Tag Archives: SUV

2022 Cadillac XT6 Premium Luxury AWD

No big fins, but Caddy recaptures luxury in an SUV …

Luxury, and the perception of luxury, dictate price in the auto world, always have.

But today the statistical differences between vehicles within a segment often are miniscule, a half inch here, five horsepower there. Exterior or interior styling, and the vehicle’s brand perception are the differentiators. The decision to buy often comes down to these.

Is Cadillac still America’s most luxurious brand, or do you prefer an Acura, Lexus or one of the European makes, for which you generally will pay a premium?

Cadillac certainly would argue that it’s the No. 1 luxury brand made in the U.S., although Tesla could argue that point as it’s now No. 3 overall behind BMW and Lexus. Yet if you think traditional American brands, well Cadillac is still light years ahead of Lincoln in sales.

SUVs of course are the growing segment and that’s where this week’s XT6 falls. It’s a handsome, elegant mid-size SUV, and bigger than Caddy’s XT5.

XT6 is based on the GMC Acadia platform and premiered in 2020. On looks, inside and out, the Cadillac is a winner. Performance and luxury feel also should put it on any luxury 3-row SUV buyer’s must-drive list. Both XT models are sharply styled, particularly those vertical running lights up front and (it’s amazing to say this) its understated Cadillac crest-shaped grille.

The test ute was a sophisticated Rosewood Metallic, a sparkly red-tinted copper color ($625 extra) that was blessedly not gray, silver, or white, as are nearly all other SUVs on the market. The interior also featured an equally stylish, tasteful two-tone tan and black cockpit with semi-aniline leather seats topped by Cadillac crests atop their back cushions. The dash was tan over black with a glossy fake wood trim, silver Bose door speaker covers, and chrome trim around the dash and doors’ wood.

Cadillac’s center info screen is an 8-incher, somewhat smaller than those in many of its competitors, but easy to see. My only serious interior complaint is the glossy nature of that wood trim which morphs into a glare monster on sunny days. Matte finishes rock, so tone it down!

Like the similar Acura MDX tested last year everything functionally is exactly what you’d expect, sufficient for a luxury vehicle, but not standoutish.

Power churns from a 3.6-liter V6 that is not turbocharged. It cranks 310 horsepower so is strong enough to pull 4,000 pounds of trailer and motorized boy toys. MDX, by the way, pulls 5,000 pounds.

Ride is well cushioned with MacPherson struts up front and a five-link independent rear suspension. Here’s where Cadillac excels compared with many competitors who feel even their mid- to full-size SUVs must be sporty, right down to a rump-thumping stiff ride. Instead, Cadillac smooths the ride, isolating the passengers from even serious bumps and thumps. Bravo!

Handling is respectable and steering feedback a bit better than I’d expect in this size SUV. The XT6 was simple to control on the freeway and an easy ute to park.

The tested Premium Luxury model (mid-level of three trims) also sported AWD, which is easily accessed via a large button on the console. That drive mode includes Sport, Touring and Off-Road. Traction was good in moderate snow and the Sport setting automatically put the vehicle in AWD to best hook up the power to the pavement.

I used Sport only when needing a quick burst of speed. It helped smooth the acceleration and add more low-end torque, so a driver may prefer to use it, but the ute defaults to Touring. In Touring and AWD there was a bit of acceleration lag, a bit odd because this is a naturally aspirated V6, not a turbo, where lags are more likely.

Some might say that’s a disadvantage in that gas mileage is rated 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. Turbos usually achieve better. I got just 17.5 mpg, but admittedly we had a few sub-zero mornings during my test.

One might also expect a hybrid model to be available with enhanced mileage figures, but so far Cadillac doesn’t offer a hybrid XT6. There is a 9-speed automatic tranny though and that, in theory, aids fuel economy. It certainly shifts smoothly.

Safety equipment is as expected, including automatic braking with pedestrian recognition, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot warning. But other items are optional, somewhat surprising at this price.

For instance it takes a $2,350 technology package to add a HUD (head-up display), park assist with automatic braking, HD surround view and recorder, plus rear pedestrian alert and a rear camera mirror (hot trend) with washer.

Another $1,300 driver assist package adds reverse automatic braking, enhanced automatic braking and adaptive cruise control, now becoming standard across the industry. The package also adds the super annoying automatic seatbelt tightening feature. This over-snugs the belt just as you put the car in Drive, then loosens it. Useless!

A cool night vision option is $2,000, but obviously not needed. I did find it entertaining as it lights up on the dash when it sees a person or animal way ahead of you at night. During these dark winter days that could be especially helpful.

Cadillac’s interior offers everything one would expect in a luxury SUV from all that leather on the seats, steering wheel and horn cap ($5,000 platinum package) to the suede headliner.

Standard are heated front seats, wireless phone charger, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, OnStar, remote start, tri-zone climate controls, power hatch, heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof and rain-sensing wipers.

