Tag - crossover

Driven: 2015 Chevy Trax

When I drove the Buick Encore in 2013, it was a bit of a unique offering on American soil, owing to its subcompact roots; specifically, those of the Chevy Sonic. Besides the Mini Countryman and Nissan Juke, even up until last year there were few alternatives for those seeking a pipsqueak crossover. The B-segment crossover field is set to grow significantly in 2015, however, with manufacturers like Honda, Mazda, Jeep and Fiat each set to introduce their own variation on the theme. Chevy can also be counted among the fray, although much of their work on the Trax seen here had already been done with the Encore. SAMSUNG CSC What is it? Besides being Chevy’s new entry into the rapidly expanding small crossover field, it’s also a sister car to the Encore. That’s not to say it’s a rebadge job, exactly – the exteriors and interiors of each are unique. But they ride atop the same Sonic-based platform, and beneath their hoods lies the same beating heart – a 1.4-liter EcoTec turbocharged four-cylinder, mated to a six-speed automatic and either front- or all-wheel drive. Power and torque stand at 138 hp and 148 lb-ft, respectively. SAMSUNG CSC What works? At some level, the reason shoppers are eager to plunk down money for a subcompact crossover over a similarly-sized sedan or hatchback comes down to vanity. The virtues these vehicles tout – compact footprint, easy parking lot maneuverability, practicality galore, good fuel economy and decent value for money – are all virtues possessed by the car-shaped subcompacts they’re based on, only more so. So we can assume that the reason these crossovers are quickly becoming the hot-ticket showroom item is because to buyers, they just look cooler than their sedan and hatch counterparts. SAMSUNG CSC The Trax fares pretty well in this regard, being both fairly well-proportioned and possessed of some interesting styling details. Only in the side profile does a pronounced front-biased look present itself. Elsewhere, and especially in our tester’s bright orange paintwork, I can see potential customers calling the look “cute”, “quirky”, and “funky”. SAMSUNG CSC In all of the other aforementioned categories, the Trax also ticks the right boxes. It’s a breeze to wheel into tight spaces, there’s stretch-out room up front and decent space in the rear, allows umpteen configurations of seat folding positions (aided by a fold-flat front passenger seat), has seemingly hundreds of hidey-holes and storage bins scattered around, gets close to 30 miles per gallon in the real world and starts at just $21 grand, only cresting $25,000 when fully loaded (add $1,500 or so for all-wheel drive). SAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSCDynamically, it also corners adroitly for such a tall, top-heavy type of vehicle, and the 1.4-liter turbo four with its 148 lb-ft of torque (which actually doesn’t sound like enough on paper) mostly just…works. It’s definitely not going to dust off any Camaros at the lights, but during highway passing maneuvers – typically a weak point among subcompacts – the broad torque plateau allows for just a single-gear downshift. Press gas, single gear drop, away you go (within reason, of course)…leagues better than the wheezy zing to redline you’ll get in most of the naturally-aspirated and/or CVT-equipped competition. SAMSUNG CSC What doesn’t? While that turbo four has enough poke to keep you out of trouble in most situations, it announces its presence loudly inside the cabin whenever the requested throttle opening exceeds 50%. I hadn’t noticed that trait in the Encore, so perhaps some sound deadening was left out in Chevy’s version. SAMSUNG CSC Another area the Trax kowtows to the Encore is in terms of interior design and materials. While the Trax, in the LTZ trim of our tester, has enough creature comforts to satisfy at the price (a simple touchscreen audio interface, heated leather seats, power driver’s seat, steering wheel audio controls, backup camera, and a Bose stereo) it surrenders the nicer interior design and more upscale materials of the Encore to offer a lower sticker price. A similarly equipped Encore FWD runs about $3,500 more than our uplevel Trax LTZ tester – buyers will need to decide if that price is worth it to them over the mechanically identical Chevy. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Overall? Though not as early to the party as the Encore, Chevy’s entrant to the subcompact crossover market still beats the rest of the herd to showrooms, and is worth a look - especially for buyers with a fixed budget of $25k or less. If your wallet can stretch a little wider, though, we think the more upscale looks inside and out of the Trax’s Buick sister make a strong case for cross-shopping within GM’s own portfolio. [gallery ids="11336,11347,11348,11349,11350,11356,11355,11354,11352,11351,11353,11343,11344,11341,11340,11339,11338,11337,11345,11346,11357"] 2015 Chevy Trax LTZ FWD Base price: $25,905 Price as tested: $25,905 Options on test car: None Powertrain: 1.4-Liter Turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel-drive – 138 horsepower, 148 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 29.1 mpg Chevy provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

