Sedan Ramblings - Reviews, comparisons and all things sedans
SUV's, MPV's, Wagons and More -
Which one's right for you?
The Grand Comparo! (23/03/01)
by Traian Popescu
All automobile shoppers have various requirements that must be fulfilled by their purchase: good value and fuel economy, an attractive design, brisk performance, balanced handling and a spacious and comfortable interior. Those that are especially interested in space must often be satisfied with largely compromising other criteria. Just how much, however, do these shoppers really require and how can they get it while minimising their sacrifices? This comparison is made for those who don't wish to purchase a vehicle they don't want - or even need.
Although they were never meant for direct competition, these four types of people/stuff-movers are often in the ballpark as far as cross-shoppoing goes: namely the sports-utility-vehicle, the mini-van, the wagon and of course speciality cross-over vehicle, complete with wacky styling to boot. Representing each category is a respected and arguably the best-known contestant, each falling loosely into the same price range: the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, Honda Odyssey EX, Audi A4 2.8 Avant Quattro and Pontiac Aztek.
How much can they swallow?
While Jeep offers the Grand Cherokee in a seven-passenger configuration, it is generally better used in its five-passenger format, even then providing a tight fit in the company of its adversaries. An ergonomically sound and attractive interior is counteracted by overly soft seats, of which the rears can split 70/30. Total cargo space amounts to 39 cubic feet, 72.3 with the seats down.
The Odyssey by comparison is simply a monster. Seating seven, both the second and third row seats can be easily folded flush with the floor providing a total of 163.3 cubic feet of space. With all seating positions occupied, there is still over 25 cu ft available. Other goodies in the Honda include reading lights, air vents and headrests for the rear passengers.
The Audi is somewhat outmatched in this category. It seats five and provides space for hauling 64 cu ft of stuff after the rear seats are folded. Rear seat knee room is another region where the A4 fails to excel.
Lastly, the Aztek. There's room for five inside and the rear bench can be cleverly folded 50/50, flipped forward or removed altogether, the latter option yielding a total cargo space of 93.5 cu ft. The many conveniences include among other things a comfortable and roomy seating area, a sliding cargo tray capable of holding 400lb of stuff, a cooler and an optional tent and air mattress for two people.
Fuel economy, styling and all that miscellaneous stuff
It should come as no surprise that the Arnold-Schwarze negger-in-a-suit styled $34,000 Jeep devours gas, lots of it. Around the city, EPA reports 15 mpg, on the highway an unspectacular 19 mpg. That's the price to pay for a 4.7L V8 hauling 4050 pounds. The Cherokee does, however, dominate one category where the others fail to even register, namely rock-crawling. 4WD, good ground clearance and a suspension that may be especially tuned for this sort of treatment help the Jeep easily conquer dirt, rocks, hills, water and almost anything else mother nature has to offer.
The $25,800 Honda is easier on the wallet in more ways than one, achieving 17 mpg through the city and 26 on the open road. No offroading for this van, but the output of 210 horsepower nearly matches the Jeep while resorting to a much more efficient 3.5L V6, however those ponies have 4300lb of Odyssey to haul around.
The Audi rings in at $31,000 and has the same AWD configuration as the Jeep plus the most sophisticated powerplant of the bunch, a 30-valve 2.8L V6. While the gas tank houses a miserly 15 .6 gallons, the A4 achieves a respectable 17/27 mpg over the city/highway cycle. And it looks absolutely great, inside and out.
Finally, the Pontiac is an absolute bargain at $21,500. FWD, like the Odyssey, the 'Tek has the lowest output of the group at 185 horsepower emerging from a 3.4L V6, and weighs nearly 3800lb, 200 more than the Audi. Those seeking great fuel economy need look no further than the Aztek, which travels 19 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway. Those seeking something other than the fashion-police's worst nightmare should keep on seeking.
Performance, handling and other people-mover priorities
In all seriousness, performance counts, a lot, and the results might just surprise you. While the Jeep impressively provides 235 hp@4800 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque@4800 rpm, its super-quick 7.2 second trip to 60 mph is still surprising. Moreover, the Jeep stops from 60 mph in 130 feet, runs through the 600-ft slalom at 61.5 mph and attains 0.75g of lateral acceleration. The body roll is quite pronounced, however, and the tire/spring/shock setup is a bad match for on-pavement driving with wobbles occurring from small imperfections in the surface.
The Odyssey, whose engine serves up 210 hp@5200 rpm and 229 lb-ft@4300 rpm, doesn't stand a chance. It uses 9.7 seconds to reach 60 mph, 143 feet to return to stop, moves through the slalom at 59.4 mph but achieves a respectable skidpad rating of 0.74g. While obviously not sporty, the Odyssey does have a nicely damped ride and sharp, precise steering and is undoubtedly the best handling mini-van in the biz.
There's only one sports car here, and it's the A4, motivated by 190 hp@6000 rpm and 207 lb-ft@3200 rpm. It's not the quickest, reaching 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, but on the twisties it's untouchable with a slalom speed of 63.1 mph and 0.83g of lateral acceleration. With little roll, sharp turn-in and good grip afforded by the wide tires, the A4 2.8 Avant Quattro could easily pass for a sports coupe.
In this company, the Pontiac is under-powered and overweight. The V6 engine pumps out 185 hp@5200 rpm and 210 lb-ft@4000 rpm, giving a 0-60 mph time of 9.2 seconds. The trip back takes 139 feet, the 600-ft slalom is dispatched at 60.2 mph and the skidpad orbited at 0.72g. Not spectacular performance, but a lot more appropriate considering the competitors in its price range.
What does it all mean?
In the end there are a few ways to summarise each vehicle, and make it easy for all shoppers to decide what automobile would best suit their needs. The individual looking for unsurpassed power and grunt, off-road capability and bragging rights should look no further than the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited. For Space (with a capital S), good resale value and a relatively small initial investment, the Honda Odyssey EX can't be beat. Those seeking some utility combined with the closest thing to a sports sedan or even a sports coupe, as well as sleek styling, will find the Audi A4 2.8 Avant Quattro as the best bet. And lastly, for those requiring space (with a small s), unsurpassed versatility, the best overall value and don't mind driving something that will likely be featured on the next episode of the X-Files, the obvious choice is the Pontiac Aztek. And, please, nobody feel embarrassed to thank me after making an informed purchase.
© Traian Popescu , World's Fastest Sedans (http://www.fantasycars.com/sedans/), 2001.
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