“Engineered in Germany – Manufactured in Asia” might be a good tagline for the advertisements of Buick’s new compact baby, the Encore. It was conceived as the funky Opel Mokka, and is sold under that nameplate in Europe. With GM interest in the Chinese market strong, a manufacturing base there and in nearby South Korea seems a well-thought-out plan, so that’s what GM executed. As Opel’s unofficial stateside dealer network, Buick picked up the ball and ran with it – marketing the Encore toward urban young professional female types who want strong feature content in a small and upright package. The Encore I drove delivered on those counts, being both quite compact and imbued with feature content that wouldn’t be out of place in a vehicle a few size classes up.
For American shoppers unfamiliar with the Fiat brand other than since the company’s recent re-entrance into this market, the newly released 500L crossover might seem like a bit of a departure from the norm. But, if you cast your eye toward the Continent, you’ll notice a history peppered with such vehicles – even before the term “crossover” was applied to cars. The 500L officially replaces the Idea, a mini MPV with sliding rear seats and a tidy, if generic, profile. Spiritually, though, the 500L sticks closer in character to the Multipla compact MPV and the 600 Multipla variant of the 1960s to which the newer model can ascribe its name.
Eventually, everything comes back into fashion. Danish furniture, chukka boots and typewriters are all experiencing a confounding resurgence of late – someone specializing in the sale of all three would earn a tidy living for himself. Not even the car industry is immune from such trending. Look at Cadillac – for decades leading up to the 1970s, a Cadillac was the car –the only car – to own in America. If you were somebody in Middle America, you owned a Cadillac, and if you didn’t – then you weren’t. I’ll gloss over the brand’s fall from grace in the late 1970s, as it’s been covered ad nauseum by journalists and economists alike. Suffice it to say, American buyers lost interest in Cadillac nearly as fast as GM’s upper management did.
Nissan’s Rogue entered the small crossover fray in 2007, a year fraught with potential danger for the company’s new baby. The heads of the class, the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, were still sporting fresh redesigns, the Toyota having received a much-lauded makeover in 2006 and the CR-V an aggressive restyling for the 2007 model year. And while Nissan had successfully dipped its toe in the compact SUV pond elsewhere in the world with the Qashqai/Dualis and X-Trail, the US represented uncharted waters. Indeed, Ford, Honda and Toyota had already done a pretty good job of exploiting Nissan’s absence, so the Rogue had its work cut out for it before it even landed in showrooms. It had to be a bit of a Rogue, but also a gentleman, in order to woo buyers. Luckily, it has pretty much succeeded on both counts. This Rogue has received good marks both in the press and with buyers for its melding of value and comfort, but also (for the segment) sorted driving dynamics. How does the Rogue, now in its sixth model year for this iteration, stand up to scrutiny in a tough segment?
Lexus more or less invented the luxury crossover segment when it introduced the RX300 to the U.S. back in 1998, and has dominated the segment ever since. Pretty much every other luxury or near-luxury brand has rushed in to try to lift the sales crown off the RX’s head, with limited success. One could argue that the reason for Lexus’ success in the segment has been its measured, even restrained approach to comprehensively updating the RX. Only now in its third generation in as many different decades, the 2013 RX nonetheless manages to feel as fresh and competitive as ever. We spent a week with the F-Sport variant of the RX line, introduced last year, to see how well the luxury end of the crossover segment is represented in Lexus’ perennial sales champ.
What’s the point of launching a new vehicle into a crowded segment if it doesn’t boast clear superlatives out of the gate? Manufacturers on the comfortable side of the perception gap can afford to launch anonyboxes. That doesn’t describe General Motors. GM must deliver premium vehicles at every price point to solidify their image, and the GMC Terrain is outfitted for the task. Ambient lighting in the center stack, high-contrast upholstery accents, a standard rearview camera and an optional height-adjustable power liftgate might’ve been enough to differentiate this crossover from its competition, but the Terrain pushes farther in two especially meaningful ways. As society begins to value the aesthetics of information, the advantages of a well-designed user interface become clear. GM’s corporate navitainment display splits radio and navigation data to give drivers the information they need at a glance, and hardware radio presets mean drivers can rely on haptic defaults instead of paging through screens. On the road, the Terrain’s high-efficiency gasoline direct injection engine and noticeably meticulous transmission calibration work together to deliver enviable highway fuel efficiency that trumps cross-continental rivals. These future-forward technologies enable the Terrain to compete on its true merits, rather than the cachet of its nameplate.
I glide to a stop at a red light. It’s Thanksgiving and I have my ladyfriend and parents in tow. This is the first time my folks have been inside our CX-7 tester and they’re still getting acquainted.
My dad pipes up from the rear seat: “So this has a V6?”
“No, 4-banger,” I reply. “165 horsepower or so, I think” (it’s actually 161).
“Ahh,” he says. “So what’ll it tow?”
“It won’t, really,” I respond. “Maybe 1,500lbs tops.”
I can tell he’s mulling that over. This is a man–a computer programmer–who dailies a turbodiesel Dodge Sprinter. Yes – the big white plumber van. You could say he’s a fan of practicality.
“So what’s the point, then?” he finally asks.
I shrug and gesture around the cabin at the four comfortably-seated occupants.