Category Archives: SUV/Truck Reviews

2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD

Sporty looks, but handling falls short

I’ve always liked Mazda vehicles because they look and drive a little sportier than most brands that us average middle class folks can afford.

mazda1That’s why I’m disappointed with the new Mazda CX-9, the large sport-utility/crossover I just tested. It only delivers on half the equation. It still looks a bit sportier than its competition, models like the boxy Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, but handling wasn’t up to Mazda standards.

My dark metallic gray CX-9 did have a new grille, less smiley and cartoonish than the previous model, but with a nose that still looks sleeker in profile than most large crossovers, sort of a tall sport wagon look. And its interior feels high-brow and is well finished. Plus this was the Grand Touring with all-wheel-drive, so it was loaded with electronic goodies.

But here’s the deal. I expect more responsive steering from a Mazda and, sorry to say, this just felt like other large sport-utes or crossovers. Steering is extremely light, but not as responsive as I felt in the last CX-9 I drove. It feels a bit vague with more wheel play than I had expected from past experience. That leads to a bit of lane wander on the highway. Continue reading 2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD

Good-looking crossover/SUV loaded with tech goodies

There are a lot of mid-size SUVs (crossovers) to choose from and now Hyundai has gone and redesigned its Santa Fe, to help complicate your choices.santa1

First, it’s a good-looking reskin with an edgier look and Hyundai continues to refine its vehicles to make them more upscale to fill the demands of the U.S. marketplace. So this white test ute was awash in technical doodads and electronic wizardry, sadly pushing it toward the upper end of what many folks would expect to pay for a useful mid-size ute. The Santa Fe Sport with all-wheel-drive and Hyundai’s 2.0-liter I4 with a turbo lists at $29,450. That’s still in the ballpark. But this one ladled on two pricy premium and technology packages to push the tester up to $35,925. That’s $36 grand in my book.

We can argue price and value and all that, but first, let’s tell you what you get. Continue reading 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350

GLK350 laddles on the luxury

Small luxury utes are nearly as plentiful as entry-level small utes, and sometimes I wonder what you get for that extra $15 grand. But a week in the Mercedes-Benz GLK350 reminded me what it is, luxury looks, feel and ride.GLK1

A bunch of the little luxury utes handle pretty well and a few even look luxurious, but the GLK350 is a heck of a nice blend, and with a base price of $37,090 it’s one of the least expensive vehicles from the famous German automaker. This one added a variety of niceties, so it hit $46,930 before an $875 destination charge.

But the truth of the matter is that even at its base the Benz is luxury oriented and performance is the same, no matter how many extras you add.

Standard is a peppy 3.5-liter DI V6 that creates 302 horsepower so this ute will get up and go from a stop. But in a Mercedes you don’t want to be tossed into the back seat with muscle car power. So there’s a highly refined 7-speed automatic transmission that slips through the gears with velvety smoothness. You barely notice a gear shift. Continue reading 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350

2013 Honda CR-V

Upon further review … solid, but bulbous and not as refined as expected

Every once in a while I get to test a vehicle twice in a single year. It’s rare, but this week I had the 2013 Honda CR-V AWD EX-L with navigation, just one model year newer than the CR-V I had tested early last spring.honda-cr-v-exterior-side

It confirmed my thoughts and observations, which cheers me that I didn’t miss the mark earlier. The good news, for the driver, is that this one was a pleasant Mountain Air (turquoise blue) color vs. the blah gray of the earlier model.

But, and I apologize if you feel you’ve heard some of this before, the CR-V remains a solid compact sport-utility vehicle with 5 more horses than the previous generation and a more rounded look. In fact, several friends and observers called the Honda’s rear-end ugly and too bulbous. It’s not attractive, but then few utes really are much more than boxes on wheels. Continue reading 2013 Honda CR-V

2012 Ram 1500 Tradesman 4×4

A real bare bones work truck with a Hemi 

Pickups used to be for farmers, builders and such, tradesmen if you will. That was before we all decided we need pickups just to drive around town taller than the rest of the world and to haul sod, peat moss and soccer players on weekends.2012 Ram Tradesman pickup

Well Chrysler, under the guise of its truck brand, Ram, thought tradesmen needed a good solid low-cost truck. Voila! The 2012 Ram 1500 Tradesman 4X4 in basic white, the most popular color for vehicles in the U.S. market.

This is a bare bones workers truck with standard cab and comes with a 4.7-liter, 310-horse V8. Base price for a 2-wheel drive standard cab pickup, with RamBox cargo system is $22,125. An even more basic model without the RamBox system, which entails two giant toolbox bins built into each side of the cargo bed, is $21,125 and that’s with a 6-foot 4-inch bed that’ll hold a sheet of plywood. Continue reading 2012 Ram 1500 Tradesman 4×4

2013 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

Titanium edition pricy as a near premium small ute

Let’s start with the shocking part, the price. The tested Ford Escape listed at $34,735.2013 Ford Escape

Granted this IS the top-of-the-line 2013 Escape Titanium 4WD, but that price is near premium small-ute territory, one where you expect a luxury nameplate. By adding the Titanium moniker it means you get a LOAD of tech features and the horsy 2.0-liter GTDI I4 EcoBoost engine that cranks an impressive 237 hp.

EcoBoost is a turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers monster power and normally delivers better gas mileage than a V6 with equivalent power. That may be, much of the time, but I got a ho-hum 20.5 mpg in about 60% city driving. The EPA has rated this model at 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, so I expected better. Continue reading 2013 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

2013 Acura RDX AWD Tech

RDX soothes this Savage beast

2013 Acura RDXFlying into Washington D.C.’s Dulles Airport for a family wedding, I was frazzled from a day of flight delays, noise and airport confusion. But there in the parking lot was my soul soother, my nerve mender, a new 2013 Acura RDX.

This RDX is more spacious, more luxurious feeling and a better all-round performer than its predecessor, which was no slouch to be sure. The interior is roomy, comfortable and quiet. Its power hatch welcoming to a big load of luggage. Everything looks and feels right for a small to mid-size crossover. It didn’t hurt that mine was the upscale AWD Tech model, which means it was slathered with goodies and gadgets.

But at its base is solid performance that any luxury crossover owner would want.

Its new 3.5-liter i-VTEC V6 delivers a healthy 273 horses, up from 240 hp with the previous turbocharged 4-cylinder. But the turbo delivered it with more low-end oomph. This is silky smooth after harnessed to Acura’s 6-speed automatic that features Sport/Shift, including paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. I doubt most drivers will use that feature often, but it’s a perk if you prefer more performance. Continue reading 2013 Acura RDX AWD Tech