Driven: 2015 BMW X4

In struggling to describe the X4 to the unfamiliar, I was often reminded of the fact that BMW’s full model lineup has now stretched to a staggering 97 unique drivetrain and body configurations. Obviously, the name of this automaker’s game is diversification. With a car for every buyer and therefore a butt for every well-contoured seat, the Bavarians stand somewhat alone in the marketplace at the moment - though other manufacturers are hustling to catch up. What’s most surprising isn’t the sheer level of choice at your local BMW lot – it’s the fact that the company still manages to make each one of them a decent steer. SAMSUNG CSC Take our xDrive35i for example. A “35i” suffix in BMW parlance indicates that a sonorous 3-liter straight six with a twin-scroll turbocharger hanging off the side is residing under the hood. Though the X4 is bulkier than its outright appearance would suggest – curb weight comes in at 4,260 pounds – the N55 engine still delivers a gratifying shove of acceleration when summoned. It also sounds quite nice doing so, with a burly growl that evokes the naturally-aspirated inline sixes of BMW’s past. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Part of that shove could be down to BMW’s notoriously underrated power outputs – our car felt far stronger than 300 horsepower toting two-plus tons has any right to – but credit also goes to the ingenious ZF 8-speed automatic transmission so prevalent among luxury autos these days. The 8-speed’s mechanicals are probably peerless, but surely some of the charm with this transmission comes down to BMW’s programming work, and it’s clear they’ve spent some time noodling with it. Gear changes are shuffled transparently in full auto mode, though a quick tug of a paddle shifter will spur whip-crack reaction speeds when desired. SAMSUNG CSC   SAMSUNG CSC The powertrain is just one part of a compelling package – the other key is the chassis. You wouldn’t expect a vehicle such as the X4 – whatever it might be – to handle well. Sure, it’s based on a car platform, and a good one at that. But it’s then jacked up to high altitude and given a heavier suit of sheetmetal to carry on its shoulders, which doesn’t typically do great things for handling. And yet the X4 still prospers, particularly when fitted with our car’s optional M Sport package ($1,900), Dynamic Damper Control ($1,000) and 20” M wheels ($950). Cornering attitudes are fairly flat, particularly so with the dampers in sport mode, and grip levels high. Ride comfort remains well-resolved. The brake pedal also loads naturally and offers decent feel. Steering feedback is predictably mute, but the rack does at least have a nice heft to it. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Technology and content levels were high on our admittedly loaded tester. Though nearly every car on the market now seems to offer an available backup camera and blind spot monitoring, BMW’s systems go a step further. As part of the Driver Assistance Plus package, wide-angle cameras front and rear offer crisp, HD-like levels of clarity, and combine to provide a birds-eye view in tight parking quarters. Blind spot monitoring is also included in the package, taken a step further by a lane departure warning system that provides a light pulsation through the steering wheel if you drift into another lane without signaling. It’s gentle but effective, providing the sensation of running over those grooved emergency lane markings. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC The technology onslaught continues elsewhere. BMW’s latest iDrive controller features touchpad scrawling capability for quick alphabetical inputs and is helpful for those with lengthy phone contact lists. The 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound system’s option box was also ticked, and it provided crisp, powerful highs with decent bass and quick pairing via Bluetooth. The rest of the interior is attractively laid out and appears well-assembled, with no materials that felt anything less than satisfactory. BMW will also continue to draw compliments from long-legged drivers like myself for offering sport seats with extendable thigh bolstering. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC While its mega-hatchback looks and tough-to-nail-down classification will draw confusion from some and ire from others, BMW obviously had a hit on their hands with the X6. With BMW now hoping to replicate that success in a nimbler, more affordable and more efficient package, the X4 will probably continue to split opinion and woo those select few for whom it’s a perfect fit. SAMSUNG CSC [gallery ids="11058,11064,11067,11075,11068,11066,11065,11063,11062,11069,11073,11059,11061,11060,11071,11070,11074,11072"]   2015 BMW X4 xDrive35i Base price: $48,950 Price as tested: $65,075 Options on test car:  Metallic paint ($550), M Sport package ($1,900), Dynamic Damper Control ($1,000), 20” M Wheels ($950), Driver Assistance package ($700), Driver Assistance Plus package ($1,900), Lighting package ($1,900), Premium package ($2,200), Technology package ($3,150), Heated front seats ($500), Harman Kardon sound system ($875), Enhanced BT & Smartphone Integration ($500) Powertrain: 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six cylinder engine, 8-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive – 300 horsepower, 300 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 21.7 mpg BMW provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

