Now that Exxon-Mobil and OPEC have apparently revealed they were in league with the devil, it's become fashionable to bash GM and Ford, et al, for having clogged America's streets with Hummers, Navigators and other battleship-esque SUVs.
However, there's no sense in deriding and belittling Detroit, because its auto mavens gave us precisely what we craved when gasoline was $2 per gallon -- super-sized socioeconomic validation on the hoof, delivering a beastly 12 mpg.
Within the last year, that picture has changed rapidly with the price of light, sweet crude undergoing fluctuations. These days, hulking four-wheel drive brontosauruses collect dust on dealership lots, while drivers flock to crossover utility vehicles (CUV), basically an SUV-lite riding around on a car or minivan platform.
One of the newest members of the CUV club is Nissan's Rogue, which shares its underpinnings with the Sentra. The diminutive Rogue has a cutie-pie exterior that probably repels red-blooded males in droves. Too bad, because this vehicle quickly makes you forget its cuteness quotient once you get behind the wheel.
I recently drove a Rogue SL model with front-wheel drive and an easy-to-digest $21,595 MSRP. Of that, $745 went to a destination charge, while the Rogue's only option, floor mats and a cargo mat, weighed in at $180.
Thanks to some impressive engineering, the Rogue is more than just a utilitarian appliance for shuttling people and groceries. An independent strut front suspension and an independent multi-link rear endow the Rogue with a surprisingly enjoyable degree of surefootedness.
It doesn't handle like a Maserati, nor does it behave like a bargain-basement, SUV wannabe. The Rogue's ride is car-like, which should be the case when you're essentially driving a Sentra decked out in SUV togs.
Nissan's 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine generates a modest 170 horsepower, but that's more than sufficient to hold your own in traffic. A continuously variable transmission ensures that you're always in the sweet spot where the Rogue's horsepower and 175 foot pounds of torque are concerned.
The other thing the engine and transmission do well in tandem is burn gas frugally. The EPA pegs the Rogue's fuel economy at 22 mpg city, 27 highway. To put this in real-world terms, after a week of light driving in Miami, the Rogue had only burned a little more than a quarter tank of gas. Hallelujah!
Like the Rogue, the CX-7 I tested had front wheel drive, and also had a four-cylinder engine. That's where the similarities end, because the Mazda's 2.3-liter, double overhead cam system is turbocharged and intercooled.
The additional hardware helps the CX-7 pump out 244 horsepower, which definitely makes driving a more sporting proposition. Instead of merely keeping pace with everyone else, now you have the ability to scythe your way through traffic, should the spirit hit you. But with that the extra power comes, you guessed it, diminished EPA numbers.
The Mazda gets 16 mpg around town, 24 on the highway. For some, that city number may be dangerously reminiscent of the bad ol' days of greedy SUVs and trucks.
As an aside, I find it interesting that Nissan and Mazda provided me with front-wheel drive versions of their crossover vehicles, when both come in all-wheel drive. It takes more fuel to power all four wheels, and I guess manufacturers have figured out that consumers aren't exactly in a 4 X 4 frame of mind right now.
One area where the CX-7 differs from your average CUV has to do with its platform, which was purpose-built, instead of being appropriated from a Mazda car or minivan.
Outwardly, the CX-7 is infinitely more stylish and alluring than the Rogue. Plus, Mazda is quick to let you know that the CX-7 earned the fed's highest safety ratings for frontal and side crashes.
You get a lot of value for the extra $6,420 the CX-7 costs over the Rogue.
Ford is in the crossover business, too, with a mid-size vehicle known as the Edge. I think it's the most handsome, most futuristic crossover in the game, with a distinctive chrome front grill whose design is downright ingenious.
The price of admission to be ensconced in all this gorgeous sheet metal is $36,915, which includes nearly $6,000 worth of options. The most expensive option was a navigation system with a $1,995 price tag, followed by a panoramic vista roof costing $1,395.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations guys and gals have bestowed a five-star side crash rating upon the Edge.
Given a choice between a turbocharged four and a big V6, I'd personally opt for the six-cylinder route every time. A six-pack always just feels more relaxed than a pressurized four-cylinder, and that's exactly the case with the Edge's 3.5-liter, 265-horespower engine.
Not only does the Ford produce more power than the Mazda, but its 24 mpg highway rating is 2 mpg better than the CX-7's. Both are rated an identical 16 mpg in the city.
The Edge, in case you were curious, shares its frame with Ford's Fusion, had front-wheel drive (once again, the all-wheel drive version was withheld) and also acquitted itself well in terms of handling. In fact, no CUV is a slouch in this regard. It's de rigueur that they have a far greater degree of nimbleness than the SUVs they've helped to bury.
Between the Rogue, CX-7 and Edge, which would be my personal chariot? This may surprise you, but the Rogue would get my vote. I don't have big people or things to haul around, hate whopping gas bills and feel that hefty car and insurance payments aren't the best way to spend my money.
I'm secure enough with my masculinity that the Rogue's girly looks wouldn't be a deterrent. In fact, here in macho Miami, the cuteness factor may even scare away potential car thieves.
This is not to be read in any way, shape or form as an indictment of the CX-7 or the Edge, because it's not. Rather, these are the ruminations of someone who knows doggone well $4-per-gallon gasoline is here to stay, so why not get ahead of the curve for a change?
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