Here come the ‘clean diesels’ and crossovers

March 19, 2008


Automakers are bringing more fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles to market. But according to Consumer Reports, not all of those models can be considered economy cars; the ranks include SUVs and sporty cars designed to squeeze more out of a gallon of fuel.

Thanks to cleaner, ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel and new emissions technologies, more diesel-powered vehicles will be available in the coming year. But the rise of "clean diesels" won't stop the march toward hybrids; Ford and General Motors are preparing to roll out more hybrid cars.

A variety of new sedans, crossovers and small SUVs are also set to appear in the next year, as well as redesigned and freshened large pickups from Dodge and Ford, respectively.

CR previewed some of the more notable models, based on the observations, insights and experience of its auto engineers and editors. Tests of these models will be included in future issues of the magazine.

CR's "sneak peeks" at the crossovers, diesels and trucks that are coming down the road include the following:

Ford Flex

The Taurus X, upon which it's based, blurs the line between a wagon and an SUV, while the boxy Flex blurs the line between a minivan and an SUV. On sale this summer, it will have seating for up to seven across three rows and a spacious, versatile interior.

¢ CR's take: The Flex's low window line provides an open, airy feel and good visibility.

BMW 335d

The first of BMW's new wave of clean-diesel vehicles is this 3 Series sedan, due this fall. It has a twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter, six-cylinder diesel that could produce 265 hp.

¢ CR's take: Diesel engines typically provide about 30 percent better fuel economy than similar-sized gas engines, but the gas-powered 328i CR tested got equally good highway fuel economy.

Dodge Ram and Ford F-150

Dodge and Ford are introducing updated full-sized pickups this fall. Both offer a wide variety of trim lines, bed lengths, cabs and drivetrains.

¢ CR's take: The Ram has received a more significant redesign than the F-150, which has been freshened, really. Dodge's move to coil springs in the rear is an overdue development in pickups and should be adopted by other trucks.

Toyota Venza

Toyota says this crossover blends the handling of a sports sedan, the flexibility of an SUV and the amenities of a luxury vehicle.

¢ CR's take: The Venza might be Toyota's answer to those who lamented the demise of the Camry wagon.

Dodge Challenger

This throwback muscle car, which will be ready for the street this spring, is based on a shortened-wheelbase version of the Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger platform and is styled much like its 1970s namesake.

¢ CR's take: A faithful replica of the original, the Challenger will compete with the Ford Mustang and forthcoming Chevrolet Camaro, just as it did three decades ago.

Volvo XC60

Volvo's new compact SUV will showcase the Swedish carmaker's new safety innovations -- for example, a new feature that will autonomously slow or stop the car from speeds up to 30 mph if it senses a collision before the driver reacts.

¢ CR's take: A newcomer to the upscale small-SUV category, the XC60 will compete with vehicles such as the BMW X3 and Acura RDX.

Honda Pilot

The second generation of Honda's midsized SUV is available this spring. Like the outgoing model, the new Pilot offers seating for eight and the second- and third-row seats fold flat into the floor.

¢ CR's take: The Pilot's redesign keeps its boxy, chiseled look to help maximize interior room.

Subaru Forester

The redesigned Forester is longer, taller and more SUV-like than its predecessor. Subaru added 3.6 inches to the wheelbase to increase rear legroom.

¢ CR's take: The old Forester ranked high in CR's ratings, but it needed this new version's extra legroom.

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