The real news with the 2009MY Forester is not the drivetrain; because you still get the 2.5L H4. Nor is it the trim levels available; from X to XT to the L.L. Bean edition. The real news is image. The next generation Forester will have a much bolder image for 2009 and as a result fewer snide ‘station wagon’ remarks.
Around here segmentation is very important, it’s not always easy and it changes every year. The whole, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…” thing doesn’t always work. When it comes to segmentation there are multiple variables at work, vehicle platform, body, seating position, competition, profitability, etc., etc. And when it comes to the Subaru Forester, it seems to be one of those vehicles lost in segmentation limbo. From Subaru owner blog sites to critics asking “Is it a station wagon or a ‘crossover’ it’s been somewhat of an issue plaguing the Subaru Forester.
The Nissan Rogue is a small Crossover SUV derived from the Nissan/Renault global C-Class platform – i.e. Nissan Sentra, Nissan Qashqai, Renault Megane. VehicleVoice was given the chance to drive several Rogues in the desert East of San Diego. Here’s the scoop.
Justification for Rogue – It Was Easy to Do
The 4-cylinder-only Rogue begs the question, “Why?” Did Nissan feel they HAD TO add a small Crossover SUV to their lineup to compete with the Honda CR-V? Yes. Is there anything particularly intriguing about Rogue? No. It is another is a plethora of conveniently sized, pleasant to drive, reasonably priced small wagons available with all wheel drive. So, I guess it is OK to call it a “Crossover SUV” because definitions in the segment are very broad.
Rogue’s styling does not turn heads. Its target market is the same one as all the other small wagons – married male in early 30s just starting a family and needing more utility than his previous sporty coupe (or more likely Chevrolet Silverado or Dodge Ram full size pickup) gave him. Not that we are down on the Rogue. It’s just that it doesn’t answer questions much differently from any other small Crossover SUV.
Nissan North America Vice President of Product Planning, Larry Dominique, gives walkaround of new Rogue in San Diego
Conclusion: Nissan had a competent, flexible global platform that could be efficiently stretched from a sedan (Sentra) to a small Crossover. It couldn’t carry a V6, but that’s OK because the class leading Honda CR-V doesn’t have a V6 either. So here we have a low cost program, assembled in Kyushu, Japan that can fill a niche in the broad Nissan lineup.
Highlander Evolves with More Size and Power
Ahead of sales in July 2007, Toyota used its traditional opening press conference of the 2007 Chicago auto show to launch the 2008 Highlander. Toyota’s new Highlander keeps its personality as a car-based crossover SUV, updated to the latest Camry/Avalon platform. The new Highlander is bigger and heavier, but Toyota gives it more power, with both the Hybrid and new standard 3.5L V6 estimated to deliver 270HP. The Hybrid goes on sale shortly after the standard model.
Highlander already offered a third-row seat, but the extra three inches in wheelbase and four inches in length should make for a more comfortable interior. The new size is a bit bigger than the Honda Pilot and the same length as the Chevrolet Equinox. It is bigger than the Mazda CX-7 and Ford Edge, but smaller than Mazda’s CX-9 or the newly renamed Ford Taurus X (the XSUV formerly known as the Ford Freestyle). Highlander is better sized for those using the third row as occasional-use seating, instead of emergency seats.
So, the question is whether or not the new 2008 out-Pilots the excellent Honda Pilot?
As the pendulum swings towards smaller vehicles and ‘socially conscious’ consumers Volvo has decided to shrink some of their XC90s. Volvo will expand their Crossover SUV lineup to compete in the arena with vehicles like the Lexus RX350, BMW X3, Toyota RAV4, Honda CRV and Mercury Mariner (Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute). Some may ask… Does Volvo need another soft roader 5-passenger SUV positioned under its 7-passenger XC90? Is Volvo concluding like many manufacturers that multiple SUVs are required to compete in today’s auto market?
XC60 Violates Volvo’s Naming Strategy
Codenamed Y278, then dubbed XC50, the production version will be called the XC60. This name violates Volvo’s own naming strategy. That strategy, that they have been implementing over the past few years, has each hatchback, wagon or SUV having an odd-number – C30, V50, V70, XC70, XC90. The sedans are all “S” names with even numbers – S40, S60, S80. So, here comes the XC60 and throws all this hard work out the window. Wonder why?
Nissan’s introduction of its 2008 Rogue Crossover SUV at the North American International Auto Show launches a Nissan competitor to the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester and Mitsubishi Outlander. Rogue’s styling, while “pleasant”, is too milquetoast for even a small Crossover SUV in the first decade of the 21st Century.
