The Toyota Highlander was always a solid mid-sized SUV and has only gotten better over time. Completely redesigned in 2020, the latest model has additional improvements. The Highlander is available in six trim levels — L, LE, XLE, Limited, Platinum and XSE — which are all powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that develops 295 horsepower. The engine is connected to the front wheels by an eight-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is optional on all trim levels. Base trim levels are well-equipped with three-zone climate control system, power driver’s seat, eight-inch infotainment touch screen, Toyota’s Safety Sense system that packages automatic forward collision warning (which can apply the brakes), adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams and even a traffic sign reader. Higher trim levels provide more luxury, and the XSE has a sportier feel and look.
Our test drive was conducted in the Limited edition, and the first thing I noticed was the quiet; the cabin does an outstanding job of insulating passengers from road and engine noise. Front seats are wide, supportive and comfortable, and rear seats provide plenty of room for adults, even on long trips. (The third row is cramped and best suited for kids.) The cabin is laid out with simple, straightforward controls that minimize driver distraction. The display is considerably larger in the Limited edition than other levels but has the same intuitive display. The system is easy to use, especially the radio with its large rotary knobs. All Highlander models come equipped with satellite radio, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa. There are plenty of cup holders, cubbies, power points as well as a wireless phone charger. Cargo storage has increased a bit to 16 cubic feet with all seats used and expands to almost 50 cubic feet with the third row folded. There’s more than 84 cubic feet of storage when both seat rows are stowed. The rear gate on our Limited model also has a power open/close feature which proved handy during inclement weather.
The 295-horsepower V-6 engine is robust and a hard push on the accelerator delivers strong performance. The combination of horsepower and torque make the Highlander more than capable of towing a good-sized boat or camping trailer. The eight-speed automatic transmission matches the engine’s performance and Toyota claims a 0-to-60 mph time of a fairly quick 6.7 seconds. The steering has a nice weighted sensation and, combined with improvements to suspension, provides a surprisingly maneuverable feel. Even with large wheels and tires, the ride was comfortably firm but not harsh. Fuel economy during my time with the Highlander average about 22 mpg in an even mix of city and highway driving.
The latest version of the Toyota Highlander is certainly the best. While there are other mid-sized SUVs with more interior room, cargo space and sharper handling, the Highlander won’t disappoint drivers looking for a powerful combination of ride handling, performance and towing ability.
The all-new Acura TLX is a premium compact/mid-sized sedan that competes with the likes of the Cadillac CT5, Mercedes C- and E-Class, Audi A4 and A6 and BMW 5-Series. It is available in four trim levels — TLX, TLX Tech, TLX A-Spec and TLX Advance — and front-wheel drive and 10-speed automatic transmission is standard in all. Our road test was conducted in the Advance model, which came with Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. The new TLX is longer, wider and lower than previous models, providing a sporty look and feel. Last year’s TLX had a choice of a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or a more powerful V-6 engine. For 2021, those engines have been replaced with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The new engine outperforms the previous ones by developing 272 horsepower and an even more impressive 280 foot-pound of torque, providing lively performance.
Our TLX Advance came equipped with adaptive suspension which continually adjusts to all road conditions, delivering a ride that can go from comfortable to sporty. The electric power steering has great feel, and feedback at both low and high speeds is very good. The 10-speed automatic transmission is nicely matched to the overall performance of the engine with quick, crisp shifts. In addition to helping in inclement weather, the all-wheel drive system gives the vehicle a solid connection to the road when torque shifts from front to rear and left to right.
Fuel economy is rated at 21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway; I averaged about 24 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving. Premium fuel is recommended for maximum performance and fuel economy. Safety is well-considered with a full complement of air bags, forward collision warning and automatic braking, traffic sign monitors, Traffic Jam Assist and Driver Attention Monitor.
The interior of the TLX is sharp looking with a premium quality feel. The heated and cooled front seats are comfortable and supportive with plenty of head and legroom. The heated steering wheel was a nice touch on a cold winter morning, as was the remote engine start feature. The controls are well-thought-out, although I still prefer a traditional shifter over Acura’s push-button arrangement. The infotainment system uses a combination of buttons and one of the best touchpads available. The touchpad uses more accurate zones, handwriting recognition and the console has an easy to use volume knob, although a tuning knob for the radio would be a nice addition. Overall, I find this touchpad less distracting than a touch screen. The rear seating area is certainly comfortable for two adults and can fit three in a pinch, although rear-seat passengers over six-feet tall will find headroom tight. There is plenty of interior storage power points, as well as a wireless phone charger. The trunk is a bit tight at only 13.5 cubic feet, but the rear seats fold to accommodate longer items.
The all-new Acura TLX is no longer a gussied up Honda Accord — it is a premium sports sedan that now competes with the best European models. With the available technology and standard safety features, the TLX is a solid, if not perfect, choice.
The Chevrolet Bolt is an all-electric compact hatchback wagon, available in two trim levels — the LT and Premier. The Bolt has improved its mileage range over the years and, depending on road conditions and how it is driven, is capable of 259 miles between charges. This extra range doesn’t come at the expense of power; the Bolt’s electric motor is rated at 200 hp and can propel this vehicle to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds.
Our test drive was in the Premier Bolt, which was surprisingly well-equipped with heated front seats and steering wheel and a Bose sound system. Safety is well-addressed with 10 air bags, surround-view camera and a rear camera mirror. This camera displays the entire space behind the vehicle on the mirror, which is handy if passengers in the rear seat block the view. Also, our test model came with rear cross traffic alert, rear park assist, lane keeping assist with lane departure warning, and forward collision alert with pedestrian detection. The steering had a bit of an artificial feel, but the ride is comfortable and not jarring, even on poorly maintained roads. Due to its design, the Bolt will never be confused with a sports car, but its handling can compete with sportier vehicles. Handling is flat and stable on quick turns, and the Bolt can accelerate to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds.
The Bolt uses regenerative braking, which slows down the car by using the electric motor to convert kinetic energy into stored energy in the car’s battery. This makes the car more efficient and increases range. Shifting the vehicle into “low mode” and taking your foot off the accelerator will slow the car without ever touching the brake pedal. Once you gain experience using this feature, you’ll never need to use the brake pedal unless you need to make a quick stop. A control on the steering wheel will also engage Regen On Demand, which stores energy to be used later.
The interior is a bit of a mixed bag. Materials seem to be upgraded, with comfortable leather seats and a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel. The controls are simple to use, but the shifter from last year’s model has been replaced with a push-button. The infotainment system could use a traditional tuning knob, but overall other knobs and switches have a higher quality “feel.” The rear seat can accommodate three adults in a pinch, but the cushions are flat and become uncomfortable quickly. Storage is very good, with a small glove compartment and center console. With all seats in use, there is about 17 cubic feet of cargo space; with the rear seats folded it expands to 56 cubic feet. I had to move a small piece of furniture and the Bolt was up to the task, making it almost as practical as a small SUV.
As with any electric vehicle, some thought should be given to charging. My first trip in the Bolt was a 50-mile drive; I started with a fully charged battery that indicated 251 miles to empty on the gauge. After 50 miles it still showed about 220 miles left. At that point, I plugged into a standard 120-volt outlet to top off the battery, which I did for the remainder of my time with the Bolt. Charging overnight kept the batteries fully charged. The Bolt is capable of charging with 120 volts, 240 volts or a Level III DC voltage high-speed charger (optional on the LV, standard on the Premier). Level III charging can add about 100 miles of range in about the time it takes to eat lunch. Using Level II 240-volt charging adds about 50 miles of range in two hours. Level I, 120-volt charging is more of a convenience charger for topping off the battery. (It would take about two days for a 120-volt outlet to charge a fully depleted Bolt battery.) If you only have 120 volts available and you are a typical commuter, I recommend charging every night. Commercial charging stations are springing up more often as well; these stations are typically Level II or III charging and are sometimes free to use.
Of the many battery electric vehicles on the market today, I believe the Bolt is one of the best in its price range. It’s a fun yet practical electric car that could easily serve as a primary vehicle for many drivers. If you are looking to replace a gasoline-powered car, the Bolt is a solid choice.
The Mercedes-Benz GLA is a five-seat compact luxury SUV, available in four versions: GLA 250, GLA 250 4MATIC (with all-wheel drive), AMG 35 (302 HP) and top-of-the-line AMG 45 (382 HP). Our road test was in the 4MATIC.
Though the GLA is small on the outside, it is very roomy inside. The front seats are comfortable and supportive with adjustments to accommodate drivers of just about any size. There’s a good amount of head and legroom in both the front and rear seats, especially compared with previous models and other vehicles in this class. The driver’s seat is a bit higher than in similar vehicles, providing a good view of the road.
The suspension smooths all but the worst pavement breaks and potholes in the road. The steering is smooth and quite linear, and handling is solid for an SUV with only modest roll on high-speed turns. Performance from the 221-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine is more than adequate with 60 mph, taking about seven seconds to achieve. The GLA is primarily a front-wheel drive vehicle that can transmit up to 50% of its power to the rear wheels when in off-road mode. This translates into a vehicle that should easily handle winter roads in the Northeast. The eight-speed, dual clutch transmission shifts smoothly and has a manual mode if the driver is looking for more control.
