Even then they initially were sold for a loss here.) Having what instrument panel there was over in the middle of the dash made for an uncomfortable feeling, and I didn’t like the way the gear selector stuck up out of the dash.

Frankly, I thought the introduction of hybrid powertrains into models like the Camry, Accord, or Malibu would eventually bring about the demise of the Prius, but I was definitely wrong about that. The Prius seems to be as popular as ever.

But if the Fusion Hybrid can't knock the Prius from its perch, perhaps Hyundai has a vehicle that will.


That shouldn’t be a surprise. The South Korean automaker seems to have a knack for taking technology and features that other companies have created and refining them to the point where they are actually better than the original and not some cheap knockoff.

Like the Hyundai Ioniq.

Hyundai added this hatchback to its portfolio in 2017, offering three different drivetrains. There is the conventional gas-electric hybrid system, a plug-in version, and a fully electric model, all of which went on sale earlier this year in the U.S.

Hyundai claims a range of 124 miles for the Ioniq Electric and says that using a DC fast charger can get the battery up to 80 percent capacity in just 23 minutes.

The plug-in also offers a battery-only range of up to 25 miles.


And the traditional hybrid setup in the Base Blue trim offers up to 58 miles per gallon in fuel efficiency, which is better than the EPA rating of the basic Prius Hatchback's 52 mpg.

The Ioniq Hybrid Limited that I had for a week carries fuel ratings of 55 mpg city, 54 highway and 55 overall, which puts it at the top of its segment, and with a base MSRP of $28,355 (including $835 destination and delivery) it's very competitive in price as well. The Base Ioniq Blue checks in at around $23,000, which is less than the least expensive Prius.

But there is more to the Ioniq than mere powertrain and price. Yes, it’s nice to punch the start button and see the instrument panel light up showing that you have a range of over 550 miles for your use, but I like to have something that looks good sitting in the driveway as well.

No, the Ioniq doesn’t get the juices flowing like having a 911 Porsche sitting outside my house would, but it looks sharp, and it isn’t funkiness that draws the attention.


With its sleek profile and eye-catching exterior, the Ioniq has the appeal of a sports coupe with its flowing lines, bold grille, LED daytime running lights and cat eye-like headlamps featuring HID lights (standard on the Limited trim). The profile may be somewhat reminiscent of the Prius, but the details are a huge step up in sex appeal. It’s a real car, not something a science fiction writer would conjure up.


Inside, the Ioniq has an attractive cabin with high quality materials and operation of technological functions arranged in an intuitive, user-friendly manner. One of Hyundai’s strengths seems to be that its designers take the approach that technology is supposed to simplify and amplify life, not overly complicate it. It works for me for sure.

Standard equipment in the Ioniq Limited includes safety features like blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist, a rearview camera, 17-inch alloy wheels, a tilt-and-slide sunroof, push-button start, dual climate control, leather seating surfaces, satellite radio capability, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay systems, and Hyundai’s Blue Link system.

Our test vehicle also featured options like an easy-to-operate navigation system, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, rear parking sensors, premium audio, and wireless device charging for compatible Smart phones that ran the total MSRP to $31,460.

Driving the Ioniq Hybrid doesn’t fall into the category of “thrilling” but neither is it “boring.” Pleasant might be the the best way to describe it. The 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine produces 104 horsepower and 109 pound-feet of torque that is augmented by the horsepower electric motor.

Combined net horsepower is rated at 139, which gets to the front wheels via a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission that essentially operates as an automatic. But no paddle shifters. Sigh.

To kick up the fun, you can switch to sport mode and get much quicker throttle responses than the standard zero-to-60 mph time of 8.9 seconds, which is over a second quicker than the 2017 Prius Prime and a half-second faster than the standard 2016 Prius, according to the website zeroto60times.com, though some other sources report slightly slower times for the Ioniq.


Sport mode also gives a boost to the handling characteristics to add to the driving experience.

