RSS icon Home icon
  • 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4X4

    The freedom to go anywhere

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Jeep Cherokee

    2014 Jeep Cherokee

    Jeep Wrangler or Jeep Cherokee: that is the question. Both have serious off-road capability, but they target different audiences. The Wrangler is the purist’s car: no messing around for a Wrangler owner. With its live axles and worm gear steering, it’s not for the faint of heart. But as a rock crawler in Moab, the Wrangler can’t be beat.

    The Cherokee can’t match the Wrangler’s capability on extreme terrain, but it will do more than most people who purchase four-wheel drive vehicles expect. I have driven the Trailhawk model on some pretty gnarly terrain and it went through like a champ.

    On paved roads, there is no question that the Cherokee offers more creature comforts, including an independent suspension, quieter interior, electric power steering, and a very sophisticated terrain control system that automatically adjusts the suspension, throttle and brakes to the type of surface the car is traveling over.

    The 2.4-liter Tigershark engine and nine-speed automatic transmission on the Cherokee Trailhawk average up to 27 miles-per-gallon on the highway as opposed to 21 for the four-door Wrangler Unlimited with the Pentastar V-6 engine.

    Bottom line: the Cherokee may better fill the squares for buyers who have active lifestyles, but also commute through heavy traffic on a daily basis and need a more spacious interior for their growing families. The Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk combines the car-like ride and handling of a crossover with Jeep’s legendary off-road finesse. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited

    Five passenger crossover gains more fuel-efficient powertrain

    By Nina Russin

    Subaru Outback

    Subaru Outback

    It would not be an exaggeration to say that Subaru invented the active lifestyle vehicle. The brand’s commitment to athletes dates back to its sponsorship of the US Ski Team in the 1970s. Although Subaru commands a relatively small portion of the global automotive market, it remains the Big Kahuna within the athletic community.

    Of all the vehicles in its current lineup, the Outback wagon expresses this focus the best. From its 8.7-inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive to the standard roof rails and rubber cargo mat, the Outback is clearly designed for outdoor enthusiasts who like to venture off the grid.

    The newest model introduced in 2013 features a more powerful 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, with slightly improved gas mileage as compared to the 2012 car. Engineers improved the car’s torsional stiffness to make it more responsive and quieter.

    Infotainment features now include navigation with real-time traffic updates and Bluetooth streaming audio.

    Buyers can opt for an EyeSight safety system that includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and pre-collision braking. The system is capable of stopping the vehicle if the driver fails to recognize pedestrians or cars in its path at speeds below 20 miles-per-hour.

    Base price for the upscale Limited grade is $29,395. Standard convenience features include leather upholstery, keyless entry, Harman Kardon audio with satellite radio, Bluetooth audio and iPod interface, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and fold-flat second-row seats.

    The test car comes with two options packages: a power moonroof with rearview camera and voice-activated navigation. Final MSRP, including the $825 destination charge, is $33,030. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Premium

    Crossover gains more powerful engine and enhanced interior

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Subaru Forester

    Subaru is evidence of how successful a niche manufacturer can be if it listens to its audience. The automaker has affiliations with athletes dating back to its sponsorship of the US Ski Team in the 1970s: a network now vastly expanded four decades later.

    Because of that, product planners understand what buyers with active lifestyles need and value in a vehicle. Standard all-wheel drive, easy-to-clean interiors, large, versatile cargo bays and a high level of standard safety are part of the brand’s DNA.

    Although the Forester began as an all-wheel drive wagon in the late 1990s, it has evolved into a larger crossover. The newest model has a slightly longer wheelbase than the outgoing car, but is significantly longer, wider and taller, translating to a roomier interior.

    A new two-liter turbocharged and intercooled engine is available on the XT model, mated to a six-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard on all trim levels. There are four grades: base, premium, limited and touring.

    Base price for the Premium 2.0XT test car with the automatic transmission is $27,995, excluding the $825 destination charge. Standard comfort and convenience features include air conditioning, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth interface, rearview camera, a 10-way power driver’s seat and fold-flat second row seats. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Jeep Cherokee

    Midsized SUV excites on and off-road

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Jeep Cherokee

    Although the Jeep Cherokee dates back to the mid-1970s, it’s the downsized 1984 model that established a market for midsized sport-utility vehicles. The Cherokee has, throughout its history, set the bar for off-road capability as well, having been one of the first vehicles to offer buyers a choice between part and full-time systems.

    Jeep discontinued the nameplate in 2001, replacing it with the midsized Liberty. After two generations, Jeep discontinued that model, introducing an all-new Cherokee for the 2014 model year.

    The newest Cherokee varies from the original model, in that it’s a unibody structure. But like its body-on-frame predecessors, the 2014 model has true off-road capability, as well as a choice of three four-wheel drive systems.

    A Trailhawk version carries the Jeep trail rating designation, implying that the car is capable of navigating the Rubicon trail in California. The Trailhawk sits higher than the other three trim levels, has special wheels and off-road tires and a two-speed transfer case with locking rear axles. A Selec-Terrain system enables the driver to adapt the throttle, front/rear torque, four-wheel drive, brakes and suspension for five types of terrain: auto, snow, sport, sand/mud and rock. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Jeep Wrangler Moab 4X4

    Special edition celebrates the Mecca of off-road adventure

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Moab

    I suppose there’s a resident of Moab, Utah who doesn’t own a Jeep Wrangler, but I’ve never seen or heard of him. Nor can I imagine why anyone living among the red rocks would want to drive anything else. The synesthesia that occurs when a person drives the ultimate off-road vehicle on the ultimate off-road trails is pretty awesome.

    For 2013, Jeep celebrates Moab’s off-road heritage with a special edition of the Wrangler. On the base Sahara 4X4 test car, the Moab edition adds a heavy-duty front bumper and winch cable, heavy-duty rear bumper, a special hood and badging, 17-inch black wheels with Goodyear Silent Armor off-road tires and an available locking rear differential.

    Base price on the test car is $27,795 excluding the $995 destination charge. The Moab package adds $5200. Other options include a five-speed automatic transmission, the locking rear axle, and Uconnect infotainment with navigation, bringing the final MSRP to $37,650. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Ram 1500

    Light-duty pickups get leaner, meaner and smarter

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Ram 1500

    The all-new 2013 Ram 1500 series is the second generation of light duty pickup trucks to roll out since the brand split with its long-time partner, Dodge. Dividing the brands in the fall of 2009 made Ram Chrysler’s second pure-truck brand. While Jeep focuses on adventurous lifestyles, Ram is all about work.

    Ram’s aggressive styling and innovative cargo features have made it one of the top-selling truck brands. As fuel prices rise and car budgets shrink, the new Ram series offers buyers better fuel economy, enhanced connectivity and new cargo options. At the same time, Ram is keeping MSRPs commensurate with comparable outgoing models.

    Pricing for 2013 models ranges from $22,590 for the rear-wheel drive Tradesman to $47,420 for the four-wheel drive Laramie Longhorn crew cab. MSRPs do not include the $995 destination charge.

    Adjustable air suspension on 2013 models can change ride height according to the terrain, and has built-in load leveling. The base Pentastar V-6 engine which debuted in the current Jeep Grand Cherokee is more fuel efficient. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is three seconds faster than the 3.7-liter block it replaces.

    The engine and all-new eight-speed automatic transmission are 76 pounds lighter than the components they replace. Using high-strength steel throughout the chassis shaved off another thirty pounds.

    A high fuel efficiency model combines the new V-6 powertrain with electric power steering, engine off-at-idle, low rolling resistance tires, redesigned side steps and a rear tonneau cover to yield 18/25 mile-per-gallon fuel economy according to the EPA. In the first quarter of 2013, the new eight-speed automatic becomes available with the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, improving that powertrain’s gas mileage as well.

    A new thermal management system heats up the engine and transmission faster, reducing fluid viscosity and improving gas mileage. Active shutters in the front of the car regulate air through the engine bay to cool it more efficiently. A redesigned front air dam is taller than the one on the outgoing model, and built out of flexible materials to resist damage during off-road driving.

    Buyers can choose between the new V-6 or two V-8 engines, regular, quad and crew cab models with rear or four-wheel drive, short or long cargo boxes, and six trim levels: Tradesman, Express, SLT, R/T, Laramie and Laramie Longhorn. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

    Ultimate off-roading machine gains power and capability

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Jeep Wrangler

    The Rubicon is the most off-road capable of any Wrangler model. With heavy duty front and rear axles, locking front and rear differentials and extensive skid plate protection, the Rubicon can traverse terrain that pedestrians would find difficult. I can vouch for this, having slid butt-first down scree on the trail the model is named for, while trying to photograph a group of Jeeps.

    This year, Jeep engineers took the Wrangler Rubicon to the next level with a new more powerful and fuel efficient engine, available five-speed automatic transmission, more aggressive rear axle ratios and a disconnecting front sway bar. The Wrangler tows up to 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV criteria.

    Engineering updates are the second phase of a Wrangler remake which began with an all-new interior last year. The current interior has softer touch-points, improved fit and finish, and some infotainment updates, including Uconnect voice-activated media center with Bluetooth interface.

    Base price for the Wrangler Rubicon is $29,995 excluding the $800 delivery charge. Options on the test car include the connectivity package described above ($385), heated leather front bucket seats ($900), a convenience group which includes power windows, remote keyless entry, power heated mirrors and power door locks ($685), five-speed automatic transmission with hill descent control ($1,125), body-color hard top, tinted windows and rear wiper ($1715), satellite radio, touchscreen display and 40 gigabyte downloadable hard drive ($1,035). MSRP is $36,640. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport

    Half-ton pickup appeals to buyers with active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport

    Honda was the first automaker to conceive of vehicles as rolling toolboxes. The funky Element quickly won favor among triathletes because of its versatile interior which could be configured to hold multiple bicycles.

