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Road trippin part I: The perfect vehicles for vacation

Chrysler's 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
Chrysler's 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT

Regardless of budget, the elements of style comfort, safety and technological convenience are essential when it’s time to hit the road this summer. And we’ve got the hot list of the look good and drive great whips for you choose from….

A comfortable drive in a stylish whip that looks great, handles well, and offers cutting edge safety and technological features such as adaptive cruise control. This part safety and definitely convenient feature that monitors the speed of traffic in front of you and adjusts vehicle speed from slow to stop to resume--is about the best you can ask for with the family in tow on the way to your summer vacation. This first summer roundup includes something spectacular for every taste, at a price point to match.

Pure Exhilaration: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8
Seating Capacity: 5-Passenger / 2 rows / Standard SUV Class
Power: 470 horsepower, 6.4 liter V8 Hemi with 465 lb-ft of torque
Drive: Four Wheel Drive
Fuel Economy: 13 city / 19 highway = 15 combined, Premium Unleaded at $3,900 Annually
Rims: 20-inch
Safety: Not Rated (4-Star Overall for model year 2013)
Warranty: 3 year / 36,000 mile limited
Adaptive Cruise Control: Yes

SRT is merely an acronym for “This thing is a beast!” The justification thereof includes a “Launch” button for model year 2014. Hit it once with the car stopped and your foot on the break, then fully open the throttle while in Sport driving mode and let ‘er rip! You’ll be all smiles in the process and the envy of every sports driver in sight.

The handling is solid. In fact, it will take a few days of driving to get to the point of a one handed grip while backing up.

For 2014, an eight-speed automatic transmission is now in place for greater fuel efficiency. And while a combined fuel economy rating of 15 may not sound all that great in general, just think, a 2014 Range Rover Sport at the Supercharged trim level bares a 5 smaller liter, 375 horsepower engine, with 375 lb-ft of torque and a six speed transmission and scores the same fuel economy rating.

Also for 2014, Jeep reshaped the headlights with LED definition, as well as LED taillights, while keeping the daytime running lights (DRL) where they were for model year 2013. The overall body design is far more aerodynamic, with sweeping lines directing air up, around and over, allowing the to beast soar.

Every comfort, every convenience you can think of is pretty much included, with much special love due to Jeep designers for the instrument cluster. The information is placed right before your eyes in a clear, concise, at-a-glance style: RPM’s to the left, gas and temperature gages to the right, with the center display for speedometer, driving mode, outside temperature and more with the touch of a button on the steering wheel. You can even watch the gears shift from one through eight in the same area.

Anchored by a huge 8.4-inch monitor, the center stack is neat and sweet. Throw in a Harmon Kardon 19-speaker system for $2K and you’re super set. But keep in mind that in the pure performance driven SRT line, the idea of a moon-roof is nonexistent. Still, the Grand Cherokee SRT8 is an adventure!

Straight Up Luxe: 2013 Infiniti JX35 FWD, is now the QX60
Base: $40,450.00 / $54,700 tested
Seating Capacity: 7-Passenger / 3-Rows / Small SUV Class
Power: 265 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 with 248 lb-ft of torque
Drive: Front Wheel Drive
Fuel Economy: 18 city / 24 highway = 21 mpg combined, Premium Unleaded at $2,750 Annually
Rims: 20-inch
Safety: 4-Star Overall
Warranty: 4 years / 60,000 miles limited
Adaptive Cruise Control: Yes

You've probably seen on the commercial where the JX35 intuitively applies a hard break when a small child suddenly crosses its patch while the driver backs out of the driveway. Kudos for that alone, Infiniti. If also it's a cushy riding, smooth handling luxury sports utility vehicle with the power to “do what it do,” and look great in the process is you desire, then Infiniti’s JX35 is the feel good solution.

Appearing much smaller than its top of the line sibling—the QX56, the seven passenger “Small SUV Class” rated JX35 is chock full of tech features for safety via a $3,100 package, including Back-Up Collision Intervention, Intelligent Brake Assist with Forward Collision Warning, Blind Spot Warning & Detection, Distance Control Assist to keep you from creeping up too close on another vehicle, as well as a few fluff items like remote start, heated steering wheel and the added convenience of Intelligent Cruise Control.

Triple zone climate control, dual seven-inch monitors for rear seat passengers that includes two sets of wireless headphones (and additional rear headphone jacks) for the remote controlled audio/video, a panoramic moonroof with power sunshades for the second and third rows should all help to chill the kids and reduce the number of times you have to hear, “Are we there yet.” Then again you could just piss-off the wife by blasting out all the noise via the Bose 13-speaker Premium Sound System included in the $4,900 Premium Package featuring Infiniti Connection, Infiniti Voice Recognition, Around View Monitor that displays every side of the vehicle, detects moving objects, Front and Rear Sonar and more.

Perhaps next year’s model will include text messaging capabilities integrated through Bluetooth and displayed on the eight-inch touch screen display monitor. Everything else has been covered.