The bottom line here really is that with the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Limited you forget you are behind the wheel of a traditional gas-electric hybrid, which, to me, is a good thing.
Oh. Keep in mind that there are some differences in what is offered on the Ioniq Plug-In or Ioniq Electric.

What I liked about the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Limited: The technology is really very easy to operate, and the driving experience when put in sport mode is a fun one. Storage room is very good (26.5 cubic feet). The annoying whine that is heard on many hybrids when slowing to a stop isn’t in evidence with the Ioniq.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Limited: Perhaps because of its hatchback configuration, Hyundai designers haven’t solved the issue of the cross bar that splits the rear liftgate that just about any Prius driver will tell you can be a visual distraction when looking in the rearview mirror.

Would I buy the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Limited? Yes. I’ve not gotten aboard the hybrid bandwagon in the past, but this is one that I certainly wouldn’t mind owning.


Thursday, September 14, 2017


VW GOLF SPORTWAGEN SHOWS ITS TIME FOR THE STATION WAGON TO GET RESPECT

This is no fairy tale, but I’ll say it anyway.

Once upon a time, before crossovers, SUVs, and minivans began taking over as the favored providers of family transportation, there were perfectly capable vehicles for the task.

They were called station wagons.

They could handle a family of up to seven or eight members in relative comfort (depending on the age and size of the kids) and also offered plenty of room for weekly grocery runs and other routine errands, plus luggage space for the family vacation. There was even room for sheets of plywood in the back, something that those in the Southeast and Texas might appreciate during this hurricane season.


Many of them featured distinctive styling tweaks, like the fins of the 1950s, and many earlier models featured passenger compartments with real wood frames and sides. Later, station wagon designers mimicked the real-grain wood appearance but with the body finish done in steel or metal. My grandfather had a Jeep wagon like that.

Station wagons also served as a measure of what stage of life you were in. I remember once when about six of us from high school got together with our families for a small reunion probably15 years or so out of high school. Every one of us showed up in a station wagon. No more V8 coupes with dual exhausts and glass-pack mufflers for us!

But the oil crisis of the 1970s and evolving of the aforementioned SUVs and minivans, and later crossovers, eventually killed off — or nearly so — the station wagon in the U.S market. Clark Griswold’s Wagon Green Family Truckster from the movie National Lampoon's Vacation may have dealt the final blow. You think minivans don’t get respect today? Think about the Truckster.


Today, with Dodge having ceased production of the Magnum wagon nearly a decade ago, no domestic manufacturer even offers one in its portfolio. I would argue that Ford’s Flex with its boxy profile is more station wagon than it is crossover, but such is the scorn associated with those two words Ford marketers prefer to use the term “utility vehicle” in promotional material.

Ah, me. Where did we go wrong?

Fortunately -- at least in my view -- a handful of European manufacturers still offer a modern take on the classic station wagon in the U.S., including a couple from Volkswagen.


VW, which ceased production of its Passat Wagon a few years back, introduced the Golf Alltrack last year as a 2017 model after switching the SportWagen to the Golf fold from the Jetta family a couple of years earlier.


In essence, the Alltrack is a bit more sophisticated version of the SportWagen (and a few thousand dollars more expensive) and more adaptable to off-road treks with its slightly higher ground clearance. Not that you are going to take it out on the Rubicon Trail or anything, but you can venture off on more rugged dirt roads than you are the SportWagen.

I was able to spend a week recently in the 2017 Golf SportWagen TSI S w/4Motion wagon before the visit from Hurricane Irma kind of threw life off kilter. I liked it.


Apparently others do as well because U.S. News & World Report has it tied for No. 1 with the Volvo V90 in the wagon segment in its analysis of auto reviews. That’s remarkable in itself because with an MSRP starting in the low $20,000 range, the SportWagen is less than half the price of the luxury V90.

One issue I had going into the week was whether the SportWagen would offer enough room to really be a serviceable station wagon since it does carry the Golf nameplate. Though slightly smaller than the older Passat station wagon my wife drives, it does.


