Like most of its corporate stablemates, the Town & Country was sent in 2011 to refinement school, and returned with a re-engineered suspension, richer interior and new 3.6-liter 283-bhp V-6 with 6-speed automatic. For 2012, Chrysler burnishes the Town & Country's luxury credentials by making leather seating and rear-seat DVD standard equipment on all models. Also new is Sapphire Blue interior lighting. Returning are the T&C's many virtues: one-touch fold-down Stow 'n' Go seating, standard power sliding doors, power liftgate, Uconnect Web, side-curtain airbags for all three rows and overhead ambient lighting. The SafetyTec package includes the latest features such as blind-spot monitoring, rear crosspath detection and rain-sensitive wipers.
The Forester 2.5i offers strong mid-range torque and we were pleased by its willing performance. This non-turbocharged engine is rated at 170 horsepower peaking at 5800 rpm. Its torque, that force that propels you away from intersections, peaks at 174 pound-feet from 2000 to 4000 rpm, a broad range. That makes the Forester 2.5i feel responsive when driving around town. Acceleration performance when drag racing from a standstill is slow, however, taking a very long 9.3 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph.
Fuel economy for the Forester 2.5i is an EPA-estimated 24/32 mpg City/Highway with CVT, 22/29 mpg with 6-speed manual transmission. Regular gasoline is recommended, so there's no need to buy more-expensive Premium. Over a week of mixed local driving, a Forester 2.5i we drove averaged 23.1 mpg, not great but acceptable for an all-wheel-drive compact utility vehicle.
We think the Forester 2.5i works best with the 6-speed-manual; the available CVT does sap some of this engine's energy. We liked the manual transmission's crisp shifter and smooth clutch.
Forester 2.0XT can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in a quick 6.2 seconds. Forester 2.0XT models feature a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine rated at 250 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque between 2000 and 4800 rpm. Indeed, we found the 2.0XT's willing turbo engine runs out of steam at a modest 6000 rpm. The 2.0XT engine uses a combination of direct fuel injection, high compression (10.6:1), Subaru's Dual Active Valve Control System (D-AVCS) and intercooled turbocharging. Forester 2.0XT models come with the CVT.
Fuel economy for Forester 2.0XT models is an EPA-rated 23/28 mpg. Premium gasoline is recommended for these high-compression, turbocharged engines.
Not surprisingly, this compact utility vehicle is no fire-breathing track carver, but the Forester 2.0XT's sport suspension on more aggressive 18-inch tires and wheels is definitely sharper and more responsive than the standard set-up, and its larger ventilated-rotor brakes are stronger and more effective.
The Buick Verano is a compact luxury sedan that features upscale styling and progressive technologies, along with comfortable seating for five and a high level of standard equipment.
The front-wheel drive Verano is available in four trim levels: Base, Convenience Group, Leather Group and Premium Group. It is powered by either a 180-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with direct fuel injection, or a 250-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine for the Premium Group trim. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode, and an optional six-speed manual is available with the 2.0-liter engine. Every Verano is outfitted with 18-inch aluminum wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, satellite radio, USB port and Buick's IntelliLink system, which allows smartphone integration and audio streaming through the vehicle's infotainment centre, controlled via a seven-inch LED touch screen. The Convenience Group adds heated exterior mirrors, heated front seats, an auto-dimming interior rearview mirror and a 6-way power driver's seat. The Leather Group is further equipped with leather upholstery, passive entry/start, upgraded audio and a heated steering wheel, while the Premium Group is visually distinguished by dual exhaust outlets and a flushmount rear spoiler. Standard safety features include 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist, electronic stability and traction control systems, rearview camera, OnStar and a tire pressure monitor, as well as ten airbags. Ultrasonic rear parking assist sensors, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and Side Blind Zone Alert are standard on all but the Base trim level.
The Buick Verano carries over with minimal changes for 2014. A universal garage door opener is now standard on all but the Base trim level, and heated front seats have been added to the Convenience Group. Additionally, new safety features - including Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning - are standard on all but the Base trim.
Toyota's curvaceous crossover now comes in a choice of three trim levels. The LE replaces the former base model while gaining standard heated mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer. Moving up to the midrange XLE adds leather trim, Smart Key with push-button start, a backup camera and power tailgate. Carryover 2.7-liter 4-cylinder and 3.5-liter V-6 engines team with front- or all-wheel drive. The flagship Limited V-6 has standard navigation, panoramic sunroof, JBL Synthesis sound with satellite radio, USB/iPod port and Bluetooth streaming audio. Option packages enable these features to be added to the XLE. Designed at Toyota's Calty Southern California studios, the Venza continues to deliver a smooth, carlike ride with SUV-style cargo capacity.
The Ford Flex is a full-size family vehicle that features three-rows of seating, bold styling and is highly functional. The Flex competes directly in the popular crossover segment.
The front-wheel or all-wheel drive Flex is powered by a 285-hp 3.5-liter Ti-VCT V6 engine. Available on the all-wheel drive Limited only is the 355-hp 3.5-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 engine. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with SelectShift. Available features include a Multi-Panel Vista Roof, interior refrigerator, and capless fueling. Standard safety features include four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock brakes, electronic stability and roll control, six airbags, and a tire pressure monitor.
After a 2013 refresh, the Flex rolls into 2014 unchanged.