I've been working 12 hour shifts at work and lapsed with blogging this week, but here's an old school down and dirty post about Cute Utes or small SUVs and the Cash For Clunkers aka CARS program. No photos, my PC is acting up. But you more than likely know all the players.
First, my observation has been this, Ford Motor Company has been shooting vehicles off the lots as a result of the CARS aka Cash For Clunkers program. My own personal experience is this, there are not many Ford Escape/Mercury Mariners on dealer lots. When I recently attempted to make a deal and it didn't work out, because of my complicated trade deal, I decided to wait a week, review the situation and try again. I'm hunting for a Mariner at this moment, expanding my search to neighboring counties, as here in Westchester there are none to be found.
And as part of my purchase process I've been looking at all sorts of Cute Utes. You may have read my recent piece comaring the aging Escape/Mariner twins to the new 2010 Chevy Equinox. I've also driven other cute utes and comparison shopped them. Here's a breakdown of some of them and my personal opinion of them. For the record, I was shopping with these criteria in mind, must have AWD and 4cylinder engine, must have leather interior and moonroof as optional equipment and must be on dealer lot, not special order.
Dodge Caliber/Jeep Compass/Patriot triplets; Well they're all available with AWD, but good luck finding a Dodge so equipped. Leather and Moonroof are options on all. I had driven the FWD version of the Dodge several years ago when comparison shopping the Mazda 3. When the Caliber first came out I liked it, the styling was unique and it has some interesting options and features. The Boston Acustics liftgate speaker system, lit cupholders and chilled glove box storage among them. The 1.8 and 2.4 engines had received good reviews and on my test drive power was adequate. But what killed it for me, then and now, was the CVT. I'm known to prefer a manual trans, but automatics are more popular and in this class of vehicle their the norm. The CVT is alien at best and just did not leave me with a fuzzy feeling. The two Jeep clones are the same under the skin. Now, I didn't even really pick too much on the cheap feeling plastics on the interior, in the class of vehicle that's not far from the norm.
2010 Chevy Equinox; This is a nice vehicle, no doubt about it, the interior is probably among the best in it's class, GM has done an amazing job, taking many of the enhanced feel cues from the Malibu. It's 180 hp 2.4 Ecotec engine is more than competative, it's again almost class leading, with more hp than most competitors and better mpg too. This was a difficult vehicle to walk away from. But it's big, it's too big, it's more like a mini van than a cute ute. This is one to watch folks. While it's too big for my liking, it's going to be perfect for folks with kids. I almost forgot to mention just how sweet that new 6 speed auto is, it's very nice, making great use of available power with no slipping or hunting.
Nissan Rogue; this one is sort of an odd duck. The interior had some nice points, but bordered on the Dodge's cheap feel too. Does that make any sense? A nice interior that also feels cheap? Styling is sort of bland, but not ugly like the Jeep twins. And the killer? CVT again.
Now, I looked up the Mitsubishi Outlander, but in AWD it only comes with a V6 so it's out. It shares platform with the Dodge/Jeep triplets but from what I've seen they aced the interior.
I even looked at Hyundai, but couldn't find one with an I-4, I believe they also only come with V6 when you check off the AWD option box. I didn't even look at the Toyota RAV-4, I hate Toyota with a passion, not even going to lie about that. Any Toyota I've sat in over the last 20 years had just felt like crap to the touch and you couldn't give me on, never mind get me to pay for one.
So, moving on, what else do I see as competition? The Honda CRV. It's 2.4 liter I-4 puts out 166 hp, close to Ford's 171 hp from 2.5 liters. The CRV has 4 wheel disc brakes but it seems to only have a 4 speed auto? As with any Honda, it's an appliance, with little in the way of spirit. Sure it'll last 200,000 miles without a doubt, but it's like Prozac on wheels, neither spirited driver or bucking bronco, it's just sort of neutral. Like the Ford Escape it's getting kind of long in the tooth and in need of a major refresh, but it's not bad. I know one family that traded in their Clunker Chevy Blazer on one and they love it. It's an alternative there's no doubting that.
I did not look at Subarus, their mpg ratings are always so low and prices so high. I know folks that have them and love them, but I just haven't gotten around to checking them out. Maybe soon I'll drag my butt to a dealer and give a Foreter a whirl. But before I do, I'll go to their website and build/price one to see if it's competative.
So, after all that what do I have to say? First I'll say that while the Escape/Mariner are dated and not cutting edge, they're still great little wagons and a solid value. The Equinox is nicer, a lot nicer, but it's more like a mini van, sort of like the Dodge Journey. The Honda CRV is the major competior here. I don't know yet where my purchase will be, I'm still hunting an elusive Mariner.