A $750 comfort and air quality package adds heated rear seats, cooled front seats and an air ionizer. One minor annoyance here, the touchpad used to activate front seat heat or cooling, along with climate directional controls. The pad’s surface flexes just enough that it doesn’t always engage the first time it’s pressed, especially if the user is wearing gloves. The nearby temperature toggles are fine though.

The CUE system (Cadillac User Experience) also is upgraded to include a 14-speaker Bose Performance audio system, for $1,000. I mostly hear no difference, other than wattage, from most such systems, but this one really separated instruments’ sound during songs so that they sounded as if they were coming from various areas of the car. That was cool!

Note too this was a 6-passenger model ($800 extra) with captain’s chairs in the second row. A second row bench is standard and would allow the XT6 to carry seven. Room is generous in the third row, as the second row seats will slide forward. But the floor is raised in row three so knees ride a little higher than in row two. All seats are comfy, both soft due to the leather surfaces, and well-formed for hip support support. Cadillac also provides power buttons inside the power hatch to lower the third row seats, and buttons inside the second row doors to lower third row headrests and seats.

Good room in the third-row seat and it’s easy to get back here, or fold seats down.

Naturally the interior is extremely quiet.

XT6 also excels at cargo space, if either the third row, or second and third are lowered. The space is massive. With the third row in place there’s just room for a row of grocery bags behind the seat.

Two more add-ons to mention, one for $800 upgrades the headlight system, including curb spotlights that shine to the side when the turn signals are activated, plus lighted door handles, which are classy.

Optional too is a retractable cargo cover that adds $150 to the bottom line. You’re kidding right?

Attractive styling and door trim in the XT6.

Speaking of which, the starting price for the Premium Luxury’s bottom line is $56,040, including delivery. That’s less than most of the European competitors, but more than the MDX. And with its long list of options the tester hit $70,965. My first house cost half that much.

An entry-level Luxury model with 2.0-liter turbo I4 with 237 horsepower starts at $49,740. Adding AWD pushes it up $2,000.

A top-level XT6 Sport, which comes with AWD, red Brembo brake calipers, a torque vectoring differential, adaptive suspension and quicker steering, lists at $59,415.

Competitors beyond those listed include the likes of the Audi Q7 and BMW X5 at the higher price end, although the Caddy offers a better warranty. Or consider the Genesis GV80, Volvo XC90 or Lincoln Aviator nearer to the Caddy’s price range.

So many choices!

FAST STATS: 2022 Cadillac XT6 Premium Luxury AWD

Hits: Handsome 3-row SUV, good power, well-cushioned ride and AWD. Quiet luxury interior, 4 drive modes, heated wheel, heated/cooled front seats, heated rear seats, panoramic sunroof, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, wireless charger, HUD, comfy seats, oodles of storage (rear seats down).

Snazzy taillights and trim in back.

Misses: MediocreMPG and no hybrid available, dash’s fake wood extremely reflective, hesitant acceleration except in Sport mode, touch pad for seat heat and some climate controls flexes so doesn’t always engage first touch. 

Made in: Spring Hill, Tenn.

Engine: 3.6-liter V6, 310 hp/271 torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Weight: 4,700 lbs.

Wheelbase: 112.7 in.

Length: 198.8 in.

Cargo: 12.6/43.1/78.7 cu.ft.

Tow: 4,000 lbs.

MPG: 18/25

MPG: 17.5 (tested)

Base Price: $56,040 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $53,440

Major Options:

Platinum package (semi-aniline leather seats, Modena leather-wrapped wheel, leather horn pad, suede headliner, premium floor mats, real-time damping suspension), $5,000

Technology package (HD surround vision, automatic parking assist w/braking, 8-inch color gauge cluster, HUD, rear pedestrian alert, surround vision recorder, rear camera mirror w/washer), $2,350

Night vision, $2,000

Driver assist package (auto seatbelt tightening, reverse automatic braking, enhanced automatic braking, adaptive cruise control), $1,300

Cadillac User Experience w/navigation, Bose Performance audio 14-speaker system, $1,000

6-passenger seating, $800

Premium headlamp system w/lighted door handles, $800

Comfort and air quality package (heated rear seats, air ionizer, cooled front seats), $750

Special paint, $625

Security cargo shade, $150

Test vehicle: $70,965

Sources: Cadillac, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

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 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

2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige

Kia’s renamed minivan a festival on wheels …

Minivans are about as popular these days as global warming.

They, like sedans, have fallen victim to the SUV-ing of America. Chrysler, which basically invented the market for primo family movers, has stuck with its Pacifica, while Toyota has the Sienna and Honda the Odyssey. They are the major players.

Kia joined the fray with its boxy Sedona back in 2002 and its vany appearance inspired few. But now Kia has brought out the noisemakers, party hats, and kazoos with a major redesign and a rename to the Carnival, a veritable festival on wheels. And get this, it has restyled Carnival to look much more SUV-like.

While it’s hard to disguise the long tubular design of a minivan, Kia mostly succeeds with a stylish new nose and some satin aluminum cladding on its C-pillar that got nearly as much attention as any high-end sports car I’ve driven. Flash and sparkle sells!

From nose to tail the Carnival looks high-class.