It seats five passengers and offers just over 30 cubic feet of storage space behind the second row. The older Passat has 35.6 cubic feet of space behind the second row. Fold those seats and the Golf’s capacity more than doubles to 66.5 cubic feet.

The Golf SportWagen comes in three trim levels — S, SE, and SEL — all with a 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. With 170 horsepower at 4500 rpm and a 199 pound-feet of torque kicking in at 1600, the SportWagen doesn’t offer a whole lot in the way of “sporty” performance, but it’s no slug. Far from it, in fact. I didn’t bemoan any lack of hp.

For 2017, the S is available with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system (not so the SE or SEL) with either the five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission (with paddle shifters and a sport mode). The SE and SEL get only the automatic.


The combination of the 4Motion system and automatic transmission delivers excellent fuel ratings of 22 miles-per-gallon city, 30 highway, and 25 combined for the S using regular fuel — unlike the premium recommended for my wife’s Passat and its 2.0 turbo.

Front-wheel-drive models are even better at 25/35/28 with the manual, 25/34/29 with the automatic.

The automatic and 4Motion system does add a bit to the MSRP. The S starts at $22,400 (including destination and delivery) with the manual tranny, the S 4Motion with the automatic $25,750.



Standard equipment for the S includes the Intelligent Crash Response system, 16-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, halogen headlights, black roof rails, manual climate control (which suits me just fine) heated front seats with power recline, cloth seating surfaces, a rearview camera, 8-speaker sound system, Bluetooth cell phone connectivity, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, and VW Car-Net App-Connect system.

SE and SEL trims offer such standard features as leatherette seating surfaces and a Fender premium sound system, and the SEL gets navigation as standard as well. Some other option packages not available on the S are offered on the SE and SEL.

The most significant of those are an SE Driver Assistance Package that includes blind-spot monitor and adds $595 to the MSRP of $27,850 and an SEL Driver Assistance Package that includes Park Assist, Lane Assist, and HID headlamps and tacks on $1,995 to the $30,790 MSRP.

If you can live without those features, you will find the SportWagen S w/4Motion to our liking.



What I liked about the 2017 VW Golf SportWagen S w/4Motion: It’s a lot easier to handle in an urban setting than many SUVs and even crossovers. The cloth seats may be even better than the leatherette, and I liked the manual controls the A/C and the two knobs to adjust the radio.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 VW Golf SportWagen S w/4Motion: Not a big deal, but I’m thinking that in addition to power reclining for the front seats, it might be nice to have them move forward and back via power rather than using the manual lever under the front of the two seats.

Would I buy the 2017 VW Golf SportWagen S w/4Motion? Definitely. The S is one of the best bargains around.

Friday, September 1, 2017

POPULAR CHEVY EQUINOX CROSSOVER

GETS A BOOST IN POWER FOR 2018



The Equinox served as Chevrolet’s first venture into the crossover market when it was introduced over a decade ago, and after years of producing truck-based SUVs, it looks like Chevy made a wise decision.

The Equinox is now the company's best-seller behind only the Silverado pickup with nearly 2 million sold since its introduction as a 2005 model. With the improvements made for 2018, it figures to maintain that pace.

First though, I want to mention this. One of the more surprising things about the Equinox to me was that it is classified as a compact crossover.

Certainly the dimensions -- an overall length of 183.1 inches, width of 72.6 and height of 65.4 compared to 204.3/78.6/67.3 for Chevy’s Traverse -- would seem to validate that classification. It is about 400 pounds lighter and just under five inches shorter than its predecessor.

Just looking at it sitting in my driveway, however, I got the impression it was simply bigger than that. (Maybe the dress made it look fatter! Rim shot!)


It also looked nice sitting there.

