Thursday, November 3, 2011


As the farmer said as he stomped on the tomato, it’s catch-up time!

Hope I didn’t lose you there. Never could resist a bad pun, which is a redundant term if I ever heard one.
The aim today is to cover three vehicles that I have driven over the last couple of months which, to keep it simple, I will call SUVs, ignoring whether they are the more trendy crossovers or trucks.

I’m not really sure how many people know the difference or care. To many, if it sits upright and has a liftgate at the rear instead of a trunk, it’s an SUV. Doesn’t matter if it can handle the Rubicon Trail or just a gravel parking lot, it’s still an SUV in common parlance.

So I’m going to treat the BMW X3, the Cadillac SRX, and the Dodge Durango all at once. One wouldn’t necessarily group those particular three together, though they are pretty much in the same price range (from mid-$30s to mid-$40s, plus options).
And this is my blog, and I’m not only the writer, but the editor as well.
So here goes.
The Cadillac SRX hasn’t gotten the attention over the years that its big brother, the Escalade, has, mostly because it didn’t catch on right away with the hip hop music crowd. But apparently it has caught on with someone because it has become one of the company’s big sellers.
It’s easy to see why.
It has gotten some significant upgrades from the previous generation models and now features a 3.6-liter V6 engine with a six-speed automatic transmission with “Eco” mode. When you want the advantage of its fuel saving ability, you simply leave it in Drive.
If you want performance, you shift the console lever over to Sport. You can then select gears manually if you want, but you don’t have to. It still operates as an automatic but with different shift points.
The government rates the fuel mileage for the SRX at 17 city, 24 highway, and Cadillac says Eco mode can improve those figures about a mile per gallon.
I’ve always kind of wondered why if an “Eco” mode is promoted as a fuel saver that testing isn’t done separately to give us two sets of numbers, but it isn’t. Probably not worth the effort.

Any way, the SRX delivers enough performance (308 horsepower, 265 pound-feet of torque) to satisfy most drivers in the genre.
The SRX’s strength is in its interior. The quality of materials used in the cabin is of the highest grade, and placement of controls is very user-friendly.
On models equipped with navigation (optional in Luxury trim, standard in Performance and Premium), many of the functions operate off a touch screen that rises from the center stack and can be lowered with the push of a button.
As one who is constantly flitting about the radio dial from Satellite to FM to even AM (there has to be somebody listening to it, and I’m the guy), I find the audio controls on GM models to be very nicely arranged and easy to operate. Since I usually have a car for just a week, I sometimes don’t bother to program presets on the dial, which probably would help ease the operation even more.
If it’s performance you want in addition to the capability of handling five adults plus luggage, then you need to take a look at the X3. As BMW is known for, this is a vehicle that gives you immediate response when you hit the accelerator.
That was the thing I noticed right off, and I was in the xDrive28i, which is the non-turbocharged version of the 3.0-liter inline-6 engine. It pumps out 240 hp and 221 lb.-ft. of torque to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. I can imagine what the turbo xDrive35i with its 300  hp and 300 lb.-ft. of torque must be like.
Yet fuel economy checks in a slightly better than the SRX with figures of 19/25 in the xDrive28i and 19/26 for the xDrive35. There are other factors involved in that, but one is the difference in weight. Curb weight for the X3 is 4,112 pounds and for the SRX it’s 4,277.
The X3, too, has gone through some refining since it was introduced for the 2004 model year. That shouldn’t come as a surprise because that’s what engineers and designers are paid to do -- take a product forward, not backward. (As I sit in on presentations where improvements on a new model are extolled to the detriment of the preceding generation, one thought keeps going through my mind: Is this the car that you will be calling a piece of crap in five years?)
Frankly, I don’t remember ever driving the X3 seven years ago (I’ve slept since then) and even if I had, I still probably wouldn’t remember it unless it was exceptionally bad. So I can’t do a direct comparison.
What I can say is that the ride in the X3 is extremely comfortable and smooth, and, as noted earlier, the engine’s response is exceptional.
What I can’t figure out is why German engineers are so intent on putting in technology that doesn’t make life all that much simpler but complicates it. I’m not talking about iDrive here, which has been modified so that it doesn’t take an instruction sheet to operate it any more. I got the hang of the knob on the X3’s center console right off the bat, though about the only thing I used it for was to change radio stations.

But take turn signals. Whoever came up with the idea of having a lever stick out from the left side of the steering came up with something that really needed no further embellishment. You want to turn left, you flick it down and after you make your turn, it clicks back into place. Turn right, tap it up and again, when the turn is completed, it snaps back into place.
For whatever reason, BMW now has it so that when you tug (or push) on the stalk, it snaps immediately back into place. Oh, the lights in front and back continue to blink just as before, but the thing is, if you don’t move the stalk past the first click, it gives the lights just three blips, which is for changing lanes. To keep the signal on until you complete your turn, you have to push or pull the lever all the way down (or up).
Now I’m not saying that’s all that complicated because it’s not. It’s not nearly as bothersome as what BMW’s fellow Teutonic countryman, Mercdes-Benz, does by putting the cruise control lever high up on the steering wheel column so it gets in the way of the turn signal.
I’m just asking here: What’s the point?
BMW engineers have fiddled with turn signals that work perfectly fine just because they can? That would be my guess.
The same thing goes with the way the gear shift lever in the console works, too. It took me a minute to figure out that to shift our of park, I had to hold the button on the side of the knob while making the shift, not just press it and let go.
Those are not complete turnoffs, by the way. The X3 is still a solid vehicle.
Now we come to the Dodge Durango.
In the past, the Durango never would have fit into any piece about SUVs that started off with an SRX and X3.
But Dodge has taken the Durango to a new level -- you’ve probably seen the ads on TV heralding its return after a one-year production hiatus -- and now this is a vehicle worthy of consideration for those who usually do their shopping in higher climes.

The first thing I noticed about it was its upgraded interior. Gone are the hard, cheap plastics from prior Durango models, replaced by soft-to-the-touch materials typical of more expensive vehicles.

The cabin is roomy and functional, and, unlike the SRX and X3, offers third-row seating. And it doesn’t take a contortionist to get back there either. The third and second row seats also easily fold to provide up to 85 cubic feet of cargo capacity.

With a towing package as well, the Durango is a workhorse that looks like a thoroughbred.

It runs well, too. I’d place it between the SRX and X3 in straight-line speed, but its handling was good.
Dodge offers several different power-train combinations on the Durango. The Crew version I drove had a 3.6-liter V6 under the hood mated with a five-speed automatic transmission with rear-wheel drive. That is rated at 290 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque with fuel mileage at 16/23.
You also can get versions of the Durango with power supplied by a 3.6-liter V8 with hp and torque power figures of 360 and 390, respectively, and EPA ratings of 16/22. Also available on some of the five trim levels is all-wheel or four-wheel drive.
I mentioned price earlier, putting all three of the vehicles mentioned in the mid-$30K to mid-$40K levels. The Durango is a bit less expensive than the other two with the Express trim starting at under $30,000.
When you start adding optional equipment, though, the price of the Duango gets up there pretty quick.
The Crew starts at $33,195, but adding such items as navigation,  rear-seat DVD entertainment, a technology group that includes forward collusion and blind-spot warning systems, and navigation and rear-view camera ran the final price up to $43,825.
The X3, which did not have navigation but did have a cold weather package (for Yankees), checked in at $43,875, and the SRX, which did have navigation and a dual-screen entertainment system, carried an MSRP of $46,295.
Of the three, the SRX was a 2012 model, the X3 and Durango 201ls.
There. Now I’m not completely caught up, but I’m better off than that tomato.

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