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Entries in Crossover (12)

Thursday
Apr142011

Reviewed: 2011 Lexus RX 350

 

 

Go to any upscale community, and you are likely to find a plethora of Lexus RX 350s. In fact, they are so ubiquitous, that Audi made a great commercial a couple years ago, about how when you went to look for your Lexus you couldn’t find them in a sea of sameness. The question then becomes, is the Lexus RX 350 so popular because it’s a good SUV, or just because it’s the safe choice. This is what we set out to find out.

Our all-wheel-drive test unit arrived just after a big snowstorm. When it arrived, it was a perfect example of what you would find at any upscale high school soccer match. Our test unit was white with a cream-colored interior. If you were to go to one of the local upscale malls, it definitely would be important to remember where you parked because, you are likely to see 30 or 40 other cars that look exactly like this test unit.

When you look at the styling of the Lexus RX 350 certainly doesn’t do anything wrong, but then again there is nothing to distinguish it either. Like most vehicles that sell well, styling that doesn’t it’s stand out is often a key factor.   For some however, in not trying to offend anyone with conservative styling is in itself somewhat offensive. You could say much the same about the interior of the RX 350 as well. The materials are nice, fit and finish are excellent, as you would expect from a Toyota product, and the whole package itself inside is nice.

When we had the RX 350 in for review, it was a particularly cold week here in Metro Detroit. The extreme cold weather pointed out two glaring issues we had with the interior of the Lexus RX 350. Number one, was that the wood trimmed steering wheel had no heat element in it, therefore gripping it with un-gloved hands, in single digits to below zero Fahrenheit temperatures, was rather uncomfortable. We found ourselves  using the sleeves of our coat to hold on to the steering wheel until the interior came up to temperature. We would gladly trade the wood rimmed wheel for leather wrapped one that had a heated steering unit for occasions such as this.

The second issue, was the fact that the seat heaters took forever to warm up, and on their highest setting of three, is what we would call in any other vehicle a low setting. Again, sitting down on a cold leather seat on a single degree Fahrenheit temperature day is not the most pleasant experience. The fact that it would take five or or ten minutes to feel any heat coming from the seat, this, certainly didn’t win any marks in our books.

With those two exceptions we had no other real gripes with the interior of RX 350. The the ride was very quiet , the telematics system worked good enough, once you got use to the “mouse” for navigation, the stereo was good though not exceptional, and for the kids our test unit had dual rear seat DVD players.

Driving the RX 350 was a rather unremarkable experience. Again, in typical Toyota fashion, it’s not that the Lexus does anything wrong, it’s just that nothing stands out.  The Lexus drives down the road just fine, handles well, sucks up the potholes of Metro Detroit just fine, and transports you to your destination safely and comfortably.

The difficulty in evaluating this particular Lexus is that we don’t follow into its key demographic. Most of the people who drive the RX 350, are upper-middle-class soccer moms, who live in suburbia where conformity is the norm. What we mean by conformity, is that they all send tend to shop at the same big-box stores, watch the same home-improvement shows, and have the same aspirations for their children. If you’ve ever seen the movie Pleasantville it’s kind of like that, just a bit more upscale.

As you can imagine, as a 41-year-old white male with no children, save one large dog,  it’s not exactly the vehicle that with appeal to us. However, we can say, that the RX 350 does do a good job of hauling an eight-year-old English mastiff around. In any SUV that comes to us for testing, this is one of the most important test for us. After all, since we have no children to haul around, no school runs to make, and are more likely to head to the Home Depot or Lowe’s, rather than hardware restoration or the Pottery Barn, these are the measurements that we had.

Fuel mileage for the Lexus was reasonable during our time with the vehicle. In very cold conditions in mixed driving, we saw 22 miles to the gallon. While this is nothing that stands out in the class, it is right in line with the norms. The V-6 engine provides plenty of power, sure, it would be nice to have more, but for 95% of the people who will buy this vehicle, it would be pointless. The RX 350 accelerates away from stoplights just fine has plenty of power for merging onto the freeways, and will roll down those freeways at 80 miles an hour with nary a worry.

Trying to come up with an overall evaluation of the RX 350 was fairly difficult for us. It’s a vehicle designed for people that we aren’t. Lexus’ tend to be for people who view cars as appliances, but like a little bit of luxury with their appliances. Think of it this way, the Lexus RX 350 is like going into Best Buy, and getting a Samsung refrigerator, but buying the stainless steel model, rather than the white one. It’s not a Viking, or SubZero, or a Wolf, it’s just a very nice refrigerator with an upscale finish.

The idea with the RX 350, like most Lexus’, is to offer a comparable non-offensive way to transfer yourself, and your family,  in a bit of luxury. The RX 350 will do nothing to offend you, and for most people that’s exactly what they’re looking for. People who buy Lexus’ are not enthusiast, and therefore you can’t look at the Lexus through the microscope that an enthusiast would. For an enthusiast, it’s hard to imagine buying a vehicle, that doesn’t either excite you, or make you look forward to driving it. For a vast majority of America, they just want something that gets the job done. The Lexus RX 350  certainly does that. If you like to blend into the crowd, want of vehicle that’ll never have to worry about, or not have your neighbors shocked by the choice of vehicle showing up in your driveway, the RX 350 certainly qualifies.

The best way to sum up the Lexus RX 350 as this, it is Häagen-Dazs French vanilla ice cream. It’s very good, it’s much better than the store brand, it’s a great standby, it’s just not something that’s going to get you excited.

If you'd like to see the rest of the pictures of the Lexus RX 350, please have a look in our photo gallery here.

 

Thursday
Mar312011

Reviewed: 2011 Ford Edge

Rumblestrip.NET had a chance to spend a week with the refreshed 2011 Ford Edge.  This Crossover is a keystone in Ford's lineup, and we wanted to see if Ford could take this from just another Crossover to something that would stand out against the rest.

Ford has been on a huge roll these past couple years, will this newly sharpened Edge continue the trend?  Find out in our video review.

Tuesday
May042010

2010 Hyundai Tucson Walkaround

We just got the 2010 Hyundai Tucson in for review, lets have a quick walkaround and check it out.

Monday
Apr052010

Reviewed: 2010 Chevy Traverse

It’s taken us quite a while to get around to writing up the review for the Chevy Traverse, not because it was a bad, not at all, it was really competent, which we will talk about shortly here, it’s just that we had this over Christmas and, well, it got shuffled around with other “things” going on.

The Traverse slots in nicely within “The New GM” because with one model it really takes the place of two outgoing models, and can almost displace a third.  Outgoing at Chevrolet are the minivan and the Trailblazer, and in slots the Traverse.  The third slot it almost takes is Tahoe.  I know that comment borders on heresy but hear me out. 

With three rows of seats, all with good leg room, this vehicle has the people hauling capacity of the minivan.  It has more interior room than the Trailblazer, and with a towing capacity of 5200 pounds it can take the lighter towing duties of the Tahoe.  Some will say, that nothing can replace the solidity of a full frame, rear drive SUV like the Tahoe for towing, and, for larger objects they are correct.  But if what all you are doing is hauling jetski’s, small boats, motorcycles, and even small campers, the Traverse is more than capable of getting that job done, without the penalties of size and fuel mileage of the Tahoe.

If there was one thing that really stood out to us about the Traverse was just how cavernous the interior was.  The overall size of the vehicle was not small, but by no means did it appear, from the outside, close to the size of a traditional full sized SUV.  Once inside, however, that all changes.  Much like the Ford Flex, once you are sitting in the drivers seat, the third row may as well be in another zip code!  To demonstrate just how large the interor is, lets take a look at some video we shot when we picked up our English Mastiff from the kennel.  Just to give you some scale Lola is 32” tall at the sholders and weighs about 135 pounds.  The third row seats are folded down here, but the second row seats are up.

As you can see she has a tremendous amount of room back there.  There was enough room that if we had another English Mastiff, both could have fit back there with room to spare.  This may be a bit of an extreme example but the point is, for the rest of the world, there should be no space issues if you have to take a couple of the kids with you shopping at your favorite big box retailer.  You can fit them, their “stuff”, all your shopping, and probably have room left over.

Being that we had this over Christmas, and we had to go out of town to visit relatives, we had plenty of opportunity to experience how this Crossover eats up highway miles.  We put well over 500 highway miles on the review unit and never had any complaints as to the quality of the ride, handling or the interior noise.  It may not be tomb like quite in the interior, but we had no objectionable wind or road noise and you could carry on a converation in a normal tone of voice.

EPA mileage estimates for the Traverse are 17 city and 24 highway.  We got about 23 on the highway, which given that it was winter and temps were just into the double digits Fahrenheit is reasonable.  It’s even more so when you consider that our front wheel drive 3.6L V6 has a curb weight of 4700 pounds.  The 3.6L V6 is the same basic direct injection unit found in other GM cars such as the Cadillac CTS and the Buick LaCrosse.  In this application, it’s tuned a bit differently to produce 288 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque.  Accelleration is fine, both for normal driving and for any passing or on/off ramp needs.  The six speed transmission is unobtrusive, never feeling that it was ever hunting for the right gear.

If there was one thing we had an issue with in the Traverse it was the dash materials.  Our loaded Front Drive 2LT model stickered for $39,580, close enough to call it forty grand.  In 2010 there is no reason that a $40,000 vehicle should have a dash made intirely out of hard plasic materials, it’s out of place.  If you have a look at two, of what the Traverse’s competitors are likely to be, the Ford Flex and the Toyota Highlander, you will find their cockpits nearly devoid of hard plastic materials.  They have a few bits here and there, but not the entire dash area.  All I can think is that some “Old GM” finance people got out the red pen and objected to the extra $200 in costs it would have been to  use materials that would have brought the cabin to at least the levels of Ford and Toyota, if not excede them.

Perhaps those of you with children can tell me that I’m wrong, and that when you are hauling them around to their various activites hard plastic is preferable, but we don’t see it.  All we can hope is that as GM’s fortunes improve post bankrupcy, that there is some money available for a mid-cycle refresh to take care of this.

As we said in the opening the Traverse is a solid, competent vehicle that can haul people, cargo and even tow.  Mileage is reasonable and the decptive physical size of it hides a huge interior.  Even priced out at $40,000 we don’t think is bad value for money give what it can do.  It does miss on a few things that can be easily remedied, and if done, there is no reason this can’t go toe to toe with anything else out there in it’s market segment.

Friday
Mar122010

Reviewed: The 2010 Lincoln MKT

 

When we tested the Ford Flex last March, we knew the Lincoln MKT would be arriving on deal lots soon. At the time we wondered if the new Lincoln would be/could be the new “Black Sedan” or maybe have a bit of that private jet feel to it for second row passengers.  Other than the motor in the Flex, the standard 3.5L V-6 which we found just a touch lacking, we loved the Flex, and knew that it would be hard for Lincoln to come up with something better.

Right off the bat the thing that smacks you in the face with the MKT is the styling.  As with most of the rest of the Lincoln line you either like the styling, or you don’t.  We dig Lincoln’s exterior look and have no problems with the execution of the design language here.  Pay attention when we say exterior. 

While the Flex looks like a giant MINI from the rear, you aren’t going to mistake the MKT for anything else.  Not only does it have Lincoln’s strong front facia, it has the kicked up shoulder over the rear wheel that gives it a more muscular look as well.  From there the rear part of the roof begins to slope down into the rear lift gate.  While it doesn’t have the elegance as it could have had if the Ford designers had used more of a French Curve, the rear treatments are for the most part successful. 

A straight-on rear shot does give you an idea of just how large this vehicle is though.  An interesting thing to note with the MKT is what a difference color plays here.  When you see an MKT in black, as our tester was, it appears much more substantial than when you see it in a lighter color.  Normally the fashionistas will tell you that black is slimming, however, on the MKT that’s not the case.

If you have been inside a Lincoln recently, the interior will feel vary familiar, just a little larger in scale.  The materials are very nice, though not quite to the Audi Q7 level.  Then again the MKT checks in about twenty grand less, so there you are.  There are soft touch materials where you would expect them, the center stack is well laid out, and of course you get Ford’s great SYNC system.

The second row of our MKT was equipped with captains chairs and the refrigerator in between.    If you are a mom from Westchester County hauling the boys to hockey practice, and the girls to their equestrian lessons the cooler does a good job of keeping their sodas cold.  If you are an executive using this as your “black sedan” then it does a passable job of keeping that Non Vintage bottle for Krug cold.  Second row passengers not only have plenty of leg room and their own HVAC controls, but also heated and cooled seats as well.       

Row three is where we see the largest difference between the Flex and the MKT.  In the Flex, two full sized adults can fit back there, for a time, and not be uncomfortable.  In the MKT, they can’t.  It isn’t so much the leg room, it’s the lack of head room in the MKT.  The sloping rear section of the roof of the MKT cuts in the cabin a great deal and the result is a serious lack of available headroom.  While at not quite 5’11” I can sit upright and have plenty of room in the third row of the Flex, anyone much over five feet tall won’t be able to sit upright in the Lincoln’s third row.

The major nit that I have to pick with the MKT’s interior is one that I think would be solved by a change in color.  By choosing the Olive Ash wood trim you aren’t forced into the rest of the interior being all black.  With the Olive Ash trim you can get what Lincoln is calling “canyon” which is more like a nice darker tan/camel color.  The other choice for the seating materials and some of the interior trim pieces is “light stone.”  While I would not call the all black interior of our tester oppressive or claustrophobic, it did feel a bit cave-like.  Even with the large double panoramic sunroofs teh cabin lacked the airiness of the Flex we tested almost a year ago, and I believe much of that has to do with the interior color choice.

Have a look at some of the interior pictures of the MKT that our friends over at Autoblog had about the same time we had our tester, and I think you will see the dramatic difference. 

There are a few things we’d like to see in the interior of the MKT in future model years.  First would be a heated steering wheel.  Grabbing the the wheel on some of the cold single digit temps we experienced while the MKT was in our driveway was not the most pleasant thing without gloves on.  Perhaps a switch of materials to Alcantera or some other micro suede would accomplish the same thing and give the Lincoln an even more upscale feel without a bump up in the price tag. 

My second suggestion for Ford’s engineers has to do with the MKT’s remote start function.  How about a system that remembers the last settings for the heating and cooling of the seat and cabin temps?  Again jumping into the MKT during temperature extremes can be unpleasant.  It’s a small thing, but one that would make a big difference in our eyes.  As Ford and Lincoln expand their “My Touch” and open the software for the Sync system to developers, perhaps we can have an app for our iPhones/Crackberries/Android’s that accomplish all of that together.

Under the hood of our Lincoln was the 355 Horsepower 3.5 liter V6 EcoBoost engine.  The added power and torque of the EcoBoost over the standard, non-boosted 262 Horsepower V6, easily solved our largest issue with the Flex, and that was needed just a bit more grunt in passing and merging situations.  Even with the added power of the EcoBoost and the extra drive line losses of MKT being an AWD model the difference in mileage between the two people haulers wasn’t much, maybe one or two MPG at most. That makes the EcoBoost well worth the trade off we think.

As for handling, well, at a curb weight just over 5000lbs, it’s no sports car, but the MKT is more than competent for anything you would ask of it. It handles predictably, there is no real tug from the front wheels in the AWD model when you apply power from low speeds around corners.  And the ride on the highway, even on Michigan’s bomb cratered roads was good.

While we really do like the MKT, we are left with one issue, is it fifteen grand better than the Flex?  Our immediate reaction is no, but then again maybe it depends on what you are looking for. And if it's something quite peculiar, something shimmering and white, it leads you here, despite your destination, under the milky way tonight.   Where the Flex comes across as the tall wagon with hints of the Woodys of the 40’s and 50’s, the MKT does have a more substantial, more serious presence about it.  You can’t help but feel the interior of the MKT is a serious Hugo Boss suit person, while the Flex is more khakis and polo shirt kind of guy

If what you crave is most of the interior usability of the Flex in a package that projects a more upscale adult feel that the Flex might, then the MKT is for you.  While the interior is not quite up to the Audi Q7 level, it’s fairly close, and as we said earlier a twenty grand difference in price between the Lincoln and the Audi is fairly substantial.  The MKT might not quite be the four wheel Gulfstream G550 we had hoped it could be, but having to fly business class on Emirates Airline isn’t exactly a hardship.