Driven: 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

When Toyota’s Camry-Wagon-turned-crossover known as the Highlander debuted in 2001, I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about its existence. This is, after all, essentially the vehicle that assured the demise of the wagon variant of the Camry around the world, though in the US that body style had been dormant since 1997 anyway. Keen as we car guys are on the station wagon, it’s clear by now that the crossover is here to stay. The Highlander has changed a lot in the intervening years, too – though this 2014 redesign might be the most radical departure yet from that oddball Camry with two rear windshield wipers. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_Hybrid_Platinum_9 For one thing, it’s big – relatively speaking. It’s up three inches in length and almost an inch in width compared to the previous generation and, depending on model, can seat eight people – more, if some of them are Muppets.  The added width is most noticeable across the dash – your passenger will be a long way from you, as will the stereo’s tuning knob – I’m long-limbed and it was still a chore to reach that thing. But the increased size pays dividends for passengers seated in the middle and third rows – space and comfort are both improved. It’s not quite the largest in its segment, but it’s now at least on a level playing field. After all, this car was once Ford Edge-sized – now, it can stand toe-to-toe with the Explorer. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_035 Powertrains are largely carried over from the previous generation, in the form of naturally-aspirated 2.7-liter four and 3.5-liter six cylinder engines, and a version of the V6 augmented by battery power motivates the Hybrid model on these pages. One notable update is the pairing of a six-speed automatic transmission with the base V6, which was previously only available with a five-speed. A CVT motivates the Hybrid, which is solely all-wheel drive. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_Hybrid_Platinum_5 EPA mileage ratings hover between 22 mpg combined for the 4-cylinder/front-wheel-drive model and 20 mpg combined for V6 AWD models, though our Hybrid achieves an excellent 28 mpg combined rating, a standout in its class. I was able to nearly match that over a week of mixed-conditions driving, achieving a 26.7 mpg average. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_Hybrid_Platinum_14 This is a physically large vehicle meant for hauling hordes of kids, so its 4,861-pound curb weight is not out of line with class standards – and its 280 combined horsepower does a decent enough job of keeping up with fast flowing traffic or executing a quick passing maneuver. For their trouble, those ponies don’t demand much in the way of “water” when it comes time to saddle up to the pump, either. The only place that poundage exacts a small penalty is in the corners – the Highlander feels every bit its weight when the road starts to squiggle. Steering effort seems heavy for a vehicle of this type, and considering the fact that it’s fully electric, the weighty tuning seems like an odd choice for its intended mission. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_028 Besides the steering, the Highlander Hybrid is pleasant to live with, exhibiting a smooth, quiet ride and the kind of mileage that would shame some mid-size sedans. Though the sticker crowds $50 grand in a hurry when you tick the “Hybrid” option box, you'll find few other vehicles for the same money that can haul 7 passengers in comfort, tow 3,500 pounds, and achieve close to 30 miles per gallon. For those shoppers, the Highlander Hybrid will be just the ticket. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_030 [gallery ids="10806,10803,10795,10802,10805,10804,10801,10797,10796,10798,10799,10800"]  2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum Base price: $50,650 Price as tested: $50,880 Options on test car:  Floor mats and cargo liner ($230) Powertrain: 3.5-liter V6 engine, CVT transmission, all-wheel drive – 280 combined system horsepower S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 26.7 mpg Toyota provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the manufacturer.

