Tag Archives: AWD

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat AWD

Crazy fast Hellcat SUV a demonic delight …

Some things simply make no sense, seem coo-coo crazy, yet are so much fun that a person ignores their lunacy.

For instance, Dodge’s Durango SRT Hellcat with its 710-horse supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI V8. Any engine oozing that many adjectives is sure to be a demon.

This wild child is a one-year wonder from Dodge. The Durango SRT Hellcat is a 2021 model only, so pony up your $90 grand right now as these will surely be collector items.

Wild? Yes, the Durango, normally a fine mid-size SUV, has a top speed of 180 mph, says Dodge. Its 0-60 mph time is 3.5 seconds. It’s even quicker than a much pricier Lamborghini Urus, a luxury/performance SUV.

Even the Hellcat logo looks tough!

We shouldn’t be surprised by any of this, even in a hybridizing world where electrics are playing a larger role each model year. Dodge has gone full-bore performance in the past decade. It slightly refreshes its aging car and now SUV lineup, but keeps upping the ante for horsepower, always under the SRT and/or Hellcat brand. There are both in the Challenger and Charger models already and they too are land-based rockets.

I guided this missile to central Indiana and back, leaving knee-high corn stalks quivering in my wake and farm animals nervously looking over their shoulders.

The Durango was a blast, as are all Hellcats. Power is simply unspeakable. SUVs weighing 5,710 pounds are not supposed to have this sort of grunt. But tromp the metal-clad pedals and this SUV lurches toward light speed as if it were a stock car running on nitrous.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2021 Durango Hellcat – YouTube

Handling is suitably sporty with a moderately heavy feel and good cornering ability. No body lean here and the $595 extra Pirelli 3-season ZR20 performance tires give it race car grip. AWD doesn’t hurt either, but you’ll need all-season or winter tires to put the power to winter pavement.

Ride is typical large SUV bouncy with some side-to-side motion on uneven pavement. This is the same as the SRT Durango I tested about 18 months ago. Big bumps are well absorbed and no shockwaves are transmitted to the cockpit, but the bounce is noticeable.

Still, an SRT Hellcat buyer isn’t full-checkbook into this SUV for ride, but performance. So the SRT toggle at the center stack’s base will be his or her best friend. That toggle lights up the snazzy 10-inch info screen for selection of virtually any setting the driver requires. There are the pre-sets of Auto, Snow, and Tow, but more likely the Sport or Track settings will be desired. These firm up handling, ride and power to deliver race-worthy performance. A Custom setting allows everything from steering and ride to shock dampers to be adjusted.

There’s also a Launch button in case you’re headed to the drag strip to grind off excess rubber from those costly performance tires.

Braking is vital to a beast like this and the Dodge packs giant rotors front and rear and dolls up the SRT performance calipers with blue paint.

My test truck was Destroyer Gray, which looked an awful lot like the prior week’s test car, a Ford Mustang in Jet Fighter Gray. This added low-gloss black racing stripes, a $1,195 option, but what self-respecting buyer wouldn’t want these?

Those stripes and the muscular nose with flat-black air vents embedded in the bulging hood give this a bigtime tough-guy look. Visually Durango assures any onlookers that they’re in for a butt kickin!

The irony is that inside the Durango Hellcat is as comfy as your living room sofa, maybe more so. Oh, it looks racy with black leather and suede seats with an SRT Hellcat logo embroidered on the front of each seat backs. Instrument panel gauges are racy red and there are carbon fiber inserts (look a bit like snakeskin) on the doors and dash and alongside the console. All that and the suede headliner are part of a $2,495 premium interior package.

But the seats are so well shaped that they feel as if they are hugging you, plus the front seats are heated and cooled while the rear seats are heated. The steering wheel is heated too. The second row here includes comfy captain’s chairs and the third row seats are decent too, both for comfort and roominess. Several “older” friends offered high praise for the monster truck’s seat supportiveness.

The flat-bottom wheel adds a racy look along with the metal clad pedals on SRT Hellcat.

Then there are those metal clad pedals down below, a power tilt/telescope flat-bottom steering wheel and a fine 10.1-inch info screen. Dodge delivers an easy screen interaction, all simple to understand and use while driving. Its Uconnect 5 navigation system works fine and there are nine Alpine amplified speakers with a subwoofer stacked in to deliver awesome sound quality too.

That big screen is the main focus of all the performance enhancements and adjustability, of course. The SRT and traction control toggles are down low on the stack and there’s a wireless phone charger beneath. In back the hatch is powered.

A big easy-to-tune and use info screen system and large control buttons are a win!

Leaning heavily toward performance, the Hellcat did not include a sunroof, and while generally a fine interior there is tire noise and most of all a whiny supercharger hum that can become annoying at low speeds. Otherwise the exciting rumble and roar of the supercharged V8 is fun and even quiets considerably at highway speeds after Dodge’s 8-speed automatic shifts to a cruising gear.

Fuel-efficient though the Hellcat is not. In fact I’d swear a few Hoosier hogs saluted as we drove by. I got between 14.7 and 15.1 mpg in mostly highway driving, but a few longer jaunts in town that resulted in that lower figure. Heck, the EPA rates this at just 12 mpg city and 17 highway. Then again, if a buyer is drooling over using 710 horsepower it’s likely that gas savings are not on his or her radar.

Wonderfully supportive seats are standard and how about the cool SRT Hellcat logos?

On the practical side (seems odd here I know), the Durango will tow 8,700 pounds and if all its rear rows of seats are folded flat will haul 85.1 cu.ft. of cargo. That’s something an equally powerful supercar could not deliver.

Such an exotic car couldn’t come close to competing on price either, most such wildlings starting in six digits. SRT Hellcat lists at $82,490, including delivery. That’s a bargain for this much power, comfort and usability. The test SUV ended up at $89,665 with its tally of options.

In addition to those mentioned earlier the Durango added about $3,000 of safety equipment, which I’d expect to be standard on a premium vehicle such as any Hellcat. A $495 add-on included blind-spot and cross-path detection, which are pretty much standard equipment on nearly every vehicle sold today.

The bigger bite was a $2,395 technology group that included advanced brake assist, lane-departure warning plus, full-speed forward collision warning plus and adaptive cruise control, the latter of which might help a bit in moderating gas consumption on the freeway.

Still, if neck-straining power is your thing, yet room for six or seven passengers and major towing power also are your thing, Durango SRT Hellcat is your best choice for a supersonic beast of burden.

Plenty of room behind row 3 and with it folded there’s oodles of cargo capacity!

FAST STATS: 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat AWD

Hits: Crazy power, bigtime tough guy looks, sporty handling, extremely supportive seats, heated/cooled seats, heated rear seats, flat-bottom wheel, wireless phone charger, 10-inch info screen, useable third row seat, metal pedals, red gauge faces, exciting exhaust tone. SRT toggle allows track settings, power hatch and power tilt/telescope steering wheel.

Sharp-looking lights and grille, plus the Hellcat logo, again!

Misses: No sunroof, whiny supercharger, a gas hog.

Made in: Detroit, Mich.

Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8, 710 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 5,710 lbs.

Wheelbase: 119.8 in.

Who doesn’t appreciate red SRT brake calipers? No one!

Length: 200.8 in.

Cargo: 17.2/43.3/85.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 8,700 lbs.

MPG: 12/17

MPG: 14.7-15.1 (tested)

Base Price: $82,490 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $78,731

Major Options:

Technology group (advanced brake assist, lane-departure warning plus, full-speed forward collision warning plus, adaptive cruise control), $2,395

Premium interior group (suede headliner, premium instrument panel, forged carbon fiber accents), $2,495

Low-gloss gunmetal dual stripes, $1,195

Pirelli P Zero ZR20 3-season tires, $595

Blind-spot and cross-path detection, $495

Test vehicle: $89,665

Sources: Dodge, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Caligraphy

Fourth gen Santa Fe grows into a sharp looker …

Time flies. Hyundai’s Santa Fe SUV proves it.

Santa Fe debuted 20 years ago as the South Korean automaker’s mid-size SUV. It was nothing special, just economical and reliable. Hmmm, reminds me of how Toyota, Honda and Nissan started out in this country, except with small cars, not utes.

Now in its fourth generation the Santa Fe has grown some, matured if you will. The awkward looking SUV has turned into a handsome youngster with a more muscular profile, snazzy features, a fair amount of sex appeal starting with its T-shaped headlights, reminiscent of Volvo’s sporty “Thor’s Hammer” headlights.

But don’t think knockoff. Nope, Hyundai’s designers are always pushing the styling envelope and this latest tailoring job with its bolder nose, longer more defined hood, LED taillights and those LED T-lights is another excellent example. Visually Santa Fe looks new and leading edge.

Pricing remains impressive, all the way from a front-drive SE for $28,185 up to the tested blue blood Calligraphy model, its top-ender with a starting price of $43,275, and $43,730 as it sat glowing in my driveway swathed in sparkling Quartz White, just $300 extra. AWD is available on the seven trims and standard on some, such as the Blue Hybrid and the Calligraphy, naturally.

For 2021 Hyundai ditched its old engines and goes with two new ones, plus offers a hybrid and soon a plug-in hybrid. The base engine is a 191-horse 2.5-liter I4. That’s 6 more horses than the old one. While the upscale 2.5-liter I4 turbo found in Calligraphy belts out 277 horses and touts a 311 torque rating. Car and Driver magazine says the Santa Fe with this engine will do 0 to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds with a top speed of 130 mph, not bad for a large mid-size ute.

Watch Mark’s video review: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe review by Mark Savage – YouTube

The power is strong, making highway merges simple. I tested this on a roundtrip to Indianapolis on Indy 500 weekend and felt the highway drive akin to qualifying for the race. Few of my highway counterparts were cruising at less than 80 mph. The Santa Fe was up to the challenge and remained surprisingly quiet inside.

You can thank Hyundai for using more acoustical glass to blunt exterior noise, better undercarriage coverings to cut wind noise and increase fuel efficiency, and more sound deadening materials in the firewall and floor. The result is luxury level quiet.

There’s a smoothness to the Santa Fe too that you might not have witnessed in the past, or expected in the present. A slick 8-speed automatic transmission helps deliver power in a silky fashion, although on startup there seems to be a little lag for the first half-mile or so.

Hyundai includes a big dial on its console that blends with a center stack to engage various drive modes. Comfort is best around town and Sport for the freeway, at least when merging onto it. Snow and Smart modes also are available.

That big black dial next to the push-button transmission will set the drive modes.

I was happy with the Comfort setting as the ride was smooth and comfy with moderate steering effort. Sport firmed things up a bit, but not drastically. Yet it made acceleration much kickier.

Braking is solid too with 13.6-inch vented discs up front and 12-inchers in the rear. Plus remember the Calligraphy comes with AWD, a boon in sloppy weather and in case you want to trundle off-road a bit or when towing a boat or small camper. Ground clearance is 8.2 inches.

Tires are 19-inch Continentals for now, but 20-inchers will be available on Santa Fes soon for those who subscribe to the bigger-is-better theory of traction.

Classy looking two-tone interior stands out in the Calligraphy model.

Inside? Well, on Calligraphy models you’ll be coddled a bit with quilted leather seats that are soft to the touch and look fantastic. The test model’s were a caramel brown with black trim and the dash black over brown, as are door panels. The leather adorned steering wheel is black and a mesh-like metal trims the dash while satin chrome trims air ducts, doors, door releases, and buttons. It’s a high-end look.

I love the button and toggle laden console/center stack design because it’s obvious where all the functions are located, no confusing screen with layers of functions buried inside. Temperature controls are toggles too, so are easy to tap up or down. The tranny is push-button too, and also on the console, but I’m not a big fan, especially with the Park button off to one side.

Info screen visibility is good. An 8-inch screen is standard, but the 10.3-inch model comes on Calligraphy and is optional for other trims. Functionality is simple.

All the buttons are easy to see and use on the console to center stack layout.

Cool too that the 12.3-inch instrument panel screen changes its appearance depending on the drive mode selected and features Hyundai’s helpful safety feature that I call turn-signal cameras. Flip the turn signal to go right and a round camera image of the right side from your car’s tail on back appears. Same with the left turn signal, the images appearing on the appropriate side of your instrument panel. Bravo!

I’m not sure how many of us need a head-up display, but this one is standard and is color, so puts the speed limit and your current speed in red and green.

Front seats are powered and include a button to extend the lower driver’s seat cushion, an aid for long-legged drivers. A power lumbar control is offered too. Around town I was perfectly comfy in these seats, but for a longer drive I feel the bottom cushions need more snug hip support. I found my tailbone burning after 100 miles. Jamming my wallet under my right hip helped some, but that seems like something a driver shouldn’t have to do to avoid leg and hip fatigue.

Others had no butt issues and riders found the rear seat roomy enough for three adults, plus the outer rear seats are heated. The front seats are both heated and cooled and Calligraphy adds a heated steering wheel.

Other features are plentiful. Inside is a snazzy Harman Kardon premium sound system, a panoramic sunroof, power hatch and wireless phone charger where you insert the phone vertically right by the cup holders. Nice fit, but I forgot my phone regularly. I prefer a tray where you can lay a phone and still see it.

There also are manual sun screens for the rear seat’s side windows and a huge storage area behind the second row seats, including large bins under the floor. Hyundai claims 36.4 cubic feet of space and that’s believable. Put the rear seats down and that expands to 72 cu.ft. That’s better than even some larger SUVs.

There’s a lot of cargo space behind the second row seats, even some under the floor.

Hyundai’s safety lineup is stout on the Calligraphy with semi-autonomous drive modes that keep the car in its lane, even on turns. This worked really well on the highway, but insisted the driver keep his or her hands at 10 and 2 or 9 and 3 on the wheel. I rested mine near the bottom of the wheel on a long straight stretch of Hoosier highway and the instrument panel got mad, saying I should hold the wheel. I was. Also it lit up once when I was holding the wheel with just one hand.

Better safe than sorry I suppose.

Blind-spot, forward-collision avoidance, high-beam assist, rear cross-traffic assist and braking, smart cruise control, and a 360-degree camera are standard.

One sort of safety system that wasn’t intuitive, at least to me, was the rear door safety locks for kids. I’m used to these being near the door latch mechanisms with a tab to flip up or down. Hyundai couples the door locks with the rear-seat child window locks. You engage that and the kid can’t put the window down, OR get out. Might be fine for wee ones, but my 12-year-old grandson got tired of being locked in, until grandpa figured out the buttons.

Santa Fe has a grabber nose with a stylish grille and T-shaped headlights.

On the plus side, Hyundai also offers standard wireless Apple Car Play and Android Auto on all Santa Fe models.

Likewise, fuel economy is up about 30% across the lineup. The test SUV was rated 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway by the EPA. I got a fine 26.4 mpg in my highway drive that included some city driving at each end of the trip. We had three of us and luggage aboard.

For now there are the two gas engine choices and a hybrid with 226 horsepower from a 1.6-liter turbo and two electric motors, plus 6-speed automatic and AWD. A plug-in hybrid model is expected late in 2021.

Cool how the light bar runs across the width of the rear hatch and into the taillights!

If the Calligraphy sounds nice, but is a bit rich for your budget, consider the second level SEL model for $29,985. It adds heated seats and mirrors, a blind-spot warning system, satellite radio and keyless entry with push-button start. The Blue hybrid model starts at $34,835 and includes AWD.

Santa Fe moves Hyundai deeper into the SUV mainstream with leading-edge design and luxury features and finish in the Calligraphy trim. Test one to see how it fits your derriere!

FAST STATS: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy

Hits: Sharp redesign, more powerful engine, good ride and handling, plus AWD. Cool T-shaped lights, Harman Kardon stereo, panoramic sunroof, power hatch, 10-inch screen, clear button arrangement on center stack, turn-signal activated side cameras, nice visuals on instrument cluster, heated/cooled front seats, heated wheel, heated rear seats, large cargo area w/underfloor storage, roomy interior, wireless charger, rear side window screens, and stout safety device lineup.

These T-shaped headlights are a standout styling feature.

Misses: Lower seat cushion is hard and not as supportive as many, leading to tailbone burn on drives over 100 miles, but lower cushion will extend for tall drivers. Rear door locks are activated by rear window child-proof locks and not intuitive.

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo I4, 277 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Shiftronic

Weight: 4,060 lbs.

Wheelbase: 108.9 in.

Length: 188.4 in.

Cargo: 36.4-72.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 21/28

MPG: 26.4 (tested)

Base Price: $43,275 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $41,480

Major Options: Quartz white paint, $300

Carpeted floor mats, $155

Test vehicle: $43,730

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Volkswagon Arteon 2.0T SEL R-Line

Arteon sedan delivers looks, refinement, value …

Only two years have passed since Volkswagen renamed and restyled its CC sedan as the Arteon, still a name that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

But VW assures us the term is Latin for Art, emphasizing how important design is for the model. Whatever it’s called, this large fastback-styled sedan proves VW is dedicated to handsome cars as well as crossovers and SUVs. Prosit!

As I intoned in my earlier review of Arteon, it’s a sedan that has virtually everything a crossover intender could want, with the exception of a tall ride and boxy shape. This is one of the finest looking family sedan on the road. Edgy, but with fastback styling.

But if you’re after AWD, mucho room for the family and cargo capacity to match, the Arteon checks all those boxes.

The VW rides on a 111.9-inch wheelbase so has oodles of leg and headroom for five adults and the trunk delivers a massive 27.2 cubic feet of cargo room, or up to 55 cubic feet with the split rear seats lowered. Heck, some small crossovers would struggle to offer that much. And instead of a pure trunk, the fastback opens as a hatch so loading and unloading is a cinch.

Yet you’re likely thinking the VW only stuffs a four-cylinder engine under the hood, so it’s likely weak on power. Wrong!

This 2.0-liter is strong, delivering 268 horses and 258 lb.-ft. of torque from the silky smooth turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The result is not only quick acceleration, but luxury car smoothness as it’s coupled with an efficient 8-speed automatic with Tiptronic to allow driver shifts, if desired.

Watch Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/lsC8_z7ROUQ

There are five drive modes too, accessed easily via a button on the console. Sport mode firms the suspension, alters the gearing for better acceleration and stiffens the steering effort. That’s great on the highway, but in town or at sub-40 mph the Normal or Comfort modes seem best, easing steering and ride comfort. Midwest roads are crumbling!

Yet at all levels Arteon turns into corners with precision like a luxury sport sedan. Won’t find many crossovers doing that without some push or lean in corners. Plus being a sedan the ride is dramatically better than any truck-based vehicle. It’s well controlled, yet sporty. No serious bumps or thumps and railroad tracks and pot holes are barely a blip on your derriere’s radar.

My tested SEL R-Line model with 4Motion, that’s VW’s AWD system, was bathed in a beautiful King’s Red Metallic paint that got raves from onlookers, including my spouse who rarely comments on my test vehicles. That color costs $395 extra but is a stellar choice especially considering most cars are gray or white these days. This stands out!

Inside the styling is simple and elegant with a wide dash that features lean and expansive air vents, making cabin comfort a breeze, literally.

Clean and attractive dash with fine Nappa leather seats create a stylish interior.

The test car featured light gray Nappa leather seats with dark gray trim and a dark gray dash and door uppers with light gray inserts. The dash also had a textured metal trim strip that extended into the doors along with satin silver trim below that. Gloss black trim graces the stack and console surrounding the shift lever.

Controls are easy to see and use and the driver gets a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel that can be adjusted to meet a driver’s particular needs. Best for us seniors, the 8-inch infotainment screen mid-dash is simple to adjust, not always the case in today’s tech-laden touch-and-slide screened vehicles.

The power seats not only look sharp but are firm and well-shaped for long or short hauls, plus the driver gets three-memory settings Seats up front are heated, with three temperature settings. And get this, if you go full-on luxury with the top-tier SEL Premium model you get a massaging driver’s seat is too. Amazing in this price range.

Overhead is a large, but not panoramic sunroof, however the cover is a screen, not a shade so a little light, and warmth seeps through the roof in hot weather.

This SEL R-Line model that features a bit racier look and feel also adds a flat-bottomed steering wheel, naturally loaded with plenty of controls on it hub.

Arteon also comes with dual climate controls, but VW has gone to touch-controlled slides that are a bit too touchy at times, likewise there’s a radio volume slide on the steering wheel’s hub. Not sure why knobs needed to be replaced, but as with all touch-centric controls these are not easy to use when the car is in motion as their adjustment is imprecise.

VW loads up Arteon with electronic safety devices, including parking sensors, automatic high-beam headlights, and an integrated crash response system to alert authorities if you crash. There’s also the standard blind-spot warning, smart cruise control, rearview camera, lane-keeping assist, and emergency braking with pedestrian recognition.

Stop & Go is standard too, an effort to save gas at stoplights, but the annoyance factor of the car shutting down seems hardly worth the minor gain it provides. That’s not a VW thing, it’s across the automotive market.

An economic downside is that Arteon prefers premium gasoline, the higher octane providing part of the VW’s prodigious horsepower. The VW will run on regular gas, but loses some oomph. Still, even powered up the car is rated at 20 mpg city and 31 mpg highway by the EPA. That highway figure is up 4 mpg from the 2019 model I’d driven, a big gain in efficiency. I managed 27.5 mpg, quite good for a large family sedan.

Good news on the pricing front too as a base Arteon SE starts at $38,190. It’s front-wheel drive. An SEL R-Line lists at $42,790 and one with AWD like the test car begins at $44,590. This one just added the sharp red paint job to end up at $44,985. Standard on the R-Line are 19-inch tires, the Nappa leather seats, sunroof, smart cruise control and adaptive LED headlights.

Going top-level Premium R-Line with 4Motion pushes the price to $48,190, but you do get the massaging driver’s seat, heated steering wheel and cooled seats, plus a 12-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo, 3D backup camera and power hatch.

This competes well with the likes of Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord, plus Nissan’s Maxima, Acura’s TLX and Kia’s Stinger, although it’s much racier in performance. I think it even approaches the gorgeous Genesis G80 2.5T tested a week ago, but just not as quiet inside or as luxurious feeling.

FAST STATS: 2021 VW Arteon 2.0T SEL R-Line

Hits: Slick looking fastback sedan with good power, sporty handling, but fine family sedan ride. Smooth and comfy, with a sporty edge, adjustable drive modes, and solid safety features. Roomy interior and trunk under a hatch. Heated seats, large sunroof, flat-bottom wheel, comfortable seats, good sized info screen and easy controls. Plus AWD.

Misses: Prefers premium fuel. Sunroof has screen, not shade. Touch and slide controls hard to precisely use. Awkwardly tight spot for phone under center stack.

Snazzy wheels make Arteon look fast, even while parked.

Made in: Emden, Germany

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 268 horsepower

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Tiptronic

Weight: 3,686 lbs.

Length: 191.6 in.

Wheelbase: 111.9 in.

Cargo: 27.2-55 cu.ft.

MPG: 20/31

MPG:  27.5 (tested)

Base Price: $44,590 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $42,811

Major Options:

King’s Red metallic paint, $395

Test vehicle: $44,985

Sources: Volkswagen, kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63 S Coupe

Mercedes’ racy GLE Coupe is really an SUV …

This new Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe is a whale of a vehicle and I mean that in mostly the nicest way, beyond its obvious looks.

The GLE Coupe is essentially a large SUV with a whale-like rounded rear end. If you don’t care for the look, Mercedes also offers the GLE as a square-backed SUV.

For styling the M-B designers essentially copied their slightly smaller GLC sport-ute’s rounded coupe profile. Seems Mercedes’ marketers decided that a rounded rear roofline enabled them to label the five-seat ute a coupe. I don’t buy it. Time will tell if luxury ute intenders will.

Labels aside, if you can think of this as a fastback SUV soaked in luxury and performance you’ll be thrilled, even if your name is Jonah. I tested the top-end AMG GLE 63 S Coupe in Selenite Gray. As Mercedes aficionados are well aware, tack the AMG initials onto anything and it’s gonna rock, big time.

AMG is Mercedes performance arm and hand builds its engines, and its assemblers sign each engine, assuring buyers these are unique powerplants, and likely race track worthy. This one seemed so.

The GLE’s heart is a bi-turbo 4.0-liter V8 that pounds out 603 horsepower and a massive 627 lb.-ft. of torque. Its roar could make an F1 racer jealous. The guttural growl of the bi-turbo is beautiful, something you feel deep in your bones.

It’s a rocket too, easily hitting triple digits on a freeway entry ramp. Mercedes claims a top speed of 174 mph. That’s special! Although you’ll never need it, or use all of that. Car and Driver magazine tested the square SUV version and managed 0 to 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds. Can you say supercar, er, truck?

See Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/fYsyV_McWbE

However, there are a bevy of fast cars and trucks these days, each seeming to be celebrating the waning days of internal combustion engines (ICE).

Yes, it’s a fastback, but is it really? The Benz Looks like and drives like a big SUV, although way faster and sportier than most!

But AMG takes its job seriously and does a particularly fabulous job tuning the handling and suspension here to give the GLE coupe a racer-like feel, even in Comfort drive mode. There are plenty of drive modes too, from Race (yes) to Slippery, which helps the standard AWD system handle snow and slop.

With great power comes great responsibility though. Hence the need for superior brakes. GLE nails it with monster 16.5-inch drilled front disc brakes featuring red 6-piston AMG calipers. Braking is impressive.

Steering effort is on the heavy side, but engages well with the road and gives the GLE a dialed in feel. In Race mode I zipped through multiple S-curves and winding roadways like a slot car shoed in silicone tires. I was stuck, often doubling or tripling the suggested turn speeds.

Is the Mercedes logo on the grille big enough for ya?

While heavy (5,390 lbs.), the GLE never feels loose or tippy, a major accomplishment with a vehicle that’s 70.2 inches tall and stands with 7.5 inches of ground clearance. Oh, and you can raise and lower the vehicle’s drive height via a console toggle.

Ride is firm, but well controlled as the SUV rides on giant 21-inch tires. Some might like the Comfort setting to tell the shocks to further dampen the ride, especially on choppy city streets. Yet after a week I was toughened up enough to handle the firm feel and with such a whisper-quiet interior (a $1,100 option increases insulation and window acoustics) you are well insulated from road imperfections.

The interior coddles you too. This one featured upgraded (just $250) quilted black leather and suede seats that are heated, cooled and controlled via easy-to-reach controls on the door panel. The dash, doors and flat-bottom steering wheel include carbon fiber trim. The spiffy wheel costs $400 extra though.

The Benz’s dash is well laid out with two 12.3-inch digital high-def screens that meld together so they appear as one two-foot-wide control panel. The center infotainment portion being a touchscreen with multiple functions, and there’s a redundant touchpad on the console for the unthinkable reason you may find it more convenient. You won’t.

Mercedes builds in a LOT of redundancy into controls though. For instance its drive modes and suspension adjustments have at least three different toggles and such to get at them. Easiest is the round knob below the steering wheel’s hub.

Buttons, toggles and door stereo speaker coves are satin metal here while the dash, doors, and part of the steering wheel are carbon fiber. A black gloss roll-back cover at the front of the console opens to reveal a wireless charging station.

Seats are fabulously supportive and you can even extend the front seats’ bottom cushion to give extra support to long-legged drivers. Headrests re powered too and the steering wheel is a power tilt/telescope unit.

Here’s a closeup look at the center stack buttons, screen, and console’s buttons and toggles.

These well-formed seats are heated and cooled, naturally, but the steering wheel is not heated, although the wheel’s partial suede coating helps reduce the need. Ironically Mercedes heats the door armrests though, thanks to a $1,050 option package. First time I’ve seen that.

And get this, these super comfy seats also offer eight massage settings, all controlled via the big infotainment screen. This is a $1,650 “energizing” package that I’ve got to say is like having Magic Fingers to ease the stress of a long drive. These would be golden on a trip, especially the setting that allows the cushions to massage your derriere.

One warning though, it’s best to have your front seat passenger adjust these settings, or to set them before you begin driving as tapping the screen can distracting and sometimes difficult on a bumpy road.

Other interior goodies include a giant panoramic sunroof, and a killer Burmester surround-sound stereo that might be able to deafen your neighbors if you crank it all the way up. Definitely party time, but at a $4,550 price tag it won’t be at my party.

Safety systems are rife here, as you’d expect, but M-B insists you pay $1,950 extra for a lot of them. That includes active levels of lane change assist, steering assist, brake assist and a variety of semi-autonomous features. This is a pricey vehicle. I’d expect all safety features to be standard.

With all this SUV’s power, much safety comes from the great AMG discs and red calipers with multiple piston braking.

Rear seats are a little hard here, but are roomy and there’s reasonable cargo space behind the seats, plus a smidge of hidden storage beneath the floor. Obviously with the slanted rear roofline you lose some vertical storage space. But if you buy something large, you’ll likely pay for delivery anyway.

While a delight in most ways there are a few concerns, beyond those already mentioned. One, the roofline is so low that even at 5-foot-5 I had to duck my head considerably to enter the vehicle. Taller drivers may find mounting the GLE hazardous to their heads.

Also, the massive roof pillars all the way from A to C coupled with the small rear window limit outward visibility. All the safety warning systems and cameras help, but good visibility is the easiest way to make a vehicle safer.

Then there is the column mounted shifter. While that was a common spot for shifters years ago, it isn’t now. Many car makers put the windshield wiper stalk on the right column now, so I found myself shifting into neutral on the freeway a couple times when I meant to engage the wipers. Not great.

Mercedes also is very concerned you’ll leave your key fob in the GLE. Every time you enter and every time you exit a message lights up and dings to remind you, “Don’t forget your key.” Unnecessary!

This is a big, heavy performance ute, so gas mileage is another concern. First, the GLE prefers high-octane gasoline to run at maximum power, but I got just 16 mpg in a week’s driving with more than half on the highway. The EPA rates the GLE at 15 mpg city and 19 highway. This seems a good candidate for hybrid power, and soon.

Even the door panels look special, including power seat controls, oh, and these seats also massage!

Pricing might be a wee high for most folks too. The test GLE starting at $117,050, including delivery. Add in the aforementioned options plus a few more, including fancy wheels and a $1,500 carbon fiber engine cover (oh my!) and the test ute hit $134,000.

That’s way into the luxury market and while the performance and luxury interior may justify the price, I’d want a better looking overall package.

FAST STATS: 2021 Mercedes Benz AMG GLE 63 S Coupe

Hits: Super performance for tall SUV, great power, excellent handling, multiple drive modes, AWD, and quiet interior. Luxury leather interior with heated seats, armrests, killer stereo, mega-sunroof, wireless charger, comfy well-formed seats with massage feature, 24-inch dual display screens. Fantastic brakes, safety systems, and packs every feature but a heated steering wheel.

Snazzy lights and grille give this a Mercedes face!

Misses: Firm ride, low entry-exit headroom at door frame, no heated wheel, drinks high-octane gas and plenty of it. Column shifter odd placement, massive roof pillars, and price may be a wee bit high!

Made in: Vance, Ala.

Engine: 4.0-liter Bi-turbo V8, 603 hp

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Weight: 5,390 lbs.

Wheelbase: 117.9 in.

Length: 195.3 in.

Cargo: 27.5-63.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 15/19

MPG: 16.0 (tested)

Base Price: $117,050 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

AMG carbon fiber trim, $1,750

AMG black Nappa leather w/diamond stitching, $250

AMG carbon fiber engine cover, $1,500

AMG performance steering wheel w/carbon fiber trim, $400

AMG cross-spoke forged wheels, matte black, $2,000

Driver assistance package (active distance assist Distronic, active steering assist, active lane change assist, active emergency stop, active speed limit assist, active brake assist w/cross-traffic function, evasive steering assist, active lane-keeping assist, active blind-spot assist, Pre-Safe Plus rear collision protection, impulse side, route-based speed adaptation, active stop-and-go assist, traffic sign assist), $1,950

Warmth and comfort package (rapid heating front seats, heated front armrests and door panels), $1,050

Energizing comfort package plus (air balance package, active multi-contour front seats w/massage), $1,650

AMG night package (front splitter, front and rear apron trim strips, window trim, exterior mirror housing in gloss black), $750

Acoustic comfort package (increased cabin insulation, windshield w/infrared reflecting film, side windows w/acoustic and infrared absorbing film), $1,100

Burmester high-end 3D surround sound system, $4,550

Test vehicle: $134,000

Sources: Mercedes-Benz, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands 4×4

New Bronco Sport a just-right size, mild-cost off-roader …

Ford’s new Bronco Sport is going to be a winner for the blue oval folks, but it has a major challenge ahead of it: how to avoid grow too big or too luxurious.

In theory that’s what the new bigger Bronco will bring, whenever it finally is launched. But for now, the smaller Bronco Sport is a spunky hunk of off-roading fun with all the utilitarian touches it needs, plus enough modern safety equipment and comfort to make it a superb match for economy minded off-roaders.

There’s really nothing else like it, plus it carries the rugged off-roading looks reminiscent of a Land Rover. Think of it as a Brover!

I was fully prepared to think of this as just another small to mid-size crossover/SUV. I was wrong. It’s an eye-opener.

The Bronco Sport, a new vehicle and new name for 2021, that rides on the familiar Ford Escape platform. Ford could have so easily just made a restyled Escape. Bronco Sport is much more and is aimed at the Wrangler crowd, not the Jeep Compass that so many say it’s targeted for. Nope, Compass is more of a tall wagon/crossover with plenty of luxury, depending on the trim. Bronco Sport zeros in on weekend off-roaders, campers and bikers, who desire stylish weekday drives to work.

It’s priced mid-market so one can justify taking it into the muck and maybe scratching a fender, not like a Land Rover Defender that it mimics in styling. Nope, this one runs roughly $28,000 to $38,000, not Rover’s $70,000 and more.

I tested a Carbonized Gray Bronco Sport Badlands 4×4 edition that lists at $34,155 with delivery and including a couple options hit just $35,745, almost exactly the median price for a new sedan, but well under a middling SUV or crossover.

Watch Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/5Fi7Y9nsoi0

Styling is boxy with white Bronco and Bronco Sport badging front and rear. There’s a rear hatch with a window that will pop open for easy loading if you needn’t flip up the whole hatch. There’s rubberized flooring so that it’s easy to wash up the mud and slop of an off-road adventure. The cargo area in back is sturdy with a nubby rubber flooring and the rear seat backs that split and fold flat feature the same, so throw all the camping gear and trail bikes you want in there, or maybe a couple pups.

Bronco looks blocky like a Rover, and features a notched roof.

Oh, and the roof is notched like the former Nissan Xterra So you can actually stand up two mountain bikes in the cargo bay. That my friends is off-road, camping, hiking and biking friendly. Not many other vehicles offer this sort of outdoorsy friendliness and space, certainly not a Wrangler unless you move up to the Unlimited, which sort of requires similar unlimited funding.

Then there’s also under-seat storage in row two on the passenger’s side, along with zippered pouches on the front seat seatbacks for protecting your iPads, etc. In back there’s a cargo area light with switch, and oodles of hooks to hang your carabiners off of, or secure backpacks. Plenty of outlets and USB hookups here too, but sadly no wireless phone charger.

That’s just the accouterments for outdoorsy use.

Consider performance, which starts in the Badlands edition with a 2.0-liter EcoBoost I4 that pumps 250 horsepower from its turbocharged unit. Torque is a strong 277 lb.-ft. So scrambling up to highway speeds is a cinch and there’s plenty of grunt for rock crawling and mud-slinging.

In fact, this Badlands edition raises it suspension a full inch from the 7.8-inch standard ground clearance and adds better shock dampers to cushion any off-road excursion. On the highway of course it’s fine with just a bit more tire noise from the 17-inch off-road tires. Special body-colored wheels added $795 to compliment the monochromatic look of the test truck.

Setting the Bronco Sport up for various off-road or slippery road excursions is easy too, with the GOAT dial on the console. GOAT? Goes Over Any Terrain!

Wing the dial clockwise and you go from Normal to Eco to Sport to Slippery. Naturally Eco lowers the power to save fuel while Sport tweaks the 8-speed automatic to hold lower gears longer for more off-the-line power. Slippery helps engage the 4-wheel-drive system for wet or icy roads. Another button allows you to lock the rear differential or another to simply engage 4WD.

But that’s not all, wing that GOAT dial counterclockwise and you can choose from Mud/Ruts, Sand, or Rock Crawl. I admit there were no big rocky areas for me to try the latter, but in a sloppy field the Mud/Ruts setting helped me power through swamp grass, tall cat tails and some soppy mud-clogged ruts and divots. It was a blast and never a thought of getting stuck!

There’s also Trail Control, basically a low-speed off-road cruise control you can set if doing prolonged off-roading. This allows you to cruise at low speeds and just steer!

Ride off-road is well-controlled, just like on-road and certainly more pleasant than many smaller utes and crossovers. Plus the Bronco Sport feels well planted, so on windy days it feels more stable in a crosswind. There’s some body lean in turns, but this Bronco doesn’t feel as tippy as some crossovers or taller SUVs.

Handling also is nimble and more responsive than a truck or SUV. I think it out Jeeps the Jeep Compass to be sure. This feels like an off-roader where you are in command.

Nice clean dash with good digital instrument panel and good-sized info screen.

Inside, well beyond all that rubber mentioned earlier, the dash and doors are gray with blue-gray accents in the seat backs and tiny blue specks in the cloth side bolsters to perk them up a touch. The dash is a soft textured material to soften the interior’s feel and give it a fresh look. Console and steering wheel hub have matte black trim and there’s a Bronco logo on that hub too, and also on the info screen at startup. Some black gloss trims the round shift knob on the console.

There’s a simple 8-inch info screen here, with some buttons beneath, and nicely sized climate control buttons and dials. Only one drawback inside, for me, and that’s the rear-seat alarm. The what? Some lawyers apparently thought folks so stupid as to not remember they have a kid in that rear car seat, so an alarm chimes each time the ignition is turned off, the info screen insisting, “Check Rear Seats for Occupant.” Oh my!

Otherwise, the sturdy cloth seats are moderately contoured on the bottom and more snug for the back cushion, plus the driver’s seat is powered, including a power lumbar. Front seats are heated too. Rear seats have decent leg and knee room and excellent headroom.

The rear window flips up separate from the hatch for easy grocery loading!

Cargo room is spacious at 32.5 cubic feet, growing to more than 65 cubic feet if you lower the rear seats for your bikes, etc. And, if need be, you can tow 2,000 lbs.

Safety gear? The Ford Co-Pilot 360 system is standard with blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, emergency braking and such. The test unit added Co-Pilot 360 Assist for $795. It includes smart cruise control, a lane-centering aid, traffic sign recognition, voice-activated navigation, a touchscreen with pinch to zoom, evasive steering assist and SiriusXM traffic and travel links.

This Badlands model is the first in the lineup with the horsier, yet efficient 2.0-liter turbo. A base model starting at $28,155, along with the Big Bend ($29,815) and Outer Banks ($33,815) models, feature just a 3-cylinder 1.3-liter turbo that makes 181 horses. That’s not bad, but I’d move up to the Badlands for smooth power and more off-road muscle.

Which leaves us at gas mileage, often a bugaboo of mine for crossovers and SUVs. But considering the Bronco Sport’s off-roading ability and rugged appearance, it still weighs in at just beyond 3,700 lbs. and the EPA rates it at 25 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. I managed 24.2 mpg including some off-road time.

Now, Ford must resist the urge to slather the Bronco Sport in leather, put fake wood trim inside with a crystal gear shift knob and then stretch it by 8-10 inches while adding hundreds of pounds of weight. Oh, and then put a bigger, less efficient engine in it, slapping a GT label on it and boosting the price.

Bronco Sport is a winner as is!

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands 4×4

Hits: Off-road ability matches rugged looks, good power, ride, and nimble handling, plus notched roof allows for two mountain bikes. Heated seats, rubberized cargo area and rear seat backs, zippered back seat storage pockets and under-seat storage, many cargo hooks, rubber floor, and decent MPG.

Misses: No wireless phone charger, annoying alarm every time you turn off ignition warning “Check Rear Seat for Occupant.” Lawyer silliness!

Made in: Hermosillo, Mexico

Engine: 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo I4, 250 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,733 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.1 in.

Length: 172.7 in.

Cargo: 32.5-65.2 cu.ft.

Tow: 2,000 lbs.

MPG: 25/28

MPG: 24.2 (tested)

Base Price: $34,155 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $33,012

Major Options:

Co-pilot 360 Assist (smart cruise, Stop & Go, lane centering, traffic sign recognition, voice-activated navigation, touchscreen w/pinch to zoom, SiriusXM traffic/travel link, evasive steering assist), $795

17-in. carbonized gray low-gloss aluminum wheels, $795

Test vehicle: $35,745

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Nissan Kicks SR

Cute new Nissan Kicks up a lot of value …

Car makers competing in the entry-level market, meaning less than $25,000, are working harder and harder to get some notice as value doesn’t sell as well as BIG anything does.

We’re a nation that appreciates big, fast, and strong more than petite, nimble, and adequate, but inexpensive. So what’s an automaker to do? Well, start with a name folks might just remember, like Kicks.

That’s Nissan’s ploy to get you to look when its mini-crossover catches your eye, and it will. While Nissan’s former Juke model caught your eye because it was peculiar looking, the Kicks is downright cute. My tester was a pearly white with gloss black roof, and the two-tone treatment delivers the absolutely right visual appeal.

 Kicks looks cute, fun and crossovery, so at least should be able to register a blip or two on value-oriented shoppers’ radar.

Good for Kicks because it’s a fine entry-level vehicle starting at $20,650 for the S model, including delivery. That’s a bargain, but the bargain pricing continues up to the SV ($22,450) and tested SR ($23,090) models too, so whichever you choose for your first car, or to get that teen to high school or college, is a winner.

All are similar, just the equipment level grows from S to SV to SR, and us oldsters who are spoiled by our current cars would want the SR for a few comfort features, but from a performance standpoint, any of the three trims will suit.

Watch Mark’s video review: SavageOnWheels Nissan Kicks Review – YouTube

That’s because they all feature the same 1.6-liter I4 that creates 122 horsepower coupled with an Xtronic CVT automatic. Power is adequate and shifts are smooth. There’s a teensy-weensy button on the console-mounted shift handle to engage a Sport mode, but it’s a bit awkward to get at, especially if it were winter and you were wearing gloves. Many other makes put such a button on the console so it’s easier to see and tap.

If you have need for speed early on you’d want to engage this at a stoplight or just before merging onto the freeway. It boosts power by changing shift points electronically to increase low-end torque. It’s noticeable, but not a major boost.

The fun factor here, beyond the looks, is handling, which is quick and makes this a breeze to toss into tight turns or maneuver in a parking lot. The handling also makes it simple to dodge giant potholes and rough pavement patches.

That’s a benefit because like all small cars and crossover (usually wheelbases less than 105 inches) ride can be a bit jiggly. It’s never severe here and actually seems pretty good on railroad tracks and bigger bumps. On choppy roads though is where you’ll feel the road a bit more than you may wish. Buyers with younger backs may not notice so much as a 60-something.

Likely most folks also will notice a little more road noise here than in a higher priced vehicle, or even value-oriented sedans. The Hyundai Elantra I drove a few weeks back was quieter.

If you’re hoping to add all-wheel-drive to your Kicks, well, sorry. AWD is not an option on this crossover, but also isn’t on all mini-crossovers like the similar sized and powered Hyundai Venue. But Venue’s sister, the Kona crossover offers AWD and rides on a longer wheelbase (102.4 in.) than Venue (99.2 in.). So like Kicks, the Kona delivers a bit better ride.

Of course what all of these offer is efficient performance at a modest cash outlay.

I got 31.5 mpg with this Kicks in a mix of city and highway driving. The EPA rates it at 31 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. I got 29 mpg in the Venue, which is rated 30 mpg city and 34 highway. Kona, by comparison, is rated 27 city and 33 highway, and I managed 33.1 mpg in a front-drive model.

Inside, the Kicks is roomy for four with oodles of headroom and still plenty of space behind the split rear seat for cargo, or even more if you fold the rear seats down.

The SV and SR upgrade to an 8-inch infotainment screen, which is simple to see and use, and this SR added an optional Premium package for $1,200 that included Prima-Tex seats that are a leatherette type surface. This package also includes two-level heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a security system, plus cargo cover. It’s well worth the price.

I liked Kicks interior which was black over gray with orange stitching in the seats and door panels that add a little kick (sorry) of color. Dash and door tops are hard black textured plastic as you’d expect, but the gray inserts in the doors are soft and leatherette covered. Trim is matte chrome on the doors, steering wheel and shifter. Door releases are chrome.

Black gloss trims the info screen and the console top also features the same gloss treatment. I liked the cup holders here too, which is odd to comment on I know. But they allow you to flip the holder so it will hold a deep or shallow cup. Clever.

Buttons and dials are easy to use for the single climate control system, plus there’s an electric park brake and below the dash is an inside fuel filler release. Push-button start is standard too as is a D-shaped steering wheel, creating additional knee room and giving the car a bit of flair.

Seats are well-shaped, but hard front and rear. That was fine while on short drives, but likely could be tiring on long trips. Good news for the driver, that seat has a pump handle on the side to raise and lower it, a boon to both tall and short drivers.

Other pluses include a good Bose sound system here, part of that premium package, plus sun visors with extenders. Many pricier cars don’t include those anymore. No idea why.

Standard too is Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 that includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, a blind-spot monitor, automatic high beams, and rear cross-traffic alert.

The SR also comes with a 360-degree camera, LED head and taillights, leather-wrapped wheel, painted roof rails, dark chrome accents, a small spoiler and smart cruise control that also vibrates the wheel is you wander near the center line.

In short, Kicks ranges from basically $20,000 to $23,000, depending on trim, plus options. The $1,200 premium package on this one left the SR at $24,290. Wow!

For comparisons consider the Venue or Kona mentioned earlier, or Kia’s cousins to those, the Soul and Seltos. One of my favorites, in fact my 2020 Zoomie Car of the Year, is Mazda’s more luxurious feeling and sporty CX-30, and then there’s Toyota’s fine C-HR, also available in a two-tone paint scheme.

Best news of all, there are so many $20,000-$25,000 crossover types available, plus a host of small high-value sedans that get equally good, if not better, gas mileage.

FAST STATS: 2021 Nissan Kicks SR

Hits: Cute two-tone mini crossover, quick handling, adequate acceleration and good gas mileage. Roomy interior for four, plus good cargo room, heated seats, heated D-shaped wheel, push-button start, visors have extenders, good info screen and Bose sound system. Sound safety items like blind-spot warning, emergency braking and 360-degree camera plus cross-traffic alert.

Misses: No AWD available, ride is a bit jiggly, but not severe, and there’s a fair amount of road noise at highway speeds. Also seats are hard, but well-shaped.

Made in: Mexico

Engine: 1.6-liter I4, 122 hp

Transmission: XtronicCVT automatic

Weight: 2,744 lbs.

Wheelbase: 103.1 in.

Length: 169.1 in.

Cargo: 25-53 cu.ft.

MPG: 31/36

MPG: 31.5 (tested)

Base Price: $23.090 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Premium package (Bose audio w/8 speakers & amp, Prima-Tex seats, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, security system, cargo cover), $1,200

Test vehicle: $24,290

Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited

Pacifica minivan nears perfection with quiet plug-in hybrid …

Chrysler has been in the minivan business longer than anyone else and it stands to reason that after 35+ years they’re nearing perfection.

It helps that Chrysler never stopped innovating and it still leads the way as the 2021 Pacifica is the only plug-in hybrid minivan on the market. And it makes a good impression, both for its sleek, refined looks and its quiet operation.

“I love how quiet your minivan is. It surprised me,” claimed the attendant at a Culver’s drive-up outdoor order stand. It didn’t earn me any extra cheese curds though.

Oh, the Pacifica is quiet for sure operating at low speeds on electricity generated by regenerative braking, plus it also will run for 30+ miles solely on electric if you charge it fully. That takes about 14 hours on a home’s 120-volt line, but I got a 70% charge in about 6 hours once. If you have a 240-volt line a full charge takes just two hours. Bingo!

            On a full charge the Pacifica has roughly a 500-mile range combining electric charge and gas. The EPA says to expect 82 mpe with electric power mixed with gas and 30 mpg solely with gas. I think that may be a bit generous. I got 24 mpg with a mix of city and highway driving and one full charge, not bad for a nearly 5,000-lb. van.

            Still, extending the driving range for a family hauler like this, cutting down the number of fill-up and potty breaks, has got to help extend a family’s vacation range. Plus when on electric power the van hums along like a silent missile, and even as it switches to the 3.6-liter V6 gas engine you’ll likely not notice. Transition is seamless. 

Power overall is 260 horsepower with the hybrid system and it’s linked to a CVT automatic that works well to meld power flow.

            In reality, the van is a super easy and smooth drive all around. There’s plenty of power for acceleration as electric power is instantaneous and steering is fairly light and breezy too. There’s a bit of play in the wheel, but no family is expecting sports sedan handling in their minivan. Nope, but Pacifica is easy to turn into a parking spot, or back out. Of course there’s a 3D rearview camera and parking sensors too.

            Ride remains vanlike, not punishing, but bouncier than a car or crossover. You notice it most on uneven surfaces where the minivan can feel a bit roly-poly. But on the highway it’s a gem, a cruising mecca, a family room on wheels.

            That was helped in this Hybrid Limited model because it’s loaded with goodies and this one even added a $2,495 option package with twin seatback video screens that plays Blu-Ray DVDs or pop up with a variety of video games. The 12-year-old grandson approved! What kid wouldn’t?

            Mom and dad will love it too because there are wireless headphones to keep the parents from blowing their gourds the 10th time a wee one has watched a SpongeBob episode or a Disney film with a song that will NOT leave your head. I’m looking at you Little Mermaid!

Front seat headrests included video screens behind them to amuse second seat occupants!

            This beautiful Maximum Steel Metallic (sparkly bluish pewter) delivered a luxury look and feel interior that might surprise a first-time minivan buyer. Seats were a saddle brown with mocha brown piping and the dash and doors were brown and black, a spiffy look. Trim is all satin chrome behind gauges along with air vents and door release handles. The console and surround of the big 8.4-inch touchscreen are trimmed in gloss black. Chrysler nails the look!

            And if you need storage up front there’s a monster cubby between the seats with a black textured roll-top for easy access. Much nicer than a lid that must awkwardly be flipped up.

            Seats are only modestly contoured, the backs being decent, but the bottom cushions are fairly flat. That can be good for long drives and certainly makes ingress and egress easy. Of course those power sliding rear doors help small folks load and unload quickly too, and yes, the hatch is powered.

            This unit had captain’s chairs for the middle row, so would carry just seven, but a bench in the middle row would allow you to haul eight. The first two rows of seats also had folding armrests, although I feel it’s a bit intrusive on the driver’s seat during city driving, yet it’s OK as you cruise the highway.

            Front seats are powered and also heated and cooled, while the steering wheel is heated. You access all that through the big touchscreen, not my favorite way to get at such often used buttons, but the touchpoints are large, as are all dash buttons and controls.

The screen is big, includes a 360-degree camera and dash buttons are large and simple to use too. Bravo!

            The radio system is simple to figure out and use while driving too, yet there are several levels of info you can find there. Best to do all that data mining while sitting at a stop light or in a parking spot.

            Naturally there are plenty of safety devices, including blind-spot warning, lane departure, adaptive cruise control with Stop & Go system, collision warning and emergency braking along with parking sensors.

            As for interior amenities, well, there are side window sun shades for the second and third rows, a dual-pane panoramic sunroof with power sun shade, and a wireless phone charger in the front of the console, making it easy to access.

            Behind the third row seat is a deep well for storage, or if you don’t need to use the split third row seats you can fold them down into that cargo floor to create a large flat storage space. The second row seats are Chrysler’s patented Stow ‘n Go design that fold down into the floor. Most vans still require you to remove the middle row manually if you need to use that space for cargo.

            One interior bugaboo I hope Chrysler fixes soon, the fancy two-tone leather steering wheel with its satin chrome trim ring. It’s a pain in that it’s hot when the sun hits that metal, and it’s cold in winter, even when the heated steering wheel is engaged. Just lose the ring and all is well!

            Like many vehicles now, there are so many trims in the Pacifica line that pricing should not put you off. Although the test van was near the top of the hybrid range, starting at $47,340, including delivery. Add the rear-seat entertainment package and this one hit $49,835. Obviously not affordable for every family.

            But the hybrids range from the Touring at $41,490 up to the Red S model at $50,635, the latter featuring a bright red leather interior. Most folks going the hybrid route will likely want to step up to the Touring L model at $43,790 as it adds heated leather seats, a roof rack and third-row seat sun shades.

Big panoramic sunroof really brightens up the interior.

            If hybrid models are outside your price range, consider the gas-only powered Pacifica, whose 3.6-liter V6 makes 287 horsepower. The Touring model there starts at $33,495, but again, moving up to the Touring L might be preferred for the added features. Also, note that Chrysler offers an AWD system now, so that’s enticing to those of us in frozen tundra territory. That van rides an inch higher than other Pacifica models.

            Not wanting to insult anyone’s income level, but if even that entry-mark Pacifica still seems a bit beyond your means, know that Chrysler continues to offers a Voyager model with a lot less features, but a more approachable starting price of about $27,000.

            While tall SUVs and crossovers continue to dominate the market it’s nice to know that families can still get the most practical and comfy of vehicles, a minivan, at everything from a budget-oriented model to ultimate luxury. And now a plug-in hybrid adds to its economy. Oh, and there’s still a federal tax rebate of $7,500 on the hybrid model. …. Drop the mic!

FAST STATS: 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited

Hits: Handsome, roomy for 7, good smooth power, improved mpg. Quick acceleration, big easy touchscreen and dash buttons, and a full bevy of safety equipment. Luxury feel interior with heated/cooled seats, heated wheel, panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charger, power side doors and hatch and second/third row sun shades. Plus this had rear-seat video screens.

Misses: Bouncy van ride, a bit of wheel play, and steering wheel is hot and cold because of metal beauty trim strip that heats in sun, but is cold on icy mornings.

Made in: Windsor, Ont., Canada

Engine: 3.6 V6, hybrid, 260 hp

Transmission: CVT, automatic

Weight: 4,987 lbs.

Wheelbase: 121.6 in.

Length: 203.8 in.

Cargo: 140.5 cu.ft.

MPG: 82 gas/electric, 30 gas only

MPG: 24.0 (tested)

Base Price: $47,340 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $47,289

Major Options:

Preferred package 2EP (Uconnect theater group, FamCam interior camera, Blue-Ray DVD player, seatback video screens, headphone ports, USB video port, 115-volt power outlet, video remotes, wireless headphones, Keysense), $2,495

Test vehicle: $49,835

Sources: Chrysler, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription

Plug-in hybrid XC60 a looker and performer … 

A few years back I tested Volvo’s smallish mid-size crossover, the XC60, and was swept clean out of my cross-trainers.

At the time, most crossovers were blah lookers and ho-hum performers, but today’s market is moving, as they always seem to, toward performance, and yet smaller carbon footprints. Well, the 2021 XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription (a crossover so nice they named it twice, or thrice) is all over that trend, and actually was among the leaders.

That’s because this crossover is both a looker and performer, while also being luxurious. Now, the Recharge model adds a plug-in hybrid system to reduce its emission transmission. Continue reading 2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription

2021 Lexus NX 300h F Sport Black Line

Luxury NX 300h modest in size, price …

Luxury comes at a price. That’s not new.

On its face, the Lexus NX 300h F Sport Black Line, this week’s drive, is modest in size and price on the ever-expanding luxury scale. This edgy small crossover rides on but a 104.7-inch wheelbase, compact like the Acura RDX or Volvo XC40, both luxury makes, or, like the recently tested Subaru Crosstrek or Hyundai’s Tucson, not luxury makes.

Base price for a front-drive NX 300 with 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 gas engine is a reasonable $38,535, remembering that $40 grand is the average cost for a new vehicle these day. NX is available in six trims, some with AWD and some hybrids. The tested top level 300h F Sport Black Line, checks in at $47,835, including delivery. Continue reading 2021 Lexus NX 300h F Sport Black Line

2021 Volkswagen Atlas SEL

New VW Atlas is a 3-row Easy Rider …

Some vehicles stand out by not standing out. They are what I call Easy Riders, or maybe more appropriately Easy Drivers.

Such is Volkswagen’s restyled Atlas, the German firm’s mid-size crossover and one of its best-selling models in the U.S. market. VW restyled its nose and tail to give it more character. The grille is more pronounced and the body’s character lines make it look a bit more muscular with bulges high over the wheel wells.

The new look is more noteworthy than its original blandness, but still not something that will catch your attention at the drive-up window while you await your burger and fries. Continue reading 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SEL