Compact Luxury Crossover: 2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

No surprise: a hybrid joins the NX line too.

Lexus NX

An aggressive face marks the 2015 Lexus NX.

Lexus made the most logical move in 2014 by introducing a new crossover utility vehicle to slot beneath its segment-leading RX line. Since the dawning of the new millennium, consumers have turned to utilities in increasingly significant numbers, thus the outlook for entry-level premium models is an especially promising one. Likewise, Lexus had to reciprocate and has done so by means of its all-new for 2015 NX line.

The Lexus NX is based on the same platform underpinning the Toyota RAV4 and yet the similarities largely stop there. The NX has its own sheet metal, unique interior and offers a twin-scroll turbocharged version of the RAV4’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. A naturally-aspirated version of that engine is sold in two consumer markets — China and Russia — with a hybrid variant also available in the US.

Lexus NX

2015 Lexus NX

The standard front-wheel drive 2015 Lexus NX is priced from $34,480 for the 200t edition ($35,880 for all-wheel drive). Select the F Sport edition and the price starts at $36,580 ($37,980 AWD). Opt for the hybrid 300h and the starting price comes in at $39,720 or $41,310 when equipped with all-wheel drive.

Lexus loaned me a front-wheel drive F Sport edition for a week just as 2014 closed. That model came with a premium package ($2,890), a navigation system package ($2,140) and a comfort package ($505). Other options included a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert ($660), a pre-collision system with radar cruise control ($900), intuitive parking assist ($500) and forged alloy wheels ($3,200).

At the dealer level you can select running boards, a tow hitch receiver, and other accessories. Fully loaded, you might pay upwards of $48,000 for one. Subsequently, I checked the local Lexus dealer inventory and found six in stock priced from the low- to mid-$40,000 range. These prices are in line with the competition, namely the Lincoln MKC, Audi Q3, Volvo XC60, BMW X3, Acura RDX and the Mercedes-Benz GLA Class.

Lexus NX

Strike a Pose

The NX’s fascia advances Lexus’ current design language. Most current models are dominated by a spindle-shaped grille and feature various L-shaped characteristics, including the LED daytime running lamps, headlights and fog lamp channels.

The “L-finesse” look does, of course, augment Lexus’ symbol, itself a stylish “L” design. Yes, I must concur with anyone else who notices that the LED daytime running lights resemble Nike’s energetic swoosh symbol. To my knowledge the two companies are not engaged in a co-marketing campaign.

To the rear, you have sharply angular tail lights, chrome trim and a pair of exhaust tips flanking a diffuser. When it comes to the NX’s profile it resembles the current generation RAV4 than not. And yet, you will find different door panels and a modified side window layout in the NX. Disclaimer: my wife drives a 2013 RAV4, a vehicle that this writer is thoroughly acquainted with. No matter, there are far more differences between the two as Lexus has put its own imprimatur on this compact conveyance.

Lexus NX

In the Cabin

The NX’s cabin has a more pronounced Lexus touch. Immediately evident are the two overhead and one driver footwell LED lights. Two more LED lights serve as the front map (or reading) lights, sensory activated at that. Personally, I am glad that more manufacturers are making use of LED cabin lights — once you have them you will not want to settle for anything less.

The Lexus NX offers no-compromise seating for five. The front bucket seats are extra bolstered with oversized active headrests. No seat extenders are present, an addition that makes long road trips and sport driving more enjoyable. The rear bench seat is a split 60-40 design with a plush fold down armrest with a pair of pop out cup holders. That would have served as a welcome place for a storage compartment. Nonetheless, rear seating passengers have access to rear seat pockets and in-door storage, the latter large enough to hold bottled drinks.

Lexus’s designers were all over this crossover’s interior, with stitching evident across the upper and lower parts of the dashboard. Brightwork trim, soft touch materials and NuLuxe covered seats, door inlays and storage compartment covers boost this interior. NuLuxe has the appearance and caress of leather, but it is not. On the contrary, NuLuxe represents the brand’s environmental awareness, weighing half as much as leather and generating significantly less carbon dioxide emissions in the manufacturing process. Moreover, no animal products were used in the manufacturing process, to the unbridled relief of animal-rights activists.

The NX’s instrument panel is composed of tachometer and speedometer displays, flanking a digital driver’s information system. That system is controlled by switches located on the face of the tilt and telescopic steering wheel along with cruise and secondary audio controls.

The center console is dominated by a tablet-sized screen, what is permanently fixed to the dashboard. Beneath that are switches and buttons for climate control with the temperature read outs flanking an analog clock.

A special touchpad offers one-finger control of the display screen. Instead of fiddling with knobs, buttons and switches as you make your way down the road, you can control the screen with just a touch of a finger. Consider it Lexus’ attempt to reduce technological distractions — you will get the hang of using it quite fast.

Behind the rear seat is covered storage with a full-size spare underneath. Additional compartmentalized storage is located next to the tire. Tie down hooks are present and ready for strapping. If you are of the family way with the little ones, there is tethering in place for a center-positioned car seat.

Lexus NX
Lexus NX

2015 Lexus NX

View manufacturer details and pricing

Twin-Scroll Turbo

While other manufacturers have been embracing turbochargers for years, the Toyota Motor Corporation has eschewed the technology. Until now. In the NX 200t, you have the company’s first use of twin-scroll turbocharged technology, designed in house to deliver superior quality and performance. This gasoline direct-injected engine features a pair of exhaust gas inlets and nozzles, and makes 235 horsepower and 277 foot-pounds of torque. Lexus weds this engine with a shiftable six-speed automatic transmission and paddle shifters.

