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2018 Infiniti QX80 4WD

Infiniti QX80, when only BIG will do … 2018 Infiniti QX80

Big counts for something sometimes and if you need to haul seven people, a big SUV is likely what you need, or a minivan.

My son’s family was visiting so the Infiniti QX80 was a good bet for hauling us around southeast Wisconsin when grandparents, kids and grandkids needed to get to the zoo, etc. Continue reading 2018 Infiniti QX80 4WD

2018 GMC Terrain AWD Denali

Terrain redesign lightens the load; Denali model adds luxury …2018 GMC Terrain AWD Denali

GMC redesigns its Terrain crossover for 2018 to make it lighter and a bit smaller, fighting all industry trends to add weight and length. Mostly, it’s a success.

Terrain is virtually the same vehicle as Chevrolet’s Equinox with a bit boxier styling, but much improved from the previous model. Mine was a dark gray metallic with all-wheel-drive and was GMC’s top trim, the Denali. Continue reading 2018 GMC Terrain AWD Denali

2018 Audi Q5 2.0T quattro w/Prestige

New Audi Q5 remains smooth, luxurious …2018 Audi Q5

Evidently once a smooth operator, always a smooth operator.

Audi’s new Q5 compact luxury crossover/sport-ute carries on its tradition of smooth, sporty performance with luxury ladled on for good measure. It’s a bit larger than its predecessor and slightly more fuel efficient too. This is an all-around winner. No wonder the Q5 is Audi’s best-selling vehicle. Continue reading 2018 Audi Q5 2.0T quattro w/Prestige

2018 Volkeswagen Atlas V6 SEL w/4Motion

VW goes big into the SUV market with Atlas …2018 Volkwagen Atlas

There are no awards for being late to the party, but VW is hoping sales are its consolation prize for finally creating a large SUV, the Atlas.

It won’t win any styling awards (can you say big and boxy?), but it’s certainly stout and a bargain!

While every major automaker, including the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, have created a large SUV, it took VW until late this summer to release its Atlas, a 2018 model that is very nearly the same dimensionally as the Dodge Durango I tested a couple weeks back. Both are a pleasure to drive.

What the Atlas has going for it is nimble handling, good acceleration and a ride to match, but it’s also modestly priced. How modest?2018 Volkwagen Atlas

The base S model starts at $31,425 including delivery and touts a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 that makes 235 horsepower. That’s with front-wheel drive, naturally, but even the tested SEL model with V6 and 4Motion (AWD) was just $42,690. No options were added either and with a $925 delivery fee the dark Platinum Gray Metallic test ute went for $43,615.

While that still won’t fit into everyone’s household budget, compare that with the tested Durango’s $49,360 price tag. In fact, most large utes roll out of the showroom at roughly $50 grand. Chief competitors are the Honda Pilot, Chevy Tahoe, Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander. Continue reading 2018 Volkeswagen Atlas V6 SEL w/4Motion

2017 Dodge Durango GT Blacktop AWD

Outlier Durango delivers function and style …2017 Dodge Durango GT Blacktop

Dodge’s Durango is an outlier of sorts. It features function and style while many of the better selling large SUVs maintain a staid look, favoring square exteriors and overly manly interiors with oversized gauges, knobs and air vents.

Durango though likes to spiff itself up, like it’s saying it wants to be formal, but likes to party too.

This week’s case in point, the large Durango GT Blacktop AWD. While not as racy, or gas thirsty as the R/T version I tested a couple years back, this one still has plenty of muscle, while maintaining a sporty look, at least as sporty as SUVs go.2017 Dodge Durango GT Blacktop

Under the hood is a 3.6-liter V6 with variable valve timing and boasting 293 horsepower. Torque is rated at 260 lb.-ft. The engine is strong and the Durango, while not nimble, feels substantial and quick enough to outrun traffic as you pull onto the freeway. I had this on a roundtrip to Toledo and it cruised the toll roads with ease and was quick to pull out and pass slow semis and dawdlers.

Dodge uses an 8-speed automatic transmission with the V6 and the tranny shifts smoothly and efficiently. While not in the league with hybrids, the Durango managed 22.0 mpg on the trip, including some city driving along with long stretches of highway. The Dodge drinks regular and the EPA rates it at 18 mpg city and 25 highway. I had a fairly heavy load of luggage in the back and one passenger. Continue reading 2017 Dodge Durango GT Blacktop AWD

2017 Volvo S60 T5 AWD Dynamic

Volvo S60 OK, but doesn’t distinguish itself …2017 Volvo S60

Volvo’s S60 is a fine, but underwhelming, compact, entry-level luxury car.

The S60 is nice looking and has all-wheel-drive, which will make it more useful to drivers in northern climes. It performs well, although its ride is rough, yet nothing really stands out.

Some will argue that its safety features stand out. That’s what Volvo, now owned by Geely, a Chinese firm, has hung its woolen winter cap on for years. Certainly the S60 T5 AWD Dynamic (quite a mouthful) that I tested had safety equipment, about what you’d expect on any car or crossover costing north of $40 grand.

For instance, there’s lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, collision warning with automatic braking, pedestrian and cyclist detection also with auto braking, plus distance alert. All those are swell, but are not standard. They’re part of an optional $1,500 tech package. It also adds active high beams, rain-sensing wipers and the ability for the car to read road signs so you’ll always know what speed you should be going.

I’m not pooh-poohing these devices, but nearly all car makes have these now.2017 Volvo S60

The test car also added an optional $1,950 vision package too that added a blind-spot information system (BLIS), plus rear park assist, cross-traffic alert, rearview camera, and a few other features. Again, others have these systems too, some come standard on other luxury, and non-luxury, lines. Continue reading 2017 Volvo S60 T5 AWD Dynamic

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid XLE Premium

Hybrid Avalon comfy big sedan, easy on the gas …2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

Sadly big comfortable sedans are about as popular these days as a new Nickelback album or The Dixie Chicks at a Texas veterans fundraiser.

Too bad because as passé as big sedans are, they can move a family of five in smooth, quiet comfort and also beat the exhaust pipes off a big SUV or Crossover for gas mileage. This week’s test car, a beautiful Parisian Night Pearl (dark metallic blue) Toyota Avalon Hybrid is a sparkling example.

The Avalon does basically everything well. Its ride is near perfect, comfortable and well controlled. This is no floaty boat as in olden days when sedans seemed to ooze down the highway. Avalon’s four-wheel independent suspension handles rough roads with ease. Yet the car is responsive enough to feel well connected to the road.

Steering is on the light side in the car’s normal setting, but switch it to Sport and steering effort is firmed enough to feel more like a luxury sport sedan without requiring six-pack abs.2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

That Sport setting, engaged via a button on the console, also brings to life the silky smooth 2.0-liter I4 that’s coupled with a hybrid system that powers an electric motor at low speeds when gas engines are at their least efficient. Like other hybrids that electric power comes from batteries that are juiced up by a regenerative braking system. Continue reading 2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid XLE Premium