NFR: Checked out some 'Cute Utes' this week


Active Member
On my way home from fishing in Idaho I stopped off to check out some potential replacements for my old Explorer. Here are my somewhat brief impressions of those test rides.

2014 Subaru Forester. Competent, bland, not great handling and pokey. This would be a decent rig with a real transmission but the new CVT sucks what little life was in the rather docile Boxer engine. A nice dependable set of wheels for someone who has absolutely no interest in the driving experience but just wants to get there. I did like the light colored interior which let a lot of light into the cabin and kept the small space from seeming claustrophobic.

2014 Subaru Crosstech. I was prepared to really like this vehicle. The concept is good-a 5 door hatchback with adequate room inside and a raised suspension that gives more ground clearance than a standard sedan but without the huge step up in a truck or SUV. It too had a light colored interior that contributed to an overall pleasent ambiance inside. It isn't excessively over styled and just manages to look more purposeful than the standard hatchback. But it had 3 fatal flaws. First the dreaded CVT where you put your foot to the floor and the engine screams while the transmission(?) labors to catch up. Some people won't even notice or care since they only want a car that shifts itself. And these things are selling like hotcakes. The second problem was more severe-the interior noise at 70mph. It was pretty much like being inside a rock tumbler and I had a hard time believing that a modern vehicle could be so loud. It was a short test drive as I just wanted out as quickly as possible. And then there was the seat. I have sat on better bleacher seats at a Little League game.

2014 Mazda CX-5 2.5L. The new engine has transformed this rig into the king of all the small utes. Exceptional handling was always it's strong point but the engine now validates all the attention given to the suspension pieces. The 6 speed automatic seems just flawless and doesn't seem like it wants to nanny you into a higher gear as quickly as possisble. Downshifts are smooth and positive and it feels good to have it shift through the gears rather than the blender-on-wheels experience of the CVT rigs. This test drive took about 40 minutes with a forray up into the hills on a narrow road with lots of tight turns and switchbacks. This is the one if you do a lot of mountain driving-precise steering(something not common in CUV's, SUV's etc), plenty of power, the transmission always in the right gear and smile inducing cornering and road holding.

It seems bigger inside the other rigs I tested but still not big enough in back to sleep in. But for one guy on an overnighter the passenger seats slides way forward exposing about a 2 foot gap between the front seat and folded down backseat. I immediately saw the potential to build a locker out of baltic birch plywood with a padded top that could occupy that space and hold a mountain of gear in addition to providing enough length for a six+ footer to stretch out and sleep.

The down side? Well, the one I was in had an all black interior and it just sucked all the light and life out of the interior. Although larger than the other vehicles I tested it seemed small and confining inside and looking into the back seat was like viewing a coal bin on a cloudy day. And although quieter than the Subaru offerings interior noise levels are nothing to brag about either.

These things all push up against 30K so there is not a whole lot to differentiate them there. My choice would be the one that was best behaved on mountain roads since I live in the mountains and the Mazda left little doubt about which is the most buttoned-down chassis.



the sultan of swing
I as well am looking at new pickup trucks and have discouver with increased fuel economy you also get wind noise ,cramped cabs & no exceleration


Active Member
David, the Ram 1500 will begin selling in the 3rd quarter of this year with a 3.0L turbo diesel. It is not the 'smaller' truck that we have all been waiting for but it will deliver massive torque and great mileage for a full sized truck. And I predict at massive cost as well. I can see the dealers getting limited allotments of these at first and loading them up with every concievable option to maximize the transaction price. The same engine is already being installed on the Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit model and I saw one priced out at $76,000!

All the guys that have been clamoring for a 1/2 truck with a diesel engine and said they would buy one in a heartbeat if it showed up will probably have to pony up about 50K to be a player in that market. That's several heartbeats.

Right now your best bet for a diesel in a smaller truck might come from GM when they introduce their new replacements for the old Canyon/Colorado mid sized trucks. These rigs will have strong diesel power overseas but it is unclear if they will bring it here. One encouraging factor is the introduction of the new Chevy Cruz diesel small car. Early reports are that the engine is remarkably smooth and delivers astounding mileage. The sad part about the Cruz is that the excellent station wagon version is not being sold here. That would be a great engine in a mini truck.

If the GM twins come with diesel power and are successful--and I hope they are--then the other manufacturers will have to bust their ass to catch up. We could all benefit from some competition that would slow the sales of the behemoths they are trying to shove down our throats now. I drove a new Ram 1500 4X this week and was just appalled at it's size. I am about 6' tall yet the height of the floor was about 2'' above my knees. The top of the tailgate is even with my shoulder. The hood looks like you could land a chopper on it and the forward visibility is yards down the road instead of feet. Too much truck, too much money but great profits for the manufacturer. When do we get what we want-an AWD unibody truck big enough to haul a 'toon or couple of tubes with a 6' bed and somewhere between 30-40mpg for under 25K? China is probably working on one now.

We just had a rear tire explode on 395 on our way home fro Tri Cities. It tore the Kia Sorento's fender up pretty bad. I couldn't help thinking that if it had happened on the Jeep Wrangler it would be an easy - and cheap - repair. I'm thinking that if I were on the lookout for a new SUV it would be a 4-door Jeep Wrangler.

Any buzz out there about diesel engines in smaller trucks? Gotta happen someday or my grand plan is in trouble.
I saw a Ford Ranger with a Diesel in the Bahamas last month. They are out there, but must not meet US standards or something cause they don't sell them here..

Tim Cottage

Formerly tbc1415
When do we get what we want-an AWD unibody truck big enough to haul a 'toon or couple of tubes with a 6' bed and somewhere between 30-40mpg for under 25K?
Just as soon as one of the more agile and alert manufacturers identifies a significant market for that configuration in the US. Due to the two aforementioned attributes its not likely to be one of the big three.


Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
That was yet another great review, Ive. My 5-spd '04 Forester drives OK, especially with the new rubber. Its no ralley car, but I usually don't push it. It has enuff giddyup when I put my foot down.

Now I know why I like my light-colored interior.

My new Cooper CS4s are much quieter than my old Ohtsu's, which were by far the noisiest tires I ever drove on. Nope, it wasn't my roof racks nor my side-view mirrors making all that was the tires. I think I lost at least 20 decibels of road noise at 60 - 70mph.
Seems like a new rig, almost. I can play the radio or a CD at highway speeds and actually hear the music now.
Cooper tire is having a rebate deal on some tires right now (June/July), and I'm getting $60 back from them.

Ive, does Subaru still deliver new cars with Yokohama Geolanders on 'em? Those tires have a reputation for being noisy and have earned the nickname, "GeoSquealers."

I have been playing around with my tire pressure. Subaru recommends 29 F and 28 R for an empty rig, (and 29 F and 34R for towing or a full load). The 29/28 gives a softer, but noisier ride, and the rolling resistance is noticeable. I pumped my new Coopers up to 32 F and 31 R and it quieted down even more, and I lost much of the noticeable rolling resistance. That didn't seem to hurt its cornering ability any. I re-gained about 2 or 3 mpg of fuel economy with the lower rolling resistance, too.