Chevy says that designers borrowed some styling cues from the Volt, Malibu, and Cruze for the 2018 Equinox and included new touches for the interior that included denim-style fabric for the seats that not only looks good but has increased durability. Among new safety features offered are the Safety Alert Seat system that alerts a driver to the possibility of an impending crash, low-speed forward automatic braking, and surround vision.

A major change is under the hood.

The base engine for the 2018 Equinox is a 1.5-liter turbo-4, and a 2.0-liter serves as an option. A 1.6-liter turbo diesel also is offered. Those engines replace the 2.4L inline-4 and the 3.6L V6 offered on 2017 models.


The 1.5L and the diesel come with a six-speed automatic transmission, the 2.0L with a new nine-speed that makes for a smooth operation. All-wheel drive also is available 

The new powertrain offers fuel efficiency of 26 miles-per-gallon city, 32 highway with the 1.5L FWD and 22/29 with the 2.0L, also with FWD. AWD alters the figures slightly, and the diesel gets up to a GM-estimated 40 mpg.

Those figures are somewhat of an improvement over the numbers for the 2017 model that came with either a 2.4L inline-4 or a 3.6L V6.


The biggest difference with the turbo 4s comes in the power put out by the 2.0L. It is rated at 252 horsepower, an increase of 70 hp over the 2017's 2.4 in-line-4. With 203 pound-feet of torque, the 2018 2.0L turbo-4 rates the same towing capacity of 3,500 pounds as the 2017's V6. That'll tow your boat!

Chevy offers the Equinox in L (though you'll likely have to order it), LS, and LT (1LT/1.5L, 2LT/2.0L) trims as well as Premier editions (1LZ/1.5, 2LZ/2.0L0,) and diesel versions designated 3LT/diesel and Premier 3LZ/diesel).

I don't know about you but I find all the trim levels and various models Chevy puts out sometimes hard to keep track of, but that's a subject for another day.


I drove the LT 2.0T with FWD for the week and found it really satisfies a lot of what you would be shopping for in the compact crossover market. The cloth seats were comfortable and looked to be pretty durable, though it's hard to really test them in just seven days.

I didn't do any towing, but I found the power to be very adequate for daily driving, and the fuel mileage is pretty good for its class, especially with the 1.5L engine. That said, I would sacrifice the couple of extra miles the 1.5L gets for the power boost from the 2.0L. Horsepower and torque for the smaller engine are only 170 hp and 203 lb.-ft. or 82 and 57, respectively, less than the 2.0L.

The list of standard features included in the $29,145 MSRP of the LT 2.0L included keyless entry and start, HID headlamps, LED daytime running lights, trailering equipment, 18-inch aluminum wheels, 8-way power adjustable driver's seat with 2-way lumbar support, and connectivity features that included Chevy MyLink with a 7-inch screen, Bluetooth, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.

Options that included dual-zone A/C over the standard single zone, power liftgate, remote start, heated front seats, blind spot and rear cross traffic alert, rear park assist and a pearl white tricoat paint job, plus the $895 destination and delivery charge, ran the final MSRP of my test vehicle to $32,980.

What I liked about the 2018 Chevy Equinox LT 2.0T: I liked the way it drove on the highway. It accelerated with no grunting and was quiet overall. And I really liked the big storage area in the center console. Crossovers and SUVs are about carrying stuff as well as getting you there, and storage, even in the console, is no place to skimp.


What I didn't like about the 2018 Chevy Equinox LT 2.0T: A stop-start system that shuts off the engine when you are idling at an intersection is standard, and you can't turn it off. At least I couldn't find a button to disengage it, and the owner's manual offered no clue. What you can do to disengage is take a slight bit of pressure off the brake and the engine fires back up.

Would I buy the 2018 Chevy Equinox LT 2.0T? Frankly, I went into the week thinking I probably would not, but yes, I would give it consideration now. I would like to see Chevy continue making upgrades to the interior, which it has gone over the last decade or so. Some more soft-touch materials would be nice like across the dash panel. A bit more cargo space than the 29.9 cubic feet offered behind the second row could make the deal.