Tag Archives: crossover

2022 Hyundai Santa Fe XRT AWD

Mid-level XRT a stylish and primo family mover …

Reviewing the top-tier models, the crème de la crème that each manufacturer rolls into their press fleets is the norm for automotive reviewers. There’s no sympathy for this I know, but somebody must suffer to inform the masses.

That’s why this week’s mid-level Hyundai Santa Fe XRT AWD was as odd as a 60-degree day in December. Yet it was refreshing and something I would encourage.

The Santa Fe XRT is what “average” families drive, or possibly afford.

Today’s new cars now average nearly $40,000 and trucks and larger SUVs are into the $50,000+ range. And that was before pandemic-induced shortages pushed some vehicle prices even higher.

The XRT, aimed at younger and off-road imagining buyers, starts at $35,185 and the tester was just $35,380, adding only floor mats. Bingo!

At that this Santa Fe includes all-wheel-drive, an 8-inch touchscreen, adaptive cruise control, all the mainline safety features, and an impressive warranty. It’s also roomy enough for four to five adults and has so much cargo room it’s almost unfathomable that a buyer would ever need to use the roof rails up top.

It excels at value.

That starts with a sharp exterior with T-shaped lights up front and a light bar across the tail. Plus the XRT goes blacked-out sporty (sexy?) for trim. The tester was Portofino Gray, so nearly black, while the big grille is blacked out, the roof rails and side moldings the same and each side gets abbreviated running boards that are the perfect height for adults or kids to climb aboard, but not awkwardly large.

Guess what? The special XRT wheels also are black. The look is distinctive.

Watch Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/gd4EFOe5eyo

XRT is all about appearances though, there’s no increase in power from Santa Fe’s base 2.5-liter I4. It delivers just 191 horsepower with a torque rating of 181. That’s sufficient for family travel, but will not stir your inner rally driver.

Acceleration is mild unless you turn the Drive Mode selector knob on the console to Sport. That both increases low-end power by adjusting shift points in the 8-speed automatic while also firming the steering. In Sport the engine growls more under heavy acceleration, which some may like, but it intrudes on the otherwise quiet interior.

Handling is good in all modes, but again, sportier in Sport. The Hyundai corners well and feels on the edge of sporty for handling among mid-size crossover/SUVs. Other drive modes are Comfort, Snow and Smart. I used Smart mostly because it adjusts to the driver’s inputs, helping acceleration a bit if you get on the gas harder for instance.

Ride is quite nice, well controlled even on our pock-marked Wisconsin roads and scaling uneven railroad tracks like some larger SUVs. Again, this model also tacked on AWD, normally a must in northern states like Wisconsin.

Santa Fe’s interior is stylish and among the best laid out among vehicles, no matter their price point.

XRT features a black cloth interior with super supportive seats that were much more comfortable than those in earlier versions of the Santa Fe. The material is soft and pleasant with a somewhat nubby pattern and the driver’s seat is powered with power lumbar adjustment. Front seats also offer three levels of heat, but even the low setting is pretty toasty.

An 8-inch touchscreen is easy to use and the climate controls arranged below are simple to read and use. A 10-inch screen is available in higher-end trims. Santa Fe also features a push-button transmission on the console. That takes some getting used to and I’d prefer a shift lever or knob that one can easily grab without looking at it, something buttons require.

The instrument cluster is clear and easy to comprehend while driving. It also changes its gauge faces to red if the Santa Fe is slipped into Sport mode.

One odd placement is the vertical phone charger. It’s easy to slide a phone into the console slot right next to the driver, but flat console chargers seem easier and are simpler to retrieve a ringing phone while driving.

The instrument panel does warn you if you are leaving the phone in the car once the ignition is off though. A gauge on the panel also tells the driver when the car in front is pulling away from a stoplight, in case your attention is diverted and you remain stationary.

Note too that because this is a mid-level trim there is no sunroof or heated steering wheel, something a Wisconsin driver might prefer.

Interior space is roomy as previously mentioned and there are two under-floor storage areas in the cargo compartment. Hyundai provides a power hatch too and power rear seat back releases inside the cargo area. Another plus, the manual side window sun screens for row two passengers.

Hyundai doesn’t scrimp on safety devices, even at this mid-level trim. In addition to adaptive cruise control there’s blind-spot warning, automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist and driver attention alert that knows if you’re nodding off or not looking forward regularly. Everything worked fine, but the lane departure chime is annoying. Preferable is the system simply nudging the vehicle back to the lane’s center, which it also does. No chime is needed, unless it satisfies a corporate lawyer or two.

Hyundai’s cool T-shaped headlights give the nose a unique look.

Another practical concern is gas mileage. The EPA rates this at 22 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. That’s about average for non-hybrid models, and Hyundai now offers a hybrid Santa Fe. I got roughly the middle of that rating at 22.6 mpg in about 60% highway driving with two folks usually aboard. The hybrid models are rated at 36 mpg city and 31 highway.

If even the XRT’s $35 grand pricing is too rich for your bank account, consider either of the two lower trim lines. The base SE with front-wheel drive lists at $28,395, and again, adding AWD is $1,700 extra for all but the top Calligraphy trim.

The SEL model that is better equipped than SE goes for $30,225, while power seekers will want the Limited or Calligraphy models, both with the turbocharged I4 that makes 277 horses. They also get better highway gas mileage at 28 mpg, but just 21 mpg city.

A FWD Limited lists at $40,185 and the Calligraphy at $43,885 and comes with AWD standard.

Icing on the cake? Standard is Hyundai’s 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, plus it now includes free maintenance for 3 years and 30,000-miles, along with 5-year, 50,000-mile roadside assistance.

If a smaller crossover is what you prefer, Hyundai offers the fine newly restyled Tucson, while folks with larger families may find the Palisade SUV more to their liking.

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Santa Fe XRT AWD

Hits: Sharp redesign, good ride and handling, plus AWD. XRT offers more aggressive look, plus cool T-shaped lights, a power hatch, clear button arrangement on center stack, nice visuals on instrument cluster, heated front seats, large cargo area w/underfloor storage, roomy interior, wireless charger, rear side window screens, power lower rear seats, and solid safety devices. Low running boards make for easy access.

Misses: Engine has mild power, growly under heavy acceleration. No sunroof or heated steering wheel, push button transmission takes some getting used to, lane departure chime is annoying.

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4, 191 hp/181 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Shiftronic

Weight: 3,810 lbs.

Wheelbase: 108.9 in.

Length: 188.4 in.

Cargo: 36.4-72.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 2,000 lbs.

MPG: 22/25

MPG: 22.6 (tested)

Base Price: $35,185 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $33,624

Major Option: Carpeted floor mats, $195

Test vehicle: $35,380

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 VW ID.4 AWD Pro S

Electric VW well thought out, well-executed crossover …

Electric car haters might as well tune out right now as this review of Volkswagen’s new ID.4 all-electric crossover/SUV might melt your battery pack and explode your motherboard.

That’s because the ID.4 is an extremely well-thought-out and executed EV that most families would enjoy. Like other crossovers and SUVs, it is roomy inside, offers a comfortable ride, a quiet (electrics are quiet by nature) interior, and for us Wisconsinites, there’s AWD.

RELATED: Paul Daniel navigates the electric car madness.

This was the top-level ID.4 AWD Pro S model in Dusk Blue, a mid- to deep metallic blue conjoined with silver roof pillars and a black roof thanks to the $1,500 Gradient package.

ID.4 comes as either a rear-drive Pro or AWD Pro S model. The difference, other than AWD, is that there’s an electric motor front and rear for the Pro S and that gives the ID.4 295 horsepower and 339 lb.-ft. of torque. The rear-drive model has just 201 horsepower and milder torque.

Another difference, the RWD model has a 260-mile range while the AWD’s range is rated 250 miles, although in our 20- to 40-degree weather the most I got on a full charge was 235 miles.

Under hood is still crowded, but with an electric motor and supporting wares.

For the technically inclined this new VW, which is just slightly smaller than VW’s gas-powered Tiguan, uses two 82 kW lithium ion battery packs with 288 pouch style cells that ride in an extruded aluminum case in the floor for power. One electric motor powers the front wheels, another the rear. The batteries are charged via a plug-in charger that neatly stores under the cargo bay’s floor. A standard 120-volt outlet as in my garage slowly adds about 1 to 1.5 miles per hour of charge. A 240-volt charger reportedly more than doubles that.

Naturally there’s range anxiety if one were planning an inter-state trip in the ID.4, but VW has an answer for that, free charging at Electrify America charging stations of which there are about 2,550 nationwide with nearly 5,500 charging stalls. Many are located in Walmart lots and an app will help you find them. A fast charge from 5% up to 80% takes about 40 minutes, just long enough to sample a Slurpy with a side of Slim Jims.

Related video: Shhhhh! Mark Savage reviews the 2021 VW ID 4 AWD Pro S – YouTube

VW says ID will be its sub-brand for electric vehicles and the German carmaker is pushing to have half its sales be all-electric by 2030 with close to 100% by 2040. Much of that is pushed by stricter emission rules in Europe than in the U.S.

ID.4 competes with the likes of Ford’s new Mustang Mach-E, although the VW is more family friendly whereas the Mustang is more performance oriented, not surprising considering its name.

The VW features better ride than Mach-E despite a considerably shorter 108.9-inch wheelbase. Handling is good, but only sporty in the Sport drive mode, one of five. Acceleration is smooth and quiet (some electric whine, naturally), but not rocket ship fast, just quick.

VW claims a 0-60 mph start of 5.4 seconds with the AWD and 7.6 seconds with the rear-drive model. Then again, this is a family crossover/SUV, so you’re likely not planning any dragstrip action. Let’s be honest, most Mach-E drivers aren’t either.

Check out the electronic fuel filler, just where a gas tank door might be located.

For the record the EPA rates the VW at 98 MPGe city, 88 highway. The big info screen readout told me I was getting about 2.5 miles per kWh. So 10 hours of charging should net me about 25 miles of charge. Cruising on the highway I saw the figure hit 2.7 kWh.

A closeup of the electric outlet’s plug.

The key for moms and dads is that the ID.4 is a useful crossover that easily caries four or five adults while offering oodles of storage room behind the second row seats. There’s a power hatch and under-floor storage there too.

VW’s interior is comfy and looks more Star Wars than Saved by the Bell, meaning digital to the max. With a few exceptions it’s quite functional.

First, there’s a small driver’s instrument pod with speedometer and battery mileage readout attached to the manual tilt/telescope steering wheel column. So adjusting the wheel never blocks a driver’s vision of the pod. Bravo!

VW’s instrument pod is delightfully simple.

The other centrally mounted info screen controls virtually everything else and is a bit more than 12 inches. A 10-incher comes on the RWD model. Once you play with it a bit you’ll understand its levels, but there are a few fixes needed. First, there’s no dedicated radio button so you must access it by punching a square button on the left that apparently is Home. Beyond climate controls a radio is the second most used item, so requires a dedicated icon below the screen.

That’s where the climate controls are accessed, but sadly that includes the heated seats and steering wheel. Those should be on the console or steering wheel for easier access. That’s especially important because only the driver’s heated seat setting is remembered once the vehicle’s ignition is switched off. The heated wheel should be recalled too. A friend who adores VW agreed and also noted that the touchscreen was somewhat slow to respond to input too, resulting in double-punching some screen icons.

This odd little knob turns to engage the gears!

Another item that takes some getting used to, but becomes normal within a week’s drive, is the gear-shift selector, a knob attached to the right side of the instrument pod binnacle or hood. Rotate it forward for Drive and back for Reverse. Park requires pushing the end of the knob. Note too that rotating the knob forward twice shifts drive mode into one that allows more aggressive regenerative braking when the vehicle is coasting. Normally the ID.4 coasts like a standard car, but in this B mode the electric motor braking engages more aggressively to boost battery charge and you’ll find yourself using less brake pedal.

The upside of the shifter locations is that this allows for a wide-open console with oodles of storage space and a roll-top storage bin that includes the wireless phone charger. It’s easy to get at and to see, if you leave the bin opened.

The interior is two-toned and extremely elegant.

My test vehicle featured a brown leather dash top and door trim along with perforated black leatherette seats and satin chrome dash trim and door releases and side air vents. Trim on the screens, arm rests and console were piano gloss black. Front seats also come with captain’s chairs armrests that fold back.

Overhead is an absolutely massive panoramic sunroof and shade. The roof is fixed, so does not retract.

Here’s a good view of the simple, stylish dash and instrument pod.

Seating is well shaped and comfy with powered front seats, plus VW wisely goes with a flat-bottom steering wheel to create more knee room when entering and exiting the crossover. I should note that the ID.4 climate system heats extremely quickly too, a big plus in winter and ironic considering the bad ol’ days of the original Beetle’s horrible heater.

On a practical note, the plug-in port for the charger is located on the rear passenger’s side, much as you’d find with a standard fuel-filler door. That will work for some folks, but if your garage’s electrical sockets are on a driver’s side wall or front of the garage, as are mine, this requires you to back the ID.4 in for a charge. Not optimal, and all other EVs I’ve driven had their port in the nose or just in front of the driver’s door, both seem better locations.

That power rear hatch opens wide for cargo.

Pricing? First, remember there’s a $7,500 government tax incentive on most electric vehicles. Those will disappear as each manufacturer’s sales move behind the government-set maximums.

But the current base Pro model lists at $41,190 with delivery and the tested Pro S at $49,370 with delivery. With its Gradient package this hit $50,870.

Additionally the tester was built in Mosel, Germany, because it’s an early model. But future ID.4s are to be built at VW’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant. VW reports it will make a lower-cost entry-level ID.4 there, with a starting price expected in the $35,000 range.

ID.4 proves that automakers are closing in on affordable electrics that meet family needs and offer reasonable range. This is just the start, more range and more models will be coming along in the next few years. Watch this space!

FAST STATS: 2021 VW ID.4 AWD Pro S

Hits: Smooth, quiet,comfy, plus AWD. Roomy crossover with good handling, ride and power, and 230-mile range in cold weather. Usual standard electronic safety features. Five drive modes, massive panoramic sunroof, heated seats and wheel, fast interior heating, power hatch, comfy seats, flat-bottom wheel, wireless phone charger.

Too much is accessed only through the info screen.

Misses: Climate controls accessed only through touchscreen, no dedicated radio entry to touchscreen, touchscreen somewhat slow to respond, heated wheel not included in climate memory when restarting crossover, odd shift knob by instrument pod, plug in on rear passenger’s side, not convenient for garage plugs.

Made in: Mosel, Germany

Engine: 2 electric motors, 82kWh lithium battery pack, 295 horsepower/339 torque

Transmission: 1-speed automatic

That’s its name, ID.4!

Weight: 4,559 lbs. (RWD), 4,884 lbs. (C&D*)

Length: 180.5 in.

Wheelbase: 108.9 in.

Cargo: 37.5-73.5 cu.ft.

MPGe: 98/88

Base Price: $49,370 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $47,443

Major Options:

Gradient package (20-inch alloy wheels, black roof, silver accents & roof rails & roof accents), $1,500

Test vehicle: $50,870

Sources: Volkswagen, kbb.com

*Car and Driver figs.

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Well-timed compact pickup reflects crossover roots …

Few ideas are totally new in the auto world, but often they feel new, or simply put, the time is right.

Take Hyundai’s brilliant new Santa Cruz, a crossover’s crossover, a mix of crossover comfort and convenience and a pickup’s utility. Meshing the two most popular forms of transport today seems as smart at Reese’s mixing chocolate and peanut butter.

At media events Hyundai has gone out of its way to insist the Santa Cruz is not a pickup, but a Sport Adventure Vehicle, a SAV not an SUV. Yet you can be sure that what most folks will see here is a stylish compact pickup.

Yet this isn’t the first time this combo has been tried, nor a funny naming scheme cropped up. Remember Subaru’s BRAT? Probably not. It was a cute pickup that Subaru called a Bi-drive Recreational All-Terrain Transporter. Sounds like something an astronaut might trundle around the moon. That lasted from 1978 through 1994 and then returned, sort of, from 2003-2006 as the Baja, a crossover SUV and pickup with a decidedly stylish exterior. About the same time Ford peddled the Explorer Sport Trac. All featured AWD.

All this is a long way of saying Hyundai’s Santa Cruz is going to be an absolute monster hit. It’s the right blend at the right time. Starbucks would be pumpkin spice proud.

Hyundai based the Santa Cruz on its fine Tucson crossover, a biggish compact with unit-body construction so it behaves like a car, not a truck. Designers worked hard to keep the interior roomy like a Tucson and then turned the rear from an enclosed hatch to a marvelous multi-function compact pickup bed. Santa Cruz is a delight to drive, to ride in and to look at.

The lines seem modern and decidedly un-He-Man obsessed like all those truckier pickups. This is a family hauler first, a macho dirt and shrub hauler second, and with virtually no thumb on the macho scale. Santa Cruz looks youthful, fun, and manageable.

Yet Santa Cruz scores aces on power, ride, and handling with AWD also available if you plan to tow your boat or camper off the beaten path. Hyundai designers seem to have thought of everything.

Watch Mark’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMxZrb3_8Ew

Consider that Santa Cruz offers two engine choices, a decent 190-horse 2.5-liter I4 at a great front-drive entry-level price of $23,990. Meanwhile the tested upper end Limited AWD model adds a turbo to that engine to crank an impressive 281 horses with a torque rating of 311. That’s available in the SEL Premium and Limited, both with standard AWD and listing in the near $40,000 range.

My Limited was a subtle Sage Green (grayish green that costs $400 extra) that was quick to highway speeds and its 8-speed duel-clutch automatic transmission shifted seamlessly. The AWD gave it good traction in the wet, tested well on roads coated with damp leaves in late fall. Engine noise was minimal and the SAV (OK, I said it) felt stout on the highway with little wind disturbance or noise.

But it’s the ride and handling that easily communicates Santa Cruz is NOT a pickup. This one shouts crossover, not truck. The Hyundai has a moderately long wheelbase at 118.3 inches and a smooth ride to confirm it. Bumps and rough pavement are minor occurrences, not tailbone stingers or cranium rattlers. If you love rock ‘n’ roll, buy a truck.

Handling is light and easy. Turn in to a tight curve and there’s just a touch of body lean, but no tail wagging as most trucks are wont to exhibit at higher speeds. AWD calms it and weight seems well distributed here, no nose heaviness. A similarly sized Nissan Frontier driven the following week, for instance, felt much more trucklike with heavy steering feedback and effort. I should have to work that hard?

And get this, I didn’t even need a running board to climb into Santa Cruz.

In fact, comfort is as important as utility here, reflected in interior styling that is space-age sleek, but useful, not gimmicky.

Seats are perforated black leather, the dash black with a gloss black trim line wrapping from the doors across the dash and framed with satin chrome trim. More satin trim on the wheel’s hub and seat backs below the headrests, and additional gloss black trim atop the door armrests and overhead around the sunroof and light controls. Spiffy!

Hyundai’s touchscreen is 10.25 inches wide and simple to use. There also are big simple climate controls, plus a Diffuse button to spread the warm air all around.

 The driver gets a power seat while the passenger’s seat is manually adjusted. Both are well shaped for comfy hip and lower back support. Rear seat folks have good head and legroom too, plus the seatbacks are carved out to provide more knee room in row two. There’s storage space under the rear seats too.

Front seats are heated and cooled in the Limited, which also touts a heated steering wheel. All those controls are on the front of the center armrest/storage box, so easy to locate and use. Perfect!

Below the center stack is a wireless phone charger, USB and 12-volt outlet. Other buttons on the console are for hill descent to control speed when off road, a 4WD lock button, and camera button to allow a full 360-view at any moment.

There’s also a Bose premium sound system and navigation in the Limited, and a sunroof overhead.

All that is unexpectedly refined and family friendly, but what sells me on Santa Cruz, for the utilitarian family side of my pea brain, is the creativity and usefulness of the pickup bed.

There’s a step in the bumper and the tonneau cover easily retracts while there’s a cooler under the bed.

First, I’m short and Hyundai has smartly designed steps into the corners of the rear bumpers and mid-bed below the tailgate, making for easy bed access.

Second, the lockable tailgate is an easy-lower model that doesn’t slam down on your leg if you unlatch it while standing just behind the truck. Ford’s new Maverick compact pickup still has the old flop-down tailgate.

Third, there’s a sturdy retractable tonneau cover with a strap attached underneath so you can release it and toss cargo in the back, then pull the strap to close it. Hyundai says that tonneau will support a lot of weight too, insinuating that even I could stand on it without causing damage.

Need more?

Fourth, there’s hidden storage beneath the composite truck bed. Unlatch that and hide valuables, or fill it with ice and you’ve got a cooler for Packer or Brewer tailgating. Yes there’s a plug there to release the water.

Fifth, inside a small removable side panel is a 115-volt power inverter so you could plug in a TV, or power equipment if needed.

One more thing, Hyundai has designed the truck bed wheel well covers to support plywood, so you can create shelving in the back of the bed to carry additional items, or, well, plywood. Clever!

Snazzy taillights in back too!

All told Santa Cruz will carry 1,568 pounds of stuff in the bed, and it will tow up to 5,000 pounds of trailer, watercraft of snowmobiles. Just like a truck!

Then there’s the usual safety equipment including driver attention and forward collision warning, lane-keep assist, and automatic emergency braking. To get blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning and assist, plus safe-exit warning you need to move up to the upper trim levels. Limited includes it all.  

Gas mileage is OK, certainly better than most pickups. I got 24.8 mpg in about 60% highway driving with up to four folks comfortably aboard. The EPA rates Santa Cruz at 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway for the AWD model. In fairness, the new Maverick has better ratings and a hybrid system that can get 42 mpg. One suspects a hybrid Santa Cruz will be coming soon.

Credit Hyundai for continuing its stellar 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and now adding a 3-year, 36-month free maintenance plan that will include all your tire rotations, oil changes and fluid topoffs. Again, more value for the family.

Pricing is attractive throughout the range too, starting at $25,175, with delivery, for the SE front-drive model with its non-turbo engine. There’s also an SEL Activity FWD model at $31,645 that includes more equipment. Adding AWD to either costs $1,500.

The SEL Premium model is the first with the turbo engine and AWD standard and lists for $36,865 including delivery. The tested Santa Cruz Limited starts at $40,905 with delivery, and with its special color and carpeted floor mats ended at $41,500.

If you think that’s a lot you haven’t priced a pickup or loaded crossover lately.

Thin lights reflect a crossover look.

Some would say Santa Cruz is a market leader, but it’s a market of one, maybe two right now. Honda’s Ridgeline, another civilized pickup, is larger, and Ford’s Maverick (just now debuting) is aimed squarely at pickup buyers with a more macho look, but competitive price.

Santa Cruz is for families with outdoorsy leanings and urban cowboys who don’t own a cowboy hat.

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD

Hits: Stylish crossover/pickup inside and out, good power, excellent ride and handling, plus AWD. Full safety system, big touchscreen, heated/cooled seats, heated steering wheel, wireless charger, sunroof. Useful bed with 2-tier storage, hidden compartment/cooler, electrical outlet, composite bed, easy-retract tonneau cover. Solid build and warranty/maintenance plan.

Sharp looking wheels add even more style to the Santa Cruz.

Misses: Zilch

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo I4, 281 hp

Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic w/Shiftronic

Weight: 4,164 lbs.

Wheelbase: 118.3 in.

Length: 195.7 in.

Payload: 1,568 lbs.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 19/27

MPG: 24.8 (tested)

Base Price: $40,905 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $39,329

Major Options: Sage gray paint, $400

Carpeted floor mats, $195

Test vehicle: $41,500

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx edition

Biggest Subaru offers three rows, more comfort …

Subaru has this love-all thing going with the environment, and who can blame it. National Parks and dogs are universally loved and tying your sales to either seems a no-brainer. I mean baseball and apple pie had already been tried.

Subie’s latest love is the Ascent, its large SUV, although it’s only moderately large, keeping in mind that its customers likely won’t want to pull a Queen Mary-size trailer to the campgrounds. It’s unique too in that while being only modestly big it can seat up to eight people, the third row being best for short hauls and assuming a second-row bench seat. The tester had second-row captain’s chairs, so could carry seven.

To sexy up its models Subaru has added Onyx editions, which means trim is blacked out, such as the grille, roof rails, wheel well cladding, mirrors, a rear spoiler, and exterior badging. Even the Onyx’s special 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels are black. The effect is somewhat slimming and stealthy. Plus this one was Autumn Green Metallic, which means a somewhat gray green with some sparkle, but a shade that mostly serves as forest camouflage.

Ascent is easily the most comfortable Subaru. I own an Outback and the ride in the longer wheelbase Ascent is light years smoother, not that the Outback is harsh. Handling too is nimble considering this is a 196.8-inch long vehicle. Most large utes feel big and somewhat cumbersome, not the Ascent. A trip out Holy Hill way proved its grip and stability in sweeping turns littered with falling leaves, and its comfort on some questionable rural roads.

Power is another water bottle in Ascent’s backpack. Subie is known for its boxer engines, also known as horizontally-opposed as the pistons move back and forth nearly horizontally like a boxer’s arms. This is the newer 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that pounds out 260 horsepower, enough to gallop up to highway speeds with ease while dispensing only moderate engine drone, something my Outback has aplenty.

Power is linked to the AWD system via a Lineartronic CVT or continuously variable transmission. Subaru and Nissan seem to have figured these out best among the automakers, their purpose being smooth and efficient power that saves fuel. I’ll drone on about that in a bit.

But shifts seem properly stepped and smooth, which creates further comfort for the fam.

Watch Mark’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zV11YraQPI

Inside, the Onyx edition gets all jiggy with fake carbon fiber trim on the dash and doors and figuring you’ll likely be hiking and biking the seats are made of a soft StarTex water-repellant material. It looks a bit like leather but is actually more cushioned and feels softer to the touch, but remains easy to clean.

Seats here are gray with charcoal-colored trim and gray stitching. Dash and doors are black except for the fake carbon fiber trim while door releases are chrome and there’s satin chrome finish by the console shifter. Gloss black trims the center stack and 8-inch touchscreen. A smaller 6.5-inch screen comes in base models.

I like how the touchscreen works, and that there are knobs for volume and tuning. There’s also tri-zone climate controls standard, meaning separate front seat controls, plus a system for the second row occupants.

A $2,200 option package upgrades to that 8-inch screen, which I like better than the massive reflective screen now in Outbacks. Other goodies in the package include a cargo cover, which can be stored under the cargo floor, a voice-activated Tom-Tom navigation system, smartphone integration, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto along with a spectacular panoramic sunroof. I only wish wireless phone charging were part of this gig.

This is the right size of screen, not too big, or too small!

But standard here are heated seats and the heated steering wheel for the Onyx, plus there’s a power hatch and all the safety equipment that Subaru has to offer via its EyeSight system.

That encompasses a lot and it functions efficiently. There’s blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping and centering, emergency braking, automatic high beams, and steering responsive LED headlights.

I also like the X-mode button on the console that is meant for off-roading. It is basically a hill-descent system to keep the vehicle, which has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, from over accelerating down a steep incline or loose soft or rocky surface. That allows the driver to better maintain control when off road.

Second row seats fold and slide forward for third row access.

I’d be remiss to not mention the excellent head and legroom in front and row two. Row three is tighter on leg and knee room. Occupants will want to talk nice to row two folks so they will slide their seats forward a bit.

Also a plus for all Subarus is the A-pillar and mirror placement on the doors. There’s a sealed vent window between the two that give better side sightlines than in most SUVs and crossovers, notorious for their monster A-pillar/mirror combos that obstruct side views.

Note too that cargo space is modest behind that third row seat, but wonderful once it is down. So if you need a third row on occasions, but not always, Ascent is a healthy hauler of both people and gear. It also will pull 5,000 pounds, so campers and two-up trailers are no problem.

Two things that could be improved though are interior noise levels and gas mileage. I noticed more road and wind noise in Ascent than in some competing SUVs and crossovers. It wasn’t a racket, just more noticeable than in a few others.

MPG is my bigger concern. I love the outdoors and clean air and national parks and all that as much as the next person. But I managed just 21.7 mpg in a fairly even highway to city mix. EPA says 20 mpg city and 26 highway for Ascent. After driving the marginally smaller Kia Sorento hybrid a week earlier and netting 37.6 mpg I was shocked by the low average here. Subaru needs a hybrid system, and now, for its entire lineup. Hybrids are a stepping stone to cleaner air and better climate, so you’d think would be a major part of Subie’s technology platform. Other brands already are there.

Lecture complete!

Finally there’s price, and here the Ascent continues to impress, as did all its driving characteristics. The Onyx starts at $39,120, including delivery. With its option package it hit $41,320, just a smidge above the average new car price.

Lesser models are more affordable of course. The base, which seats eight, lists at $32,295 while the top-level Touring starts at $45,445.

Ascent is atop Subaru’s lineup in performance, comfort and family utility. Its MPG needs work.

FAST STATS: 2022 Subaru Ascent Onyx

Hits: Roomy, high-value AWD SUV with good power, nimble handling, comfy ride. Big sunroof, heated seats and steering wheel, will seat up to eight. X-mode good for off-roading, soft easy-clean well-formed seats, power hatch, good sightlines and broad range of safety equipment.

Misses: No wireless charging, interior could be quieter. MPG not impressive, could use hybrid system.

Made in: Lafayette, Ind.

Engine: 2.4-liter turbo boxer 4, 260 hp /277 torque

Transmission: Lineartronic CVT automatic

Weight: 4,542 lbs.

Wheelbase: 113.8 in.

Fancy black wheels are part of the Onyx edition.

Length: 196.8 in.

Cargo: 17.6-86.0 cu.ft.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPG: 20/26

MPG: 21.7 (tested)

Base Price: $39,120 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $36,648

Major Options:

Package (cargo cover, panoramic moonroof, STARLINK 8.0 nav, 8-in. high-res touchscreen, smartphone integration, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, voice-activated nav by TomTom), $2,200

Test vehicle: $41,320

Sources: Subaru, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

Hybrid Sorento a family hauler with a smaller carbon footprint …

Families looking for economy, but needing people-hauling ability, and whose social consciousness nags them about cutting their carbon footprint, should be dancing a conga line toward Kia dealers for a Sorento Hybrid.

This family hauler was redesigned for 2021, along with its cousin, Hyundai’s Santa Fe, both reviewed earlier. Now comes the Sorento hybrid that gets roughly 10 mpg better than the internal combustion engine (ICE) model, yet isn’t a budget buster.

A base ICE-powered model lists about $31,000 while a hybrid starts about $34,000.

Performance? Not much difference between the two in everyday driving.

Acceleration is good, maybe a bit more accelerator effort in the hybrid, but even with a 6-speed automatic in place of the 8-speed dual-clutch with the ICE version, shifts are smooth. Plus the electric often powers Sorento up to 20+ mph so it’s quiet. (There’s a mild beep outside to warn pedestrians when you back up.) The ICE and electric power switchovers are seamless.

Handling is solid too, as in the ICE model with reasonable corner turn-in and not much body lean, if any. I mean the batteries seem to give this a lower center of gravity to feel even more solid on the highway than the previous versions, not that that was needed. Plus the weight seems to quiet the ride on city streets so they are only a bit jiggly. Highways feel like you’re riding on satin.

Kia’s hybrid system mates electric battery-powered motors with a small 1.6-liter turbocharged I4. Combined the systems deliver 227 horsepower compared with 281 horses from the 2.5-liter turbo I4 in the upscale gas version, or 191 horses in a base ICE model. Yet it is torque that pushes or pulls a vehicle up to speed. Torque here is rated a more than respectable 258 lbs.-ft. vs. 311 with the more powerful gas engine.

Any of these will get Sorento up to highway speeds with ease, just the hybrid or larger ICE will do it with more authority. Note there are just three drive modes with the hybrid as opposed to five in ICE models. This one has Eco (the default), Sport, and Smart, which purportedly learns your preferred driving style and mimics it.

Eco was fine in town. I switched to Sport only when on the freeway as it delivers more acceleration and firms the steering for less highway lane fade.

A big plus, in addition to lower emissions, all that Eco driving saves fuel. The hybrid’s electric power comes from capturing power during deceleration and via regenerative braking. I got 37.6 mpg while the trip computer was an enthusiastic 41.6. Still, that compared with 25.7 mpg in the ICE model tested in summer. EPA estimates are 39 mpg city and 35 highway.

Quick calculations show an average driver at that rate would save $444 a year on fuel. There’s no electric cost as this isn’t a plug-in hybrid. That’s coming shortly though. Note that if you drive more than the average 12,000 miles a year you’ll save even more.

All that is so practical, and Sorento is all of that.

Yet as I’ve said before this Kia is handsome with a good-looking nose featuring a hexagonal grille pattern while the tail features snazzy two-bar vertical LED taillights, one shy of looking an awful lot like Mustang’s taillights. Similar to the fancy upscale X-Line Sorento driven earlier, this EX trim model includes a satin chrome accent on the C-pillar, plus the same around windows and a decorative chrome doodad overlapping the front fender and doors. Snazzy!

All Sorentos are nearly identical in size too and come standard with three rows of seats, plus offer optional captain’s chairs in the second row, a segment exclusive. Santa Fe models don’t offer the third row.

So Sorento seats six or seven. The tester opted for the captain’s seats in row two, so would seat six. I like that this opens up some foot room for third row occupants and gives them another path out of the SUV/crossover.

Also Kia has designed a push button atop the second row seats, next to the headrests, and another at the seat’s base. Press these and the row two seats fold and slide forward, making for easy exits from row three. A little friendly persuasion of row two occupants to slide their seats forward a bit also aids leg and foot room in back. Still row three is best for pre-teens as the third row seats are low-riders (close to the floor) so a person’s knees ride up near the chest.

Being a family hauler dictates that safety is of utmost importance. No worries here.

Sorento packs plenty of safety systems. Standard are adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, forward collision avoidance and assist with cycle recognition, rear cross-traffic avoidance, lane-keeping, safe-exit assist, and parking sensors. Better yet, the lane-keeping can be turned off to avoid odd steering patterns in town when there’s construction and debris to dodge.

Inside the test vehicle is attractive and well arranged. First, the dash and doors include a sort of quilted metal look to give the EX a bit of a jeweled appearance. Other trim on air ducts and the instrument pod and door releases is satin chrome while around the screen and by the gauges is a gloss black trim with matte black and silver on the console to avoid reflections.

Handsome door styling and snazzy quilted metal trim.

Seats are a light gray perforated leather-like material, plus are heated. The driver’s seat is powered, but the passenger’s seat is manual and both are mildly contoured. I find the bottom cushion a bit hard, but comfy enough for city driving. The dash is black as are the tops of doors and trim. 

Mid-dash is a 10-inch screen that’s easy to see and simple to use. Buttons and knobs are well arranged and labeled. I also like the dual level air vents that adjust to aim air where you need it. Visuals are nice too.

Overhead is a panoramic sunroof with power shade, an SOS system and a power hatch in back. Below the center stack is a wireless phone charger that’s easy to use, better than the Santa Fe’s arrangement. Just remember your phone when you get out of the vehicle. I forgot mine several times. Some vehicles warn you if a phone is in the charger. Not here.

The EX trim is not the top of the line, so it is missing a few things that come on fully loaded vehicles, such as a navigation system and AWD. In Wisconsin the later is most important. It runs $1,800 to $2,300 extra, depending on the Sorento’s trim level. That’s a bit unusual. AWD often is a standard option price, about $2,000.

Note that the hybrid model only is recommended for towing 2,000 lbs., the same as the lower horse ICE model. And unlike the ICE models that are made in Georgia, the hybrids are assembled in South Korea.

Pricing, which was touched on earlier, is attractive for such a well-equipped and designed SUV/crossover. Base price for the tested EX model is $37,760, including delivery. With just the snazzy bright metallic red paint as a $445 option, this one settled at $38,205. Add AWD and you’re at about $40,000.

A base hybrid starts about $34,000 and a plug-in hybrid Sorento will list about $41,000. Like most plug-ins, it’s expected to have about a 32-mile fully charged electric range.

The taillights remind me of those on Mustangs, you?

Gas-powered (ICE) models run from $30,500 up to $44,000 if well equipped.

Choices abound with Sorento, from trim levels to power plants. If cutting pollution is high on your list along with family safety and comfort this hybrid is a desirable choice.

FAST STATS: 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX

Hits: Handsome redesign, good handling, ride, fine power, but exceptional MPG. Panoramic sunroof, third row seats, power hatch, 10-inch screen, clear button arrangement, nice visuals on instrument cluster, heated front seats, large cargo area if rear seat down, roomy interior, wireless charger, and stout safety device lineup.

Misses: No navigation system at this trim level and AWD is optional.

Made in: Hwasung, So. Korea

Engine: 1.6-liter turbo I4 GDI hybrid, 227 hp/258 torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Weight: 3,979 lbs.

Wheelbase: 110.6 in.

Length: 189.4 in.

Cargo: 12.6, 38.5, 75.5 cu.ft.

Tow: 2,000 lbs.

MPG: 39/35

MPG: 37.6 (tested)

Base Price: $37,760 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $38,545

Major Option: Runway red paint, $445

Test vehicle: $38,205

Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Infiniti QX55 Sensory AWD

New QX55 a fun mix of fashion and luxury …

Mixing fashion and fun in a luxury SUV/crossover is about as commonplace as legislators agreeing on something.

Yet Infiniti has done it with its new QX55 for 2022, and this comes after its launch of the near perfect QX50 for 2021. That SUV/crossover also slots in to the compact to mid-size range, sort of a tweener, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The QX55 rides on the same platform and has an identical wheelbase, but is about 1.5 inches longer than the QX50 with a much more stylish rear end and profile that insinuate fastback and sporty as opposed to square back and utilitarian. Coming or going the QX55 looks as sporty and spiffy as a guy in a black crewneck sweater while donning a tweed blazer with leather elbow patches.

Some vehicles simply look snazzy. This one does. Doesn’t hurt that it was bathed in a brilliant metallic red called Dynamic Sunston, a $900 option. (Wouldn’t it be fun to dream up these color names?) Nor did it hurt that its interior was a creamy soft light gray leather trimmed in charcoal-colored soft finishes for dash and doors.

Styling aside for a moment, the QX55 mostly excels for its nimble and energetic driving coupled with a supple yet responsive ride. These are tough mixes to get just right, but Infiniti manages it.

There’s an alacrity to the handling that makes this Infiniti seem more sport than utility. The turning radius is modest so the SUV/crossover feels more crossover than truck, almost sport sedan. Point the toothy nose toward a turn’s apex and the turn-in is swift and the grip from 20-inch tires and a standard AWD system is dead on.

Power is identical to the QX50 with a high-tech 2.0-liter variable compression turbo I4 (VC-Turbo) kicking out 268 horses and 280 pound-feet of torque. The power is smooth and well managed by the slick shifting CVT. Not all CVTs are this good, but Nissan/Infiniti have pretty well mastered these and they also mildly help gas mileage.

Related Video: Ride along with Mark

But it’s the VC-Turbo that still merits a special mention. Nissan worked on this system for 20 years before perfecting it. No one else has. Variable compression means it can automatically vary the piston’s stroke and thereby change compression as the driver demands more or less power. That makes a more efficient engine, and one may surmise could extend the life of ICE (Internal Combustion Engines).

This efficient VC-Turbo engine is special.

I got 24.1 mpg in a mix heavier on freeway driving and the EPA rates this at 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.

Any way you look at this power plant though, it provides oodles of oomph to aid the QX55’s agility and fun-worthiness. One drawback, the engine sounds like it’s working pretty hard under full acceleration, so can thrum more than one might expect in a luxury vehicle. All this is more pronounced in Sport mode than in any of the other three drive modes, engaged via a console toggle. Smartly the QX55’s power chant calms quickly and it cruises in relative silence on the freeway.

Ride also is pleasant, something that often can’t be said for SUVs and larger crossovers. The suspension here takes the edge off crude city bumps and pavement crumbles and in fact there’s a bit of sporty firmness to help the Infiniti feel in tune with the road.

Move inside and the cockpit is impressively quiet with acoustic glass to silence wind and road noise along with enough sound deadening to immediately impress that this is a luxury vehicle. That leather interior makes a good impression too as does the stylish design and trim that confirm the QX’s upscale leanings.

Infiniti gives the QX55 a sharp and stylish interior.

Light gray semi-aniline leather seats are soft and moderately supportive, yet comfy. There’s light gray stitching in the dash and doors plus black open-pore maple trim on both dash and doors with a satin chrome trim encompassing the wood. Gloss black trim surrounds the upper info screen and a flat black finish keeps the console from reflecting sunlight. Gray leather also trims part of the console and center armrest.

Seats are heated and cooled and the info screen simple to use, plus this bad boy offers up a Bose Performance Series stereo with 16 speakers that stimulates the ears. There’s also wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Navigation and traffic update info is included while the radio functions are adjusted on a second lower screen with climate and seat buttons all around it for easy access and functionality.

Adding to the luxury feel is a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, power hatch and sunroof. That hatch is motion-activated so can be opened with the wave of a foot below the bumper.

Plenty of head and legroom here for front and rear seat occupants too. No third-row seat as this isn’t a land yacht, but good storage behind the rear seat at 26.9 cubic feet and more than 54 cubic feet if you fold down the rear seats. Its sister, the QX50 has more cargo room, as it’s boxier, so if you haul a lot the 50 might be your better bet.

Those slanting C-pillars are stylish, but big, so limit rear visibility.

Must mention too that the A-pillars and C-pillars are thick, so can limit outward visibility. Of course there’s a 360-degree camera to help in parking lots, a plus. The top-trim Sensory model that I had also includes smart cruise control and ProPilot Assist, Infiniti’s semi-autonomous driving system. It engages with cruise control only, so doesn’t impede lane construction dodging in town. Smart!

On the freeway this allows you to punch in a speed and let the crossover do most of the lane watching and slow-traffic avoidance. You MUST keep hands on the wheel though or it’ll let you know you’ve been negligent. I really like this system compared to most.

Is that logo on the monster grille big enough for ya?

All the other usual safety systems are here too and all trims come with blind-spot warning and forward emergency braking.

Three trims are offered, all with AWD. The Luxe starts at $47,525, while the mid-level Essential is $52,625 and adds leather seats and the spectacular Bose 16-speaker system. This top Sensory model loads on all the goodies and that smart cruise and ProPilot system at $58,075, including delivery.

Style is uppermost in the Infiniti designers’ minds.

With only a couple minor options the tested QX55 settled at $60,250. That’s competitive with the likes of BMW’s X4, the Mercedes-Benz GLC, Land Rover Evoque and equally sporty and fun Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

I fawned over the QX50, but this QX55 is way sportier looking and driving. Can I have one of each?

FAST STATS: 2022 Infiniti QX55 Sensory AWD

Hits: Sporty styling and handling, good power, nice ride plus AWD. Luxurious, quiet interior, comfy heated/cooled seats, Bose premium stereo, 4 drive modes, easy climate buttons, power hatch, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, sunroof and lane departure only engages with smart cruise control

Misses: Big A- and C-pillars limit visibility and Sport makes engine noisier than expected in luxury crossover.

Made in: Mexico

Engine: 2.0-liter VC turbo I4, 265 hp /280 torque

Transmission: CVT automatic

Weight: 4,065 lbs.

Wheelbase: 110.2 in.

Length: 186.3 in.

Cargo: 26.9-54.1 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/28

MPG: 24.1 (tested)

Base Price: $58,075 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $55,374 (KBB Fair Purchase Price)

Major Options:

Exclusive paint, $900

Lighting package (welcome lighting, illuminated kick plate), $925

Cargo package (reversible cargo mat, cargo blocks, console net, cargo net, rear bumper protection film), $350

Test vehicle: $60,250

Sources: Infiniti, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e

Smooth plug-in hybrid adds power, better fuel economy to SUV

Luxury and power are as ubiquitous as peanut butter and chocolate. BMW knows that and blends the two with just a smidge of social consciousness in its latest X5 mid-size SUV/crossover.

Its full name is X5 xDrive45e.

What that means is that the power now comes from a plug-in hybrid system that combines a mild 48-volt hybrid’s electric power with a silky 3.0-liter inline-6 with twin turbos. Power is 389 horsepower and it’s as smooth and seamless as any engine or hybrid system on the market.

Jamming the accelerator still delivers a velvety romp up to triple digit speeds, but now with the hybrid’s electric power you can toddle around town for 30 miles using only the electric power. Or you can toggle between Sport, Hybrid, Electric or Adaptive on the console and use or conserve your electric charge.

I switched to Sport as I was heading onto the freeway knowing I’d need that electric power when I got downtown, and let’s face it, if you’re going to be cutting your car’s emissions doing so in a more congested urban area makes the most sense.

The plug-in works like all others I’ve driven. Pull the plug and charger from the compartment under the hatch’s floor and plug into a standard 120-volt outlet in the garage. You get about one mile of charge per hour of plug-in time. So, overnight I ended up with 15 more miles. That means I can use no gas running to the grocery, Target or wherever in the neighborhood. Plug in again and the next day I’m likely at a full charge for a longer drive.

Combined with the gas power I got 28.3 mpg and this is rated from 20 mpg gas-only, up to 50 mpge on electric.

Typical plug-in hybrid outlet on the driver’s side.

Forget about the hybrid system, which is easy to do while driving, and the X5 remains one of the top mid-size luxury SUVs. It’s big and feels it at 5,646 pounds. But this is a BMW, so it handles well, turns into corners with a fair amount of precision and is easy to keep in its lane on the freeway.

Most surprising was the excellent ride, but then it does feature an air suspension system that once you’ve ridden on it you’ll wish it were on every SUV in the market. Trust me, I’ve had nice SUVs in the past, but few coddle like this one.

Watch Mark’s video review: X5 xDrive45e review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Of course that xDrive moniker means the BMW has AWD so is great in sleet, slush and snow. And the $650 M Sport brake package gives it excellent stopping power plus the calipers are a snazzy blue, which was a nice accent to the Arctic Gray Metallic ($550 extra) paint scheme. That’s dark gray with a hint of blue sparkle in it.

Boosting the X5’s looks is the M Sport package itself that adds $5,500 to the sticker, an already stout $66,395. For that you get all sorts of trim and appearance upgrades including Shadowline exterior trim, aluminum tetragon interior trim, high-gloss Shadowline roof rails, Vernasca leather seat trim, an M steering wheel and M Star-spoke bi-color wheels and an aero kit to smooth out airflow over the boxy body.

The other major add-on is the Executive Package, which from its name lets you know who may not be able to afford this. At $4,050 it adds a huge panoramic Sky Lounge sunroof and shade, rear manual side sunshades, 4-zone climate control, a head-up display, wireless phone charger, Harmon Kardon surround sound system with gesture control (not what you think!) a WiFi hotspot, Bluetooth and Icon adaptive LED headlights with Laserlight. Those are fancy headlights, but sadly do not shoot out real (Austin Powers style) l-a-s-e-r-s.

By the way, gesture control means a driver can rotate a finger (not just that one) clockwise in front of the infotainment screen and it will turn up radio volume, or the other way to crank down the sound. While on the stereo, the big 12.3-inch touchscreen also includes eight radio memory buttons under the screen, getting back to old-school channel selection. Bingo!

Two-tone black and white leather looks sharp here.

The X5’s interior is, as you’d expect, a snazzy leather stronghold with white leather seats in the test vehicle, plus white lower trim on the doors and dash, the tops of which are black. That Vernasca leather is real leather but with a stamped artificial grain and artificial coatings that makes for easy cleaning.

There’s also a spectacular jewel-like metal trim (tetragon shaped and part of the M Sport package) that graces the dash and console, with a metal clad cubby door able to retract over much of the console to reveal the wireless charger and cup holders. Satin chrome trim also accents the leather-clad steering wheel and the door releases.

Love the jewel look of the satin chrome trim on the dash and center stack.

Seats are comfy, as they should be. But BMW enhances its power controls here with $750 multi-contour seats, meaning they have multiple lumbar and side bolster adjustments. Plus the lower seat cushion can be extended to aid long-legged drivers. Seat memory buttons are included too.

But here’s the thing. To add heated front and rear seats costs $350 extra and $250 more for the steering wheel and armrests to be heated. I’d expect heated seats and wheel to be standard at this high-end luxury pricing, and the armrests, well, whatever. You should probably be driving, not resting arms. Just sayin’! Oh, and no cooled seats here. Funny, most $50 grand vehicles offer those as standard now.

Another view of the snazzy stack. A lot of buttons here too!

As for safety equipment, the X5 includes what you’d expect, plus adds a Drivers Assist Pro package with extended traffic jam assistant and active driving assistant, semi-autonomous aids. I find these often are too intrusive and push the vehicle hard toward the lane’s center often when not wanted, as in a work zone with lanes that shift and also when other cars sag into your lane and you try to dodge them this pushes you back toward the other car. Couldn’t turn this one off altogether either.

Add to that a cruise control system that was much more complicated than others I’ve tested. Yikes, push a button and set a speed. That should do it, even on these smart cruise systems.

A few other points to ponder.

First, the X5 is not just beauty it’s also beast enough to tow 7,200 pounds, so trailering is very possible. Note you’ll pay $550 extra for the trailer hitch.

And cargo space is fine at 33.9 cubic feet behind the second row seat, or 71.2 cubic feet if that seat is folded flat. A release under the power hatch allows quick rear seat folding too. A third row seat is available on some X5 trim levels, but it appears that only offers room for small kids in row three. As is, this one will haul five adults comfortably.

Underneath the test ute added 21-inch M wheels with performance tires for $950. Certainly the tires aided grip, but to me these looked a bit outsized for the X5. That’s a personal taste thing as the 19-inchers that are standard would do just fine.

Finally, the test vehicle hit a Rockefeller-like $81,695 after adding 10 options. A base (if you can call it that) xDrive40i starts at about $60 grand and includes AWD and a fine 335-horse 3.0-liter I6 twin turbo.

Move up to the M50i version and the price jumps to $83,795, but you get a monster V8 pumping 523 horsepower and you can thumb your nose at the environment, and nearly everyone else as you rocket away from a stoplight.

FAST STATS: 2021 BMW X5 xDrive45e

Hits: Excellent power, ride, handling plus AWD and plug-in electric to aid emissions and mpg. Four drive choices, panoramic sunroof, heated wheel/armrest and front/rear seats, wide touchscreen, multiple seat adjustments, 8 stereo memory buttons.

Cool wheels and blue calipers!

Misses: Heated seats and wheel cost extra, no cooled seats, complicated cruise control ties into semi-autonomous driving system.

Made in: Spartanburg, S.C.

Engine: 3.0-liter twin turbo I6, 389 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 5,646 lbs.

Wheelbase: 117.1 in.

Length: 194.3 in.

Cargo: 33.9-71.2 cu.ft.

Tow: 7,200 lbs.

MPG: 20/50 (w/electric)

MPG: 28.3 (tested)

Base Price: $66,395 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $62,315

Options:

Arctic Gray Metallic paint, $550

Drivers Assist Pro pkg. (extended traffic jam assistant, active driving assistant pro), $1,700

M Sport pkg. (See story), $5,500

Executive package (panoramic Sky Lounge LED roof, rear manual side sunshades, glass controls, 4-zone climate control, Icon adaptive LED w/Laserlight, head-up display, Harmon Kardon surround sound system, wireless charging, gesture control, WiFi hotspot, enhanced USB & Bluetooth), $4,050

21-inch M wheel with performance, $950

M Sport brakes w/blue calipers, $650

Trailer hitch, $550

Front/rear heated seats, $350

Heated front armrests/steering wheel, $250

Multi-contour seats, $750

Test vehicle: $81,695

Sources: BMW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Buick Envision Essence

Front-drive Envision the essence of entry-level luxury …

Buick has been evolving the last five years or so.

It’s still a solid entry-level luxury vehicle maker, but it has been transitioning away from cars to crossovers and SUVS. Currently there are three models, the Encore and Envision that I’d classify as crossovers and the Enclave, its sharp luxury SUV.

Three years have passed since I last tested a Buick and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the new Envision Essence, its mid-level trim line, is a bargain for folks looking for near luxury at an affordable price.

Envision is attractive, totally in synch with today’s crossover styling trends, and comes well equipped at a price that frankly surprised me.

A base front-drive Envision Preferred starts at $32,995 with delivery and the tested Essence, which sounds a bit like a perfume label, lists at $36,995 with delivery. A loaded Avenir (the name of a sans-serif type face), goes for a still reasonable $41,595.

Here’ why I think the Envision is a deal.

It’s not only affordable, but practical for a family of five or less. The interior is roomy, the ride is nice, steering is light and easy and you can add AWD for just $1,800. So it’s possible to end up with a nicely equipped comfortable family crossover for less than $40 grand. The white test vehicle came in at $39,495, but without AWD.

Let’s start with the ride as Buick has long been noted for its boulevard ride that seniors appreciate as salve for their aging skeletal systems. The Envision does not float and coddle like an old Buick Electra, but the ride is controlled and comfortable thanks to a five-link independent rear suspension. There’s a bit of bounce on uneven roads, but that provides only a jiggle, not a rump thump.

Watch Mark’s review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8NhfXTqRg0

Steering is light and easy too, unless you press the Mode button on the console to shift Envision into Sport. That firms up the steering feel just enough to be pleasant during a highway drive. In town, leave it on the Normal setting. There’s Eco too if you want to save fuel and make your acceleration sluggish, but you probably won’t.

Envision is easy to park, easy to keep in a highway lane, and simply pleasant to drive.

Power? Well, it’s on the upper end of mediocre, say a 6 out of 10. The Buick, which is made in China, features a Chinese-built 2.0-liter turbo I4 linked to a 9-speed automatic. Power comes on smoothly with slight turbo lag and easy gear changes, but the getaway from a stoplight is mild, mostly. Tromp the gas pedal and put the drive mode in Sport and things pep up quite a bit, but you’ll still not strain your neck muscles.

The benefit of all this is gas mileage you likely wouldn’t suspect from a 182.5-inch long vehicle (about the same as a Nissan Rogue). I got 28.2 mpg in about 60% highway driving with several folks aboard. The EPA rates Envision at 24 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. Envision has more power than Rogue, by the way, but Rogue earns 1 mpg better fuel ratings.

Some of the automotive intelligentsia say Envision competes with the likes of Acura’s RDX, Lincoln’s Corsair and Infiniti’s Q50, which are similar in size. Those are more luxurious in feel and interior stylings, but also can run quite a bit more money. Envision is more mainstream.

Buick’s safety equipment is exactly what you’d expect, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, front pedestrian braking and collision alert, smart high-beam headlights, lane change alert with blind-spot monitor, rear park assist and rear cross-traffic alert. Smart cruise control comes on the Essence too.

Other Essence trim upgrades include a 10.2-inch screen (up from 8 inches), a power hatch and heated front seats. Wheels are upgraded to 18 inchers too.

Inside the test vehicle featured black perforated leather seats with gray trim and stitching, a black dash and doors with satin chrome trim and fake carbon fiber inserts to spiff up the dash and doors. Black gloss trims the instrument pod and the big info screen is angled nicely toward the driver, although front-seat passengers may not be fond of that.

The steering wheel is heated too and that big screen is easy to use with large touchscreen buttons that are simple to see. Toggles below the screen control the heated seats and climate controls.

One slightly unusual feature is the push-button transmission that mixes how it’s engaged. Park is a straight push down, while Drive and Reverse require the driver to pull up on separate console buttons. I’d prefer they all function with a push.

Seats are relatively flat with mild hip and lower back support, but are powered and the driver gets a power lumbar support and two seat memory buttons. The rear seat is roomy and comfortable too, plus splits and folds. That power hatch (with wiper) can be activated from inside, the fob, or by wiggling your foot by the rear bumper.

Wiggle your foot by the rear bumper and up goes the power hatch!

A couple misses include the lack of a sunroof or wireless phone charger on the Essence model. The center armrest/storage box also is split, which I’m not a fan of, finding one that swings up and out of the way easiest to manage.

The test crossover did add a $2,500 technology package that some may appreciate. It upgrades the stereo and adds some other electronic niceties. There’s a premium Bose 9-speaker stereo in the package, plus voice recognition and the larger screen, Bluetooth, wireless Apple Car Play and Android auto, a universal remote and HD radio and surround vision. A head-up display also is part of the deal.

Move up to the Avenir trim level and the seats are quilted leather and include a massaging function. Hmmm, that could be a bonus on a long drive.

The center info screen and stack angles toward the driver and is easy to see and read.

Quiet tuning is something Buick also touts that it says quiets the interior. While not up to top-end luxury standards the interior is quiet, although some pavement noise is audible.

Again, this is entry-level luxury at a standard crossover’s pricing. Add in AWD for northern climes and the Envision will be a fine suburban hauler of kids to school, soccer or band practice. It also would be a fine long-distance vacation vehicle, sort of like station wagons of old, but quieter, more comfortable, and more fuel efficient.

FAST STATS: 2021 Buick Envision Essence FWD

Hits: Attractive crossover, nice ride, 3 drive modes, light handling, good safety equipment, power hatch, heated seats and steering wheel. Roomy interior with big easy to use screen, comfy seats, and rear wiper.

Misses: No sunroof or wireless phone charger, mediocre power.

No denying the Envision is a handsome SUV!

Made in: China

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 228 hp

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Weight: 4,005 lbs.

Wheelbase: 109.4 in.

Length: 182.5 in.

Cargo: 25.2-52.7 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 24/31

MPG: 28.2 (tested)

Base Price: $36,995 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $35,539

Major Options:

Technology package (HD surround vision, head-up display, Bose 9-speaker premium stereo, front park assist, memory card receptacle, info system w/nav, 10-in. touchscreen, voice recognition, Bluetooth audio streaming, wireless Apple Car Play/Android Auto, personalized apps, HD radio, universal home remote), $2,500

Test vehicle: $39,495

Sources: Buick, www.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 Nissan Rogue Platinum

New Rogue evolves back to top of market …

For the past century plus 20 or so years the auto market has seen fits and starts of revolution, but a whole lot of evolution.

Electric cars seem revolutionary now, just as hybrids were 20+ years ago. But when a carmaker has a winner, it often turns first to evolution to keep it selling like Minecraft games among pre-teens.

So it is with Nissan’s best-seller, the Rogue, a compact SUV or crossover, depending on who’s doing the defining. Look around at the next stoplight, or as you drive through your neighborhood. You’ll see a lot of Rogues.

That’s because Rogue has been a steady Eddie, an SUV that most families could afford and that delivered comfort, convenience, and reliability. It still does.

But for 2021 it has been upgraded, offering 11 more horsepower, much more cargo space, a skosh more rear seat room, a stiffer chassis, new rear suspension, upgraded seats and dash and a sharply restyled exterior. When you’re already prom queen all you probably need is a new bouquet. Rogue bought the florist.

See Mark’s video review: 2021 Nissan Rogue review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Let’s start with the outer appearance because Rogue got a lot of compliments at the gas station and from friends and neighbors. The body was tweaked to be pleasantly boxy (muscular in today’s vernacular), but with a two-tone paint option (black roof) and a perfect amount of chrome accents this silvery gold (Champagne) test vehicle absolutely sparkled in the driveway.

Nissan has added chrome to the tallish V-Motion grille, some new HD headlights and turn signal lenses up front, along with black cladding over the wheels and down the sides’ rocker panels, again with chrome accents, and chrome side window trim. The look is much ritzier than the previous model!

Nissan goes with a bold chrome V-Motion grille.

Functionally Rogue now features a unibody chassis that is stiffer than before, making it easier to tune the suspension. Speaking of which, there’s now a multi-link rear unit that will help in any off-road excursions.

Aluminum doors and front fenders save some weight too and a revised automatic CVT helps improve fuel economy. The tested Premium AWD model (top of the line) is rated at 25 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. I got 29.4 mpg in about 60% highway driving. Excellent for a gas-powered SUV.

It’s especially impressive considering Nissan eeked out a 10% horsepower gain to 181 horses from its stout 2.5-liter I4.

Plus you can select from five drive modes for slippery or off-road trundling. Automatic is the main setting, but there’s Sport to boost acceleration and firm steering effort, Eco to do the opposite and save fuel, plus Off-Road and Snow, the latter being a Wisconsin favorite. This model came with AWD to help full-time in sloppy conditions. That adds $1,400 to any trim level.

Power was good too, making a scramble onto the freeway simple and confident. Likewise the Rogue handles well, the chassis stiffening no doubt a factor there, so not much body lean even in high-speed sharp turns. Ride was ok, nothing special and felt firmer to me than my past test drives. That may relax a bit with a full load of passengers. I never had more than two aboard.

Safety is well considered here too with standard blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, rear automatic braking, a 360-degree camera, intelligent forward collision warning, intelligent lane intervention and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection.

The ProPilot semi-autonomous safety system has been upgraded too. That includes smart cruise control and steering assist to keep you in your lane. Plus now Nissan tells us, it’ll slow you by braking one inside wheel if you enter a turn too quickly and will automatically slow the Rogue on a highway off-ramp. Remember, GPS knows exactly where you are!

Inside, the Rogue is as handsome and comfortable as any compact SUV, the Premium model featuring thick leather seating, and dash and door trim. This one was black over a butterscotch brown with that orange-tinted brown for the quilted seats and tastefully trimmed in black. There’s a bit of fake wood facing on the passenger’s side dash, textured black trim on the console with brown sides and repeated on the door armrests. Satin chrome trims the dash and air vents and door release panels. This looks classy!

Talk about classy … check out this snazzy new interior look for the Rogue!

Rogue’s dash is pretty special too with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in front of the driver that is adjustable to show items most important to you. The Premium also includes a head-up display and a 9-inch infotainment screen that was extremely easy to see and use, including large volume and tuning knobs.

Below that screen are easily understood climate controls and two large temperature knobs for the dual system. Here’s where you’ll find the heated seat and steering wheel buttons too.

Nissan continues to offer a flat-bottomed steering wheel in Rogue, which makes entering and exiting just a tad easier for knees. Oh, and the five shift modes are managed simply via a knob on the console.

Love the flat-bottomed steering wheel. More vehicles need this!

There’s also a couple plug-in outlets below the center stack, and a wireless phone charger. This one didn’t work, but I read that some early models did not get this feature as there was a shortage of some electronics due to Covid-related work slowdowns. Wireless charging will be on future Platinum models.

Seats are NASA-inspired Zero Gravity shaped, which means comfy with good hip and back support. Powered front seats include a driver’s adjustable lumbar support and two memory buttons on the door. Rear seats are more comfortable than most with oodles of head and legroom and the cushions are a soft comfortable leather that feels rather cushy. Ahhh!

Even the door panels look upscale.

In back the storage space has grown from 32 to 36.5 cu.ft., with the rear seats in place, and 74.1 cu.ft. with those split rear seats lowered. That’s up from 70, so a nice gain. Also, there is a split cargo floor with storage under the covers. The hatch is powered too and can be activated by waving your foot beneath the rear bumper, nice if your arms are loaded with groceries, boxes or kids.

Speaking of which, Nissan offers a small-child friendly feature that rocks, 90-degree opening rear doors. They open so wide a parent can easily strap a wee one in a child’s car seat. Plus, there are manual sun shade for the rear windows to keep bright light out of Baby’s eyes. Brilliant!

Pricing remains broad and value-oriented enough that families should be able to find a Rogue to meet their budget. A base front-drive S starts at $26,745, including delivery. The popular SV model goes for $28,435 and adds ProPilot Assist, 18-inch alloy wheels, an 8-way power driver’s seat and Nissan Connect.

Move up to the SL model and you get 19-inch wheels, a leather interior, panoramic sunroof, motion-activated hatch, tri-zone climate system, power passenger’s seat and memory function for the driver’s seat and steering wheel. List price is $33,095.

The tested Platinum model with virtually everything including AWD, lists at $37,925. This one added a two-tone paint job for $350, illuminated kick plates for $400, external ground lighting at $350, interior accent lighting for $350 and a frameless rearview mirror for $310. I could do without any of these add-ons, except maybe the paint scheme. Total was $39,685.

This is a crowded market with a lot of great choices from the Honda CR-V, Toyota Rav4, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe. But Rogue has put itself back near the top of the heap with its restyled, much-improved model.

FAST STATS: 2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum AWD

Hits: Sharply restyled, stylish interior, good power and handling, plus AWD. OK ride, roomy cargo area, easy to see 12-inch digital instrument cluster, 9-inch info screen, heated front and rear seats and steering wheel, 5 drive modes, flat-bottom steering wheel, solid standard safety equipment and ProPilot upgraded.

Snazzy new nose and headlight styling here.

Misses: Wireless phone charger didn’t work.

Made in: Smyrna, Tenn.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4, 181 hp / 181 torque

Transmission: XtronicCVT automatic

Weight: 3,371 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.5 in.

Length: 183 in.

Cargo: 36.5-74.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 1,350 lbs.

MPG: 25/32

MPG: 29.4 (tested)

Base Price: $37,925 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

External ground lighting, $350

Two-tone paint, $350

Illuminated kick plates, $400

Interior accent lighting, $350

Frameless rearview mirror w/remote, $310

Test vehicle: $39,685

Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage