SUV/TRUCK REVIEWS

The 500X, pictured, is part of Fiat's efforts to offer larger vehicles to U.S. consumers

Since coming back into the U.S. market in 2011, the FIAT brand has maintained a small niche presence here, maintaining roughly one-quarter of one percent of total market sales. That’s mainly due to the fact that the small, sporty cars that they sell more rapidly in Europe and elsewhere are less likely to be chosen in the land where bigger is usually better and SUVS are all the rage.

But that doesn’t mean that the brand is giving up; in fact, they’re hoping to nudge in on the U.S. tastes with a couple of larger models. I recently tested the 2017 Fiat 500X, a compact SUV, and the 2017 Fiat 500L, an extended wagon-like 500 comparable to a Kia Soul and some Mini models, and I’m back with a full report.

The 2018 Infiniti QX30 is best experienced on a wide open, curvy road.

Even within the overall movement of buyers from cars to SUVs, there are certain segments growing at a pace so fast it will make your head spin. One of those is compact SUVS (or CUVs in the popular vernacular) and nearly every automaker is working to expand their presence in this portion of the segment.

Luxury automakers are no exception, and for the 2017 model year Infiniti introduced its newest ute, the QX30, which is back unchanged for the 2018 model year. While this is a newer entry in an area where other automakers have been before, the uniqueness of the QX30 make it easily one of the best options in the segment.


I recently spent some time in a 2018 Infiniti QX30, and I’m here with all the details of what it has to offer in a competitive luxury segment.

The massive amount of storage space in the 2017 Chevy Suburban is hard to ignore.

SUVs may be all the rage now, but Chevrolet was well ahead of its time more than 80 years ago, when it introduced the 1935 “Carryall Suburban” vehicle, which must have felt tremendously out of place among the vehicles of its day with its longer wheelbase.


The nameplate is still going strong (the longest one in the business in fact) and I recently spent some time in much more recent version of the mark -- the 2017 Chevy Suburban.
With a limited number of full-size truck-based SUV competitors (Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator, Toyota Sequoia and Nissan Armada), plus a few that fall within the GM lineup (GMC Yukon and Yukon XL; Chevy Tahoe, Cadillac Escalade), the Suburban does quite well in this segment.

But the real question with this type of vehicle is -- who really needs it? I’m here to answer that question.

 

The Dodge Durango's design is unlike anything you'll see on its three-row competitors.

 

The Dodge Durango hasn’t undergone a major change in design for several years. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

 

It knows what it is (a boldly designed and powerful family hauler) and what it wants to do (provide a unique offering in a sea of three-row SUVs that can at times seem very generic), so there’s little reason to reinvent the wheel at this juncture.

Related in platform to Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Durango is a good mix of a powerful ride and a comfortable one -- a three-row SUV that you can be proud of. I recently spent some time in a Durango and here is a full report.

The Range Rover Evoque is smaller and more city-oriented than a traditional Land Rover vehicle.

All automakers evolve, and the Range Rover Evoque is proof of that.

While the heritage of the Land Rover brand is the Range Rover -- a large and fully off-road capable vehicle -- the automaker was keen to expand their reach, so the smaller and more city-focused Evoque was born several years back. I recently tested the latest iteration of of the Evoque model, a 2017 Range Rover Evoque HSE, and I’m back with a full report.


LOOKS

Plain or boring are words that will never be used to describe the Range Rover Evoque (or any Land Rover vehicle in fact). No other vehicle looks quite like it, though some do try to copy in various ways.

The simplest way to put it is that the Evoque is one of the best-looking rides you’ll see on the roadways, especially when compared to other vehicles of a similar size. I heard more positive comments toward this vehicle’s design than I had heard in a long time about any vehicle. There’s something about it that just stands out.


The new 2017 Kia Niro is a hybrid that offers impressive fuel economy and a more standard car look.

My first thought: Another hybrid? Do we really need that?

 

But wait. This one looks different …  It’s a crossover, has decent passenger room and actually has a little speed. And it’s affordable.

Okay, Let’s talk about it.

 

The Kia Niro is the vehicle in question here. As Kia and Hyundai make an increased push in the green car market, they have unveiled some new models for 2017, and the Niro is one of the bigger launches (along with the Hyundai Ioniq). I recently spent some time in a Niro and I’m back with a full report.

 

1. STRONG FUEL ECONOMY

This is the key to a successful hybrid. If it’s not there, they won’t sell.

The numbers are in, and they are impressive: I averaged 48.6 mpg during my time in the Niro.
Official numbers are 49 highway, 52 city, 50 combined -- and I’m sure those can be met or beaten if you drive the vehicle with the goal of maximizing that number.