    When Honda introduced the Ridgeline half-ton pickup truck in 2005 for the 2006 model year, designers used a similar strategy. Since chief engineer, Gary Flint, was a recreational mountain biker, it made sense that the Ridgeline’s interior should be roomy enough to provide secure storage for his gear.

    By making the second-row of the crew cab more spacious than its competitors and designing the seats to flip up and out of the way, the cab could hold a mountain bike with the front wheel removed.

    Its versatile interior is just one of the features which buyers with active lifestyles will love about the Ridgeline. A dual-action tailgate is hinged to both the bottom and side for better cargo bed access. Four cargo lights illuminate the bed at night, making the Ridgeline the ideal choice for a weekend camping trip. A hidden storage area under the cargo bed floor keeps gear which can’t fit in the passenger compartment safe and dry.

    The Ridgeline tows up to 5000 pounds and has an 1100-pound payload rating. Honda accessories configure the cargo bed to hold motorcycles and ATVs.

    A new Sport grade gives the Ridgeline a more stylish exterior, with a blacked-out grille, black headlamp and brake light housings and black 18-inch alloy wheels. Inside the Sport features a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, rubber floor mats, auxiliary jack and tinted rear glass.

    Base price is $29,995. An $810 destination charge brings the MSRP to $30,805. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Jeep Compass Latitude 4X4

    Value-packed SUV gets styling and safety enhancements

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Jeep Compass

    Although the EPA classifies the Jeep Compass as a compact sport-utility vehicle, its roomy interior accommodates up to five passengers, with plenty of cargo space. The Compass is one of the most affordable Jeeps on the market, available as either a front or all-wheel drive model.

    Two off-road packages give the Compass the ability to navigate moderate off-road trails, with available low gear range, locking differential, and underbody cladding. The Freedom-Drive II Off-Road option also adds a full-sized spare, special tires, hill start assist and hill descent control.

    There are three available grades: Sport, Latitude and Limited. The mid-grade Latitude starts at $23,445 for the all-wheel drive model with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine: the larger of two available blocks. MSRP does not include a $780 destination fee.

    Last year, designers freshened the styling inside and out, by integrating cues from the Jeep Grand Cherokee, adding brighter headlamps, a new rear fascia to make the back end look more appealing, and using more soft-touch surfaces inside.

    In addition to its affordable sticker price, the Compass is economical to own, thanks to 23 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy. I averaged 22.3 miles-per-gallon on my 100-mile test drive: slightly poorer than the EPA estimate.

    Buyers who opt for the front-wheel drive model will average slightly higher. There are two available transmissions: a five-speed manual and continuously variable automatic with manual gear selection.

    The test car has two option packages: the first adds a tire pressure display to the instrument panel, vehicle information center, automatic dimming rearview mirror and tonneau cover in the cargo area ($650). A Uconnect voice command package includes a USB port, voice-command application for the Bluetooth interface and satellite radio with a one year subscription ($780). Price as tested is $25,350. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Toyota Tacoma 4X4

    V-6 engine tows up to 6500 pounds

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Toyota Tacoma

    The Tacoma’s roots are in Toyota’s compact pickup trucks of the 1970s and 80s. Today, the Tacoma is a significantly larger vehicle, lining up behind the full-sized Tundra. New six-cylinder engine technology enables engineers to produce equivalent performance to what V-8 engines yielded a decade back. As a result, the V-6 Tacoma with 266 foot-pounds of torque qualifies as a real work horse, with the ability to carry heavy cargo.

    The advantage of the V-6 as compared to the eight cylinder engine is fuel economy. The Tacoma access cab 4X4 averages 20 miles-per-gallon on the highway, which is good for a two-ton truck. Out of the box, the Tacoma tows up to 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV standard. A towing prep package which adds a class 4 hitch, heavy duty battery, transmission and oil coolers boosts towing capacity to 6500 pounds, making the Tacoma capable of hauling large trailers.

    The access cab includes a small rear passenger space which can also be used for cargo. Dealerships can deactivate the front passenger airbag for child seats, since they won’t fit in back.

    Base price for the test car is $25,925 excluding the $810 delivery charge. A discounted TRD off-road package adds a locking rear differential, off-road suspension, Bilstein shocks, special wheels, tires and skid plates under the chassis, as well as a host of comfort and convenience features inside the car ($3085). Other options include daytime running lamps ($40), the towing prep package ($650), carpeted floor mats ($179), tie down loops ($40), special wheels, tires  and performance exhaust ($1699), bringing the price as tested to $33,168. Read the rest of this entry »