The outcome is a near imperceptible lack of turbo lag and more than enough power to move this ute with authority. Where the naturally-aspirated version of this engine is sufficient to accomplish the job, Lexus was not about to rest on its laurels and has, instead, delivered performance that should engender respect from enthusiasts. Moreover, the new engine signals to all that Lexus as well as Toyota and Scion will bring forth additional models featuring the science. Now if we can only convince Lexus to manufacture diesels.

Lexus NX

On the Road

Jump in, adjust the seat, fasten your seatbelt and hold on. Well, not exactly. Crossover utility vehicles rarely generate the driving elation found in sport coupes and sedans or in the rare performance utility vehicle such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT or the Infiniti QX70. At the same time the Lexus NX 200t will not lull you to sleep.

Notably, the F Sport edition does its best to bring out the ute’s performance side. All models feature MacPherson struts up front and double-wishbone suspension in the rear. Exclusive to the F Sport are front and rear performance dampers and a sport-tuned suspension. In addition, you get a dynamic digital display, what allows you to observe the data to track your performance, including G-force and turbo-boost monitor. It seems a bit strange to offer that information on a utility vehicle, however Lexus wants to amplify its performance credentials, not bury it.

For this model’s best driving mode, choose Sport and leave “normal” and “eco” to your more sedate driving. Press the pedal to the metal and you can reach 60 mph in just under seven seconds. As this was a front-wheel drive model, understeer is evident — really, no surprise there. At the same time the NX does a good job of handling twists and turns, and its braking is strong with no fade present. Certainly, the NX does not offer the drive fun of a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, but then you’re not paying $70,000 for this crossover as you would with the Jeep.

This pad controls the navigation screen.

Parting Shots

In the NX, Lexus adds a fourth entry-level model to the brand. You also have your choice of the rear-wheel drive IS line, the front-wheel drive ES and the hybrid CT 200h. To that end, if you aspire to upgrade from your current Toyota or Scion, or if you have some other luxury utility vehicle in mind, then the Lexus NX may make the grade. Furthermore, there is a hybrid variant for your consideration, the only one of its kind in this burgeoning segment.

2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

  • Sticker price from $36,580
  • Price as tested: $40,000 (estimated)
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 2.0-liter 16-valve turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine
  • 235 horsepower @ 4,800 to 5,600 rpm
  • 277 foot-pounds of torque @ 1,650 to 4,000 rpm
  • 3.40 inches bore by 3.40 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 10.0-to-1
  • 6-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 104.7 inches
  • Length: 182.3 inches
  • Width: 73.6 inches
  • Height: 64.8 inches
  • Passenger volume: 71.6 cubic feet
  • Storage volume: 17.7/54.6 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds (with luxury package)
  • EPA: 22 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
  • Premium grade gasoline required
  • Fuel tank: 15.9 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 3,940 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Top Safety Pick+
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 6 years/70,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 6 years
  • Vehicle assembly: Kyushu, Japan

2015 Lexus NX photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine.

Jeepers: Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe

New Mercedes model pushes the styling envelope.

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 AMG Coupe
2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 AMG Coupe.

There are times when an automaker shows a new model and the Internet is lit up with positive or negative comments. There are other times when all you hear is crickets. The Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe lies somewhere between both extremes, a 2016 model due out next year.

Despite the “coupe” name, the GLE is a crossover utility vehicle or what represents Mercedes’ most ambitious attempt to build a vehicle that moves away from the expected styling convention.

Indeed, the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe is different as it takes a radical styling approach currently exhibited by the BMW X6, its chief competitor. It is a style that you probably will love or hate — I have not yet decided what to make of the GLE Coupe.

What I don’t like is the use of coupe for anything beside a two-door car model. Sure, the roofline is coupe-like, but we’re talking about a utility vehicle, not a car. I just wonder if this name playing is a marketing ploy, one that ultimately confuses the consumer.

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe

What the GLE Coupe does do is make an attempt to put some excitement in a segment typically devoid of it. Ask any automotive enthusiast and he or she will tell you that there are very few non-car models other than pickup trucks and select 4x4s that grab the heart in the same way as a Chevy Camaro, Porsche 911 or a heritage model like the Pontiac Bonneville does.

People buy crossovers because they want the interior room and the high profile. Or so it seems.

Mercedes-Benz calls the GLE Coupe “a sportier choice” and with that statement I won’t argue. It has a much more muscular appearance with strong shoulders, oversized wheels and a sloping roofline. M-B would not build such a vehicle unless it thought that there was a market for one. BMW has demonstrated that there is one — the X6 is now entering its second generation.

Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe

Let’s Go With AMG

For the US market, Mercedes-Benz plans a GLE 450 AMG 4MATIC Coupe featuring a biturbo V6 engine making 362 horsepower with an output of 384 foot-pounds of twist. Besides the usual lavish equipment level, M-B says that the enhanced version will come with a DYNAMIC SELECT dynamic handling control system, a Sports Direct-Steer system and the usual driver assistance system found elsewhere in the model line. Notably, the AMG model will come with a 9G-TRONIC or nine-speed automatic transmission and 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive.

“The GLE 450 AMG Coupe is our first sports model, and further highly emotional and performance-oriented models will follow in the near future. The new product line from Mercedes-AMG has allowed us to make true sports car technology and the fascination of motorsports more accessible,” says Tobias Moers, Chairman of the Board of Management of Mercedes-AMG GmbH. “Every vehicle from Affalterbach honors the brand promise of Driving Performance.”

Changing Naming Convention

Beyond the model at hand, Mercedes is also changing its utility vehicle naming convention. The automaker says that it is paying tribute to its legendary G-Class model by assigning GL to all models except for the G itself.

There is some rhyme and reason to what Mercedes is doing. For instance, the GLA represents its A-Class segment utility vehicle. The GLC, formerly the GLK-Class, is its C-Class segment model. The GLE, formerly the M-Class, is its E-Class model. The Current GL will be renamed the GLS to align it with the S-Class segment. Any lower case letter found in the name will be associated with a particular engine. Nomenclature anyone?

Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe

Mercedes Handling Characteristics

Mercedes says the GLE Coupe’s variable dynamic control system assigns fundamentally different characteristics to the five transmission modes of INDIVIDUAL, COMFORT, SLIPPERY, SPORT and SPORT+. On the center console is a rotary controller from which the driver will choose the particular mode.

If you want a soft drive, then you’ll choose COMFORT. For enhanced handling and performance, go with either of the sport modes. When the SPORT+ mode is activated, the gear changes are “acoustically accentuated” particularly when you downshift via the double-clutch function. Mercedes says that also causes the cockpit functions to respond faster. Move your eyes to the large center display and you’ll see lateral and longitudinal acceleration as well as the steering angle included in a motorsports graphic.

New Air Suspension and Roll Stabilization

The new model will also come with the latest version of Mercedes’ AIRMATIC air suspension. For the first time it will include the continuously variable damping system ADS Plus, what the company says “guarantees extremely stable driving.” Choose the SPORT+ mode if you want to enjoy the greatest lateral dynamics.

The GLE Coupe also comes with an ACTIVE CURVE SYSTEM, what is activated when either sport mode is chosen. It provides active roll stabilization, by raising the front and rear anti-roll bars to sedan level comfort and has also been designed to mitigate certain road impacts, including pot holes. Along with the steering system, Mercedes claims outstanding handling across all operating conditions.

Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe

Growing Marketshare

Will the GLE Coupe succeed? Is the sky blue?

Mercedes-Benz continues to sell more cars around the world and there is no reason why it will have any problem with the GLE Coupe. The new model may not appeal to everyone, but it shows that the good folks in Stuttgart aren’t about to let BMW, Audi or anyone else succeed in a segment apart from their own attempt to field a competitive model.

The new naming convention may take some getting used to but there is a methodology at work too. And it is a method designed for success, something Mercedes continues to enjoy.

Photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz USA.

German Luxury Model Reviews

Bavarian Fest: 2014 BMW 535d xDrive

Just Out: 2015 Audi Q3 Crossover

2014 BMW 435i: The Advent of the 4 Series Coupe

Compact Luxury Value: 2015 Audi A3 Sedan 2.0T

Emotive: Porsche 911 Carrera 4S

Delivered: 2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4×4

2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited

Sometimes the second time around is simply better. For instance, when you revisit what had been previously experienced the chances are good you will gain a different perspective and perhaps a renewed appreciation during the next go around.

2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4×4

Such was the case for this writer when a 2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4×4 arrived as his weekly driver earlier this month. It followed his first drive by more than half a year; in the ensuing months, he had the opportunity to test drive other crossover utility vehicles and compare those models to that first Jeep.

The second go-around also revealed something about the current iteration of the Jeep he hadn’t appreciated before — and that would be the front fascia with its polarizing lighting layout, specifically, the slash LED lights co-located with the turn signals and found above a separate display and layout for the headlamps. Yes, I had originally thought that it made for too modern of a design — especially for a Jeep — but following months of seeing scores of new Cherokees around town I have been won over by the controversial look.

2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited

Four Trim Levels

The earlier model tested was a Trailhawk; this time around a Limited was delivered. For 2015 the Cherokee offers four trim levels: Sport ($22,995), Latitude ($24,695), Limited ($28,395) and Trailhawk ($29,895). These prices are for 42 models — you need to add $2,000 to each trim level to get the starting price for 4×4 versions.

As tested, the Limited 4×4 came in with a base price of $30,395 with a full sticker price of $38,510. Jeep lent me one with several upgrades to include: a $995 safety package that added blind spot and cross path detection; a $1,495 technology package that came with adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and park assist; and a $1,695 luxury group that brought in bi-xenon HID headlamps, a power liftgate, premium leather bucket seats and ventilated front seats. A $1,695 engine upgrade replaced the base four-cylinder engine with the 3.2-liter V-6 and brought in a start/stop system. For $845, upgraded UConnect infotainment was included and for another $395 a nine-speaker audio system was added.

2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited

2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4×4

View manufacturer details and pricing

Compact Crossover Utility Vehicle

As before, the Jeep Cherokee is a smaller crossover utility vehicle. Thus, its competition is along the lines of a Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V and a Hyundai Tucson, just to name a few. However, it seems larger than most competing models and although it is a crossover like the others, Jeep has also made it off-road ready.

Indeed, Cherokee buyers will find not one, not two, but three 4×4 systems to choose from: Jeep Active Drive I, Jeep Active Drive II and Jeep Active Drive Lock. The base 4×4 with Jeep Active Drive I comes with single power transfer unit and moves in and out of four-wheel drive at any speed.

