"Cappuccinos?"Absolutely! The waiter at the Star Caf, just north of L.A. in Montrose, scribbles our order and hurries off to the espresso machine. Art St. Antoine, Ed Loh, Scott Mortara, Julia LaPalme, and I are going to need some seriously distillated java-juice to shake off our lunch-induced stupors and formulate some conclusions about these cars. Cars? Those would be the five compact SUVs we've parked nearby and are still occasionally popping and ticking to each other after pounding out evaluation loops, which have included swift climbs up Angeles Crest Highway, swifter descents, and several miles of choppy concrete freeway. Pull up a chair and listen in.
"I'll tell you, nothing leaps out at me," St. Antoine begins, graciously breaking the ice. Nothing leaps out at the rest of us, either, but then again, this is one of those situations where the leaping-from place is a lofty perch to begin with. All the vehicles here-the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Saturn VUE Green Line, and the spanking-new Subaru Forester-seem armed with arguments strong enough to melt a skeptical Antonin Scalia.
That's even after factoring in the general-admission level of the mechanical specifications we've requested: the most frugal engines available and the fewest-powered wheels you can get (our Forester, being a Subaru, is unavoidably AWD, while the CR-V and Rogue ship with a single engine choice). These are the decaf variants, if you will: all the 'ute-look without the extra cost, lower mileage, and unsprung-weight jitters. Speaking of weight and jitters, those foamy brown pools of caffeine are starting to get the upper hand on the pasta. After a few sips, Loh's eyes begin to focus: "I think the Subaru and the RAV are two of the best-handling vehicles." He looks around, expecting some small sign of agreement. Poker faces.
"You think the RAV is good-handling? The steering is awfully overboosted." St. Antoine blanches. Mortara: "I got into some of the worst understeer I've ever experienced with that thing. And I never heard a beep from the stability control." He seems mad. Whoa, boys, we did the "There Will Be Blood" parody in the last issue.