It helped that I was driving the SX Prestige model that tops the Carnival lineup with a starting price of $47,275, including delivery fees. Don’t swallow your tongue after seeing that price tag, any minivan well loaded will crest $45 grand these days.

This one remains front-drive and is not offered as AWD. Carnival also has no hybrid model, yet. Toyota and Chrysler offer that.

But from a hauling standpoint the Carnival is a class-leader in power and interior passenger space. While few of us consider sportiness when shopping minivans, it’s good to have a strong powertrain if you have seven or eight passengers aboard.

Carnival obliges with a 3.5-liter V6 that creates 290 horsepower, slightly more than Pacifica. The engine is smooth and quiet and well suited to its 8-speed automatic. The upside is a nice mix of power and efficiency. The Kia is rated 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, a tad more than the former Sedona. I managed 22.6 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving.

Watch Mark’s video review: 2022 Kia Carnival MPV Review by Mark Savage

Four drive modes allow the driver to go to Sport (on a minivan?), Comfort, Eco or Smart, which learns how you drive and adjusts shift points and such to fit your driving style.

Handling also is fairly light and easy feeling and while there’s a bit of body lean in turns, this Carnival is easy to keep under control. Kia built the van on its fine K5 sedan’s platform that features more ultra high-strength steel to help lesson body roll. The minivan feels stable on the highway and is easy to park too. Thank a 360-degree camera for helping the driver maneuver in tight parking quarters.

Ride is mostly fine. On the highway the Carnival felt well planted. It smoothed out most of our crumbling infrastructure’s roughness. But like trucks and other vans there are some thumps and bumps on sharp cracks and pot holes. Still, ride is much as in other minivans or MPVs.

Oh, Kia wants us to call the Carnival an MPV (an old Mazda minivan brand by the way). That stands for Multi-Purpose Vehicle, as if all minivans, crossovers and SUVs don’t fit that category.

While Carnival’s exterior is festive and its performance top-shelf, the MPV’s (OK, I said it) interior is a circus tent full of opulence and inspired features, at least at this SX Prestige level.

The test van, a delicious Astra Blue (metallic blue-green) that costs just $495 extra, featured a full caramel-colored leather interior with black dash and upper door panels. The seats were a perforated leather and are both heated and cooled in this trim. A heated steering wheel also is standard on the Prestige.

Gorgeous seats and interior in the top-level Carnival!

Trim is mostly satin chrome with a gloss black console top again trimmed in satiny chrome. The spiff comes in a dimpled satin chrome dash trim that matches that outside C-pillar trim. I’m sure others will copy this. They should because it looks great, giving the interior a Rolex watch kinda pizazz.

Let’s start with the dash. In addition to its good looks there’s a giant flat touchscreen that looks much like the Mercedes GLA’s I just tested. These are two 12.3-inch screens merged as one unit for a smooth look and interface. Adjustments are easy and buttons large enough for simple adjustment. No dial or touchpad here. Bravo!

The instrument panel gauges and infotainment screen are merged into one unit.

Below is a wireless phone charger and the transmission’s stick shift is easily found and used atop the console.

Front seats are mildly contoured with power adjustments and two memory settings for the driver on the door.

The second row seats slide inward and fully recline with foot rests. Big screens on the front seat backs also provide entertainment for row two occupants!

But the real fun begins in the back seat. Don’t take that the wrong way.

First there are separate overhead climate controls and vents, but many vans have that now. VIP Lounge Seats are the hot stuff here, that and oodles of USB ports, 9 to be exact.

Those VIP seats are powered captain’s chairs with arm rests, but pull a lever on the side and the seats will slide sideways, toward the cabin’s middle, providing more door-side elbow room. Then play with the buttons on the seat’s side and it will recline and put up a footrest. Depending on the front-seat occupants you’ll only be able to extend that so far.

Kia also puts two entertainment screens on the front seat backs. These look like iPads and no doubt will enthrall your young charges. The downside, in my dad’s mind is that these stick out considerably from the seat backs and I can imagine a youngster bumping these while climbing out the power sliding side doors. Avoiding head cracks and gouges will require some parental watching and nagging.

Third row seats fold flat into the cargo bay in back.

Likewise, the power buttons on the VIP seat sides are somewhat clunky. Two main ones require the buttons be held down until the seats are properly reclined or returned to their full upright positions. Additionally, these second row seats can’t be removed since they are powered. They do slide to and fro though.

Also, crawling into the rear seats, which are fairly roomy if the second row seats aren’t pushed all the way back, is a little tight too. But then it’s the wee ones who will likely be sitting back there. That third row easily folds down into the cargo hold inside the power rear hatch, much like other vans.

A classy dimpled aluminum trim panel (like on the dash) spiffs up Carnival’s exterior.

There are two sunroofs here too with the one over the second to third-row seats having both a shade and is able to be opened for fresh air, sometimes needed with little stinkers in back.

I should mention how quiet the interior is too. Very! Both the SX and SX Prestige trims feature acoustic glass windows to cut wind noise. Makes it easier to hear the kids bicker in the third row!