It is worth noting that the mpg numbers shrink a bit on top trim level of the Niro (40 city/46 highway on the Touring model).

 

The 2017 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk has true off-road credentials.

While the overall state of FCA as an auto company can be debated, there’s no question that Jeeps remain very popular, and are one of FCA’’s biggest strongholds in the industry (along with their Ram trucks). And while many Jeep fans have turned into city dwellers and haven’t left the pavement in years, there are still some dedicated off-roaders out there who remain committed to the brand.

 

For them, there are still some Jeep options that keep their needs in mind, including the 2017 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, in which I recently spent some time.


What is a Trailhawk?
There are two engine options on the Cherokee Trailhawk; A tamer 2.4-liter four cylinder option (184 hp); or a powerful 3.2-liter V6 (271 hp). My test vehicle had the stronger option and it performed admirably for me; I would recommend the upgrade.

The vehicle features a 9-speed transmission, and optional all-wheel drive (again, it’s recommended).

The Cherokee Trailhawk is designed for off-roading capability, so it must be said that this vehicle does not offer the best feel on regular roads (it can be quite bouncy and unsettling at times, to be honest).


Instead, it is designed to perform in adverse conditions (snow, sand/mud  and rock settings are included via the Selec-Terrain system), and work well no matter what conditions you are driving in.

The Cherokee Trailhawk features all-terrain tires, Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control, Selec-Speed Crawl Control, Off-Road Suspension, All Speed Traction control, Electronic Stability Control, Electronic Roll Mitigation and Anti-lock 4-wheel disc brakes, plus higher ground clearance and tow hooks, and unique designs in the front and rear vs. a standard Cherokee. Add all that up, and you end up with a Trail Rated vehicle -- and not in name only. It’s gone through the testing to show it can handle the not-so-beaten path.

 

The Toyota Highlander, pictured here, is one of the top-selling three-row SUVs on the market, trailing only the Ford Explorer.

In the U.S. of A., the SUV is the modern-day station wagon. Instead of the “way back” seat, we now drive stretched-out, boosted-up vehicles with a third row as our families get bigger.


With the numbers for SUVs on the rise and profits to be made, this is an area where being competitive is critical for automakers -- including Toyota, which battles in this segment pretty impressively with the Toyota Highlander (it trails only segment-leading Ford Explorer in annual sales).

I recently spent some time in a 2017 Highlander, which has received some updates from previous models, and I’m back with a full report on how it holds up in the segment.

LOOKS
Among changes on the outside for the 2017 model, you get a bigger, redesigned grille and new taillight design. These changes aim to set it apart from the cookie-cutter look of many SUVs, and succeed somewhat in doing so.


Seating in the Highlander can accommodate up to 8 people (2/3/3/). The two front seats are comfy and high quality materials are used in the vehicle. Middle row on my test vehicle had cozy captain’s chairs, so only two could fit, but there’s also a version with bench seating for three in middle. Rear seat claims to fit three but I would say two is best, even for little ones.

The Lexus NX is a standout offering in the compact luxury SUV segment.

Lexus has long captured the allegiance of many luxury car buyers in the United States … folks who probably will be loyal to the brand for years to come.


When they expanded their lineup in 2015 with a new model, the NX compact SUV, the question was whether the brand could duplicate the success it has seen with other models -- namely its midsize RX crossover -- in this segment.


In short, they’ve done quite well in very quick time -- selling more than 60,000 units in 2016 between the U.S. and Canada.
I recently spent some time in a 2017 Lexus NX 200t, and I’m back with a full report on what all the fuss is about, and how this luxury SUV measures up to the competition.

The 2017 Chevy Trax is best for city driving, and competes well with other mini-SUVs in terms of tech and safety offerings.

The Trax, being just a few years old now, is among the lesser known vehicles in the Chevy lineup. But this subcompact SUV is one the automaker has high hopes for, as sales continue to rise amid a surge in support for this emerging class of vehicles.

In essence, Chevy’s entry in the mini-ute category is a more simplified version of GM’s more upscale Buick Encore offering. I recently spent some time in a 2017 Trax and I am back with a full report on how it competes against the other small soldiers on the roadways.

LOOKS

While higher off the ground than sedans, mini-SUVs are going to all be pretty tight inside. It comes with the territory.

But overall, the Trax has a decent amount of room for the segment. Though sitting two up front and three in back will be a tight squeeze. I wouldn’t do it regularly unless the ones in back are all little ones.

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