BMW has a new high-performance SUV with more power than most drivers will need. While it competes in the market with the Porsche Cayenne or Maserati Levante, the XM is a plug-in hybrid that is available with one transmission and engine choice and comes in only one trim level. (Other BMW M models — the X3, X4, X5 and X6 — have various performance levels to choose from.) The XM comes with a twin turbocharged plug-in hybrid drivetrain that develops an impressive 644 hp and 590 pound-feet of torque, powering all four wheels through an 8-speed transmission. It’s powerful and sporty, but if you have a desire for more, you can wait until 2024, when BMW introduces a Label Red edition. That model will use the twin-turbo V-8 engine, combined with a high-performance electric motor, that develops a ridiculous 738 hp and 738 pound-feet of torque, sprinting from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds.
This is a big, powerful vehicle, weighing just over 3 tons, with good overall handling, powerful brakes and little body roll on turns. The ride is firm, perhaps too firm for less-than-perfect Northeast roads. (I felt every pothole and crack in the asphalt.) The engine has a tunable exhaust that goes from fairly quiet to raucous and even in EV Mode can produce a V-8 engine sound in the cabin. Two push buttons on the steering wheel allow the driver to preset driving modes. For example, one can be set for eco-driving, with a soft ride and lighter steering, and the other can be set to loud exhaust, sport performance and minimum traction control. Since this is a plug-in hybrid, there is a full-electric mode; BMW claims about 30 miles of EV range. You’ll need a full night to charge using a standard house current, and about four hours to fully charge with a Level II 240-volt charger.
The cabin is interesting but slightly odd. The roof has a recessed panel with lights around the edge, slightly reminiscent of a fancy limousine. The rear seating area is referred to as a lounge area, where the seat backs cradle the passengers, and the charging cable fits into an interior matching leather satchel. My biggest complaint is with the infotainment control system; overall, I found it too difficult to use safely. Having to use a combination of voice command, and BMW’s iDrive and touch screen causes confusion. For example, adjusting the climate control to anything other than “automatic” requires you to access a menu with a dizzying array of options. It took too many steps to get the fan up to speed when a simple knob would do. Although the voice command system works quite well, a few easy-to-use knobs and buttons would be nice.
There are plenty of cup holders, cubbies and a large center console, but the glove compartment which had a large door was rather small. The rear cargo area is fairly large with 64 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. The front-row seats have many adjustable positions, including side bolsters and a massage feature. Once the seat was adjusted, I found it comfortable and supportive, although my wife never found a suitable position. The shifter was frustrating. Although it looked like a conventional floor shifter, it toggled from Park to Reverse to Drive to manual shift mode. I found myself struggling on several occasions after I backed out of a parking spot to shift the vehicle into Drive. I’m sure it would become familiar over time, but a basic function like shifting should not require a learning curve.
The BMW XM is not a vehicle for everyone. It is big and powerful … and expensive. With a base price of $160,000, it’s likely to be of interest to only a few in the market looking for a hybrid, sporty SUV.
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The mid-size SUV is one of the most popular vehicle classes of the last 20 years. Last year alone, about 2.76 million were sold, translating into about 7,500 every day.* There’s literally a model for everyone. One of the newer entries is the Kia Telluride, which hits the market with plenty of options. There are 11 trim levels in front- or rear-wheel drive. Our test drive was conducted in the well-equipped, 7-passenger, top-of-the-line all-wheel drive SX-Prestige.
The Telluride impresses with a smooth, quiet ride and reasonably precise handling. Some vehicles drive bigger than their actual size; this mid-size SUV feels smaller and more maneuverable than its competitor. The steering is light and easy for parking lot maneuvers and steadily adds a weighted feel as speed increases. Kia continues to use a traditional V-6, normally aspirated engine that produces nearly 300 hp, rather than a turbo- or supercharged four-cylinder engine. This design provides more than enough acceleration to reach 60 mph in about seven seconds. The tradeoff for this traditional design, however, is fuel economy. The EPA rates Telluride at 18 mpg/city and 24 mpg/highway. I averaged about 20 mpg in mostly city driving.
The interior of the Telluride is dominated by the 12.3-inch panoramic displays with navigation, surround view monitor and Head-Up display. The major controls are well-placed and offer minimal distractions. Interior features include a wireless phone charger, rear seat alert with ultrasonic sensors, heated steering wheel, and heated and cooled power-adjustable front seats. The X-line package offers more ground clearance than other models, standard 20-inch wheels, roof rails, tow package and self-leveling suspension.
The seats are very supportive and comfortable, and a large sunroof adds to the open-air feel of the cabin. Even adults will find the second-row seat comfortable, though the third row is best suited for kids. Cargo space is plentiful: 21 cubic feet with all seats in use, 46 cubic feet with the third row folded, and an admirable 87 cubic feet with all rear seats folded down. The Prestige trim also includes a convenient 120-volt outlet in the rear seating area, perfect for charging laptops, camping supplies and even cordless tools. As with most newer vehicles, safety features are abundant, including forward collision avoidance (which works even with bicyclists and when turning left through intersections), safe exit assist warning, forward and reverse parking sensors, cross-traffic alert, smart cruise control with stop and go technology, and rear parking collision avoidance.
Overall, the Kia Telluride is a good choice if you’re looking into a mid-size SUV. With its towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, it’s a practical vehicle for family road trips. The combination of stylish design, comfortable interior and great suite of safety and convenience technology makes the Kia Telluride one of the top mid-sized SUVs in the market today.
*Source: Sam Fiorani, Vice President of Global Vehicle Forecasting, AutoForecast Solutions
The Mazda CX-50 is a more rugged vehicle in the Mazda lineup, sharing its platform with the CX-30 crossover, and having the same engine and six-speed automatic transmission as the CX-5. Where it differs is in its ability to handle a variety of driving situations; there is slightly more ground clearance and heavy-duty suspension to handle off-road conditions. Buyers have a choice of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder 187 horsepower engine or a turbocharged 227 horsepower. Interestingly, the turbocharged engine gains 29 horsepower when running on 93 octane premium fuel. The CX-50 comes in an abundance of trim levels, nine in all. Our road test was in the top-of-the-line Turbo premium, which had an attractive leather interior, panoramic sunroof, 10-inch infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless phone charging and connectivity. With 20-inch wheels and just about every electronic and safety feature possible, the CX-50 has a luxury car look and feel.
The CX-50 is competent on the road, and the turbocharged engine gives it a sporty quality, unlike most other crossover SUVs. The engine is certainly powerful enough for day-to-day driving and hustles the CX-50 to 60 mph in just under seven seconds. The ride is comfortable — soaking up pavement breaks and other small bumps in the road — without being too stiff. I didn’t take the CX-50 off road but with its all-wheel drive and a bit higher ride, this SUV should do just fine on the road less traveled. Like many vehicles in this class, it comes with a full suite of driver assistance features, such as lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and, in our test vehicle, 360-degree camera views.
The interior of the CX-50 feels a bit tighter than the CX-5, although the fronts seats are comfortable and supportive. While the rear seat offers seating for three, this vehicle is most comfortable for four adults. The tilt and telescoping steering wheel and multiple seat adjustment options make it easy for drivers of any size to find a comfortable position. I did notice some blind spots when backing up due to the roof line and window design. It was slightly hard to see the right rear corner of the car, so the 360-degree cameras were beneficial. The cargo area is quite generous, with 31 cubic feet of room with all the seats in use. With rear seats folded there is a very generous 56 cubic feet, suitable for all kinds of gear. Fuel economy during my test drive averaged 25 mpg, and the EPA fuel economy numbers are 23 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.
The 2023 Mazda CX-50 is comfortable to drive, handles well and offers a high-class interior with premium touches throughout. Somehow Mazda found a way to meld fun to drive and rugged off-road capability into a tidy package — and still manages some “zoom zoom.”
The Nissan Z is back — and better than ever. This latest iteration pays homage to the original Z cars with its interior and exterior styling, but it is updated, modern, and a joy to drive. I was a fan of the original Datsun 240Z with its potent engine, elongated hood, and solid handling. Over the years, the changes made were not for the better. But this Nissan Z is the best version to date.
The 2023 Nissan Z comes in three trim levels: Sport (base model), Performance, and a limited production Proto Spec. Our road test was in the manual transmission Performance model. All Z cars come with the same 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 engine and six-speed transmission or automatic transmission with paddle shift.
The V-6 engine requires premium fuel and develops 400 horsepower. With 350-pound feet of torque, this translates into a car that scoots when the accelerator is pushed. While manual transmissions are not very popular these days, I enjoyed driving a car with a true clutch. The shifter had a fairly solid feel but the travel between gears seemed a bit long for a sports car. The ride is good for a rear-wheel drive, two-seat sports car, but the handling is where it truly excels. When pushed hard there was a bit of body roll, but it is very controlled and comfortable. The car has plenty of grip and stays well-connected to the road. This Z car is almost too quiet. I would have liked to hear a bit more exhaust tone; a sporty burble would have added to the driving experience. The large disc brakes pull this car to a stop in short order, just as they should.
The Nissan Z is low to the ground — and depending on your size and age, might present a challenge to enter or exit the low-slung seats. However, the seats are supportive and comfortable with a combination of manual and electric controls. Overall, the dash looks uncluttered but up to date. The instrument panel offers a nice combination of contemporary and classic design, and three gauges over the infotainment system bring back memories of classic models. There is a large touch screen with buttons for major functions that minimize distractions. The nine-inch touch screen with navigation is nicely integrated and there is wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Nissan Z is technically a hatchback and the cargo capacity is only about seven cubic feet. There is a bit high lift to get heavier items into the cargo bay.
Safety is addressed with all the expected current technology, including lane keeping warnings, auto headlight, blind spot warning, and rear cross-traffic alerts. The high-resolution back-up camera is much needed, due to blind spots with this vehicle.
This latest iteration of the Nissan Z has stunning good looks, a solid ride and handling, and a powerful engine that adds to the driving enjoyment. While not perfect, the 2023 Nissan Z is very good. These days, most companies are introducing their latest electric SUVs and pickup trucks, so it’s nice to see there are still great sports cars being produced.
The growing popularity of SUVs and trucks have compelled many manufacturers to stop producing sedans. However, while trucks and SUVs account for more than 80% of new vehicle sales today, many drivers still prefer a roomy, dependable sedan. There are plenty of good choices in the marketplace, from Toyota. Honda, Nissan, Mercedes and more. Our test vehicle, the Infiniti Q50, is a five-passenger mid-sized sedan powered by a 300 horsepower 3.0-liter twin turbo-charged engine. The Q50 comes in three well-equipped grades: Luxe, Sensory, and Red Sport 400. Each grade is available with INFINITI's Intelligent All-Wheel Drive and standard rear-wheel drive. The engine is connected to a seven-speed automatic transmission.
The cabin of our Q50 Sensory was nicely equipped with the latest comfort and convenience features, such as remote start, intelligent cruise control, rain sensing wipers, LED headlights and taillights, HD infotainment display with wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. Safety is addressed with automatic high-beam headlights, predictive forward collision warning, blind spot warning, lane departure warning and back-up collision intervention.
The front seats of the Q50 are comfortable and supportive and have plenty of adjustments to satisfy drivers of just about any size. The rear seating area has seatbelts for three, but the “just average” head and legroom make it most comfortable for two adults. Controls in the Q50 are quite good, with simple easy-to-use buttons and switches for lights, wipers, and climate control. I found the mostly touch-based infotainment display a bit too distracting for the driver. While it can be set up as a dual-screen arrangement, when one screen is touch-based and other control-based, it ends up being awkward to use. Frankly, the controls on this model are functional but a bit dated compared to other luxury and near-luxury sedans. Storage also seemed a bit scarce; there are cupholders and cubbies, but I found space lacking to put a couple of phones. The trunk is also only about 14 cubic feet with a center pass through and a 60/40 folding rear seat. The overall opening is small, limiting luggage capacity or the ability to carry a bulky box or larger item.
On the road, the Infiniti Q50 reminds me that’s it is a luxury sports sedan. The twin-turbo-charged 300 horsepower V-6 engine delivers lively performance and feels quick. The seven-speed transmission shifts smoothly and crisply. The handling absorbs pavement breaks and bumps while still feeling well connected to the road. The steering is a bit light and lacks feedback, feeling more like a luxury car than a touring sedan. Those looking for more performance should consider the Red Sport edition, which adds an additional 100 horsepower and improved handling. Fuel economy is rated by the EPA at 19 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. During my time with the Q50 I averaged about 23 miles per gallon in a mix of mostly city driving.
The Q50 by Infiniti is competent and enjoyable to drive but is also a bit dated. The engine and transmission and all-wheel drive are strong points, but the design and other features hamper an otherwise good vehicle. If a touring sedan with a V-6 engine is of interest, the Q50 offers value with a list price of about $50,000.
The Kia Niro is a small, front-wheel drive crossover vehicle. Part wagon, part compact utility vehicle, this second-generation Niro is available in three different configurations.: hybrid (gas and electric, no plug); fully electric; and plug-in battery electric hybrid (PHEV). The fully electric model has a range of 253 miles and can recharge from 10% to 80% in just 45 minutes using Level III charging. My road test was conducted in the PHEV, SX Touring Edition.
The Niro PHEV pairs the 1.6-liter gasoline engine with a 62kW electric motor, resulting in a total system output of 180 hp and 195 pound-feet of torque. If you have a Level II charging station at home or use a commercial Level II charging station, you can fully charge the battery in about three hours. If you use a conventional 120-volt house current, charge time increases to almost seven hours.
Your driving habits should also be considered when looking at an EV. The average commute in the U.S. is about 41 miles; the Niro’s range when fully charged is about 33 miles. Once the battery is exhausted, the Niro becomes a conventional gas/electric hybrid, getting an EPA-rated 48 mpg. With a nearly 10-gallon fuel tank, the Niro PHEV has a total range of about 500 miles.
Overall driving performance is good, and merging with fast-moving traffic in both electric and hybrid modes is stress-free. The six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission shifts smoothly, and the paddle shifters make it fun to drive. The ride is a bit firm and can get a bit jittery over cracked pavement. Steering is light at low speeds and stiffens up at highway speeds; this feels a little too artificial though and lacks a road feel at times.
Safety is addressed with a full complement of standard advanced driver assistance features which include: forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection capability, which assists with braking if needed; lane keeping assist which helps detect lane markings and provides steering input while driving; lane following assist detects lane markings and vehicles ahead and helps center the vehicle; the driver attention warning system analyzes the driver’s attention level and prompts when it’s time to take a break. The Niro also comes with blind spot collision warning and rear cross-traffic collision avoidance. An optional highway driving assist system is available; this integrates the functionality of lane change assist, forward collision avoidance, and cruise control with machine learning, which will autonomously drive the car in a pattern that learns and represents the habits of the owner/driver. As with any of these systems, they are helpful but will never replace a fully engaged driver behind the wheel.
The interior of the Niro is comfortable yet frustrating. I found the front seats firm enough to provide good lower back support but soft enough to be comfortable. There is plenty of headroom and legroom. The rear seat is too firm and lacks support; it’s suited for two adults at best. Kia uses a dual touch screen that toggles between the climate control and sound systems. Depending on the setting, something as simple as adjusting the temperature requires toggling between screens or using steering wheel controls for the radio. I prefer the “old fashioned” knobs and buttons which are easier — and less distracting – to use. Since this is a utility vehicle, it does have very usable storage and cargo space. There are plenty of bins and cubbies to hold phones and sunglasses, and adjustable cup holders. Kia has added plenty of USB ports for all passengers, a sign of the times. The cargo area behind the rear seats is 19 cubic feet; with the rear seats folded it expands to nearly 55 cubic feet, making this very practical for moving smaller items and boxes.
With 33 miles of electric range and nearly 500 miles of total range, the Kia Niro PHEV is a good choice for anyone considering an EV but is concerned about running out of power. It’s practical, fuel-efficient, easy to drive, and worth a look as an entrée to the growing EV market.
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I don’t often test sports cars, especially luxury sports cars, but this one I enjoyed. Driving the Jaguar
F-Type performance R edition brought back memories of the first time I saw the legendary Jaguar XKE. Like the original XKE, the F-Type offers stunning good looks and a very striking design. It will easily catch attention on the road.
The standard Jaguar F-Type is powered by a 444 horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8 supercharged engine connected to the rear wheels. Horsepower and torque number are bumped up to a staggering 575 horsepower and 517 pound-feet of torque that powers all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The result is a car that can go from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, and has a top speed of over 185 mph. While I don’t ever recommend driving that fast, this is an impressive easy-to-drive car for day-to-day driving as well.
The ride is comfortable while handling fast curves flawlessly. The exhaust creates a delightful V-8 growl that gets a little throatier with a push of a button. Should you care about fuel economy in such an expensive sports car, it’s actually quite good. The EPA fuel economy ratings are 16 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. Premium fuel is required. Safety is addressed with what is now standard fare in many new vehicles: lane keeping assist, emergency brake assist, driver condition monitoring, and traffic sign recognition with adaptive speed control.
Jaguar didn’t skimp on the interior, which is quite striking with a suede cloth headliner, sun visors and Oyster Windsor leather seats. A large, fixed sunroof adds an open feel to the cabin. The driver and passenger seats are comfortable and supportive and are both heated and cooled. The two-zone climate control system lets both driver and passenger adjust their own temperature. A heated steering wheel adds to the driving comfort on a cool morning. Like many cars today, much of the infotainment system relies on a touch screen; while this is aesthetically pleasing, it can be distracting to use.
There is a decent-sized glove compartment, center console and cubbies. Sports cars are not known for their cargo carrying ability and this Jaguar is no exception, with only 14.4 feet of cargo space. Visibility to the front of the car is quite good and the driver’s seat has plenty of adjustments to accommodate drivers of just about any size. The tilt and telescoping steering wheel assists in finding the perfect driving position. Visibility to the sides and rear can be difficult. Even with careful mirror adjustments, vehicles can sneak into your blind spot and the small rear window limits the view.
Overall, the Jaguar F-Type R is an outstanding sports car that delivers a dynamic driving experience, stunning good looks and a beautiful well-crafted interior you would expect from Jaguar. If you are looking for a luxury sports car that offers both power, passenger comfort and refinement, the F-Type R is definitely worth considering.
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The Hyundai Tucson is a compact SUV that competes with the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape. The Tucson is available in a variety of trims and models; there are 10 models from the base trim, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and the sporty N-Line. Our road test was in the Tucson Limited with hybrid drivetrain. Unlike the base model that uses the 2.5 normally aspirated engine, the hybrid uses a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine. All-wheel drive is standard with the hybrid or plug-in hybrid models; all other models are front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive as an option.
Performance from the hybrid drivetrain is quite good. The combined power output of the engine and electric motor is 226 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The six-speed automatic transmission nicely matches the engine and just “feels” better than a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). In day-to-day driving, this hybrid drives like any other vehicle. Unlike some vehicles that shut off at idle, the Tucson starts smoothly and without hesitation from a stop. The engine delivers plenty of performance to merge with oncoming traffic or pass a slower vehicle. The steering is good for an SUV, though not as sharp as some of the competition. The handling combines decent driving dynamics while balancing a comfortable ride. Fuel economy is rated by the EPA at 37 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. I averaged a very respectable 36 mpg.
The interior of the Tucson is modern with a clean design. While I prefer a conventional shift lever, the Tucson comes with a push-button shifter which works well. The large touch screen is bright and combines the infotainment and climate control. While other Hyundai models use knobs for the radio tuning, the Tucson includes this in the touch screen, which is more distracting. A digital instrument panel (becoming more common on Hyundai vehicles) does not wash out in bright light and incorporates a blind spot monitor camera system. When using the left turn signal, a gauge displays what’s on your left side; the right turn signal displays the right side of the vehicle. Other safety features are present, including smart cruise control, automatic emergency braking, front and rear parking distance warning and a driver monitor system which can suggest when a driver needs a break. One feature (or novelty depending on your point of view) is remote Smart Parking Assist. This system allows the car to pull out of a parking space without a driver in the vehicle — which can be quite handy when someone parks too close to allow easy entry into the vehicle.
Other notable interior features include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless phone charging, power liftgate and push-button start. The front seats are quite comfortable and supportive; with the combination of the tilt telescoping steering wheel, it should fit drivers of most sizes. The rear seat is roomier than the previous model, as is the cargo area.
With a contemporary design, premium safety features and outstanding fuel economy, the 2022 Hyundai Tucson is setting the standard for a compact SUV. And, with Hyundai’s legendary warranty, the Tucson is a winner.
The Mitsubishi Eclipse is a compact SUV that competes with the Hyundai Tucson, Ford Escape and Jeep Compass. The Eclipse comes in four trim levels — all using the same 1.5-liter 152-horsepower turbocharged engine connected to an automatic transmission — and is available in front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Our road test was in the SEL S-AWC, an all-wheel drive model with a sporty feel.
On the road, the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine provides sprightly performance, and the engine is rated at only 152 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque. This translates into adequate vehicle acceleration, although it hardly qualifies as a “hot rod.” Under hard acceleration, the engine gets buzzy. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) had a paddle shifter to add to the sporty feel, but in reality, didn’t do much to improve the performance. Overall handling is sufficient; the ride goes from slightly jarring on some roads to wallowing a bit while going 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, the ride is much quieter than the 2020 model. Unlike some other small SUVs, the Eclipse Cross can tow 1,500 pounds, making it capable of towing a jet ski or lightweight camping trailer. Fuel economy averaged about 26 mpg according to the onboard computer system which I thought seemed a bit low.
Our test model came equipped with a full complement of safety technology including forward collision mitigation with high-speed braking and pedestrian detection. There was also lane departure warning and a Head-Up display. The Apple CarPlay made connecting my phone simple, but, like many of these systems, there were some functionality issues when using my phone for navigation. The radio controls are simple and straightforward, although the display has a dated look compared to other similar vehicles.
The cabin of our upscale model was finished in leather interior with both front and rear heated seats and a heated steering wheel. There is plenty of headroom but long-legged drivers may need a bit more room. Overall, the driving position offers good forward on-road visibility. The overall seat height and door opening provides comfortable entry and exit. The unique styling of the vehicle limits visibility to the rear, but the multi-view camera system compensates. The rear seating is comfortable for two adults and can fit three for shorter trips. An optional sunroof adds to the open-air feel and was reasonably quiet when open. With all seats in use, the cargo area is decent but expands generously with the split rear seats folded down.
The Eclipse Cross by Mitsubishi offers a significant number of features and an outstanding warranty. In addition, the styling is contemporary without trying to be the class standout. The Eclipse Cross is trying to be sporty but just doesn’t have what it takes. As I stated for previous models, if you are looking for a perfectly adequate compact SUV and can live with a few shortcomings, the Eclipse Cross is worth a look.
Kia’s newest vehicle is replacing its Sedona minivan but calls the Carnival a “multipurpose vehicle.” The Carnival is designed like an SUV but has all the features of a minivan, including seating for up to eight adults, loads of cargo space and plenty of family-friendly features.
The Carnival is available in several trim levels (LX, EX, SX and SX Prestige), all powered by a 290-horsepower V-6 engine coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Depending on seating configuration, the Carnival seats seven or eight adults in three rows of seats; our road test was in the SX trim with seating for eight. A particularly nice feature in the highest trim level is heating, ventilation and recliner-like leg support in the second row of seating. The Carnival SX is very well-equipped with nearly every possible option including a live passenger view video system, two-way intercom system, 360-degree surround view cameras, USB chargers in all three rows of seats as well as two 120-volt outlets. Other features include sliding and removable second row seating, dual screen rear entertainment, wireless phone charging, remote engine start, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Notable safety technology in the SX package includes forward collision avoidance with bicycle monitoring, lane keeping, safe exit assist (warning of approaching traffic before you open the door), smart cruise control and rear cross-traffic alert.
The Carnival has a soft and controlled ride with smooth steering, which is what you would expect in a minivan. Visibility is very good and only gets better when you use the 360-degree camera system. The 290-horsepower engine has more than enough power to merge with busy traffic or pass a slower moving vehicle. The engine power develops at higher engine speeds and requires a solid push on the accelerator to get the most out of this V-6 engine. There are several drive modes — normal, sport and Eco — and I found the normal or Eco modes fit my driving style and were the most comfortable. Sport mode in a minivan just seems unnecessary. The Carnival is capable of towing up to 3,500 pounds, enough for a small boat or camping trailer. Fuel economy is rated by the EPA at 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. According to the onboard computer I averaged 24 mpg.
The interior is what sets this minivan apart from the competition. Our SX model was wrapped in a good-looking leather interior with premium accents throughout. Only occasionally did I find a piece of plastic trim that took away from the upscale look and feel. The controls and infotainment system are well thought out and offer minimal distraction when driving. The front seats were multi-adjustable and, with the combination of a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, should accommodate drivers of any size. After a few hours of driving, I found the front seats began to get uncomfortable and a bit too firm. The middle and third-row seating caused no passenger complaints, and at 6 feet tall, I could fit comfortably in any row. Minivans are all about utility, carrying passengers and cargo. Cargo capacity is 40 cubic feet and, with the third row folded and the second row, expands to a cavernous 145 cubic feet. The side doors are power sliding and have conventional power windows unlike older minivans that had fixed glass. The rear tailgate also has power opening and closing.
In the past, if you wanted a minivan the best choices were the Odyssey from Honda, the Pacifica from Chrysler and the Sienna from Toyota. The Kia Carnival MPV is now a notable competitor, offering an outstanding warranty, the latest safety and electronic features, and stylish good looks.
The Hyundai Santa Cruz is a four-door compact pickup truck that is smaller than most of its competition. At 196 inches long, it’s 15 inches shorter than the Honda Ridgeline, and 17 inches shorter than the Toyota Tacoma. The Santa Cruz is available in four trim levels: SE, SEL, SEL Premium and the Limited. The SE and SEL models are front-wheel drive — with all-wheel drive optional — and are equipped with a conventional 8-speed automatic transmission and a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 191 horsepower. The Premium and Limited have standard all-wheel drive, a sporty 8-speed dual-clutch transmission, and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that develops 281 horsepower. Our road test was in the top-of-the-line Santa Cruz Limited.
The Limited’s engine provides plenty of power, and with 311 pound-foot (torque), should be able to easily handle off-road travels or tow a small boat or camping trailer. The ride is comfortable, even with the optional 20-inch wheels, and steering and handling are quick and responsive. A 40-foot turning diameter makes for easy maneuvering.
Front seats are comfortable and roomy with plenty of head and legroom. The view from the driver’s position is good; Hyundai did a great job of eliminating blind spots. There are plenty of USB and 12-volt power points as well as a 115-volt outlet in the cargo bed. The controls are well thought out, with bright, easy to read gauges. I appreciated the conventional shifter rather than a push-button arrangement. Our test model had an optional larger high-resolution 10-inch touch sensitive display, which was easy to read even with the sunroof open. The navigation system is intuitive, and the voice command worked quite well. The radio volume and tuner are adjusted through switches on the steering wheel, but I think knobs would be better and lead to less driver distraction.
Rear-seat legroom is tight when the front seats are pushed all the way back. While nicely padded on the seat, the backs are upright and can’t be adjusted. At 6-feet tall I was reasonably comfortable as long as the front seat was moved up a bit. The cargo bed is only about 4-feet long but comes with a multi-position tailgate that allows for carrying longer objects safely. There is a built-in trunk in the bed that is both lockable and can serve as a cooler. Payload capacity is listed between 1,500 and 1,753 pounds depending on the model. Our test model also had the optional sliding and lockable bed cover which was rugged enough to stand on.
Safety is addressed with a suite of standard and optional equipment. Standard equipment includes forward collision avoidance with bike and pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist and driver attention warning. Optional safety features include blind spot collision avoidance assist, highway driving assist, surround view monitor and rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist. In addition to the safety features, there is also remote vehicle starting with seat heating or ventilation and a heated steering wheel. Fuel economy averaged about 24 mpg during my test drive.
The all-new Santa Cruz by Hyundai competes with both pickup trucks and smaller SUVs. With its lockable storage you can keep items safe and out of sight, and the composite cargo bed is ready for trips to the home improvement store or tailgating at your favorite sporting event. The Santa Cruz is a great first pickup truck for people who don’t even know they need one.
While most buyers think of Ford, GM or RAM when it comes to pickup trucks, there are other choices to consider. One is the all-new Nissan Frontier, which the manufacturer calls “an authentic mid-size truck.” The Frontier has a range of body, drivetrain and equipment configurations that can be tailored to fit individual customer needs. It’s also available in two grades — S and SV — as well as King and the more spacious Crew cab version. Other choices include two- or four-wheel drive, five- or six-foot cargo bed length, and an off-road version — the subject of our road test — the Frontier PRO-4X.
All models of the Frontier are powered by the same 3.8-liter V-6 engine that makes 310 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque, which was more than enough power in our PRO-4X test vehicle. The nine-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and confidently. As the name implies, the PRO-4X is a four-wheel drive vehicle; although I did not have much of a chance to go off-road, it certainly appears to have more than enough capability. The PRO-4X has a two-speed transfer (2WD/4HI/4LO) case and a locking rear differential, upgraded suspension and skid plates under the vehicle to protect it when the going gets tough. Unlike some other four-wheel drive vehicles, there are no computer-aided drive modes to help with off-road and snowy weather conditions. As a novice to off-road driving, I appreciate a little electronic help from time to time.
Previous Frontier models rode stiffly and handled like they were manufactured in the 1950s, but the latest Frontier rides and handles well. The steering is a bit heavy but feels better connected to the road. The cargo capacity is just over 1,600 pounds and the Frontier can tow up to 6,720 pounds when properly equipped. Fuel economy is not great; the EPA gives the Frontier a rating of 17 mpg city, 22 mpg highway. I averaged 19 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving.
The interior of the Frontier PRO-4X is nicely laid out in a manner that I would call both stylish and utilitarian. While the materials would never be confused with a luxury vehicle, the seats are comfortable and supportive with quality materials. The rear seats lack a bit of support and padding, but two adults can fit comfortably, and three adults for a limited drive. The infotainment system of the Frontier has improved with a large, bright intuitive display, wireless phone charging and controls that are easier to use. The interior has plenty of power outlets, including a 120-volt outlet, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for seamless integration with your mobile phone. Our tester had the optional $990 technology package which included lane departure, blind spot warning, cross-traffic alert, rear automatic braking, intelligent cruise control and high beam assist. Our model was equipped with the Intelligent Around View 360-degree monitor which is great for tight, off-road travel as well as parallel parking. Also optional on our tester were heated outside mirrors, heated steering wheel and seats, and remote car start — a much appreciated feature on cold Northeast mornings.
The Frontier was introduced in 2004 and it really couldn’t compete with the competition of the day. This 2022 model offers plenty to like. If you want a truck but full-sized is too big, the Frontier may be a perfect fit for you; a truck with tough good looks, powerful V-6 engine — with the ability to be a daily commuter or take you on the road less traveled.
The MX-30 is Mazda’s first all-electric vehicle. This subcompact SUV has a low center of gravity that keeps it planted to the road and makes it fun to drive. The electric motor produces 143 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque which, when compared to the similar-sized Chevy Bolt, seems underpowered, but acceleration is good.
Although this new vehicle looks very contemporary, the range is very much like an EV from 2012. It can only travel a little over 100 miles on a full charge, less than half the range of the Bolt. This may be adequate for the city or for an average 35-mile commute, but not for longer drives. The Mazda’s smaller battery charges quickly: Level 3 charging brings the battery to 80% charged in 30 minutes; Level 2 charging takes about 5 hours; a standard 120-volt house current will take 16 to 20 hours. While most EV owners find Level 2 charging the most efficient home charging system, anyone considering the MX-30 needs to evaluate their driving patterns and charging options.
The MX-30’s design includes two conventional front doors and two back doors that swing outward on rear mount hinges. This design eliminates the door pillar, allowing for easier access to the back seat. The fronts seats are reasonably comfortable and offer plenty of head and legroom. At six feet tall, the rear seat is tight, but I was able to sit in the rear seat with the front seat positioned closer to the wheel. The unique back door arrangement also offers the opportunity to carry larger-sized cargo.
The interior cabin design falls between a premium look and “IKEA funky.” Nothing felt inexpensive, just a bit too contemporary for my tastes. Major controls — including the shift and infotainment system — require a bit of a learning curve to master. For example, the conventional-style shifter requires an odd jog from side to side to shift in and out of park. The infotainment system uses a combination of controls, including a console-mounted rotary knob that looks sleek but is awkward to use.
Safety features are well-addressed with lane departure warning, smart cruise control, and front and rear emergency braking. The ride is a bit firm but that also helps with the handling. The cargo area is typical of a subcompact SUV, and the 20 cubic feet are roomy enough for trips to the supermarket or a local weekend getaway.
If you’re looking for an electric vehicle that is fun to drive and are an urban driver or have less than a 30-mile commute, the MX-30 is a stylish choice. However, if you drive longer distances or the limited 100-mile range creates anxiety, you might want to wait a bit. Later in 2022, Mazda will offer the MX-30 as a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV), with a range-extending rotary engine generator that will charge the battery as needed.
This Mazda MX-30 has a starting price of $33,470.
Everything old is new again. The original full-sized Ford Bronco debuted in 1966 and went through a series of changes until the last one rolled off the assembly line 30 years later. Now, the Bronco is back, and the big V-8 engine has been replaced by smaller turbocharged engines: a four-cylinder that develops 275 horsepower or a twin-turbocharged V-6 engine that develops 315 horsepower. Both engines produce incredible torque for their size. Interestingly, horsepower jumps by about 10% when premium fuel is used.
All Broncos come in four-wheel drive and both engines can be mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. In a rare feature, the four-cylinder engine can be connected to a 7-speed manual transmission. There are six unique trim levels, and you can choose two- or four-door models, as well as hardtop or soft top. Our road test was in the four-door, four-cylinder Badlands edition. In this version, the roof panels are removable; for the more adventurous, doors are also easily removable. A nice feature of the Badlands includes side mirrors that are mounted to the windshield pillar, so they are still useable with the doors removed. In addition, all four doors can be stored in the vehicle.
The Bronco can handle the roughest terrain. At the center of the Bronco’s off-road ability is Ford’s electronic road management system dubbed G.O.A.T. (Goes Over Any Terrain), with settings to handle rock crawling, mud, sand and other difficult-to-maneuver driving situations. Two 4x4 systems are available: a two-speed electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case, and an optional advanced system featuring a two-speed electromechanical transfer case with an auto mode for on-demand selection between high and low range. Normally when a vehicle is tuned for serious off-road travel, on-road driving suffers. This isn’t the case with the Bronco, which is fun to drive on any surface. The boxy Bronco looks and feels big, but the tiedowns on the front fenders improve overall sightlines. Out on the highway there is some road, wind and tire noise, but it’s not objectionable considering the Bronco rides on big 35-inch off-road tires. Fuel economy is less than stellar, even with the four-cylinder engine, and I only averaged about 19 mpg in a mix of highway and city driving.
I found the cabin comfortable and roomy, with easy-to-use gauges and controls. The interior had a bit of a retro feel, but the technology is completely up to date. The Ford Sync system integrated easily with my mobile phone. A complete array of electronic safety features available include automatic emergency braking, park assist, driver monitor, pedestrian detection and night vision. The front seats offer plenty of head and legroom, and even with the front seats pushed all the way back, there was plenty of legroom in the back seat for taller passengers. The cargo area is generous at 83 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. As nice as the Badland’s interior was, there was a little too much plastic trim, which took away from some of the higher-quality elements.
The newest Ford Bronco has a combination of off-road ability, on-road civility and the latest technology. If you are looking for off-road capability and general coolness, the Bronco might be a good choice.
The Ford Bronco Sport is the smaller version of the Bronco and comes in several trim levels — Base, Big Bend, Outer Banks, Badlands and First Edition. Our road test was in the Outer Banks edition, which received plenty of attention wherever I drove it. All models, except the Badlands edition, are powered by the same 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine. While three cylinders is odd, the engine makes 185 horsepower and 190-pound feet of torque. (This is about 70 more horsepower than the original Bronco II that had a 2.8-liter V-6 engine!). While hardly a hot rod, there is certainly enough power to merge with fast moving traffic or navigate hilly off-road terrain. Our Outer Banks edition of the Bronco Sport was very well-equipped with just about every option needed, including dual-zone climate control, remote start, heated seats, and steering wheel standard safety features such as cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking and the electronic terrain management system with five G.O.A.T. (Goes Over Any Terrain) modes.
The interior is comfortable and functional, with room for four adults — five for shorter rides. I found the front seats comfortable, but it took a bit of adjusting the 8-way seats to find something just right. With the front seats pushed back, there is a lack of legroom in the rear, which is typical of most small SUVs. The boxy design makes it easy to see every corner, and it is a comfortable vehicle to get in and out of. During my time with the Bronco Sport, I was also moving out of my home, and the cabin provided ample room to stack boxes and gear, especially with the rear seats folded. One of my favorite features that you don’t often see these days is the flip-up rear glass. This is a great feature for carrying long objects with the tailgate closed.
On the road, the 1.5-liter engine provided peppy performance. But the transmission — while generally smooth — occasionally seemed to stay in a higher gear a bit too long. Fuel economy is respectable at 25 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. I averaged just about 26 mpg overall. The Bronco Sport rides well for a vehicle that was designed to go off-road. The steering is a bit light and vague, but typical of many electric power steering systems — and is just lacking an old-fashioned steering feel.
There is a lot to like about the Bronco Sport — good looks, true off-road capability and more technology than most vehicles in its class. If driving takes you on the roads less traveled, the Bronco Sport is a great choice. Moving up to the Badlands edition gives you the more powerful 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 245 horsepower. If you never drive off-road and most of your driving is a highway commute, the Ford Escape may be a better choice.
For some time I considered the Acura RDX as nothing more than a gussied up Honda CR-V. Today the Acura RDX Crossover has evolved into its own distinct personality. Offered in five trim levels — Base, Technology, A-Spec, Advanced and PMC Edition — the 2022 Acura combines a comfortable ride with sharper handling. The Advanced and PMC levels come with standard all-wheel drive; the lower trims are offered in front-wheel drive with all-wheel drive optional. All trims are powered by the same 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that develops 272 horsepower and an equally impressive 280 pound-feet of torque. Our road test was in the A-Spec Advance package.
The 272-horsepower engine responds quickly when taking off from a stop and has plenty of power to pass a slower-moving truck or merge with fast-moving traffic. The 10-speed automatic transmission shifts quickly and efficiently. The ride was slightly firm with good isolation from pavement breaks and potholes. The handling was sporty but the steering was slightly heavy, although it still felt well-connected to the road. When driving a bit aggressively, the all-wheel drive system added to the connected road feel. There are also four adjustable driving modes (snow, normal, ECO and sport), with the sport mode providing a decidedly more responsive feel. During my road test, I averaged 25 mpg in an even mix of city and highway driving.
The RDX A-Spec package in my vehicle included (among other features) leather-trimmed seats, 20-inch alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, remote start, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Head-Up display, surround view camera, heated windshield and hands-free power tailgate.
The cabin is quieter this year due to additional sound deadening and acoustic glass. The interior feels quite spacious for a compact SUV, and the two-tone seats in our model were attractive. The front seats provide very good support and should remain comfortable for extended drives. Rear seating is comfortable for two adults and there is decent head and legroom. The controls are generally good, although I would have preferred a radio tuning knob as opposed to a touchpad, which is fairly intuitive but distractive and harder to use. Acura uses a push-button shifter, which is not complicated but requires more practice than a conventional shifter. Additional buttons control the heated seats, interior climate and other systems, which is better than a touchscreen but make the instrument panel look busy. There are about 30 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats in use that expands to 59 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. Like many luxury vehicles today, the tailgate is power open and close.
The new Acura RDX is further refined and combines a comfortable ride with sharper handling. The entry-level luxury package makes the RDX roomy, fun to drive, loaded with the latest technology and a solid contender in the compact luxury SUV market.
Cadillac — long known for producing luxury cars — is now producing premium SUVs, with sizes to fit every buyer. The largest is the 7-passenger Escalade, followed by the full-size XT6, mid-sized XT5 and — the subject of our road test — the compact XT4. The XT4 comes in three trim levels (Base, Sport and Premium Luxury), all equipped with a 2.0 turbocharged four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive can be added to any trim level.
The XT4’s 235-horsepower engine delivers respectable performance and is smooth and responsive, though a but noisy when pushed hard. The nine-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and, when sport mode is selected, adds more responsiveness. The ride is quite comfortable for a compact SUV and the handling is good, although at times over pavement the ride is jittery. Fuel economy was respectable with an EPA rating of 22 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway; I averaged 24 mpg in a mix of mostly city driving. Cadillac recommends premium fuel for the best performance.
The XT4 doesn’t have Cadillac’s Super Cruise, but is equipped with smart cruise control, which maintained and adjusted speed for the surrounding traffic. The vehicle is well-equipped with features including automatic emergency braking, forward collision alert, rear park assist, HD rear vision camera and rear seat reminder. Also included in our Premium Luxury version was a driver awareness system, Bose 13-speaker audio system, reverse automatic braking, head-up display, wireless phone charging and a dual panel sliding sunroof.
The cabin is roomy and comfortable with plenty of head and legroom. The controls are nicely laid out and the infotainment system has a useful combination of buttons and touch-screen controls. The rear seat looks roomy but the seat cushion gets uncomfortable after an hour or so. Overall, the interior quality is good but includes some aspects that look like Cadillac was trying to cut costs. The cargo area is impressive with almost 50 cubic feet of storage with the seats folded, and 22 cubic feet of storage with all the seats in use. It would have been best if Cadillac found a spot for a spare tire; instead, the XT4 comes with a flat tire emergency kit.
The Cadillac XT4 is certainly one of the most stylish compact premium SUVs available today. It has exterior styling that sets it apart from the competition. The interior is a bit more subtle but still very attractive. There is plenty of available technology; this Cadillac is a good example of a vehicle where you should test the tech as much as the car, as not everyone might like the combination of buttons, knobs and touch screen. While I don’t believe the Cadillac XT4 is the best in its class, it is a solid contender in a very dynamic and diverse category of vehicles.
One of the most popular segments in the SUV market is the subcompact category, which includes the popular Kia Soul, Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Buick Encore and — the subject of our road test — the Chevrolet Trailblazer. The Trailblazer comes in four trim levels with a choice of two 3-cylinder engines and two transmissions. The Trailblazer is a front-wheel drive vehicle, but all-wheel drive is an option. Our road test was in the all-wheel drive model with the ACTIV option, which allows a bit more off-road capability.
Lower trim levels come with a standard 1.2-liter engine and a CVT transmission. The all-wheel drive ACTIV version has a more powerful 1.3-liter turbocharged engine and a conventional automatic transmission, which develops 155 horsepower and a 174 foot-pounds of torque. The engine is connected to a nine-speed automatic transmission that is well-suited to the engine output. There is plenty of acceleration for everyday driving, due in part to the quick-developing torque (engine’s force) which allows this compact SUV to hustle into traffic. Trailer towing is possible but is limited to 1,000 lbs. When pushed, the engine gets a bit raspy but the noise is not objectionable. While driving, there is a bit of road and tire noise, perhaps due in part to the more aggressive Sport Terrain tires, but nothing unexpected for a small SUV. The overall ride is comfortable; a bit firm around town but never jarring, even on rough roads. On the highway the Trailblazer is comfortable with a solid and secure ride. It’s not a sports sedan, but it is nimble enough on twisting roads. The ACTIV suspension package adds some off- road capability and should be nicely suited for Northeast winters. Fuel economy averages 28 mpg, although I expected a slightly higher number.
The interior of the Trailblazer is quite comfortable. The 10-way power driver’s seat took a bit of fiddling, but once adjusted provided all-day comfort. Unlike the last subcompact SUV I evaluated — the Chevrolet Trax — the Trailblazer had few blind spots, offered good all-around visibility and was easy to drive. The Trailblazer sits up a little higher than some other vehicles, which allows for easy entry and exit. The rear seating is reasonably comfortable and even six-footers will get in and out without a struggle. Cargo area is surprising with almost 55 cubic feet of cargo area with the rear seats folded and 25 cubic feet with all the seats in use. Safety technology is well-addressed with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with front pedestrian braking, following distance indicator, auto high beam LED headlights and lane keeping assist with lane departure warning. Our tester also had wireless cellphone charging and wireless Apple CarPlay. Controls are generally well-placed, although I would prefer a proper radio tuning knob.
The Chevrolet Trailblazer doesn’t excel at any one thing but overall is a competent vehicle. It has decent fuel economy, good visibility, and is easy to get in and out of. If you don’t need a bigger vehicle but still want to run to the home improvement store or occasionally pick up bulky items, the Chevy Trailblazer is a good choice.
The Mercedes-Benz GLE is a mid-sized luxury SUV that comes in five configurations: GLE 350, GLE 450, GLE 580, AMG GLE 53 and — the highest performance version — the AMG GLE 63S. All models are equipped with standard all-wheel drive with the exception of the 350, which has rear-wheel drive and optional all-wheel drive. Our road test was in the six-cylinder GLE 450.
The GLE 450 comes well-equipped with popular features including keyless start, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED headlights and taillights, power seats, tilt and slide sunroof. However, there are additional options available which will quickly drive up the price. If you include safety features such as active lane change assist, active emergency braking, evasive steering, cross-traffic systems, the acoustic comfort package, automatic adaptable suspension as well as appearance packages, these will add nearly $18,000 to the base price of the vehicle.
On the road, the GLE 450 has more than enough power to get the job done. The six-cylinder turbocharged engine develops 362 horsepower and an equal amount of torque. This translates into a vehicle that sprints to 60 mph with plenty of power to spare. What is also interesting is that, according to the EPA, this six-cylinder engine is slightly more fuel efficient than the four-cylinder engine. This is partially due to the EQ-Boost system, which provides electric motor boost to the gasoline engine. Think of it as “hybrid lite.” The system provides about 21 extra horsepower of force in short bursts to add momentum to the vehicle, allowing it to coast more while using less fuel. This system also adds one of the smoothest auto start/stop systems I’ve seen, and the nine-speed transmission shifts easily and precisely. The handling — with the optional electronic suspension system — was good. When set in comfort mode the ride was soft; with the flick of a switch though, the driver can choose sport mode, providing a tighter and more controlled feel. However, even in sport mode, I found the steering slightly slow to respond when pushed hard.
The cabin was nicely outfitted with soft, supple leather seats, wood trims and aluminum accents. Once adjusted, the seats were very comfortable and should be suitable for longer distances. The major seat controls are placed on the doors but features such as lumbar and bolstering where somewhat hidden in the infotainment system. A touchpad on the center console allows for interaction with the infotainment system, and the screen is also touch-sensitive. The menus were a bit confusing though and didn’t follow the logic found in most other vehicles. The optional acoustic package kept the interior quiet. The rear seats were comfortable with plenty of legroom for a taller passenger. Cargo area was quite good for a midsized SUV and I was pleased to see Mercedes added an actual temporary spare tire under the floor, rather can a flat tire kit.
The Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 is both practical and stylish. It has the ability to handle on- and off-road challenges, and has a sophisticated and tasteful appearance for an SUV. While the GLE 450 certainly matches — and, in some cases, even beats — the competition, when spending up to $80,000 for a vehicle, it’s a good idea to shop around.
The Hyundai Tucson is a compact SUV that competes with the likes of the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Ford Escape, among others. The Tucson is available in several trim levels and powertrain options. The standard Tucson comes in five trim levels including a base model, N Line performance trim, XRT off-road version and a premium Limited edition. There is also a hybrid version that comes in three trim levels; and the subject of our road test —the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) — comes as the SEL or premium Limited version. The PHEV Tucson boasts a 35-mpg combined EPA mileage with 33 miles of all-electric range. Combined gasoline engine and electric motor delivers 261 horsepower.
Although the Tucson is classified as a compact SUV, it feels quite roomy inside. The front seats are comfortable, and the cabin feels open and airy. The rear seats have seat belts for three, but my experience proved head- and legroom was adequate for two adults. With plenty of adjustments for the driver’s seat, it’s easy to find a comfortable seating position. The controls are oddly simple yet frustrating to use. In other models, Hyundai provides a combination of touch screen and knobs for major controls. In the PHEV, unfortunately, the infotainment system is touch screen only, making it too distracting to use while driving. The Tucson has wireless phone charging and wireless Apple CarPlay built into the system, allowing everything from your phone — iPhone and Android — to display on the touch screen. Although there are a few steering wheel controls and voice commands available, adding knobs and buttons would alleviate these distractions.
Hyundai also includes a three-year subscription to Bluelink® connected car service which allows remote starting, locking and climate control setting through your phone. Like many manufacturers, Hyundai uses a push-button shifter and push-button start and stop. A handy feature of the Tucson is that when you push the button to stop the engine, it automatically shifts into park. I have never been a fan of shift by wire systems, but this one is simple and intuitive.
All the latest safety features are available, including lane keeping assistant, smart cruise control, driver attention warning, lane following assist and blind spot warning with collision avoidance. Two additional safety features include a safe vehicle exiting systems that warns a parallel-parked driver if a vehicle is approaching from behind. There is also an alert to remind drivers to check the rear seats before exiting the vehicle.
Driving the PHEV Tucson is a pleasant experience. The handling and ride are comfortable and typical of smaller SUVs. The 33 miles of all-electric range is limited compared to typical electric vehicles but can reduce your trips to the gas station. While I had the PHEV Tucson, I averaged daily drives of about 30 miles. At the end of the day, I plugged into a 120-volt outlet and found the battery fully charged by morning. With a 14.3-gallon gas tank and an EPA of 35 mpg, the range with a fully charged battery and a full tank of gasoline is well over 400 miles.
The Hyundai Tucson PHEV is a great SUV for someone who is not ready to purchase an all-electric vehicle. With its simple recharging, the battery and electric motor can manage the average daily drive, and a gasoline engine reduces range anxiety.
For a photo of the latest Tucson PHEV, go to: https://www.instagram.com/p/CguMrGWLXAY/
The Chevrolet Bolt is a small all-electric car that is easy to like. It’s available in two trim levels: the 1LT and the more upscale 2LT, which was the subject of our road test. Both levels are equipped with the same motor: a single 200 horsepower electric motor that makes an impressive 266-pound feet of torque with power coming from a 65-kilowatt battery. Like most electric cars, the battery is mounted under the floor which adds stability. The EPA claims a range of 259 miles on a full charge, although I experienced a slightly more than 275 miles of range when fully recharged.
The cabin was roomy and comfortable for a small car. During my time with the Bolt, I had four adults on board and all were comfortable. The cabin is nicely laid out with a large infotainment screen and a nice mix of knobs, buttons, and a touchscreen. I found the entire setup simple and far less distracting than those of many other vehicles. The front seat was a little lacking in under-thigh support but offers plenty of adjustments and was comfortable overall. There are plenty of cupholders, power points, and bins and cubbies for storage, though the glove compartment is rather small. There are seatbelts for five, but the Bolt is most comfortable with only two adults in the back seat. For a small car, cargo area was good at 16.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats. The is also a small storage area under the floor, which comes in handy to keep smaller items hidden. Like most new cars today, the Bolt is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In both cases the system is wireless, and the Bolt also has a handy wireless charging pad in front of the pushbutton shifter. Although I prefer a conventional shifter design, the pushbutton worked well, and it took very little time to get comfortable with it.
The Bolt is very nice to drive. It quickly gets to 60 mph in just under seven seconds, and the sport mode adds a bit more zip. Like many electric cars, the push of a button allows you to switch to one-pedal driving. Basically, when you remove your foot from the accelerator, the regenerative braking kicks in and allows you to slow down and come to a complete stop without ever using the brake pedal. This saves on brake wear and tear and helps charge the batteries. Safety is addressed with forward collision braking, lane keeping assist and surround view camera. To be honest, the Bolt is nimble and easy to park, and I never found myself looking at the 360-degree camera.
The Bolt’s navigation system can locate charging systems, which makes long drives easier. The 270-mile range is certainly well more than I would drive on most days. Recharge times vary depending on the type of charging available. Level three fast charging can add about 100 miles in 30 minutes. Level 2 charging varies depending on the installation but will 26 to 39 miles of charging per hour. At home I used a standard outdoor 110-volt outlet and that adds about four miles of range per hours. For the Bolt owner that doesn’t drive more than 50 miles in one day, this may be all that is needed. The Bolt is one of the most inexpensive electric cars on the market and functionally, one of the best. If you are looking for a compact electric car that is fun to drive and has nice features and storage for everyday driving, look at the Chevy Bolt.
To check out a photos of the Bolt go to - https://www.instagram.com/p/CgVaccVsYl8/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
The Honda Passport SUV is a shorter, more aggressive version of the popular Honda Pilot. With two rows and seating for five, this vehicle is a hidden gem in the mid-sized SUV category. The Passport is available in four trim levels: EX-L with two-wheel drive; EX-L with all-wheel drive; the top-of-the-line Elite; and the subject of our road test, the TrailSport. This model comes with an expanded list of standard features, including power adjustable heated front seats, an 8-inch Display Audio System with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, wireless smartphone charging and remote engine start. Our TrailSport featured standard all-wheel drive, and a 10mm increase in track width to improve stance and stability. The tires, which are relatively quiet on the highway, have more of an off-road tread and rugged look. Also, the TrailSport looks a bit different than its siblings with its unique grille treatment, and more aggressive front and rear bumpers that include silver skid plate designs. The TrailSport also features power folding side mirrors (handy for avoiding damage on narrow trails) and a heated windshield wiper “parking” area to keep wipers from icing up.
The cabin features orange contrast stitching and the TrailSport logo embroidered on the head restraints and molded into the heavy rubber all-weather floor mats. Most controls are well-placed, and the large infotainment display is bright, clear and doesn’t wash out with the sunroof open. I’m not a huge fan of the push-button shifter, but after a few days of driving it became second nature to use. Two drawbacks to the infotainment system: the radio lacks an easy-to-use station selector knob and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto require a wired connection to function.
There are plenty of storage bins and 12-volt power points for electrical accessories, as well as a 120-volt power outlet. Safety is addressed with what are now typical driver safety features, such as forward collision warning and automatic braking, lane departure warning with lane mitigation assist, blind spot warning, multi-angle rearview camera and automatic high beams. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, and the rear seats are roomy for two adults (possibly three for a shorter trip).
On the road, the 18-inch tires and wheels provide good handling and a slightly firm yet comfortable ride. The 280-horsepower V-6 engine gives the Passport a surprisingly quick feel and the nine-speed transmission shifts smoothly and confidently, always landing in the right gear. Fuel economy is not a strong point; the EPA rates the Passport at 19 mpg city and 24 mpg on the highway. I averaged just about 20 mpg overall.
The Honda Passport is worth a look, particularly if you don’t need three rows of seats and want seating for four. It can handle moderate off-road travel, carry lots of cargo and tow a boat, camper or trailer.
To see photos of the Honda Passport TrailSport go to: https://www.instagram.com/p/CguOf93LGr4/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
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 Seltos 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 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 is a five-passenger SUV powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that develops 255 horsepower and 273 foot-pound of torque. The nine-speed automatic transmission powers all four wheels. To add a little fun, Mercedes-Benz includes paddle shifters to manually control the shifting. In addition, you can tune the performance with “Mercedes Dynamic Select,” which alters the shifting characteristics as well as the ride and handling.
On-road performance from the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is more than adequate, although there are more powerful versions of the GLC. The nine-speed automatic transmission matches engine performance perfectly. Unlike some vehicles with eight or more gears, you never have the feeling the computer picked the wrong gear. The EPA fuel economy is rated as 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway; I averaged just 23 mpg in a mix of 75% city driving. For those looking for better fuel economy, a plug-in hybrid is also available.
The ride was comfortable, with a nice mix of luxury and sport without being too firm. The GLC 300 has a plethora of comfort features, including push-button start, dual-zone climate control, and memory function for the driver’s seat, mirrors and steering column. Our test vehicle also had insulating and noise reducing front glass, augmented video for the navigation system and a 12-inch digital instrument cluster. Safety is addressed with a driver’s attention monitor, hands-free parking assistance, land departure warning and correction, LED headlights and taillights, rain-sensing wipers, crosswind stabilization, power liftgate and more.
The cabin of the GLC is comfortable and looks up to date without being overly trendy. The materials are attractive and luxurious; and like most Mercedes-Benz products, they are high quality. Drivers of any size can find a comfortable driving position; at six feet tall, I had no issues with the multi-position seats. The controls are typical Mercedes-Benz; a little awkward at first but more intuitive after using for a day or so. This includes the shift lever that was a simple stalk on the right side of the steering column. The remainder of the controls for the sound system and climate control used a combination of buttons, touch screen or steering wheel controls. This SUV is built on the smaller C-Class platform, but five adults can fit quite comfortably. With the front seat positioned to my comfort level, there was plenty of room in the rear seat. Cabin storage is quite good throughout, with a large glove compartment and center console. Where the GLC comes up a bit short is in the rear cargo area. There is only 20 cubic feet available, likely a trade-off for the roomy second row. With the rear seats folded the cargo area expands to 57 cubic feet, more than enough to accommodate trips to the home improvement store.
In the crowded category of luxury compact SUVs, the GLC by Mercedes-Benz does a good job of standing out from the crowd with its stylish looks and posh interior. The Mercedes-Benz GLC is a well-rounded, comfortable vehicle that feels at home when driven enthusiastically or stuck in traffic.
When it comes to minivans, no one has more experience than Chrysler. The first minivan rolled off Chrysler’s assembly line in November 1983. Since then, more than 15 million have been sold. Most minivans today have been replaced by SUVs, but they are still available. No longer viewed as basic transportation, today’s minivans are often the most luxurious models on the road. The Pacifica is one of those vehicles.
The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica offers four models: Touring, Touring L, Limited, and the subject of our road test, the luxurious Pacifica Pinnacle. The Pacifica options include front-wheel drive (with Stow ‘N Go folding seats), all-wheel drive and even as a plug-in hybrid. Depending on the model, the Pacifica can seat up to eight people in three rows. All models of the Pacifica — except the hybrid — are powered by the same 287 horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 engine.
On the road, the V-6 engine provided plenty of power for every driving situation I faced. The nine-speed transmission shifted smoothly and confidently. The all-wheel drive system was completely transparent, never revealing if it was activated or not. (When not needed, the system disconnects the rear half of the drive train to save fuel. When the wheels start to slip, the drive shaft reengages to provide all-wheel drive traction.) The ride is comfortable and very smooth; pavement cracks are absorbed with ease. Even on faster turns, the Pacifica feels quite controlled with little body roll. Almost every safety feature is available, including forward collision warning with automatic braking, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, automatic high-beam LED headlights, front parking sensors and parking assist, and surround view cameras. Fuel economy during my evaluation averaged about 23 mpg according to the onboard computer display.
The interior of the Pacifica Pinnacle is impressive. The second-row seats are as comfortable and supportive as the front seats, although legroom gets a bit tight with the front seats pushed back. Even the third row — generally best suited for kids — is comfortable. The second-row seats have bolster/lumbar pillows reminiscent of a luxury jet or ultra-luxury car. To keep the interior looking good, the Pacifica comes with an integrated vacuum cleaner. Like most Chrysler products, the Pacifica’s infotainment system is one of the best. The menu is well-organized and easy to navigate. Chrysler has figured out the simplicity of having large knobs for easy function control. There are plenty of USB ports, traditional 12-volt outlets, Amazon Auto, Apple CarPlay, HD and satellite radio, and even a CD/DVD player. Additional features include wireless phone charging, Wi-Fi hot spot and a FamCam, which displays the second- and third-row seating areas through the infotainment display. (To me, this seems to be a novelty feature and a bit of a distraction.)
The Chrysler Pacifica, with its choice of plug-in hybrid, front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, offers something for anyone looking to carry people and their belongings. With its top-of-the-line trim, the Pacifica is a reminder that Chrysler offers luxury vehicles…even if they are minivans.
There was a time when nearly every vehicle manufacturer produced a minivan, but now the choices are more limited. Minivans, although not the most stylish of vehicles, do a great job of moving people and their stuff. The most popular models today are the Chrysler Pacifica, Toyota Sienna, and the subject of our road test, the Honda Odyssey.
The Odyssey comes in five trim levels: LX, EX, EX-L, Touring and the top-of-the-line Elite. All models are powered by the same 3.5-liter 280-horsepower V-6 engine connected to a 10-speed automatic transmission. This combination delivers lively performance and respectable fuel economy. For families looking to add a boat or camping trailer, the Odyssey can tow up to 3,500 pounds. The EPA rates the fuel economy at 19 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway; I averaged a respectable 22 mpg in a mix of mostly city driving.
The ride was comfortable and controlled. The new LED headlights do a great job of illuminating the roadway without blinding oncoming drivers. The seating is comfortable for adults from the front to the third row. With the third row folded there is more cargo room than all but the largest SUVs. While it was not difficult to maneuver, I expected this top-of-the-line model to have a power folding seat. Honda addresses safety by providing all trim levels with driver-assistive technologies, previously standard on only the EX and above models. This year, Honda added Pedestrian Emergency Braking and Adaptive Cruise Control, which work even at low speeds.
The 2021 Odyssey is family-friendly. A new addition this year is the Rear-Seat Reminder system, which prompts — with an audible alert and warning message on the driver’s display — to check the rear seating area before exiting. On Touring and Elite trims, the system uses the CabinWatch camera to display the rear seating area on the Display Audio screen. This is the first integration of a rear-seat camera with a rear-seat reminder system in the industry. In addition to these features, the Odyssey has an intercom and even a self-contained vacuum cleaner to clean up everything from cereal and crackers to dog hair and beach sand. However, I found it frustrating that with all these great features, Honda still didn’t put in a channel turning knob for the radio. Having to go potentially hundreds of stations using a touchscreen takes the driver’s eyes off the road and compromises safety.
The Odyssey by Honda is a great minivan and easy to recommend. Despite small improvements that could be made, its combination of safety features, technology, legendary dependability and resale value make the Odyssey a real winner.
Years ago, a “compact” pickup truck was truly small. But with drivers seeking more power, cargo room and towing capacity, today’s smallest pickups are more like the full-sized trucks of years ago — and are more than enough for most drivers. The segment Is competitive, with top consumer choices like the Toyota Tacoma, Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier, Ford Ranger, Jeep Gladiator, Chevy Colorado and the GMC Canyon dominating the field.
The GMC Canyon is powered by a choice of three engines: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes a healthy 200 horsepower, a 2.8-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder; and a 308-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 engine. Standard configuration is two-wheel drive, with four-wheel drive optional. The four available trim levels are Standard, Elevation, AT4 and the top-of-the-line Denali. There are two cab configurations. The extended cab has small jump seats and a 6’ 2” cargo bed. The more practical Crew Cab can be configured in either a 5’ 2” bed or the longer 6’ 2” bed. Our road test was in the AT4 with four-wheel drive and the 3.6-liter V-6 engine.
The ride and handling were quite good even with our off-road suspension package, smooth even over poorly maintained roads. The off-road trim package has features that allow for some serious off-road travel, such as skid plates, greater suspension travel and more aggressive tires. These features, combined with the two-speed transfer case and locking rear differential, should allow you to take the road less traveled. If your plans are to tow a boat or camping trailer, the Canyon can tow 7,700 pounds. Fuel economy is not its strongest feature; the EPA rates the Canyon at 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. I averaged just under 19 mpg.
I was initially comfortable in the six-way power adjustable front seats, and there was plenty of head- and legroom. However, after about an hour, the seats began to feel uncomfortable. The instrument panel was nicely laid out and the radio and climate controls were simple and easy to operate. Overall, the interior was quite nice and the fit and finish were fine, but some switches and finishes could have been upgraded. Even with the front seats pushed all the way back, there was enough legroom to allow me to sit comfortably in the rear seat. In addition to remote start, the Canyon had the typical safety features, including lane departure and forward collision warning, and rear seat reminder. The Canyon comes with a teen driver system that limits radio volume, mutes the radio if seat belts are not fastened, turns on all the safety features, offers programmable speed warnings, and provides an in-vehicle “report card” that accumulates trip data.
If you are looking for a smaller than full-sized pickup truck that can handle off-road travel, tow a boat and seat four adults, the Canyon by GMC is worth a look.
The all-new 2021 Cadillac Escalade comes in five trim levels, starting with the Luxury model (base price $77,000) and ending with the Premium Luxury Platinum edition. The Escalade can be ordered in rear- wheel or all-wheel drive configurations. Our test was conducted in the Premium Luxury Platinum edition, with a 6.2-liter V-8 engine that makes 420 horsepower. A ten-speed transmission sends the power to the wheels. A turbocharged six-cylinder diesel engine is also available.
Despite it being a top-of-the-line model, additional options come at a cost. On our vehicle, night vision, power running boards, shadow metallic paint, console cooler and puddle lamps (that display the Cadillac crest) were available at additional charges, which added slightly more than $5,000 to the already hefty $103,000 base price.
The first thing I noticed behind the wheel was the size of the Escalade. At just over 17.5 feet, this is a big vehicle; a larger, 19-foot Escalade ESV is available as well. The interior exudes luxury; there is soft, high-quality leather on almost every surface, with aluminum and wood trim everywhere else. The instrument panel is unique, with a curved OLED display (with twice the pixel density of a 4K television) as the centerpiece of the interior. This display has a total of 38 inches of area that incorporates the gauges as well as the infotainment system. The result is a tastefully integrated system that works well. Cadillac kept some buttons and knobs to easily navigate features. The heated and cooled front seats are extremely comfortable, and the rear seating is equally as nice. Even the third row — usually tight on legroom — was comfortable for adults. There is approximately 25 feet of cargo area with all the seats in use, expanding to 120 cubic feet behind the front row.
This big vehicle is surprisingly nimble on the road, with the 420 HP engine to allow merging and passing with ease. The Escalade rides on an all-new platform which uses four-wheel independent suspension, and electronic ride control takes the vehicle from comfortable to a sportier ride. The steering is light at low speeds and firms up out on the highway, providing additional road feel. Technology doesn’t stop at the instrument panel. The navigation uses augmented reality to overlay real-time video with the navigation mapping. The Escalade comes with Cadillac’s semiautonomous SuperCruise, which is not quite self-driving, but is close. The SuperCruise system monitors the driver; if s/he stops paying attention, it will provide a warning before shutting down the system. Of course, this Cadillac comes with just about every other safety system: forward collision warning with automatic braking, reverse automatic braking, front pedestrian braking and automatic parking assist. Fuel economy (should you care about such a thing with this vehicle) is rated by the EPA at 14 mpg city and 19 mpg on the highway; I averaged just about 16 mpg overall.
The Cadillac Escalade is big, powerful and luxurious. It’s not for everyone; it made a statement wherever I parked. However, if you need cargo room and the ability to carry adults in comfort — and you are a bit of a tech junkie — the Escalade is a solid choice.
The Nissan Armada is a three-row, 7/8 passenger large SUV that competes with the GMC Yukon and Ford Expedition. The Armada has one engine choice: a 5.6-liter 400 horsepower V-8. The engine powers the rear wheels but can be optioned with a two-speed transfer case for more serious and controlled off-road travel. Whether two- or four-wheel drive, the Armada comes in four trim levels: SV, SL, S and Platinum. Our road test was in the two-wheel drive Platinum version. The overall ride is firm but surprisingly comfortable considering this particular Armada rides on optional 22-inch wheels. The steering is a bit on the heavy side at lower speeds and the handling allows a fair number of body rolls through fast turns.
Our top-of-the-line tester was well-equipped with the latest safety features, including automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, active lane control, smart cruise control, active blind spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alert, rear automatic braking and driver attention alert. The interior is comfortable with wide spacious front and middle row seating. I found plenty of head and legroom, but drivers taller than six feet might find space a bit tight. The second row was comfortable although the third row is best left for kids and minimal adult use. The controls are well-thought-out and easy to master, including the 12-inch user-friendly touch screen system. In addition to the typical higher-end features such as heated and cooled front seats, heated second row seats, and power folding third row, the Platinum Armada also had remote start, wireless phone charging, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a Wi-Fi hotspot. There were plenty of USB ports, 12-volt power points, a 110-volt outlet as well as a rear seat entertainment system with wireless headphones. Fit and finish was very good throughout.
This is a heavy vehicle that weighs in at just under three tons. The engine is very strong but needs to rev a bit to take advantage of the available power. The seven-speed automatic transmission shifted smoothly but needed a solid push on the throttle to downshift into a lower gear. The Armada can tow an impressive 8,500 pounds, making this vehicle more than suitable for loading up the family and their gear, and towing weekend toys such as boats and camping trailers. With the combination of the Armada’s weight and large V-8 engine, fuel economy is not great. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway; I averaged just 15 mpg.
The Nissan Armada offers a strong V-8 engine, a roomy and quiet cabin paired with premium quality interior materials and the latest convenience and safety technology. However, the Armada loses points for dismal fuel economy and wallowing handling. Overall, this 2021 model has some much-needed improvements to compete against other vehicles in its class, despite a few blemishes along the way.
If you’re looking for a small SUV, the 2021 Subaru Forester is worth considering. Available in five trim levels and standard all-wheel drive, the Forester is powered by a 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The engine is connected to the wheels through a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT); this is one of the better-performing CVTs I have driven. Our test drive was in the Limited edition, which is only topped by the top-level Touring model. All Forester models are well-equipped with adaptive LED headlights, automatic climate control, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking and lane keeping assistance. The Limited edition adds leather seating, dual-zone climate control, a larger infotainment screen and power liftgate.
Compared to other SUVs, 182 horsepower seems low, but the Forester has more than enough power to get around in traffic and sprint onto the highway without problems. While the performance will never be confused with a sports car, it is certainly adequate. The steering is good but there is a slight on-center vagueness. With 18-inch wheels and tires and surefooted suspension, handling is solid and feels more connected to the road than similar rivals. Like most Subaru vehicles, this Forester is surprisingly good off-road. With a combination of almost nine inches of ground clearance and X-MODE all-wheel drive, the Forester inspires confidence. The X-MODE selector optimizes the drivetrain for snow, mud and deep sand with a twist of a knob. There is also the equivalent of off-road cruise control when heading down a steep hill to keep from getting in trouble. The Forest is also capable of towing up to 1,500 pounds, perfect for small watercraft or camping trailer. Fuel economy is also outstanding; I averaged about 35 mpg.
The cabin of the Forester is comfortable, functional and sensible. While our test model had heated leather seats, the overall interior felt like a comfortable pair of jeans, never trying to show off its style. All Forester models come with a standard touch screen infotainment system; in the Limited edition, the large 8-inch screen provided a good user experience with a mix of touch screen controls, knobs and buttons. There were plenty of 12-volt power points and USB connections. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, which is nice if you opt for the base model without navigation. The driving position is typical for an SUV, optimized for driver control with great visibility out of the large windows. Even with higher ground clearance, entry and exit are easy. This is a great small SUV for drivers who find it difficult to climb out of a sedan or larger SUV. The rear seat is comfortable with more than enough head and legroom for adults, even with the front seats moved all the way back. There is plenty of cargo room with all the seats in use, expanding to nearly 70 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.
The Subaru Forester has many positive features that offset any negative. It’s a competent, comfortable vehicle that can easily handle the road less traveled. If you are in the market for a small SUV with the latest safety features, the Forester is a good bet.
The fourth-generation, three-row Kia Sorento is built on the same design and style as the larger, ever-popular Kia Telluride, adding another size to their family of SUVs. The Sorento comes in six trim levels with two engine choices: a 2.5-liter 191 horsepower four-cylinder or a turbocharged 281 horsepower version of the same engine. The transmissions also vary by model, with the lower trim levels getting an eight-speed traditional automatic transmission while the higher trim levels have an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard in all but the top trim level (SX Prestige X-line), which has all-wheel drive as the only choice. According to Kia, a turbocharged hybrid (delivering 37 mpg) and plug-in hybrid (30 mpg) will soon be available for the Sorento.
Our road test was conducted in the sporty X-Line, and the trim is upscale and almost passes for real wood. The heated and cooled leather seats are comfortable and supportive. The gauge layout is clean and simple with a nice mix of knobs and buttons and a 10-inch touch screen control. (Lower trim levels have a slightly smaller screen.) The infotainment multimedia system is one of the best available. A nice safety feature is that the speedometer switches to a video display of the left side blind spot when the left turn signal is used. When the right blinker is activated, the tachometer shows the right side of the vehicle. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make it easy to connect your phone. The second-row captain’s style seating is comfortable, and the standard third row is, like most vehicles of this size, best suited for kids. Cargo storage is good with up to 45 cubic feet with the third row folded; with all seats in use, space drops to 12 cubic feet, enough for a golf bag, a few groceries, or some carry-on luggage.
The Sorento performs well on the road. The four-cylinder engine provides strong acceleration and the eight-speed, DSG-style transmission provides clean, crisp shifts. Compared to the previous generation Sorento, this latest edition is the smoothest riding to date, even with 20-inch wheels and tires. The handling is also excellent and the Sorento feels well-planted to the roadway. The X-Line model also has an inch more ground clearance for those drivers who want to go off-road. Visibility is good all-around and the standard LED headlights provide great lighting at night without blinding oncoming drivers.
Safety is addressed with a complete suite of features. In addition to plenty of airbags, there is also forward collision avoidance, blind spot collision avoidance, rear-backing collision alert, smart cruise control, parking distance warning and rear occupant alert. A surround-view monitor camera system is optional and makes it easier to park and maneuver in tight areas. Fuel economy is rated by the EPA at 21 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. I averaged 26 mpg in an even mix of driving conditions.
Kia now has an SUV for every need and budget: the subcompact Seltos, Soul, Sportage, redesigned Sorento and — the largest — Telluride. There was a time that the Sorento was lost in the mix of SUVs, but this latest version is a standout and certainly worth a look.
The E-Class sedan by Mercedes-Benz is a four-door luxury mid-sized sedan, available in rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. Engines vary from a 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder making 255 horsepower to an outrageous AMG version powered by a turbocharged V-8 engine making 603 horsepower. Our road test was in the E450 version with all-wheel drive. This version uses a twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine that makes 262 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. To produce this power, the E450 uses a 48-volt mild hybrid system that adds both horsepower and torque while the turbocharged engine gets up to speed and down to business. The mild-hybrid system has a start-stop engine operation which is smooth and barely noticeable. The transmission is a nine-speed with paddle shifters to add to the sporty feel. It is interesting to note that the last E-Class vehicle I drove was the E350; I found the overall fuel economy with this newer more powerful model was slightly better, thanks to the hybrid technology.
From a complete stop to a highway merge, there is always surplus power on tap to get this two-ton sedan moving. The steering is smooth and precise, and the ride is sport luxury, due in part to the optional 19-inch wheels and tires. Like all current Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the E450 comes equipped with the latest safety features, including automatic emergency braking and blind spot monitoring driver attention assistant. Our model also came with a driver assistance package with advanced cruise control, lane keeping assistant, rear-end collision and active brake assist with cross traffic alert, and route-based speed adaptation. The E450 also comes with an optional air-controlled suspension system that shifts the E450 from a softer, comfortable ride to a firm, sporty ride.
The cabin is outfitted with premium Nappa leather interior which adds nearly $5,000 to the price of the car. The heated and cooled front seats have active bolstering and firm up the seats when taking a quick turn. There are various massage settings which, while beneficial on a long trip, I found a bit overdone and somewhat uncomfortable. There is also a setting that can adjust the seat and steering wheel based on your height. Apparently, I have been sitting incorrectly for all these years of driving: when I selected six feet, I was moved uncomfortably up against the steering wheel and instrument panel. The heated rear seats are comfortable, and the power rear sunshade is a nice feature when the headlights of the car behind are too bright. The infotainment system is very good, with a combination of steering wheel control, trackpad, touch screen or voice commands (although I’m not sure you need that many choices when turning the radio volume up and down). I did appreciate the augmented reality navigation system that overlays a live video feed on the navigation, so you can see what is actually in front of you when it is time to take a turn.
The Mercedes-Benz E450 with all-wheel drive may be the best E-Class to date, and perhaps the best in its class. The interior is stunning, and the ride and handling is at least as good as any rival. While good, the technology may be just a bit over-the-top for some buyers.
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 key fob, 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