Plenty of safety equipment here too to protect the family.

Kia’s Drivewise systems include forward collision avoidance that watches out for bikers and pedestrians, blind-spot warning and avoidance, rear cross-traffic avoidance, lane keeping assist, smart cruise control, rear parking assist and safe exit assist. The later sounds an alarm if cars are whizzing past your open side doors to warn kids to stay inside until the cars have passed. No more playing in traffic!

All worked fine, but as with some other makes the lane keeping assist was a bit over aggressive in twitching the wheel and redirecting the van to the center of its lane. This mostly becomes a problem in construction zones. Just be aware so you can keep the van out of barricades and orange barrels.

There also was a warning I didn’t care for. Every time the ignition is turned off the van chimes and lights up a message on the instrument panel, saying “Check Rear Seat.” It didn’t matter that no one was in those seats and no door had been opened previously to put a package there. So the warning becomes annoying and no doubt will be ignored when there is something in back, hopefully it’s not Junior.

Carnival simply is so full of goodies and equipment you’ll need to check out all the trim levels to make sure to get what your family needs.

Sharp looking headlights for Carnival!

The base LX starts at $33,275 with delivery, while the LXS lists at $35,275 and the EX at $38,775. I think that may be the best dollar-for-dollar trim. There’s also an SX just below the tested Prestige model. SX lists at $42,275.

The test van was $47,770 with only the paint being an option. For that you get all of the above, plus snazzy black wheels to give the Prestige a sportier look. A few other goodies include LED head and taillights, a Bose premium audio system, the leather seats both heated and cooled for row one and two, plus live navigation system to provide traffic updates.

Remember too that Kia still delivers a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, a comfort for the family budget.

FAST STATS: 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige

Hits: Sharp looks, excellent power, good handling, loaded with safety equipment. Cool power reclining second row seats, third row stows in cargo floor, 2 sun roofs, heated/cooled seats, heated steering wheel, 4 drive modes, second row 2 screens, wireless phone charger, snazzy black wheels.

Even the taillights are handsome!

Misses: No hybrid or AWD offered, clunky power rear seat buttons, ride is good, but you still feel sharp bumps as in a truck, annoying chime and screen readout saying to “check the rear seats” every time the ignition is turned off.

Made in: Sohari, Korea

Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 290hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,727lbs.

Wheelbase: 121.7 in.

Length: 203 in.

Cargo: 40.2-141.5 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 19/26

MPG: 22.6 (tested)

Base Price: $47,275 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $45,202

Major Option:

Astra Blue paint, $495

Test vehicle: $47,770

Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Land Rover Defender 90 First Edition

2-door Rover a retro rock star in looks, off-roading …

OK, I say Land Rover and what do you picture?

Boxy, utilitarian off-roader running through tall elephant grass or African Savanna grass, a photographer’s head and camera poking from the open roof. Maybe an elephant, giraffe or even a lion wandering in the background?

That’s because in 1948 Land Rover started cranking out said utilitarian boxes after Jeeps had invaded the British landscape during World War II. The Brits were quick, relatively, to duplicate and improve upon the Jeep for its own market and, Boom! Rovers sold like elephant ears at the state fair. Those early models not only had high ground clearance, big rugged tires and four-wheel-drive, but fold down windshields and rear doors where we all fancy hatches these days.

Well, the good ol’ days are back, sort of, as Land Rover jumps back in to the more utilitarian end of the huge SUV market with its Defender series, which had disappeared in 1997 as Rover romped full force into the luxury SUV market where you bloody well know there are more profits!

Defender had been its entry-level more rugged Jeep-like models and now the new Defender 90 and 110 are that, with a healthy helping of luxury ladled on board. I tested the 110 back in January. It rides on a longer wheelbase and features four doors and a luxury price tag.

This time I romped the suburban tundra in a stylish (retro) Defender 90 First Edition two-door that again pressed right up against the luxury market like a lion in heat. This special trim was $65,450 and with just two options hit $66,475. Yet a base model with a less powerful 2.0-liter turbo I4 engine starts at down-market price of $47,125.

On looks alone the Defender 90, especially decked out in a light gray-green metallic Pangea Green paint scheme, is a rock star. Folks gawked, a few asked questions!

This rides on a compact 101.9-inch wheelbase, but still looks muscular and stout. It clears the ground by 8.9 inches, will wade in 35.4 inches of water, and in First Edition trim packs an energetic 395 horsepower 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder with mild hybrid system to power its electronics. A fine 8-speed automatic transmission easily melds with the big power unit for a luxury feel.

Trust me, a Jeep-like vehicle with a short wheelbase is normally about as much fun to drive as a square-wheeled peddle car. Think Flintstones! But Defender feels refined and quite comfy on most city streets, and in limited off-road romping. There is some bump felt on severe or sharp road imperfections, but ride is generally pleasant indeed.

Power is luxury sedan smooth and instantaneous. Driving the Defender is fun as you can get on the gas and be quickly up to highway speeds. In fact, I found myself over accelerating initially in highway jaunts, needing to whoa this boxy beast down to avoid the constabulary.

Handling is precise and firm with moderate steering effort required and Defender corners well for a tall short-wheelbase vehicle. It never felt tippy, although from outward appearances you might assume it to be top-heavy. I did not get to use this in rugged terrain, but it’s capable and has numerous off-road settings, all controlled via a big touchscreen. I’d prefer a knob or button.

Off-road options include mud ruts, rock crawl, grass/gravel/sand, sand, and wading for those nearly three-foot deep streams that need forded, or should that be Rovered? Comfort and a customizable Configurable setting also are available. Comfort works on city streets and highways.

So nimble is the Defender that parking is a breeze! One assumes that would help in dodging trees and rocks once off into the bush country too.

Speaking of which, there are a bunch of “dear Jesus” handles for both driver and riders to hug when bounding around boulders. The dash also has a rail across the top and at both edges if you need to hang on for dear life.

Otherwise the interior looks utilitarian. Door panels show exposed metal as in a Jeep and overhead there’s a cool fold-back cloth panoramic sunroof, powered of course. Seats are a mix of cloth and perforated leather-like material that would be easy to clean. Some of that texture is carried over into the doors and dash. These were a dark gray to black in the test truck with light gray trim on the doors and dash, which also had a shelf along its top face for storing sunglasses, phones, and rhino tranquilizer darts.

Seats are fairly flat, but powered and heated up front (controlled through the touchscreen) and there’s a jump seat in the middle that can be folded up to allow more elbow room such as that needed when off-roading. Put it down and there are cup holders in its back for the front seat occupants. However, that seat is quite thick and feels pretty confining for the front seat folks and a bit high for a comfy armrest. Put it up though and it somewhat blocks rearward vision.

In fact, rear vision is tough much of the time with the rear seat headrests and spare tire on that back door blocking the view. Thank goodness for the backup camera, mounted overhead in the shark fin antenna housing on the roof.

Rear seat folks also get a little ambient light from side skylights built into the Rover’s white metal top. Opening that cloth sunroof helps too. The skylights are retro styling touches, as are the little round taillights and so much more here. All good, as the styling communicates modernified retro inside and out.

Here’s the info screen with map up and the small shifter on the lower dash.

Not much storage room behind the rear seats, similar to a Jeep Wrangler, but less. Enough space for maybe four or five upright grocery bags. Seats will fold down, of course, and there’s a power height button inside that rear-opening back hatch door. So if you’re loading up and need the vehicle higher or lower for loading comfort that’s a plus.

Not a lot of visibility out the back with the tire there.

Again, I’m no fan of a rear-opening door, especially with a big 20-inch tired mounted on it. The door is heavy and the tire partially blocks rear visibility. Does it look macho and rugged? You bet. But it’s style over function.

What surprised me most? The interior’s quietness. I expected a lot more nubby off-road tire noise (20-inchers here adding $350 to the price), or more wind noise, this being a box on wheels. Not so. Defender’s interior is quiet as a near luxury sedan, allowing you to hear the fancy Meridian sound system, with volume easily adjusted by a roller on the steering wheel.

Happy in an urban setting too, the Defender 90 is a sweet ride!

On the practical side the powerful Defender will tow 8,200 lbs., so is a fine trailer puller, and if the rear seats are down there’s decent cargo space in back. If you’re going to tow you’ll need the trailer hitch receiver, a $675 option.

Rovers are not known for stellar gas mileage, and the Defender 90 is not a true hybrid. It’s rated at 17 mpg city and 22 highway by the EPA, and I got just 17.1 mpg in a mix of city and highway drives.

Rovers, now owned by India-based Tata Motors, are, however, known for electronic gremlins. I found only one slight glitch this time. The rearview camera liked to stay on when the SUV was in Drive for several minutes, but did switch to a front view. Hmm, maybe for watching out for wildebeests, or boulders!

2021 Land Rover Defender 90 First Edition

Hits: Snazzy retro looks, awesome color, off-roading ability in spades, strong smooth power, good handling, nice ride for short wheelbase. Quiet interior, cloth folding panoramic sunroof, heated seats, radio volume roller on wheel, Meridian sound system, easy to park.

Misses: Poor rear visibility, rear hatch opens out like door, tire on door makes it heavy, fold-down optional middle front seat very thick making for uncomfy arm rest, rearview camera stays on when in Drive for several minutes.

Wonder what the fold-down center seat/armrest looks like?
It’s thick!

Made in: Nitra, Slovakia

Engine: 3.0-liter I6, 395 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 4,780 lbs.

Wheelbase: 101.9 in.

Length: 180.4 in.

Cargo: 58.3 cu.ft.

Tow: 8,200 lbs.

MPG: 17/22

MPG: 17.1 (tested)

Base Price: $65,450 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $61,604

Major Options:

Tow hitch receiver, $675

Off-road tires, $350

Test vehicle: $66,475

Sources: Land Rover, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat AWD

Crazy fast Hellcat SUV a demonic delight …

Some things simply make no sense, seem coo-coo crazy, yet are so much fun that a person ignores their lunacy.

