With the warm weather, it's a good time to take an SUV outdoors. Here are four very popular models for a test drive. First up is the all new Jeep Cherokee Limited 4x4. Some have complained about the modern styling, but I think this is a good looking machine, and most onlookers did too. The body structure is heavy duty, with thick metal construction--no Tin Lizzy here!
The interior got high marks. No cheap materials were observed, nice-sized glove box, easy to read gauge cluster, and simple knobs for radio/climate controls. This had the optional all-wheel drive "Select Terrain" system which uses a simple knob for normal, sand, mud, and snow modes. A more expensive unit with 4x4 low gears is available for more serious off-roading.
The base engine is a four-cylinder rated at 184 HP. This had the optional 3.2 liter V-6 at 271 horses. It's rated at 19-27 mpg. All engines are hooked to a 9-speed (yes, nine) automatic gearbox. It performs well, but this SUV could never get the 9th gear to engage regardless of speed. This appears to be a normal operation according to Jeep. Also, in the manual override- shift mode, the automatic will sometimes shift for itself anyway, defeating the purpose of the manual mode being there. The suspension is first rate, with a super comfortable ride, and great brakes. The steering feel is dead, but quick enough.
The base price starts at about $24-K. This one was loaded so it was $36-K. Add the better 4x4 system and other stuff, it might hit the 40-grand level! But this is the best Jeep SUV ever made and it should sell well.
Next was the Subaru Forester. Base engine is a 2.5 liter listed at 170 horsepower, but this had the optional 2.0 turbo hooked to a CVT automatic rated at 23-28 mpg. It has enough power. That's good as this vehicle drives like a sports car, with great cornering ability, quick steering, and nice brakes. Ride is firm, but comfortable. A nice highway car, with limited wind noise.
The cabin has simple knobs for climate/radio, and the materials/workmanship is very good. A button on the console locks wheels for off-road driving. The tilt steering wheel is a poor design as it lowers, but doesn't raise. Odd. Base price starts at $22-K, but this one was loaded at $29-K. A nice. reliable vehicle.
The Outlander is the oddball here, as they don't sell very many in this country. At least drivers won't see themselves coming and going! Base engine is a four at 166 horses, but this one had the 3.0 V-6. It only cranks out 220 horsepower, but this is a light SUV at only 3,300 pounds, so acceleration is strong. Gas mileage is listed at 20-28. This one got 18 city, 22 mixed, and 26 highway. The steering feel, handling, and brake performance could be described as sporty. One word of warning: with the tire pressures set at factory specs of 35 lbs, the ride is horrible, way too stiff. Lowering to 30 lbs. transfers to a comfortable ride, with no effect on handling.
The interior is nothing fancy, but materials are well made. Controls for radio/climate are simple and easy to use. Glove box size is average. The AWD unit has a knob set for Normal, Eco, Snow, and Lock. There were two flaws. The sun visors do not slide, making it impossible to block the sun from side angles. Also, the rocker panels under the doors are too wide, causing the driver’s pants to rub on the excess external bodywork. This translates into dirty pants!
Base price starts at about $23-K for the small engine and $28-K for the V-6. But the GT pack has a long list of goodies-- too much to list here and adds a whopping $6,100 to the tab. This explains the $35-K sticker here!
This is a real sporty machine, and has the performance to back up the looks. The tiny 2.0 liter 4- cylinder turbo cranks out a whopping 240 horses, so it accelerates quickly. The steering is responsive, handling first-rate, with strong brakes. This rig likes to be driven hard! There is also a 2.5 liter at 168 HP and a 170 horse 1.6 turbo power plant, but all three are rated at 25 mpg overall, so why not buy the more potent? Ordering all-wheel drive will lower the gas mileage about 3 mpg.
The interior is just as snappy looking as the outside. The climate controls are easy to use. There were two complaints. First, the dash reflects into the windshield at certain angles, a real annoying feature on long trips. Secondly, the radio controls were placed on the computer screen and operate by touching. The control points are way too small. Not that it mattered as the system was so complicated, the radio just stayed off for the test period. No control system works better than simple knobs! NONE! Radio touch screens suck! Why do car makers torment us with this stuff? The cheaper "stripped" base Escape models might come with a simpler radio layout. Check with the dealer.
The base price starts at about $20-K, but this one was loaded with everything so it reached $35,625! A bit shocking until the price of the Jeep and Mitsubishi are considered, which were not any cheaper.