Tag Archives: plug-in hybrid

2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe

Plug-in hybrid smooths Wrangler power, boosts mpg …

Jeeps come in all sizes these days and with multiple powerplant choices, the latest of which provided the grunt for the tested 4-door Wrangler Rubicon.

Here the power comes from a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 with plug-in hybrid system using a couple electric motors to help boost gas mileage and smooth out acceleration. Jeep calls the hybrid a 4-by-E, emphasizing its legendary 4-wheeling system. I’ve tested 4xe (Jeep’s alphanumeric abbreviation) previously and found it quite effective and efficient.

It extends gas mileage and it’s easy to plug in, even to an old-school 110/120 garage outlet. A charge overnight nets 20 to 25 miles of electric range. If you have a 240-outlet it takes less than 3 hours for a full charge.

The white (only color that doesn’t cost $495 extra) Rubicon arrived just prior to our Christmas meat locker chill down and a full charge was closer to 20 miles, but still, that helps make around-town driving more efficient. Sadly I was limited by the cold on how much charging I could do with another car in the garage. So I mostly ran on gas, leaving me with disappointing mpg, but then again it was below zero for several days, always a hamper on mpg.

What I like about the 4xe is that it runs on hybrid power, a blend of gas and electric, by default. Or press a button on the left dash for all electric, or to Save Electric. One imagines that when playing off-road one might use electric power to smooth acceleration AND avoid emissions in the wilderness, keeping it cleaner for other outdoors lovers.

In addition, running on Save-E allows the engine and brakes to help regenerate some electric power to the batteries. So, for instance, driving around town I went from 10% power to 25%, giving me a couple more miles of electric range that I could kick in when wanted.

Aside from the 4xe system this Wrangler is all Jeep, meaning it’s mostly utilitarian inside, yet not Spartan. There’s a 4WD shift lever to engage for better traction in snow, which was needed and proved helpful, or into low-range settings for mudding and splashing about. One can argue how many folks sinking nearly $70 grand into a Jeep will do that, but by golly one certainly can. In fact, it’ll ford 30 inches of water, if asked.

The little turbo I4 here sounds like it’s working pretty hard and can get rather groany, but power seems fine and definitely smoother when the battery power is helping give it an electric assist from a stop. There’s a lot of road noise too thank to its big off-road tires and the canvass roof overhead.

Watch Mark’s video: 2023 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4xe review by Mark Savage and Paul Daniel – YouTube

I’d certainly prefer a solid top in winter, but this tester featured Jeep’s amazing Sky One-Touch power top that folds the canvas middle section of the roof back to let in the great outdoors when temps and monsoons allow. This unique feature doesn’t come cheap, a $4,145 option, but includes a rear window defroster and wiper, plus removable rear quarter windows.

Note that the doors are still removable on the Wrangler, but with this special roof the windshield will no longer fold down, a minor point to most of us.

Cool too that Jeep adds four auxiliary buttons below its center stack-mounted info screen and power window controls. That way one can add light bars and other accessories that can easily be programmed to work with a switch.

When off-roading one also can increase suspension travel by disconnecting the sway bar with a button on the stack.

For those of us keeping our SUVs between the highway’s white lines, the Rubicon 4xe is simple to control. The steering is extremely light (good for off-roading), but sufficiently vague to require some extra care when navigating quick turns and corners. The first inch of steering wheel input doesn’t really affect steering direction much.

Ride is generally pretty good, better and quieter than the Bronco I tested last year. But it’s Jeepy due to its two solid axles, so there is some bounce. Yet that is what many of its buyers claim to want as it provides a more exhilarating daily driving experience. Older drivers may prefer to add a cushion to the seats.

Yes, the seats and steering wheel are heated!

Speaking of which, the provided seats are plenty comfy and supportive, at least in front, for daily driving. There’s room for three adults in the rear seat too, although it helps if they are all on speaking terms. Headroom is generous, and limitless if the roof is retracted. Also, cargo room behind the second row seat is ample and the tested Jeep included all-weather floor and cargo mats for $170.

The Rubicon was not without its comfort perks either as heated front seats and a heated steering wheel were part of a $1,195 winter package that also added remote start, a Wisconsin and northern tier favorite. Seats were leather too and the dash was trimmed in a soft material, all black but trimmed in bright blue, the color most car makers use to signify electric battery-aided models. The leather adds $1,995 to the price tag.

That center stack may look intimidating, but it’s pretty simple to use.

While the info screen is modest at 8.4 inches it’s easy to read and use thanks to the UConnect system and large volume and tuning knobs. I had no problem adjusting the screen and its functions, plus it’s not overwhelming like the mega-screens in some SUVs.

Happy news too for off-roaders, there are grab handles all over the place, on A-pillars, dash, etc. Of course for us vertically challenged folks you’ll need one or more of those to enter the high-riding Wrangler as it has no running boards. Yet regular Jeep entry will help build upper body strength.

There are speakers in the solid bar overhead.

I couldn’t find a wireless charger here, but there are plenty of power plugs available. Note too that sun visors are a cheap hard plastic.

Pricing seems to put this in the luxury category when I always envision Wranglers, whether two- or four-door, primarily for serious off-roaders who will cake their wheels in mud.

A base Willys 4xe Sahara model starts at $57,500 including delivery and the upscale High Altitude lists at $63,235. Naturally off-roading is possible with any Wrangler, but the base for the Rubicon 4xe is $60,190 with delivery. The many options on the test SUV pushed this to $69,385, which might stir inhibitions about bouncing it off trees, bushes and rocks.

If not, well, more power to ya! But remember to plug-in every chance you get.

FAST STATS: 2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe

Hits: Off-road capability, plug-in hybrid, Jeepy looks. Room for five, good storage, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, sway bar disconnect for off-roading and good ground clearance. Light handling, plentiful grab handles, 4 auxiliary buttons, power folding top.

Misses: Pricey, vague steering, bumpy ride, tire noise, noisy engine, no running boards, no wireless charger, low mpg when only using gas.

Nothing says Jeep like the seven-bar grille!

Made in: Toledo, Ohio

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, plug-in hybrid, 375 hp/470 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 5,318 lbs.*

Wheelbase: 118.4 in.

Length: 188.4 in.

Cargo: 27.7-67.4 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 49 electric-gas/20 gas only

Electric range: 25 miles

MPG: 16.7 (tested, prefers premium)

Base Price: $60,190 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $59,752

Major Options:

Leather seats, wrapped panel bezels, $1,995

Preferred pkg. 29V (Cold weather group, heated front seats, remote-start, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel), $1,195

Trailer tow/heavy-duty electrical group, $995

All-weather mats, $170

Sky One-Touch power top (removable rear quarter windows, rear window defroster, rear wiper/washer, storage bag), $4,145

Integrated off-road camera, $695

Test vehicle: $69,385

Sources: Jeep, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

*=Car and Driver stats

2023 Volvo XC90 Recharge AWD Ultimate: Bright Theme

Plug-in hybrid XC90 long on luxury, power, efficiency …

Apparently it’s time for me to adjust my thinking on where luxury SUV prices begin and end, especially end.

Volvo, long the bastion of safe, solid wagons has made the transition to SUVs easily as it already knew how to make big family-haulers and so a taller version with AWD wasn’t a huge stretch.

Lucky for our eyeballs, it also got away from its box-on-wheels styling to create handsome SUVs with some distinction to their nose and tail. Yes, the logo is large up front, but the grille not as retina crushing as most and its T-shaped headlight add some zest, likewise its tall vertical taillights.

Now it adds hybrid power to its large luxury SUV lineup, the XC90, everything from a mild-hybrid 48-volt system that aids in smoothing out the now requisite stop-start function to a plug-in hybrid. The tested XC90 Recharge AWD Ultimate (almost top tier) Bright themed 7-seater was just that, a PHEV. That’s a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle for the non-initial literate.

The good news for any plug-in, excuse me, PHEV, is that the midsize SUV can run on electric power for the first 20-30 miles, or as a driver chooses. That means around town where the SUV is most likely to gulp high-octane petrol it can be both more fuel efficient and non-polluting.

A gorgeous dark metallic blue XC90 arrived in my drive with about 25 miles of electric range while 36 is the predicted maximum plug-in range when fully charged. Sadly, this one didn’t have an adapter that fit my garage’s ancient 110/120 volt outlet, so I couldn’t add to its range. Still, there was enough to learn that the power delivery is smooth and pretty seamless when it kicked over to the gas-powered unit.

In all XC90s that’s a turbocharged I4 linked to a silky 8-speed automatic. With electric power supplementing the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine), that makes 455 horses with a torque rating of 523. On its own the ICE makes 312 horses and in mid-level B6 models that’s 295 horses. Entry-level B5 models boast 247 horses, still not shabby.