Buyers of the Latitude and Limited can upgrade to Jeep Active Drive II and get a two-speed power transfer unit with torque management and low range. Choose the 4-Low mode and both the front and rear drive shafts lock, ideal for low-speed drive and towing. Ride height is also increased by one inch and the crawl ratio is improved.

Jeep Active Drive Lock adds in a locking rear differential, to provide enhanced low-speed power for the toughest off-road conditions. It is only available on the Trailhawk; the other editions provide one or both Active Drive options.

2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited

Off-Road or Not

Regardless of trim level, every Jeep Cherokee 4×4 comes with Jeep’s Selec-Terrain traction control system, what delivers on- and off-road settings to include: automatic, snow, sport, sand/mud and sport. Selec-Terrain adjusts up to 12 systems, including stability control, brake controller, transmission controller, hill ascent and hill descent, among others.

Me thinks that most Jeep Cherokee shoppers do not buy one with the intent to take it off road even if their chosen model comes with all the 4×4 bells and whistles that some people prize. Jeep routinely moves more than 15,000 Cherokees each month in the US alone — among that number are the hardcore off-road enthusiasts — even then the most avid off-roaders are more likely to choose the Wrangler. For the majority of Cherokee owners, a 4×4 may serve as insurance against tough road conditions (such as snow) more than anything else.

And in keeping with its prevailing use, I kept the Limited on the road at all times. My review of the 2014 Cherokee Trailhawk included my off-road use — for this go around I was more interested in acquainting myself with its on-road capabilities as well as its cabin.

2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited

Potent V-6 Engine Option

As before, the 3.2-liter V-6 making 271 horsepower and 239 foot-pounds of torque was under the hood. Jeep offers a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine making 184 horsepower and 171 foot-pounds of torque, what provides a modest fuel mileage edge (22 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway) over the best fuel economy you can get with the V-6 (21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway). A nine-speed automatic transmission is standard across the model line.

In my mind, those differences are hardly worth settling for the token base engine — upgrade to the V-6 and you won’t complain about a lack of power. Besides, you’ll get the full benefit of 4,500 pounds of towing capacity with some models. The V-6 delivers generous amount of power off the mark and on the road — steering is responsive, handling is very good and the brakes are firm, not spongy.

One year removed from its introduction, Jeep made a few changes to the Cherokee that are worth noting. The backup camera is now standard on more models —all except the base Sport model has one. Jeep also added hands-free texting and quite a few safety and security enhancements as part of package upgrades, including park assist and forward collision warning. A tonneau cover is now a stand-alone option on all models.

2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited

Cherokee Trailhawk v. Limited

With Trailhawk and now Limited editions behind me, the differences between both high-end models seems small. Indeed, the Limited brings in such top features as: keyless entry, start/stop ignition, heated leather-trimmed seats and the touchscreen UConnect system with an 8.4-inch screen. You also get the fanciest wheels — 18 inch polished aluminum wheels to the 17-inch off-road aluminum wheels for the Trailhawk. Simply put, the Limited is the top-of-the-line Cherokee for mostly on-road and in town purposes whereas the Trailhawk is the king of Cherokee off-roaders.

Regardless of the model chosen, you get authentic room for five adults and many of the creature features you crave including: air conditioning, power accessories, a digital driver information center, front and rear floor mats and a tilt and telescopic steering wheel column. UConnect is standard across the model line and every model comes with a host of safety features. If you want a better-equipped model, then start with the Latitude and add in the packages you want.

Likely, when all is said and done, your well-equipped model will push past $30,000 and upwards of $40,000 if every option is selected. That puts the Cherokee at the top of the compact utility vehicle pricing spectrum, but that is what you get when a premium model is considered.

2015 Jeep Cherokee Limited 4×4

  • Sticker price from $30,395
  • Price as tested: from $38,510
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 3.2-liter 24-valve V-6 gasoline engine
  • 271 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm
  • 239 foot-pounds of torque @ 4,400 rpm
  • 3.58 inches bore by 3.27 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 10.7-to-1
  • 9-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
  • Length: 182 inches
  • Width: 73.2 inches
  • Height: 66.2 inches
  • Passenger volume: 103.4 cubic feet
  • Storage volume: 24.6/54.9 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: 4,500 pounds
  • EPA: 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
  • Regular grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 10.5 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 4,046 to 4,108 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Top Safety Pick+ (2014)
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 5 years/100,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 3 years/50,000 miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Toledo, Ohio

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2015 Jeep Cherokee 4×4 photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved.

Mitsubishi Shows Radical Concept, Insists That They’ll Stay in the US

Smallest Japanese manufacturer makes plans for the future.

Mitsubishi Concept XR-PHEV

This just in: Mitsubishi says that it plans to stay in the United States. To support its contention, this Japanese car manufacturer showed a concept XR-PHEV vehicle at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show to underscore its future design direction. A near 30 percent year-to-date sales increase and auto show news conference notwithstanding, Mitsubishi still has much work cut out for it.

Mitsubishi Concept XR-PHEV

First, the concept vehicle at hand. As the renderings show, what we have here is the requisite crossover utility vehicle, precisely what manufacturers are leaning on in far greater numbers in response to current auto trends. I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it increasingly more difficult to get excited about any crossover as there are so many of them. Me thinks that they’ll soon peak in popularity with customers wanting something different — coupes, maybe.

Now back to the concept. If this is Mitsubishi’s styling direction, then they’ll be making as radical a design shift as any manufacturer has proposed in this current millennium. What we have here is a vehicle with an extremely high hood line smacking right into the A-pillar, a rising belt line and a rear fascia that is beyond easy description.

Mitsubishi Concept XR-PHEV

No doubt Mitsubishi’s designers were given the license to “go radical” with the concept. I’m not sure how much good it will do.

As is becoming quite common these days, the concept is yet another plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Yes, whether you want one or not. Manufacturers continue to design vehicles based on ever more stringent federal mpg ratings. It’ll be a wonder whether customers will actually want said vehicles.

Starship-Themed Interior

Radical that the exterior of the concept XR-PHEV is, the interior is full-on futuristic, with a decidedly starship theme. Oddly, as Mitsubishi declares that it will stay in the US, it serves up a right-hand drive interior.

Sure, you don’t have to do too much imagining to consider how the interior might look for the US market, but if you’re trying to convince American consumers that you’ll be staying, then how about showing us a left-hand drive interior?

Mitsubishi Concept XR-PHEV

That interior is peppered with LCD screens for the instrument gauge, across the dashboard and up and down the center console. It looks like a video game display and a big distraction at that. Perhaps Mitsubishi has autonomous driving in mind for the XR-PHEV? If not, the interior would most certainly have to be toned down. Yes, I don’t get the steering wheel design either.

Mitsubishi is Here to Stay

Second, Mitsubishi shared the obligatory remarks to confirm its plans. We brought the Concept XR-PHEV to LA so that we could talk about our new design direction and how future products will be taking clues from its dynamic lines, said MMNA Executive Vice President, Don Swearingen. We also brought it to LA to reinforce the message that Mitsubishi is here to stay in the United States. As we regrow the brand we will introduce new models while updating existing ones, creating a new look and a new value proposition for the brand.

Well, let me throw some cold water on this pronouncement. Mitsubishi’s rebound this year is certainly noteworthy as the automaker is far outpacing the industry’s growth and sales are increasing faster than most any other manufacturer. Even so, the company’s sales are far below the 345,000 units it sold as recently as 2002 according to Wards Auto.

Mitsubishi Concept XR-PHEV

This year, Mitsubishi’s US sales should top 70,000 units, thanks to renewed interest in its Outlander Sport crossover and its Mirage subcompact. However, Ford sells a greater number of its Edge crossovers alone each year than Mitsubishi sells of its entire product line.

Next Industry Downturn

To survive in this market you need volume and Mitsubishi certainly does not have it. When the next industry downturn arrives, Mitsubishi just may not be strong enough to weather the crisis. That’s something to keep in mind if you plan to shop for one.

Mitsubishi Concept XR-PHEV

Photos courtesy of Mitsubishi North America.

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Fiat 500X Marks the Spot

Third Fiat model arrives stateside next year.

Fiat 500X

The Fiat brand is slowly taking hold in the US with two 500 variants currently serving the market. First, we had the tiny 500 and its multiple model lines, then the larger 500L followed. A third line, the Fiat 500X, was introduced this week at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show. It represents an all-new crossover for the 2016 model year.

2016 Fiat 500X

The Fiat 500X was introduced just one day after Mazda took the wraps off of its own compact utility vehicle, the CX-3. Fiat and Mazda will compete with the Nissan Juke, a model that has been credited with getting the segment going when it emerged on the scene in 2011.

“The Fiat 500X will significantly expand the reach of the FIAT brand in North America,” said Jason Stoicevich, Head of FIAT Brand North America, Chrysler Group LLC. “The all-new 500X delivers the Italian design and personality that we are known for, along with an unprecedented level of equipment and technology. In addition, it will be the first vehicle in our portfolio to offer an advanced all-wheel-drive system that will provide customers with peace of mind in all driving conditions.”

The standard engine for the Fiat 500X is a 1.4-liter turbocharged four cylinder rated 160 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque. It is the same engine found in other Fiat models.

Customers can also choose a 2.4-liter four cylinder naturally-aspirated engine making 180 horsepower and 175 foot-pounds of torque. The base engine is paired with a six-speed manual transmission; the larger engine gets a nine-speed automatic transmission. It is with the larger engine where customers can opt for all-wheel drive.

Fiat 500X

Roomy Interior

Fiat is making a big deal about passenger room with the 500X, saying that it comes “with comfortable setting for five.” That may or may not be a slap at the Juke, a crossover best suited for two or with two little ones in the back seat. Likely, the Mazda CX-5 will offer comparable seating room to the Fiat — let’s see how Nissan responds when the next generation Juke comes out in a year or two.

Fiat also says that the the 500X comes with up to 70 standard and available safety and security features. Stability control, hill-start assist, electronic roll mitigation and seven airbags are included with all models. Also available is forward collision warning, lane sense departure warning, blind spot warning and rear cross path detection.

This model makes available Fiat Chrysler’s UConnect infotainment system, including a 6.5-inch touchscreen color display, navigation, Bluetooth streaming audio, keyless entry, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel.

Fiat 500X

Trim Levels and Packages

Five trim levels will be offered, including the familiar Pop, Easy and Lounge editions. Trekking and Trekking Plus are new to the brand and come with unique front and rear fascias, along with satin silver accents.

Other features available will include: automatic headlamps, fog and cornering lights, a power sunroof, tinted glass, a rear wiper, dual-zone climate control, cloth or leather seats, ambient lighting, audio system packages, a power driver’s seat, tire upgrades and wheel choices.

Fiat will also offer at least 20 package upgrades, with most corresponding to the trim level selected. For example, the Trekking Plus Collection 1 package brings in a dual-pane sunroof and an eight-speaker Beats audio system.

Anticipated Release Date

Fiat Chrysler says that the 500X, built in Melfi, Italy, will go on sale in the first half of 2015. It will be marketed in more than 100 countries worldwide. Pricing and other details will be provided closer to its release date.

Photos courtesy of Fiat Chrysler.

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Sweet Swede: 2015.5 Volvo XC60 T6 Drive-E

On the road with a Swedish wagon.

2015.5 Volvo XC60

You are to be forgiven if you have have some difficulty placing the Volvo XC60 in the right category. This model is a cross between the traditional station wagon and a utility vehicle, what some might consider a “tall wagon” while others would call it a crossover utility vehicle. Labeling aside, the XC60 is a small four-door model with an oversized liftgate. It is a premium model at that, delivering all the luxury as well as safety features that defines a Volvo.

2015.5 Volvo XC60 T6 Drive-E

I was given the keys to a 2015.5 Volvo XC60 T6 Drive-E (E for environmental) and promptly set out to learn more about this Swedish-designed model. Yes, the “.5” designation was part of the model year description, although for registration purposes your vehicle would be a 2015 edition. Why the special classification? Well, if your model is a T6, then the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is both supercharged and turbocharged, cranking out an amazing 302 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque from its small package. It also gets a Sensus navigation system, one that can be configured with your smartphone.

That engine is paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting capabilities, a robust combination that takes this vehicle from 0 to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds. This model is sold only in front-wheel drive; if you want all-wheel drive you will have to opt for the larger 3.0-liter V-6 engine. In the near future Volvo will offer only one engine across its entire model line — the 2.0-liter four. By then, an all-wheel drive package for the smaller motor should be available. For now, you’re limited to the larger engine when you want power sent to all four wheels.

2015.5 Volvo XC60
2015.5 Volvo XC60

Aging, But Still Appealing

The Volvo XC60 was introduced in 2010, but to its credit the design is fairly timeless and has benefited from tweaks that have kept it fresh. You get two rows of seating with excellent room for four and decent room for five. I liked the multi-compartment rear center seat arm rest with its cup holders and trays that much — so, I would find a way to keep the back seat open to just two people. By the way, I am about six feet tall and found the rear area comfortable and roomy.

It is up front where the best treats are found. Volvo has a thing for ergonomics, placing buttons and switches in the right places and tilting them to the driver. The seats are as comfortable as any you will find in the segment, providing excellent hip and thigh support. I was pleasantly surprised and pleased to find a storage pocket at the leading edge of the driver’s seat, offering a good place to secretly store whatever you want to keep from prying eyes. A second hidden storage compartment is located behind the base of the center stack.

The XC60’s interior is bright and well-appointed, making good use of leather and other high-end materials throughout. The instrument panel is a fairly simple design with analog and digital displays. The one disadvantage up front is the small display screen. Volvo says it measures seven inches, but it seems smaller. The control buttons are small too and take some getting used to. Happily, Volvo met my connectivity requirements by providing a between the seats storage compartment for both USB and auxiliary input ports.

You get keyless entry and push button start/stop for this Volvo with your steering wheel tilting and telescoping to your heart’s content. Close your door, adjust the seat and mirrors, buckle up, and you’re ready to take to the road. Yes, this model comes with steering wheel paddle shifters although most people are likely to operate the XC60 with the stick shifter.

2015.5 Volvo XC60

2015.5 Volvo XC60 T6 Drive-E

View manufacturer details and pricing

Around Town and on the Highway

Head out on the road and you’ll take note of the tremendous amount of power under the hood. That power sometimes does weird things such as shifting the car to the left or to the right as torque steer comes in. It is a lower speed phenomenon you feel when you press the pedal to the metal, then quickly corrects itself. Do you want to experience it at its strongest? Turn a corner as you pull away from a stop sign, gunning the engine.

Speaking of stop signs, just as you come to full braking, the engine cuts off and stays off until you’re ready to move out again. It’s like other start/stop systems, but engages just before you come to a full stop. Consider it one of the many ways that Volvo conserves gasoline as you go about your business.

On the road, the suspension is firm and the steering is precise, just what you expect in a Volvo. On the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) scale, vibration and harshness are not an issue. But noise is — as you work your way up to and maintain highway speeds, wind seeping through the windows is noticeable. You can also hear the suspension system at work, especially as you drive along rougher pavement.

Braking is quite good and if you’re traveling at low speeds (below 20 mph) and forget to hit the brakes, Volvo’s City-Safety low-speed collision avoidance system kicks in. It is designed to detect cars, bikes and pedestrians in front of your vehicle and automatically applies the brakes if you do not. It is just one of many safety features that Volvo is known for and a big reason why it gets the top score on crash tests.

2015.5 Volvo XC60

Family-Friendly Features

Volvo has long been a favorite of families, especially people that place a premium on safety. Beyond the safety attributes, Volvo also integrates important features expressly for the youngest passengers. A child booster seat package ($500) brought in rear sear power child locks and a pair of outboard, two-stage booster seats. Simply pull the handle at the leading edge of either seat and the cushion pops up and slides back to hold little back sides. While you are at it, slide back the mesh sunroof cover and bring in some extra light or fresh air when desired.

Besides the front and rear cup holders, each door has bottle holders too. Additional storage, including a hidden compartment with a strap underneath the rear seat, is also present. Tie down hooks and a 12-volt outlet rounds out the family-friendly features.

2015.5 Volvo XC60
2015.5 Volvo XC60

Pricing and Options

Volvo prices the XC60 T6 Drive-E from $40,900. Its full price came in at $50,175 with several upgrades included. A Platinum package was the priciest of the lot, adding $4,400 in features to include: a power operated tailgate, dual Xenon headlamps with washers, keyless drive, rear park assist, a convenience package and a technology package. The convenience package brought in such goodies as electric folding rear headrests, power retractable side mirrors and a cargo cover. The technology package brought in adaptive cruise control, collision warning with full braking, lane keeping assist and active high beam management.

You have a number of other choices to consider when exploring the Volvo XC60, including the Cadillac SRX, Audi Q5, Lincoln MKC, Acura RDX and the BMW X3. Each of these vehicles can be had fully loaded for about $50,000, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any model that combines the safety features and performance of the 2015.5 Volvo XC60 T6 Drive-E edition.

2015.5 Volvo XC60

2015.5 Volvo XC60 T6 Drive-E

  • Sticker price from $40,900
  • Price as tested: from $50,175
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 2.0-liter 16-valve inline-four cylinder gasoline engine
  • 302 horsepower @ 5,700 rpm
  • 295 foot-pounds of torque @ 2,100 to 4,500 rpm
  • 3.23 inches bore by 3.67 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 10.8-to-1
  • 8-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 109.2 inches
  • Length: 182.8 inches
  • Width: 74.4 inches
  • Height: 67.4 inches
  • Passenger volume: 101.9 cubic feet
  • Storage volume: 30.8/67.4 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: 3,500
  • EPA: 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway
  • Premium grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 18.5 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 4,043 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Top Safety Pick+ (2014)
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 48 months/50,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 48 montsh/50,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 144 months
  • Vehicle assembly: Ghent, Belgium

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2015.5 Volvo XC60 T6 Drive-E photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved.

Versatile Crossover: 2014 Toyota Highlander XLE

Toyota offers customers six utility vehicles — seven if you include the FJ Cruiser that is being retired this year. Half of the remaining six models are traditional body-on-frame sport utility vehicles; the other three are crossovers.

It is in the middle of the line up where customers are best served as the Venza, Highlander and 4Runner vie for sales. These three are distinctly different vehicles with the Highlander the best known and perhaps the most versatile one of the lot. A 2014 Toyota Highlander XLE edition equipped with a V-6 engine and front-wheel drive was a recent Auto Trends weekly driver.

2014 Toyota Highlander XLE

2014 Toyota Highlander XLE

The 2014 Toyota Highlander begins the third generation for this popular crossover utility vehicle. It comes in slightly larger and longer than the previous edition and seats up to eight people. Toyota offers LE ($29,215), LE Plus ($32,740), XLE ($36,040) and Limited ($39,640) editions. A Highlander Hybrid Limited is also available, retailing for $47,300. As delivered, the test model was priced at $36,900.

Only the Highlander LE comes equipped with a 2.7-liter four cylinder engine. The other models come with a 3.5-liter V-6. That base engine makes 185 horsepower to the 270 horsepower produced by the V-6. Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Although not having personally driven the LE, its more limited power and towing capabilities may have most people looking at the other editions. The four cylinder model has a 1,500-pound towing capacity; the other models tow 2,000 pounds to as much as 5,000 pounds with a tow prep package.

2014 Toyota Highlander XLE

Bold Exterior Styling

Perhaps the most striking change for the third generation Highlander has to do with its exterior styling. The curvaceous lines are still there, but the grille projects a more powerful if not tough look that keeps in line with Toyota’s other utility vehicles. The new look also provides better airflow; the overall stance of the Highlander is more athletic with its broad shoulders, body side creasings and sporty profile.

What Toyota did was move the Highlander closer to the 4Runner’s rugged persona, but I must admit that the off-road capabilities of the body-on-frame 4Runner is what attracts my attention. Even so, the Highlander is the better seller and a very good option to the traditional minivan. Yes, the Sienna represents Toyota well in that people-mover department.

2014 Toyota Highlander XLE

Redesigned and Sensible Interior

Where the Toyota Highlander shines brightest is with its interior. If offers a standard 2+3+3 seating layout or 2+2+3 seating in the Limited with its second row captain’s chairs. Fabric-trimmed seats are standard on the LE and SofTex seating is included with the LE Plus and XLE. Choose the Limited and leather-trimmed seats are used in the first two rows.

The SofTex seats have a look and feel of leather, but utilizes thermoplastic polyurethane for optimum breathability and surface cooling notes SAE. Its stitching and feel may fool you, but you should know that “no animals were harmed” in making this material. Toyota claims that SofTex absorbs moisture slower and releases it faster than natural leather. After enduring a week of 90-degree temperatures I can assure you that the material feels and looks great.

The Highlander XLE comes with a leather-trimmed, tilt and telescopic steering wheel column. The three-spoke design includes switches for Bluetooth, voice command, cruise and multimedia controls. The instrument panel features two large analog displays flanking a digital driver information center. The look is clear, clean and sensible. Most importantly, it is uncluttered and easy to configure.

2014 Toyota Highlander XLE

Nifty Dashboard Layout

Toyota put much thought into both its dashboard and center console layouts. The upper and lower portions of the dashboard are split by an open compartment that runs from the center to two inches from the right side of the Highlander. Nonskid material holds everything in place including your smartphone that will fit snuggly on the far left side nearest the console. The entire area holds whatever you do not want to place in the glove box, what might include anything you want to have access to while on the road.

The center console includes USB and auxiliary ports — a pass through from the open compartment to the console makes recharging a snap. Two oversized cup holders, driving mode switches, the transmission shifter and front seat heat warmers are also included. But, it is the oversized enclosed storage compartment between the seats that will have you wondering about its storage possibilities. Sure, it is large enough to hold dozens of cans, but it doesn’t have a cooling feature or a drain. It does include a 12v/120-watt outlet, so if you want to jerry-rig a refrigerator you probably can. Regardless of how it is used, the compartment may quickly become a family favorite.

2014 Toyota Highlander XLE

Storage and Climate Control

Speaking of families, there are a number of other features that make this crossover stand out. The front doors include a pair of bottle holders with additional storage room. The back doors have room for one oversized bottle plus storage. Fold down the middle seat section and two cup holders are present. The third seat compartment, easily accessible by moving and flipping the second seat forward, has four cup holders — two on each side of the vehicle.

With tri-zone climate control, second- and third-row occupants won’t feel cheated by the front-row settings. Heating and cooling controls face the second row from the base of the center console. Overhead vents for both back rows deliver ample amounts of air. A 120-volt outlet in the center console keeps gaming devices fully charged.

Access to the Highlander comes with a smart key, available only in the XLE and Limited editions. Approach the crossover and tug on the door handle and it automatically illuminates and unlocks the door. It does the same for the liftgate. Slip in behind the wheel, press the start button and you’re ready to get underway.

I’ve found that seating comfort for most utility vehicles is very good, if not excellent. In the Toyota Highlander, the seats are supportive, cushy and offer six-way driver support. Certainly not the type of bolstering you might find in a Lexus IS F sedan, for instance, but clearly what you would expect for the long road ahead. Sure, you can engage in more “spirited” driving by shutting off stability control and working the shiftable transmission, but most people simply won’t be bothered. After all, this is a family vehicle, not a performance coupe.

2014 Toyota Highlander XLE

View manufacturer details and pricing

Generous Power, Ample Performance

Turn on the engine and place the transmission in drive and the 3.5-liter V-6 responds with ample power. Not once did I find myself wishing that there was more power. Rather, this crossover delivers generous amounts of energy when needed. Because the test model was front-wheel drive, I also experienced a couple of things that would be absent or minimized with an all-wheel drive model.

For instance, one of the first times I pulled away from a stop light the wheels sent out a squeal. I had no idea that burning rubber with this model was possible and had a laugh when I considered what other drivers must have been thinking about the “crazy guy” in the SUV.

Also, when calling on so much power, expect that torque steer will be evident. The steering wheel may shift slightly from side to side, a feeling that is common to front-wheel drive vehicles, especially models with generous amounts of horsepower. Steering and handling are otherwise good and braking is sound with this model.

2014 Toyota Highlander XLE

Limited Standard Storage

The rear storage area is small, offering just 13.6 cubic feet of storage space. For large families requiring more room they can either tow their stuff or opt for the available roof rail cross bars to place cargo on top. You can also partially fold down a rear seat if all eight places are not needed to gain some additional space. Underneath the floor you won’t find a spare tire as it is located beneath the vehicle. The test model was equipped with Michelin Latitude Tour tires.

I have found that current generation Toyota models outfitted with Entune infotainment systems work quite well. Then again I have an advantage here: my wife’s 2013 Toyota RAV4 comes Entune-equipped, so I have had a lot of practice with the system. In the Highlander, you have an 8-inch color display to work with along with the usual apps. That layout includes the audio system that provides very good sound distribution.

If I were to make the Toyota Highlander my own, I would opt for all-wheel drive. I might also choose the available rear-seat Blue Ray DVD entertainment system and swap out the bench seat for two Captain’s chairs and a side table. That pushes the final price of this crossover to about $40,000, a price threshold common for well-equipped models in this class.

Toyota Highlander Competition

Besides the Toyota products, the midsize utility vehicle segment is loaded with competitors. These include: Hyundai Santa Fe, Chevrolet Traverse, Nissan Pathfinder, Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot, Buick Enclave, Jeep Grand Cherokee and the GMC Acadia. The Highlander holds its own in this class and as one of the newest models on the market it delivers many of the amenities today’s families desire.

2014 Toyota Highlander XLE FWD V6

  • Sticker price from $36,040
  • Price as tested: $36,900
  • Seats 8 occupants
  • 3.5-liter 24-valve V-6 engine
  • 270 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm
  • 248 foot-pounds of torque @ 4,700 rpm
  • 3.70 inches bore by 3.27 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 10:8-to-1
  • Six-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 109.8 inches
  • Length: 191.1 inches
  • Width: 75.8 inches
  • Height: 68.1 inches
  • Passenger volume: 140.4 cubic feet
  • Storage volume: 13.6/42/82.6 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
  • EPA: 19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway
  • Regular grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 19.2 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 4,310 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Top Safety Pick+
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 5 years/Unlimited miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Princeton, Indiana

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Bavarian Fest: 2014 BMW 535d xDrive

2014 Toyota Highlander XLE photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved.