Category Archives: SUV/Truck Reviews

2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe

Plug-in hybrid smooths Wrangler power, boosts mpg …

Jeeps come in all sizes these days and with multiple powerplant choices, the latest of which provided the grunt for the tested 4-door Wrangler Rubicon.

Here the power comes from a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 with plug-in hybrid system using a couple electric motors to help boost gas mileage and smooth out acceleration. Jeep calls the hybrid a 4-by-E, emphasizing its legendary 4-wheeling system. I’ve tested 4xe (Jeep’s alphanumeric abbreviation) previously and found it quite effective and efficient.

It extends gas mileage and it’s easy to plug in, even to an old-school 110/120 garage outlet. A charge overnight nets 20 to 25 miles of electric range. If you have a 240-outlet it takes less than 3 hours for a full charge.

The white (only color that doesn’t cost $495 extra) Rubicon arrived just prior to our Christmas meat locker chill down and a full charge was closer to 20 miles, but still, that helps make around-town driving more efficient. Sadly I was limited by the cold on how much charging I could do with another car in the garage. So I mostly ran on gas, leaving me with disappointing mpg, but then again it was below zero for several days, always a hamper on mpg.

What I like about the 4xe is that it runs on hybrid power, a blend of gas and electric, by default. Or press a button on the left dash for all electric, or to Save Electric. One imagines that when playing off-road one might use electric power to smooth acceleration AND avoid emissions in the wilderness, keeping it cleaner for other outdoors lovers.

In addition, running on Save-E allows the engine and brakes to help regenerate some electric power to the batteries. So, for instance, driving around town I went from 10% power to 25%, giving me a couple more miles of electric range that I could kick in when wanted.

Aside from the 4xe system this Wrangler is all Jeep, meaning it’s mostly utilitarian inside, yet not Spartan. There’s a 4WD shift lever to engage for better traction in snow, which was needed and proved helpful, or into low-range settings for mudding and splashing about. One can argue how many folks sinking nearly $70 grand into a Jeep will do that, but by golly one certainly can. In fact, it’ll ford 30 inches of water, if asked.

The little turbo I4 here sounds like it’s working pretty hard and can get rather groany, but power seems fine and definitely smoother when the battery power is helping give it an electric assist from a stop. There’s a lot of road noise too thank to its big off-road tires and the canvass roof overhead.

Watch Mark’s video: 2023 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4xe review by Mark Savage and Paul Daniel – YouTube

I’d certainly prefer a solid top in winter, but this tester featured Jeep’s amazing Sky One-Touch power top that folds the canvas middle section of the roof back to let in the great outdoors when temps and monsoons allow. This unique feature doesn’t come cheap, a $4,145 option, but includes a rear window defroster and wiper, plus removable rear quarter windows.

Note that the doors are still removable on the Wrangler, but with this special roof the windshield will no longer fold down, a minor point to most of us.

Cool too that Jeep adds four auxiliary buttons below its center stack-mounted info screen and power window controls. That way one can add light bars and other accessories that can easily be programmed to work with a switch.

When off-roading one also can increase suspension travel by disconnecting the sway bar with a button on the stack.

For those of us keeping our SUVs between the highway’s white lines, the Rubicon 4xe is simple to control. The steering is extremely light (good for off-roading), but sufficiently vague to require some extra care when navigating quick turns and corners. The first inch of steering wheel input doesn’t really affect steering direction much.

Ride is generally pretty good, better and quieter than the Bronco I tested last year. But it’s Jeepy due to its two solid axles, so there is some bounce. Yet that is what many of its buyers claim to want as it provides a more exhilarating daily driving experience. Older drivers may prefer to add a cushion to the seats.

Yes, the seats and steering wheel are heated!

Speaking of which, the provided seats are plenty comfy and supportive, at least in front, for daily driving. There’s room for three adults in the rear seat too, although it helps if they are all on speaking terms. Headroom is generous, and limitless if the roof is retracted. Also, cargo room behind the second row seat is ample and the tested Jeep included all-weather floor and cargo mats for $170.

The Rubicon was not without its comfort perks either as heated front seats and a heated steering wheel were part of a $1,195 winter package that also added remote start, a Wisconsin and northern tier favorite. Seats were leather too and the dash was trimmed in a soft material, all black but trimmed in bright blue, the color most car makers use to signify electric battery-aided models. The leather adds $1,995 to the price tag.

That center stack may look intimidating, but it’s pretty simple to use.

While the info screen is modest at 8.4 inches it’s easy to read and use thanks to the UConnect system and large volume and tuning knobs. I had no problem adjusting the screen and its functions, plus it’s not overwhelming like the mega-screens in some SUVs.

Happy news too for off-roaders, there are grab handles all over the place, on A-pillars, dash, etc. Of course for us vertically challenged folks you’ll need one or more of those to enter the high-riding Wrangler as it has no running boards. Yet regular Jeep entry will help build upper body strength.

There are speakers in the solid bar overhead.

I couldn’t find a wireless charger here, but there are plenty of power plugs available. Note too that sun visors are a cheap hard plastic.

Pricing seems to put this in the luxury category when I always envision Wranglers, whether two- or four-door, primarily for serious off-roaders who will cake their wheels in mud.

A base Willys 4xe Sahara model starts at $57,500 including delivery and the upscale High Altitude lists at $63,235. Naturally off-roading is possible with any Wrangler, but the base for the Rubicon 4xe is $60,190 with delivery. The many options on the test SUV pushed this to $69,385, which might stir inhibitions about bouncing it off trees, bushes and rocks.

If not, well, more power to ya! But remember to plug-in every chance you get.

FAST STATS: 2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe

Hits: Off-road capability, plug-in hybrid, Jeepy looks. Room for five, good storage, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, sway bar disconnect for off-roading and good ground clearance. Light handling, plentiful grab handles, 4 auxiliary buttons, power folding top.

Misses: Pricey, vague steering, bumpy ride, tire noise, noisy engine, no running boards, no wireless charger, low mpg when only using gas.

Nothing says Jeep like the seven-bar grille!

Made in: Toledo, Ohio

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, plug-in hybrid, 375 hp/470 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 5,318 lbs.*

Wheelbase: 118.4 in.

Length: 188.4 in.

Cargo: 27.7-67.4 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 49 electric-gas/20 gas only

Electric range: 25 miles

MPG: 16.7 (tested, prefers premium)

Base Price: $60,190 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $59,752

Major Options:

Leather seats, wrapped panel bezels, $1,995

Preferred pkg. 29V (Cold weather group, heated front seats, remote-start, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel), $1,195

Trailer tow/heavy-duty electrical group, $995

All-weather mats, $170

Sky One-Touch power top (removable rear quarter windows, rear window defroster, rear wiper/washer, storage bag), $4,145

Integrated off-road camera, $695

Test vehicle: $69,385

Sources: Jeep, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

*=Car and Driver stats

2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid EX AWD

New hybrid is larger, more efficient, family-priced SUV …

Kia’s Sportage just keeps getting bigger and better, and now with a hybrid power system it’s more efficient and still can boast of family-friendly pricing.

That’s a lot!

But Kia and its twin cousin Hyundai have always been about value, generous feature content, top-notch warranties, and more recently about styling. The tested Sportage Hybrid EX AWD checks all of those boxes.

First, it was lengthened by 7.1 inches and its wheelbase stretched by 3.4 inches for this 2023 model. That translates into a better ride and oodles more passenger room in the rear seat and bonkers crazy large cargo space under the power hatch.

EX is the mid-level trim and probably the best deal for pricing and features. It’s loaded, including such goodies as heated outside mirrors, heated front seats and steering wheel, roof rails, a wireless charger and rear USB ports, a navigation system and twin 12.3-inch screen, plus all the safety equipment one now takes for granted, and a touch more.

Outside its profile is ubiquitous SUV, but its nose sets it apart with radical, yet stylish, arrow-shaped wild child headlight surrounds and a bold nose that some may consider a bit much, but when you see all the luxury makes packing garish monster grilles and logos the Kia seems to be whistling the same tune.

Yet it’s the solid performance and excellent fuel economy netted by the hybrid system that make Sportage a must-compare small to mid-size SUV. Worthy competitors are Hyundai’s Tucson, Honda’s CR-V, Mazda’s CX-5, Ford’s Escape, and Toyota’s RAV4.

Kia goes with a tiny 1.6-liter turbo I4 coupled with a hybrid system for power. That nets 227 horsepower that’s smoothly delivered via a 6-speed automatic transmission. No CVT here to slow up acceleration, instead the 6-speed gets right to it and gives the Sportage good low-end power for quick getaways.

Naturally there are several drive modes, including Snow, which locks the center differential and could come in handy in Wisconsin. Of course AWD is standard on this and the SX-Prestige trims of Sportage while the entry-level LX is front-drive, but offers AWD for about $1,800 more.

The hybrid system uses regenerative braking and coasting to repower the batteries to help give the car more oomph from a start and boost gas mileage. The AWD Sportage is rated 38 mpg city and highway because of that system and I got 32.2 mpg in about 60% highway and 40% city driving. Weather was cold and sloppy wet snow for a couple days.

Note a plug-in hybrid model also is available and delivers 34 miles of electric range on a charge. Power is also greater with 261 horsepower on tap.

Ride in this standard hybrid is pleasantly controlled and the lengthened wheelbase certainly plays a roll. Handling is easy too with moderate feedback from the steering, yet the Sportage is easy to control on the highway and I plowed through some blizzard conditions with this one and it never got squirrelly in the fresh snow. There’s slight body lean in tight turns at speed, like most utes.

My only concern kicked in between 45 and about 50 mph when there was a buzz or high-pitched hum that stirred in the cabin. Not sure of its origin, but did not seem to be road noise or wind-related.

Inside, the handsome dark metallic Vesta Blue Sportage looked more upscale than its price tag would insinuate. The dash and door panel tops were soft dark blue material with a cream colored lower section and the synthetic leather seats were also cream. Door armrests and the center armrest/storage box were that Navy blue to give this a sporty two-tone look.

A gray trim spread across the dash and doors too and Sportage’s center console was gloss black and included a wireless charger at its front. Satin chrome door releases and air vents  perked up the interior, giving it a bit of a jeweled look.

The driver’s instrument panel is a 12.3-inch digital number that blends into the 12.3-inch touchscreen that includes navigation and most of the other info screens and radio. It’s all easy to use, but the climate and radio buttons that basically toggle back and forth below the screen are touch-sensitive and mostly wouldn’t engage when I was wearing gloves. Not sure if all carmakers now design their interiors in SoCal, but here in the upper Midwest we wear gloves for 3-4 months every winter. It would be nice to not to have to remove them to adjust the heat and radio.

This is surprising too because Kia and Hyundai usually are better at interior controls than this.

Note too that when the Sportage starts it does not default the info screen to a home page so you can select from the 10 or so screen choices. It goes to one saying which driver (1 or 2) is driving so you know whose settings are installed. Odd!

One more thing. On a snowy day with the wipers and defrosters needing to do their thing the windows kept fogging with the climate controls on automatic. We had three people aboard and I kept switching back to the A/C mode to take the moisture from the air. Odd that the automatic climate didn’t do that for me. First world problem, but still!

Happily the interior is comfy with powered seats up front along with heated seats and a heated steering wheel too. While some Kia seats have been harder than I like these were fine and well-shaped. One minor complaint, while the heated seats and wheel buttons wisely were located on the console, they default to off, so each time you start the car you must remember to re-engage them. Many vehicles now remember such settings and pick up where they left off once the car is restarted.

Certainly the lengthened Sportage is extremely roomy inside, so it’s comfy for four adults and a fifth could fit in back, especially if none are too wide, or are young kids. And cargo room is phenomenal for this size SUV at nearly 40 cubic feet behind the second row. Fold those split seats down and it grows to nearly 74 cu.ft. Wow!

Overhead is a panoramic sunroof, but that’s part of the $1,500 EX Premium package that also includes LED lights inside, the power hatch and twin illuminated vanity mirrors. That later item is mostly standard now throughout the car world.

Add in the $155 floor mats and this EX that started at $32,285 with delivery grew to just $33,860. That’s a bargain for family transport this comfy and efficient. A base front-drive LX starts at $28,505, but the $30,385 AWD model will likely be a better choice in Wisconsin.

Move to the SX-Prestige and you’re looking at $37,485 for a loaded model. Then there’s that 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and the same for its batteries. Remember too that the average new car price is now $45 grand, so these are value-oriented models to be sure.

Consider too that the Sportage EX comes with forward collision avoidance assist with pedestrian recognition, lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist, a driver attention warning, auto high beams, lead vehicle in motion alert, and reverse parking sensors along with cross-traffic alert, blind-spot assist and safe exit warning.

One bell and whistle it could do without is the annoying “Check Rear Seat” chime that sounds to warn you may be leaving a child in the rear seat. Really!

I suppose we’ll have to live with the bells and chimes until the cars all drive themselves completely. Then there may be an alarm to warn us when it’s time to exit the vehicle and if it’s safe to do so. Futurama is here!

FAST STATS: 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid EX AWD

Hits: Interesting looks, good acceleration that seems less like a hybrid, good ride and handling plus AWD standard. Lengthened model offers good passenger and cargo room, includes heated front seats and steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, big info screen, four drive modes, wireless charger, power hatch, and solid safety equipment.

Misses: Climate/radio touch buttons below screen don’t work when wearing gloves, auto climate didn’t do well defrosting windows with three people in car, “Check Rear Seat” chime annoying, info screen doesn’t default to Home and heated seats and wheel default to off. Annoying buzz between 45-50 mph.

Made in: Gwangju, So. Korea

Cool light styling and nose trim too!

Engine: 1.6-liter turbo I4 hybrid, 227 hp

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Weight: 3,896 lbs.

Wheelbase: 108.5 in.

Length: 183.5in.

Cargo: 39.5-73.7 cu.ft.

Tow: 2,000 lbs.

MPG: 38/38

MPG (tested): 32.2

Base Price: $32,285 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $31,666

Major Options:

Carpeted floor mats, $155

EX Premium pkg. (panoramic sunroof, LED interior lights, hands-free hatch, dual illuminated vanity mirrors), $1,500

Test vehicle: $33,860

Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

#Kia

2023 Volvo XC90 Recharge AWD Ultimate: Bright Theme

Plug-in hybrid XC90 long on luxury, power, efficiency …

Apparently it’s time for me to adjust my thinking on where luxury SUV prices begin and end, especially end.

Volvo, long the bastion of safe, solid wagons has made the transition to SUVs easily as it already knew how to make big family-haulers and so a taller version with AWD wasn’t a huge stretch.

Lucky for our eyeballs, it also got away from its box-on-wheels styling to create handsome SUVs with some distinction to their nose and tail. Yes, the logo is large up front, but the grille not as retina crushing as most and its T-shaped headlight add some zest, likewise its tall vertical taillights.

Now it adds hybrid power to its large luxury SUV lineup, the XC90, everything from a mild-hybrid 48-volt system that aids in smoothing out the now requisite stop-start function to a plug-in hybrid. The tested XC90 Recharge AWD Ultimate (almost top tier) Bright themed 7-seater was just that, a PHEV. That’s a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle for the non-initial literate.

The good news for any plug-in, excuse me, PHEV, is that the midsize SUV can run on electric power for the first 20-30 miles, or as a driver chooses. That means around town where the SUV is most likely to gulp high-octane petrol it can be both more fuel efficient and non-polluting.

A gorgeous dark metallic blue XC90 arrived in my drive with about 25 miles of electric range while 36 is the predicted maximum plug-in range when fully charged. Sadly, this one didn’t have an adapter that fit my garage’s ancient 110/120 volt outlet, so I couldn’t add to its range. Still, there was enough to learn that the power delivery is smooth and pretty seamless when it kicked over to the gas-powered unit.

In all XC90s that’s a turbocharged I4 linked to a silky 8-speed automatic. With electric power supplementing the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine), that makes 455 horses with a torque rating of 523. On its own the ICE makes 312 horses and in mid-level B6 models that’s 295 horses. Entry-level B5 models boast 247 horses, still not shabby.

Watch Mark’s video: 2023 Volvo XC90 Recharge AWD Ultimate review by Mark Savage and Paul Daniel – YouTube

So power is generous and will kick the XC90 to highway speeds in a hurry. A quick trip to the northern Chicago burbs and back was comfy and smooth. The interior is quiet, the ride mostly well-controlled now and handling predictable and easy. Cruising at 75 on the freeway is where the XC90 excels.

An optional $1,800 air suspension also improved ride quality quite a bit.

Another plus, AWD is standard, so when the highway got a bit slippery the Volvo remained sure-footed, like a soccer player shod in his or her grippiest sneakers.

The test XC90 was the Bright themed version, a Dark version is also available. That means this one had chrome exterior trim, including the grille, roof rails and window trim. Guess what the Dark edition features? Yes, blackened chrome grille, etc.

Inside, Volvo has mastered the look of luxury and elegant simplicity with a strong Swedish accent.

In this model fine gray wool blend seats were substituted for the usual leather. Sheer a sheep, don’t skin a bovine.

This looked and felt divine on a cold day as it wasn’t as chill as leather. Yet the seats and steering wheel where heated, although controlled through the info screen. Second row seats also are heated, but not the third, which is (like most third rows) tight for anyone older than 13, mainly short of knee room.

Volvo’s seats are well padded and shaped too, with excellent side bolsters and naturally a bevy of power adjustments for the driver including three areas, lumbar, back and leg cushions. You do this with a button on the seat’s side, but see the changes registered on the infotainment screen. There are three memory settings for the driver’s seat too.

Oddly this high-end Volvo still does not have a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, but it did have a monster panoramic sunroof. Manual sun shades grace the side windows.

Other niceties include lights over the rear doors and on exterior door handles. There’s also a mighty 1,400-watt Bower & Wilkins stereo with 19 speakers that will blast loud enough to wake the dead or any hungover New Year’s revelers. It runs $3,200.

Three rows of seats allow for large family hauling, or toting lots of gear!

Volvo also includes an SOS system among its bevy of electronic safety devices. Prime is Volvo’s Pilot Assist program that helps make this a semi-autonomous driver and includes the likes of lane departure warning with a tug to center the Volvo in its lane, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert that detects pedestrians, automatic braking for said obstacles and collision avoidance.

Volvo continues with its 9-inch vertical info screen, but adds a new 12-inch wide digital instrument panel that’s easy to read. The info screen is certainly readable too, but one must press the home button and then slide the screen about to find other functions a driver may want. It’s hard to use while driving, but not that tough to figure out when parked, so adjust it before you head out on the road.

Panoramic sunroofs let a lot of light into the Volvo XC90.

Other stylish trim inside includes black wood accents on the doors and dash with satin chrome door releases and shiny chrome around the screen that’s trimmed in gloss black. The console-mounted shifter also features an Orrefors crystal shift knob, something more high-end makes seem to be employing. There’s a spiffy elegance to it all.

In back under the power hatch is modest cargo space when the third-row seats are in place, but fold those down and storage room increases to 65.8 cubic feet, or lower rows 2 and 3 and that hits 85.7 cu.ft. Note too that the XC90 will tow up to 5,000 pounds, so a fishing boat and trailer or a couple trailered snowmobiles will be no problem.

When coupled with the plug-in electric power the Volvo is estimated to get 58 MPGe in the city and 55 highway, but once that is used up you’re back to the mid-20 mpg range. I got 27 mpg in about 70% highway driving, and that’s not bad for a 7-person AWD SUV or van. That’s also the EPA estimate for the XC90.

Pricing cuts a wide swath, starting at $57,000 for the base Core model with its lesser content, lower power, no leather interior and a 4,000-pound tow rating. A Recharge PHEV model starts at $73,000 and the tested Ultimate lists at $80,495, including delivery. With the added fancy stereo and air suspension this one hit $85,495.

One imagines a full-electric XC90 must be in the works now that the mild hybrid system is in place on lower levels and the PHEV is the top trim. For now, this will satisfy a family’s hybrid luxury SUV needs, while looking great inside, and handsome outside.

FAST STATS: 2023 Volvo XC90 Recharge AWD Ultimate: Bright theme

Hits: Good looks, excellent electric power, precise handling and full-time AWD. Big sunroof, heated wheel and front and second row seats, big touchscreen, quality stereo, a stylish luxury interior, plus a full bevy of safety equipment.

Misses: Touchscreen (beyond main screen) is distracting to use while driving and no power tilt/telescope steering wheel.

Made in: Gothenburg, Sweden

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4 w/plug-in electric motor, 455 hp/523 torque

Transmission: 8-speed Geartronic, automatic

Weight: 5,194 lbs.

Wheelbase: 117.5 in.

Length: 195.0 in.

Range: 36 miles per plug-in

Cargo: 15.8/65.5/85.7cu.ft.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPGe: 58/55

MPG: 27 (gas only)

Base Price: $80,495 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $80,261

Major Options:

4-corner air suspension, $1,800

Bowers & Wilkins premium sound, $3,200

Test vehicle: $85,495

Sources: Volvo, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

#Volvo

2023 Lexus RX 350 Limited

Restyled RX 350 still fills luxury SUV prescription, but …

Luxury and utility are ubiquitous with the Lexus RX 350, otherwise known as the unofficial soccer mom car of suburbia.

This SUV that started out more as a tall wagon when introduced in the U.S. market in 1998 has been the best-selling luxury vehicle here for the past 10 years. Here’s why.

It is Toyota reliable, offers AWD for safety in sloppy weather, has a taller stance for better outward visibility, isn’t too tall to make access a problem, is quiet inside with a leathery interior, holds five comfortably, plus kid cargo under the power hatch, and has good power and ride. Oh, and for a luxury crossover it was reasonably priced.

One can now argue that last point, as the base front-drive RX 350 now tips the financial scales at $48,550 and the AWD model at $50,150. But those other points remain the same. Lexus, the luxury arm of Toyota, has not futzed with success much these past 25 years, other than the RX like an overwhelming majority of vehicles continues to grow larger. For 2023 the wheelbase stretches another 2.4 inches while for styling its tail overhang seems to have shrunk.

If anything, the styling might have stagnated a bit although the chrome roofline trim’s wave down toward the tail continues to add a bit of flair. The hood’s nose though now bulges more (Ram pickup inspiration?) as if its giant grille isn’t noticeable enough. Still, for practical purposes, the RX is just what the doctor ordered.

Handling is moderately easy and simple to control, the multi-link rear suspension provides a well-controlled ride and the new powerplant, a 2.4-liter I4 gives the crossover plenty of acceleration with 275 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque. The only downside to this new engine, which replaces the old reliable V6 that had powered the RX for ages, is its growly nature. Accelerate hard and the RX’s air of luxury dissipates in a grumble that sounds more mid-priced than $50+k. The V6 sounded smoother.

Of course the point is to cut vehicle weight with a 4-cylinder vs. the V6 and with an 8-speed automatic to help gas mileage. To that point, the EPA rates the RX 350 at 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. Sadly in 30-degree weather I managed just 20.0 mpg in about 60% city driving.

But I did have the AWD available for when things got a little slick. Soccer moms and dads appreciate that too.

Watch Mark’s review: 2023 Lexus RX 350 review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Naturally Lexus loads the RX with all the relevant safety equipment one expects today, known here as Lexus Safety System+ 3.0. That includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, intersection support (arrows flash on the screen to show vehicles approaching from either side), motorcycle detection, smart cruise control with curve speed management, and lane departure alert and steering assist.

That raised bulge in the nose and hood seems a bit much to me.

Other techy items include a digital key, intuitive parking assist, rear cross-traffic alert with auto braking, a head-up display, advanced parking which is an automatic parallel parking system, and Traffic Jam Assist, sort of an autonomous driving mode to help a driver in slow stop-and-go situations where the car can creep along and stay in the lane by itself. Nice for commuters or folks who regularly drive on congested highways.

In theory it frees a little time for a parent to scold a child or work an app or two on a cell phone.

Inside, the driver and occupants will feel sufficiently coddled as the gorgeous dark metallic blue test SUV scored dark gray and brown leather and suede seats with black upper door and dash surfaces. There’s even some suede trim in the door panels. Trim is a satin chrome and the info screen and air vent trim is a gloss black, while the console top is flat black. Overall there’s a hushed tone to the interior.

The test SUV also included handsome Mark Levinson stereo speakers in the doors. That stereo happens to add $1,160 to the price tag, but then you do get 21 speakers and excellent sound quality.

Wisely too Lexus has abandoned that touchy and inconvenient touchpad on the console that was used for tuning the radio and other info screen functions. Now there’s a ginormous 14-inch touchscreen mid-dash to find nearly all driver-selected functions, plus the radio tuning. It works much better than that pad.

A big info screen has been added and the touchy console touchpad eliminated.

The screen seems overly large, yet for us oldsters, it may be just the ticket.

Seats are typical finely contoured Lexus models with power up front and heated/cooled front and rear seats too, plus a heated wheel, a must here among the frozen tundra. There’s also a wireless phone charger and oodles of USB plugs front and rear.

Rear seats get heating and cooling controls.

Those rear seats also will power down to boost cargo space, already a generous 29.6 cubic feet behind row two. The second row seats also can be powered to a slightly reclined angle. Head and legroom are spacious in row two, another reason this is a primo family hauler.

I like that the RX steering wheel is powered too, so it’s simple to tilt or telescope for driver comfort and there are three seat memory buttons on the dash’s left. The driver’s seat and steering wheel also power back and up for easier entry and access once the ignition is off.

A panoramic sunroof is standard and manual sun shades grace the rear side windows, all completing the inner bling for RX 350.

One glitch on this tested pre-production RX 350, an annoying false driver attention warning beep. This happened a LOT, often when I was turning the steering wheel and my arm would cross in front of the driver’s instrument pod, I suppose breaking the electronic beam that was watching my eyes. One hopes that will be less touchy on production models.

Rear seats are roomy and panoramic sunroofs let in oodles of light.

I also am not a fan of the heated and cooled seat controls being located on the digital touchscreen. I feel they belong on the console for easy access whereas the RX used that spot for the auto stop/start button, a hill descent feature, a parking brake, and another off-roading button. Those will rarely be used. In the screen’s defense, the heated/cooled seats and heated wheel controls have an automatic feature so one could set them and forget them, although I found that leading to an over-warm derriere and palm on occasion.

One other design concern as more vehicles move to push-button door releases, copying Tesla. That push button confuses a fair amount of passengers who are looking for a lever. Even after they push the button they’re not sure if the door is to open by itself (it does on the Genesis G90), or if they should push it, pull up on the button area or what. This style change is a solution in search of a problem.

Lots of room for kid gear under the power hatch!

All of which returns us to pricing. I mentioned the basics earlier, but the tested RX 350 Luxury AWD model starts at an even more robust $58,150, including delivery. Adding just the stereo brings it to $59,310 and there are certainly more options that could push it to $65k.

There are a variety of trims for the RX 350 including hybrid models for most, including the Luxury edition. All those hybrids get better gas mileage as regenerative braking and the hybrid system provides modest electric power for early acceleration. I’d opt for a hybrid even though their power is slightly less at 246 horses. Its mpg ratings are 37/34, so quite the bump over gas-only.

A top-line RX 450h F Sport also is available starting at $62,750 and touts 366 horses and a 406 torque rating. Ironically the more powerful 450h gets better fuel economy at 27/28 compared with the tested gas-only Luxury edition, again thanks to hybrid help.

No doubt the RX 350 is still a sound choice for a family luxury SUV that even Goldilocks would consider Just Right!

FAST STATS: 2023 Lexus RX 350 Limited

Hits: Quiet and attractive luxury interior, AWD, controlled ride, fine safety equipment. Huge touchscreen replaces awkward console touchpad, comfy seats are heated/cooled front and rear, heated wheel, panoramic sunroof, power tilt/telescope wheel, wireless charger, power down rear seats, good cargo space.

Misses: Annoying false driver attention warning beeps, growly engine on heavy acceleration, heated seats/wheel controlled on screen, too many functions on screen, less used functions are buttons on console, push-button door release confuses riders. Modest MPG.

I like the chrome trim’s swoosh style to the hatch.

Made in: Cambridge, Ontario

Engine: 2.4-liter turbo I4, 275 hp/317 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,155+ lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.2 in.

Length: 192.5 in.

Cargo: 29.6 – 46.2 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 21/28

MPG: 20.0 (tested)

Base Price: $58,150 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $54,445

Major Options:

Mark Levinson PurePlay Surround Sound w/21 speakers, $1,160

Test vehicle: $59,310

Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

#lexus

2022 Ford Expedition Limited 4×4

Expedition proves big is in for size, and price …

Remember when buying a large SUV didn’t cost as much as your first or second house?

Then again, your house didn’t have smart cruise control, a panoramic sunroof, a 360-degree camera, or even a fancy Bang & Olufsen stereo with 22 speakers. Heck, most of us used to be happy with a couple big boxy speakers and a receiver with bass and treble controls.

Well, times are changing fast and big is definitely viewed as both better and necessary by many vehicle buyers today, despite the increased cost of gasoline. To meet that demand Ford has refurbished its large Expedition SUV and like every other maker has slathered on so much luxury that it rides like a living room atop velvet wheels.

The tested Expedition Limited 4×4 added a whopping $13,960 worth of options to the full-size off-roader already gussied up in its mid-level trim that starts at $69,040, including delivery. So this handsome blue-gray, Blue Tinted Clearcoat ($395 extra), hit $83,000 on the nose. My second home was only slightly more and did come with a ½-acre lot. Hey, it was a few decades ago!

Beyond the size and cost, and note there are three trims costing more, plus an Expedition Max that’s nearly a foot longer, the Expedition is a pleasant highway cruiser. That’s because it’s loaded with luxury and seven drive modes allowing a driver to take it off road or at least splash through mud and slush with the ultimate authority.

I enjoyed the body-on-frame truck, and you would too on a long highway jaunt as the interior is quiet, the leather seats well cushioned and shaped, plus the handling easy, if vague. In fact, there’s barely any road feedback yet still the big brawler is easy to corral in a lane.

Oh, there’s body lean in a tight turn, but there’s no Sport in this Sport-Utility truck, outside of the Sport drive mode you can dial in to firm the wheel, but still it only feels heavier, not sportier or more responsive. Other modes include Normal, Eco, Mud/Rut, Sand, Slippery, and Tow/Haul. There’s also a Pro Trailer setting for easier backing up with a trailer, presumably hauling a high-powered cigarette boat.

Power is not a concern, despite the disappearance of Ford V8s. No, the twin-turbo V6 EcoBoost engine normally creates 325 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. But the test unit added the $9,880 option package that includes both a huge panoramic power sunroof and to the power point, an upgraded 440-horse version of the same engine. It also included a sport-tuned suspension, black painted aluminum wheels and a bunch more (see the stat box).

Towing? Yes, it’ll pull 9,300 pounds.

Shifting comes from a silky smooth 10-speed automatic and despite the sport suspension the Expedition’s ride is boulevard premium. Think old Caddy, Lincoln, or Buick sedan in their hay day.

Inside the Expedition is lined with black leather featuring red stitching, part of the Stealth package, and includes a flat black textured trim on the dash and console that is particularly snazzy and avoids nasty glare that gloss black trim often reflects. Trim around the trim is a chrome look.

No way to avoid the gargantuan 15.5-inch info screen mid-dash. It’s a $795 option here, replacing a 12-inch screen, which likely would be sufficient. No problem seeing this as it’ll overwhelm your eyeballs. Several friends told me it would be way too much for them to constantly look at, and I agreed in that it’s so big you struggle to find some of the touchscreen icons, such as those for heated and cooled seats and the heated steering wheel. Those need to be buttons that are easy to find on the console.

Most of the info screen’s functioning was good, and there’s a large volume knob embedded in the screen, a nice touch. But you must wait a minute for the screen to reboot every time you start the truck. Bigger isn’t always better!

Expedition is a three-row vehicle and roomy for up to eight passengers if you go with the standard second row bench seat. This one had captain’s chairs in row two (both heated), so would only accommodate seven. Cargo room is modest behind that third row, but large once it’s lowered and huge with both rear rows down. Remember there’s a Max version with another foot of cargo room in back.

This is a big beast with a roomy cabin and third-row seat, powered of course!

Ford puts power buttons inside the power hatch for lowering both the second and third row split seats, which makes it flexible for hauling long items, but still packing four or five passengers aboard.

Speaking of power, there are power-adjustable pedals and a power tilt/telescope steering wheel too, and a wireless charger in the console. Power running boards also deploy whenever the vehicle is unlocked or a door opened, and then re-fold after all doors have been shut for several seconds, or the ignition is turned on. I still worry about how these will survive Wisconsin winters, but I’m assured they will.

Not a huge fan of the rotary shifter, but one gets used to it.

Ford makes sure all the usual safety equipment is here, from smart cruise to lane control devices. All work fine.

A few odds and ends. Ford continues with its rotary gear shift knob on the console, which I still find a bit awkward, but I’m sure it’s here to stay.

That Stealth package also adds black accents in addition to the wheels, the badging is black as are the mirror caps and the tires are giant 22-inchers, meaning they’ll cost a fortune to replace, but then this is an $83k vehicle, so one assumes cost is a minor concern to the buyer.

Running boards are powered to aid in climbing aboard, and the sunroof is huge!

Likewise, gas mileage is nothing special. I got 17.8 mpg and the EPA rates this at 16 mpg city and 22 highway. Currently no hybrid Expedition is offered.

A base Expedition XL with rear-wheel-drive lists at $51,080 with delivery and one can add 4WD for about $2,000. That’s not inexpensive, but IS roughly $30 grand less than the tested Limited.

If you want or need more fancy features there’s the King Ranch and Platinum versions, the Platinum listing at $77 grand and easily exceeding $87,000 with options. A new more off-road worthy Timberline edition with additional ground clearance, bigger tires and underbody protection also was new for 2022.

One could imagine Expedition feeling overpriced, but consider the Chevrolet and GMC competitors, the Tahoe/Yukon and Suburban are equally pricy and the new Jeep Grand Wagoneer can hit $100,000 or more. Less pricey models are the Nissan Armada and Toyota Sequoia, depending on trims.

FAST STATS: 2022 Ford Expedition Limited 4×4

Hits: Handsome truck with oodles of power and room. Good ride, big towing capacity, off-road capable, seats 7 or 8, comfy seats, heated and cooled front seats, heated second row, heated wheel, good safety equipment, panoramic sunroof, power running boards, 7 drive modes, wireless charger, power pedals, power tilt/telescope wheel, pro trailer feature.

Misses: Vague steering, feels huge, monster info screen feels overwhelming, heated seats and wheel handled via screen, rotary shift knob takes getting used to.

Stylish headlights here!

Made in: Louisville, Ky.

Engine: 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6, 375 hp/470 torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 5,837 lbs.

Wheelbase: 122.5 in.

Length: 210 in.

Cargo: 20.9-104.6 cu.ft.

Tow: 9,300 lbs.

MPG: 16/22

MPG: 17.8 (tested)

Base Price: $69,040 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $67,356

Major Options: Blue-tinted clearcoat, $395

Group 304A (panoramic roof, 3.73 Axle Ratio, black exterior badging, reverse brake assist, red brake calipers, 360-degree split view camera w/F&R washer, dual exhaust, floor mats w/logo, Ford Co-Pilot360 assist 2.0, black mirror caps, P285/45R22 tires, active 2.0 park assist, 22 speakers, engine sound enhancement radio equipment, enhanced active noise control radio equipment, Bang & Olufsen audio, black roof rails, power running boards, Stealth Performance Edition pkg. including red stitching, sport-tuned suspension & black painted aluminum wheels and 440-hp engine upgrade), $9,880

Heavy-duty trailer tow pkg., $795

CCD w/sport-tuned suspension, $995

ControlTrac w/3.73 EDLS, $1,100

15.5-in. info screen, $795

Test vehicle: $83,000

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 4xe

Electric hybrid adds cost, but boosts fuel efficiency, smooths power …

When Jeep launched the Grand Cherokee 30 years ago it was among the first luxury sport-utility vehicles on the market that still was affordable (not a Rover) and capable of off-roading.

Jeep continues to make its Grand Cherokee as off-road worthy as anything, including its more rugged looking Wrangler, but the price now peaks at Range Rover levels.

Yet kudos to Jeep for adding hybrid power to its latest Grand Cherokee even though that’s what nudges the price up. This plug-in hybrid, the 4xe, is exactly what makes sense as the go-between from gas to electric power.

Here’s the deal.

On this mid-size SUV Jeep couples a hybrid system with a small 2.0-liter turbo I4 so that an overnight charge on a normal home 120V power line nets 25 to 27 miles of electrical juice. That means that an average user who drives to and from work, or to run necessary daily errands, can run on electricity most of the time. By the way, the power is awesome smooth in the Jeep and when was the last time someone called a Jeep smooth?

In a 230-mile week of driving I evenly split my electric vs. gas powered driving, recharging with the driver’s side front quarter panel plug-in, each evening.

That meant each morning I had a 100% charge and most days I didn’t need more than that. Two trips to the other side of town during the week meant half of each trip was on the juice, while the other half was gas-powered. The results? My combined average was 37.1 mpg, while gas alone (sadly Premium is recommended) averaged just 18.2 mpg, showing the difference hybrid electric power can make. The vehicle also senses when 4WD is not needed and turns it off when not needed.

Cool too that Jeep allows the driver to select (via dash buttons) hybrid power, electric only, or save-E, which mostly runs the Grand Cherokee on gas, saving the electric charge for when you most need it, say in town, or when slopping around field or forest.

See Mark’s video: 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 4xe review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Yes, there are still plenty of off-roading choices here, five to be exact. A console toggle allows the driver to select Rock, Sand/Mud, Snow, Auto, or Sport drive modes. Sport seems silly to me on an SUV and here it firms up the steering something fierce, not pleasant at all.

The others will engage the proper 4-wheeling system for the circumstances and if you’re rock-crawling becomes a habit there’s a button to unhook the front sway bar to create more wheel articulation. Note too, the Grand Cherokee has a maximum ground clearance of 10.9 inches, which is a lot. Plus, another toggle on the console allows the driver to hike up the haunches and lift the Jeep to its maximum height, or lower it for easy exits. This Jeep also will ford two feet of water safely.

There’s ample power here as the turbo I4 and hybrid electric motor provide a combined 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque so there’s a tow rating of 6,000 pounds. All is smooth and silky when electric is the power source, but when the Jeep switches to the gas engine, which is seamless, well, the little turbo groans considerably as it seems to be trying to bench press the vehicle’s full 5,500 lbs. Acceleration can be noisy with the tiny turbo.

Folks wanting constant smooth power application probably should opt for one of the gas-only powered Grand Cherokees that feature a V6 or V8. You’ll also save money up front, but more on that in a sec.

A blue tow hook, 4xe logo and jeep logo add color to the tail.

Handling is typical of a mid-size SUV, easy steering with modest feedback and a little body lean in tight turns. It’s all quite controllable and easy to maintain within a lane. Of course there’s all the usual safety equipment such as lane departure, blind-spot warning and parking sensors.

Ride is mostly good too, especially on the highway, but as with most trucks/utes gets jiggly on bumpy city streets as pot holes and expansion joints create some rock and roll, but then it’s a Jeep, right?

That’s not to say it isn’t luxurious. The Diamond Black Crystal Pearl ($395 extra) test SUV looked upscale, the ride is mostly well controlled, and the interior leathery.

Check out the blue tow hooks, hood stripe and blue-outlined Jeep logo here.

I like the little blue styling cues on the exterior, to subtly insinuate this is a hybrid. Apparently bright green and blue do that these days on hybrids and electrics. This one slapped blue trim on all the Jeep logos, the front and rear tow hooks, the rear hatch’s Trailhawk logo and a blue Trailhawk adhesive stripe on the hood, which also featured a flat black hood sticker.

Inside, the Grand Cherokee looks fresh and modern, a big step up from its predecessor.

More blue trim inside with the seat piping and stitching on the console.

Enough black leather here to frighten any herd of cattle, but with a tasteful blue (again) stitching to spruce it up. Seat edges were leather but the main seat surfaces a suede material. Classy.

Shiny black fake wood trim accents the dash and doors and is trimmed in satin chrome. The look is keen, but the reflection off that and the gloss black console surface can be blinding on sunny days now that we’ve passed the equinox and the sun rides at lower angles.

Seats are powered plus heated and cooled in front, with the outer rear seats also heated. I found the butt pockets rather snug in the front seats, but the rears (seats that is) were better. The steering wheel also is heated. One odd problem I found when trying to buckle up each trip, and that’s the seatbelt is hard to pull between the seat and door, a bit of a tight squeeze.

No problem with the digital equipment here though, a big center info screen and digital driver instrument panel. Some numbers on the driver display were a bit small, but the info screen was great and easy to use, plus includes adjacent volume and tuning knobs for the radio, a fine Alpine sound system in the Trailhawk. Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard too.

A few things you won’t find on the Trailhawk were surprising though. There’s no sunroof, no wireless phone charger and no running boards. At this top-end pricing I’d expect all three. In the Jeep’s defense, there are oodles of plug-ins available for charging.

There was no passenger-side info screen in the test vehicle, but that’s ok, it’s an option as on Jeep’s Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer.

The digital instrument panel gives you a lot of info, but numbers are small.

Tire noise is considerable with the beefy R18 All-Terrain tires, which would be good for off-roading, but hum like an annoying tone-deaf 5-year-old who loves Disney tunes, even at low speeds.

In back is a power hatch hiding a load of cargo space, so a family of five can vacation, camp, haul, etc. while taking along all the sundries needed for comfort. Second-row seats split and fold flat and the SUV’s plug-in charger can be stowed neatly in a bag under the cargo floor.

Did I mention this is pricey?

Yes, and that was a bit of a shock (sorry) for this hybrid electric model. A base 2023 model (now at dealers) lists at $60,260, while a Trailhawk version starts at $65,455. Move up to an Overland and it’s $69,225, a Summit goes for $72,990, and the premium of premiums, the Summit Reserve starts at $77,470. All prices including delivery. For the record, a $7,500 tax credit may apply to the hybrid models, but check it before you buy.

There’s a lot of space under that power hatch, but only two rows of seats.

The tested 2022 model listed at $64,280 and only added the special color to hit $64,675. By the way, white is the only paint color that doesn’t cost extra on the Grand Cherokee, although other colors are mostly $395, so not a huge add-on.

While I’m all in on plug-in hybrids until our electric infrastructure grows considerably, I should point out that Jeep really charges for the privilege. For instance, a base V6 powered Grand Cherokee, the Laredo, lists at $40,120, but of course has fewer standard features and no 4WD.

Move up to the equivalent Trailhawk gas-only model and the sticker is $56,030. Between are Altitude and Limited models in the mid-$40,000 range.

So choose wisely, especially if your budget already is being stretched. The good news for all 4xe plug-in hybrids, you’ll pay less to power them weekly, and they run as smooth as a luxury sedan, just taller and with way bigger tires!

FAST STATS: 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 4xe

Hits: Off-road capability, five drive modes, plug-in hybrid boosted gas mileage, and good looks. Roomy luxury interior, power hatch, heated/cooled front seats, heated outer rear seats, heated steering wheel, Alpine stereo, good safety equipment. Sway bar disconnect for off-roading and good ground clearance with toggle to raise truck.

Misses: Pricey, tire noise, groany underpowered gas engine, no sunroof, no running boards, no wireless charger, reflective trim, ride can get jiggly, tight seat butt pockets and front seat belts hard to pull through between door and seat.

Made in: Detroit, Mich.

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, plug-in hybrid, 375 hp/470 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 5,521 lbs.

Wheelbase: 116.7 in.

Length: 193.5 in.

Cargo: 37.7-70.8 cu.ft.

Tow: 6,000 lbs.

MPG: 23/combo gas/electric

Fuel: Premium recommended

Electric range: 25 mph

MPG: 18.2 gas/37.1 combined (tested)

Base Price: $64,280 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $62,667

Major Options:

Diamond black crystal pearl paint, $395

Test vehicle: $64,675

Sources: Jeep, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

#Jeep

2022 Toyota Tundra Capstone CrewMax

Tip-top Tundra a giant luxury pickup with a touch of hybrid help …

By definition Toyota can’t top its latest Tundra, dubbed the Capstone CrewMax, and it certainly would be difficult.

First, Tundra Capstone simply can’t get any bigger like all full-size pickups. If it does it’ll likely require a commercial license and its own song about being part of a convoy.

This is basically a match for Ford’s market-leading F-150 hybrid as the Capstone also is a hybrid and touts nearly the same dimensions, meaning a 145.7-inch wheelbase and 233.6 inches in length. The Ford is just a smidgen shorter.

By comparison the Ford is lighter and more efficient, but the Tundra packs more power from its new iForce Max powertrain that adds a hybrid electric system featuring nickel-metal hydride batteries (most now use lithium-ion) to both boost power and improve gas mileage.

The hybrid system links seamlessly with a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 to create an impressive 437 horsepower and a massive 583 pound-feet of torque. It’ll chirp the rear drive wheels if you so desire and hitting highway speeds is no problemo. That makes towing easy too as the four-wheel-drive Capstone is rated to pull 11,450 pounds.

As impressive as the Tundra figure sounds the hybrid F-150 will tow 12,700 pounds with its 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 that makes 325 horsepower. Numbers can be deceiving.

Odd too that it took Toyota this long to add a hybrid system to Tundra as it pioneered hybrids in its Prius more than 20 years ago. But maybe no one saw the need until now. Ford also just added the hybrid model for 2021.

Both trucks feature a 10-speed automatic transmission and shifts are smooth as is acceleration here. While gas-only Tundras are rated at 18 and 24 mpg, this hybrid has an EPA rating of 19 mpg city and 22 highway, so slightly better around town. I made a roundtrip to Chicago area and the Tundra’s trip computer touted 21 mpg. After that and some city driving it dropped to 20.4 and my $80+ fill-up figures indicated 19.8 mpg. Note too that this has a 32.2-gallon tank, so $125 might fill it if nearly empty.

Pull a trailer and take out a second mortgage.

Watch Mark’s video: 2022 Toyota Tundra Capstone CrewMax Hybrid by Mark Savage – YouTube

Still, you’d be hard-pressed to not be comfy in the Capstone or enjoy the drive.

Handling is easy and you’d rarely need the lane-keeping electronics to keep the big beast betwixt the highway’s lines. Cruising a highway is relatively quiet and a pleasure, plus you feel like you’re tall enough to challenge even the dump trucks that barrel past you on the right at 20 over the speed limit. Don’t!

Ride though becomes choppy and bouncy as in most pickups once you head onto side streets and country roads with crumbling asphalt edges and tar strip seams. While Toyota upgraded the rear suspension here to coil springs from a live rear axle there were still abrupt jolts that jostled passengers and surprised my derriere.

There’s even an adaptive variable air suspension with load-leveling here, costing $1,045 extra. That might help with the trailering, but not normal drives on bumpy Midwest roads. Oh, and I set the drive mode to Comfort for most of the drive to help soften things up, to little avail.

Normal, Eco, Sport, Sport+ and Custom are the other modes and basically tighten up the steering and change shift points in the sportier settings. Sport modes in a pickup? Seems a bit much in a luxury liner like this, but one needs to justify the pricing I suppose.

Tundra’s interior certainly helps on that front, looking and feeling as upscale as anything you’d find in a Lexus. It’s quiet too, except when you’re mashing the gas pedal.

A lot of leather and luxury inside the Capstone edition.

The test truck featured a black over white leather dash and black and white leather seats, giving the Capstone an ambiance worthy of its name. Plus Toyota trims the doors, dash and wide console with dark stained walnut and trims the door armrests with brushed aluminum. Air vents are a near matching silver plastic and the door pulls also are brushed aluminum. The console shifter is surrounded by gloss black plastic.

All the interior comfort and electronics you’d expect from a top trim level are here, an expansive 14-inch info screen, attractive color digital instrument screen, a 360-degree camera that’s absolutely needed for proper parking within a parking lot’s lines.

That’s a big info screen, but there are bigger ones yet. Nice wood trim look here too!

Seats are not only semi-aniline leather but powered with a lower driver’s cushion featuring a power extension to help make tall drivers’ legs happy. Front and rear seats also are both heated and cooled and the leather-wrapped steering wheel is heated. Seating is roomy enough for five adults with oodles of head and legroom.

The big info screen is simple to use and there are a ton of toggles and buttons (a bit overwhelming) below it for climate controls and those heated/cooled seats, Trailering aids are there too, including one that allows a driver to program in his or her trailer so the truck remembers its height for easier hook-ups.

Airy cockpit with a panoramic sunroof, roomy rear seat!

Overhead is a panoramic sunroof and sun shade. The rear side windows feature their own manual sunshades and there’s an SOS button overhead along with a button to power down the truck’s center rear window panel, nice if hauling something long that needs to extend into the cab.

That bed, if you care to dirty it, features a black liner, along with over-cab and side bed-mounted lights. Adjustable tie-downs are available too and when you fold down the easy-lower tailgate a step magically extends from beneath the driver’s side rear fender to aid in bed mounting. Even more magical, it retracts automatically once the tailgate has been raised again.

Cleverly a step folds out as the tailgate is lowered, making it easy to climb aboard.

Speaking of magical whiz-bangs, the running boards are powered to fold down once a door is opened and power back up once all doors are closed. Jeep’s Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer and Lincoln’s Navigator have similar systems. My concern is that if per chance this power system fails there’s a huge step-up into the vehicle in which a step-ladder might be called for.

Less whiz-bangy is the 4-wheel-drive system, engaged via a sliding lever on the console. Just 2WD, and 4WD high and low here. There’s no automatic 4WD mode that will engage whenever the truck could benefit from it. This is manually engaged while most 4WD trucks now have an automatic AWD mode.

On the brighter side, Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.5 is standard on Tundra meaning all the usual safety equipment is here including smart cruise control, blind-spot warning, parking and lane warnings, along with automatic braking, and a lot more.

Manual rear window sunshades are standard on Capstone.

One final functional aside. Toyota continues to use a gas cap on the fuel filler. While not unusual, Ford and others now offer capless fillers and it’s surprising that Toyota hasn’t simplified their system for consumers yet.

This test Tundra’s exterior was a beautiful sparkling pearl white, called Wind Chill Pearl, certainly fitting for Wisconsin, and a color similar to one popular on Lexus sedans. The pearl color costs $425 extra and oozes luxury.

That was just one of three options here, the main one being the air suspension, so the Tundra’s price didn’t climb much from its $75,225 start, including delivery. That’s right the Capstone is a high-end luxury truck so settled at $76,760. A lease or a 6-year purchase might be called for at that price, but it’s not out of line with the F-150 hybrid. My Ford test truck last year hit nearly $71,000 and while nice, the Capstone’s interior is superior.

No mistaking what this truck’s name is.

The Tundra hybrid comes in five trims, the base Limited (remember when this was the top level?) with 2-wheel drive lists at $54,695 and features a 5.5-foot bed, like the Capstone edition. Moving up to the 4WD Limited with a 6.5-foot bed boosts entry to $58,025. You can also find Platinum and 1794 editions and the TRD Pro, which caters to the off-roading crowd with thick wallets.

Your call Mr. Gates. If you can afford a luxury pickup, the Capstone is, well, atop the Toyota offerings and competitive with the market leader.

FAST STATS: 2022 Toyota Tundra Capstone CrewMax (Hybrid)

Snazzy headlight styling on Tundra.

Hits: Massive truck with big interior, slightly better gas mileage with hybrid, excellent power with quiet luxury interior. Huge info screen and fine digital instrument panel, heated wheel and heat/cool front and rear seats, 360-degree camera, power running boards and automatic fold down tailgate step. Excellent towing power and acceleration, decent handling and good safety systems.

Misses: Bouncy truck ride, a lot of buttons in the cockpit, still has gas cap and if the power running boards ever fail you’ll need a stepladder to climb in.

Made in: San Antonio, Texas

Engine: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6/hybrid, 437 hp/583 torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Weight: 5,710 lbs.

Wheelbase: 145.7 in.

Length: 233.6 in.

Cargo bed: 5 ½-foot

Tow: 11,450 lbs.

MPG: 19/22

MPG: 19.8 (tested)

Base Price: $75,225 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $70,357

Major Options:

Special paint color, $425

Adaptive variable suspension, load-leveling rear air suspension, $1,045

Ball mount, $50

Test vehicle: $76,760

Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

#Toyota Tundra

#Tundra Capstone

#Toyota

2022 Volvo C40 Recharge Twin Ultimate

Fastback C40 puts a charge in electric SUV’s look …

Volvo’s swoopy-tailed C40 Recharge, a small SUV, is the epitome of form over function when it comes to styling.

Basically the C40 is identical mechanically with its XC40 Recharge, but instead of the traditional squared off crossover/SUV tail of the XC, the single C touts fastback styling resembling a coupe, thus the C designation. BMW pioneered this look a few years back, but to be honest, Volvo makes a better go of it visually.

This rear window slopes severely and there are two black vents of sorts above the window to give this a performance ambiance. Giant 20-inch wheels with fancy wide five-spoke wheels gives the C40 a Hot Wheels look that is aimed at turning the heads of younger buyers, which is also a strong demographic for electrics.

Cool taillights accent the slopped tail of the C40.

For visuals I gotta mention the cool jagged Z-shaped taillights too. They set the C40 apart like a red pocket square in a blah black suit jacket.

Before I go further, I must explain that any Volvo with Recharge in the name has a plug, so full electric, or plug-in hybrid.

Thus the C40 packs twin electric motors at each end to provide AWD traction and laudable power generated from a bevy of 78 kWh-lithium ion battery packs. Those also give C40 a low center of gravity, a consistent electric vehicle trait.

Power is absolutely phenomenal with a 0-60 mph time of 4.3 seconds, says Car and Driver. For the record, that’s coming from 402 horsepower with a neck-straining 486 pound-feet of torque. Press the acclerator and, wham, you’re off to the races.

 But I digress, what will turn heads is the looks of this AWD SUV/coupe (Scoupe?) and that form defeats a key function, outward visibility and judging where the bobtail ends when parallel parking.

That sloping rear window coupled with big headrests in the back seat allow for a miniscule rear view. That can hamper backing up, or avoiding a lane change as a fast-approaching car passing on either side while cruising the highway. I also found that backing into a curbside parking space was a bit of a challenge. Sure, there’s a 360-degree camera and alarms sound when the tail gets near another vehicle as you back into a spot.

But that alarm seemed premature, so when I got out of the car I found I had a good 4 feet of space left behind the stubby tail. I guess a driver will learn and adapt, but beeping alarms can dissuade from further backing when it’s actually clear. Just sayin!

Sometimes a vehicle’s tail can be more interesting than its nose.

Yet as I said in my earlier review of the XC40 Recharge, this is one fine-driving vehicle.

Read the XC40 (near twin) review: 2022 Volvo XC40 Recharge Twin Ultimate | Savage On Wheels

The C40 Recharge handles with a sporty flair, like its square-back sibling. Steering is quick and precise, but with a heavier feel than the gas-only XC40, although there is a way to adjust the steering feel here, if you need. Ride, as in the earlier test drive is fairly well controlled, but still can get bumpy (sort of a rocking motion) on crumbling area roads so that there are mild, but annoying, jolts to the interior. A longer wheelbase is needed to smooth that.

Still, buying an electric SUV with sleeker looks is probably a more important consideration than ride, especially since this is livable.

Is it just me or does this nose look a lot like Ford’s Mustang Mach-E?

I whined about range in my earlier review and that remains a concern. Tops is about 230 miles of charge. The info screen said I had 220 miles of range at a 97% charge after a 14-hour charge on my garage’s 120-volt line. That was fine as I found each night the standard electric outlet was getting me roughly an additional 20% charge, or about 40 to 50 miles.

If you let your batteries get to near 0 charge, it’ll take several days of constant charging to get back to 100%, or visit an Electrify America fast-charging station as those are free to Volvo owners at the moment. Volvo says a fast charge will boost C40 from 0 to 80% in about 40 minutes. Or, if you buy, you may want to upgrade to a 240-volt line in your garage for quicker charging.

A few other electrics still have better range, including the Volkswagen ID.4 at 260 miles, the Hyundai Kona at 258 and Tesla Model Y rated at 244 miles. So, consider your own driving habits. An acquaintance tells me he stopped twice between Minnesota and the Milwaukee area to charge his C40. I hear Tomah is a good stopping spot.

While many electrics feature a front-fender or grille-mounted charging plug, Volvo puts its outlet on the rear driver’s side quarter panel, where one often finds a fuel-filler door. And there’s a 1 cubic foot frunk that will hold the charging cable.

One other practical note about electrics, most offer one-pedal driving. Naturally there’s a brake pedal (which was a little too close to the accelerator here), but just using the accelerator is the way to go, just takes a few days to perfect the feel.

These sporty wheels remind of a Hot Wheels toy car.

One-pedal works because the electric motors brake the car quite quickly once you let off the go-pedal. In fact, it can feel rather sudden, so you quickly learn to feather off accelerator pressure to slowly coast to a stop. The upside is that any coasting or braking helps recharge the batteries (regenerative braking), so in stop-and-go city driving you use less power as you’re constantly regenerating power. There’s a gauge that’s part of the four basic info screen menus that will update you on your current charge status.

My test C40 was a pleasant Fjord Blue Metallic ($695 extra), a reflective blue-gray that gets looks and cheery comments. Inside, it was black and blue with the dash and trim being black, and the door and carpeted floor mats being a blue gray that matched the exterior.

This is not real leather, but what some are calling vegan leather. It’s plant based.

C40 is Volvo’s first standard interior not using leather, although it’s optional. Plant-based and recycled plastic bottles are used to create the seats and felt-like door trim, which looks good but feels a bit like a fake material. Trim around the 9-inch touchscreen is gloss black with chrome trim and the door release handles are a brushed chrome along with the steering wheel’s 3-spoke hub. Sadly this is not a power tilt/telescope wheel, but one supposes that saves a few electrons by keeping it manual.

Volvo’s console is a gloss black and the seats a grayish black with the outer edges feeling like fake leather and the inner cushions feeling more like velour. Stitching on the seat’s trim is white to add contrast.

A big vertical screen dominates mid-dash.

The dash is fine with digital readouts in front of the driver, including charge level, and the large info screen, but beyond the main screen it gets a bit confusing, although I’ve finally learned how to access the radio stations I want, so I suspect it’s about time for Volvo to change its Android-based system. Oh, and you can ask Google to give you info via its voice-recognition system. The nav map is spectacular.

Note too that the car starts as soon as you are inside with the fob and sit in the driver’s seat. It knows you’re there due to the seat pressure and all electronics start immediately so you can quickly put the C40 in gear. Park is a push button. When leaving you simply open the door and depart. The car’s radio continues until you lift off the seat to leave and then it shuts down.

Here’s the driver’s view of the instrument panel and tall info screen.

One oddball thing, the Volvo requires you lift the exterior door handle twice to open it. Or so I thought. I’ve since been informed that the doors unlock when you are in the vicinity with the fob in your pocket. Apparently, I was grabbing the door handle too quickly, thus the confusion. I’d just as soon that the fob not think for me.

Pluses include a wireless phone charger at the console’s front edge, a heated steering wheel, and heated and cooled front seats along with heated rear seats. The front seat controls are embedded in the touchscreen and Volvo’s seats are mildly contoured and comfy with power buttons on the sides and a two-memory system on the door to remember the driver’s seat settings.

There’s also a quality Harmon Kardon stereo that can enliven this extremely quiet interior. While overhead is a massive panoramic sunroof that was fine, mostly as it was never too hot or sunny while I tested the SUV. In southern or southwester climes the roof can get hot though as there is no sunshade to cover the roof, although it is tinted.

This is the battery info screen, showing range and current charge usage, 3 kWh.

Volvo also provides a full complement of safety devices including smart cruise control, blind-spot warning and lane departure, plus automatic braking and sign recognition.

A power hatch opens to generous storage space, plus the rear seats split 1/3-2/3 to further boost that space. There’s even a little extra storage beneath the cargo floor.

Pricing starts at $56,395, including delivery, for the base Core model for 2023 as 2022 models are spoken for. The mid-level Plus lists at $57,945 and the tested Ultimate at $61,195 with delivery for a 2023.

Door panel inserts are attractive but feel like a felt trunk liner.

Reportedly this is the first and only Volvo you can only order online, but one would imagine your Volvo dealer could help you do that if you were to visit a dealership. That’s where the car will be delivered.

Electrics are coming fast and furious now and Volvo promises to offer only electrics by 2030. It appears to be well on its way to delivering on that promise.

FAST STATS: 2022 Volvo C40 Recharge Twin Ultimate

Hits: Good styling in profile and back (especially taillights), excellent acceleration, precise handling and full-time AWD. Big sunroof, heated wheel and comfy heated/cooled front seats, big touchscreen, quality stereo, a stylish luxury interior, wireless phone charger, plus a full bevy of safety equipment.

Misses: No shade on sunroof and very limited rearview through back window. Touchscreen (beyond main screen) distracting to use while driving, no power tilt/telescope steering wheel and double action door releases. Bumpy ride on rough roads and the electric charge range is just 230 miles.

I just can’t get enough of these dramatic taillights!

Made in: Ghent, Belgium

Engine: Twin electric motors w 78 kWh-lithium ion battery, 402 hp/486 torque

Transmission: Shift-by-wire single-speed automatic

Weight: 4,710 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.4 in.

Length: 174.8 in.

Cargo: 14.5 cu.ft.

Tow: 2,000 lbs.

MPGe: 94/80

Base Price: $60,845 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Fjord blue metallic paint, $695

Test vehicle: $60,540

Sources: Volvo, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

#Volvo

#Volvo C40 Recharge

#Volvo electrics

2022 Land Rover Defender 90 V8

V8 makes luxurious Defender crazy fast, but for off-roading? …

If vehicles were to be judged strictly on how well they drive then Land Rover’s two-door Defender 90 V8 would be a champ, both on and off road.

You see, Defender is a short-wheelbase British designed Jeep, historically, and the entry step into Land Rover’s now ritzy luxury lineup of larger SUVs. Defender is meant to be taken off road, to bound over boulders, to slop in mud, to ford streams (it’ll wade in up to 35.4 inches of bubbling brook).

Yet it’s not a Jeep, it’s a luxury SUV all its own and this version packs an ego-pleasing 518-horsepower V8. That’s better for highway hot-rodding than off-roading, and the ride and handling here deliver a luxury feel that you won’t find in any Jeep Wrangler, even the 4-door Unlimited.

No, the Defender 90 V8 is a luxury two-door with all the fixins and a price tag of $105,550 that seems to discourage off-roading and the dents, scrapes and mud that come with it.

Still, it’s a land-based cruise missile with a top speed of 149 mph and a 0 to 60 mph time of 4.4 to 4.9 seconds, says Car and Driver magazine. Land Rover’s 8-speed automatic shifts smoothly and the pistol-grip shifter delivers a jet pilot’s control mindset.

Handling is light and easy and cornering a pleasure. Parking this big beauty is a breeze.

Top heavy? Sure, a little bit, but with 22-inch Continental tires underneath you feel pretty sure-footed and the air suspension soaks up the city street cracks and crevices with ease, mostly. That’s saying something for an SUV with just a 101.9-inch wheelbase. Normally something this short is akin to riding on a skateboard, sitting down.

See Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Land Rover Defender 90 – YouTube

Check out Paul’s Car Spot on a vintage Rover too!

Around town Defender delivers a decidedly luxury ride, feel and handling. Put it off into the weeds and gravel and it’ll perform nicely too. Sadly Rover thinks everything should be controlled through its 11.4-inch touchscreen, which is plenty big and easy to see. Oh, but that size screen costs $140 extra. Really? Even bigger screens are standard on $40k vehicles.

And let’s admit this right here, touchscreens are fine for adjusting the radio and such, mostly while sitting at a traffic light or in your driveway, but when driving, a dedicated button often is the wiser choice. So to go several layers deep into the screen and try to find the one of 16 icons that takes you to 4WD, etc. Well, that’s not easy and can be frustrating. Decide on any off-road settings before you roll.

That touchscreen though is just the beginning of some questionable styling and functional attributes inside the Land Rover.

My tester was a deep color-shifting black, or Santorini Black, as Rover calls it. The interior was equally black, just not as shiny. Seats though were cloth with suede-like inserts, which were plenty comfy and power adjustable. But I’d expect soft high-end leather standard at the $100k price, plus wouldn’t leather be easier to clean if I did go off-roading and flipped some mud inside? I mean there are thick rubber floor mats all around so you won’t sludge up carpets.

The pistol-grip shifter, nice as it is to shift, is on the center stack, but juts out to block an easy reach to the climate control dials, which by the way include the heated and cooled seat functions. Those also can be found through the info screen.

Extending from the center stack back to between the front seats is a giant semi-open bin, cup holders and cooler/storage box just under the armrest. Nice again that the box cools so you could carry two cans of soda there on a trip, but that big bin under the stack is not real useful as the industrial looking supports all around it make it hard to retrieve anything dropped down in the bin. 

Door trim still features the bolt-on Rover look.

That leads to the oversized lid on the cooler/storage box that partially covers the wireless charging tray just in front of that box. Easy to slide the phone in for charging, but to retrieve it you’ll need to open the box’s lid. Awkward!

Likewise it’s awkward to climb in the Rover and especially so for rear seat riders. First problem, this is a two-door. Second problem it’s a huge step up (11.5 inches of ground clearance) to get inside, but there are plenty of grab handles on the dash and ceiling. Third, for the rear seat, which is fairly roomy, a person must press a button once to power the front seat forward, then flip a stiff lever atop the seat to flip the seatback forward. Once settled in back it’s easiest for your passenger-side front seat occupant to press, and hold, a power seat button to return the seat ever so slowly to its original setting. Again, really? I’ve been in $20k econo-coupes with one-lever manual seat access to the rear seat.

There’s a latch and two power buttons on the seat’s side.

Note too that if the rear seat is occupied there is precious little cargo room behind the seat, maybe one upright suitcase or several grocery bags. The rear seats do fold down to boost storage. But in practical terms the Defender is a two-person vehicle, while five could tolerate short hops around town.

One final clunker is that rear door in place of a hatch. I know Jeep-like vehicles have this feature and it does fit in well with the snazzy retro styling, including the mammoth 22-inch tire on the rear door. But that makes that door heavy and, again, awkward for loading in certain circumstances. Having the tire handy on the rear door though will be convenient when you blow a tire on a rocky outcropping when off-roading in your luxury ute.

Naturally there are good points too, like the styling, which received several compliments during my drive, and the side skylight windows just under the rear roofline.

Folks like the skylights above the large rear windows.

A panoramic sunroof is standard too and the seats are both heated and cooled, and incredibly comfortable. I like the radio volume roller on the steering wheel hub and the wheel itself is wrapped in the coziest suede covering I’ve experienced in a vehicle. I’d pay extra for that on any vehicle, along with the heated wheel, which is standard here.

The sound system is stellar too, a premium Meridian surround system with 700 watts of power. Boom!

Precious little storage behind the rear seat and the heavy rear door opens wide.

Gas mileage is mild to say the least, but then you had to have the V8, right? The EPA rates this at 15 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. I managed 16.9 mpg in a week’s mixed driving. Premium petrol is preferred, naturally. A 3.0-liter inline 6 mild hybrid also is available by the way.

Again, the starting price is $105,550 and with three small options this one drains an IRA account for $106,710. But honestly, I’m not sure anything should be optional at the starting price here for a small SUV, no matter how off-road worthy.

That said, there are eight trim levels for the Defender 90, and the base starts at $57,700 with delivery, so avoiding the higher trims and the V8 will put this into a whole other price category. And for folks wanting a more useful, but equally ornamental, version there’s the Defender 110 with a 17-inch longer wheelbase and four doors, so a family could properly use it.

The square taillights look great, but that monster spare tire weighs down the door.

That would compete well with Jeep’s new Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer.

As it is, this one competes with the likes of the Jeep Wrangler, Wrangler Unlimited (4 doors), and Grand Cherokee. Other possible capable off-roaders with luxury leanings include Toyota’s 4Runner or even its Highlander and of course Ford’s new Bronco, although its ride is not nearly so nice as the Rover’s. Most of these start in the upper-$40,000 range.

If you simply must spend more than $100 grand on a luxury off-road worthy SUV there’s also the Mercedes-Benz G Class, or G-Wagon as most folks call it. That starts about $141,000 and is even boxier. The Rover certainly wins that matchup on the styling front.

Fast Stats: 2022 Land Rover Defender 90 V8

Hits: Thrilling power, snazzy retro looks, off-roading ability in spades, easy handling, nice ride for short wheelbase. Panoramic sunroof, heated/cooled seats, radio volume roller on wheel, Meridian sound system, heated suede-wrapped steering wheel, easy to park and a lot of grab handles.

Misses: Rear hatch opens out like door, tire on door makes it heavy, gear shift lever in way of climate controls, difficult multi-layer touchscreen, awkward access to off-road settings and clunky access to rear seats. Big step-up height, wireless charger partially blocked by big armrest/storage box lid and little cargo room.

The V8 really fills the engine compartment here.

Made in: Nitra, Slovakia

Engine: 5.0-liter V8, 518 hp/461 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 5,334 lbs.

Wheelbase: 101.9 in.

Length: 180.4 in.

Cargo: 14-34 cu.ft.

Tow: 8,200 lbs.

MPG: 15/19

MPG: 16.9 (tested)

Base Price: $105,550 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $92,718

Major Options:

WiFi-enabled w/limited data plan, $360

Premium interior protection w/storage pack, $660

11.4-inch touchscreen, $140

Test vehicle: $106,710

Sources: Land Rover, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL 2.5 S-AWC

Nissan partnership helps upgrade Outlander, fuel sales …

Pardon Mitsubishi if it feels like strutting a bit, chest out, chin up, wide grin.

You see, the Japanese automaker is on a roll, recording its eighth straight year of upwardly mobile sales in the giant U.S. market and its fourth in a row of 100,000+ sales. That’s still tiny by comparison with, well, just about any other make. But it’s still party time for a company with just four vehicles in its U.S. lineup.

Mitsubishi sells well around the world, but it has struggled over the past 20 years in the U.S. market until this recent uptick. Its products all have improved substantially in that period as the parent company has hooked up with Nissan to share platforms and hardware.

That brings us to the extremely attractive, new, and slightly larger 2022 Outlander SEL that will soon be Mitsubishi’s No. 1 seller. It rides on the Nissan Rogue chassis and features its powertrain. Rogue, by the way, is Nissan’s sales leader.

Using the Rogue as a platform for success while going ooh-la-la on the nose styling featuring giant three-tier headlights below slim modern slit headlights is bound to push Outlander far forward in the sales sector. Folks notice this one and the nose is a primary reason although the profile is smoothed and modern and the tail as handsome as SUV tails ever are.

Looks certainly can’t hurt, ask a Kardashian. But solid mechanicals and useful family transport are what will fuel word-of-mouth consumer cred. The Outlander has all that.

Its 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine supplies ample power to the 3,681-pound SUV. Acceleration is smooth and satisfying for entering a highway, the automatic CVT doing a nice job of imitating a direct-shift model with 8 pre-programmed steps to mimic the feel of what we all think of as normal transmission shifts.

While not overly stout, the Mitsubishi will still tow 2,000 pounds of trailer and without the weight of a V6 the Outlander delivers excellent fuel economy. The EPA rates this at 24 mpg city and 30 highway and I can confirm the upper end as I cruised the highway about 80% of the time and logged 30.2 mpg.

This one will go off road some too, if needed. There’s 8.4 inches of ground clearance and 6 drive modes (Normal, Tarmac, Snow, Mud, Gravel and Eco), so slopping around a bit is acceptable. That Tarmac setting appears to be a Sport mod that stiffens the steering effort and aids low-end acceleration. Fine if you need it, but mostly you won’t.

Handling is easy and just responsive enough to feel well suited to either city or highway driving. The SUV is easy to keep in its lane on the highway, even on a blustery summer day. And while there is a wee bit of lean in turns the body remains well centered and the SUV simple to control.

Ride is quite pleasant on the highway but can be a bit stiff on bumpy city side streets. Never a severe ride, there is a bit of jiggle on big pot holes and pavement creases.

Yet the interior is so comfy and quiet that the family won’t squawk much.

The test SUV was a bright Alloy Silver Metallic with a light gray semi-aniline leather interior that looks fancier than the pricing indicates. The seats and door panels are quilted with a soft diamond patterned leather. That and the double-pane side front window glass help cut road noise and create a hushed quality to the interior.

The dash and door tops are black and there are brushed chrome look door releases, trim and air vent covers. A carbon fiber-look trim tops the door arm rests, along with more leather and there’s a tweed textured chrome trim and gloss black atop the console, which is a little wider than most so you may find yourself leaning your accelerator leg against it regularly.

Seats are well shaped and soft so quite comfy too, especially on a highway drive. The front seats also are heated.

Front and second row space is generous, plus there’s a third row seat for short hops with small ones snuggled in back. That third row neatly folds down into the cargo floor to create generous storage space and while row three may help for around town trips, it’s not really for a lengthy road romp. Loading cargo is easy as the SEL comes with a power hatch and there are remote seatback releases in back too.

Other interior details to consider?

  • The driver’s seat is powered and there are two seat position memory buttons on the driver’s door.
  • The shift knob on the console is quite wide and includes a push button for Park. And there’s a wireless phone charger in front of that, under the center stack.
  • This top-end SEL upgrades the standard 8-inch infotainment screen to a 9-incher. That seems just the right size and this one was easy to operate while driving.
  • Climate controls are handled with two large knobs and then buttons for fan speed and directional adjustments.
Quilted leather inserts soften the door panels.

About the only thing lacking here is a sunroof. Many utes and crossovers now offer panoramic ones standard on top-level trims. One is an option here as part of the $2,700 Touring package. That adds a head-up display, manual rear side sun shades, a Bose premium audio system with 10 speakers and heated steering wheel. Up to you Rockefeller.

Mitsubishi smartly includes its Mi-Pilot safety package as standard on all Outlanders. That packs a smart cruise control system, lane keep assist and lane centering, road sign recognition and a Stop & Go system to aid fuel economy.

The SEL also adds automatic high beam headlights, blind-spot warning and lane change assist, front parking sensors, driver attention alert, and rear cross-traffic alert and emergency braking.

More good news comes from the marketing department, in that Mitsubishi keeps Outlander affordable and a high-value family friendly small SUV. The base ES starts at $27,290 including delivery while this high-end SEL with AWD lists at $34,940. That’s still way below the average new vehicle starting price these days.

The test unit added just a Welcome package that includes carpeted floor mats, a touch-up paint pen, and a console tray mat) for $160, and a retractable cargo cover for $195 to end up at $35,295. That’s a bargain, especially considering Mitsubishi’s 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

For the record there are currently 7 trims for Outlander and all are standard with front-wheel-drive. Adding AWD is a $2,000 option. A plug-in hybrid is available too, but is a carryover of the former Outlander model, at least for now.

FAST STATS: 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL 2.5 S-AWC

Hits: Sharp looks, especially the nose, plus AWD, good power and easy handling. Pleasant highway cruiser with good MPG and a third row seat. Roomy interior, big info screen, 6 drive modes for off-roading, dual climate controls, heated front seats, supportive seats with quilted leather, wireless phone charger, power rear hatch plus good standard safety devices.

Misses: No sunroof, ride can seem stiff on bumpy side streets and console is wide.

Snazzy wheels here!

Made in: Okazaki, Japan

Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, 181 hp/181 torque

Transmission: CVT automatic w/Sport

Weight: 3,681 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.5 in.

Length: 185.4 in.

Cargo: 33.5-63.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 24/30

MPG: 30.2 (tested)

Base Price: $34,940 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $34,502

Major Options:

Welcome package (carpeted floor mats, touch-up paint pen, console tray mat), $160

            Cargo cover, $195

Test vehicle: $35,295

Sources: Mitsubishi, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage