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  • April 16, 2014

Test Drive: SUVs - Ladue News: Special Features

Test Drive: SUVs

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Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013 12:00 pm | Updated: 11:32 am, Mon Sep 9, 2013.

The biggest automotive trend in the last 20 years or so has to be the sport utility vehicle, or SUV. They have all but replaced the family station wagon, and then some. Even business types often choose to drive SUVs for the extra space and for the reassurance of four-wheel-drive surefootedness in wet or snowy weather.

SUVs come in sizes ranging from moderate to huge. One of the more reasonably sized vehicles is the Audi Q5, which has plenty of interior room for people and cargo, yet has a small enough footprint to make it easy to maneuver and park.

The Q5 comes with a long list of features, including an electric tailgate, seat memory buttons, a back-up camera with lines to help you reverse, a panoramic moonroof that takes up most of the roof and includes an electric sliding sunshade and the ability to open over the front seats, dual automatic climate control, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, three-stage seat heating and parking assist. The interface for the dash-mounted screen, which controls the sound system, navigation and a variety of other functions, is a rotary knob on the console between the seats that requires a lot of knob-twisting and button-pushing, a set up I find more cumbersome and less intuitive than a touch screen, though hard buttons around the knob make it a little easier to pick a particular function.

Well-bolstered leather front seats are comfortable and practical. Wood trim accents on the doors and dash add a touch of warmth to an otherwise monochromatic interior. Rear-seat passengers have plenty of elbow and leg room and their own air vents and ventilation controls. My favorite rear-seat feature was a button to lock/unlock the doors. As a kid, I remember having to always remind my mom or dad to lock/unlock the doors. Children who grow up with a Q5 will control their own destinies. The rear cargo area offers a decent amount of room and has a handy tonneau cover. The rear seats fold down to create a cavernous cargo area, and they can be folded from the rear of the vehicle at the touch of a button. There’s also a nice under-floor storage area for hiding valuables.

The Q5 is available with three engines, a 211-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder; a 245-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder hybrid; and a 272-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6, also turbocharged. Each engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with sport and manual modes, and all-wheel-drive. The four-cylinder has plenty of power for most users and gets decent gas mileage--20 city, 28 highway. Handling, braking and acceleration are good for an SUV, with a tight yet comfortable suspension that makes for an enjoyable driving experience.

According to Plaza Audi's Kevin Rodermund, “The Q5 is an all-around family vehicle, with good cargo room, good cabin size and high seating position. It handles well in dry weather and goes in all kind of weather, including deep snow.”

Prices for the Q5 start about $37,000, and average in the low $40,000s, popularly equipped.

Another interesting SUV is the newly designed 2013 Buick Enclave, a seven- or eight-passenger full-sized American SUV that competes favorably with its European and Japanese counterparts. 

The first thing that strikes you when you view the Enclave is its toothy chrome waterfall grill reminiscent of the grill of a ‘50 Buick Special. The rest of the body, including LED running lights, is a sleek update of previous styling.

Interior styling also is updated to create a thoroughly modern, attractive, luxurious and functional environment, with stitched leather covers and supportive heated front seats. Dual rear-seat captain's chairs are equally comfortable, but the three-place-split rear seat, though easily accessible between the middle seats, is probably best for kids. Cargo room below the electric tailgate behind the third seat is adequate with the third seat in place, becomes larger with the second and third row seats folded.

Controls for the dual automatic climate control are straightforward and easy to use, and second- and third-row passengers get their own air vents. Radio, navigation and other controls are accessed via a touch screen in the center of the dash. When reversing, the screen displays a picture from the rear view camera that greatly enhances parking ease and makes sure you don’t miss seeing something behind you. An available 'rear cross traffic alert' warns of oncoming traffic when reversing. Similarly, a side blind spot warning system alerts you to drivers in your blind spot. It is a fairly big vehicle to maneuver and park.

The Enclave’s 3.6-liter V-6 produces 288 horsepower and gets 17 mpg city, 24 highway. Mated to a six-speed automatic, the more-than-adequate power can go to either the front wheels or all four wheels. The ride is extremely comfortable, with a soft suspension that provides decent, if not sporty handling, with overboosted power steering, which most SUV and Buick buyers prefer.

Lou Fusz Buick salesman Gus Loftis brags of the Enclave, “It’s a true American luxury vehicle, with a quiet, luxury ride and the largest interior cabin room in its class.”

An Enclave will run you about $37,500 with front-wheel-drive or $39,500 with all-wheel-drive to start and can exceed $50,000 if you tick all the option boxes.

Robert Paster (robertpaster.com) also is an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.

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