Watch Mark’s video: 2023 Volvo XC90 Recharge AWD Ultimate review by Mark Savage and Paul Daniel – YouTube

So power is generous and will kick the XC90 to highway speeds in a hurry. A quick trip to the northern Chicago burbs and back was comfy and smooth. The interior is quiet, the ride mostly well-controlled now and handling predictable and easy. Cruising at 75 on the freeway is where the XC90 excels.

An optional $1,800 air suspension also improved ride quality quite a bit.

Another plus, AWD is standard, so when the highway got a bit slippery the Volvo remained sure-footed, like a soccer player shod in his or her grippiest sneakers.

The test XC90 was the Bright themed version, a Dark version is also available. That means this one had chrome exterior trim, including the grille, roof rails and window trim. Guess what the Dark edition features? Yes, blackened chrome grille, etc.

Inside, Volvo has mastered the look of luxury and elegant simplicity with a strong Swedish accent.

In this model fine gray wool blend seats were substituted for the usual leather. Sheer a sheep, don’t skin a bovine.

This looked and felt divine on a cold day as it wasn’t as chill as leather. Yet the seats and steering wheel where heated, although controlled through the info screen. Second row seats also are heated, but not the third, which is (like most third rows) tight for anyone older than 13, mainly short of knee room.

Volvo’s seats are well padded and shaped too, with excellent side bolsters and naturally a bevy of power adjustments for the driver including three areas, lumbar, back and leg cushions. You do this with a button on the seat’s side, but see the changes registered on the infotainment screen. There are three memory settings for the driver’s seat too.

Oddly this high-end Volvo still does not have a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, but it did have a monster panoramic sunroof. Manual sun shades grace the side windows.

Other niceties include lights over the rear doors and on exterior door handles. There’s also a mighty 1,400-watt Bower & Wilkins stereo with 19 speakers that will blast loud enough to wake the dead or any hungover New Year’s revelers. It runs $3,200.

Three rows of seats allow for large family hauling, or toting lots of gear!

Volvo also includes an SOS system among its bevy of electronic safety devices. Prime is Volvo’s Pilot Assist program that helps make this a semi-autonomous driver and includes the likes of lane departure warning with a tug to center the Volvo in its lane, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert that detects pedestrians, automatic braking for said obstacles and collision avoidance.

Volvo continues with its 9-inch vertical info screen, but adds a new 12-inch wide digital instrument panel that’s easy to read. The info screen is certainly readable too, but one must press the home button and then slide the screen about to find other functions a driver may want. It’s hard to use while driving, but not that tough to figure out when parked, so adjust it before you head out on the road.

Panoramic sunroofs let a lot of light into the Volvo XC90.

Other stylish trim inside includes black wood accents on the doors and dash with satin chrome door releases and shiny chrome around the screen that’s trimmed in gloss black. The console-mounted shifter also features an Orrefors crystal shift knob, something more high-end makes seem to be employing. There’s a spiffy elegance to it all.

In back under the power hatch is modest cargo space when the third-row seats are in place, but fold those down and storage room increases to 65.8 cubic feet, or lower rows 2 and 3 and that hits 85.7 cu.ft. Note too that the XC90 will tow up to 5,000 pounds, so a fishing boat and trailer or a couple trailered snowmobiles will be no problem.

When coupled with the plug-in electric power the Volvo is estimated to get 58 MPGe in the city and 55 highway, but once that is used up you’re back to the mid-20 mpg range. I got 27 mpg in about 70% highway driving, and that’s not bad for a 7-person AWD SUV or van. That’s also the EPA estimate for the XC90.

Pricing cuts a wide swath, starting at $57,000 for the base Core model with its lesser content, lower power, no leather interior and a 4,000-pound tow rating. A Recharge PHEV model starts at $73,000 and the tested Ultimate lists at $80,495, including delivery. With the added fancy stereo and air suspension this one hit $85,495.

One imagines a full-electric XC90 must be in the works now that the mild hybrid system is in place on lower levels and the PHEV is the top trim. For now, this will satisfy a family’s hybrid luxury SUV needs, while looking great inside, and handsome outside.

FAST STATS: 2023 Volvo XC90 Recharge AWD Ultimate: Bright theme

Hits: Good looks, excellent electric power, precise handling and full-time AWD. Big sunroof, heated wheel and front and second row seats, big touchscreen, quality stereo, a stylish luxury interior, plus a full bevy of safety equipment.

Misses: Touchscreen (beyond main screen) is distracting to use while driving and no power tilt/telescope steering wheel.

Made in: Gothenburg, Sweden

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4 w/plug-in electric motor, 455 hp/523 torque

Transmission: 8-speed Geartronic, automatic

Weight: 5,194 lbs.

Wheelbase: 117.5 in.

Length: 195.0 in.

Range: 36 miles per plug-in

Cargo: 15.8/65.5/85.7cu.ft.

Tow: 5,000 lbs.

MPGe: 58/55

MPG: 27 (gas only)

Base Price: $80,495 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $80,261

Major Options:

4-corner air suspension, $1,800

Bowers & Wilkins premium sound, $3,200

Test vehicle: $85,495

Sources: Volvo, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

#Volvo

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 4xe

Electric hybrid adds cost, but boosts fuel efficiency, smooths power …

When Jeep launched the Grand Cherokee 30 years ago it was among the first luxury sport-utility vehicles on the market that still was affordable (not a Rover) and capable of off-roading.

Jeep continues to make its Grand Cherokee as off-road worthy as anything, including its more rugged looking Wrangler, but the price now peaks at Range Rover levels.

Yet kudos to Jeep for adding hybrid power to its latest Grand Cherokee even though that’s what nudges the price up. This plug-in hybrid, the 4xe, is exactly what makes sense as the go-between from gas to electric power.

Here’s the deal.

On this mid-size SUV Jeep couples a hybrid system with a small 2.0-liter turbo I4 so that an overnight charge on a normal home 120V power line nets 25 to 27 miles of electrical juice. That means that an average user who drives to and from work, or to run necessary daily errands, can run on electricity most of the time. By the way, the power is awesome smooth in the Jeep and when was the last time someone called a Jeep smooth?

In a 230-mile week of driving I evenly split my electric vs. gas powered driving, recharging with the driver’s side front quarter panel plug-in, each evening.

That meant each morning I had a 100% charge and most days I didn’t need more than that. Two trips to the other side of town during the week meant half of each trip was on the juice, while the other half was gas-powered. The results? My combined average was 37.1 mpg, while gas alone (sadly Premium is recommended) averaged just 18.2 mpg, showing the difference hybrid electric power can make. The vehicle also senses when 4WD is not needed and turns it off when not needed.

Cool too that Jeep allows the driver to select (via dash buttons) hybrid power, electric only, or save-E, which mostly runs the Grand Cherokee on gas, saving the electric charge for when you most need it, say in town, or when slopping around field or forest.

See Mark’s video: 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 4xe review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Yes, there are still plenty of off-roading choices here, five to be exact. A console toggle allows the driver to select Rock, Sand/Mud, Snow, Auto, or Sport drive modes. Sport seems silly to me on an SUV and here it firms up the steering something fierce, not pleasant at all.

The others will engage the proper 4-wheeling system for the circumstances and if you’re rock-crawling becomes a habit there’s a button to unhook the front sway bar to create more wheel articulation. Note too, the Grand Cherokee has a maximum ground clearance of 10.9 inches, which is a lot. Plus, another toggle on the console allows the driver to hike up the haunches and lift the Jeep to its maximum height, or lower it for easy exits. This Jeep also will ford two feet of water safely.

There’s ample power here as the turbo I4 and hybrid electric motor provide a combined 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque so there’s a tow rating of 6,000 pounds. All is smooth and silky when electric is the power source, but when the Jeep switches to the gas engine, which is seamless, well, the little turbo groans considerably as it seems to be trying to bench press the vehicle’s full 5,500 lbs. Acceleration can be noisy with the tiny turbo.

Folks wanting constant smooth power application probably should opt for one of the gas-only powered Grand Cherokees that feature a V6 or V8. You’ll also save money up front, but more on that in a sec.

A blue tow hook, 4xe logo and jeep logo add color to the tail.

Handling is typical of a mid-size SUV, easy steering with modest feedback and a little body lean in tight turns. It’s all quite controllable and easy to maintain within a lane. Of course there’s all the usual safety equipment such as lane departure, blind-spot warning and parking sensors.

Ride is mostly good too, especially on the highway, but as with most trucks/utes gets jiggly on bumpy city streets as pot holes and expansion joints create some rock and roll, but then it’s a Jeep, right?

That’s not to say it isn’t luxurious. The Diamond Black Crystal Pearl ($395 extra) test SUV looked upscale, the ride is mostly well controlled, and the interior leathery.

Check out the blue tow hooks, hood stripe and blue-outlined Jeep logo here.

I like the little blue styling cues on the exterior, to subtly insinuate this is a hybrid. Apparently bright green and blue do that these days on hybrids and electrics. This one slapped blue trim on all the Jeep logos, the front and rear tow hooks, the rear hatch’s Trailhawk logo and a blue Trailhawk adhesive stripe on the hood, which also featured a flat black hood sticker.

Inside, the Grand Cherokee looks fresh and modern, a big step up from its predecessor.

More blue trim inside with the seat piping and stitching on the console.

Enough black leather here to frighten any herd of cattle, but with a tasteful blue (again) stitching to spruce it up. Seat edges were leather but the main seat surfaces a suede material. Classy.

Shiny black fake wood trim accents the dash and doors and is trimmed in satin chrome. The look is keen, but the reflection off that and the gloss black console surface can be blinding on sunny days now that we’ve passed the equinox and the sun rides at lower angles.

Seats are powered plus heated and cooled in front, with the outer rear seats also heated. I found the butt pockets rather snug in the front seats, but the rears (seats that is) were better. The steering wheel also is heated. One odd problem I found when trying to buckle up each trip, and that’s the seatbelt is hard to pull between the seat and door, a bit of a tight squeeze.

No problem with the digital equipment here though, a big center info screen and digital driver instrument panel. Some numbers on the driver display were a bit small, but the info screen was great and easy to use, plus includes adjacent volume and tuning knobs for the radio, a fine Alpine sound system in the Trailhawk. Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard too.

A few things you won’t find on the Trailhawk were surprising though. There’s no sunroof, no wireless phone charger and no running boards. At this top-end pricing I’d expect all three. In the Jeep’s defense, there are oodles of plug-ins available for charging.

There was no passenger-side info screen in the test vehicle, but that’s ok, it’s an option as on Jeep’s Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer.

The digital instrument panel gives you a lot of info, but numbers are small.

Tire noise is considerable with the beefy R18 All-Terrain tires, which would be good for off-roading, but hum like an annoying tone-deaf 5-year-old who loves Disney tunes, even at low speeds.

In back is a power hatch hiding a load of cargo space, so a family of five can vacation, camp, haul, etc. while taking along all the sundries needed for comfort. Second-row seats split and fold flat and the SUV’s plug-in charger can be stowed neatly in a bag under the cargo floor.

Did I mention this is pricey?

Yes, and that was a bit of a shock (sorry) for this hybrid electric model. A base 2023 model (now at dealers) lists at $60,260, while a Trailhawk version starts at $65,455. Move up to an Overland and it’s $69,225, a Summit goes for $72,990, and the premium of premiums, the Summit Reserve starts at $77,470. All prices including delivery. For the record, a $7,500 tax credit may apply to the hybrid models, but check it before you buy.

There’s a lot of space under that power hatch, but only two rows of seats.

The tested 2022 model listed at $64,280 and only added the special color to hit $64,675. By the way, white is the only paint color that doesn’t cost extra on the Grand Cherokee, although other colors are mostly $395, so not a huge add-on.

While I’m all in on plug-in hybrids until our electric infrastructure grows considerably, I should point out that Jeep really charges for the privilege. For instance, a base V6 powered Grand Cherokee, the Laredo, lists at $40,120, but of course has fewer standard features and no 4WD.

Move up to the equivalent Trailhawk gas-only model and the sticker is $56,030. Between are Altitude and Limited models in the mid-$40,000 range.

So choose wisely, especially if your budget already is being stretched. The good news for all 4xe plug-in hybrids, you’ll pay less to power them weekly, and they run as smooth as a luxury sedan, just taller and with way bigger tires!

FAST STATS: 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 4xe

Hits: Off-road capability, five drive modes, plug-in hybrid boosted gas mileage, and good looks. Roomy luxury interior, power hatch, heated/cooled front seats, heated outer rear seats, heated steering wheel, Alpine stereo, good safety equipment. Sway bar disconnect for off-roading and good ground clearance with toggle to raise truck.

Misses: Pricey, tire noise, groany underpowered gas engine, no sunroof, no running boards, no wireless charger, reflective trim, ride can get jiggly, tight seat butt pockets and front seat belts hard to pull through between door and seat.

Made in: Detroit, Mich.

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, plug-in hybrid, 375 hp/470 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 5,521 lbs.

Wheelbase: 116.7 in.

Length: 193.5 in.

Cargo: 37.7-70.8 cu.ft.

Tow: 6,000 lbs.

MPG: 23/combo gas/electric

Fuel: Premium recommended

Electric range: 25 mph

MPG: 18.2 gas/37.1 combined (tested)

Base Price: $64,280 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $62,667

Major Options:

Diamond black crystal pearl paint, $395

Test vehicle: $64,675

Sources: Jeep, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

#Jeep

Ford launches 2023 Escape, including hybrids, new ST-Line

ST-Line adds flare, hybrids stretch mileage, plus more electronics …

Available early 2023, the hybrid Escape (left) and new ST-Line Elite Escape.

Ford launched its refreshed Escape small SUV this morning touting new styling inside and out plus a sporty new ST-Line model and regular hybrid along with plug-in hybrid models.

Naturally there are a bunch of new electronics too, with improvements including;  

  • Cloud connectivity and a 13.2-inch screen
  • Enhanced suite of Ford Co-Pilot360 Technology that includes a:
    • 360-degree camera
    • Alexa Built-In
    • Intersection Assist 2.0 to help drivers avoid collisions with pedestrians while turning
    • Blind Spot Assist, which can nudge the steering wheel as a caution against an unsafe action if a driver has missed system warnings 

Additionally, the Escape comes with a wide variety of powerplants including its EcoBoost, hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains for efficiency, reduced operating costs and less emissions. Plus it continues to offer its efficient gas-powered EcoBoost system that uses a turbocharger to boost gas mileage and efficiency.

The 2023 Escape hybrid in Vapor Blue. This is a pre-production model.

Ford says it has targeted each model to have at least 400 miles of range no matter its power source and the full-hybrid is aimed at getting 550 miles of range.

Watch Mark’s review of the current plug-in hybrid Escape: https://savageonwheels.com/2022/06/08/2021-ford-escape-titanium-phev-fwd/

Outside there’s some refreshment of styling, but the bigger news is the snazzy ST-Line that features a more upscale interior look, a black mesh grille (super popular these days), a unique rear skid plate for off-roading, a large single-wing rear spoiler and available “coast to coast” LED light bar running from headlamp to headlamp

The tail ends of the hybrid Escape (left) and the new ST-Line Elite in Rapid Red.

Inside the ST-Line is an optional 13.2-inch screen with cloud-connected SYNC4 Technology and new advanced driver-assistance systems. Continuing popular features on the Escape include a sliding second row seat with more second-row legroom, says Ford, than a Toyota Sequoia. Can’t wait to test drive that with the family!

For the record, the ST-Line comes in three models, including the base with a 1.5-liter EcoBoost engine making about 180 horsepower with front-wheel or optional all-wheel drive. The ST also can be had with a hybrid system with FWD. There’s also the ST-Line Select and ST-Line Elite, both offering an optional 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine aimed at creating 250 hp and standard AWD and an available hybrid option.

 The ST-Line features an ebony interior with red stitching on the door panels, seat trim, center arm rest, floor mats and steering wheel. Also, a flat-bottom steering wheel (Yippee!). Outside the ST-Line touts 18-inch Rock Metallic painted aluminum wheels as standard. The ST-Line Select model offers optional 19-inch Machine-Faced Ebony Painted aluminum wheels that are standard on the ST-Line Elite model.

 In addition to the ST-Line, the Escape lineup includes Base, Escape Active, Platinum and Plug-in Hybrid models. Escape Base and Active models offer a 1.5-liter EcoBoost engine with FWD or optional AWD. The Platinum model offers a 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine with AWD and a hybrid powertrain option with FWD or AWD.

The restyled Ford Escape hybrid in Vapor Blue, available in early 2023.

 Pricing ranges from $28,995 to $39,995, including delivery. The lower level models are FWD while the ST-Line Select and Elite are AWD. Those are priced at $35,535 and $39,955, respectively. The plug-in hybrid also is $39,995.

All 2023 Escapes come standard with new LED reflector headlamps with signature lighting, and a rear seat that can slide nearly six inches to create either more legroom or cargo space.

 The plug-in hybrid model uses Ford’s advanced fourth-generation hybrid system, which includes a 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle hybrid engine and electronic continuously variable transmission. The FWD plug-in hybrid is projected to produce a combined 210 hp and it aims to deliver 37 miles in electric-only mode. This model features a Level 1 / Level 2 AC charging port. Using a 110-volt Level 1 charge, the estimated time to fully charge the battery is 10 to 11 hours. Using a 240-volt Level 2 charge, charge time drops to roughly 3.5 hours.

The Escape Plug-In Hybrid model also features four EV modes.

The new Escape is assembled at the Louisville Assembly Plant in Kentucky, and Ford notes that Escape was the world’s first hybrid SUV, launching in 2005.

#Ford

#Ford Escape hybrid

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2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV FWD

Plug-in hybrid saves oodles of gas, I spent less than $5 in a week …

If Ford’s plug-in hybrid Escape was any more middle of the road it would have a white stripe painted down its centerline.

Escape is a fine family of four crossover with sufficient power, easy handling and good passenger and cargo room inside. It’s pleasant looking. In fact, its nose resembles a much pricier and sportier Porsche Macan, so maybe you can fool a few neighbors.

Considering the average price of a new vehicle now is pressing $46,000 it’s nice to know a family could still escape in this Ford for $26,800, including delivery, at its base front-drive level. That packs just a 1.5-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder engine that still makes a healthy 180 horsepower.

Naturally there are varying trims and options for that gas-only powered model, plus a standard hybrid where battery power is added via regenerative braking, but the tested plug-in hybrid model starts at a still family friendly $35,185 in SE trim, and $37,920 in the preferred SEL trim.

The test crossover was the top-level Titanium model starting at $40,130 but it crept up to $43,025 with its fancy Rapid Red Metallic paint ($395) and a Titanium preferred package, including a dual-pane sunroof, wireless charging and fancy floor mats, for $2,500.

Even at that, the test Escape is below the going rate for new wheels in our supply-chain challenged world.

Yet there’s one feature that sets this Escape apart in this middlers paradise, its plug-in charging system. While standard hybrid technology has been around for a couple decades now, the plug-in system is more a past 5-year phenomenon. With a plug-in, a cord with pistol grip plug connects to an outlet in the Escape’s front left fender (looks like a fuel door) and then connects to any outlet, 120- or 240-volt that is available, usually in your garage.

At 120 volts it takes roughly 8-10 hours for a full charge that nets the Escape about 35 miles of electric charge. If you have a partial charge already, it can take just 2 to 4 hours for a full charge. If you have a 240-volt charger (like you would for a dryer) a charge takes about half as long.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV FWD – YouTube

This is perfect for folks commuting less than 30 miles daily roundtrip to work or running errands. In my week’s drive I never fully used the battery charge, so ended up needing only 0.8 gallons of gas, or just short of $4. Imagine that for a week’s driving of roughly 200 miles.

My calculations put my fuel economy at 208.1 mpge and 41.75 mpg for the gas only. The key here is running on the electric charge as much as possible. I have no cost figures for my evening charges for the crossover’s battery, but one suspects it would be several dollars as opposed to $20-30 for equivalent gas. Reducing emissions, naturally, is the big-picture advantage.

A side note here. The Escape offers four battery use driving methods via a button on the console. One is for electric driving only, another is Automatic so chooses gas or electric as the power system computer deems appropriate, another allows you to run on gas while you maintain whatever battery charge you have. This makes sense to save the battery power for city stop-and-go driving where the electric is most efficient. The final setting allows the engine and regenerative braking to help boost battery life, although I didn’t find it helped much more than the Automatic setting.

All this is a long way of saying the plug-in system works well and is easy, provided you have a garage or indoor place to plug in regularly. It makes daily driving much more economical, especially with today’s higher gas prices.

For the record, the hybrid system works in conjunction with a 2.5-liter I4 engine and makes up to 221 horsepower while the standard hybrid system packs 200 horsepower. The transmission is a CVT, so smooth, but not peppy.

Acceleration is pretty mild, but due to the electric power it comes instantly so pulling away from a stoplight feels quicker than one might expect in a compact crossover.

Handling is fairly light and easy, so parking and lane maintenance are a breeze and cornering is good, especially at city speeds. Ride is decent too, not smooth, but not too abrupt on sharp city ruts and expansion joints.

Note too that the gas-powered and standard hybrid Escapes are available with AWD, but the plug-in is only a front-drive model.

The bright metallic red test crossover was attractive and featured a two-tone black and tan leatherette interior, the seats being tan with black trim and the dash and doors black. Ford opts for an inexpensive looking fake light wood look metal trim on the dash and doors that does not seem appropriate for a top trim level.

Attractive two-tone interior gives the Escape a handsome look inside.

Ford’s instrument panel and infotainment screen are easy to see, read, and use, although the infotainment screen is smaller than most these days. Still, functionality is good and all dash and steering wheel hub controls are simple.

This one also includes heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, plus power seats. However, the seat cushions are all relatively flat so provide very little hip and back support. That’s fine in town, but on a long drive could become tiring.

Nothing special here, but the screen, buttons and knobs are easy to see and use.

The giant sunroof overhead is nice, as is the wireless charging, both part of the Titanium option package.

Front and rear seats are roomy for four adults and there is plenty of cargo room under the power rear hatch. However, below the floor here there was a big gaping hole that housed a battery and should have had a spare tire, but none was there and the finish of that cargo hold under the floor looked straight out of the 1960s with no padding. This could be a one-off test car situation, but give a look at any Escape you are intending to buy to make sure this is not an issue.

This was rather odd, no spare tire and not much finishing under the cargo floor.

Standard safety equipment is well represented here with Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 system standard, including pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning and smart cruise control.

There’s also another safety device no doubt demanded by corporate lawyers, and this is becoming a major annoyance in more and more vehicles. It’s what I call the “Don’t Forget the Kid” warning for the rear seat. It beeps at you once the ignition is off and warns on the info screen, “Check Rear Seat for Occupant.”  You can press the OK button on the steering wheel hub to stop the beeping, but still, this is unnecessary for most drivers who have children.

Still, I suppose that’s family friendly, even if the beeping sends mom or dad into a frenzy as they try to get out of the car and into the mall, grocery store, or wherever, with a kid in tow.

Here’s a closer look at the main dash controls.

In general, fewer beeps and alarms in cars today would be a welcome change. Light up the warning on the screen if necessary to avoid lawsuits, but stop with the noise pollution.

Overall though the Escape is a middler’s dream, an inexpensive vehicle that can haul a family of four in relative comfort while also getting great fuel economy. Competitors include Toyota’s RAV4 Prime, the new Hyundai Tucson, and the Subaru Crosstrek. All come with AWD.

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV FWD

Hits: Plug-in hybrid provides 35 miles of electric charge, comfy family crossover with easy handling, simple dash controls and fabulous mileage if fully charged. Heated seats and wheel, good safety equipment, 4 choices of battery power use, wireless charger, dual sunroofs, power hatch and fair ride.

Misses: Plug-in only available with front-wheel drive, annoying alarm every time you turn off ignition warning “Check Rear Seat for Occupant,” poor finish and no spare tire under cargo floor, seats are flat with little support.

Made in: Louisville, Ky.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4 hybrid, 221 hp

Transmission: CVT automatic

Weight: 3,870 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.7 in.

Length: 180.5 in.

Cargo: 34-61 cu.ft.

Tow: 1,500 lbs.

MPG: 105 (gas-electric), 40 (gas)

MPGe: 208.1 (tested), 41.75 mpg (gas only)

Base Price: $40,130 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $38,863

Major Options:

Rapid Red Metallic paint, $395

Titanium premium pkg. (floor mats, panoramic sunroof, wireless charging), $2,500

Test vehicle: $43,025

Sources: Ford, 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 Hyundai Santa Fe Caligraphy

Fourth gen Santa Fe grows into a sharp looker …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better safe than sorry I suppose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy

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

These T-shaped headlights are a standout styling feature.

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

Made in: Montgomery, Ala.

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo I4, 277 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/Shiftronic

Weight: 4,060 lbs.

Wheelbase: 108.9 in.

Length: 188.4 in.

Cargo: 36.4-72.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 21/28

MPG: 26.4 (tested)

Base Price: $43,275 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $41,480

Major Options: Quartz white paint, $300

Carpeted floor mats, $155

Test vehicle: $43,730

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited

Pacifica minivan nears perfection with quiet plug-in hybrid …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big panoramic sunroof really brightens up the interior.

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

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

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

FAST STATS: 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited

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

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

Made in: Windsor, Ont., Canada

Engine: 3.6 V6, hybrid, 260 hp

Transmission: CVT, automatic

Weight: 4,987 lbs.

Wheelbase: 121.6 in.

Length: 203.8 in.

Cargo: 140.5 cu.ft.

MPG: 82 gas/electric, 30 gas only

MPG: 24.0 (tested)

Base Price: $47,340 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $47,289

Major Options:

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

Test vehicle: $49,835

Sources: Chrysler, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription

Plug-in hybrid XC60 a looker and performer … 

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

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

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

Die-cast: DNA Collectibles Volvo Concept Coupe

Finally a model of the Volvo Coupe that became Polestar 1 …

For much of its modern history Volvo has been the maker of boxy utilitarian vehicles known for their safety. Sexy was as foreign to its styling department as polkas are to Shakira.

But even a dowdy car company like Volvo can change and by 2013 it had committed to more elegant, and some might say, moderately sexy design. Hence the Volvo Concept Coupe, one of three show cars that set Volvo’s styling tone for the future.

DNA Collectibles loves stylish cars, and quirky cars that other die-cast manufacturers have avoided. You might say style is in the company’s DNA. (Groan!) Continue reading Die-cast: DNA Collectibles Volvo Concept Coupe