As the last few body on frame SUVs hold on for dear life, we must embrace the fact that we’re going to need different ways of classifying utility vehicles – the lines between SUVs, crossovers, wagons, hatchbacks and even vans have forever been blurred.
So to kick things off, I’ve created a vehicle segment for “Adventure Commuter” vehicles. These are fuel efficient 4 cylinder hatched vehicles that are a bit more rugged looking than your run of the mill crossover and have 4 wheel or all wheel drive systems that cater to off road driving, decent ground clearance and cargo room.
I know – the Rav4 is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about extreme sports, off roading, camping, or make-shift RVing – but the little ‘yota has a few tricks up its sleeve and should be on your test drive list. The RAV4 is one of few crossovers that has a selectable 4WD lock feature. Many all wheel drive vehicles state that the system can send up to 50% of the available torque to the rear wheels – the key here is up to. The RAV4 is in this group of up-to’s during normal driving; but also has an AWD lock button that splits the torque equally front to rear. This equal split will give the driver better control on loose gravel or dirt roads, without relying on the computer to decide where to send the power. In addition to locked AWD, the RAV4 has a road trip range of 461.1 miles (29 mpg highway and a 15.9 gallon full tank) and 73.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down. Downside to the Rav is its measly 6.3 inches of ground clearance. The AWD RAV 4 with the 2.5L 4 cylinder engine starts at $25,965.
Volkeswagen Golf Alltrack
Yes I know the Alltrack isn’t going to be available for at least a year – but I’m still geeking out about it. I guess I have some bias because my first car was a VW – and I’ve always liked the little buggers. Wagons have one huge advantage over all SUVs and Crossovers – and that’s roof height. Anyone who has tried to lift a mountain bike over their head while balancing on a side step or tire will be able to appreciate the lower roof height on a wagon like the Alltrack. The 4Motion AWD system will use differential lockers (in addition to a center AWD lock) and off road mode to help you get to the trail head – the added ground clearance over the regular Sportwagen (20mm higher) will help you keep the vitals underneath safe – up to 6.3 inches at least. The Golf SportWagen has 66.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down – we can assume the same for the Alltrack. The FWD GolfWagen starts at $21,395 – I’ll expect the Alltrack to start around the $26,000 range when we see it next year.
Subaru XV Crosstrek
I have a love/hate relationship with the smallest of the Subarus. The rugged look of the Crosstrek is something you just don’t find in any other Subaru. The XV is more of a WUV (wagon utility vehicle); you get the benefit of the lower roof height of a wagon plus more ground clearance than most small SUVs at 8.7 inches . Subaru also managed to squeeze a 15.9 gallon fuel tank in this thing – giving it an impressive road trip range of 492.9 miles (31 mpg hwy) – and that’s not even the hybrid model! The trade off for range, ground clearance, AWD capability and rugged good looks is the driving performance. The 2.0L boxer engine with the CVT leaves a lot to be desired. I admittedly dislike the way CVTs perform and haven’t yet driven a CVT that I’ve enjoyed (or even been willing to put up with) but I’d still suggest test driving it and deciding for yourself. With a starting MSRP of just $21,595 for the 2.0i with the 5 speed manual transmission (you’ll need to bump up to the 2.0i Premium model to get the CVT starting at $23,295 before destination charges) – the little Subaru is definitely worth a look
Jeep Renegade Trailhawk
Even though Jeep denies that the Renegade is a replacement for the Patriot – its styling and off road capability make it the perfect successor for the smallest of the Jeeps. All 4 wheel drive Renegades have a 50/50 split 4WD lock function and Jeep’s select terrain system. The Trailhawk’s Active Drive Low 4×4 system adds hill decent control and a lower axle gear ratio to obtain a 20:1 crawl ratio. The 4WD control knob also has a 4WD Low button, but since there is no actual gear reduction I’m not sure what the button does besides lock the transmission in 1st gear – I’m still waiting on clarification from Jeep. The Trailhawk’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance matches the Crosstrek’s obstacle clearing ability – but better approach and departure angles, tow hooks and skid plates give the mini Jeep an edge over the Subaru. Cargo volume behind the front seats is just slightly less than the Subaru at 50.8 cubic inches – but beats all other vehicles in towing capability at 2,000 lbs. The Trailhawk’s biggest disappointment is the small fuel tank. You can hardly appreciate the 29mpg with only 12.7 gallons of fuel – giving the Trailhawk a best possible range of 368 miles. The Jeep Renegade Trailhawk starts at $25,995 (2.4L with the 9 speed automatic.)