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.
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→
Volkswagen brings a little fun to the small wagon market, which is a niche of a niche these days, but certainly compares well with small crossovers.
But instead of a tall boxy AWD vehicle, the Golf Alltrack is a decidedly leaner machine that looks downright sporty compared to a crossover. In fact, the Golf Alltrack is an offshoot of the Golf SportWagon, same basic vehicle, but raised a seemingly minor 0.6 inches for a 6.9-inch ground clearance and uses VW’s fine 4Motion system for grip.
The silver test wagon, which VW aims to compete with Subaru’s Outback and Crosstrek, was the mid-level SE model. The S with manual transmission starts at $26,670, while the test unit listed at $30,530 with no options and an $895 delivery charge.
What you get is a dandy handling, light and quick wagon that will haul quite a lot. Like most crossovers and such, it could go on minor-league muddy, rutty, non-paved surfaces, but really is aimed at on-road use. That’s thanks to the 4Motion system that runs the car at 90% front-wheel drive and 10% of the power in back most of the time. Once slippage is sensed, it splits the power 50/50. Continue reading 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack TSI SE→
Reminders are needed, from time to time, of the pure joy of driving, and Volkswagen’s Jetta is just the thing to pleasantly jog one’s memory.
The conservatively styled Jetta’s exterior has been slightly smoothed and refined for 2016, but its mechanical workings needed no tweaks. The Jetta feels much like the small nimble BMW’s of years past, before they became power hungry heavier brutes as they grew ever larger.
Jetta is a near perfect blend of compact family sedan and sports sedan and lucky for most of us, continues at a modest price compared to that of today’s SUV-laden market. But even at a slightly higher price tag the Jetta would be a bargain, if, and it’s a big if, today’s drivers knew what they were missing by driving crossovers and SUVs.
In short, Jetta is quick with lively handling made all the more fun by VW’s fine 6-speed manual transmission. Call it sporty, call it a blast, but also call it practical because as a compact sedan it will easily seat four average sized adults and carry their luggage too with its generously sized trunk.
Toyota has restyled its popular RAV4 crossover to give it a sleeker more modern look while maintaining its solid underpinnings.
Like most Toyota offerings, RAV4 doesn’t change much from year to year, it simply remains a good reliable machine that does what you’d expect of a small crossover. The engine remains the same as it has for years, a 2.5-liter I4 with variable valve timing and dual-overhead cam layout.
Price keeps creeping up, but it’s still extremely competitive with its main competition, the likes of Honda’s CR-V, Subaru’s Forester and Ford’s Escape.
Compared with the RAV4 I’d driven three years ago, the 2016 seemed more tightly built and despite the same powerplant, felt as if it had more oomph and the interior was made of nicer materials.
While the 176-horse engine is no race horse in standard or Eco mode (nothing is racy in Eco mode), the metallic black currant (dark red nearly maroon) crossover was lively in Sport mode. You punch a button to engage that, plus there are paddle shifters behind the wheel if you want to use those to impact shift points. But Sport mode holds the gears in the six-speed automatic longer than the normal mode and quickens acceleration. Good to use when entering a highway, for instance. Continue reading 2016 Toyota RAV4 SE AWD→