The Ford Focus Electric is taking the fight to eco-themed rivals like the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid. If you want to impress the neighbors, tell them the EPA's equivalency formula pegs the Focus Electric at 110/99-mpg in city and highway driving. Of course, this fun fact is tempered by the Focus Electric's estimated total driving range of 76 miles — that's better than the Mitsubishi i and about even with the Nissan Leaf. The Focus Electric accepts charge at 6.6 kW versus 3.3 kW in the Leaf. According to Ford's estimate, that means a full recharge via a 220-volt outlet is accomplished in 4 hours, or half the time you'd need for the Leaf. Performance is peppy, especially at city speeds, and top speed is set at 84 mph. A display on the dashboard fills with butterflies if you're gentle about applying the gas pedal. MyFord mobile apps allow you to locate charging stations, or pre-heat and pre-cool the car while it's plugged into the grid (thereby saving battery life once you're on the road).
The Ford Focus range has expanded to include two new models this year: the sport-oriented ST version and an electric-powered model. The Focus 5-door hatchback continues to offer an excellent mix of agile handling, cargo room, and strong fuel economy. Under the hood is a 160-bhp 2.0-liter inline-4 coupled to a standard 5-speed manual, with a 6-speed PowerShift automatic or range-topping 6-speed PowerShift with SelectShift manual controls optional. The ST is all about carving corners, while the Titanium trim level loads the Focus 5-door with luxury touches like leather seating, a 10-speaker Sony audio system, SYNC with MyFord Touch, push-button start, and dual zone automatic climate controls. For a sinister touch, the SE Black Pack appearance package includes a piano black grille, 17-inch machined alloy wheels and, as you might have guessed, a black paintjob to match.
The Patriot is a compact sport utility vehicle featuring classic Jeep styling in an affordable package. While it will spend most of its life on city streets, the Patriot includes components that provide it with off-road capability unparalleled by other vehicles in its class.
The Patriot shares its small-SUV platform with the Jeep Compass, but provides off-road capability that its sibling does not. The Patriot is offered in either front-wheel drive or with a four-wheel drive system that features a "lock" mode to enhance traction during inclement weather. Three trim levels are available: Sport, Latitude and Limited. The front-wheel drive Sport and Latitude trims are powered by a 158-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, while all other models use a 172-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine (optional on the FWD Sport and Latitude). Available transmissions include a five-speed manual, a new six-speed PowerTech automatic, and a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with manual shift mode. Building on the Sport trim, the Latitude adds 17-inch aluminum wheels, heated front seats, fold-flat passenger seat, air conditioning and a leather steering wheel with integrated audio controls, as well as power mirrors, windows and door locks. The Limited is further equipped with a power driver's seat, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, satellite radio and a 6-disc CD/DVD player. An available Freedom Drive II Off-Road package enhances the Patriot's capabilities with a four-wheel drive off-road mode, hill descent control, all-terrain tires, skid plates, tow hooks and a brake lock differential. Standard safety features include anti-lock brakes with brake assist, electronic stability control with roll mitigation, traction control, side-curtain air bags for both rows of seating and a tire pressure monitor. New for 2014, front seat-mounted side airbags are now standard on all models.
The Jeep Patriot carries over with minimal changes for 2014. A new six-speed PowerTech automatic transmission is offered, and front seat-mounted side airbags are now standard on all models, enhancing safety.
Just in time for the start of baseball season, Infiniti is coming out swinging for the center of the luxury crossover market with the new 2013 JX35. Available in front or all-wheel-drive format, the 7-passenger JX35 is filling a noticeable niche in Infiniti’s lineup. It’s sized between the brand’s smaller and sportier FX crossover, and the large luxury-laden QX56 sport-ute. The exterior styling of the JX35 borrows more from the FX, thankfully, since the massive chrome grille and portholes of the QX56 would look pretty strange on on a smaller crossover – I’m not convinced they work on the larger QX56, to be honest.
Infiniti wants the FX35 to make a subtle styling statement, with more emphasis being placed on cabin room and comfort features, versus outlandish looks and fancy packaging. Not that the FX35 is a slouch, its all-aluminum DOHC 3.5-liter V-6 engine offers 265 bhp at 6400 rpm, along with 248 lb.-ft. of torque at 4400 rpm. Straight-line performance is smooth and steady, though not what we’d call rapid – at the time of our test drive Infiniti had not released any official 0 to 60 mph times. With more than 4200 lbs. to haul (in the slightly lighter front-wheel-drive model) the JX35 powertrain has its work cut out for it.
On the Road
Infiniti isn’t trying to reinvent the crossover segment, the Japanese luxury brand wants the JX35 to be a volume seller, and the point is driven home when you’re behind the wheel. As we’ve already noted, there is adequate power for most driving situations, the 3.5-liter V-6 is responsive and smooth, and engine noise is minimal. The ride and handling balance is tuned for everyday comfort, the independent strut arrangement up front and multilink arrangement at the rear kept the JX35 nicely controlled. Speed-sensitive steering allows for easy positioning of the JX35 at city speeds, though more feedback at higher speeds would be nice. Then again, in this market segment, Lotus-like handling isn’t a high priority.
Loaded with Features, and a Slick Second Row
Where the JX35 really excels is technology, especially when it comes to keeping you out of sticky situations – or at least free from visits to the repair shop. One of the safety items of particular note is Backup Collision Intervention, which uses a combination of sonar and radar parking sensors to detect approaching vehicles and other obstacles when reversing. One awkward moment occurred when an Infiniti rep asked if we’d used the system. Our quick confirmation that, yes, it had “really saved us” was met with wide-eyed silence. We were actually referring to the Around View rear backup cameras, which made one especially tight U-turn much easier (honest!).
Those who live life large and want a coupe to match would do well to consider the Mercedes CL-Class. Loaded with luxury and charisma, the CL550 sports a 4.7-liter bi-turbo direct-injection V-8 with 429 bhp and 4Matic all-wheel drive. The C63 AMG ups the ante with a 536-bhp 5.5-liter V-8, Eco stop-start technology, 7-speed multiclutch automatic transmission, sport suspension and unique styling cues. Moving up to the CL600 nets a 5.5-liter V-12 with 510 bhp. The range-topping CL65 AMG boosts 6.0-liter V-12 output to 621 bhp. A new spotlight function for the Night View Assist Plus safety feature coordinates infrared headlights and a night-vision camera to identify and warn roadside pedestrians while alerting the driver on a display screen.