What is lacking in this model is cargo capacity; with the rear seats in use there’s only about 15 cubic feet of space. (Comparatively, the smaller Honda HR-V has 24 cubic feet of space.) Interior controls are good, but the shifter is a small stalk on the right side of the steering wheel. It takes some getting used to but feels natural after just a few days. The infotainment system is solid, with twin displays that fully integrate with most smartphones. One odd feature the GLA opted to do away with is the typical USB connector; it was replaced with a USB Type-C. I needed to get an adapter to use the Type-C to charge my phone. Overall, the controls were easy to master and minimized distraction.
Safety is addressed with a full complement of air bags and forward collision warning. Our vehicle had optional adaptive cruise control with lane keeping assist and traffic sign reader, which will automatically adjust your speed. I was on a road with a 65 mph speed limit that dropped to 50 in some spots, during which the car slowed to the new posted speed — that could save a ticket or two! Another notable feature was the navigation system, which overlays what is actually in front of you onto the map, providing a “real time” view of the road. Other available features are hands-free parking, a huge sunroof, adaptive suspension and more.
The Mercedes-Benz GLA is a competent small luxury SUV with an attractive starting price. However, adding in some optional features quickly raises the price so that other, more expensive vehicles start to look better. But if you’ve always wanted a Mercedes-Benz SUV and aren’t concerned about the latest features, the GLA is certainly worth a look.
The Kia Seltos is a small SUV that sits between the Soul and the larger Sportage. This new model is available in several trim levels, with two engine choices: a 146-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder, or a more powerful 1.6-liter turbocharged engine that develops a healthy 175 horsepower. The base engine is connected to a continually variable transmission, but the turbocharged engine gets a dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission.
The LX trim level comes with all-wheel drive but is a bit spartan on the inside; a step up to the S trim level offer more features, but all-wheel drive is optional. In addition, there are EX and SX turbocharged versions with standard all-wheel drive. Prices range from $23,110 to nearly $30,000 — our road test was conducted in the higher-priced, fully loaded SX turbocharged model.
The turbocharged Seltos is not as powerful as a sports car, but is more than peppy enough to merge with fast-moving traffic and zip in and out of tight spots. The seven-speed transmission had a nice crisp feel to it during shifting. A dashboard dial takes the Seltos from a more economical mode (Smart) to Sport mode. The all-wheel drive system is further improved with a locking center differential. The handling and ride on the Northeast’s less-than-perfect roads felt jittery, and there was a good amount of thumping over pavement breaks which made the ride unsettled. The steering was direct with just the right amount of a weight. The Seltos had a full suite of safety features including front, side and curtain airbags; forward collision warning with pedestrian detection; blind spot and rear collision warning; lane keeping assist; lane departure warning; a driver attention feature; and adaptive cruise control with automated lane centering. EPA fuel economy was rated 25 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway; I averaged 28 mpg in a mix of highway and city roads.
The interior is quite roomy, with firm, comfortable seats. The quality of the materials, overall fit and finish all are quite good. The driver’s seat has 10-way adjustment, and taller people will appreciate the ample head and leg room. The SX version has the option of a large 10-inch touch screen with navigation. The Kia infotainment system works well, is simple to use and minimizes driver distraction. Other premium interior features included dual zone automatic climate control, pushbutton remote starting and LED headlights with fog/driving lamps. There are plenty of 12-volt power points and a wireless phone charger is included. The rear seating area is surprisingly roomy for a small vehicle with plenty of room for two adults — even with the front seats pushed back. The cargo area is also surprisingly good, providing almost 63 cubic feet of space with the rear seats folded. With all seats in use, space shrinks to 26.5 cubic feet.
The biggest issue with the Sletos is that it provides an answer to a question no one had, in that it competes with other Kia vehicles. Still, if you are looking for a small SUV that is equipped with all the latest safety and infotainment technology, this one is worth a look. With its combination of features, price, fuel economy and Kia’s legendary warranty, it certainly becomes an appealing choice.
The 2020 Acura RDX is a luxury compact SUV, powered by a four-cylinder, turbocharged engine. It is available in four trim levels, with either front-wheel drive or Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive™. Our road test was done in the sporty A-Spec with all-wheel drive. The A-Spec package adds a bolder look, tighter handling and an overall sportier feel.
On the open road the RDX handles like a tall sporty sedan. The ride is slightly firm but never uncomfortable; even on fast turns, the RDX stays flat and connected to the road. Handling is improved by the all-wheel drive system that can send 70% of the torque to the rear wheels. Up to 100% of that torque can be sent to the left or right rear wheel, offering additional traction and responsiveness not typically seen in an SUV. Performance from the 272-horsepower engine is quite good. The Acura has switched engines over the past few years but the current four-cylinder turbocharged engine is just right. My fuel economy averaged about 26 mpg, though premium gasoline is recommended. Brakes on the RDX performed well with quick, controlled stops.
This vehicle did a good job keeping out wind and road noise and had a full complement of advanced driver assistance features (included as standard equipment). The adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist and road departure mitigation worked well without being intrusive. (As good as these systems are, they don’t take the place of a fully engaged driver.)
From the driver’s seat, the view is good with only minor blind spots. These spots are somewhat mitigated by the blind spot monitoring. Seats have a nice mix of comfort and support but offer almost too many adjustments. It’s not often I have too much legroom, but in the RDX I needed to move the driver’s seat forward — I could have used a bit more under-thigh support. Rear seating is comfortable for two adults, with more than enough head- and legroom; three adults can fit in a pinch. There are plenty of USB and 12-volt power points, bins, cubbies and cup holders. Acura uses their True Touchpad Interface, a touchpad mounted in the center console that gives users more control over the infotainment system. It works well but can be distracting; the system is desperately in need of a channel selection knob. The voice command system is one of the best I have used but the added simplicity of a couple of knobs would be an improvement. In an SUV cargo room is important, and the RDX has more than most of its competitors.
Updated looks, a bit of sports car DNA in its design, and Acura’s attention to detail and dependability combine to make RDX a winner. If you are in the market for a sporty compact SUV, the RDX by Acura should be at the top of your list.
Base price: $37,600
Crash test: TBD
Fuel economy: 22 city, 28 highway
The Cadillac XT6 is a three-row luxury crossover powered by a 310-horsepower V-6 engine. Smaller than the Escalade but larger than the XT5, this version comes in only two trim levels, the Sport and the Premium Luxury. The Sport trim comes in all-wheel drive only, has quick steering and a dual-clutch transmission for a sportier feel. Our road test was in the XT6 Premium Luxury with optional all-wheel drive.
Performance from the V-6 engine is quite good; when cruising, it will switch to a V-4 mode to save fuel. Good acceleration from both a stop and during mid-range passing (such as merging onto the highway or passing a slow-moving vehicle) proves the V-6 engine is more than up to the task. The nine-speed transmission shifts smoothly and crisply. The ride is quite smooth and well-behaved, soaking up all but the worst pavement breaks, bumps and potholes. Handling is also good — especially for an SUV — body roll is controlled and, even when driven aggressively, there are no surprises. The steering is firm on the open road with a precise feel; it was light and easy when parking. Fuel economy is quite good for a luxury SUV; I averaged 22.5 mpg according to the onboard computer system.
The XT6 has seating for six or seven depending on the middle-row configuration. The front seats are comfortable and supportive. Drivers of just about any size should be comfortable with the combination of tilt/telescoping wheel and multi-adjustable seating. The second-row captain’s chairs were also comfortable, but the third row is typical of vehicles this size (i.e., better suited for kids). Technology was well-represented in our test model with just about every feature. There was advanced cruise control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and even an optional night vision camera that could detect pedestrians and animals well outside of my vision. Overall, controls were simple and easy to use, with a nice mix of button knobs and touch screen. The cabin has a large glove compartment, center console, decent cup holders and enough 12-volt/USB power points to power most of the electronics we all tend to carry. Luggage/cargo storage was very good unless all three rows of seats were in use; then it was a bit tight.
The XT6 by Cadillac is comfortable and certainly competent, but this is a very competitive segment of the market — and being good may not be good enough. While this may be one of the best Cadillac SUVs on the market, it just isn’t the best luxury SUV on the market.
Crash test: TBD
Fuel economy: 17 city, 24 highway
Base price: $54,695
The Chevrolet Bolt is an all-electric powered compact wagon available in two trim levels — the LT and Premier. The Bolt has improved its mileage range from last year and, depending on road conditions and how it is driven, is capable of 259 miles between charges. This extra range doesn’t come at the expense of power; the Bolt’s electric motor is rated at 200 horsepower and can propel this vehicle to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds.
Out test drive was done in the Premier Bolt, which was surprisingly well-equipped with heated front and rear seats, Bose sound system, navigation and a first-class interior. Safety is well-addressed with 10 airbags, surround view camera and a rear camera mirror. The rearview camera displays the entire space behind the vehicle on the mirror, which is handy if there are passengers in the back seat blocking the view. Also, our test model came with rear cross traffic alert, rear park assist, lane keeping assist with lane departure warning and forward collision alert with pedestrian detection.
Having never driven a Bolt previously, I expected a stiff, choppy ride but was surprised at how comfortable it was. The steering had a bit of an artificial feel, but handling was good. The Bolt will never be confused with a sports car, but it remains flat and stable on quick turns. When the vehicle is coasting or slowing down, the motor turns into a generator and creates energy; this is referred to as regenerative braking. Shifting the vehicle into “low mode” and taking your foot off the accelerator slows the car without ever touching the brake pedal. A control on the steering wheel will also engage the “Regen on Demand,” storing energy to be used later. Once you have gained some experience with the regenerative feature, you learn that all you need is the accelerator, unless you need to make a quick stop.
The interior of the Bolt is a bit of a mixed bag. The leather seats are comfortable, and the heated leather-wrapped steering wheel is a nice touch, but some interior materials look cheap and don’t match the $41,000 price of our test vehicle. The controls are simple to use, and I appreciated the conventional style gear selector. The infotainment system could use a traditional tuning knob. The rear seat can accommodate three adults in a pinch, but the cushions are flat and quickly become uncomfortable. Storage is very good, with a small glove compartment and center console. With all seats in use, there is about 17 cubic feet of space; with the rear seats folded it expands to 56 cubic feet of cargo space. Overall, the Bolt is almost as practical as a small SUV.
As with any electric vehicle, some thought should be given to charging. My first trip in the Bolt was a 50-mile drive; I started with a fully recharged battery that indicated 251 miles to empty on the gauge. After 50 miles it still showed about 220 miles left. At that point, I plugged into a standard 120-volt outlet to top off the battery, which I did for the remainder of my time with the Bolt. Charging overnight kept the batteries fully charged. The Bolt is capable of charging with 120 volts, 240 volts or a Level III DC voltage high-speed charger. Level III charging can add about 100 miles of range in about the time it takes to eat lunch. Using Level II 240-volt charging adds about 50 miles of range in two hours. Level I, 120-volt charging is more of a convenience charger for topping off the battery. (It would take about two days for a 120-volt outlet to charge a fully depleted Bolt battery.) If you only have 120 volts available and you are a typical commuter, I recommend charging every night. Commercial charging stations are springing up more often as well; they are typically Level II or III charging and sometimes free to use.
The Chevy is a fun yet practical electric car that could serve as a primary vehicle for many drivers. If you’re looking to replace a gasoline-powered car, the Bolt could be a solid choice.
The 2020 Dodge Durango is a mid-sized SUV that comfortably seats five (up to seven with the optional third-row seat) and is available in five trim levels. The standard engine is a 295 horsepower V-6; two V-8 Hemi engines are optional. All engines get an eight-speed automatic transmission with optional all-wheel drive. Our road test was in the “hot rod” SRT performance version with all-wheel drive and seating for seven
The performance option makes itself known as soon as you start the engine with an exhaust growl that settles into a subdued rumble. The 6.2-liter Hemi engine produces an outrageous 475 horsepower and reportedly launches this 5,500-lb SUV to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. The eight-speed automatic transmission matches the engine nicely. As quick as this Durango is, it stops just as quickly with the high-performance, oversized Brembo brakes, which slow the vehicle quickly and with control. Even with oversized wheels and tires, the ride is even and comfortable with only the worst potholes disturbing the ride. The steering feels heavy and a bit slow, a common trait of midsized SUVs. Overall, handling is quite good with the optional performance adaptive suspension. However, fuel economy suffers with this option; I only averaged 14 mpg during my time with the vehicle. Safety is addressed with all the latest features: automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, smart cruise control, and automatic headlights and windshield wipers.
The cabin features comfortable seats in every seating position; even the third-row seat is comfortable and reasonably easy for adults to get in and out of. The overall fit and finish of the top-of-the-line Durango was very good. High-quality materials were used throughout, though it is starting to feel a bit dated. The infotainment system is a model that other manufacturers should follow. It’s easy to use, with large knobs for major controls like radio volume and tuning. Smartphones connect easily with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Climate control was simple to operate, and the factory remote start comes in handy on hot or cold days.
Interior storage is very good, with a large center console, glove compartment and other bins and storage pockets. Electronic needs are addressed with several USB and 12-volt power points as well as a 110-volt outlet. Cargo capacity matches similar vehicles of this size with about 17 cubic feet when all seats are used; 43 cubic feet when the third row is stowed; and a cavernous 85 cubic feet with all seats folded. The front passenger seat folds flat to carry long items — a nice feature for trips to the home improvement store.
The Dodge Durango is a good SUV with a variety of engines and trim levels to satisfy many types of buyers. In its base trim, it is easily outmatched by its competitors, but move up to the R/T or SRT models and there are few that can compete.
Price as tested: $62,995
EPA fuel mileage: 13 city, 19 highway
Crash tests: TBD
The Ford Explorer is a completely revamped vehicle for 2020. When the first Explorers were introduced 30 years ago, they were rear-wheel drive (four-wheel drive was optional). Over the years that changed, and the very last generation of Explorers were front-wheel-drive. This latest Explorer has returned to its proper truck roots as a rear-wheel drive vehicle, with optional four-wheel drive. Buyers have three engine choices: a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder; a V-6 engine option that, depending on trim level, develops 400 horsepower; and a V-6 battery/electric hybrid. Our road test was conducted in the Explorer ST with 400-horsepower turbocharged V-6 engine, 10-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive.
The 400-horsepower ST Explorer is surprisingly fast, reaching 60 mph in five seconds, which is comparable to many sports sedans. The ride is a bit firm due to the optional 21-inch wheels and stiffer springs than found in other versions of the Explorer. I found the overall handling to be controlled, but not quite as good as some other sporty SUVs. The steering feel was just a little numb and artificial for my tastes. The 10-speed transmission never seemed to completely connect with this powerful engine. It did have a couple of different modes, with the sport setting seeming to be the best match. Overall, the cabin is quiet with a lack of wind and road noise.
The interior of the Explorer looks very contemporary with a large portrait-style infotainment display and contemporary interior trim design. “Roomy” is the key word here: An optional twin-panel moonroof gives the cabin an airy feel. The Explorer is a great car for tall drivers; at 6’2”, I found myself moving the seat forward. Yet, using the seat and steering wheel adjustments, my 5’5” wife easily found a comfortable driving position. Front seats are heated and cooled, and the rear seat is heated as well. The third row is most suited for children. The controls are well laid out and easy to use, and the Sync 3 voice control system is one of the best that I’ve seen. Safety is addressed with typical features such as automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection and rear cross-traffic alert. Our test vehicle also had a self-parking feature. It worked fine but I found I could park more quickly using the 360-degree camera system.
The Explorer has plenty of USB and 12-volt power points for electronics, as well as a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot that can connect every passenger in the vehicle to the internet. Interior storage is about average with a larger center console, several small bins and a smallish glove compartment. Overall, cargo space is quite good; with the second-row seats in use there’s about 48 cubic feet of space available; it expands to 88 cubic feet with the second row folded.
The latest Ford Explorer is, in my opinion, the best of the line. It does a lot of things well and, if you can live with a few negatives, the Explorer can be your best choice for a mid-sized SUV.
Base ST price: $54,740
EPA fuel economy: 18 city, 24 highway
Crash test: TBD
The Ford Ranger is an all-new, mid-sized pickup truck powered by a 270-horsepower 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The Ranger is available in SuperCab or SuperCrew configurations, with three different trim levels and four-wheel drive as an additional option. I conducted my road test in the SuperCrew, with four-wheel drive and the top-of-the-line trim package.
If in the market for a truck, the Ranger is the size I’d choose; larger and more comfortable than previous compact Ford trucks, this is more manageable than a full-size pickup. My concerns about the smaller, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine were mitigated once I got behind the wheel. With 270 turbocharged horsepower and more than 300 pounds of torque, you’d think the Ranger was powered by a V-8 engine. A 10-speed automatic transmission adds to the performance and maximizes fuel economy. (About 75% of my road test was highway driving, and I averaged a respectable 24 mpg, according to the onboard computer.) The ride was firm without being overly bouncy. Steering is good — light enough for parking and firm enough at highway speeds. The optional four-wheel drive system is designed to be used part time for off-road use or deep snow. The four-door version of the Ranger has a small cargo bed that measures just five feet and includes a watertight cover. This short-bed configuration defines the truck as more of a fun recreational truck rather than a work truck.
The cab of our four-door Ranger easily seats four adults. At six feet tall, I was able to fit comfortably in the front and rear seat, even when the front seat was moved as far back as possible. The fit and finish is a mixed bag, with some premium materials mixed in with hard plastics. As with most trucks today, the Ranger has built-in technology — starting with an 8-inch touch screen for real-time vehicle, navigation and audio information. The Ranger has standard pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking — our test model had the lane-keeping system (lane departure warning, reverse sensing, lane-keeping assist and class-exclusive blind spot information system with trailer coverage), as well as adaptive cruise control.
