By Gary and Genie Anderson
We drove a grab bag of vehicles last month – the Kia Cadenza, Jeep Cherokee and Mitsubishi Mirage – that have little in common other than that they all have four wheels, can carry four people comfortably and have gas-powered engines.
Beyond that, their primary attractions are that the Cadenza offers near-luxury style and comfort, the Cherokee is off-road-capable and the Mirage is inexpensive but safe.
A rundown on each 2014 vehicle follows.
What is it? An all-new, premium, full-size, four-door, five-passenger sedan.
What moves it? A 3.3-liter, gas, direct-injected V-6 engine (293 horsepower, 255 pound-feet of torque) with front engine, front-wheel drive through a six-speed shiftable automatic transmission.
How fuel-efficient is it? The Cadenza gets 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
What does it cost? Base price is $35,100. Add the technology ($3,000) and luxury ($3,000) packages, along with dealer prep, for a total MSRP of $41,900.
What we thought: The Korean companies have moved aggressively into the full-sized, fully equipped market even faster than the Japanese companies did when they introduced their near-luxury models. This new entry into the mainstream family market can certainly be expected to fare well against the traditional Japanese and American competition, challenging even the pricier German alternatives.
We like to drive our new test cars without peeking at the price sheets in the glove compartment to see how accurately we can guess their prices. We guessed high by approximately $15,000 on this one.
Although exterior styling gives the car an imposing look, power and handling are confident, composed and satisfying. The interior styling is clean and efficient, with standard equipment including everything from navigation to back-up camera, satellite radio and Bluetooth.
With the Luxury package, the Cadenza has all the amenities we’ve come to expect on a high-end family sedan, and even offers heated rear seats. Add the Technology package of additional safety systems like advanced smart cruise control, blind-spot detection and lane-departure warning systems, and it’s as safe and easy to drive as nearly all the competitors.
Bottom line: We encourage anyone buying a new family sedan today who isn’t concerned about brand status to cross-shop the Kia Cadenza against all the standard alternatives.
Jeep Cherokee Limited 4x4
What is it? An all-new, off-road-capable, four-door, four-passenger front-engine/all-wheel-drive crossover.
What moves it? A 3.2-liter, gas, variable-valve-timing V-6 engine (271 horsepower, 239 pound-feet of torque) with all-wheel drive through nine-speed automatic transmission and Selec-Terrain traction system. Towing capacity is 4,500 pounds.
How fuel-efficient is it? The Cherokee gets 19 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined
What does it cost? Base price is $29,995. Add the technology group ($2,155), luxury group ($1,595), engine upgrade ($1,495), navigation and satellite radio ($795) and dealer prep for a total MSRP of $37,030.
What we thought: When is a Jeep not a Jeep? Fans of the product that traces its lineage back to the basic four-person combat vehicle produced in World War II and used well beyond the Vietnam conflict raise that question with this unibody crossover that is actually, dare we say, stylish. Certainly with its slit headlights, sleek lines and chrome accents it looks as if it would be much more at home in the elementary school pickup line than on the front line of any battlefield.
The Selec-Terrain knob on the console allows the driver to pick the appropriate drive system for snow, mud and rock, in addition to standard auto and sport. The “Trail Rated” logo on the fender is Jeep’s assurance that even the Rubicon Trail that climbs out of the Tahoe basin isn’t too challenging for this car.
On the other hand, owners needn’t be worried that they’ll be directed to the loading dock when they arrive at a trendy restaurant, as long as they’re wearing trendy outfits from the Italian boutique rather than well-worn cargo pants and boots from REI.
We particularly liked the interior, which doesn’t pretend to be anything but a comfortable, all-purpose family conveyance, and does very well on the luxury side of that balance. Purchase the car with the optional Technology Group, and you’ll also get all the new technical assistance packages like collision mitigation, active cruise control, lane-departure warning and parking assistance that are rapidly becoming must-haves on all new cars.
Bottom line: This new offering in the Jeep lineup, developed with investment funds and technology courtesy of new owner Fiat, is probably as close as any manufacturer will come to an affordable vehicle suitable for errands around town 330 days a year that can still handle those trips to the Tahoe ski condo and coastal trailhead that fill the remaining 10 percent of the year.
What is it? A minimalist, economical, subcompact, five-door, four-passenger hatchback.
What moves it? A 1.2-liter, gas, three-cylinder engine (74 horsepower, 74 pound-feet of torque) with front engine, front-drive through continuously variable transmission.
How fuel-efficient is it? The Mirage gets 37 mpg city, 44 mpg highway and 40 mpg combined.
What does it cost? Base price is $15,195. Add the navigation system with rear-view camera for $900 for a total MSRP, with dealer prep, of $16,890.
What we thought: Automobile transportation doesn’t get much more minimal than this subcompact, measuring just more than 12 feet long. The engine puts out less power than some ride-on lawn mowers. But when less may be better than more, the advantage of the Mirage is that there’s nothing there that doesn’t need to be there to simply transport four adults around the Bay Area or two adults on a Costco or Ikea run.
Not that the car wouldn’t be capable of handling a long trip. In our week with the car, we found that it could make it to the top of our favorite neighborhood hill in San Carlos, get up to speed on any reasonable entrance ramp so that merging into freeway traffic was done confidently and at the same time slide grille-first into any parallel parking space in town. We just don’t think anyone would want to spend more than a few hours in this hatchback, which is not soundproof.
But did we mention that you can buy the Mirage ES for less than $16,000 out the door? That wouldn’t include the $900 nav and back-up camera system, but your smartphone offers the same navigation capability, and in a car this small, the back-up camera really isn’t necessary.
The great thing about today’s automobile market is that like pretty much every other new car on the road, the Mirage comes standard not only with antilock braking, but also with active stability control and traction control, as well as a full complement of airbags and a crumple-zone chassis design to ensure that car is as safe as it is practical.
The other advantage is that this little buzzmobile delivers the same mpg of gasoline that a much more expensive hybrid offers, and insurance rates are as low as the tables go, so it’s cheap to drive as well as to buy.
Bottom line: For someone looking for an extra errand or student car, the Mitsubishi Mirage is as practical, safe and inexpensive as anything on the market.
Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.