When the Range Rover was introduced over four decades ago, it revolutionized the market by introducing an upscale SUV that was in its element on city streets or muddy dirt tracks. It’s remained the epitome of a classy SUV ever since. Could the Range Rover Evoque do the same for small crossover SUVs? This luxury SUV is powered by a 240-bhp turbo-4 engine, yet it’s so much lighter than a giant Range Rover it delivers similar performance and far better fuel economy. It has a roomy interior and can tackle off-road challenges with the same aplomb thanks to use of the same off-road assist technologies. The 5-door Evoque might be more practical, but it goes up against some tough competitors. The 3-door Evoque, on the other hand, really has no competition yet.
With more than eight million sold since 1973, the Civic needs no introduction. Yet the all-new ninth generation for 2012 does. Sedans and coupes gain more sophisticated styling, improved fuel economy and new technology. Civic DX, LX, EX and HF receive a massaged 140-bhp 4-cylinder engine that nets EPA 41 mpg on the highway for the last. Sporty Si models boast a new 201-bhp 2.4-liter four mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. The Civic Natural Gas returns with expanded availability nationwide. Honda gives the Civic Hybrid a larger 1.5-liter gas engine, more powerful electric motor and lithium-ion batteries resulting in 44 mpg ratings for city and highway. A multi-information display, Eco Assist and Econ mode are standard on most Civics.
Fiesta: The name says it all about this engaging B-size contender that has its 4-door sedan or 5-door hatch utilitarianism somehow infused with the playful DNA of a go-kart. Its pushbutton-start 1.6-liter Ti-VCT I-4 is a willing partner to either a 5-speed manual or 6-speed dualclutch automatic, the latter delivering as much as 40 mpg (hwy) when bundled in the available Super Fuel Economy package that also brings along specific aero enhancements and low-rolling-resistance tires. A comprehensive safety suite including AdvanceTrac electronic stability control and a virtual cocoon of seven airbags is standard, and the Fiesta fairly bristles with class-exclusive communications and entertainment technology. Buy it for frugality or fun.
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!).
Mazda has championed the rotary engine for many years and continues to produce the Renesis twin-rotor Wankel for the RX-8 4-door sports car. Seem confusing? Not really, as Mazda brought out the RX-8 in 2003 and it has proven to be a fun-to-drive sports car that will carry four adults in a pinch. When pared with a 6-speed manual gearbox, the rotary develops 232 bhp, while output drops to 212 bhp when mated to the 6-speed automatic transmission. Ride and handling are smooth and slick, interior comfort is quite high and if you want to have the ultimate RX-8, order the R3 edition with stiffer suspension, Bilstein shock absorbers, a rear spoiler and more.