News: 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Gets Diesel Engine, Edgy Styling

News: 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Gets Diesel Engine, Edgy Styling

Diesel Move Is Big Surprise

Hyundai pulled the covers off the all-new fourth generation 2019 Santa Fe SUV this week in South Korea. Heavy with car models and light on crossover SUVs, the new Santa Fe is a big deal for the automaker; it’s the company’s second best-selling model with more than 133,000 sold in the U.S. last year.

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

For 2019, Hyundai moves the Santa Fe down a new path

The midsize crossover will offer the usual naturally aspirated and turbocharged four-cylinder gas engines, but the biggest news is that the U.S. will be getting a diesel option. But before getting into specifics about what is known about the drivetrains and other details, there are changes for model identification.

The outgoing generation lineup had two distinct models: the two-row Santa Fe Sport and the Santa Fe, a longer-wheelbase three-row model. The new 2019 short-wheelbase, five-seat vehicle will be called simply Santa Fe, with the longer-wheelbase version called Santa Fe XL for now. The company also confirmed that an even bigger eight-seat crossover was on the way with an all-new name.

Drivetrains

For those who want torque and the best fuel economy, there’s an optional 2.2-liter CRDi turbodiesel, which arrives in early 2019. Hyundai says the diesel will crank out “around 200 horsepower at 3,000 rpm and an estimated 320 pounds-feet of torque at 1,750 rpm.” Fuel economy numbers weren’t released, but expect the highway number to be in the 30s. Strangely, the diesel version of the Santa Fe is the only model that has what is described as an “occasional use” third-row seat.

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

The diesel and AWD logoa

Most buyers will likely opt for one of the gasoline engines. The base Santa Fe will offer a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine making an estimated 185 horsepower. The upgrade engine will be a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making an estimated 232 horsepower. All engines come mated to a new in-house-designed eight-speed automatic transmission and will have the option of Hyundai’s Htrac all-wheel drive.

Other changes beneath the sheetmetal are a revised suspension, particularly in the rear, to provide a smoother and more comfortable ride. Hyundai will also offer an optional load-leveling suspension to maintain a consistent ride height, even when loaded with cargo or towing.

New From the Ground Up

The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe has a new look that is less crossover and more SUV than before. The styling is revolutionary next to today’s comparatively staid version. The new model incorporates the automaker’s latest design cues, including a new take on the company’s “Cascading” grille, along with LED daytime running lights at the top corners of the front end with LED headlights that are clustered below that. With more upright body panels, larger rear quarter glass, and a 2.8-inch growth spurt in overall length, the Santa Fe stands out next to more conservatively styled competitors.

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

The Santa Fe interior gets an upgrade, too

Along with additional interior space, there’s an all-new dashboard design that incorporates a 7.0-inch tablet-style infotainment system and an available digital gauge cluster. All trim levels receive Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, while a navigation system and a head-up display that projects an 8.5-inch image on the windshield giving driving and navigation information is optional. Upper trim levels include a larger eight-inch screen with Hyundai’s latest AVN 5.0 navigation system and a 630-watt, 12-speaker surround-sound Infinity audio system. Thankfully, there are knobs and buttons to control climate and audio controls.

Fittingly for a family vehicle, the 2019 Santa Fe incorporates some interesting safety features. Smart Sense, which will be standard on trim levels SE and higher, will come with forward collision warning and avoidance, blind-spot warning, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, a 360-degree camera system, rear cross-traffic warning and collision avoidance, and automatic high beams.

Safe Exit Assist, a system that monitors vehicles approaching from the rear and prevents passengers from throwing open the doors and potentially stepping in front of a passing car, motor cycle or bicycle is folded into Smart Sense. So too is rear seat occupant alert. It uses ultrasonic sensors to detect motion of kids or pets in the back so they are not locked inside the vehicle.

On sale this (2018) summer, the 2019 Santa Fe will be joined by at least two other new Hyundai SUV models this year, including the entry-level Kona subcompact and the Nexo fuel cell. Pricing for the new Santa Fe will be available closer to the release date.

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Road Test: 2017 Jeep Cherokee Overland 4X4

Road Test: 2017 Jeep Cherokee Overland 4X4

Legendary Jeep Off-Road Capability + Comfortable On-Road Ride

The Jeep Cherokee Overland is not to be confused with the Grand Cherokee. The difference is in the word Grand, which indicates it is a midsize SUV compared to the compact 2017 Jeep Cherokee Overland 4X4 that Clean Fleet Report tested recently. The Jeep Overland is a family-friendly SUV with the legendary Jeep off-road capability.

2017 Jeep Cherokee

Unmistakable Jeep with modern updates

Drivetrain

Clean Fleet Report drove the 2017 Jeep Overland 4X4 equipped with a 3.2L, V6 that produces 271 horsepower (hp) and 239 pounds-feet (lb-ft) of torque through a nine-speed automatic transmission. The EPA fuel economy rating was 18 city/26 highway/21 combined. Clean Fleet Report drove the Overland 354 miles, with the majority of the time on the highway, and achieved a combined average of 25.1 mpg. However, in two, 100-mile freeway runs with the cruise control set to 65 mph, we achieved 31.2 mpg, allowing the Cherokee to join our AWD 30 MPG Club. Also available is the 2.4L, Tigershark I4 engine, producing 184 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque, that is EPA rated at 21 city/30 highway/25 combined.

Driving Experience: On the Road

Clean Fleet Report’s 2017 Jeep Cherokee Overland 4X4, with the 3.2L, was smooth cruising at highway speeds. Coming away from a stoplight, we felt a bit of stumbling after the engine start/stop kicked back in. Acceleration was more than adequate and the V6 was quiet at all times, even when accelerating hard while climbing a grade.

The Overland 4X4 utilizes Jeep’s Active Drive II system that sends power only to the front wheels during normal street driving. If that surface gets wet or icy, then the computer automatically sends power to the rear wheels to assist in traction. When venturing off pavement, the Selec-Terrain traction control system has driver-selectable settings of Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock. Add-in all-speed traction control, hill descent control, hill start assist and off-road suspension to aid in the Overland’s driving stability. The Continental ProContact TX 225/60R all-season tires were equally capable for street and off-road driving.

Clean Fleet Report’s Overland 4X4 had the Heavy Duty Protection Group option which included skid plates for front suspension, fuel tank, transmission and underbody protection. Not that we drove the Overland 4X4 so hard to need the skid plates, but it was nice knowing they were there.

Stopping was very good, confident, solid and straight through the front vented and solid rear rotor power-assist brakes. The Overland comes with an anti-lock brake system, vacuum brake assist and electronic stability control.

Driving Experience: Interior

The Overland has a good size interior where two adults and a child fit comfortably in the rear seat. Front seat legroom was generous, and legroom was more than adequate for the rear seat passengers. Storage with the 60/40 rear seat laid flat is large enough for a bicycle without removing the wheels. Otherwise, with the rear seat in the up position, the cargo area is adequate for compact SUVs. Access was easy through wide doors leading to a high driver and front passenger seating positions.

2017 Jeep Cherokee

Touches of luxury invade the Jeep

The Overland is a premium compact SUV, and the interior shows it. Nappa leather is everywhere, including all the seats, with the front ones being ventilated and power adjustable, including lumbar. The Overland’s dash is clean and straight-forward in design with tasteful matte-finish aluminum trim. The dark, Zebrano high-gloss wood trim on the heated steering wheel is very attractive and the Berber floor mats were a nice change from what is found on other SUVs.

Everything for the driver is laid-out in logical, easy-to-read locations. The 8.4-inch color touch screen is the command center for the Uconnect operating system, which includes navigation and SiriusXM satellite radio (one-year subscription included.) The nine amplified speakers and a subwoofer push out quality sounds for the Alpine audio system that includes AM/FM/CD/MP3 HD radio. Voice command, with Bluetooth, for handsfree phone and streaming audio are operated by the steering wheel controls.

The 2017 Jeep Cherokee Overland had convenience features such as remote start, cruise control, memory for the driver seat and exterior rearview mirrors, tilt and telescopic steering column, rear window/wiper, power windows with one-touch express up and down, power door locks, heated power exterior mirrors with turn signals, automatic, dual zone climate control, remote keyless entry, push button start, 12V power outlet, rear seat fold down armrest, remote charge-only USB and AUX ports and multiple cup holders.

Driving Experience: Exterior

2017 Jeep Cherokee

Details in the Overland edition drive home the upscale nature of the model

Clean Fleet Report’s Overland was painted in a striking Deep Cherry Red Crystal Pearl that popped against the sharp looking 18-inch polished aluminum wheels. The streamline look starts upfront with the signature grille that still rubs a few Jeep purists the wrong way. Clean Fleet Report is not in that camp and likes the modern design with the sleek bi-xenon high intensity headlamps that blend smoothly into the fenders. There is no unnecessary cladding or chrome work.

The roof comes with rack rails, a shark fin antenna and spoiler over the power liftgate, which incorporates the LED taillights and rear window wiper. The rear has dual chrome exhaust tips. It all works very well as a contemporary SUV that will hold its design for years to come.

Safety and Convenience

The 2017 Jeep Cherokee Overland has been rated by NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), earning 4 Stars overall. Our Overland was equipped with 10 airbags, a ParkView rear backup camera, blind spot and cross path detection, ParkSense rear park assist, tire pressure monitoring system and a full-size spare.

Pricing and Warranties

Clean Fleet Report’s 2017 Jeep Cherokee Overland 4X4 had a base price of $37,695. With optional packages of Technology, Heavy Duty Protection and the dual-pane panoramic sunroof, added $4,900 for a total MSRP of $42,595. All prices exclude the $1,095 destination charge.

All 2017 Jeep Cherokee Overland models come with these warranties:

  • Basic Three years/36,000 miles
  • Powertrain Five-years/60,000 miles

Observations: 2017 Jeep Cherokee Overland 4X4

2017 Jeep Cherokee

Lots to like here, starting with the Jeep name and heritage

Nimble around town and easy-to-drive on the open road sums up this SUV. Need to venture off road? Sure, go ahead. For all but serious rock crawling, the 2017 Jeep Cherokee Overland 4X4 will do just fine. Seats five adults in an absolute pinch, four is more comfortable. A contemporary design and leather everywhere. If only the fuel economy was a few miles per gallons more and the Cherokee Overland 4X4 would have pretty much everything going for it.

Jeep has several Cherokee models to choose from–Limited, Altitude, High Altitude, Sport and Overland. Each has something a bit different to offer, so visiting your local Jeep dealer and driving all the Cherokee models just might be where you will be spending a weekend day.

Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!

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Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Road Test: 2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Road Test: 2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Third Gen’s a Charm

The Equinox compact crossover has been a big hit for Chevrolet, but the latest model is hitting new high marks for fuel economy. With nearly two million sold since its debut in 2004 as a 2005 model, the all-new 2018 Chevrolet Equinox represents a third generation after a long life for the second (2010-2017). It’s one of five Chevrolet crossovers/SUVs.

2108 Chevrolet Equinox

You’ve seen this look before, but not in a high-mpg compact crossover

If you like the look of the Chevrolet Malibu, Cruze, and Volt, you’ll appreciate the Equinox’s new design. It’s sharply drawn, but thankfully, not overdone. The latest chiseled brand face is there, as is a multi-faceted hood and a high, straight shoulder that mimics the look of big brother Suburban and Tahoe. Though all-new, the vehicle still evokes the general feeling and proportions of the old model, which is a good idea, considering its success.

New Inside

Inside, you can see the influence of the siblings as well. There’s lots of movement along the dash and doors, with black control panels and silver accents, and chrome sparkles on the vents and handles. The center of the instrument panel provides useful information straight ahead. The speedometer, common today, goes up to an unattainable 160 mph.

2108 Chevrolet Equinox

Lots to like in the Equinox interior upgrades

The fat, leather-wrapped steering wheel is GM standard, but that’s a good thing. It flaunts lots of handy buttons for controlling audio and other features, so you can keep your eyes on the road.

There are two USB ports in the front of the center console for using and charging devices. You can plug in your phone and see it projected on the 7 or 8-inch center screen, thanks to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Efficiency Boost

Part of the goal of the new Equinox, besides to look fresh, is to increase efficiency, which is why about 400 pounds was taken out of this model. It still comes in at between 3,274 and 3,682 pounds, but that’s significant nonetheless.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

The Equinox’ interior can take you long

Crossover vehicles like the Equinox are very popular today, because they combine the higher-riding, greater-hauling, cooler-looking SUV experience with a comfortable-riding car platform. The Equinox has a firmness to the ride that feels just right, and the leather buckets are comfortable for commuting. I didn’t have a chance to take this one on a long trip, but it looks well up to the job.

Many Choices

This compact hauler comes in four trims—S, LS, LT, and Premier. And there are three engine choices, too, all of which are turbocharged. The base engine is a 1.5-liter four with 170 horsepower (hp) and 203 pounds-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque. My Cajun Red Tintcoat tester was a top-level Premier, but had this base engine. You can step up to a 2.0-liter four with 252 hp and 260 lb.-ft. It may not appeal to you, but if you’re interested in a diesel, a new 1.6-liter unit is optional, with a mere 137 hp, but a hearty 240 lb.-ft. of torque. Diesel is surrounded by controversy today, after the revelations of malfeasance at VW, but it offers higher fuel efficiency and range for certain applications.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Options are many, but you’ll want to check out what you can get in the center stack

The 1.5-liter four seems up to the job in this car. It was unmemorable, but didn’t leave me feeling let down, either. The existence of the 2.0-liter option means you can get added grunt if you know you’re going to be carrying several passengers and cargo, which could affect performance significantly. The 2.0-liter engine is mated to a new nine-speed transmission, while the 1.5 gets a traditional six-speed.

My 1.5-liter-equipped tester earned EPA numbers of 24 city/30 highway/26 combined. Those are not bad stats. Green numbers are a pair of 5’s for Smog and Greenhouse Gas.

You can choose front-wheel or all-wheel drive in this crossover. The all-wheel drive system automatically disconnects from the rear axle when not needed, for greater efficiency. Having this choice means that if you live in sunny California and are not planning on skiing, you can skip AWD and save a few bucks while improving your miles-per-gallon numbers by two.

Options, There Are More Than a Few

There’s a vast set of safety features, many standard and some optional—too many to list here. See http://www.chevrolet.com/suvs/equinox-compact-suv for details.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Let’s not forget what crossovers are all about–space

Pricing starts at $24.525 for the S model. My Premier tester had the base engine, but included the Sun, Sound & Navigation package ($3,320) and charged $395 for the Cajun Red paint. The package does include a power sunroof, 19-inch wheels, MyLink Navigation and a Bose Premium seven-speaker system, so the total came to $39,040. That’s one pricey compact crossover.

The all-new Equinox is truly North American, built in Canada with a U.S-sourced engine and transmission and 40 percent Mexican parts. It’s a very important entry in the growing compact crossover segment, battling the two perennial favorites, the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, as well as the popular Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5, and the rest. With this introduction, Chevrolet’s fleet is looking very fresh.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy—the Competition

Road Test: 2018 Honda CR-V

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Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Road Test: 2018 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

Road Test: 2018 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

Cruising Well into the AWD 30 MPG Club

In our northwest corner of the country, motorists embraced Subarus back when quirky wasn’t hip. We thought Subarus were neat long before Paul Hogan started hauling his “barbie” around in Outbacks or Lance Armstrong cycled his way to becoming the new company spokesman.

2018 Subaru Outback

The Subaru Outback in its natural habitat (when it’s not cruising the highways)

We, along with buyers in New England and the Rocky Mountain states, knew for years that Subaru’s all-wheel drive cars and wagons offered superior traction—not just on snowy or muddy roads, but on any slippery or uneven surface. And the decision in 1994 to morph the Legacy wagon into the “world’s first sport-utility wagon” and call it Outback? Brilliant, as consumers in all three markets flocked to dealers.

Over the years Outbacks and, indeed, all Subarus, were known for just so-so fuel economy. The automaker has been working to erase that reputation. The 2014 Outback 2.5i four-cylinder, with a 30-mpg highway rating, earned inclusion in our Clean Fleet Report All-Wheel Drive 30 MPG Club. The 2018 Subaru Outback improves on that with an EPA rating of 32-mpg highway/25 city/28 combined with a standard continuous variable transmission (CVT). Plus, the 2018 Outback boasts a driving range of nearly 600 miles, thanks to a large 18.5-gallon gas tank.

For those willing to forgo some fuel economy in exchange for power, the six-cylinder 3.6R is rated at 27-mpg highway/20 city/22 combined.

While the crossover SUV craze has overshadowed the car market in the U.S., the Outback wagon is Subaru’s top selling vehicle. But it isn’t totally alone. If you are set on a wagon with all-wheel drive, there’s the all-new Buick Regal TourX, along with the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, BMW 3-Series Sports Wagons, Audi A4 Allroad and Volvo V60.

A Distinctive Look

The Outback has grown in size over the years and along the way became a nameplate of its own, losing the Legacy badge in 2000. But one thing hasn’t changed, its distinctive look.

In profile, it is still one handsome station wagon with a roofline that sweeps naturally back. Like the original, the SUV-like appearance is maintained with pronounced front and rear fender arches along with lower body cladding and signature round fog lights. Minor restyling for 2018 brings a chunkier bumper and front fascia that includes a wider and lower grille, chrome wings extending from the logo and more aggressively styled headlights. The rear has also been tweaked for a more substantial look, and the Limited trim offers a new wheel design. The 8.7 inches of ground clearance continues to set it apart from other small crossovers; it’s one of those cars that still looks classy when it’s caked in mud.

A roof rack remains standard but with a clever twist. The roof rail system has noise-reducing crossbars that swing out of the way when not in use. It also makes it easier to secure bikes, kayaks and snowboards.

Inner Space

While Subaru wanted the outside of the Outback to look tougher, it made the 2018 edition’s interior more luxurious. The center console and steering wheel have been redesigned; all grades above the base trim include new stitching on the dash. The dash, center console and door panels flow together in a contemporary manner. Materials look and feel rich, and the faux wood trim has a matte finish, not the sheeny look that so many makers prefer.

2018 Subaru Outback

The Outback retains user-friendly features while embracing tech

Unlike far too many vehicles that use tiny controls on the center console, the Outback has large, easy-to-read push selectors for climate control. And kudos to the designer who kept separate rotary audio control knobs rather than absorbing them into the navigation system.