For instance, Dodge’s Durango SRT Hellcat with its 710-horse supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI V8. Any engine oozing that many adjectives is sure to be a demon.

This wild child is a one-year wonder from Dodge. The Durango SRT Hellcat is a 2021 model only, so pony up your $90 grand right now as these will surely be collector items.

Wild? Yes, the Durango, normally a fine mid-size SUV, has a top speed of 180 mph, says Dodge. Its 0-60 mph time is 3.5 seconds. It’s even quicker than a much pricier Lamborghini Urus, a luxury/performance SUV.

Even the Hellcat logo looks tough!

We shouldn’t be surprised by any of this, even in a hybridizing world where electrics are playing a larger role each model year. Dodge has gone full-bore performance in the past decade. It slightly refreshes its aging car and now SUV lineup, but keeps upping the ante for horsepower, always under the SRT and/or Hellcat brand. There are both in the Challenger and Charger models already and they too are land-based rockets.

I guided this missile to central Indiana and back, leaving knee-high corn stalks quivering in my wake and farm animals nervously looking over their shoulders.

The Durango was a blast, as are all Hellcats. Power is simply unspeakable. SUVs weighing 5,710 pounds are not supposed to have this sort of grunt. But tromp the metal-clad pedals and this SUV lurches toward light speed as if it were a stock car running on nitrous.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2021 Durango Hellcat – YouTube

Handling is suitably sporty with a moderately heavy feel and good cornering ability. No body lean here and the $595 extra Pirelli 3-season ZR20 performance tires give it race car grip. AWD doesn’t hurt either, but you’ll need all-season or winter tires to put the power to winter pavement.

Ride is typical large SUV bouncy with some side-to-side motion on uneven pavement. This is the same as the SRT Durango I tested about 18 months ago. Big bumps are well absorbed and no shockwaves are transmitted to the cockpit, but the bounce is noticeable.

Still, an SRT Hellcat buyer isn’t full-checkbook into this SUV for ride, but performance. So the SRT toggle at the center stack’s base will be his or her best friend. That toggle lights up the snazzy 10-inch info screen for selection of virtually any setting the driver requires. There are the pre-sets of Auto, Snow, and Tow, but more likely the Sport or Track settings will be desired. These firm up handling, ride and power to deliver race-worthy performance. A Custom setting allows everything from steering and ride to shock dampers to be adjusted.

There’s also a Launch button in case you’re headed to the drag strip to grind off excess rubber from those costly performance tires.

Braking is vital to a beast like this and the Dodge packs giant rotors front and rear and dolls up the SRT performance calipers with blue paint.

My test truck was Destroyer Gray, which looked an awful lot like the prior week’s test car, a Ford Mustang in Jet Fighter Gray. This added low-gloss black racing stripes, a $1,195 option, but what self-respecting buyer wouldn’t want these?

Those stripes and the muscular nose with flat-black air vents embedded in the bulging hood give this a bigtime tough-guy look. Visually Durango assures any onlookers that they’re in for a butt kickin!

The irony is that inside the Durango Hellcat is as comfy as your living room sofa, maybe more so. Oh, it looks racy with black leather and suede seats with an SRT Hellcat logo embroidered on the front of each seat backs. Instrument panel gauges are racy red and there are carbon fiber inserts (look a bit like snakeskin) on the doors and dash and alongside the console. All that and the suede headliner are part of a $2,495 premium interior package.

But the seats are so well shaped that they feel as if they are hugging you, plus the front seats are heated and cooled while the rear seats are heated. The steering wheel is heated too. The second row here includes comfy captain’s chairs and the third row seats are decent too, both for comfort and roominess. Several “older” friends offered high praise for the monster truck’s seat supportiveness.

The flat-bottom wheel adds a racy look along with the metal clad pedals on SRT Hellcat.

Then there are those metal clad pedals down below, a power tilt/telescope flat-bottom steering wheel and a fine 10.1-inch info screen. Dodge delivers an easy screen interaction, all simple to understand and use while driving. Its Uconnect 5 navigation system works fine and there are nine Alpine amplified speakers with a subwoofer stacked in to deliver awesome sound quality too.

That big screen is the main focus of all the performance enhancements and adjustability, of course. The SRT and traction control toggles are down low on the stack and there’s a wireless phone charger beneath. In back the hatch is powered.

A big easy-to-tune and use info screen system and large control buttons are a win!

Leaning heavily toward performance, the Hellcat did not include a sunroof, and while generally a fine interior there is tire noise and most of all a whiny supercharger hum that can become annoying at low speeds. Otherwise the exciting rumble and roar of the supercharged V8 is fun and even quiets considerably at highway speeds after Dodge’s 8-speed automatic shifts to a cruising gear.

Fuel-efficient though the Hellcat is not. In fact I’d swear a few Hoosier hogs saluted as we drove by. I got between 14.7 and 15.1 mpg in mostly highway driving, but a few longer jaunts in town that resulted in that lower figure. Heck, the EPA rates this at just 12 mpg city and 17 highway. Then again, if a buyer is drooling over using 710 horsepower it’s likely that gas savings are not on his or her radar.

Wonderfully supportive seats are standard and how about the cool SRT Hellcat logos?

On the practical side (seems odd here I know), the Durango will tow 8,700 pounds and if all its rear rows of seats are folded flat will haul 85.1 cu.ft. of cargo. That’s something an equally powerful supercar could not deliver.

Such an exotic car couldn’t come close to competing on price either, most such wildlings starting in six digits. SRT Hellcat lists at $82,490, including delivery. That’s a bargain for this much power, comfort and usability. The test SUV ended up at $89,665 with its tally of options.

In addition to those mentioned earlier the Durango added about $3,000 of safety equipment, which I’d expect to be standard on a premium vehicle such as any Hellcat. A $495 add-on included blind-spot and cross-path detection, which are pretty much standard equipment on nearly every vehicle sold today.

The bigger bite was a $2,395 technology group that included advanced brake assist, lane-departure warning plus, full-speed forward collision warning plus and adaptive cruise control, the latter of which might help a bit in moderating gas consumption on the freeway.

Still, if neck-straining power is your thing, yet room for six or seven passengers and major towing power also are your thing, Durango SRT Hellcat is your best choice for a supersonic beast of burden.

Plenty of room behind row 3 and with it folded there’s oodles of cargo capacity!

FAST STATS: 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat AWD

Hits: Crazy power, bigtime tough guy looks, sporty handling, extremely supportive seats, heated/cooled seats, heated rear seats, flat-bottom wheel, wireless phone charger, 10-inch info screen, useable third row seat, metal pedals, red gauge faces, exciting exhaust tone. SRT toggle allows track settings, power hatch and power tilt/telescope steering wheel.

Sharp-looking lights and grille, plus the Hellcat logo, again!

Misses: No sunroof, whiny supercharger, a gas hog.

Made in: Detroit, Mich.

Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8, 710 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 5,710 lbs.

Wheelbase: 119.8 in.

Who doesn’t appreciate red SRT brake calipers? No one!

Length: 200.8 in.

Cargo: 17.2/43.3/85.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 8,700 lbs.

MPG: 12/17

MPG: 14.7-15.1 (tested)

Base Price: $82,490 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $78,731

Major Options:

Technology group (advanced brake assist, lane-departure warning plus, full-speed forward collision warning plus, adaptive cruise control), $2,395

Premium interior group (suede headliner, premium instrument panel, forged carbon fiber accents), $2,495

Low-gloss gunmetal dual stripes, $1,195

Pirelli P Zero ZR20 3-season tires, $595

Blind-spot and cross-path detection, $495

Test vehicle: $89,665

Sources: Dodge, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Kia Sorento X-Line AWD

New Sorento X-Line ups the SUV ante …

Choices are rife in the mid-size crossover/SUV market and Kia is not making it any easier.

The fourth generation Sorento is another fine offering from the South Korean car maker, this one offering a third row seat to tempt buyers away from its kissin’ cousin, the Hyundai Santa Fe, reviewed here recently.

Sorento and Santa Fe are nearly identical in size, ride on the same platform and offer identical power choices, two internal combustion engines (ICE), one hybrid with a supporting ICE, and a soon-to-appear plug-in hybrid. I tested a gorgeous Aruba Green (grayish metallic green) X-Line model. That’s top shelf.

If you’re a family with enough regular passengers (5) to fill a Santa Fe, but often car-pool for school or to kids’ athletic events and need more space, well, Sorento has you covered. It sneaks in a third-row seat that would allow six to seven passengers, depending on the second row configuration. This test unit had captain’s chairs, so would coddle only six. Go with a second row bench and Sorento will lug seven, but at least a couple need to be pre-teen.

Second row seats fold forward for access to row three.

The third row is snug, as are most third rows. If the second row riders can be convinced to slide their seats somewhat forward then knee and legroom isn’t bad, but the third row seats are low-riders (close to the floor) so a person’s knees rest up near the chest. Yet for short hops to the soccer field, etc., kids can manage. My 12-year-old grandson had no problem sitting in row three. Sort of enjoyed it!

Three-row seating differentiates Sorento from Santa Fe.

Aside from that, there are just minor dash and accessory differences between Sorento and Santa Fe.

Sorento is handsome with a good-looking nose featuring a hexagonal grille pattern and in back are snazzy two-bar vertical LED taillights, one shy of looking an awful lot like Mustang’s taillights.

To accommodate that rear seat the wheelbase also grows 1.4 inches from the Santa Fe, and the X-Line also comes standard with AWD, a wintertime winner in Wisconsin.

Watch Mark’s review: 2021 Kia Sorento X Line review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Handling is good and the Sorento is easy to park. Go around fast bends on the highway and it’s well planted, no body lean to be concerned with. Power is up from the previous model too with a turbocharged 2.5-liter I4 in this model. It creates 281 horses while the non-turbo version in lower trim levels makes 191, certainly adequate.

Five drive modes allow the driver to dial up Sport to firm steering and goose the acceleration, but at highway speeds it was fine to rotate the console knob back to Comfort to ease the ride and steering effort, while lowering engine RPM.

Ride is fine on the highway too, but sharp bumps in town are felt and there’s a little more rock and roll on uneven pavement, but nothing concerning. Road noise is a bit more noticeable than I found in the Santa Fe, but wind noise and engine noise are well controlled.

Kia adds a dual-clutch 8-speed automatic transmission to help its efficiency too. I found it mostly shifted smoothly, with just a little early acceleration lag. Plus gas mileage is good, so the tranny appears to help. I got 25.7 mpg in about 80% highway driving, about the same as the Santa Fe that I drove roundtrip to Indianapolis. The EPA estimates 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.

An attractive nose and grille give Sorento a high-end look.

Sorento also touts plenty of safety gadgets, like Santa Fe. All the usual goodies are standard such as adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, forward collision avoidance and assist with cycle recognition, rear cross-traffic avoidance, lane-keeping, 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.

Kia also includes turn signals that engage side-view cameras and project those images on either side of the driver’s instrument cluster. Bravo! Santa Fe also has this.

Sorento’s interior looks upscale with attractive quilted leather seats.

Inside the test crossover/SUV is attractive and well arranged. First, the dash and doors use fake open-pore wood trim to give the X-Line a luxury look. It works. Other trim on air ducts and the instrument pod and door releases is satin chrome while around the screen and by the gauges and atop the console is black gloss trim.

Seats are a caramel brown leather-like material that’s perforated, plus heated and cooled. Sorento’s dash is black as are the door panel tops that feature caramel leather inserts. The leather steering wheel also is heated in X-Line.

A logical and attractive layout makes the Kia’s dash a winner.

Mid-dash is a 10-inch screen that’s easy to see and simple to use while the 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 and simple to adjust on the wide instrument cluster, oh, and also change appearance depending on what drive mode Sorento is in.

Overhead is a panoramic sunroof with power shade, an SOS system and a power hatch in the rear. Below the center stack is a wireless phone charger that’s easy to slip a phone in and out of. I liked it 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, but not Sorento.

The quilted leather also spiffs up the door panels and that’s open-pore wood look trim by the door release.

Note too that if you’re hauling a lot of kids to games and school you’ll only have room for groceries behind that split third row seat. Fold it down though and there’s plenty of space, and a little hidden under the cargo floor. For folks carrying longer items there are buttons inside the hatch to release the second row seats for a flat loading surface.

Two quirks continue to concern me on Sorento and Santa Fe. First, the seats seem hard to me and my tailbone began to ache after about an hour in the driver’s seat. There needs to be more hip support and a softer seat surface may help too. The lesser concern is that rear door child-proof locks are activated by rear seat window locks. So if a driver wants to prevent kids fiddling with windows they also will be locking the kids in. You must remember to turn that off when you stop the SUV or the kids won’t be able to get out without your help.

On the plus side if you’re planning to tow a small boat or trailer, Sorento, like its cousin, will tow 3,500 lbs.

Pricing for the Kia is a smidge higher than for Hyundai’s Santa Fe, but just. A base front-drive Sorento LX starts at $30,560 and there are a variety of trims up to the top-level X-Line that was tested. It lists at $43,760 including delivery and the test unit nudged to $44,285 with three minor options.

That’s on the low end for a three-row well-equipped SUV, so value remains a Kia (and Hyundai) strong point. Note that Kia’s next model up, the Telluride, has been winning a lot of awards and is just a few inches longer in wheelbase and length, so is another strong choice, but costs several thousand more.

There’s also the hybrid Sorento that costs a bit more, but delivers better fuel economy and the plug-in version that should be out later in 2021. So choices are many and Sorento remains a strong candidate for families who need seating for four or five regularly, but desire the flexibility to carry a few more kids on occasion. Consider it a tweener in the mid-size SUV market.

FAST STATS: 2021 Kia Sorento X-Line AWD

Hits: Handsome redesign, good handling and more powerful engine, plus AWD. Decent ride, panoramic sunroof, third row seats, power hatch, 10-inch screen, clear button arrangement, turn-signal activates side-view cameras, nice visuals on instrument cluster, heated/cooled front seats, heated wheel, large cargo area if rear seat down, roomy interior, wireless charger, and stout safety device lineup.

Sorento’s taillights are reminiscent of a Mustang’s 3 bars.

Misses: Interior could be a bit quieter, lower seat cushion is hard and stirs some tailbone burn on longer drives. Rear door locks are activated by rear window child-proof locks and not intuitive. Santa Fe was similar.

Made in: West Point, Ga.

Engine: 2.5-liter turbo I4, 281hp

Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic

Weight: 4,120 lbs.

Wheelbase: 110.8 in.

Length: 188.9 in.

Cargo: 12.6-75.5 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 21/28

MPG: 25.7 (tested)

Base Price: $43,760 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $41,844

Major Options: X-Line rust interior package, $200

Carpeted floor mats, $210

Carpeted cargo mat w/seat back protection, $115

Test vehicle: $44,285

Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage