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2019 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

Sorento trims galore will fit all SUV lovers’ budgets … 2019 Kia Sorento

It had been a couple years and three model years since I’d driven Kia’s Sorento, its large SUV that aims to be a family hauler and has migrated, in top-end trim, to being a luxury vehicle.

Luckily all the good stuff remains, including a standard third row seat, and a few new goodies have been added. But at its core, Sorento is a stout entry in this market and comes in enough flavors (trim levels) to satisfy any SUV cravings a driver may have. Continue reading 2019 Kia Sorento SXL AWD

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2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd. Platinum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ride is super. Highlander rides on a 109.8-inch wheelbase and the independent front McPherson struts and rear double wishbone suspension eat up highway imperfections. Few vehicles feel this smooth on rough Midwestern roads. Continue reading 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd. Platinum

2017 Kia Cadenza Limited

Kia’s Cadenza delivers luxury economically … 2017 Kia Cadenza

Back when I was kid in the 1960s and ‘70s a large luxury sedan meant a Buick, Lincoln, or certainly a Cadillac.

Today, nearly every car maker has a large luxury model, some on the sporty side, but more favoring the luxury end, emphasizing smoothness and quietness. As us Boomers age, both sound pretty good. But we’ve been smitten with SUVs and crossovers, so the big sedan market has languished, shrunk like cotton elephant bell jeans that went through the wash too many times.

Into this market Kia re-introduces its Cadenza, a large luxury sedan that falls between its even larger K900 and its popular mid-size Optima. Competitors include the likes of Chevy’s Impala, Toyota’s Avalon, Ford’s Taurus and Dodge’s Charger, one that definitely falls more in the sport sedan category.

I praised the first gen Cadenza for nearly everything but its ride. Consumers met it with a yawn. The revamped 2017 model should receive cheers from Boomers who like soft leather seats, a supple ride, excellent power and all the electronics we’ve grown to expect in a car, especially one starting north of $40 grand.2017 Kia Cadenza

Before that figure scares you off, consider the base Premium model (see what they did there with naming?) starts at a reasonable $32,890 and the Technology model at $39,890. Both include delivery and both have all the same mechanicals as the tested top-level Limited, which lists at $45,290 with only a pittance of options even available beyond that. Continue reading 2017 Kia Cadenza Limited

2016 Toyota Prius Four Touring

New Prius Four looks better, drives better too …prius

Prius’s nerdy look is gone, so if you were one of those kids, like me, who had the mechanical pencil and pocket protector in high school, well, you’d best reconsider buying the hybrid.

Toyota has jazzed up the Prius in looks and performance. The bright “hypersonic” red ($395 extra) test car nearly glowed in the parking lot, plus it looks more trim and sporty than past models. Like other Toyotas the nose uses creases for styling that bring it to a noticeable point and the taillights feature sharp angles previously saved for sports cars. The profile is more that of a sporty hatchback now.

So if you’re looking for a hybrid that gets great gas mileage, and don’t mind looking a little trendy, instead of nerdy, the Prius Four Touring could light your fuse.

2016 Toyota Prius Four TouringThe newest Prius isn’t bulbous and chubby looking like past models, but it’s still a gas mileage champ. I got a fantastic 57.6 mpg, while the EPA rates this model at 54 mpg city and 50 mpg highway. I spent more time in town and driving in the 40-45 mph range. Continue reading 2016 Toyota Prius Four Touring

2015 Mercedes-Benz ML400 4Matic

Luxury laden Mercedes ML400 will spoil youIMG_0006

Most of us will never drive a Mercedes-Benz M Class, and that’s probably just as well because we’d all just be spoiled.

There’s not much to put a person off, unless it’s the price. But even there you have some choices to make that might allow a few more of us to afford one.

I drove a “steel gray” ML400 4Matic, the bi-turbo V6-powered unit that is one step away from the ultimate luxury mid-size sport-utility truck from Mercedes. It listed at $62,900, but ladled on 16 options that pushed it to $79,310.

Don’t let that price scare you off completely though. While this had all-wheel-drive and that powerful 329-horse V6, a lesser buyer could sneak into an ML350 with just rear-wheel drive and a 3.5-liter V6 that cranks 302 horsepower along with a torque rating of 273. The ML350 starts at $49,225, including delivery.

For those who prefer the slightly better mileage a diesel offers, Mercedes even has a BlueTEC model with 2.1-liter 4-cylinder diesel for $50,725. It delivers 200 horses, but a whopping 369 lb.-ft. of torque.

All this is to say that luxury has its price, but you do have copious options from power down to goodies to coddle you and your favorite passengers. Continue reading 2015 Mercedes-Benz ML400 4Matic

2014 Infiniti QX60 Hybrid AWD

Infiniti QX60 heavy on luxury, comfort, but will haul 7 passengersIMG_0912 - Copy - Copy

Like its sister crossover, the Nissan Pathfinder, the upscale Infiniti QX60 is a roomy family hauler that’s easy on the derriere, quiet and comfortable and can, if needed, haul seven passengers due to its third row seat.

A couple years ago the Pathfinder switched from being a rough and tumble sport-utility truck to a crossover based on the Nissan Altima sedan platform. It, like the Infiniti, still offers all-wheel drive, but the upshot is the ride is much improved and the likelihood of you ever taking it into the brush always has been pretty slim.

The tested diamond slate (metallic dark gray) QX60 was a hybrid too, and came with AWD, so at least we know it’ll handle Wisconsin’s snow and slush just fine. The hybrid part means it costs a bit more, but should save you a few MPG overall. More on that later.

The QX comes in four models, the base QX, the QX50, QX60 and QX70, all of which designates the luxury level and accessories that come standard. The test vehicle started at $46,500, but was immersed in options so climbed to a lofty $60,780, including $995 delivery. That total is roughly double last week’s Dodge Journey crossover, also with AWD.

IMG_0914 - Copy - CopyNo denying this is a more luxurious crossover in look and feel. It features chrome around the windows and a snazzy little S accent shape on the back side window to give the QX a styling flair in profile. The nose comes to a slight beak like point up front too. I like its look, at least as well as any large crossover. Continue reading 2014 Infiniti QX60 Hybrid AWD

2014 Mazda3i 4-door Grand Touring

Mazda3 delivers good looks, modest price, driving flairmazda1
The new Mazda3 is better looking than its predecessor, gets better gas mileage and still delivers driving flair, a fair accomplishment for a modestly priced family sports sedan.

First, Mazda reshaped its former gaping smiling nose with this more Audi-like big grille and swept its profile lines back enough to make the tested 4-door sedan look almost as good as the hatchback version. This is a low, lean, lithe sedan at just shy of 2,800 lbs. in this brilliant “soul red” test car.

Like other automakers, Mazda also has grown its formerly subcompact to compact dimensions, with a 106.3-inch wheelbase and 180.3-inch long body. The result, a car that handles four adults easily and offers a fair sized, 12.4-cubic foot trunk.

That’s the practical side, then there’s the fun stuff, like how the car performs (although still highly efficient) and all the tech features that you get.

Mazda uses what it calls Skyactiv technology to provide a high-revving, high-performing four-cylinder engine that also remains surprisingly fuel stingy. The base car, and the tested Grand Touring, top trim level for the base i models, features a 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G I4 that creates 155 horsepower. That’s tops, says Kelly Blue Book, for base models in this segment. Next in line are the Mitsubishi Lancer and Kia Forte at 148 horses. Continue reading 2014 Mazda3i 4-door Grand Touring