Storage inside the Subaru’s interior is also generous and well thought out. The center console bin is massive, the door pockets have slots for water bottles and there’s a larger covered bin forward of the shifter that’s perfect for a phone or wallet. The two front cupholders are large and well-placed. There are also two rear cupholders in the fold-down armrest.

Front bucket seats are supportive with good grip, and yet are comfortable. It’s easy to arrange a just-so driving position, which is a separate issue from how good the seats themselves feel. Front

2018 Subaru Outback

The wide open space–in back of the Outback

head- and legroom are excellent. The rear cabin is a pleasing place to ride. It’s not only comfortable for adults with its reclining seatbacks, it’s a rear seat that adults can climb into without much trouble. Younger families will appreciate the easy-to-reach latch connectors in the outboard seat for easy car seat installation.

I’m still amazed by the amount of stuff you can cram into the cargo area of the Outback. There’s a generous 34.3 feet of storage space behind the rear seats, which expands to a voluminous 71.3 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded flat.

Of late, Subaru has been on top of the features-offered game. For 2018, the Outback has an updated Starlink multimedia and infotainment system that features a standard 6.5-inch screen in place of the previous 6.2-inch unit, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen is available in the Outback for the first time. Both offer Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary inputs, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The upgraded unit also has two USB ports, TomTom navigation and the ability to receive over-the-air updates using Wi-Fi. 

The automaker also bolstered the Outback’s safety arsenal with optional swiveling headlights, automatic high-beams, adaptive guidelines in the standard rearview camera, individual tire-pressure monitors, automatic locking doors and a reverse-braking system. The optional EyeSight camera and sensor package has also been upgraded with lane-keeping assist that now activates at a lower speed, around 37 mph.

If you want a variety of choices, go no farther. There are four trim levels of the 2018 Outback 2.5i wagon. Pricing begins at $25,895 for the base model with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and CVT transmission, while the top line 2.5i Touring starts at $36,490. The 3.6 R Limited model starts at $35,995.

Committed To AWD and The Boxer Engine

Subaru introduced its first all-wheel drive vehicle in 1972, the Leone Estate. Called symmetrical all-wheel drive, the system became standard on all Subarus sold in the U.S 1996. The lone exception is the rear wheel-drive BRZ sports car (which is a platform shared with Toyota). Engineers have improved the AWD technology over the years and today the system enhances traction,

2018 Subaru Outback

The Boxer continues to punch above its weight

control and balance. What hasn’t changed is its symmetry—a balanced front-to-rear and side-to-side operation.

While others have followed Subaru with AWD, the company continues to march to its own drummer with its “boxer” engine. The boxer, also used by Porsche, is laid out horizontally rather than vertically, as are conventional in-line and V-engines. The pistons are placed opposite one another. When the engine is running, it looks like a boxer throwing punches, hence the name.

This piston action allows their movement to cancel out vibration as well as reducing wear. Because it is mounted longitudinally—front-to-rear—it provides a low center of gravity, adding to the Outback’s stick-to-the-road capability.

Behind the Steering Wheel

Subaru handed us the keys to an Outback 2.5i Touring to test drive. Standard equipment included leather upholstery with heated front seats, heated mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, EyeSight, Starlink and a Harmon Kardon 400-watt audio system. Suggested retail was $36,490.

Weighing in at close to 3,400 pounds, the 175 horsepower four-cylinder is no screamer. It has to work a bit, but it is more than adequate for the tasks we ask vehicles to perform. The payoff is the fuel economy for a vehicle this weighty that totes around an all-wheel drive system.

On paved surfaces, where the Outback spends most of its time, the ride is well isolated with a suspension that’s slightly firm around town, but generally very comfortable. Highway driving has an impressive sedan-like feel, in part because of the low center of gravity.

Steering works well, staying pointed straight ahead without fussing, when that’s your intent. Cornering is easily handled without slop or drama, courtesy of well-matched tires, suspension and AWD. Brakes come on swiftly when summoned, but no one will think they are touchy.

2018 Subaru Outback

Though not a serious off-road machine, the Outback can kick up some dust

Subaru was an early adopter of the CVT transmission and the one in Outback is as good as they get. There was no annoying run up of engine rpms during heavy throttle application and, simulated gear shifts via paddle shifters resulted in smooth up and down shifts.

I first drove an Outback off-road in 1995, its first model year, when it was known as the Legacy Outback. At Subaru’s request, it was a support vehicle for the second annual “Mudfest,” an event judged by journalists to determine the Northwest Sport-Utility Vehicle of the Year.

Since then I have driven a score of Outbacks off-road. It probably can’t conquer the most rugged routes of the famed Rubicon Trail, but I’ve slogged behind numerous Jeep Wranglers and Cherokees, Chevy Trailblazers and Nissan Pathfinders on some very nasty, rutted, muddy, steep trails and emerged with nary a problem.

My off-road foray with this Outback wasn’t a real test, just a few miles on an old, neglected Forest Service road for a picnic by a scenic stream.

As for fuel economy, the Outback delivered as advertised. Driving most of the time at the legal go-with-the flow pace for 251 miles, rewarded us with a 33.1-mpg average, slightly better than the EPA combined estimate. That included nearly 35 miles of some frisky driving on a nearly deserted two-lane country road.

Bottom Line

Despite growing competition, the 2018 Subaru Outback continues to be a top choice if you’re looking for a sporty and affordable luxurious wagon with big cargo volume. The Outback is comfortable, it’s versatile, and is available with high-end safety tech and the highest safety ratings.

Join owners in the Pacific Northwest, New England and the Rocky Mountain states and, you won’t go wrong.

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Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Flash Drive: 2019 Infiniti QX50

Flash Drive: 2019 Infiniti QX50

New Engine Tech Hits the Highway

Infiniti brought world media members to Los Angeles in mid-January to learn about and drive the all-new 2019 QX50. When Infiniti says all-new, they mean it, as there is no carry-over from the outgoing model.

2019 Infiniti QX50

New outside, but it’s what’s inside that counts

While there are many design changes on the 2019 QX50, the most important technology advancement is the all-new VC-Turbo, the world’s first variable compression engine. Automakers make all sorts of claims about being first and the best, but when Infiniti explained in detail the 20 years of engineering that went into the VC-Turbo, and then let the media drive the QX50 hard through mountain terrain, we became believers.

The 2019 QX50 midsize crossover is only offered with the VC-Turbo power plant, with “only” not being pejorative in any way. The 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine has 269 horsepower and a very useable 280 pounds-feet of torque that spools-up for max performance between 1,600-4,800 rpm. But what exactly is a Variable Compression Turbo engine, and what makes it so revolutionary?

  • What it does: The VC-Turbo engine has multi-link components and continuously adjusts the compression between 8:1 (greater power and torque) and 14:1 (greater fuel efficiency), so engine optimization is on an instantaneous need basis.
  • If the computer senses the need, the compression ratio can also adjust to 10.5:1.
  • How it does it: The VC-Turbo engine has a small electric motor mounted to the lower part of the engine. Connected to this motor is a harmonic drive with a control arm. When rotating, the control arm moves the multi-link system, which changes and adjusts the piston positions–and the corresponding compression. All this is going on seamlessly, at all speeds and all demands on the engine.

On the Road

As hard as I tried while driving (creeping) through Beverly Hills or on the Ventura Highway at 75 mph, and then through the Santa Monica Mountains with speeds varying from slow to high-speed corners, I was unable to feel the variable compression taking place, nor was I able to trick the engine into trying to find the correct compression for my driving style. The smooth turbocharger, as

2019 Infiniti QX50

The revolutionary variable compression engine offers the best of both worlds

well as the direct and port injection, played a big part in how well the VC-Turbo performed. This is a wonderful engine.

VC-Turbo fuel economy, compared to the outgoing 2018 QX50 with the V6 engine, nets a 35-percent bump in the front-wheel drive model. EPA fuel economy ratings for the FWD are 24 city/31 highway/27 combined and 24/30/26 for the AWD model, making the QX50 a candidate for Clean Fleet Report’s 30 MPG AWD Club.

2019 Infiniti QX50

Infiniti’s style team kicks it up a notch

The premium-fuel engine is mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) in both configurations. The shift-by-wire CVT allows for manual shifting and is programmed to simulate a six-speed automatic with shift points. Infiniti lets the driver choose exactly how they want their VC-Turbo and CVT to perform with four Drive Mode options–Standard, Eco, Personal and Sport.

The Eco mode is best for open highways, where the engine and transmission can maximize fuel economy. Standard is for everyday around-town driving, but Sport is where the 2019 QX50 comes to life. Selecting Sport offers the most spirited driving, adjusting the engine to deliver higher power and torque. With the optional Direct Adaptive Steering set to Dynamic+ you get the most responsive steering available. I tried all the settings and, except for long highway runs, Sport and Dynamic+ are where I wanted to be. It was good fun pushing the 3,952-pound QX50 deep into corners, feeling confidence that the AWD system would grip and keep us planted to the road. Overall, the CVT worked as well as others on the market, which for some people is not saying much. For Infiniti, the CVT helps them achieve a smooth driving experience while maximizing fuel economy. I am sure there are some cost savings in the equation too. If you are an aggressive driver who is always pushing the limit, then the QX50 is not for you. However, if you are using the QX50 for what it was designed to do, then you will find the CVT to be to your liking.

New Design: In and Out

Styling on the 2019 Infiniti QX50 is sleeker and more contemporary than the previous model. The noticeable visual detail from the side is the kink in the D pillar. Infiniti has had this on several previous SUVs with different levels of design success. On the 2019 QX50 it looks right and is a positive design feature. Moving from a V6 to an I4 engine allowed for more front-end space, with the interior benefiting.

2019 Infiniti QX50

The cockpit is what you’d expect in a luxury crossover–plus suede

Carrying the Infiniti name and reputation means the QX50 is a premium crossover. The interior gets an update with the top trim levels including quilted seats and suede trim. It all works very nicely. All the operating systems, such as infotainment and power-everything are all there, and will be described in detail when Clean Fleet Report has the all-new QX50 for a week-long test drive. Suffice it to say that, if you want something on a new car, it is to be found on the QX50.

Technology Abounds

Along with the suite of advanced driver assistance technology, new on the 2019 QX50 is ProPilot Assist, which Infiniti repeatedly stressed is NOT autopilot. This system is hands-on and, when engaged, aids the driver keeping the QX50 centered between lane lines and can even bring the car to a complete stop in an emergency. Until the day comes where cars are completely autonomous, consider systems like ProPilot Assist to be very advanced cruise control that can reduce driver stress and fatigue while in stop-and-go traffic, or on long distance drives.

Observations: 2019 Infiniti QX50

Infiniti got the 2019 QX50 right, starting with contemporary exterior styling and premium interior materials. Size-wise, it is small enough to whip around in-town, but large enough inside to carry five full-size adults. The base QX50 in FWD starts at $36,550 and the AWD version starts at $45,150. Options, tax and destination fees will be extra.

2019 Infiniti QX50

It’s got style & tech to complete in this segment

Where Infiniti really did a great job is the all-new and first-to-market VC-Turbo engine. Twenty years of engineering innovation and development has resulted in an engine with diesel-like fuel economy, coming from a relatively small 2.0L engine that has a very useable torque band. It’s encouraging to see that gasoline-powered engines are still being improved upon.

For the family, the 2019 Infiniti QX50 will be perfect for everyday needs as well as long vacations. It’s priced competitively.

Flash Drive: Clean Fleet Report “Flash Drives” are concise reviews of vehicles that include the major points and are easy and quick to read. A “Flash Drive” is often followed later by a comprehensive test drive review.

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Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Road Test: 2017 Rogue Sport AWD

Road Test: 2017 Rogue Sport AWD

A Rear Seat Less Than the Rogue

The cravings of American car buyers for sport utilities, small and large, led Nissan to introduce an all-new model for 2017, the Rogue Sport subcompact crossover SUV. The automaker is betting that this new entry crossover will cling to the coattails of its best-selling vehicle, the larger Rogue SUV, and follow in its tire tracks. That’s a tough bet as the junior crossover lands amid a host of subcompact crossovers including the Honda HR-V, the Toyota C-HR, the Mazda CX-3 and the Chevrolet Trax.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

The best-selling Rogue gets a baby brother

While the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport is new to the U.S. market, the vehicle it is based on has been on sale in global markets as the Qashqai since 2014. The new small SUV is essentially a shrunken version of the existing Rogue, with a foot less length and a couple hundred pounds less curb weight. It earns its Sport name not for its driving characteristics—it really isn’t sporty—but instead for its positioning in the Nissan lineup below the larger Rogue and above the smaller Juke and its upcoming replacement—the Kicks.

The largest entry so far into the subcompact crossover market, Nissan offers the Rogue Sport in three trims: S ($22,395 base MSRP), SV ($23,995) and SL ($27,045). All-wheel drive (AWD) is a $1,350 option.

You can have any engine you want in the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport as long as it’s Nissan’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder that puts out 141 horsepower. It’s routed to either the front wheels or all four wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Like others of its ilk, the all-wheel-drive system on this SUV is set up for foul weather and dirt roads, not true off-roading.

EPA fuel economy ratings for our all-wheel-drive SL model are 24-mpg city/30 highway/27 combined. That earns it a membership in the Clean Fleet Report 30-MPG All-Wheel Drive Club.

Acorn Didn’t Drop Far from The Tree

Sport has a strong resemblance to big brother Rogue, from the aggressive Nissan V-Motion grill to the swoopy hatchback-like rear along with sleek LED boomerang-shaped taillights and rear spoiler. From the side, the Rogue Sport looks tidy and tightly styled, thanks to touches like the up-kick in the rear side glass, fog lights and available 19-inch wheels.

