This month I
got an early look at three intriguing vehicles slated to go on sale
I drove the
2014 Jeep Cherokee, Mazda3 and Nissan Rogue at the North American
Car and Truck/Utility of the Year Awards comparison drive. My fellow
jurors and I evaluated those and other contenders for the 2014
awards at our annual comparison test.
announce the winners at the 2014 North American International Auto
Show at Cobo Center in Detroit on Jan. 13.
full reviews of the vehicles later, after longer evaluations, but I
learned a few things this week:
customers are likely to love the Cherokee whenever the delayed SUV
rolls into dealerships. Forget the hullabaloo about its
unconventional grille and headlights, the new Cherokee offers plenty
of goodies. The 3.2-liter V6 engine and nine-speed automatic
transmission are a combination no competitors can match. The
Cherokee also has three different four-wheel-drive systems for
varying degrees of off-road difficulty. A four-cylinder
front-wheel-drive model rated 31 m.p.g. on the EPA’s highway test.
driveline developed by American Axle Manufacturing boosts 4x4
Cherokee’s fuel economy, too.
features a big touch screen, soft materials and usable passenger and
cargo space. The Cherokee is quiet and comfortable on the road. I’ll
evaluate it off-road when I have one for a longer test.
Cherokee looks like a strong new player among popular midsize SUVs
such as the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai
Santa Fe Sport and Toyota RAV4.
full advantage of the clean sheet of paper approach it used
developing the Mazda3.
engineers and designers rethought every aspect of the compact sedan
and hatchback that are Mazda’s best-selling cars.
great, with the road presence of midsize cars, despite the 2014
model actually being a bit shorter than the 2013. The wheelbase,
passenger and cargo compartments all grew, however.
rethought everything about how it develops and builds vehicles,
engines and transmissions for this car. The controls feature Mazda’s
take on the rotary controller layout pioneered by BMW’s iDrive and
a touch screen that’s disabled when the vehicle is moving.
power steering feels exceptionally good, confirming Mazda’s
reputation as the sportiest Japanese automaker.
moved the Rogue closer to the heart of the five-passenger SUV market
with the new model.
overall length shrinks slightly for 2014, but its wheelbase, width
and height all increased. The result is a vehicle that looks bigger
and more practical than the outgoing model. The interior provides
plenty of room, although it’s hard to imagine many people getting
much use out of the optional third-row seat.
space features innovative removable floor boards that can be
rearranged for a wide variety of configurations, including two
shelves and a closed compartment passersby can’t see.
I have no idea
if any of these vehicles will be among the six finalists for car and
truck or utility of the year, much less what the winners will be.
The jurors have about 10 weeks of further comparison tests and two
rounds of voting before they select the winners.
Cherokee, Mazda3 and Nissan Rogue definitely contribute to a strong
crop of new models for the 2014 model year.