VehicleVoice and AutoPacific staffers were given a download on Rogue at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, but couldn’t really report on it until now. The Rogue is clearly derived from the European Nissan Quashqai
Rogue’s Styling Does Not Communicate Tough, Rugged Bad-Boy. It’s a Chick’s SUV
With Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi adopting much stronger design themes for their small SUVs, Nissan launches a smoothly tailored wagon designed to be inoffensive to anybody. There is nothing intimidating or in-your-face about the Rogue. In fact the most intimidating aspect may be its name.
Nissan perceives that Rogue will communicate a “bad-boy” image that will appeal to young males, but we see only a girly SUV… nothing macho about its looks. So, Rogue will go the way of the many other soft-roaders and be bought by women of all ages. Rogue certainly is not a Crossover Xterra. It looks like a wimp-roader.
Crossover SUVs outsold traditional SUVs for the first time in 2006. Nissan has been behind the curve in getting into the Crossover SUV business relying instead on its traditional entries – Xterra, Pathfinder, Armada. The closest Crossover SUV in Nissan’s stable is the Murano (a winner of AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award) and the Infiniti FX (no, the Murano and FX are not similar – Murano is based on a front wheel drive car platform – FX is based on a rear wheel drive platform). So, Rogue gives the Nissan brand something below Murano to compete with the smaller Crossover SUVs.
Dodge showed concept and production versions of Nitro at the Chicago Auto Show, in 2005 and 2006 respectively (click for our coverage of the 2006 reveal). In September, VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents had our first opportunity to drive it. Starting at Broadway Pier in the San Diego Harbor, we drove the Nitro on a long, winding route to Palm Springs.
Related to the Jeep Liberty
and built in the same facility, Nitro is bigger, has an all-new suspension, and is optimized for the on-road side of life. Entering this segment late, Dodge’s best opportunity for creating a buzz was exterior styling or innovative new interior features. Dodge saw an opportunity for an in-your-face look with a decidedly male-oriented bias and went for it; the brand’s established in-your-face attitude would be best supported by an aggressive, in-your-face mid-size SUV and there aren’t many of those out there already. Nitro competes with soft-road or crossover SUV entries including Toyota RAV4
, Saturn VUE
, and latest Mitsubishi Outlander
as well as with more traditional SUVs Nissan Xterra
, Kia Sorento
, and Jeep’s own Liberty. In this arena, only the Xterra wears strongly masculine styling.
Updates Just in Time
Sorento Trying to Maintain or Improve Position in Viciously Competitive SUV Segment
At the 2006 New York auto show, Kia used its commercial spokesman to help introduce an updated version of the Sorento and remind us all of our SUV rights; AutoPacific and VehicleVoice correspondents were on hand to see the show. Though the exterior changes are subtle, the Sorento due in showrooms in late summer 2006 gets the power and interior updates it will need to remain competitive against a crop of new entries.
Sorento competes in the Standard Mid-Size SUV segment wnere its most direct competitors are the Nissan Xterra
and the new-for-2007MY Dodge Nitro
. Xterra and Nitro offer truck-based platforms and are standard in rear-wheel-drive form rather than front-wheel drive. The Sorento, Xterra, and Nitro are cross-shopped against car-based entries as well, including the recently launched Toyota RAV4
and new-for-2007MY Suzuki
XL7 and Ford Edge
. (The XL7 was introduced at the New York show, too; click here
to see our comments on that model.) Hyundai’s Santa Fe
is also all new for 2007, though it doesn’t use the same platform or engines.
All in all, this is a model year with lots of either new or relatively fresh product in the Standard Mid-Size SUV segment (as defined by AutoPacific), making it an exciting time to choose among them. More horsepower is available, much of it without sacrificing fuel economy as dramatically as before, and many entries are larger.
AutoPacific has said since its launch that the Sorento is a nicely done package offered at a nice price, a view also supported by real-world responses to the company’s annual survey of new owners. Customers liked Sorento much that it won AutoPacific’s coveted Vehicle Satisfaction Award
in its first year. But with the 2007 model year, many Standard Mid-Size SUV entries include standard or optional V6 powerplants delivering 250HP or more. Sorento’s previous 192HP 3.5L V6 would have left Kia at a power disadvantage, for which price may not have been able to compensate.
While exterior changes are just enough to let you know there is something different about this year, the Sorento’s interior updates bring nicer wood and metal interior trim materials, the revised center stack and instrument panel gauges give the Sorento a more refined, less clumsy look and atmosphere.
Editor’s NOTE: The Multi-S was launched as the Kia Rondo late in 2006.
Small Minivan Explores Reaction at Best-Attended U.S. Auto Show
As the Chicago Auto Show has a reputation for having the highest attendance figures of all U.S. auto shows, what better place to test a possible new people mover? While this concept was first shown last September on Kia‘s stand at the 2005 Frankfurt auto show, Chicago marked its first North American appearance. AutoPacific and VehicleVoice contributors were on hand at both showings, and can promise that there were no real changes between Frankfurt and Chicago, aside from Kia showing a gasoline engine in the States and a diesel in Frankfurt.
In Korea and Europe, where North American minivans are too large and the exception rather than the rule for family transportation, Kia sells a minivan smaller than the Sedona. The second-generation of this vehicle is being developed under the codename UN, and it is expected to join the U.S. lineup before the end of 2006. While the final verdict on the Kia’s U.S. nomenclature is not in, Multi-S is reportedly in the running.
The UN will be a more modern and fully featured than the example currently sold in international markets, making it more competitive in Europe as well as giving it a chance in the States. The concept dimensions indicate a vehicle slightly bigger than the Mazda5 and that the U.S. version is likely to get a four-cylinder gasoline engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.
Kia Motors America Vice President of Marketing Ian Beavis characterized Multi-S competition as “drawing from station wagons, vehicles like the Mazda5 and even small SUVs. The Multi-S did pretty well against the new Toyota RAV4 in research.”
Believe it or not, one of the most anticipated new vehicles introduced at the 2006 North American Auto Show in Detroit is the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe mid-size SUV. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) are watching this introduction very, very closely because it will demonstrate the strength of Hyundai’s research and development process and ability to produce quality products at its new assembly plant in Alabama.
This it the second generation Santa Fe. The first Santa Fe surprised pundits when it turned out to be a darn good vehicle and actually won four of the five AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Awards during its five years in production. The Santa Fe turned out to be a good value, good quality, highly warranted, if quirkily styled sport utlity vehicle what out-pointed products like the Ford Escape and Toyota Highlander in owner satisfaction.
Hyundai has high expectations for the new Santa Fe and hopes to fill half of its Montgomery, Alabama plant with Santa Fe volume. The other half of the capacity is devoted to the new Sonata sedan. Assuming quality is top-notch and Hyundai can maintain its value proposition and strong warranty coverage, the Santa Fe promises to be a winner.
The Hyundai press release for the Santa Fe is shown below.
We at VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and the VehicleVoice Blog-o-Rama (http:/.vehiclevoice.com) often feel that we are fighting an uphill battle concerning the use of the word “Crossovers”. This is a term that has come to mean SUVs based on car platforms and mechanicals. That’s fine. However, it is industry jargon that has not been adopted by the public. The media, picking up on industry jargon is forcing the term where no-one needs it.
An SUV is an SUV or Its NOT
Based on our research, it’s simple. American vehicle buyers have categorized vehicles into several basic categories: cars and trucks further subdivided into luxury cars, mid-size cars, economy/compact cars, sports/sporty cars, pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and vans/minivans.
The SUV category seems to be giving folks the most trouble. To a typical vehicle-buyer, an SUV is an SUV is an SUV. There are big ones and small ones, but an SUV is an SUV. Muddying the playing field, however, is the notion of a “crossover”. A Traditional SUV in this more complicated world is a truck-based SUV like Ford Explorer or Toyota Sequoia. A crossover SUV is an SUV based on a car platform, a “unit-body” platform. But people often forget that the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, Mitsubishi Montero are all based on unit-body platforms but are not car-based. Does this make them a crossover? NO!
Chevrolet Trailblazer… a “real” Truck-Based SUV
Post-Modern SUV… Soft Roader… NOT Crossover
So, it’s pretty muddy. What crossovers need to be are at-a-glance SUVs. The basics of the SUV equation are well known so deviating is a risk. An SUV must have a basic two box bodystyle, relatively tall glass for good visibility, a relatively upright windshield that provides a stiff A-Pillar allowing easy ingress/egress, and a command seating position. At the same time interior roominess and the ability to carry cargo is very important. From our perspective, this most American of vehicle types is very easy to understand but easy for a foreign car company to get wrong.
Pontiac Torrent… Car-Based Post-Modern (Crossover) SUV
Let’s read on about how USA Today recently reacted to the issue of “crossovers”…