Driven: 2014 Lexus RX450h

You could be forgiven for thinking it’s a bit late in the Lexus RX’s model life cycle for us to review it; after all, these pages are usually devoted to freshly restyled or all-new metal. But in fact, though this platform’s basic bones stretch back to the 2010 model year, the RX received a heavy refresh for 2013 that brought it right up to date against others in the entry-level luxury crossover segment. We've covered the normal RX350 before on these pages, but never the full-zoot RX450h hybrid version. What makes this CUV a perennial class sales leader? Read on for a look. SAMSUNG CSC Exterior: The RX was one of the first Lexuses shown with the new corporate Predator® spindle grille design, and while it seemed radical when it debuted, just two short model years in market (and plenty of subsequent real-world sightings) have made the new design almost blase, unassuming. Its styling is certainly tamed by the silver paint, non-F-Sport fascia, and smaller wheels of our tester…but the shape will still be familiar to many and offensive to almost none. SAMSUNG CSC Interior Design/Equipment/Tech: I've become quite fond of Lexus’s recent crop of interior designs, and the RX’s is no different. There are subtly upscale materials on offer, a good driving position, ergonomic sensibility and an abundance of room for people and objects alike. The front seats in particular are extremely comfortable, and the cascading center stack and armrest form a cockpit-like environment for the driver, something keen drivers like me probably wouldn't expect in a vehicle of this type. Ergonomics are good, so everything you use frequently falls easily to hand, and while Lexus’s haptic feedback “mouse” for controlling the infotainment system has hitherto been mostly panned in the press, I’m one of its staunchest supporters – I find it to be leagues better during actual on-road operation than rival systems from BMW and Cadillac. The only thing in here that you might miss is a tachometer, in its place a power/eco/charge gauge familiar to anyone who’s driven a Toyota hybrid product before. Though with a CVT being the only transmission available, you’re not going to need a tach anyway. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Powertrain: The RX450h is available in both front-wheel and all-wheel-drive variants (ours was front-driven), though both are tugged around by the same combination of Toyota-ubiquitous 3.5-liter 2GR-FE V6, 37kWh battery pack, and electric motors. The combo’s good enough for 295 total horsepower, a bonus of 25 horsepower over the RX350, though with 342 extra pounds to tote around, any accelerative benefits are easily negated. In the real world, the 450h has enough power, but it probably doesn’t feel all of its nearly 300 horsepower because of a soft, eco-minded throttle calibration and the 4,520 pounds it has to carry. Still, after returning 28 mpg over more than 300 miles of mixed city/highway commuting conditions, it’s hard to argue against the hybrid powertrain’s execution. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Ride/Handling: The RX isn’t engineered for driving thrills or back road enjoyment, plain and simple. That’s not a ding against it, simply an observation. If you want a relatively more “buttoned-down” feel for the road with your RX, choose the RX350 F-Sport I drove last year. Personally, I’ll trade the F-Sport’s firmer ride for the 450h’s more cosseting, isolated nature – it’s a luxury crossover, after all, not an LF-A. As such, I never felt compelled to push the 450h to its outer grip limits, so I can’t report on handling neutrality or degrees of understeer. I suspect most owners would concur. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Driving Experience: Aside from a slightly sluggish throttle tip-in, which to its credit does make it fairly easy to keep the RX450h in electric-only mode when under 30 mph, the driving experience is largely positive. The aforementioned ride is smooth and exceedingly quiet, the only noise entering the cabin being that of the V6 when full grunt is summoned. Because of the CVT, revs will sit in the midrange or higher until your desired speed is reached, not mimicking a traditional auto with stepped gear ratios like many CVT manufacturers are now doing. Still, at least what little sound there is happens to be of the "muted V6 growl" variety instead of a strained four-banger. SAMSUNG CSC Value: Great fuel economy is a hallmark of Toyota/Lexus hybrid products, and the story’s no different here. Our 28.2 mile-per-gallon average amounted to a significant 7 mpg increase over the standard RX350 I drove previously. A quick run of the numbers shows that you’d still need to drive nearly 150,000 miles before the hybrid’s $6,650 price penalty was recouped through fuel savings alone, though in the current luxury car marketplace, there is also a certain intangible value for anything with a Hybrid badge that rises above mere dollars and sense. Coupled with the fact that many of these cars are leased and not purchased for the long-term, the slight monthly payment increase for a 450h starts to make sense against the fuel cost savings you'll see around town. Moreover, for the lux crossover shopper that must also have a hybrid, the RX450 exacts no penalty in driving experience for the luxury of visiting the pumps less often. SAMSUNG CSC [gallery ids="10265,10266,10267,10262,10263,10264,10278,10270,10274,10273,10269,10277,10276,10271,10272,10268"] 2014 Lexus RX450h Base price: $47,320 Price as tested: $56,445 Options on test car: Dual-screen rear seat DVD system, Navigation system, Backup camera & App suite package ($4,920), Heated and ventilated front seats ($640), Mark Levinson premium sound ($995), Premium Package ($2,570) Powertrain: 3.5-liter V6 engine, 37 kWh Ni-MH battery pack and twin front electric motor units, continuously variable transmission, front-wheel drive – 295 combined system horsepower S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 28.2 mpg Lexus provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

Driven: 2014 Nissan Rogue SL

SAMSUNG CSC In what was to become the last true model year of its first generation, the 2013 Rogue I sampled last year exhibited all-around competence but little in the way of passion. Now that it’s got a fresh new wrapper, it might finally pack the combination needed to woo buyers from some of the segment’s most popular entrants. SAMSUNG CSC Still, despite all the work they’ve done on the redesigned 2014 model, it seems like the Rogue Nissan really wants to sell you is the leftover previous generation – to wit, when I attempted to build a 2014 Rogue on Nissan’s website, it directed me to build a 2013 instead. Furthermore, Nissan still sells the 2013 model in 2014, renamed the Rogue Select, akin to the way Chevy sold the Malibu Classic alongside the new Malibu for a couple of generations back in GM's dark days. However, rather than solely being foisted on fleet customers like the Classic, Nissan’s official line is that the Select exists to sell off remaining production stock of the 2013 design. That dream should come to fruition any day now, so if you really want a well-equipped “2014” Rogue for about $20 grand, act fast. We’re not here to talk about that car, though – our subject is the all-new Rogue. SAMSUNG CSC The crossover’s new skin might have a lot to do with any uptick in sales numbers this year – it’s a sharp-looking car, no doubt. Against competitors like the frumpy CR-V and stoic but plain Tiguan, the Rogue wears its Pathfinder-inspired styling arguably better than its bigger brother. The LED headlights and surrounding halo rings of our loaded SL tester are a particularly nice touch, and frame the V-split grille nicely. Around back are a more traditional tailgate design and three-quarter view, albeit one that bears a passing resemblance to what used to be one of the best looking vehicles in the segment, the now-forgotten 2nd-gen Mitsubishi Outlander. I’m not going out on a limb labelling the redesign a success, transforming the formerly blobby Rogue into a genuinely handsome vehicle. SAMSUNG CSC Inside, things are equally fresh compared to the previous Rogue but will look and feel familiar to anyone who’s spent time in a current-generation Altima. The gauge layout and center stack both ape that car’s design, and the “zero-g” front seats are also lifted from the midsizer – a good thing, as they prove comfortable and fatigue-free for hours upon end. These new Nissans are among the few vehicles I can endure for more than a few hours without acute lower back pain, and the so-called “sport seats” in my Caymans and FR-S are not counted among those ranks. The Rogue’s materials aren’t going to blow anyone away, but they are at least on par with anything else in this segment, except maybe the Tiguan. Also, more wind and tire noise makes it through to the cabin than I remember in the Altima. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Room up front and in the second row is quite good, as is cargo space. Our tester wasn’t equipped with the newly-available third row seating, but you’ve got to believe that no matter how roomy this compact CUV is behind the second row (and it is class-leading in that respect according to Nissan), any third row chairs are going to be a strictly dogs-or-small-kids affair, for short trips at that. Still, it’s a unique selling point in a compact class full of strictly two-row crossovers. SAMSUNG CSC Things are mostly carried over in the powertrain and chassis department, with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that shuffles power through a continuously variable transmission remaining the only choice, aside from front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Horsepower and torque numbers stand pat at 170 and 175, respectively. That CVT has been slightly revised for internal efficiency, and as a result the new Rogue posts up segment-topping EPA fuel economy estimates of 26 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. I saw 27.0 combined, beating not only the first generation Rogue but also my previous averages in the Escape 1.6L EcoBoost and Tiguan, although both of those turbocharged powertrains have this one beat for outright grunt. SAMSUNG CSC Nissan's obviously chosen to spend the lion's share of this generation's development dollars on tech and feature content, at least initially. Equipment levels are extremely generous in all trims, but noticeably so in our high-end SL tester. Heated leather seats, navigation, keyless entry and drive, nine-speaker Bose audio, Nissan's around-view backup monitor system, and a power liftgate are all standard fare for the SL's $29,140 price of entry. Our press car's bottom line was further bolstered by the $1,990 Premium Package, which includes a panoramic sunroof, excellent full-LED headlights, and a slew of safety apps - forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and moving object detection. Both the entry-level S ($23,650) and mid-level SV ($25,350) trims can be had with the third row seat, and standard content levels are high in either. All-wheel-drive adds $1,350 to the bottom line no matter which trim level you choose. SAMSUNG CSC The compact CUV segment is one that's filled with fickle buyers, and sales are hard-fought regardless of manufacturer. Nissan's chosen path of feature content, value, styling and space improve the previous Rogue in all aspects, but don't tug at the heartstrings of buyers looking for an engaging driving experience. Happily for Nissan, the improvements they've made should be solid enough to tempt some buyers away that would have otherwise landed in Escapes, CR-Vs or RAV4s. [gallery ids="10059,10065,10066,10067,10060,10064,10057,10063,10062,10055,10054,10061,10058,10056"]   2014 Nissan Rogue SL Base price: $29,140 Price as tested: $31,265 Options on test car: SL Premium Package ($1,990), floor mats ($135) Powertrain: 2.5-liter four cylinder engine, CVT automatic transmission, front-wheel drive – 170 horsepower, 175 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 27.0 mpg Nissan provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.  

Driven: 2014 Ford Escape SE EcoBoost

SAMSUNG CSC The Escape is a compact crossover class stalwart, fighting tooth and nail with the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 for the sales crown, month in and month out. As a symbol of the new global Ford it carries itself well, although the last Escape was decidedly archaic when compared to the current model introduced in 2012 and even it sold well. The Tiguan I drove a few weeks back is an also-ran in its sales segment despite being a great car, selling just a tenth of what the big names do. Is the Escape ten times better, or is it simply name recognition at play? We borrowed one for a week to find out. The Escape that turned up at my door was remarkably similar in spec to that Tiguan. Both carried “SE” trim badges, meaning they were each the mid-level model in their respective lineups and featured most of the creature comforts buyers expect in a new car – think Bluetooth, power driver’s seats, alloy wheels and the like. They both featured turbocharged four-cylinder engines producing similar power levels, mated to six-speed automatic transmissions driving just the front wheels. They even wore nearly the same shade of metallic gray paint and as-tested sticker prices within $400 of each other. It doesn't get more evenly matched. SAMSUNG CSC But subtle differences are apparent right away – starting inside. The Ford’s swoopy, futuristic design (both inside and out) is to be expected – VW and their other German cousins have always displayed more styling restraint than we Americans have. But equipment levels are different as well. The focus (no pun intended) on technology in the Escape is immediately noticeable, with MyFordTouch, navigation and Sync included among the options on our tester. If you need to find your way to the store or talk to the Tiguan, your requests will fall on deaf ears. But in terms of material comfort, the Tiguan counters with leatherette trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and heated seats – features conspicuous by their absence in the Ford. Fit and finish and material quality are also a notch higher in the German. And while the VW lacks the modern componentry present in the Ford, its traditional push buttons never frustrate. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Out on the road, the character of these two crossovers is remarkably similar. The Ford’s smaller engine (1.6 liters versus the VeeDub’s 2.0) doesn't really act smaller until you rev it beyond 4,000 RPM, where it feels strained and runs out of puff. But around town, the 1.6 EcoBoost actually provides adequate thrust and was obviously tuned to provide the torque of a larger engine where it matters. It also delivered excellent economy for a roomy crossover – more than 26 MPG in mixed conditions and 30 MPG on the highway. The Tiguan’s 2.0TFSI unit feels every inch the more powerful engine, endowed with 22 extra horsepower on paper (and probably even more in practice), but it doesn't really provide much more useful acceleration until you’re at highway speeds or in a passing situation. Most shoppers will be satisfied with the 1.6 EcoBoost’s around-town demeanor and stellar economy, but I’d still tick the option box for the 2.0 EB’s 240 horsepower every single day, and twice on Sunday. SAMSUNG CSC The Escape’s chassis, based as it is on the excellent Focus, has been lauded as the best handler in its segment, and it doesn't disappoint. Turn-in is crisp and immediate, the steering direct and body roll present but well-checked. Ride quality is firm but comfortable. The VW’s ride-and-handling balance is velvety soft in comparison, but it does tend to wallow around a bit more and doesn't exhibit the steering response of the Escape. SAMSUNG CSC The Escape also handily trumps the VW in perhaps the most important crossover category – interior space. With 34 cubic feet with the back seats in place, the Escape effectively hands the VW its you-know-what, which holds just 24 cubes. Its the same story with the seats folded – 68 cu. ft. in the Ford plays 56 in the VW – and overall interior volume, at 132 cu. ft. versus 119 in the VW. All that space pays dividends in the duties that owners are likely to task these vehicles with, like hauling Costco loads, kids and all their detritus. And while they’re not generally used for towing, the Ford has the VW covered there in a pinch, too, rated to tote up to 3500 pounds instead of just 2200. You don’t really have to pay for any of that extra capability at the scales, though, since the Escape is only a hundred pounds heavier than the Tiguan and barely larger in any other exterior dimension. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC In terms of which car I actually preferred driving, I’d still probably just give the VW the nod, though with the optional 2-liter EcoBoost engine, the tables could easily turn back in the Escape’s favor. Despite the Ford’s slightly sharper chassis and obvious advantage in equipment, capacity, and economy, I personally placed greater importance on the VW’s plusher cabin, timeless styling and more powerful motor. Of course, sales speak louder than words – and frankly, it’s obvious why the Escape dominates the Tiguan on the sales charts. The Escape’s combination is a winning one, and likely one that the Germans will be chasing for quite some time. SAMSUNG CSC   2014 Ford Escape SE 1.6L FWD Base price: $25,955 Price as tested: $28,640 Options on test car: 201A equipment group ($1,395), Navigation with Sync and MyFordTouch ($795), Power liftgate ($495) Powertrain: 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive – 178 horsepower* (when 93 octane is used), 184 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 26.4 mpg Ford provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.