My Top 10 Cars & Trucks for 2014

My Top 10 Cars & Trucks for 2014

BMW,i3,electric car,2014

BMW’s i3 – one of the fresh faces of 2014

My Hot Picks for 2014 vs. Consumer Reports Hot New Cars & Trucks.

It must be January because everyone feels compelled to present their plan for the year – their hopes and expectations. In the automotive world, that comes down to picking the cars and trucks we think will be the hot ones this year. Consumer Reports, that well-respected Bible of rational evaluation of consumer goods, has published their list, labeled the “10 Hot New Cars And Trucks for 2014.”

I may quarrel with some of the picks, after all, that’s what these lists are all about, but given my focus on advanced technology, alternative fuels and high-MPG vehicles, my first approach is to take their list and hone it down to the cars and trucks that make sense for me and Clean Fleet Report. Of course, the worst part of this kind of speculation is we can never be sure if these models will actually show up during the calendar year. Given that caveat, make this my wish list for what I would like to drive this coming year.

It’s curious and probably an indicator of the amazing age we’re living in, but I found something in almost every offering that made sense for the CFR crowd. See if you agree.

Here they are in CR’s alphabetical order.

1. Audi A3 – This is an easy one because Audi is going to present the new A3 this year in a variants to suit every taste. My first choices are the two versions that will compete for the compact luxury fuel economy crown – the TDI that will feature the latest version of Volkswagen AG’s workhorse diesel engine, a new 2.0-liter that promises better fuel economy, lower emissions and lighter weight than the efficient engine it replaces. Second on my list will be the A3 e-tron. Well, maybe first since it will be Audi’s first foray into the electric car world. The e-tron is slated to arrive as a plug-in hybrid hatchback with enough power to maintain the Audi performance image.

2. BMW 2-Series – Here I have to diverge from CR. While this new BMW will undoubtedly be a lot of fun to drive and will probably be quite efficient, my BMW target for 2014 will be the i3, which will arrive in pure electric and extended-range versions. I spent a good amount of time last year driving some of the early versions, but I look forward to living for a week or so in the production version and getting a better chance at evaluating them in the real world.  Of course, if I get a chance to tool around in the exotic i8 plug-in hybrid, I won’t turn that down either.

3. Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon These new midsize pickups are exciting for the market, bringing back a truck size that many thought was being left behind by the ever-growing and very popular full-size pickups.

chevy,chevrolet,colorado,pickup,diesel

Waiting for the diesel upgrade

But to me the Colorado will come alive late in the year (or maybe early 2015–sigh) when it gets an injection of diesel power from GM’s 2.8-liter V-6 engine. That should produce some great fuel economy numbers while actually boosting the performance and practicality of the truck.

4. Ford Mustang – I’ve lived through the entire history of the Mustang and, to be honest, have never been a big fan of the car. I think it’s iconic, but dated and not much in the introduction this year really changed that in my mind. However, I caught some hints from Ford execs that the original pony car might get an EcoBoost or even a diesel engine. That would put it on my driving list. In the interim, I’ll stick with my current favorite Ford, the plug-in Fusion Energi. Then again, an aluminum-intensive F-150 pickup rumored to be Ford’s centerpiece for its Detroit Auto Show program, also sounds intriguing.

5. Honda Fit – The smallest Honda has been one of my favorites since its introduction, mainly on the basis of its road-handling characteristics. This coming year a new model will be introduced that promises some upgrades in its interior as well as a new engine (something that Honda is always good at). While the standard version will probably be quite fuel efficient, there have been rumors of Honda planning to bring a hybrid version, which given the latest technology shown off in the Accord Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid, could make this hatchback even more desirable. Of course, I also haven’t spent any time in the limited edition EV version so that could be on my list as well.

6. Hyundai Genesis – Once again, I’ve got to take a different route than Consumer Reports on this one. I’m sure the Genesis is a fine model, but I don’t see it fitting the CFR profile, so I’d opt for a test of Hyundai’s fuel cell electric car, the Tucson FCEV, when it goes on sale this spring. Driving a series production fuel cell car will signal the beginning of a new era (something along the lines of driving the first Honda Insight hybrid back in 1999 (or the first generation Toyota Prius which came right after) or the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt when they were introduced. Living with the car for a week and dealing with the still-developing infrastructure will also inform me more about the issues early adopters will face with the vehicle.

7. Mini Cooper This little combination of German and British engineering is everything an efficient car should be – fun to drive, powerful and functionally designed. The new version due this year promises to up the ante with a more fuel efficient three-cylinder engine. I’d enjoy driving it, but also would love to see them bring over a diesel version like the European one I’ve driven. It meets all of the above criteria and takes the fuel economy up a notch.

 

porsche,macan,suv,diesel,mpg,2014

Porsche’s new small SUV

8. Porsche Macan – Although I’ve had a chance over the years to spend some time in Porsches, my environmental focus of the past decade has made it a tough vehicle choice to rationalize. But the Macan is smaller and will naturally be more efficient than its big brother, the Cayenne. So if the Cayenne delivers 16/23 City-Hwy MPG, that should put the Macan up near 30 MPG. That’s fine, but Porsche representatives made clear to me at the vehicle’s introduction that a diesel model is likely to show up soon. Even using the same engine found in the Cayenne, the lighter Macan should be able to push its MPG well into the 30s – and that’s something I would love to test in the real world.

9. Subaru WRX – I’m not going to argue that the WRX is a fun and still functional car, but it’s not something I’d put in the CFR test fleet, even with a new model. Keeping with Subaru, though, I’d go for the XV Crosstrek Hybrid, which I haven’t had a chance to test. But if you ask for my wish list, I know Subaru’s got a boxer diesel running in Europe that would boost any of its models up into the 30 MPG territory without sacrificing any of their AWD versatility.

10. Volkswagen Golf A new Golf is always an event for VW and the seventh generation signals some significant changes, including using a new architecture. I’ve got my eye on two versions based on my experience with both – the latest TDI and the new e-Golf. The TDI should get the new world diesel engine VW is working on (see A3 notes above although the Golf may get a different iteration of that engine) and the e-Golf (I’ve driven prototypes and enjoyed my time in all of them) should be a blast. VW appears to be dedicated to maintaining the Golf’s basic fun-to-drive quotient and I expect this new EV to be one that will challenge the current

VW,volkswagen,Golf,electric car,e-Golf

Maybe an EV Golf this year

fun leaders in the segment, the Fiat 500e and Chevy Spark EV.

So, there you have it. The 10 or more cars and trucks I’m looking forward to spending some time with in 2014. I hope they all make, but I probably should also have saved a spot or two on the list for some surprises. In 2013 we had a few of those and I’m expecting more in 2014. That’s what keeps us on our toes.

Let me know what you are looking forward to in 2014 and maybe we can compare lists.

Words & Photos By Michael Coates

Posted Jan. 8, 2014

Other articles related to this topic:

Top 10 Best Fuel Economy Cars of 2014

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Cars Go On Sale in 2014

Top 10 2014/2013 AWD & 4WD SUVs/Crossovers With Best MPG

Test Drive: 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Test Drive: 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Subaru-XV Crosstrek-big MPG-AWD-SUV

XV Crosstrek – small SUV, big MPG

By Lynne Hall and Larry E. Hall

Subaru has long stood by the horizontally opposed engine to power its cars. While proven to be reliable, it has a reputation for just so-so fuel economy.

That’s changed of late – as evidenced by the all-new 2013 XV Crosstrek’s inclusion in the All-Wheel Drive 30 MPG Club – with 33 mpg highway, 25 mpg city and a combined rating of 28 mpg when equipped with a continuous variable transmission (CVT). Choose the manual shifter and fuel economy drops to 30 highway/23 city/26 combined.

Not familiar with the Crosstrek? It’s the result of a successful formula Subaru has used before: Take a core vehicle, alter the bones, jack up the suspension, add some body cladding and, viola, a new model. In this case, the donor car is the Impreza hatchback, also a member of the 30 MPG Club.

Impreza’s DNA is apparent in the Crosstrek’s profile, but from there the car takes off in a different direction. No other Subaru has the same grille or bumpers and the front A pillars are moved forward by 7.9 inches compared with the Impreza. This not only improves cabin space, it adds athleticism to the look.

While length and track width (distance between the wheels) have been increased, the wheelbase has been shortened.

The most notable, visual difference between the two cars is ground clearance, which has been cranked up three inches to 8.7 inches. Throw in muscular fender flares, along with dramatic 17-inch alloy wheels, and the Crosstek becomes an open invitation to travel farther once the highway ends.

Lynne says …

In our northwest corner of the country, motorists embraced Subarus back when quirky wasn’t hip. We, along with buyers in New England and Rocky Mountain states, knew for years that Subaru’s all-wheel-drive cars and wagons offered superior traction – not just on snowy roads, but on any slippery or uneven surface.

And that 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.

Since then, Subaru has perfected the recipe for creating a new model from an existing one, and I think the XV Crosstrek is their best yet.

As much as I liked the Outback, I thought the lower body cladding was a little over the top, almost garish. Conversely, Crosstrek stylists used restraint and added just the right amount of muscularity with the fender flares. Also, the wider track, added length and shorter wheelbase result in balanced proportions.

Compared with the small crossover SUV sales leaders – Ford Escape, Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4 – the Crosstrek has the look of a sport utility that wants to get out of town. It says, “Hey, throw a couple mountain bikes or camping gear in the back and lets get a little dirty, maybe even muddy.”

And it backs up that invitation with ground clearance that’s more generous than the Jeep Grand Cherokee. While we couldn’t find time to do some semi-serious off roading, previous Subaru test drives have shown their ability to go just about anywhere short of rock crawling.

Crossteck’s well-laid-out interior follows Impeza. The cabin is minimal, but not Spartan, with durable soft-touch materials covering upper surfaces for comfort, and plastic on lower panels for easy cleaning. Switchgear arranged on the center stack and surrounding the steering column has a sturdy feel.

Seats, front and rear, fall into the comfortable category, and we found the space suitable for four adults, even if rear passengers were squeezed a bit for foot room. In case your passengers tend to be toddlers rather than adults, it’s easy to comfortably fit two front-facing car seats in the rear.

The 22 cubic feet behind the rear seat is more than adequate for a week’s worth of grocery shopping, and a standard waterproof cargo tray is a thoughtful feature. Rear seats are 60/40 split and fold almost flat, providing enough room for two mountain bikes.

In town behavior was standard Subaru – easy-to-drive, easy-to-park and easy to get in and out of. And the Crosstrek doesn’t miss a beat on the pavement, either. Agile and racy are not in its dictionary, but predictable, smooth and comfortable describe its on-road behavior.

Granted, 148 horsepower doesn’t sound like much these days – and it’s not – but it is adequate to the task of motivating the 3,087-pound Crosstek for 0 to 60 mph in a little more than nine seconds. Whenever editor/husband Larry expressed a want for a turbocharger, I gently reminded him that this little Subie was about fuel economy, not speed.

Our base Premium model’s engine was hooked up to a five-speed manual transmission, which offered clean gates and a comfortable, easily engaged clutch action. Looking at my notes, I had checked hill hold as my favorite feature – take your foot off the brake when stopped on a hill and the Crosstrek won’t roll backwards. I’m perplexed as to why more carmakers don’t have this feature.

Larry Says …

In 2005, Subaru made a move to present their automotive assets with style and content that would attract a broader audience. The company’s goal was to elevate their image to a “premium niche brand” – not a luxury brand,

Subaru-XV Crosstrek-mpg-SUV-functional

Crosstrek can take you trekking

but one consumers were willing to pay a higher price (for perceived quality and features like standard all-wheel drive).

The XV Crosstrek is sort of a step back. Not that quality has taken a back seat, but this little crossover SUV takes a simpler approach and isn’t quite as animated as the rest of the lineup. The upside to this is the Crosstrek offers a very good value proposition.

Consider: The entry 2014 Premium model starts at $23,820 including destination charges. It has an arm’s length of standard features including 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, full power accessories, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, heated front seats and mirrors, cruise control and air-conditioning. The six speaker audio system features a CD player, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a USB port and auxiliary jack.

Starting at $25,230, the step-up Limited version adds leather upholstery, automatic headlights, automatic climate control, a 4.3-inch LCD display and rearview camera.

A sunroof and a touchscreen navigation system are optional for both models.

Optional on the Premium and standard on the Limited is a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that Subaru calls Lineartronic, and it’s a dandy. Instead of engine revs that race ahead of engine speed, the Lineartronic keeps engine and road speed in harmony. For Premium buyers, it’s well worth the $1,000 price considering the fuel economy gains versus the manual shifter.

While all-wheel drive is standard, the system differs depending on the choice of transmission. Without going into technical details, CVT models split torque 60/40 front to rear as the default, while the manual transmission system distributes torque 50/50. Both can direct torque to the wheels that slip to ensure traction.

Regardless of which model, the Crosstrek is available with one engine, a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed (“boxer”) four-cylinder engine. The boxer nickname comes from the way the pistons look when the engine is running – like a boxer throwing punches. And the punches this boxer throws are 148 horsepower and 145 pounds-feet of torque.

As for my wanting a turbocharger under the hood, that little more than nine seconds from 0 to 60 edges on Prius territory, not what I prefer when merging into fast traffic.

And yes, Lynne, the Crosstrek is about fuel economy and we did pretty good. Well, actually you did pretty good, since you were behind the wheel for most of the 192 miles during our week test drive. With about half of the miles driven on city streets we still managed to average the EPA estimated 26 mpg combined.

People buy Subarus for qualities other than glitz. The XV Crosstrek’s modest base price fetches the utility of a small wagon with a roomy cabin and cargo area that offers practicality and easy drivability. And it will meet the needs of those who prioritize fuel economy over performance, contributing a small roll in saving the planet while exploring it.

For more on this subject, check out:

2013 Ford Escape Road Test

Top 10 2014/2013 AWD/SUVs With the Best MPG

First Drive Toyota RAV4 EV

2013 Honda CR-V Road Test