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Posts from the ‘SUV/Truck Reviews’ Category

11
Feb

2018 Nissan Rogue SL AWD

New Rogue comfortable, roomy …2018 Nissan Rogue

Rogue is Nissan’s top-selling vehicle, has been around awhile and proved itself reliable, and if you’re a Star Wars geek, its name appeals like none other on the market.

What it has going for it in the small sport-utility/crossover market is that it’s not too small. It has good interior space for four adults and generous cargo room behind the rear seat. It’s comfortable, has supportive seats and is priced competitively. Last year its styling was updated and Rogue remains a handsome SUV.

But it has its limitations. Some of its competitors perform better, for instance the Subaru Outback, which is of similar size. Both have AWD to make them appealing in our sometimes snowy climate, and all the utes in this class offer that feature.

While the Rogue’s interior is comfy and refined, the cabin relatively quiet and all, I found the ute’s main driving characteristics solidly middle of the road. Nothing stood out.2018 Nissan Rogue

For instance Rogue’s power is modest with its 2.5-liter I4 kicking out 170 horsepower. Mated with a smooth, but uninspiring automatic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), its acceleration is mild. Rogue doesn’t feel terribly heavy, which is good, but if you want or need quick acceleration you won’t find it here.

In fact, if you press the accelerator to the floor demanding more power you’ll get some, but the engine noise grows substantially, the growl often disturbing to riders. Rogue sounds like it’s working hard to get up to highway speeds if you tromp it. There is a Sport mode button that once engaged will give the Nissan more torque, but again, engine noise becomes an issue. Read more

8
Feb

2018 Audi Q5 2.0T quattro w/Prestige

New Audi Q5 remains smooth, luxurious …2018 Audi Q5

Evidently once a smooth operator, always a smooth operator.

Audi’s new Q5 compact luxury crossover/sport-ute carries on its tradition of smooth, sporty performance with luxury ladled on for good measure. It’s a bit larger than its predecessor and slightly more fuel efficient too. This is an all-around winner. No wonder the Q5 is Audi’s best-selling vehicle.

For 2018 the wheelbase is increased slightly, less than an inch, and interior space grows a bit. In addition, there is no turbo-diesel engine available anymore. We all know of Volkswagen’s diesel woes, and Audi is VW’s luxury brand.

The Q5 comes in three trim levels, Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige. This was the Prestige, but that comes as a package and takes the Premium from its attractive $42,475 starting price up to $51,775, including delivery fee. This added a few more options to top out at $56,100. So it’s loaded with goodies.2018 Audi Q5

But let’s start at the basics where even with the entry-level Premium model you get the same silky, yet powerful, 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 that produces 252 horsepower, but more sportingly this engine boasts 273 lb.-ft. of torque. The Q5 darn near literally jumps away from stoplights. Jumps is probably a bit misleading as the Audi is more thoroughbred race horse than kangaroo. Read more

27
Dec

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited

Robby DeGraff photo

New Santa Fe a luxury sleigh ride …

Leading up to Christmas I spent a week luxuriating in Santa’s sleigh.

Say what? It was Hyundai’s Santa Fe? Well then, never mind!

Yet then again Hyundai’s mid-size SUV is certainly big enough to haul a lot of goodies to good girls and boys all over southeast Wisconsin. The Santa Fe is a luxurious ute that if it had sliding side doors could pass for a minivan. In the tested Limited Ultimate AWD trim it would haul six adults with its two second-row captain’s seats and twin fold-down third row seats.

If you opt for a bench seat in the second row, Santa Fe will seat seven, which matches most minivans. And the cargo space behind the second row for gear, suitcases and such is sizeable. Even with the third row in place there’s plenty of room for grocery bags and odds and ends.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited

Robby DeGraff photo

The AWD makes the Santa Fe a champ in sloppy weather too, giving it even better footing than say a heard of reindeer.

Hyundai revamped this ute for 2017 and drastically improved its looks, moving it away from boxy minivan and old ute styling to a fresher, more muscular stance that gives it a bit of a BMW’s swagger.

Handling is among the best for mid-size crossovers and utes too. Santa Fe feels responsive and corners well with just a slight lean in fast tight turns. Steering feedback is on the heavy side in Normal drive mode, of which there are three, including Eco and Dynamic.

Punch the Drive Mode button for Dynamic and the wheel firms up even more, maybe more than most drivers would want to deal with. But it also allows the 6-speed automatic transmission to hold the lower gears longer in order to boost acceleration. So in this mode the Santa Fe jumps, not up onto house tops, but onto the freeway like an aggressive sport sedan. Read more

29
Nov

2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Jeep Trackhawk boasts 707 hp, too … 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

There is now a 707 horsepower Jeep.

You read that right, and the first question most folks ask is, Why would Jeep do this?

The answer: Because they can.

There’s no reasonable or logical reason, except that Fiat/Chrysler, which is the overindulgent parent of Jeep and Dodge, has been playing up its youthful exuberance via high-powered vehicles for several years now. Yes, this has a Hemi in it!

First it was the Hellcat, both as a Dodge Challenger and Charger, using the same 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8 that powers this Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. Then there’s the Demon, another Challenger with even more power and aimed directly at the drag strip crowd. But there’s little chance many folks will be buying a Jeep to race at the local drag strip, especially when the tested Trackhawk’s price tag nudged $91 grand.2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Yet a few folks, and you know who they are, always need to have the biggest, well, engine on the block. They are the buyers that previously have snapped up the top-end sports cars and muscle cars of the past. Think Corvette envy.

The Hellcats, Demons and Trackhawks are shoving that with both hands to a new level, and doing so with in-your-face marketing. Read more

22
Nov

2017 BMW X3 xDrive 35i

BMW X3 has the street cred, but what about style? …2017 BMW X3 xDrive 35i

This week’s drive begs the question of style and performance vs. reputation and performance. How so?

The tested BMW X3 compact SUV is a direct competitor of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio I tested a week prior. Darn near the same dimensions, the Alfa is just an inch longer. Similar power too, the BWM having 20 more ponies under its hood.

The difference is in looks, styling if you will, and reputation. While Alfa has a performance reputation, the long-term reliability of its vehicles has historically been a bit sketchy. BMW boasts of being the ultimate driving machine, and generally has a stronger long-term reliability rating.

Face value though, that impression that hits you when you first see a vehicle, is all in the Alfa’s favor. It looks lean and fast and, well, a bit sexy if you can see that in a car. Its nose is distinctive, like no other. It turns heads. Read more »

16
Nov

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio AWD

Beautiful Stelvio puts in the crossover fast lane …2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Even if Italian beauty were only skin deep, maybe that would be enough when it comes to cars and crossovers.

The new Stelvio, Alfa Romeo’s first crossover or SUV, whichever you wish to label it, is a beauty. Its face is unique in today’s bland auto world with a rounded distinctive nose that immediately signals to car connoisseurs that this is an Alfa. And what the hay, a little Italian styling passion can be easy on the eyes.2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Stelvio, named for a famed road in Italy’s Alps, also embodies the Alfa heritage for sporty performance. For years Alfas were major competitors and winners at European racetracks. Heck, Enzo Ferrari got his start managing Alfa’s race team pre-World War II.

Even in the tested base trim Stelvio performs more like the sport sedan it’s based on, the Giulia, than you’d expect in a modest-sized crossover. Like so many of today’s new vehicles, the Stelvio goes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 under its lean and long hood. That might sound small for an SUV, but this unit cranks a spritely 280 horsepower with a 306 torque rating.

There’s not a lot of rumble since it’s a turbo, but the Stelvio gallops up to highway speeds like a race horse that has just been spurred in the rump. There’s a bit of engine yowl from under the hood, but only a twinge to let you know you’re not driving a domestic.2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Not surprisingly the Alfa prefers premium fuel’s higher octane to light the fire in its belly. Power kicks in quickly with no noticeable turbo lag and the sporty 8-speed ZF transmission seems beautifully suited to the turbo, providing smooth, efficient shifts. Read more »

10
Nov

2018 Volkeswagen Atlas V6 SEL w/4Motion

VW goes big into the SUV market with Atlas …2018 Volkwagen Atlas

There are no awards for being late to the party, but VW is hoping sales are its consolation prize for finally creating a large SUV, the Atlas.

It won’t win any styling awards (can you say big and boxy?), but it’s certainly stout and a bargain!

While every major automaker, including the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, have created a large SUV, it took VW until late this summer to release its Atlas, a 2018 model that is very nearly the same dimensionally as the Dodge Durango I tested a couple weeks back. Both are a pleasure to drive.

What the Atlas has going for it is nimble handling, good acceleration and a ride to match, but it’s also modestly priced. How modest?2018 Volkwagen Atlas

The base S model starts at $31,425 including delivery and touts a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 that makes 235 horsepower. That’s with front-wheel drive, naturally, but even the tested SEL model with V6 and 4Motion (AWD) was just $42,690. No options were added either and with a $925 delivery fee the dark Platinum Gray Metallic test ute went for $43,615.

While that still won’t fit into everyone’s household budget, compare that with the tested Durango’s $49,360 price tag. In fact, most large utes roll out of the showroom at roughly $50 grand. Chief competitors are the Honda Pilot, Chevy Tahoe, Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander. Read more »

3
Nov

2018 Chevrolet Equinox FWD LT 2.0T

New Chevy Equinox shrinks, but that’s a good thing …2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Chevrolet updated the Equinox for 2018 by doing something carmakers rarely do these days, shrinking it.

Equinox is nearly 5 inches shorter than its predecessor, but it feels lighter and livelier to drive, another rare accomplishment. Usually carmakers add inches and weight to increase their appeal to a wider expanse of the buying public.

So for compact sport-utility and crossover buyers looking for something less trucky and more nimble like a car, Equinox becomes a solid choice along with Mazda’s CX-5.

In its base trim, the L model, Equinox is both inexpensive and mildly powered. It starts in front-drive mode at $25,525 including delivery fee, and its I4 is a 1.5-liter turbo that creates 170 horsepower. In the Equinox L the tranny is a six-speed automatic and that combo leads to an EPA rating of 26 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. Laudable!2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Ah, but the majority of buyers are likely to move up to the LT model, which is what I tested in its pumpkin spiced Orange Burst Metallic paint scheme. The OBM color gets your attention, and that of friends and co-workers, all for just $395 extra.

The LT is the first Equinox with Chevy’s new 2.0-liter I4 turbo that cranks 252 horsepower and is rated at 260 for torque. This creates a much speedier and more satisfying drive as the turbo spools up quickly to get the crossover up or down a highway entry ramp before a big 16-wheeler is breathing down your tailpipe.

The tested LT with just front-drive seemed light and lively on the weeklong drive. It cornered well and steering effort was light. Parking was simple. Read more »

26
Oct

2017 Dodge Durango GT Blacktop AWD

Outlier Durango delivers function and style …2017 Dodge Durango GT Blacktop

Dodge’s Durango is an outlier of sorts. It features function and style while many of the better selling large SUVs maintain a staid look, favoring square exteriors and overly manly interiors with oversized gauges, knobs and air vents.

Durango though likes to spiff itself up, like it’s saying it wants to be formal, but likes to party too.

This week’s case in point, the large Durango GT Blacktop AWD. While not as racy, or gas thirsty as the R/T version I tested a couple years back, this one still has plenty of muscle, while maintaining a sporty look, at least as sporty as SUVs go.2017 Dodge Durango GT Blacktop

Under the hood is a 3.6-liter V6 with variable valve timing and boasting 293 horsepower. Torque is rated at 260 lb.-ft. The engine is strong and the Durango, while not nimble, feels substantial and quick enough to outrun traffic as you pull onto the freeway. I had this on a roundtrip to Toledo and it cruised the toll roads with ease and was quick to pull out and pass slow semis and dawdlers.

Dodge uses an 8-speed automatic transmission with the V6 and the tranny shifts smoothly and efficiently. While not in the league with hybrids, the Durango managed 22.0 mpg on the trip, including some city driving along with long stretches of highway. The Dodge drinks regular and the EPA rates it at 18 mpg city and 25 highway. I had a fairly heavy load of luggage in the back and one passenger. Read more

27
Sep

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road 4×4 Double Cab, long bed

Toyota’s Tacoma TRD a big mid-size pickup for off-roading …  2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD

            There was a day, not all that long ago, when Toyota’s Tacoma, along with the likes of Ford’s Ranger and Chevy’s S-10, was a small, personal-sized pickup.

These were young guy “first cars” because they were inexpensive wheels, macho enough to get the young girls to pay some attention, plus useful enough to help other young friends move into their first apartments, houses, whatever.

Today the Tacoma, along with other compact pickups, have grown up into bigger mid-sized models that some could almost mistake for full-size trucks. Certainly when you add a double cab (a full back seat and second set of doors), and a long bed (6 feet in the Tacoma’s case), and 4-wheel-drive, you’ve got a vehicle that’s big, long and tall.2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD

Then make it a TRD version, which stands for Toyota Racing Development, and you’ve pretty much “machoed” the thing out to the max.

This week’s test truck though went with what Toyota calls a Quicksand color, which is a tan that screams utility service truck. Not a great color for a personal truck. But then the test truck did feature the TRD 4×4 Off-Road decals on the bed’s rear side panels. Tough!

How big has the long-bed Tacoma double-cab become? Well, it rides on a 140.6-inch wheelbase and is 225.5 inches long. Weight is 4,425 lbs. Compare that with a comparable Nissan Frontier SL 4WD Crew Cab, which has a 139.9-inch wheelbase, is 219.4 inches long and weighs about 170 lbs. more. Read more

30
Aug

2017 Lexus RX 450h

Lexus RX 450h perfect for a comfy, long haul …2017 Lexus RX 450h

Mostly my test drives are a couple hundred miles around Southeast Wisconsin over the course of a week, but this week was a rare exception when I drove the Lexus RX 450h to Omaha and back, more than 1,100 miles.

As many a high-end suburban household has discovered, before me, the RX is a perfect prescription for an enjoyable highway drive. And the 450h, the hybrid model, adds fine fuel economy to its other attributes of style, comfort, ride and room.

The RX, which some claim started the crossover fad, is stylish with a grille that no amount of overstatement can describe beyond large and aggressiveness. It’s distinctive, and not many vehicles can make that claim.2017 Lexus RX 450h

Overall the RX looks chiseled and modern and with its C-pillar blacked out at its base the Lexus’s roof appears to float. Pretty cool for a crossover!

But loaded down with boxes and luggage and two passengers the RX proved it can haul and do it comfortably. We folded down the rear seats, triggered the power hatch and piled in suitcases, overstuffed boxes and photo equipment. The RX swallowed it all and we could even see out the back window, mostly.

Ride is luxurious and smooth. Highway driving (and there was plenty) was a breeze and we barely felt a jiggle or bump inside the Lexus. As with many luxury vehicles there are several ride modes here, Eco, Normal and Sport. Normal was fine and provided moderate steering feedback and good acceleration from the 3.5-liter V6 combined with an electric hybrid system to create 308 horsepower. Read more »

20
Aug

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T ULT AWD

Hyundai’s Santa Fe Sport still a leader …2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

Hyundai continues to pace the small to mid-size crossover segment with its Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport.

A few years back Hyundai split its Santa Fe crossover lineup with the larger being the Santa Fe and the smaller, sportier model being the Santa Fe Sport. The test drive was a dark metallic blue version of the Sport with AWD and the Ultimate trim level. So this is the top-shelf model and therefore becomes a bit pricey. More on that later.

The Sport Ultimate looks and feels luxurious and features all the electronics you’d expect on a top-level vehicle. But unlike some utes and crossovers, the Sport handles well, rides well and has enough power to make it interesting.2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

This has the more powerful of Hyundai’s two engines, a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, which generates 240 horsepower and a torque rating of 260. The base front-drive model features a 2.4-liter normally aspirated engine that creates 185 horses.

At that level the Sport lists at $26,245, but this top-line model starts at $38,250, plus an $895 delivery fee. Add in some options and the test crossover hit $41,355, a bit much in my book.

But there’s plenty of value, even at that.

Start with the power. The I4’s direct injection and turbocharger give you power when you need it, but allow the four-cylinder to work more efficiently when you’re just running errands. So you can get 240 horsepower tromping the gas getting on the highway, but power feels more modest around town. Read more »

2
Jul

Mark and Paul’s fun at Road America

A Dream Day for driving

As members of the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) Mark and I make the trip to Road America where we get to drive new cars from the manufacturers. This year, we drove the Ford Focus ST, BMW M40i, Dodge Challenger Hellcat, and GT, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, Lexus RC F, Alfa Romeo Giulia, and Chevy Bolt. What fun. Below are videos from some of the drives.

 

 

 

 

 

Related: Read Mark’s full review on the Focus RS.

 

 

 

25
Jun

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd. Platinum

Highlander Hybrid excels at moving people, things …2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

A road trip to Louisville with a couple buddies, and plenty of cargo, proved Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid to be a perfect transport choice.

Ours was a medium metallic brown, what Toyota calls Toasted Walnut Pearl. Probably should have been pecan since we were headed to the South. But, color aside, this fine family mover will carry eight folks and their stuff, or in our case, three and luggage, boxes, a monster camera bag, etc.

Highlander is quiet, comfortable, roomy, nice looking and, being the hybrid model, got darned fine gas mileage for its heft. Even without three dudes and their gear it weighs 4,965 lbs.2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

There was plenty to like and really nothing to irritate a crabby old guy and his friends.

Start with power. There’s a bunch. Toyota puts a new 3.5-liter V6 under the hood, mated with its reliable hybrid power system. Combined these get 306 horsepower and operation is silky smooth. Creeping through Chicago traffic on the return trip, at about 5-20 mph, the Highlander hummed along on electric power. Once I needed to accelerate somewhere near Gurnee, Ill., its electronically controlled CVT (continuously variable transmission) eased right into it and off we went at 70+ mph. In fact, cruising through Indiana the Highlander is so quiet and comfy that we had no difficulty commenting on how far we could see in any direction.2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Ride is super. Highlander rides on a 109.8-inch wheelbase and the independent front McPherson struts and rear double wishbone suspension eat up highway imperfections. Few vehicles feel this smooth on rough Midwestern roads. Read more »

19
May

2017 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

New Volvo XC90 packs in a lot … 2017 Volvo XC90 T6

Honestly, the new Volvo XC90 is a bit overwhelming.

It’s a big luxury crossover or ute, whichever you prefer. It looks buttoned-down collar sharp and has nearly every conceivable electronic doodad, safety device and feature one could expect. But there’s just so much here to enjoy and learn it’s a bit like going to flight school straight from junior high shop.

There’s no denying Volvo has been a fuddy-duddy brand for years, the square car in the round hole that is the wagon and now crossover marketplace. Safety was its gig, which is laudable, but styling and luxury were, let’s say, well down Volvo’s best practices list.

The luxury bit has been addressed in the past several years, but the XC90 brings Volvo up to and beyond some peers in the luxury market and now its sophisticated styling is a big help.2017 Volvo XC90 T6

First, the XC90 ranges from moderate luxury to full-on eye-popping price tag luxury. The base T5 Momentum starts at $46,745 in front-drive mode and still features the potent 2.0-liter, supercharged and turbocharged I4 that runs throughout the lineup. It creates 250 horsepower in the base model and 316 horsepower in the tested T6 model with all-wheel drive. Both feature a smooth shifting 8-speed Geartronic automatic transmission.

The tested T6 AWD Inscription lists at $51,600, plus $995 delivery, but the Inscription package adds another $5,600. The metallic black test ute ended up at $72,805 after adding nine more options and packages.

Now hold on for the upper end. Volvo’s plug-in hybrid, the T8 Excellence lists at $105,989 with delivery. You read that right, but it adds an 80-horse electric motor to the equation to boost gas mileage to a still mild 25 mpg, but can run 25 miles on an electric charge. It also includes heated and massaging rear seats, a built-in fridge and a 20-speaker Bowers & Wilkins stereo.

OK, back to reality, sort of! Read more »

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