Room or Zoom? - Ski Mag

Room or Zoom?

Fitness
Author:
Publish date:
Snow driver 1102 Pic A

Because it's never too early to start planning that season-long sabbatical in the mountains, maybe it's time you made a winter check-list. You know, things you'll need to do like tune your skis, check the bindings, buy a car....

If it's finally time to retire the old sport ute, you couldn't have picked a better year to go hunting for something new. But be honest: Do you really need massive cargo room and black-ice traction? If not, you might want to factor in a bit of driving fun and comfort for a change.Let's assume you have already decided you don't need a monster truck or mammoth SUV (covered in "High Rollers," October 2002). Instead, you're interested in seeing what's new in small to mid-size SUVs, roomy cars and zoomy wagons. And perhaps most important, you're not interested in spending much more than $30,000. That leaves you with plenty of choices.

Chances are, the first names that spring to mind are Jeep Cherokee and Ford Explorer. Which is a good thing because both Jeep and Ford have a lot to offer for 2003. Ford, for instance, has actually achieved a stylish shape with the recently revised Explorer—not easy considering how many bland and uninspired boxes there are on the market. Looks aside, the new Explorer is practical, spacious, comes with a V-8 and rides on independent rear suspension. If you like the dimensions of the Explorer but want more luxury, scoot over to your Lincoln dealer for a look at the new 302-hp Aviator. It's a whole lot more than a gussied up Explorer, but expect to pay a bundle for all the suspension, engine and interior upgrades.

In the Jeep camp, the Grand Cherokee just keeps getting better. You might be surprised to learn that the base version of this venerable model starts at less than $30,000, although the creature comforts and V-8 power of the fully loaded Grand Cherokee Overland may tempt you to mortgage the ranch to corral a few more horses: 265 to be exact—and 330 lb-ft of torque.

If you can live with a smaller Jeep and like the idea of paying half the price of the Overland, check out the Jeep Liberty. You can get it with an economical 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, but considering it weighs in at a chubby 4,115 pounds, you might be happier with the 3.7-liter V-6.

In many ways, the closest competitor to the Liberty is a Land Rover. The new Freelander lists for less than $30,000 and has a 2.5-liter V-6 that puts out 175 hp, significantly less than the V-6 Liberty's 210. Still, it is a Land Rover, which means its off-road pedigree is proven. Its hill-descent control, for example, lets you descend terrain you'd hesitate to ski at a deliberate 5.6 mph. Want to impress your friends? The descent control also works in reverse.

Wagons, Ho!
Want to impress your friends who don't give a hoot about going off-road? Step off the SUV bandwagon and get a good road wagon. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus, Volvo, Saab and Audi all make delightful wagon versions of their most popular sedans. And if you still want the security of all-wheel-drive, there are some definite contenders in this group.

The Audi Allroad Quattro is a masterful bit of engineering, but you might be just as happy (and $10,000 richer) if you choose an A4 Avant Quattro wagon. It's not huge, but it is well worth a place on your list.

The Volvo Cross Country is the obvious choice for a do-it-all wagon in the Volvo line—for now. But if you wait till late spring, you'll be able to get a Volvo V70R wagon with 300 hp, all-wheel-drive and semi-active suspension. What "semi-active" means is that the shocks and brakes are inter-linked to motion sensors to maximize traction at all speeds and in all conditions.

Saabs, while still front-wheel-drive only, are great snow cars and notoriously capacious to boot. Although the 2.3-liter 9-5 Aero wagon tops out at just over $40,000, there are more affordable Saabs in the line. For the money, you get a unique brand with a lot of performance and, for a certain dience, an oddly irresistible panache. Saab owners tend to keep buying Saabs.

One of the sleepers of this group is the 215 hp Lexus IS300 SportCross wagon. This is not the biggest wagon on the road, but it is one of the sharpest looking inside and out. Plus, it's a Lexus.

Surprising Standards
If all you want is a tough-looking, tough-hauling, sum'bich SUV, there's a heap of manly choices on the lot. The classic of this group would be the Dodge Durango. Although it will be revised in 2004, the burley DD is still a solid performer that probably won't appeal to soccer moms as much as lumberjacks.

Slightly less macho are the GM entries. The award-winning Trailblazer and GMC Envoy come with a sweet inline six that delivers 270 hp, and both are available in extended-body versions. Need more? The 2003 Chevy Trailblazer EXT model will offer a 290 hp 5.3-liter V-8.

More Zoom than Room
If burly SUVs aren't your style, then do a 180 and steer yourself toward the performance-wagon side of the equation. Although there are plenty of very fast, big-buck wagons—such as the BMW 540i Sport Wagon, the Mercedes C-Class AMG wagon (sadly not yet available in the States) and the delicious Audi S6 Avant—power costs money. Just for fun, here are two smaller haulers you can afford to consider.

Subaru has a great reputation in world-class rally racing. As a result, it wisely brought a rally-inspired version of the Impreza—the WRX—to our shores. And the WRX is available in wagon form with almost identical performance figures. Mind you, this is one tiny wagon. But, if you are looking for an excuse to combine utility with silly-grin fun for around $25,000, get thee to a Subaru dealer.

Remember the Chrysler PT Cruiser? Great retro design, good price and utility but, alas, not much power. Well, for 2003, the power problem has been solved, big-time. The new GT Turbo version, which will sell for about the same price as the WRX, adds a whopping 65 hp, making it another great bargain. Incidentally, to accommodate the additional oomph, Chrysler beefed up all key engine parts, stiffened the suspension and gave it larger wheels and tires. In short, the Cruiser has evolved from cute to brute.

Bang for the Buck
If pure performance isn't your main concern, but you still want decent power and handling in your wagon or small SUV, here are some great deals. At the top of almost every list for a proven package of power and function are the twin econo-boxes made by Ford and Mazda—the Ford Escape and the Mazda Tribute. These handsome, somewhat traditionally styled SUVs can be yours for less than $25,000 with a very peppy 200-hp V-6 and front-biased all-wheel-drive.

But don't be lured by power alone. Take the new Mitsubishi Outlander SUV for example. Although the Outlander's smooth 2.4-liter 4-cylinder isn't huge, you'll seldom feel that the 140 hp and 157 lb-ft of torque are lacking. Instead, you'll relish the crisp handling, smart styling, snazzy interior and friendly sticker price. Definitely worth a test drive.

A warning: If you do go for a test drive in, say, February of 2003, you may be distracted by the new all-wheel-drive Evo version of the Lancer. The Evo will be the closest thing to a factory-prepared rally car you can buy. Assuming you like that squashed-in-the-seat, fighter-plane G-force sort of experience.

For a milder driving style, the Toyota Highlander SUV is just about everyone's choice for practicality and reliability. It's based on the trusty Camry, so the key word here is "pleasant."

Speaking of key words, try Jetta and Passat. The wagon versions of these two Volkswagens are the German alternative to Toyota's reputation for value and build-quality.

Peppy, too. Especially the $40,000 Passat W8 Wagon.

Then there's Honda. In a wonderful bit of marketing logic, someone at Honda decided that if you liked the terrific Acura MDX, then you will probably love an almost equally equipped Honda version for a lot less money. Called the Pilot, this 240-hp mid-size SUV is so good that you may forget to investigate all the improvements Honda made in its even more affordable CR-V. Do yourself a favor: Look at both.

Value, Style and Performance
Now here's a category that has it all—well, "all" except enormous cargo area. But if you can get by with just a bit less room on the inside, these three winners are all worth a drive.

In what may seem like an odd partnership, Pontiac and Toyota have conspired to bring us two mechanically similar and stylistically different "crossover" vehicles. (Note: "crossover" is a major buzzword in the auto world these days, though there's debate about its true meaning. Just think "wagon-like SUV," and you'll be OK.) Although it could be argued that the Toyota Rav4 was the first crossover vehicle, and although nobody would deny that the new RAV4 is a vast improvement over the original, it's vehicles like the Vibe (Pontiac) and the Matrix (Toyota) that are now the prototypes. Both offer two engine options. The larger 180-hp engine is tempting with the cool 6-speed transmission, but be forewarned: It only puts out 130 lb-ft of torque. What that means is that you can only use those 180 horses when the tach is wound up pretty high. If you like driving with revs wailing, then you will love the larger engine. If not, and if you want AWD, the more economical 130-hp option works just fine.

As nice as the Vibe and Matrix are to look at, most reviewers would give the Affordable Style Award to the Mazda Protegé5 wagon. It is just plain beautiful. What's more, despite its lack of large power numbers, the Mazda's ride, braking and handling characteristics are sublime. Zoom zoom, indeed.

Lovable Strays
Here are a few interesting, although very different, choices you may have overlooked. And because they're all just off the mainstream buyer's radar, this is a good place to shop for deals.

Take the Isuzu Axiom: elegantly aggressive styling, commendable off-road abilities, very respectable 230-hp V-6 power—a smart choice, inside and out.

Want a cute little wagon you could probably park inside a Ford Excursion? Suzuki makes the stylish and affordable 141-hp Aerio SX and promises an AWD version soon. Given the size, the 100,000-mile/seven-year warranty, and the price—around $15,000—you might want to buy two.

New and Noteworthy
Next month's installment will deal with all the latest skier-seductive concept cars likely to go into production in the near future. Three of them, however, will be on sale soon enough to warrant a brief mention here.The first is Volvo's first entry into the SUV market. Take it from us, Volvo has done its homework. The new XC90 T6 is a gem, and smart buyers are already putting deposits down on this twin-turbo, 268-hp Swedish Utility Vehicle.

Next are the Koreans. As good as the Hyundai Santa Fe is, you owe it to yourself to see and drive the new Kia Sorento. The fit and finish, power, size and style of this new mid-size SUV have dazzled the automotive press. Now it's your turn.

And if you thought Nissan was going to let the supercharged Xterra carry the flag for the youth market all by its lonesome, think again. The radically new Nissan Murano is due out about now. If an athletic stance and a great engine (the excellent 240-hp Altima V-6) sound good, then add all-wheel-drive, 18-inch wheels and a belt-driven Constant Velocity Transmission (CVT) with seven (!) manually selectable shift points to make things interesting.

Stay tuned. The newest of the new are coming to your favorite SKI magazine soon. for a lot less money. Called the Pilot, this 240-hp mid-size SUV is so good that you may forget to investigate all the improvements Honda made in its even more affordable CR-V. Do yourself a favor: Look at both.

Value, Style and Performance
Now here's a category that has it all—well, "all" except enormous cargo area. But if you can get by with just a bit less room on the inside, these three winners are all worth a drive.

In what may seem like an odd partnership, Pontiac and Toyota have conspired to bring us two mechanically similar and stylistically different "crossover" vehicles. (Note: "crossover" is a major buzzword in the auto world these days, though there's debate about its true meaning. Just think "wagon-like SUV," and you'll be OK.) Although it could be argued that the Toyota Rav4 was the first crossover vehicle, and although nobody would deny that the new RAV4 is a vast improvement over the original, it's vehicles like the Vibe (Pontiac) and the Matrix (Toyota) that are now the prototypes. Both offer two engine options. The larger 180-hp engine is tempting with the cool 6-speed transmission, but be forewarned: It only puts out 130 lb-ft of torque. What that means is that you can only use those 180 horses when the tach is wound up pretty high. If you like driving with revs wailing, then you will love the larger engine. If not, and if you want AWD, the more economical 130-hp option works just fine.

As nice as the Vibe and Matrix are to look at, most reviewers would give the Affordable Style Award to the Mazda Protegé5 wagon. It is just plain beautiful. What's more, despite its lack of large power numbers, the Mazda's ride, braking and handling characteristics are sublime. Zoom zoom, indeed.

Lovable Strays
Here are a few interesting, although very different, choices you may have overlooked. And because they're all just off the mainstream buyer's radar, this is a good place to shop for deals.

Take the Isuzu Axiom: elegantly aggressive styling, commendable off-road abilities, very respectable 230-hp V-6 power—a smart choice, inside and out.

Want a cute little wagon you could probably park inside a Ford Excursion? Suzuki makes the stylish and affordable 141-hp Aerio SX and promises an AWD version soon. Given the size, the 100,000-mile/seven-year warranty, and the price—around $15,000—you might want to buy two.

New and Noteworthy
Next month's installment will deal with all the latest skier-seductive concept cars likely to go into production in the near future. Three of them, however, will be on sale soon enough to warrant a brief mention here.The first is Volvo's first entry into the SUV market. Take it from us, Volvo has done its homework. The new XC90 T6 is a gem, and smart buyers are already putting deposits down on this twin-turbo, 268-hp Swedish Utility Vehicle.

Next are the Koreans. As good as the Hyundai Santa Fe is, you owe it to yourself to see and drive the new Kia Sorento. The fit and finish, power, size and style of this new mid-size SUV have dazzled the automotive press. Now it's your turn.

And if you thought Nissan was going to let the supercharged Xterra carry the flag for the youth market all by its lonesome, think again. The radically new Nissan Murano is due out about now. If an athletic stance and a great engine (the excellent 240-hp Altima V-6) sound good, then add all-wheel-drive, 18-inch wheels and a belt-driven Constant Velocity Transmission (CVT) with seven (!) manually selectable shift points to make things interesting.

Stay tuned. The newest of the new are coming to your favorite SKI magazine soon.

Related