Based on all of the above, JX35 sits at the top of our luxe-list as the perfect whip for priceless cargo—family!

For The Suave and Sexy: 2013 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD
Base: $40,450.00 / $48,145 tested
Seating Capacity: 5-Passenger / 2-Rows / Small SUV Class
Engine: 300 horsepower 3.0 liter 6 cylinders with 325 lb-ft of torque
Drive: All Wheel Drive
Fuel Economy: 17 city / 23 highway=20 mpg combined, Regular Unleaded at $2,700 Annually
Rims: 19-inch
Safety Rating: 5-Star Overall
Warranty: 4 years /50,000 mile limited with complimentary factory scheduled maintenance for 3-years or 36,000 miles
Adaptive Cruise Control: Yes!

Whether you’re single or with a Mrs. and/or kids in tow, the Volvo XC60 is for the cool in you.

Not so understated is the once boxy, tank-like lineup of vehicles put out by the Volvo brand. Take for example the sexy, sleek curves, muscular angles and raised beltline of the XC60, all of which has been even further enhanced by the pizzazz of LED DRL’s and a set of 19’s. Visually speaking, it’s no longer the Volvo line we used to know.

Now get inside and drive.

Feel the power of all 300 horses directed by a six speed tranny that firmly floats in the control of the palms of your hands and the balls of your feet while delivering impressive fuel economy and ultra low emissions. And just in case you’re preoccupied for a split second while driving down a residential block at speeds under 31-miles per hour and happen to miss the vehicle that suddenly backs out in front of you, City Safety will probably beat you to applying the brakes. But then again, safety has always been a paramount issue at Volvo.

Interior comfort and conveniences include a totally keyless car, a panoramic sunroof with a power shade so that rear and/or front passengers can both enjoy the sun or not. And the Scandinavians do a great job in creating a simple instrument panel, with a seriously clean center stack that not only floats, but offers space in front and behind for resting and/or charging a phone or other electronic items.

The $4,600 XC60 Platinum package includes what some might call basics: Navigation, dual Xenon headlights, a digital compass, a power tailgate, Rear Park Assist Camera and a Volvo Premium Sound System. For another $900, they’ll throw in the added convenience of a Climate Package with an Interior Air Quality System that could prove worth its weight in gold, along with heated front and rear seats.

If you haven’t been paying attention to the new Volvo, you’re missing it!

Practical and Adventurous: 2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Touring CVT
Base: $29,995 / $32,220 tested
Seating Capacity: 5-Passenger / 2-Rows / Small SUV
Engine: 170 Horsepower, 2.5 liter 4 cylinders with 174 lb-ft of torque
Drive: All Wheel Symmetrical Drive
Fuel Economy: 24 city / 32 highway=27 mpg combined, Regular Unleaded at $2,000 Annually
Rims: 17-inch
Safety Rating: Not Rated (4-Star for model year 2013)
Warranty: 3-year / 36,000 miles limited

Subaru owners tend to be among the most brand loyal, something you’ll come to understand in just a few days behind the wheel. In fact when the entire auto industry lost its grip a few years ago, Subaru was the one brand that remained profitable and continued to prosper.

No, it’s definitely not about flash and bling. But it is about the flexibility of a weekend warrior’s desire to take on every day driving in comfort, with great safety measures, some cool technology and yes, with a bit of style too.

The all new for 2014, fourth generation Forester boasts some important firsts, including a more fuel efficient electric power steering system, expanded interior space for both passengers and cargo that comes without an increase in overall measurements,
At the base price of this particular trim level, a panoramic sunroof is included, along with Bluetooth for hands-free calling, music from your phone when not listening to subscription based XM satellite radio, streaming of other audio (such as Pandora) and text messaging capability via the 6.1 inch monitor. All inclusive navigation features include XM NavTraffic for all XM subscribers, which can pay for itself, based on the value of your time.

In addition to a smooth ride, strong acceleration for an engine of its size and superior fuel economy--thanks in great part to an all new CVT (continuously variable transmission), features such as Eyesight Driver Assist work to the road warrior’s advantage by constantly monitoring traffic through cameras on the rearview mirror that will relay the possibility of danger. The driver is immediately notified by the sight and sound of warnings while brakes are automatically applied. Driving in X-Mode is another great advantage. It makes necessary adjustments to the engine, handling, braking and traction to keep you in control when the weather is less than perfect. Forester’s voice activation system for navigation is also worthy of applause for the ease of use factor. Forester will even read aloud your incoming text messages.

Finally, the all-new 2014 Forester is a Top Safety Pick+ (TSP+) award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It is the first and only of all 13-small SUV’s tested to earn an overall rating of good for every aspect of the challenging small overlap front crash test conducted by the IIHS.

While all of this may sound good to a driver’s ears, don’t get it twisted, you’re still most subject to hearing the words “Are we there yet?” from a back seat passenger.

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