n honor of the new Obama administration I am doubling up on the car reviews. Why? Because both models are green-ish and it seems a lot more efficient.
The first is the for Inc., the second is for the parental website CarandCaboodle.com. It's a website for young parents, which makes perfect sense considering I have no kids and don't own a car.
Can we flip the script? Yes we can!
And because it needs to be said. Hell of an effort, Donovan. Williams was with you in spirit.
DRIVES: IT'S A DIESEL. IT'S AN SUV. AND IT'S CLEAN.
I paid tribute to the memory of inventor Rudolf Diesel, born 150 years ago, as well as to the Bay Area's green freak flag as I tooled around San Francisco in a Mercedes-Benz ML320 BlueTec, which has a newly cleaned up diesel engine. After a few states (starting with California) banned the sale of light-duty diesel vehicles because of their emissions, Mercedes put AdBlue, a solution that zaps emissions, in its diesel models. When fueled with ultra-low-sulfur diesel, the ML320 BlueTec is clean as a whistle -- or at least a lot cleaner than the smelly rattlers of diesels gone by.
The SUV's V-6 engine isn't a burner in any sense of the word, but the seven-speed automatic transmission was lively and had ample power. The four-wheel-drive SUV handled the nearly vertical streets of San Francisco with aplomb. I frequently found use for its downhill speed regulator, a type of cruise control that limits your velocity on steep declines, which helped calm my queasy stomach on Lombard Street. The roomy interior, with an optional Harman/Kardon surround-sound stereo and power sunroof, even kept things comfortable on the way to a 49ers game. The back easily held a full-size grill, a large cooler, chairs, and numerous bags filled with meat and cheese without requiring the three healthy dudes in the second-row seats to give up their 40 inches of legroom. And the power liftgate made unloading the back a little easier.
Mercedes-Benz ML320 BlueTec
$49,475; $62,100 as tested
210-hp 3-liter V-6 turbo diesel engine; 398 pound-feet of torque; 18/24 mpg
The GPS handily points out the gas stations that carry diesel. Plus, the gas mileage is pretty good, and the tank holds 25 gallons, so you can go more than 500 miles on a fill-up.
The suspension is a bit bouncy, and you have to get the AdBlue tank filled about every 10,000 miles at a dealership. If the tank runs dry, the engine will start only 20 more times until you refill it.
"The ML320 BlueTec is clean, efficient, and quiet," says Gary Vasilash, editor in chief of Automotive Design & Production. "Worries that the engine will announce your arrival as if you were pulling up in a big rig should be allayed."
If 2009 is the year of change, then it’s fair to ask: Will we be driving garbage-fueled hybrids back-and-forth to our solar-powered pods, paid for in full through middle-class tax cuts, by the end of the first 100 days of the Obama administration?
It’s important to remember that “change” tends to come slowly in the auto industry…and just about everywhere else for that matter. Exhibit A, the 2009 Chevy Traverse. The new crossover isn’t going to WOW! anybody, but in the family car scheme of things, it’s not a bad way to tote your daughter’s basketball team to-and-fro.
For starters, the Traverse is big, akin to the missing link between its larger SUV forerunners and its smaller crossover ilk. It’s made for seven passengers, and the lucky two in the middle row get captain’s chairs, which might great for skinny tweens but weren’t really comfortable for bulky adults (this one, anyhow.)
The Traverse I tested was the LTZ, which comes in at $39,810. All three versions feature a 3.6L V-6 engine with the LS and the LT featuring 281hp and 253 lb.-ft. of torque. The LTZ offers 288hp and 288 lb.-ft. of torque and (radio-friendly) hip-hop worthy 20” wheels. The Traverse isn’t going to blow anybody away with it’s power, but then again, it’s not supposed to. The Traverse isn’t a revolution; it’s a small step in the evolution of family motoring. To that end, the important LTZ safety features include a camera display in the corner of the rearview mirror to ensure smooth reversing, and a built-in enhanced blind-spot checker in the side mirror just to be on the safe side.
As for road trips, the Traverse handled the wintry Northeast highways just fine. The wife and I filled it up with holiday gifts and getaway luggage for the icy drive from New York City to Martha’s Vineyard, and barely scratched the invisible surface of cargo space. Lay the seats flat, and the Traverse can open up to a whopping 118 cubic feet, more than enough room to bring your own groceries on a weekend ski trip. Trust me, you’ll enjoy the ride as the Traverse offers enough of the creature comforts to make a road trip bearable. The LTZ has cooled–and more importantly in the subzero Massachusetts temperatures–heated leather seats that can be maneuvered into whatever positions suits you best, I recommend cranking up the lumbar support. The Traverse has XM/Sirius (Is it now Sirixium?) with the first three months free, DVD players for the kids and standard Bluetooth connectivity.
Perhaps the most important element is that the Traverse gets 17/24 mpg, not bad for a vehicle that weighs in at 4,919. No, it’s not the green machine running on grass that we’ve been promised, but let’s give the new guy a few months to get situated. Then we’ll demand our flying cars and fat-free Snickerdoodles!
In the interim, let’s help President Obama out by getting this economy jump-started, maybe even in a new Chevy Traverse. My fellow Americans, gas is averaging $1.80 nationally as we speak. During these times of change, let’s make it our patriotic duty to go somewhere.
The Chevy Traverse [chevrolet.com]
First Drive: 2009 Chevy Traverse [motortrend.com]
Chevy Gets it Right with Traverse [suntimes.com]
Chevy Traverse vs. Toyota Highlander Interior Space [streetfire.net]