With vacation season in full swing, it's a good time to look at some vehicles we've driven recently that didn't get any major changes for their latest model year. The four here may be wildly different, but they share one thing: They can take you on a road trip or off the beaten path this summer.
2013 Honda Crosstour
($27,230 start, $31,720 as tested)
Honda's Crosstour is more four-door hatchback than crossover SUV. For 2013, the car receives tweaks to its sheet metal and under the hood. New is the 3.5-liter, 278-horsepower i-VTEC V-6, which is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission, a big improvement over the previous 5-speed gearbox. (Sorry, the 4-cylinder base model is still stuck with it.) The V-6 also has Variable Cylinder Management to shut down cylinders when not needed, which contributes to an mpg of 18/28, which isn't bad for a 4,100-pound vehicle with AWD. The grille gets a bolder design with heavier chrome slats and trim. The angular headlights are slender and more pronounced. Also new: 18-inch alloy wheels. Alas, what remains is the Crosstour's ungainly rear end, which, in all fairness, does look somewhat slimmer. One thing the Crosstour lacks is blind-spot warning, which it desperately needs. Instead, you get a new "expanded driver's mirror."
2014 Acura RDX AWD Tech
($34,520 base start, $40,515 as tested)
The RDX is like a junior version of Acura's MDX SUV. For 2014, it remains basically unchanged from the model we drove last year. The only engine choice is the SOHC i-VTEC V-6, which gave our tester some lively pickup with its 273 horsepower. Our RDX also had the AWD option and the Technology Package. Both features quickly boost the base price, but when you check Tech on the options list, it adds a lot, including navigation, a rearview, multiview camera, surround-sound system, power tailgate (highly recommended), Xenon headlights and fog lights. What is new with the RDX is the Kona Coffee Metallic color. We both found it striking on our tester. (It put us in the mood to drive to the nearest Starbucks.) We also liked the five double-spoke alloy wheels, which made for a nice contrast with the rich Kona color. Bottom line: Sure, there are sportier or more luxurious small SUVs, but the RDX's strength is that it manages to do well in most every category.
2013 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4x4
($30,695 Rubicon start, $36,310 as tested)
Our tester Rubicon, the top trim for the Wrangler family, came in a bright Gecko Pearl Coat. The Jeep's girth and that color prompted Peter to dub it "The Hulk." The power comes from Chrysler's well-received 3.6-liter V-6 Pentastar, which puts out a sturdy 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Unfortunately, those horses are channeled through a mediocre 5-speed automatic. The mpg is just 17/21, but no one expects a Jeep to be a gas-sipper. The Rubicon is loaded with off-road features: 4:1 Rock-Trac Part-Time 4WD, Dana heavy-duty Tru-Lok axles, electronic front sway bar disconnect, and a skid-plate shield for the transfer case and fuel tank. We regret that where we drive, there's no rocky terrain. Still, it's a blast to drive, with quick steering response and nimble handling. The interior is more than you might expect for a serious off-roader — Chrysler's materials quality is much improved and the seats are comfortable — but it's still a better vehicle in which to be the driver than a passenger.
2013 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG
($140,000 start, $181,635 as tested)
This car is meant to make the valet attendants drool. The performance AMG version of the Mercedes-Benz S63 was one of the first luxury sedans we drove when we began the Daily Drivers column in 2009 and it remains one of our favorites. The quiet and comfortable cabin is, as you might expect, a sophisticated mix of rich materials and pampering (massaging seats!). But what really made an impression on us was our tester's Magno Alanite Grey paint (a $3,950 option), which is from the carmaker's exclusive Designo collection. It's a sleek matte finish that screams performance, and it's absolutely stunning. The 20-inch AMG twin five-spoke forged wheels in black are a $2,200 option and complement the matte paint. (If you can afford this car, you might as well go all-in.) The S63's 5.5-liter Biturbo V-8 gets the AMG performance boost to 563 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a 7-speed Speedshift automatic transmission with paddle shifters. It's best to think of S63 AMG as a full-size luxury sedan turned muscle car. Complementing the performance is a load of safety features such as night view assist, blind-spot assist, active lane-keeping assist, parking guidance and a rearview camera.