The new Ford Ranger has grown up and shouldn’t be confused with earlier models. It delivers a good ride, returns decent fuel economy, and has the power and performance to travel off-road and through deep snow. In all, the 2020 Ranger is a nice mid-sized truck with a lot to offer — it might be just the right vehicle for the suburban explorer.
Base price: 4X4 SuperCab, $32,460
Fuel economy: 20 mpg city, 24 mpg highway
Crash test: four stars
When it comes to compact SUVs, the Honda CR-V is consistently a top pick — and the updated 2020 model will be no exception. The 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine powers all four wheels through an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT). Our road test was done in the top-of-the-line Touring model, but the CR-V also comes in three additional trim levels: LX, EX and EX-L.
The 190-horsepower engine delivers spritely performance, as well as very good fuel economy. In a 50/50 mix of local and highway driving, I averaged almost 30 mpg. The CVT is certainly one of the better performing versions, working smoothly with the characteristics of this small four-cylinder engine. I wouldn’t consider this Honda an off-road vehicle, but it certainly could handle light to moderate off-road recreation. The steering is light with a positive on-center feel. Even in a particularly strong windstorm on my way to work, the CR-V felt very stable. The ride was comfortable; not plush, but it soaked up pavement breaks and bumps with ease. Previous CR-Vs I have driven always seemed a bit buzzy at highway speeds, but this latest model was quiet with minimal wind, road and engine noise. The CR-V is easy to get in and out of while offering ground clearance that should be able to handle snowy roads with ease.
The interior of the CR-V is nicely appointed with quality materials used throughout. The controls are well-thought-out and easy to use, except for radio channel selection that could use a tuning knob to limit driver distraction. The front seats of our premium CR-V were comfortable and offered enough adjustments to keep drivers of all sizes comfortable. The rear seats easily accommodate two long-legged adults; three for a short trip. Safety is addressed with a full complement of airbags, and lane departure and blind spot warning systems. Our test model had intelligent cruise control which offers some semi-autonomous driving features. Visibility is quite good with only minor blind spots. There are plenty of 12-volt and USB power points, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay offers seamless integration with most mobile phones. For a compact SUV, the cargo area has an impressive 40 cubic feet of space with all seats in use; it expands to nearly 75 cubic feet with the seats folded. There are several convenience features, such as push-button start, and you can wave your foot under the rear bumper to open the hatch —handy when your arms are full of groceries.
The Honda CR-V continues to be one of the best compact SUVs available, with a combination of good fuel economy, a compact size and a spacious, comfortable interior. While it doesn’t excel in every category, the sum of its parts makes it a winner.
Base price: $25,050
Crash test: 5 stars
EPA fuel mileage: 27 city, 32 highway
The Palisade is a three-row, front-wheel drive SUV, the largest offered by Hyundai. All-wheel drive is optional, and the Palisade is available in three trim levels: SE, SEL and Limited. All models use the same 291-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 engine connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode. Our road test was in the fully equipped all-wheel drive Limited. The Palisade easily seats up to eight adults in comfort. The wide and supportive front seats are very comfortable. The second- and third-row seats easily accommodate adults, and even the third row is fairly easy to get in and out of and offers decent visibility. The controls are simple with a nice combination of touch screen and knobs to minimize distraction while driving. The infotainment system can load up to three functions on the display and is fairly intuitive. There are some redundant buttons on the steering wheel, again to minimize distraction. The instrument panel in the Limited uses a large display that provides a vast amount of information. One interesting feature is that when a turn signal is used, the tachometer or speedometer is temporarily replaced with a video feed of the side of the vehicle. This is an interesting method of reducing some of the largest blind spots found around the vehicle. One feature that I didn’t care for in this model is a push-button shifter rather than a more conventional design. I also did not care for the intercom used to talk with the rear-seat passengers. Overall, the interior has an upscale look and feel of a more expensive vehicle. Interior storage is quite good, with plenty of cup holders, bins and cavernous cargo space with all the seats folded.
Performance from the 3.8-liter V-6 engine was certainly up to the task of moving the Palisade, with more than enough power in reserve. The eight-speed transmission shifted smoothly. There was also a rotary knob to adjust response from Eco to Sport, with an additional setting for snow. The Sport setting keeps the transmission in a lower gear, making the throttle response quicker and better for trailer towing. There is also a Smart transmission setting which automatically selects the correct mode depending on how the Palisade is driven —this is the setting that I used during my road test. After several hundred miles of driving according to the computer display, I averaged 26 mpg, several miles per gallon better than the stated EPA average. Safety is addressed with a full suite of safety features including automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with lane keeping, and a rear passenger alert system to prevent leaving someone or something in the rear seating area. The overall ride was comfortable and controlled. Even though this is a large vehicle, there was limited body on tight turns and highway ramps. The steering was smooth — light enough at low speeds and firms up at highway speeds.
The Palisade by Hyundai easily competes with the best vehicles in its class — and like all Hyundai models, adds value for the money. There was once a time where I would only recommend Hyundai models because they were a good value, despite their shortcomings. Today that is not the case. The Palisade is a well-designed and executed vehicle.
Price as tested: $47,605
EPA mileage: 19 city, 24 highway
Crash test: TBD
The Venue is an all-new model from Hyundai, a compact front-wheel drive SUV that comes in two trim levels (SE and SEL). Both are powered by the same 1.6 liter four-cylinder engine. The base model has a standard six-speed manual transmission, and the SEL has a standard continually variable (CVT) transmission. Our road test was in the slightly upscale SEL model.
The 1.6 liter 121 horsepower engine isn’t exactly sporty but is powerful enough to zip around town and merge drama-free onto a busy highway. Overall, the Venue handles nimbly and rides comfortably. The semi-autonomous technology works well without being overly obtrusive. The steering is light enough at low speeds and, even on the highway on a windy day, the Venue feels solid and well-connected to the road. During my road test the Venue achieved 32 miles per gallon according to the on-board trip computer.
The SEL version is well-equipped with host of standard semi-autonomous safety features, including lane keeping assistant and front collision avoidance with pedestrian detection. (These features were once only found in premium-level vehicles and it was a bit surprising to find them in a car with a base price below $20,000.) The Venue comes standard with an eight-inch color display, smart phone integration, tilt and telescoping steering wheel and six-way adjustable driver’s seat. Our Venue had a few additional options in our test model, such as rear cross-traffic alert and blind spot collision warning. These are great features that, unfortunately, need to be paired with a sunroof. Additional options were heated seats and side view mirrors, push-button start with a proximity keyfob, LED headlights and navigation.
The Venue has a bit of a boxy upright shape that delivers great comfort and utility in a small package. The Venus is a five-passenger car, but more than four adults would be a tight fit. The front seating area is surprisingly roomy with comfortable seats. The controls are well thought out with a useful mix of knobs and buttons that don’t overly rely on the touchscreen. The climate control quickly warmed the cabin on a cool morning and the heated seat will be welcome in the winters. The interior has a few bins, cubbies, cupholders and small glove compartment. There are a few USB and 12-volt power-points for your mobile accessories. The rear seat is comfortable – at least for shorter drives – but entry and exit through the small door is a challenge for larger passengers. The cargo area is smaller than some other vehicles but with the rear seat folded can carry large, boxy items. It was also nice to see a temporary use spare tire in the Venue, something that was missing on other Hyundai vehicles in the past. The overall fit and finish of the Venue feels better than its new car entry level price might reflect.
Hyundai designed the Venue for the young urban entrepreneur but I think it will have a much broader appeal. If you are looking for a useful, fuel efficient, affordable and comfortable vehicle, or perhaps an alternative to a used car, the Venue won’t disappoint.
EPA fuel economy: 30 city, 34 highway
Crash Test: TBD
Base Price: $19,400
It’s been decades since Jeep had a pickup truck, but Jeep enthusiasts don’t need to worry: the Gladiator pickup is still a true Jeep. The Gladiator combines the capabilities of a Wrangler with the rear suspension of a Ram pickup in an all-new design. The Gladiator can tackle just about any off-road situation, carry cargo and people, and still return a reasonably comfortable ride. The Gladiator comes in four trim levels: Sport, Sport S, Rubicon and the Overland, which was the subject of our road test. Currently there is one engine available — a 3.6-liter V-6 engine that produces 285 horsepower; transmission choices include a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic. Moving up in trim levels also adds heavier-duty off-road components, as well as creature comforts.
The Overland version had all the features of a luxury car: heated seats and steering wheel, smart cruise control, full-speed collision warning with brake assist, remote keyless entry with push-button start, remote start, LED lights and an 8.4-inch infotainment system.
On the road, the 285-horsepower engine delivers good performance while returning about 20 mpg, according to the computer display. Torque is strong and controllable, allowing easy transitions on and off the road. The ride is pretty good; it’s still a truck but is comfortable overall. The steering is solid although there is a bit of on-center vagueness. Jeeps were once considered noisy and a long ride was tiring. With the Gladiator, you can drive all day on local roads or on the highway and be comfortable the entire time. The handling is good and even gets better off road. The Gladiator is a true Trail Rated Jeep, able to ford 30 inches of water. It’s not quite as capable as the Wrangler, due to its added length, but can still handle some serious off-road travel. The Gladiator feels pretty much unstoppable.
Our top-of-the-line Overland was very comfortable, with heated front leather seats that provide a commanding view of the road. The rear seats easily accommodates three adult passengers. There is good storage, hidden cargo boxes and plenty of USB and 12-volt power points. In addition, there is a 120-volt outlet in the small, five-foot cargo bed. Our test model had a spray-on bedliner to keep cargo from shifting, and a roll-up cargo cover to keep things dry. Depending on the model, the bed can accommodate between 1,100 and 1,600 pounds of cargo. The Gladiator is a capable tow vehicle, able to tow up to 7,000 pounds. Like the Wrangler, the Gladiator can almost be considered a convertible, with removable doors and roof for an open-air ride.
The Jeep Gladiator is not the best pickup truck on the market, but is certainly the most fun and capable off-road compact pickup truck available today.
Fuel mileage: 17 city, 22 highway
Crash test: TBD
Base price: $33,475
After 28 years, the Jeep pickup truck is back with its latest model, the Gladiator. This is not just a Wrangler with an open bed, it is a pickup truck that uses many components from the successful RAM 1500. The Gladiator comes in several trim levels with two engine choices (a 3.0-liter diesel or a 3.6-liter gasoline) and two transmissions (8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual). Depending on configurations, there are two four-wheel drive systems: The Command-Trac 4x4 system (standard on Sport and Overland) features a two-speed transfer case; the heavier-duty Rock-Trac system is used for serious off-road driving.
My road test was conducted in the desert rated Gladiator Mojave, powered by the 3.6-liter V-6 engine that develops 285 horsepower connected to the eight-speed automatic transmission. The Mojave stands apart from the rest of the Gladiator lineup by 33-inch tires, skid plates and high-performance, off-road shock absorbers. You don’t need to be an expert off-road driver to take advantage of what this Jeep has to offer. With the push of a button, drivers can adjust gas pedal response and traction control for high speed passes on sandy terrain, as well as during low-speed rock crawling. The 3.6-liter V-6 engine has all the torque necessary for traveling the road less traveled, but also would be great when pulling a boat up a steep boat ramp. Unfortunately, my road test of this ultimate desert racer was confined to city streets and highways. Out on the open road, I was pleasantly surprised how civilized this Gladiator was; the ride is firm but not punishing and always controlled. The steering is generally good, although there is a bit of on-center numbness. Just because this Jeep is desert rated doesn’t mean it is missing out of safety and creature comforts. All the latest safety features are available, such as automatic emergency braking, intelligent cruise control and blind spot monitor with cross-traffic alert.
Inside the cabin, the Gladiator Mojave differs from other models with more aggressive sport-style front seats that have integrated upper bolsters to hold occupants securely in place. Even the thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel has a performance feel to it. There is an available forward-facing, off-road camera that allows the driver to see obstructions when traveling off road but is also handy for parking. The rear seating area is comfortable for adults and a bit roomier than most mid-sized trucks. Electronic technology is up to date with an easy to use infotainment system and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mobile phone integration. The Gladiator is a smaller pickup truck with only a five-foot cargo box, but – with the tailgate down – it can still be very useful at the home improvement store.
The Jeep Gladiator Mojave competes with bigger vehicles like the Ford Raptor and Toyota Tundra TRD. If you can see yourself racing though the desert, jumping dunes and traveling uncharted terrain, the Gladiator Mojave may be just what you are looking for — even if the tires never leave the pavement.
Base price: $43,845
EPA fuel economy: 17 city, 22 highway
Crash test: 4 stars
The Kia Niro electric vehicle can be powered by a gasoline engine or as a PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle). The Niro is an effective electric vehicle; with 239 miles of range, there is little anxiety about finding a recharging station. (My commute is about 100 total miles and, using a combination of available Level II charging and my house current in the evening, the Niro always had plenty of range.) Recharging is best performed with Level II or Level III (fast charging). Level III fast charging can bring the battery to about 80% capacity in about an hour; Level II charging requires about 9 hours to fully recharge a depleted battery. Although the Niro has 117-volt convenience charging, it could take several days to fully recharge a depleted battery with typical house current.
The electric motor produces 201 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque. This translates into a sprightly performance that rivals most gasoline vehicles of this size. The overall driving experience is good: handling is stable and secure, and the ride is comfortable. On the road, the best performance comes out on the highway, and acceleration from 40 to 65 mph is surprisingly quick and effortless. While the Niro looks like a small station wagon or SUV, it doesn’t have all-wheel drive and the suspension is designed for on-road, not off-road travel.
The interior is comfortable with easy-to-use controls. The shifter is a simple rotary knob: click to the right for Drive, click to the left for Reverse and push down for Park. There are well-designed knobs and buttons for the infotainment system and climate control, and a large navigation system display. Connecting a smart phone to take advantage of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is easy. The sound system in our EV was a premium version with great sound.
The front seats were quite comfortable, and the upright seating position gives a nice unobstructed view of the road. The rear seat, headroom and legroom are pretty good, but the floor is raised slightly. While not uncomfortable, it just feels a bit odd. Storage is quite good with about 19 cubic feet of cargo space, 50 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. Our premium trim Niro had all the latest comfort and safety features such as heated and cooled front seats, wireless phone charging, automatic climate control, lane centering, adaptive cruise control and great performing LED headlights. There is a mix of top-quality materials and maybe a bit too much hard plastic, but overall the Niro competes well with other vehicles in its class.
The Niro EV is a slightly boring, unremarkable vehicle that is very good at what it does. For many drivers, the Niro could easily complete the majority of their driving tasks. If you are specifically looking for an electric car — or just replacing a gasoline car — the Niro is worth a look.
Fuel economy: 239e
Price as tested: $47,500
Crash test: TBD
The 2020 Kia Soul is completely redesigned with a new more powerful base engine and updated exterior. The Kia Soul is a subcompact boxy crossover vehicle, but, unlike many vehicles in this class, only has front-wheel drive. The Soul is available in two engines: a 1.6-liter 201-horsepower turbocharged engine, and a 2.0-liter base engine. There are three transmissions (manual, automatic and direct-shift automatic) and several trim levels: the LX base with a manual transmission, S, EX, GT-Line (2.0 liter engine), GT-Line (1.6 engine) and — the subject of our test drive — the X-Line. Our vehicle had a standard 2.0-liter, 147-horsepower, four-cylinder engine with a conventional automatic transmission.
The interior of the Soul is both functional and comfortable. The cloth front seats were supportive and offered enough adjustments to find a comfortable seating position. The front seats are raised up and offer good overall visibility. At six feet tall, I had plenty of head and legroom, and taller drivers should find plenty of space. The tilt/telescoping steering wheel helps with the overall driving position. The additional controls such as wipers, lights and cruise control are simple and uncluttered. The infotainment system is basic but can connect with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to maximize the driver experience. The system uses a combination of touch screen, buttons and steering wheel controls. The large climate control knobs are easy to use, even with gloves. The interior quality was quite good and nicer than the price would generally dictate. Our X-Line version was equipped with cross-traffic alert and blind-spot collision warning. There is a bit of a blind spot to the rear, but with the combination of rearview camera and cross-traffic alert, was never an issue. A pair of cup holders, storage bins/cubbies and well-sized glove compartment rounded out the interior storage. The rear seat can truly accommodate three adults in reasonable comfort. The rear cargo area makes this small vehicle such a great all-purpose car, with 24 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat up, and 62 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.
Base engine performance was more than sufficient, with plenty of power to feel nimble and quick around town but easily handling highway speeds. The steering was quick and the ride firm but comfortable. This translates into a vehicle that is more fun to drive than its quirky look would lead you to believe. I experienced fuel economy of 31 mpg according to the onboard computer display.
The Kia Soul is a funky vehicle that works well. With its combination of good fuel economy, useful interior and nimble manners, the Soul is a good value for consumers.
Base price: $17,490
Crash test: TBD
The Land Rover Discovery is a mid-sized luxury SUV that is powered by either a 3.0-liter gasoline or diesel engine and is available in four trim levels. Our road test was conducted in the mid-range HSE diesel; as with all Land Rover models, the power is directed to all four wheels.
The cabin was luxurious with leather and upscale trim features throughout. The Discovery seats five adults quite comfortably; a 7-passenger option is also available but designed for kids or for short trips with adults. Front seating is especially spacious with plenty of head- and legroom. The rear seats are comfortable but narrow. The controls are adequate, although some, like window switches, are oddly placed. The infotainment system is needlessly difficult to operate. While it has great sound and accurate navigation, like many vehicle systems today it would benefit from adding a few extra knobs and actual buttons. These would simplify the system, making it far less distracting to the driver. Safety technology is well-represented with automatic braking that works well at all speeds; rear cross-traffic alert, a detailed backup camera, lane departure correction, advanced cruise control and a head-up display that projects essential information and navigation directions directly into the driver’s line of sight on the windshield is also available. Heated and cooled seating and a heated steering wheel round out the interior, and, unlike the infotainment system, climate controls are easy to use. Storage is good throughout the Discovery; the center console is roomy, the glove compartment good-sized and the rear cargo area expansive. When the tailgate is raised a small shelf unfolds — so you can sit and enjoy events or games.
