Entries in Crossover (10)
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.
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.
Over the last few years Lincoln has made a concerted effort to move away from the choice of the blue hair, early bird special crowd, and to a younger demographic and one with probably more money, and that is the Lexus crowd.
Lincoln’s were for many years cars to aspire to. US Presidents were driven in them, and executives wanted to drive and be seen in them. Somewhere in the late 60’s to early 70’s they lost their way and it’s only in the last couple years that the ship began to be righted.
Our tuxedo black MKX review unit left a good first opinion visually. It has just enough bright work, with the optional chrome 20” wheels to offset and highlight the body lines nicely. Going down the road, parked in your driveway or being valeted at the Big Rock Chop House in Birmingham, MI the MKX has a presence that it belongs.
When you move to the inside of the MKX and the theme continues. The materials are nice, and the fit and finish are good. There are a couple of exceptions where the bean counters got in the way, the sides of the center console and the face of the instrument cluster are a hard plastic rather than the soft touch leatherette found in the rest of the interior. Seems an odd place to drop some noticeably cheep materials, right where the driver can notice it, and they saved maybe $20, wrong decision.
After out time with the Flex and the Fusion Hybrid we had gotten used to the big display for Ford’s Sync system, however the one in the MKX was much smaller. While not too small, the larger display in the other vehicles was less prone to fat fingering as you were going through the menus. That said this install of Sync seemed to be just a bit zippier in voice recognition. Our only real complaint in the past about Sync is that the delay in between the spoken command and it’s response was just about a second too long to fall into normal speech patterns. The delay here seemed shorter. Or maybe we are just getting trained by it, hard to say.
For what seems like a smaller vehicle, the MKX is roomy on the inside. Back seat passengers will have no problems with leg room even with the front seats all the way back. Also ingress and egress are good for back seat passengers. On far to many SUV’s the rear doors are quite short and it can make it awkward to get in and out, especially for tall people, and some older folks as well. The rear area has much more room that you would think from the outside as well. You would think that it would have less room than an Escape, but it is quite a bit larger. A trip to IKEA for some shelving and other large items we needed to redo a room in the house were easily swallowed up. This is good news for the target demographic for this SUV, not so much that they will be hauling stuff from IKEA, or Lowe’s, but that it will haul three or four kids and all their gear to hockey practice.
Driving the MKX is a what you would expect. The real test for us was coming home from an announcing gig that went very long. We rolled out of Milan Raceway just after 1:30AM. The 58 mile drive home may have been the easiest, most relaxing drive home from the track we’ve had. It was a long day, we were VERY tired, and yet with the cruise set at 70 the time seemed to fly by. For those road warriors that would purchase this and pile on the miles, that I would think would be very welcome. General handling is good as well, for such a heavy vehicle, it takes on/off ramps quite well.
There are a couple things that we did not like at all for the MKX in the driving experience however. Because of the rear design and the sloping rear section, vision between the C and D pillars on the drivers side is not existent creating a MASSIVE blind spot. The passenger side isn’t much better either. This makes it difficult merging in traffic trying to judge the distance to vehicles behind you. What would be very welcome on the MKX is the blind spot detection in the rear view mirrors that we had in the Fusion Hybrid.
Mileage in the MKX is about what your would expect, be got 19 in pretty mixed driving. We tried to use some of the techniques we learned from Wayne Gerdes to help out the mileage, but by no means did we drive far outside what we would call “normal” driving habits.
A big deal was made when Lincoln began to instal THX Certified sound systems in their product line. We were very interested to see if it would live up to the hype. We ran a variety of music through the system. Mingus, Pink Floyd. Kevin Saunderson, Pantera, Mazzy Star and Norah Jones just to name a few. Sadly, to my ears, the system sounded no better than the systems in the Flex or the Fusion. While we are no uber audiophiles, we are pretty sure we would notice a difference of quality, being accustomed to listening to uncompressed music over some nice headphones on a regular basis.
At the end of the day we come out with some mixed feelings about the MKX. As Billy Crystal’s version of Fernando might say, “It’s better to look good, that to feel good.” That, and Maxwell Smart’s classic line, “Missed it by THAT much.” sum up the MKX nicely. The vehicle looks good, but it doesn’t feel special. If you are driving a premium brand, at a premium price, just shy of $45,000, it should make you feel special, and the MKX didn’t, It’s a nice vehicle, don’t get us wrong, it just doesn’t feel special.
What could Ford change to bring it to that level? That’s the kicker, we’re not sure, and we thought long and hard about it. There is no one thing that it is, it’s just a take away. Maybe it’s better materials inside, we don’t know, we couldn’t put our finger on it. When we shared that thought with a number of people who rode with us in the MKX we got that silent head nod that tells you they were thinking along the same lines and were having trouble putting their thoughts into words.
At the end of the day how do we grade this? We may be being hard here but 7.8 out of 10 is where we end up. Again, not that it isn’t a fine vehicle, it’s just that it didn’t meet our expectations.
Over the next few days we'll be bringing you our review of the 2009 Ford Flex Limited that we've been driving for a few days. Quick take, it's a very impressive automobile. For today we'll take you on a photo tour of the Flex, we'll have a written and video review of it in the next couple of days.