Wednesday, January 24, 2018


The MINI Cooper is not yet at the stage where it needs to be upgraded to the “MAXI” Cooper, but it seems to be moving in that direction.

Launched in 1959 as a trend-setting, two-door sub-compact that was 120.25 inches long —not much more than the wheelbase for many large vehicles — and weighed in at just over 1,300 pounds, the MINI now is available as a four-door wagon that is four feet longer and weighs in at twice the original hardtop’s heft.

Yet it still evokes the same carefree, fun attitude of its smaller predecessor.

And now it’s electric.

Well, sort of.

I’m not sure how many points a range of 25 miles or so on a fully charged battery is going to get from the greenies, but that’s what the pairing of the turbo-charged 3-cylinder engine and electric motor in the 2018 MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 will get you at speeds up to 78 mph to earn it an MPGe rating of 65 miles-per-gallon.

A plug-in hybrid, the power train is new for this year as MINI’s first serious dip into the electric world since the limited-production MINI E of 2008. With that kind of limited range, though, it’s kind of like sticking your toes into the pool to test the water temperature before jumping in.

If you are already mentally doing the math to see just how far it’s going to take you on electric juice alone, fear not. After the 7.6 kilowatt, lithium-ion battery poops out, the Countryman S E runs on gas only, drinking fuel at a rate of 27 mpg, and you still have 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque to work with.

When running in tandem, the electric motor and gas engine have a combined 221 hp and 264 lb.-ft. of torque, more than enough oomph for a competitive driving experience.

The SE Countryman ALL 4, as the “4” designation might clue you, is an all-wheel drive vehicle with front wheels getting power from the gas engine and the electric motor delivering its 87 hp and 122 lb.-ft. of power to the rear. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard.

One of the more surprising things to first-time occupants in the MINI is the amount of interior space it provides. As the largest in the MINI portfolio, the Countryman delivers there.

Even the rear-seat passengers get up to 37.6 inches of legroom. It’s the cargo area that gets the short stick with less than 16 cubic feet of space available, though up to 48.5 cubic feet is available with the second-row folded.

The cabin has a premium feel about it as might be expected of a product out of parent company BMW’s luxury stable. Not that you are going to confuse the MINI with a Bimmer. The large circular display at the top of the center stack keeps you very much aware that you are in a MINI.

The Countryman S E rides on standard 18-inch wheels and gets LED headlights and fog lights as standard along with features like dual-zone climate control, heated front sport seats (which some might find too snug), a rear camera, and more included in the MSRP of $36,800 (plus the $850 destination charge).

There is the usual laundry list of upgraded features available like a premium Harmon Kardon sound system and automatic climate control, but the only extras on my test vehicle that came with a charge were $500 for the melting silver metallic exterior color, $500 for the parking assist system, $750 for the head-up display, and $300 for the SiriusXM satellite radio with a one-year subscription.

That ran the total up to $39,700, which pretty makes the MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 the most expensive of its class.

What I liked about the 2018 MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4: It has good interior space for passengers and the hybrid system provides plenty of power. I really wasn’t conscious of any lag. The torque number is impressive for a vehicle of this class.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4: The infotainment system is not particularly complicated, but getting through various functions does take some extra steps at times — not surprising, since BMW models can be annoying in that aspect. The head-up system isn’t worth the cost and the display, with what looks like a piece of plastic sticking up from the dash, detracts from the cabin’s appearance. Oh, and I don’t really get the appeal of going through the hassle of plug-in recharging. 

Would I buy the 2018 MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4? Probably not. It’s a good car, but a bit on the expensive side. It’s fun to drive, yes, but I’m certain you can find competitors that offer a pleasant experience behind the wheel and will look good and save you a few bucks in the process. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


Introduced for 2009 as a companion for its bigger brother Acadia crossover, GMC’s Terrain moves into its second generation for 2018 with three new turbo-charged engines, two different 9-speed transmissions, and many design features that take this compact crossover to a new level for sophistication and performance.

Those refinements come in a package that is slightly smaller than its predecessor (at 182.5 inches it’s 3.2 inches shorter) and lighter (200 pounds or so depending on the model) and with available safety features like a surround vision camera, forward collision alert and low-speed automatic braking, lane keeping assist with lane departure warning, and rear cross traffic alert.

Yes, the 2018 Terrain steps up its game and makes it a more attractive option if you are shopping the compact crossover segment.

The Denali trim, which steps up the game in GMC models across the board, even makes it worth a look if you are shopping in the luxury segment.

The 2018 Terrain Denali gets a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that ups oomph to 252 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque from the 170/203 of the 1.5-liter turbo that is standard in SL, SLE, and SLT trims while still producing decent fuel economy figures of 21 miles-per-gallon in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway with all-wheel drive.

The 1.5-liter’s fuel economy numbers are 24/28 with AWD. The 1.6-liter turbo diesel is rated at 28/38 with all-wheel drive with power figures of 137 hp and 240 lb.-ft. of torque.

The 2.0-liter and 1.5-liter each get its own version of a 9-speed automatic transmission. The diesel gets a 6-speed automatic. One quirk: gear selection is via buttons at the bottom of the center stack with the “L” setting providing the opportunity for manual gear selection. I’ve seen buttons used for gear selection, of course, but not in this location.

The 2.0-liter turbo in the Denali I had certainly boasts enough power for everyday chores, and the torquey diesel probably is up snuff as well. I did not have the opportunity to drive it or the 1.5-liter, though.

As the top-of-the-line offering, the Denali’s interior comes with lots of features that add to the comfort and convenience of occupants. In addition to standard items like perforated leather appointed seats, dual zone automatic climate control, a Bose 7-speak premium sound system, and adjustable lumbar support for both the driver and front-seat passenger, a Comfort Package for $525 (ventilated front seats, heated outboard rear seats, wireless device charging) and Driver Alert Package for $495 (low speed forward auto braking, forward collision alert, lane keep assist with lane departure warning) ups the luxury ante even further.

Standard technology includes an infotainment system that comes with an 8-inch touchscreen display with navigation, a 4G LTE wi-fi hotspot, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. The OnStar system includes a 5-year basic plan plus a limited trial of guidance plan with automatic crash response.

Exterior standard features include 19-inch ultra-bright, machined aluminum wheels, LED headlamps and LED daytime running lamps, LED taillights, power handsfree liftgate, and dual exhaust with bright tips. They give the Terrain a bolder, more aggressive look.

Including the optional packages plus a panoramic Skyscape sunroof with power sunshade $1,495) did add to the final MSRP for my test vehicle but not overly so. Base MSRP was listed at $39,270 and the options plus destination and delivery ran the final tab to $44,470. 

You can get out for less, of course, and still have a Terranin. The base SL with front-wheel drive, however, starts at $25,970 including destination and delivery, and you can get a FWD SLE for $28,795. SLT models start in the low $30,000 range. Diesel versions of the SLE and SLT have MSRPs that are $3,770 (SLE) and $2,845 (SLT) more than gas models.

What I liked about the 2018 GMC Terrain Denali: This is a comfortable vehicle with lots of room in both rows of seating. It provides an overall satisfactory driving experience as well.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 GMC Terrain Denali: A couple of cubic feet of cargo space was lost on the redesign. The Terrain’s capacity of 29.3 cubic feet behind the second row lags behind some competitors, but the 63.3 with the back seats folded is not bad. The placement of the buttons to operate the transmission is odd.

Would I buy the 2018 GMS Terrain Denali? Certainly. The improvements made both in looks and functionality over the previous model make this a viable option for those who don’t want or need a three-row crossover.

Thursday, January 11, 2018



When I was growing up, pickup trucks were pretty much utilitarian vehicles good for hauling construction supplies and for farm chores, two-passenger conveyances that could squeeze in a third person if they were good friends or the extra person was on the small side. Like a child.

But my how times have changed.

Many pickup trucks today are more like borderline luxury SUVs with an open box in the back behind a second row instead of an enclosed cargo area with a lift gate. They are still good for hauling and towing as they ever were but in a much more comfortable, and efficient, package.

Case in point is the 2018 GMC Canyon with Denali trim that I recently drove for a week. You never would have seen something like this coming when I was in high school. The interior is roomy and features high quality materials and is packed with enough technological features to satisfy all but the geekiest of us. It’s truck on the outside, SUV on the inside.

It’s a more refined version of its nearly identical cousin, the Chevrolet Colorado. How much more refined? Well, for the last four years, Kelley Blue Book has awarded its Brand Image Award for Most Refined Brand to GMC, citing in particular the tweaks and attributes the company has given its top-of-the-line Denali trims.

Though the Canyon is referred to as a “small” pickup in some circles, as far as I’m concerned there is nothing “small” about a vehicle you have to use a running board to pull yourself up to to get into, and there certainly is nothing “small” about the Canyon’s attitude.

With the 2.4-liter turbo diesel delivering 369 pound feet of torque at 2000 rpm, the Denali has a towing capacity of 7,600 pounds and its base curb weight (with 4-wheel drive) is a healthy 4,508 pounds.

Small? I don’t think so. Even the base Canyon is well over two tons.

The Canyon has been around off-and-one since 2004 though it was out of production for a span from 2012 to when it was re-introduced as a 2015 model. GM brought it back as a larger version than its predecessor, though it wasn’t until the next year that the Canyon got diesel power.

Buyers have had a tendency, perhaps fueled by Volkswagen’s “dieselgate” scandal, to shun diesels. But if you want a lot of torque, which is a more accurate measure of pulling potential than horsepower, you have to consider diesel.

Modern technology has made diesels easier to start in cold weather, and they are more fuel efficient, which helps make up for the difference in fuel price at the pump, not to mention increasing your driving range.

Fuel efficiency in the turbo diesel in the Canyon Denali is rated at 20 miles-per-gallon city, 28 highway and 23 overall with 4-wheel drive compared to 17/24 with the gas-powered 3.6-liter V6 and 19/24 with the gas-powered 2.5-liter 4-banger.

The Canyon Denali is packed with many standard features, by the way, but one of them is not the diesel engine. That’s an extra that adds $3,730 to the base MSRP of $43,670, so that’s a pretty big chunk of change.

But you can probably do without the special color (dark slate metallic) that adorned the Canyon I had for a week, and that will save you $395.

The standard features include a 2-speed transfer case (though the Canyon’s off-road capability hasn’t gotten good reviews), a trailering package, power lumbar support for the driver’s seat, steering wheel controls for cruising and audio, leather appointed front seating, heated and ventilated front seats, 4 USB ports, Bose premium audio, and an 8-inch color touchscreen for the navigation system.

The Denali also gets 20-inch wheels, projector headlamps with LED signature lighting, fog lamps, a spray-on bed liner, a cornerstep rear bumper, and a wi-fi hotspot.

Total cost came to $48,190 for my test vehicle, but the Canyon starts at a more affordable $21,100.

What I liked about the 2018 GMC Canyon Denali: The infotainment system is intuitive to operate, and the 8-inch screen is of a size that is easy on the eyes. You can operate both the audio and climate systems with buttons as well. Throttle response is good.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 GMC Canyon Denali: Maneuvering in tight mall parking lots is easier than with a full-size pickup, but that doesn’t make it easy.

Would I buy the 2018 GMC Canyon Denali? I really don’t need a truck, so no, I personally wouldn’t. But it should be on your list if you are shopping for one. If the Denali price tag is too high, the SLT model might fit your budget and includes most of the popular equipment. 

Friday, January 5, 2018


Fiat returned to the U.S. market with lots of fanfare and a clever advertising campaign about six years ago after an absence of nearly three decades, but I have to wonder just how far entertaining commercials and cutting prices will carry the Italian automaker this go-around.

Recently released numbers  for 2017 show a steep decline for all three versions of the bell cow of the Fiat fleet, the 500, 500L, and 500X with sales off by 18, 47, and 35 percent from the previous year, respectively. (I use the word “fleet” advisedly; there really is only one other Fiat offered here, the 124 Spider, which showed sales growth of 81 percent over 2016, but you’re talking about only 4,478 vehicles for the year.)

Together, the three models hit the 22,014 sales mark in 2017. By comparison, the number of 500s sold in 2012, its first full year on the market, was 43,772.

This drop comes despite price-cutting across the board. The entry-level 2017 Fiat 500 Pop model carries an MSRP of 14,995, a decrease of $1,000 from when the 2012 model was introduced in 2011.

MSRP for the 2017 Lounge trim was cut $2,000 to $18,395, and the track-ready, top-of-the-line Abarth with its 1.4-liter, turbo-charged 4-cylinder engine was reduced $2,580 to get under $20,000 for the first time at $19,995.

Like some other vehicles that break new styling ground or have an appeal to buyers who like to think out of the box — I’m thinking here of Chrysler’s PT Cruiser, Ford’s Thunderbird, and Chevy’s HHR — perhaps the 500 has hit its saturation point. It’s like everybody who wants one already has bought one and nobody else, or hardly anybody, is interested.

“Perky” apparently only goes so far.

Of course, maybe I shouldn’t be that quick to write it off. My history with predictions frankly isn’t very good. Years ago I remember writing that I didn’t see much of a future for cable TV because all three networks at the time were available over the air. How did that turn out? (At least I wasn’t alone in that. My instructor thought that was an astute observation.)

And the Fiat 500 isn’t without its virtues.

In addition to the three trim levels, the 500 also is offered as a convertible, dubbed the 500c or Cabrio, which adds $1,495 to the price in all three trims. The cloth top retracts to the rear spoiler riding on along stationary rails. It’s more of an extended sunroof really, and can be locked at the halfway point or fully retracted.

The first three years of the Topless in Miami Presented by Haartz convertible competition sponsored by the Southern Automotive Association it won its class rather handily with the 2012 500c winning in 2011, the Gucci edition in 2012, and the Abarth in 2013, its first year on the market.

My recent time in the 2017 500c Abarth showed that the venerable subcompact hasn’t lost any of its charm. It’s certainly not that its showing its age or anything, but the competition is getting tougher and there are some inherent drawbacks common to just about every vehicle in the subcompact genre.

That is, not a lot of room is available in the backseat, and it’s not easy for adults to get back there either. Plus, the luggage compartment is a minuscule 5.4 cubic feet. No, this is not a vehicle made for extended family vacation trips.

But it is one that is good for scooting around urban environs, especially when it comes to parking. It’s only 144.4 inches long, which is two feet shorter than the VW Beetle Dune (another out-of-the-box option in the segment), for example, and the wheelbase of 90.6 inches is nearly 10 inches shorter than the Dune’s 100.1. (I was a little bit disappointed in the 500c’s turning circle diameter of 37.6 feet, however.)

The Abarth’s engine is tuned for 160 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque when mated with the 5-speed manual transmission and 157/183 with the optional 6-speed automatic. I had the automatic, but would dearly have loved to try the manual to get more out of it.

Fuel figures for the Abarth are 28 miles-per-gallon city, 34 highway with the manual and 27/32 with the automatic. One downside: Premium fuel is recommended, though 87 octane is deemed acceptable.

Remember, the Abarth is oriented toward extra performance. If fuel mileage is your goal, the 500c Pop and Lounge models are rated at 31/40 with the manual and 27/34 with the automatic, but fuel requirements are the same (91 octane recommended, 87 acceptable) and power numbers are 101 hp and 97 lb.-ft.

My test Abarth 500c included as standard features Rear Park Assist, 7-inch color cluster display, a turbo boost gauge, premium sound system, the company’s UConnect 5.0 system for infotainment functions, leather-wrapped instrument panel cluster, perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel, tilt steering column, driver seat memory, aluminum pedals, dual bright exhaust tips, fog lights, and red brake calipers.

Adding options like a Popular Equipment Package (satellite radio, auto air, and heated front seats), Nero (black) seats, the automatic transmission, GPS navigation, and 17-inch wheels over the standard 16s plus the $995 destination and delivery charge ran the total for my test Abarth to $26,660.

What I liked about the 2017 Fiat 500c Abarth: Driving this car does put you in a good frame of mind. The grille and headlamps give the front fascia a rather impish grin, and the exterior color is carried over to the dash and other interior spots for a nice, clean appearance.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Fiat 500c Abarth: The 5-inch screen for navigation and other functions is too small for me, and the people at Fiat need to talk to the people at Chrysler about simplifying the operation of the UConnect infotainment functions. Buttons and touch points are on the smaller side and it isn’t as intuitive as the system in Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles.

Would I buy the 2017 Fiat 500c Abarth? As a second car, yes.