Inside, the interior is lifted almost wholesale from the updated 2017 Rogue. Gauges are simple and clear, and the dash has nice, intuitive round knobs for audio and climate control that frame the usual center stack with a touchscreen. Front and rear seats are equally comfy, well-cushioned and seem perfectly shaped for adult-size backsides.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

Inside, this nut’s similar to its sibling

With a large glovebox, a spacious center console armrest bin, and wide door pockets, the Rogue Sport offers plenty of places to stash smaller items throughout the cabin. In the cargo area there are two bins on either side and an impressively large storage bin under the cargo floor. Space for cargo is 19.9 cubic feet behind the folding seatbacks and 53.3 when they are folded.

Targeted at young, tech-savvy buyers, it’s surprising to find the Rouge Sport doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Plus, rear-seat passengers won’t be thrilled by the lack of USB or charging ports for their mobile devices. The choice is, juice up before heading out or, for $80, Nissan dealers can install two USB charging ports on the back of the center console.

2018 Nissan Rogue Sport

Under the hood is a four for town

Since I’m carping, there is a row of hard-to-reach buttons, like traction control and steering-wheel heat, that are located so far to the lower left of the dash that even seasoned owners will need to take their eyes off the road to find them.

Basic infotainment gear is standard in the Rogue Sport. A 5.0-inch color display in the S and SV models provides a clear readout for the audio system. The base 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport S comes standard with Bluetooth phone integration with Siri eyes-free, a rearview camera and Nissan’s clever Easy Fill Tire Alert, which honks the horn once the tire pressure has reached the correct level. You also get air conditioning, manually adjustable front cloth seats, remote keyless entry and cruise control.

The mid-level Rogue Sport SV adds larger 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, push-button start, a six-way-power driver’s seat and dual-zone climate control. The top-level SL gets 19-inch wheels, fog lights, remote start, Nissan’s Around-View Monitor bird’s-eye-view camera system, navigation, leather on the shift lever and heated steering wheel and seats. Basic safety systems are standard, but you’ll have to step up to mid-level SV trim to add forward emergency braking, and top SL if you want lane departure warning.

A Great Urban Driver

Forward visibility is great, thanks to a high seating position and relatively thin A-pillars. Glass areas are large and square, providing widescreen views from most angles. To help with the blind spots that do exist, Nissan has fitted the Rogue Sport with extra-large side-view mirrors.

2018 Nissan Rogue Sport

Something only slightly new

The bucket seat in our top-of-the-line SL model was perfectly acceptable for a three-hour drive, but the Rogue Sport shows best in urban areas, where its size is perfect for scooting around crowded cities and fitting tight parking spots. Around town, the junior crossover doesn’t lack for power and is peppy enough to squirt in and out of traffic without being a hazard.

The chassis holds up its end of the bargain, with balanced European breeding shining through. The suspension rebounds quickly, and minor bumps are absorbed with very little disturbance sent through to the cabin. Harsher impacts are felt, but they are surprisingly gentle. The light steering does at least make the Rogue Sport particularly easy to maneuver at low speeds, such as in a parking lot or driveway.

In town I was left thinking this thing is perky and light on its feet. But when I hit an on-ramp to the freeway, I was wishing for an extra 50 horsepower or so. A sluggish 0 to 60 time of 10 seconds tells the story. The slowness, to be fair, is similar to that of several other small SUVs, including the competing Honda HR-V and Toyota C-HR.

Once up to speed, steering was a touch slow and on the disconnected side, but the Rogue Sport did what it was told without much fuss. Aside from the creamy ride quality, handling was competent but hardly sporty. And the vehicle was quiet inside under most circumstances on all but coarser pavement surfaces. When I pushed hard into corners, the CVT held a gear until I reached a straightaway. That action was manual via the shift lever—there are no shift paddles—but the sluggish result was essentially the same.

That said, the Rouge Sport did live up to its fuel economy rating. We returned the keys to Nissan after driving 337 miles that showed a combined fuel economy of 28.1 mpg.

The Subcompact SUV For You?

Acceleration isn’t great, and driving dynamics are focused more on comfort than excitement, but the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport makes up for these shortcomings with excellent cargo-hauling capability, a smooth ride and above-average fuel economy. As a family car, the Rogue Sport also excels with plenty of rear-seat space for a child seat and a host of available active safety features—although most of these are limited to the expensive SL model.

Whether you’re a new parent shopping for a kid-friendly crossover or an empty nester looking to downsize from a larger SUV without giving up too much utility, the Rogue Sport deserves consideration.

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Road Test: 2016 Nissan Rogue

Road Test: 2017 Honda HR-V (John’s view)

Road Test: 2016 Honda HR-V (Larry’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Mazda CX-3 (Michael’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Mazda CX-3 (Larry’s view)

Road Test: 2015 Chevrolet Trax

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.