Out on the highway, the steering is firm and offers good driver feedback; at lower speeds, the steering lightens up a bit for easy maneuvering. The 360-degree parking camera allows for quick and easy parallel parking in tight spaces. Our test model came with well-designed LED headlights that did a great job of lighting the roadway without being objectionable to oncoming traffic. The diesel engine in our test vehicle was so quiet that passengers would never think it was anything but a traditional luxury SUV. Performance from the 354-horsepower engine is good, due to the impressive 443 foot-pounds of torque. Merging onto a busy highway or passing a slow-moving truck is accomplished with ease. The Discovery has air suspension that adjusts from low to high access so off-road driving is a breeze. A switch allows the driver to select the best four-wheel drive setting for the terrain; there’s also the equivalent of cruise control for off-road travel — called All-Terrain Progress Control. Fuel economy during my road test averaged 25 mpg.
The Land Rover Discovery is a capable off-road vehicle with luxurious appointments. If you can put up with some of the Discovery’s idiosyncrasies, it is a fine choice for a mid-sized luxury SUV.
Retail price: $61,200
EPA fuel economy (diesel): 21 city, 26 highway
Crash test: TBD
The Lexus GX 460 is a large SUV designed to handle some serious off-road driving, something the luxury vehicle segment generally does not embrace. The 4.6-liter, V-8 engine is powerful, developing 301 horsepower and connected to a 6-speed transmission and full-time 4-wheel drive. The GX 460 comes in two trim levels: Base and Luxury, the latter of which was the subject of our road test. This version comes with the full array of Lexus safety systems which include intelligent cruise control, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, 10 airbags, LED headlamps, moonroof, parking assist with rear cross traffic alert and a host of other features. The test vehicle also had the optional, premium Mark Levinson surround sound audio system, panoramic view, multi-terrain monitors and sport package with upgraded 19-inch wheels and tires.
The GX 460 is not the biggest of the Lexus SUVs but it feels and drives like a very large vehicle. The ride is comfortable, and the Lexus Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System offers surprisingly good handling both on and off road. The steering feels light enough at low speeds for parking lot maneuvers and firms up with a positive on-center feel on the highway. Performance from the 4.6-liter engine pales in comparison to some of the sportier competition but is able to bring this 2 1/2-ton SUV to 60 mpg in 7.5 seconds. One of the biggest drawbacks is fuel economy; during my time with the GX I averaged an abysmal 14.6 mpg, according to the onboard computer system. The big V-8 engine and body-on-frame construction allows the GX to tow up to 6,500 pounds, 30% more than most SUVs in this category.
The interior has comfortable front seats with a commanding seating position that offers good visibility. The second row is quite comfortable with good leg and headroom, even with the front seats pushed back. The third row is tight, not particularly comfortable and better suited for children rather than adults. The controls are simple and straightforward, with knobs and buttons for just about every feature. The eight-inch infotainment system is clear and easy to use; and, like many newer vehicles, it integrates easily with smartphones. With all three rows in use the cargo area is tight, with about 11 cubic feet of storage. The rear seats power fold with a push of a button to expand cargo room to 36 cubic feet; with all rows folded, there’s more than 64 cubic feet. One unusual feature is that the rear door is hinged on the right side, rather than lifting from the bottom. I don’t oppose this design, but it would be more useful and safer to have the hinge on the left side, avoiding traffic when parking on the street. One feature of the GX that I miss in most SUVs is that the rear glass opens. This is especially useful for carrying long items over short distances.
The GX 460 by Lexus is luxurious on the inside, attractive on the outside, and can tackle fairly serious off-road travel. If you are towing a good-sized boat or trailer and want to do it in style, the GX 460 might be just what you are looking for.
Crash test: TBD
EPA fuel economy: 15 city, 19 highway
Base price: $64,265
Lincoln, once known as a maker of luxury sedans, will now be focusing on SUVs. Lincoln has announced it will end production on the MKZ and will discontinue the Continental, its last sedan. Their lineup now consists of the Aviator, Corsair, Nautilus and Navigator. I recently had the opportunity to evaluate both the mid-sized, three-row Aviator and the smaller Corsair.
My Aviator test drive was conducted in a plug-in hybrid version called the Grand Touring, which combines a 3.0-liter twin turbocharged V-6 with an electric motor, developing a total of 494 horsepower and 630 foot-pounds of torque. There are several drive modes: pure electric, sporty, economy, tow/haul, slick and deep snow. I often left the drive mode in the normal setting, which automatically varies based on how I was driving the vehicle. If I drove more aggressively, the Grand Touring would firm up the suspension and deliver a tighter, more dynamic feel to the vehicle. In the other Aviator models, the standard suspension system is not as sophisticated and loses some of the dynamic control of the Grand Touring edition. Although the Aviator can run purely on battery power for about 21 miles, it seems to me that the battery/electric motor is designed to provide for overall fuel efficiency and power rather than to be a true electric vehicle. Overall performance is outstanding; the engine is smooth, and the transmission shifts seamlessly.
While performance and handling are excellent, the interior is a step above and very luxurious. The cabin is almost silent, and the optional Perfect Position front seats have 30-way adjustability. The second-row seats are not quite as opulent but do recline and move fore and aft. The third row — like most SUVs of this size — is a bit tight and designed for occasional use or for kids. The materials are top-notch, from the high-quality leather to the soft touch surfaces and trim pieces. Controls are all easy to use, offering a nice mix of buttons, knobs and touch screen. The Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring Plug-in hybrid is a very nice premium SUV with a premium cost to match: the base price is $68,800. With additional options, it’s easy to jump to a $85,000 price tag.
If the Aviator Grand touring is too much for your budget or garage, the all-new Corsair could fit the bill. The Corsair Grand Touring comes as a plug-in hybrid, making a combined 266 horsepower, but is also available in the Standard and Reserve models. The base engine makes 250 horsepower and the optional 2.3-liter engine develops 280 horsepower. The Corsair is available in both front- and all-wheel drive.
The interior has many of the same luxurious features of the larger Aviator, with comfortable seats but fewer (“only” 25!) available adjustments on the driver’s seat. The Corsair is noisier on the road than the Aviator, but still very quiet for a compact SUV. The overall style is also quite pleasing, especially with the optional larger wheels on our test model.
Technology is a strong point in the Lincoln SUV lineup. Some available features are Lincoln’s Head-Up Display, which shows selected information on the windshield — helping keep the driver’s eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Like the Aviator, the Corsair comes standard with a suite of driver-assist features known as Lincoln Co-Pilot360, which provides automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and lane-keeping technology. Other optional features are adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist to help guide the vehicle using stop-and-go, lane centering technology and speed sign recognition, and evasive steer assist — which provides additional steering support if braking alone isn’t enough to prevent a collision. The Corsair will even apply the brakes in reverse if the back-up sensors detect an object. Full parking assist takes over steering, shifting, braking and acceleration with the touch of a button to navigate parallel and perpendicular parking spaces. The Corsair has a base price starting at $35,945, and the PHEV Grand Touring starts at about $50,000.
With both Aviator and Corsair, you can use your mobile phone to lock, unlock, drive and even start the engine to cool or heat the cabin. You don’t need to worry if your phone battery fails and you don’t have the actual key fob; the door-mounted digital keypad gets you in the vehicle and entering a code into the infotainment system gets you on your way.
Lincoln is trying to find just the right size vehicle that meets their customers’ needs. When the Navigator is too big, the three-row Aviator may fit the bill. If the Aviator is still too large, the smaller Corsair may fit you just right.
The E-Class by Mercedes-Benz is a range of luxury models, including a convertible, coupe, sedan and station wagon. All E-Class vehicles have a variety of engine choices, and all-wheel drive is available in most models. Our road test was in the five-passenger E-350 with 4Matic all-wheel drive.
The E-350 is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that develops 255 horsepower and 273 foot-pounds of torque. The engine is connected to a nine-speed automatic transmission that powers all four wheels. The base engine is certainly capable of day-to-day driving and has more than enough power to handle all driving situations. Those looking for more power can opt for either a six-cylinder version or the high-performance AMG E-Class that is powered by a twin-turbocharged V-8 engine. The ride in this Mercedes-Benz is comfortable and firm — soaking up bumps without being jarring — and the transmission shifts smoothly. The steering is nicely weighted — light enough at low speeds for parking lot maneuvers, yet firm with no wandering at highway speeds. Overall handling in the base E-350 version leans toward comfort but has excellent composure overall. Brakes are firm and powerful, easily able to quickly stop this two-ton sedan. Safety is well-addressed with automatic emergency collision warning and braking, blind spot warning, intelligent cruise control and Mercedes-Benz Car-to-X communication. This system uses radio communication to “talk” with other vehicles, and even the roadway. (The system is capable of warning users of hazards well outside the driver’s view, but only functions when other vehicles have the same system.)
The interior of the E-Class is luxurious without being overdone. The leather seats are firm, comfortable and supportive. The multifunction controls and tilt/telescope steering provide comfortable seating for drivers of any size. The controls are awkward at first but easily mastered. The infotainment system uses a combination of buttons, a center-mounted rotary controller and redundant steering wheel controls. The multi-zone automatic climate control works quickly to warm the cabin on cold days; seats can be both heated and cooled. Storage is certainly adequate, with a good-sized center console, glove compartment and roomy door pockets. Rear seating is comfortable for two adults, even during long trips. The cargo area is a bit on the small side though with only about 13 cubic feet. The standard sunroof helps give this sedan an open feel; there also is an optional panoramic roof that extends into the rear seating area.
The E-Class by Mercedes-Benz has evolved over the years. If you are looking for a recognizable, solid and fun-to-drive mid-sized luxury sedan, the E-350 is a great choice.
EPA fuel economy: 23 city, 32 highway
Crash test: TBD
The Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 is a compact luxury crossover, powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged, four-cylinder engine connected to a nine-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard; our test drive was conducted in the all-wheel drive version. The Mercedes-Benz GLC lineup also includes a plug-in hybrid and a performance-oriented AMG version.
Whether in the city or out on the open road, the GLC is competent, comfortable and quiet with just enough sporty DNA to be fun to drive. The 255-horsepower turbocharged engine has more than enough power to handle any driving situation. I found the nine-speed transmission matched the characteristics of the turbocharged engine and was always in the right gear — eliminating any power lag that sometimes happens with a turbocharged engine. The ride was comfortable and did a nice job of soaking up the breaks and potholes on our less-than-perfect roads. The steering was competent — light enough at low speeds and firm at highway speeds. Fuel economy during my time behind the wheel averaged about 26 mpg in a 75/25 mix of highway/city driving. I didn’t have a chance to drive the GLC in deep snow but did spend time on slippery roads, and the combination of the all-wheel drive system and electronic stability control delivered confident performance.
The cabin of the GLC is quite roomy for a small crossover SUV, and the front seats provide plenty of head- and legroom. Unlike many small SUVs, this Mercedes-Benz has lots of support and more than enough seat adjustments so any driver should be able to find a comfortable position. The rear seats are comfortable and even adults won’t feel cramped in this compact SUV. Cargo space is good with 19.5 cubic feet when all seats are in use; with the rear seats folded there is 56 cubic feet of available space. This is typical of other vehicles in the same category. Overall the interior has a luxury car look and feel, with high-quality materials used throughout the interior. As vehicles continue to turn into rolling computers, the controls of this Mercedes-Benz are easy to operate. The infotainment system has been updated for 2020 and now seems just a bit more intuitive. Like some many vehicles these days, there is Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which helps keep your phone slightly less distracting by having it connect directly to the infotainment system.
The Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 may not be the fastest or best-handling compact luxury SUV on the market, but it is hard to find any faults. The GLC is a great example that the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. If you are looking for a luxurious, quiet, good handling compact SUV, you owe it to yourself to look at the GLC 300 by Mercedes-Benz.
Base price: $42,500
Fuel economy: 21 city, 28 highway
Crash test: TBD
The Eclipse Cross by Mitsubishi is a compact SUV that competes with the likes of the Hyundai Tucson, Ford Escape or Jeep Compass. The Eclipse Cross comes in 10 possible configurations, all using the same 1.5-liter turbocharged engine connected to an automatic transmission. The Eclipse Cross can be ordered in front-wheel or all-wheel drive versions. Our road test was in the SEL S-AWC — this translates into an all-wheel drive model with a sporty feel.
The 1.5-liter turbocharged engine provides sprightly performance, but the engine is rated at only 152 horsepower and 184-foot pounds of torque. This translates into a vehicle performance that is certainly adequate but not sporty. Under hard acceleration the engine gets buzzy. The automatic CVT (continually variable transmission) in our model had paddle shifters to add to the sporty feel; but in reality, it didn’t do much to improve the performance. The overall handling is average — the ride goes from slightly jarring on some roads to wallowing a bit around turns. The electric power steering doesn’t give the driver much feedback, but the tight turning radius makes for easy parking lot maneuvers. At highway speeds there is some road noise entering the cabin, but it’s not objectionable. Our test model had a full complement of safety technology, including forward collision mitigation with high-speed braking capabilities and pedestrian detection. There was also lane departure warning and a head-up display system. I did have the opportunity to drive the Eclipse Cross in the snow, and the all-wheel drive system in the snow setting handled a fresh six-inch snowfall with no problem. Fuel economy averaged 24 mpg during my time behind the wheel.
The cabin of our upscale model was finished in leather interior with heated front and rear seats. There is plenty of headroom, but long-legged drivers may require a bit more room. The seat height and door opening make for comfortable entry and exit. Visibility to the rear is a bit limited due to the unique styling but is improved by the multi-view camera system. The leather steering wheel in our test model was also heated, a bit of an unexpected feature on this level of vehicle. The rear seating is comfortable for two adults and can fit three, at least for short trips. The second-row seat can slide to improve legroom. Our test model also had Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, allowing the capabilities of your smart phone to be linked to the seven-inch display. The optional sunroof adds to the open-air feel. Cargo area with all the seats in use is a bit tight, but with the split rear seats folded becomes useful for trips to the home improvement center or a weekend of antiquing.
The Eclipse Cross by Mitsubishi offers a significant number of features and an outstanding warranty. In addition, the styling is very contemporary —standing out from other compact SUVs. If you are looking for a compact SUV and can live with a few shortcomings, the Eclipse Cross is worth a look.
Base price: $22,995
Fuel economy: 25 city, 26 highway
Crash test: TBD
Last year, Nissan completely remodeled the Altima, adding all-wheel drive as an option for the first time. Altimas now are powered by a choice of two engines — the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine (which replaces the previous V-6 engine), or a 2.5-liter base engine version. The turbocharge is available in three trim levels; the base version comes in five (S, SR, SV, SL and Platinum). Our road test was in the Platinum edition, all-wheel drive with the 188-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine.
2020 updates include the addition of Nissan Safety Shield 360 technology available across the entire Altima lineup. Other changes include the addition of a mirror memory function to the Platinum grade and Piano Black interior finish to SV, SL and Platinum grade levels.
The Altima is a true mid-sized car. The standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, coupled with the continually variable transmission (CVT), works well and felt smoother and more refined than previous Nissans I drove. The new Altima does a very good job of quieting engine and road noise. The overall handling is about what you would expect in a mid-sized car, with a firm but comfortable ride. The steering was good, providing enough feedback to avoid feeling vague. The all-wheel drive system was completely transparent, adding extra grip when necessary. Fuel economy during my road test averaged 30 mpg on 87 octane fuel.
The front seats are improved over last year, remaining comfortable and supportive during my commute. The controls worked well, with functions that are simple and minimally distracting. The infotainment system (which includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay) and climate control used a combination of buttons, knobs, touch screen and redundant controls on the steering wheel. Rear-seat room is quite good for this car; there was a good amount of leg and headroom in the rear, even with the front seat pushed back. The trunk opening is small, but the space is quite deep, and the rear seats fold down to further expand the space.
Our Altima had a complete lineup of advanced driver assistance systems that used to be found only in the best luxury cars. The Nissan ProPILOT Assist system has lane centering, lane departure warning, cross-traffic alert, emergency braking, rear emergency braking, and smart cruise control that keeps a safe distance between you and other vehicles — even if speeds vary. The system worked pretty well, although it intervened a bit more than I wanted. For instance, as I was backing into a parking space crookedly but with room to straighten my approach, the car applied the brakes, catching me by surprise.
The previous generation Altima was a good — but never a great — vehicle. This latest Altima, with an upgraded engine, near-luxury interior, quieter ride and the optional all-wheel drive, makes a convincing augment to put the Altima at the top of your shopping list.
Base price: $24,645
Crash test: TBD
Fuel economy: 25 city, 35 highway
The Nissan Leaf is a fully electric car, offered with two different battery options. The standard Leaf uses a 40-kilowatt pack — with a range of up to 150 miles — and uses an electric motor that develops 147 horsepower. The new Leaf Plus uses a 62-kilowatt battery — with a 226-mile range — and is powered by a 214-horsepower electric motor. Both models of the Leaf come in three trim levels. Our road test was in the Leaf SL Plus.
This electric car drives like any other car. Acceleration is swift, due in large part to the 250 pound-feet of torque — and increasing from 50 to 65 mph to pass a vehicle is effortless. The larger, more powerful battery in the Leaf Plus is about the same size as the one in the standard Leaf, so interior room is not compromised for better performance. Steering is smooth and linear, and the ride is comfortable. Overall handling is quite good due to the placement of the battery pack, which helps keep the Leaf flat on turns.
The Leaf has three methods of charging the battery. It uses the common Level II charger found in many public places, a Level III DC voltage, fast charging system and a Level I system that uses typical house current. The Level III system can recharge the battery to about 80% in the time it takes for lunch; the Level II system needs overnight to recharge a completely drained battery. The Level 1 system, in my opinion, is designed only to maintain the battery. (Fully charging the battery on a 100-volt household current would take more than two days.) One nice feature is that the Leaf uses an adaptor than can plug into a 240-volt outlet — similar to an electric clothes dryer — and recharge without the expense of a home charging station.
Safety is addressed with Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist. This system provides many semi-autonomous features — such as lane centering — and can automatically adjust the distance to the vehicle ahead using a speed preset by the driver. In addition, if a car in front stops, ProPILOT Assist will automatically apply the brakes to bring the vehicle to a full stop if necessary. When traffic restarts, the driver simply needs to touch the steering wheel-mounted switch, or lightly press the accelerator, to get moving again. The Leaf also has an interesting feature referred to as e-Pedal, which allows the driver to only use the accelerator pedal to speed up, slow down or come to a complete stop. Although the system works well and can help make a drive more enjoyable, the technology does not replace a fully engaged driver. Of course, you still need to use the brake pedal to stop in an emergency.
The controls are modern but have a familiar feel and are quick to master. The front seats are comfortable, and the cabin has an airy spacious feel. Even the rear seating accommodates two adults comfortably. The trunk has approximately 24 cubic feet of storage space, expanding to about 30 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. There is some additional storage for smaller items, but it is a bit limited.
According to Nissan, the Leaf is the number one mass-produced electric vehicle in the world. Now, with its extended range, the Leaf is ready to take on its gasoline rivals and could easily be a replacement for your next car.
Crash test: TBD
Fuel economy: 108 MPGe
Base price: $31,600
The 2020 Nissan Sentra may be the best Sentra ever. Updated with a new engine and suspension, it maintains the look of its larger siblings, the Altima and premium-level Maxima. The Sentra is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine connected to a continually variable transmission (CVT), and comes in three trim levels — S, SV and SR — with two option packages. The base Sentra S includes 16-inch steel wheels with full covers and remote keyless entry with push-button start. The SV adds 16-inch alloy wheels, an upgraded infotainment (“NissanConnect”) featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an 8-inch color display with multi-touch control and 6-speaker audio system, dual zone auto climate control and Intelligent Cruise Control. For buyers looking for more, the sporty SR includes 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, LED fog lights and cloth interior. Two premium option packages add features such as a moonroof, heated seats and steering wheel, leather interior and more. The subject of our road test was the SV.
The new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is now rated at 149 hp, a 20% increase from the previous model. This gives the Sentra a peppy feel — not exactly a sports sedan but adequate for all driving conditions. The latest CVT-style transmission more closely simulates a traditional automatic transmission with virtual shift points. Fuel economy during my test drive averaged about 30 mpg in mostly city driving. Steering and overall handling have also been improved and refined over previous models. Safety is addressed with Nissan’s Safety Shield 360, which includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning and rear automatic braking.
I have driven Sentras since they first came on the market, and the first thing I noticed is how this latest version has matured. It’s roomy and stylish, with high-quality materials and controls that make sense. Nissan’s Zero Gravity front seats optimize posture positioning for more comfort on long distance trips, and a 6-way manual driver's seat and 4-way manual front passenger's seat add to the comfort. Switches, climate control buttons and radio volume/tuning knobs are all conveniently placed. Comfort and convenience are addressed throughout with front and rear door pockets, padded armrest and cup holders, tilt and telescopic steering column, and power windows and door locks with auto-locking feature and rear door alert. Our test car also had dual-zone automatic temperature control and keyless entry with push-button and remote start, features once found only in premium vehicles. The rear seating area is adequate, though tall passengers might find the headroom lacking. The trunk was good for a small car at 14.3 cubic feet and had a large opening to easily load bigger packages.
The latest Sentra is now the best Sentra with a smoother ride, better handling and a quality interior. It may not be the most powerful car in the compact sedan segment, but it is a small car that is easy to like.
Crash test: TBD
Fuel economy: 29 mpg city, 39 mpg highway
Base price: $20,270
The RAM pickup truck — already very good in 2019 — has gotten even better with its 2020 redesign. Design options are plentiful, with the RAM available in eight models and three cab/bed configurations. Engine choices are also varied with six-cylinder, eight-cylinder, mild-hybrid and diesel engines offered. Our road test was performed in the RAM 1500 four-door, Crew-Cab Laramie edition, powered by the 5.7-liter, V-8 mild-hybrid engine.
Driving this big truck is a very pleasurable experience. In my opinion, the ride is the smoothest of any pickup truck on the market today. Performance from the V-8, mild-hybrid 395-horsepower engine is strong and smooth. The hybrid system adds improved fuel economy by two miles per gallon; while it does not sound like much, it is significant in a full-sized truck. This engine shuts off at a stop, but the 48-volt hybrid motor provides silky-smooth restarts. Fuel economy during my test drive (according to the onboard computer system) averaged a respectable 20 mpg. An optional 33-gallon fuel tank gives you the option to spread out refueling stops. The RAM can tow up to 12,750 pounds (depending on how it’s equipped) and an optional adjustable air suspension adds to its capability. It can easily tow a good-sized boat or travel trailer.
The first impression this truck makes is its size; with a length of just over 19 feet it is formidable. Parking this vehicle requires some thought, as does maneuvering in tight quarters. The large size translates into one of the roomiest cabins of any vehicle. The front seating area is spacious and comfortable, and the seats are wide and supportive. The four-wheel drive model sits up high but getting in and out is made easier by the optional powered running boards. The rear seating area has limousine-like legroom. This may be one of the most spacious back seats of any vehicle — not just a truck — that I have driven in recent memory.
The Laramie trim level provides luxury features throughout. Our test model had heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel, remote start, 19-speaker sound system, 12-inch infotainment touch screen, Wi-Fi hot spot and heated second-row seating. The infotainment system has a well-designed mix of knobs and buttons that offers less chance of distraction than many other vehicles. Interior storage is also good with a large center console, two glove compartments and plenty of bins and cup holders. Our tester had a gigantic panoramic sunroof which added to the spacious feel.
Safety is addressed with a myriad of passive and active safety features, including adaptive cruise control with full stop and go, full-speed automatic forward collision avoidance, lane keeping assistance, parallel and perpendicular parking assist, automatic high-beam headlights, and blind spot and Cross Path detection. Even the cargo bed is well thought out with tie-downs, LED bed lighting, lockable side cargo bins, spray-in bed liner and a dual-opening rear tailgate. The tailgate opens conventionally, but also swings open in a 70/30 configuration. This is especially handy when loading heavier items into the bed because it eliminates the need to lift or slide items over the tailgate.
The RAM 1500 Laramie is the luxury edition of full-sized pickup trucks. Even with its luxury trim, it is still a capable truck, able to tackle everything from off-road excursions to trips to the neighborhood home improvement store.
Crash test: 5 stars
EPA fuel economy: 17 city, 22 highway
Base price: $46,740
The all-new Volvo V60 Cross Country wagon is a bit unusual in a world of sport utility vehicles. This edition sits up a little higher than the standard V60 wagon, and Volvo did a great job of disguising the additional ground clearance. At first glance, the overall proportions of this Volvo look like a well-designed wagon rather than a jacked-up car. Unlike the standard V60, the Cross Country only comes with all-wheel drive. Power is supplied by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The 250-horsepower engine is smooth and has enough power for everyday driving. When pushed hard there is a bit of a surprising — yet satisfying — growl from this sophisticated vehicle. The eight-speed transmission shifts smoothly and positively. The ride is comfortable in part due to the higher stance and suspension. The tires on our Cross Country were the optional 19-inch, which give the Cross County a nice look. (Although if this were my car, I would probably go with the 18-inch wheel/tire combination to be a bit more forgiving over our potholed roads.) Although the V60 Cross Country is not an SUV, it does have some capability to handle some off- road travel. Volvo added an off-road driving mode with hill descent control. With the addition of electronic drivetrain controls and a little more than eight inches of ground clearance, the Volvo Cross Country can manage just fine on the road less traveled.
The interior of the Cross Country is quite luxurious. The seats are comfortable and supportive with a myriad of adjustment options to keep the occupants comfortable — drivers with back issues will find the Volvo a great place to spend their driving time. The heated seats and steering wheel were a nice touch on cold winter mornings. The infotainment system is missing the touchpad found in some other luxury vehicles but overall the system is fast and easy to use. (The benefit is that all touchscreen systems can be distracting for drivers.) The rear seat is comfortable for adults and the large moonroof adds to the airy feel. There are plenty of cup holders and bins for all passengers. The cargo area — 29 cubic feet with seats in use and 53 cubic feet when rear seats are folded — is close to that of some true SUVs. Technology is well-represented in our test model, which included Volvo’s Pilot Assist, a combination of lane centering and adaptive cruise control. Volvo also has Park Assist that allows the car to take over when parking.
While neither a station wagon (like the Volvo V60) nor a true SUV (like the Volvo XC60), many drivers — like me — find this Cross Country edition just right for their lifestyle and needs.
Base price: $46,740
Fuel economy: 22 mpg city, 31 mpg highway
Crash tests: TBD