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2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited
Robby DeGraff photo

New Santa Fe a luxury sleigh ride …

Leading up to Christmas I spent a week luxuriating in Santa’s sleigh.

Say what? It was Hyundai’s Santa Fe? Well then, never mind!

Yet then again Hyundai’s mid-size SUV is certainly big enough to haul a lot of goodies to good girls and boys all over southeast Wisconsin. The Santa Fe is a luxurious ute that if it had sliding side doors could pass for a minivan. In the tested Limited Ultimate AWD trim it would haul six adults with its two second-row captain’s seats and twin fold-down third row seats.

If you opt for a bench seat in the second row, Santa Fe will seat seven, which matches most minivans. And the cargo space behind the second row for gear, suitcases and such is sizeable. Even with the third row in place there’s plenty of room for grocery bags and odds and ends.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited
Robby DeGraff photo

The AWD makes the Santa Fe a champ in sloppy weather too, giving it even better footing than say a heard of reindeer.

Hyundai revamped this ute for 2017 and drastically improved its looks, moving it away from boxy minivan and old ute styling to a fresher, more muscular stance that gives it a bit of a BMW’s swagger.

Handling is among the best for mid-size crossovers and utes too. Santa Fe feels responsive and corners well with just a slight lean in fast tight turns. Steering feedback is on the heavy side in Normal drive mode, of which there are three, including Eco and Dynamic.

Punch the Drive Mode button for Dynamic and the wheel firms up even more, maybe more than most drivers would want to deal with. But it also allows the 6-speed automatic transmission to hold the lower gears longer in order to boost acceleration. So in this mode the Santa Fe jumps, not up onto house tops, but onto the freeway like an aggressive sport sedan. Continue reading 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

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2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4 SEL AWD

Outlander Sport still under the radar … 2018 Mitsubishi Outback Sport

            Mitsubishi continues to fly under the radar among the Japanese car makers in the U.S., with just a few models and those don’t change often.

But the Outlander Sport has been one of its success stories, as it spun off from the larger Outlander SUV a few years back. This is a small ute, or crossover, about a foot shorter in length than Outlander.

It’s handsome, easy to maneuver in a parking lot and an automotive bargain. But it’s no benchmark to be sure.

The body is tidy and looks a bit sportier than many mainline small utes. I tested a pretty metallic red almost top-level SEL with AWD. The later is a bit of a misnomer in that you must engage the 4-wheel-drive system while cars and wagons such as Subarus are AWD all the time. Still, that’s easy because there’s a big button on the console. Press it once and you go from 2WD to 4WD.2018 Mitsubishi Outback Sport

Price though is what sets it apart. You can easily pay $30-35 grand for a decent AWD crossover or small ute, but the SEL model starts at $26,835, including delivery. Even with its pricey Touring Package, a $2,000 option, the test vehicle checked in at just $29,110. That’s a certifiable bargain.

That AWD works fine once engaged, and the Outlander Sport SEL now comes with a bit horsier 2.4-liter I4 engine. This one has 168 horsepower compared with 148 in earlier models and lower cost trim levels. Continue reading 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4 SEL AWD

2016 Kia Sorento SX Ltd. AWD

Kia Sorento, a crossover that will haul seven peoplesorento

            Kia’s Sorento is a fine crossover that will haul up to seven folks and look good doing it.

The 2016 model is the continuation of a revamp from a couple years ago and the tested pearl “snow white” test vehicle was the top-level SX Limited with AWD, so stickered at $43,100, plus $895 destination and just a couple options. Grand total, $46,695.

That’s approaching the stratosphere, but if you want a larger crossover with AWD and much in the way of electronics, you’re already sticking your nose in rarified air north of $40 grand.

Sorento is pleasant looking, smooth, yet muscular. The $200 for the pearly white paint job is worth it to me as it enhances the luxury appearance. Naturally if you don’t want AWD and don’t need to be swaddled in leather or have a zillion buttons to control most everything, you can go more basic. The entry-level L with front-wheel-drive starts at $25,795. It is powered by a 185-horse 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that gets 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.

sorento2  The tested top-liner packs a much more satisfying 3.3-liter V6 that creates 290 horses and 252 ft.-lbs. of torque. It’ll even tow up to 5,000 lbs., so power is good, even if this version does drink more gas. The EPA rates the AWD V6-powered version at 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. I got 19.6 mpg in a week’s drive that was about 50-50. With gas at about $3 a gallon again, falling below 20 mpg is a little tough on the wallet. Continue reading 2016 Kia Sorento SX Ltd. AWD

2014 Kia Optima Hybrid EX

Optima Hybrid a looker with spunk, yes a hybrid with spunk!

Let’s put this right out there, I like Kia’s Optima.IMG_0981

Optima is one of the best looking mid-size cars on the market, looks like a luxury sedan and rides and feels like an entry-level luxury sedan. It also is well equipped for its price, making it a high value front drive car that will carry five comfortably.

What pushed me well toward the “love it” end of my rating spectrum is the tested blue-gray’s hybrid system. Many hybrids are still lackluster when it comes to acceleration and refinement. Kia’s Optima Hybrid EX not only looks great it performs well.

I tested this for a week that included about a 500-mile round trip to Miami County, Ind., and several days of the usual area city driving. I could have gotten by with just one gas fill-up in that period as I averaged 39.5 mpg, basically confirming the EPA estimates. On the highway the trip computer boasted 41 mpg and range was listed at more than 600 miles.

That alone makes Optima a fine highway cruiser, but riding on a 110-inch wheelbase (2 inches shorter than last week’s Ford Fusion) Optima offers a pleasant ride with just a bit of rump bumping on severe bumps. You feel well insulated in the Kia, which features a luxury-quality quiet interior.

IMG_0983But performance is equally smooth and comfortable. Acceleration is decent in full Eco mode where the electric motor portion of the hybrid powerplant does most of the work. However, you can flick off the Eco mode with a touch of your right thumb and the gas engine does more work to give you better than average acceleration. This may be preferred when you’re in serious city traffic where acceleration may be needed to avoid a jam.

While a gas-powered Optima features a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a stout 192 horsepower, the hybrid system with the same sized gas engine plus electric assist ups that to 206 horses and 154 lb.-ft. of torque, a bit less than the gas-driven version, but still reasonable. Continue reading 2014 Kia Optima Hybrid EX