Tag Archives: SUV

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

2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63 S Coupe

Mercedes’ racy GLE Coupe is really an SUV …

This new Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe is a whale of a vehicle and I mean that in mostly the nicest way, beyond its obvious looks.

The GLE Coupe is essentially a large SUV with a whale-like rounded rear end. If you don’t care for the look, Mercedes also offers the GLE as a square-backed SUV.

For styling the M-B designers essentially copied their slightly smaller GLC sport-ute’s rounded coupe profile. Seems Mercedes’ marketers decided that a rounded rear roofline enabled them to label the five-seat ute a coupe. I don’t buy it. Time will tell if luxury ute intenders will.

Labels aside, if you can think of this as a fastback SUV soaked in luxury and performance you’ll be thrilled, even if your name is Jonah. I tested the top-end AMG GLE 63 S Coupe in Selenite Gray. As Mercedes aficionados are well aware, tack the AMG initials onto anything and it’s gonna rock, big time.

AMG is Mercedes performance arm and hand builds its engines, and its assemblers sign each engine, assuring buyers these are unique powerplants, and likely race track worthy. This one seemed so.

The GLE’s heart is a bi-turbo 4.0-liter V8 that pounds out 603 horsepower and a massive 627 lb.-ft. of torque. Its roar could make an F1 racer jealous. The guttural growl of the bi-turbo is beautiful, something you feel deep in your bones.

It’s a rocket too, easily hitting triple digits on a freeway entry ramp. Mercedes claims a top speed of 174 mph. That’s special! Although you’ll never need it, or use all of that. Car and Driver magazine tested the square SUV version and managed 0 to 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds. Can you say supercar, er, truck?

See Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/fYsyV_McWbE

However, there are a bevy of fast cars and trucks these days, each seeming to be celebrating the waning days of internal combustion engines (ICE).

Yes, it’s a fastback, but is it really? The Benz Looks like and drives like a big SUV, although way faster and sportier than most!

But AMG takes its job seriously and does a particularly fabulous job tuning the handling and suspension here to give the GLE coupe a racer-like feel, even in Comfort drive mode. There are plenty of drive modes too, from Race (yes) to Slippery, which helps the standard AWD system handle snow and slop.

With great power comes great responsibility though. Hence the need for superior brakes. GLE nails it with monster 16.5-inch drilled front disc brakes featuring red 6-piston AMG calipers. Braking is impressive.

Steering effort is on the heavy side, but engages well with the road and gives the GLE a dialed in feel. In Race mode I zipped through multiple S-curves and winding roadways like a slot car shoed in silicone tires. I was stuck, often doubling or tripling the suggested turn speeds.

Is the Mercedes logo on the grille big enough for ya?

While heavy (5,390 lbs.), the GLE never feels loose or tippy, a major accomplishment with a vehicle that’s 70.2 inches tall and stands with 7.5 inches of ground clearance. Oh, and you can raise and lower the vehicle’s drive height via a console toggle.

Ride is firm, but well controlled as the SUV rides on giant 21-inch tires. Some might like the Comfort setting to tell the shocks to further dampen the ride, especially on choppy city streets. Yet after a week I was toughened up enough to handle the firm feel and with such a whisper-quiet interior (a $1,100 option increases insulation and window acoustics) you are well insulated from road imperfections.

The interior coddles you too. This one featured upgraded (just $250) quilted black leather and suede seats that are heated, cooled and controlled via easy-to-reach controls on the door panel. The dash, doors and flat-bottom steering wheel include carbon fiber trim. The spiffy wheel costs $400 extra though.

The Benz’s dash is well laid out with two 12.3-inch digital high-def screens that meld together so they appear as one two-foot-wide control panel. The center infotainment portion being a touchscreen with multiple functions, and there’s a redundant touchpad on the console for the unthinkable reason you may find it more convenient. You won’t.

Mercedes builds in a LOT of redundancy into controls though. For instance its drive modes and suspension adjustments have at least three different toggles and such to get at them. Easiest is the round knob below the steering wheel’s hub.

Buttons, toggles and door stereo speaker coves are satin metal here while the dash, doors, and part of the steering wheel are carbon fiber. A black gloss roll-back cover at the front of the console opens to reveal a wireless charging station.

Seats are fabulously supportive and you can even extend the front seats’ bottom cushion to give extra support to long-legged drivers. Headrests re powered too and the steering wheel is a power tilt/telescope unit.

Here’s a closeup look at the center stack buttons, screen, and console’s buttons and toggles.

These well-formed seats are heated and cooled, naturally, but the steering wheel is not heated, although the wheel’s partial suede coating helps reduce the need. Ironically Mercedes heats the door armrests though, thanks to a $1,050 option package. First time I’ve seen that.

And get this, these super comfy seats also offer eight massage settings, all controlled via the big infotainment screen. This is a $1,650 “energizing” package that I’ve got to say is like having Magic Fingers to ease the stress of a long drive. These would be golden on a trip, especially the setting that allows the cushions to massage your derriere.

One warning though, it’s best to have your front seat passenger adjust these settings, or to set them before you begin driving as tapping the screen can distracting and sometimes difficult on a bumpy road.

Other interior goodies include a giant panoramic sunroof, and a killer Burmester surround-sound stereo that might be able to deafen your neighbors if you crank it all the way up. Definitely party time, but at a $4,550 price tag it won’t be at my party.

Safety systems are rife here, as you’d expect, but M-B insists you pay $1,950 extra for a lot of them. That includes active levels of lane change assist, steering assist, brake assist and a variety of semi-autonomous features. This is a pricey vehicle. I’d expect all safety features to be standard.

With all this SUV’s power, much safety comes from the great AMG discs and red calipers with multiple piston braking.

Rear seats are a little hard here, but are roomy and there’s reasonable cargo space behind the seats, plus a smidge of hidden storage beneath the floor. Obviously with the slanted rear roofline you lose some vertical storage space. But if you buy something large, you’ll likely pay for delivery anyway.

While a delight in most ways there are a few concerns, beyond those already mentioned. One, the roofline is so low that even at 5-foot-5 I had to duck my head considerably to enter the vehicle. Taller drivers may find mounting the GLE hazardous to their heads.

Also, the massive roof pillars all the way from A to C coupled with the small rear window limit outward visibility. All the safety warning systems and cameras help, but good visibility is the easiest way to make a vehicle safer.

Then there is the column mounted shifter. While that was a common spot for shifters years ago, it isn’t now. Many car makers put the windshield wiper stalk on the right column now, so I found myself shifting into neutral on the freeway a couple times when I meant to engage the wipers. Not great.

Mercedes also is very concerned you’ll leave your key fob in the GLE. Every time you enter and every time you exit a message lights up and dings to remind you, “Don’t forget your key.” Unnecessary!

This is a big, heavy performance ute, so gas mileage is another concern. First, the GLE prefers high-octane gasoline to run at maximum power, but I got just 16 mpg in a week’s driving with more than half on the highway. The EPA rates the GLE at 15 mpg city and 19 highway. This seems a good candidate for hybrid power, and soon.

Even the door panels look special, including power seat controls, oh, and these seats also massage!

Pricing might be a wee high for most folks too. The test GLE starting at $117,050, including delivery. Add in the aforementioned options plus a few more, including fancy wheels and a $1,500 carbon fiber engine cover (oh my!) and the test ute hit $134,000.

That’s way into the luxury market and while the performance and luxury interior may justify the price, I’d want a better looking overall package.

FAST STATS: 2021 Mercedes Benz AMG GLE 63 S Coupe

Hits: Super performance for tall SUV, great power, excellent handling, multiple drive modes, AWD, and quiet interior. Luxury leather interior with heated seats, armrests, killer stereo, mega-sunroof, wireless charger, comfy well-formed seats with massage feature, 24-inch dual display screens. Fantastic brakes, safety systems, and packs every feature but a heated steering wheel.

Snazzy lights and grille give this a Mercedes face!

Misses: Firm ride, low entry-exit headroom at door frame, no heated wheel, drinks high-octane gas and plenty of it. Column shifter odd placement, massive roof pillars, and price may be a wee bit high!

Made in: Vance, Ala.

Engine: 4.0-liter Bi-turbo V8, 603 hp

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Weight: 5,390 lbs.

Wheelbase: 117.9 in.

Length: 195.3 in.

Cargo: 27.5-63.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 15/19

MPG: 16.0 (tested)

Base Price: $117,050 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

AMG carbon fiber trim, $1,750

AMG black Nappa leather w/diamond stitching, $250

AMG carbon fiber engine cover, $1,500

AMG performance steering wheel w/carbon fiber trim, $400

AMG cross-spoke forged wheels, matte black, $2,000

Driver assistance package (active distance assist Distronic, active steering assist, active lane change assist, active emergency stop, active speed limit assist, active brake assist w/cross-traffic function, evasive steering assist, active lane-keeping assist, active blind-spot assist, Pre-Safe Plus rear collision protection, impulse side, route-based speed adaptation, active stop-and-go assist, traffic sign assist), $1,950

Warmth and comfort package (rapid heating front seats, heated front armrests and door panels), $1,050

Energizing comfort package plus (air balance package, active multi-contour front seats w/massage), $1,650

AMG night package (front splitter, front and rear apron trim strips, window trim, exterior mirror housing in gloss black), $750

Acoustic comfort package (increased cabin insulation, windshield w/infrared reflecting film, side windows w/acoustic and infrared absorbing film), $1,100

Burmester high-end 3D surround sound system, $4,550

Test vehicle: $134,000

Sources: Mercedes-Benz, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum

New Rogue evolves back to top of market …

For the past century plus 20 or so years the auto market has seen fits and starts of revolution, but a whole lot of evolution.

Electric cars seem revolutionary now, just as hybrids were 20+ years ago. But when a carmaker has a winner, it often turns first to evolution to keep it selling like Minecraft games among pre-teens.

So it is with Nissan’s best-seller, the Rogue, a compact SUV or crossover, depending on who’s doing the defining. Look around at the next stoplight, or as you drive through your neighborhood. You’ll see a lot of Rogues.

That’s because Rogue has been a steady Eddie, an SUV that most families could afford and that delivered comfort, convenience, and reliability. It still does.

But for 2021 it has been upgraded, offering 11 more horsepower, much more cargo space, a skosh more rear seat room, a stiffer chassis, new rear suspension, upgraded seats and dash and a sharply restyled exterior. When you’re already prom queen all you probably need is a new bouquet. Rogue bought the florist.

See Mark’s video review: 2021 Nissan Rogue review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Let’s start with the outer appearance because Rogue got a lot of compliments at the gas station and from friends and neighbors. The body was tweaked to be pleasantly boxy (muscular in today’s vernacular), but with a two-tone paint option (black roof) and a perfect amount of chrome accents this silvery gold (Champagne) test vehicle absolutely sparkled in the driveway.

Nissan has added chrome to the tallish V-Motion grille, some new HD headlights and turn signal lenses up front, along with black cladding over the wheels and down the sides’ rocker panels, again with chrome accents, and chrome side window trim. The look is much ritzier than the previous model!

Nissan goes with a bold chrome V-Motion grille.

Functionally Rogue now features a unibody chassis that is stiffer than before, making it easier to tune the suspension. Speaking of which, there’s now a multi-link rear unit that will help in any off-road excursions.

Aluminum doors and front fenders save some weight too and a revised automatic CVT helps improve fuel economy. The tested Premium AWD model (top of the line) is rated at 25 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. I got 29.4 mpg in about 60% highway driving. Excellent for a gas-powered SUV.

It’s especially impressive considering Nissan eeked out a 10% horsepower gain to 181 horses from its stout 2.5-liter I4.

Plus you can select from five drive modes for slippery or off-road trundling. Automatic is the main setting, but there’s Sport to boost acceleration and firm steering effort, Eco to do the opposite and save fuel, plus Off-Road and Snow, the latter being a Wisconsin favorite. This model came with AWD to help full-time in sloppy conditions. That adds $1,400 to any trim level.

Power was good too, making a scramble onto the freeway simple and confident. Likewise the Rogue handles well, the chassis stiffening no doubt a factor there, so not much body lean even in high-speed sharp turns. Ride was ok, nothing special and felt firmer to me than my past test drives. That may relax a bit with a full load of passengers. I never had more than two aboard.

Safety is well considered here too with standard blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, rear automatic braking, a 360-degree camera, intelligent forward collision warning, intelligent lane intervention and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection.

The ProPilot semi-autonomous safety system has been upgraded too. That includes smart cruise control and steering assist to keep you in your lane. Plus now Nissan tells us, it’ll slow you by braking one inside wheel if you enter a turn too quickly and will automatically slow the Rogue on a highway off-ramp. Remember, GPS knows exactly where you are!

Inside, the Rogue is as handsome and comfortable as any compact SUV, the Premium model featuring thick leather seating, and dash and door trim. This one was black over a butterscotch brown with that orange-tinted brown for the quilted seats and tastefully trimmed in black. There’s a bit of fake wood facing on the passenger’s side dash, textured black trim on the console with brown sides and repeated on the door armrests. Satin chrome trims the dash and air vents and door release panels. This looks classy!

Talk about classy … check out this snazzy new interior look for the Rogue!

Rogue’s dash is pretty special too with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in front of the driver that is adjustable to show items most important to you. The Premium also includes a head-up display and a 9-inch infotainment screen that was extremely easy to see and use, including large volume and tuning knobs.

Below that screen are easily understood climate controls and two large temperature knobs for the dual system. Here’s where you’ll find the heated seat and steering wheel buttons too.

Nissan continues to offer a flat-bottomed steering wheel in Rogue, which makes entering and exiting just a tad easier for knees. Oh, and the five shift modes are managed simply via a knob on the console.

Love the flat-bottomed steering wheel. More vehicles need this!

There’s also a couple plug-in outlets below the center stack, and a wireless phone charger. This one didn’t work, but I read that some early models did not get this feature as there was a shortage of some electronics due to Covid-related work slowdowns. Wireless charging will be on future Platinum models.

Seats are NASA-inspired Zero Gravity shaped, which means comfy with good hip and back support. Powered front seats include a driver’s adjustable lumbar support and two memory buttons on the door. Rear seats are more comfortable than most with oodles of head and legroom and the cushions are a soft comfortable leather that feels rather cushy. Ahhh!

Even the door panels look upscale.

In back the storage space has grown from 32 to 36.5 cu.ft., with the rear seats in place, and 74.1 cu.ft. with those split rear seats lowered. That’s up from 70, so a nice gain. Also, there is a split cargo floor with storage under the covers. The hatch is powered too and can be activated by waving your foot beneath the rear bumper, nice if your arms are loaded with groceries, boxes or kids.

Speaking of which, Nissan offers a small-child friendly feature that rocks, 90-degree opening rear doors. They open so wide a parent can easily strap a wee one in a child’s car seat. Plus, there are manual sun shade for the rear windows to keep bright light out of Baby’s eyes. Brilliant!

Pricing remains broad and value-oriented enough that families should be able to find a Rogue to meet their budget. A base front-drive S starts at $26,745, including delivery. The popular SV model goes for $28,435 and adds ProPilot Assist, 18-inch alloy wheels, an 8-way power driver’s seat and Nissan Connect.

Move up to the SL model and you get 19-inch wheels, a leather interior, panoramic sunroof, motion-activated hatch, tri-zone climate system, power passenger’s seat and memory function for the driver’s seat and steering wheel. List price is $33,095.

The tested Platinum model with virtually everything including AWD, lists at $37,925. This one added a two-tone paint job for $350, illuminated kick plates for $400, external ground lighting at $350, interior accent lighting for $350 and a frameless rearview mirror for $310. I could do without any of these add-ons, except maybe the paint scheme. Total was $39,685.

This is a crowded market with a lot of great choices from the Honda CR-V, Toyota Rav4, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe. But Rogue has put itself back near the top of the heap with its restyled, much-improved model.

FAST STATS: 2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum AWD

Hits: Sharply restyled, stylish interior, good power and handling, plus AWD. OK ride, roomy cargo area, easy to see 12-inch digital instrument cluster, 9-inch info screen, heated front and rear seats and steering wheel, 5 drive modes, flat-bottom steering wheel, solid standard safety equipment and ProPilot upgraded.

Snazzy new nose and headlight styling here.

Misses: Wireless phone charger didn’t work.

Made in: Smyrna, Tenn.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4, 181 hp / 181 torque

Transmission: XtronicCVT automatic

Weight: 3,371 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.5 in.

Length: 183 in.

Cargo: 36.5-74.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 1,350 lbs.

MPG: 25/32

MPG: 29.4 (tested)

Base Price: $37,925 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

External ground lighting, $350

Two-tone paint, $350

Illuminated kick plates, $400

Interior accent lighting, $350

Frameless rearview mirror w/remote, $310

Test vehicle: $39,685

Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Premium AWD

Electric Mustang Mach-E a fine crossover, not a Mustang …

Marketing is an interesting and amusing craft and Ford’s marketers realize they really only have two ways to attract attention to their brand.

First is the F-150, the longtime best-selling vehicle in the U.S., and second is Mustang, its iconic muscle car that has been garnering admiration since 1965.

So, when Ford was about to launch its first full-electric crossover it needed a way to get reluctant potential buyers to at least consider the crossover. Calling it an Edge, Focus, or Probe, just wouldn’t give it the panache and garner the attention it deserved. Calling anything that’s not a pickup an F-150 could damage its top money maker.

So the Mustang Mach-E was born.

OK, the nose reflects Mustang’s look, but …

Essentially Mach-E is a fine mid-size crossover with a refined interior, massive 15.5-inch info screen replacing virtually all buttons and knobs, and enough seating and cargo room for a family of four, or five. If you’re in the market for a crossover, this deserves a look.

Ford designers worked hard to put a nose and tail on the Mach-E to give it a family resemblance to Mustang, think first cousin on you mom’s side, but with more girth. The three-bar taillights and the large Mustang pony logo on the nose and tail more than hint that this has Mustang DNA.

But the Mach-E is not a muscle car, but not due to a lack of power. No that feedbag is overflowing. The Mach-E is heavy and handles like a big SUV or crossover. There’s no throwing it into corners for precise apex clipping and hustling it out the other side like you’re Lewis Hamilton. Mach-E feels heavy and pushes into corners.

The tail has Mustang’s three-bar taillights.

Likewise ride feels more like that of a big SUV than a sporty, nimble pony car. The shocks seem to dampen the major jolts, but you feel the road more here than in most crossovers and cars of any sort. It’s a firm ride that the family may not appreciate in town. Highways, which tend to be smoother, are fine and expansion joints don’t upset the ride.

Yet two things DO stand out.

First, the Mach-E is distinctive in its styling so you know it’s not a jelly bean Tesla Y or more traditional looking Jaguar I-PACE. Second, and to the Mustang point, it’s a rocket sled on wheels.

See Mark’s video review: Mustang Mach E 1st Impressions by Mark Savage, SavageOnWheels.com – YouTube

The tested Rapid Red ($400 extra) model was the Mach-E Premium AWD with an 88 kWh extended range battery, a $5,000 add-on that many folks will want for its potential range. In rear-drive mode Ford rates its range at 300 miles, with AWD that falls to 270 miles. A full charge on the test model was right about 260 miles.

The electric motors in this Premium model create 346 horsepower and will boost this 4,394-lb. crossover to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. Quick!

Torque is amazing and instant in Unbridled mode, what probably would be called Sport or Sport+ in a non-pony branded crossover. Mach-e has three modes accessed via the Mustang icon atop the giant info screen. Whisper is for normal driving, Engage is a happy medium between Whisper and Unbridled. Acceleration is quick in all, but definitely upgraded in Engage and crazy fast in Unbridled. My wife was wowed, and she rarely comments on my test vehicles.

Unbridled also firms the steering to add a more muscular feel, but like a Sport mode on a gas-powered car, you use more energy more quickly in Unbridled, so likely won’t want to just cruise the neighborhood in this performance mode.

Note too there’s a Propulsion Sound toggle on the screen that adds some fake engine noise to the acceleration, most noticeable in Unbridled so that you viscerally feel like there’s more power, at least in your ears. Another toggle lets you shift between one-pedal control, meaning the accelerator either allows the Mach-E to coast like a gas-powered car once you release it, or there’s the natural electric motor and regenerative braking pull that slows the vehicle more quickly. Think of a golf cart once you release the accelerator, or a slot car that slows nearly immediately after the juice is off.

I liked the feel and got used to it quickly, soon mastering the let-up as I approached a stop sign so the Mach-E would glide to a full stop just at the sign. This later setting allows the batteries under the rear seat and cargo area to recharge partially as the vehicle slows, thereby extending range.

The logo certainly says Mustang.

Driving became its own entertainment with the various modes, plus watching the small speedometer/range meter just above the steering column. Often the mileage range shrinks rather quickly compared with the percentage battery charge that remains.

Inside, the Mach-E goes all digital with that giant vertical screen that seems overwhelming at first, but you get used to it. Seeing a navigation map that large is particularly comforting, as is the 360-degree camera when you back up. Yes, there’s a beep as you back up to let folks know the quiet electric vehicle is coming.

Is that 15.5-inch screen big enough for ya?

Using the screen is pretty easy and finding radio stations, saving favorites, and turning up or down the climate control system where you slide a bar up or down with your finger. Likewise there’s heated seats and a heated wheel here. Everything, as mentioned before, is handled through the screen. Mine never jammed up, as some brands have in past vehicle tests.

The dash was a combo of black leather and tweed cloth, so very sophisticated looking while seats were black leather with gray stitching. A textured graphite gray insert spiffed up the dash face and a small amount of gloss black trimmed the console, which is mainly a dual-level storage tray and container. Gear shifts are handled via a round knob on the console and a wireless phone charger lies at the front of the cargo tray.

The dash is clean and attractive and delivers a high-tech sleekness.

Overhead is a solid panoramic sunroof that does not open, nor is there any sun shade. But it is seriously tinted to avoid overheating in the summer sun. While I appreciate the big sunroof I’d rather see a smaller one along with a solar panel up top, akin to the Hyundai Sonata roof that helps charge that hybrid’s batteries.

Seats are mildly contoured but comfy and easy to slide in and out of, with front seats powered and the driver getting a power lumbar support. Three memory setting buttons are on the door panel.

Mach-E’s rear seat is roomy enough for three, but particularly comfy for two adults. The power hatch in back reveals a large cargo area, although the cargo floor is higher than many due to the batteries beneath. There is, however, a storage bin there for the mobile charging system that you plug in to replenish the batteries. And there’s a frunk, a front trunk that holds another 4.7 cu.ft. of goodies.

Plenty of room under the power hatch for golf clubs and groceries.

No surprise among the safety features. They’re all here thanks to Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 system with blind-spot warning and cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, reverse brake assist, evasive steering, pre-collision assist with emergency braking and more. There’s also that 360-degree camera system which helps because visibility is a bit limited with big A-, B-, and C-pillars.

Know too that Ford offers several Mustang Mach-E models now with an even racier GT model coming soon. The base Select trim starts at $43,995, including delivery. It has a lower powered battery and creates 260 horsepower while being rear-wheel drive. Its range is 230 miles and the AWD version’s range is just 211 miles.

Don’t forget you get a frunk, a front trunk, that will hold a little cargo.

The tested Premium starts at $50,800 and as driven was $56,200 with the extended range battery being the big cost option. Range is rated 300 miles for RWD models and 270 for AWD. My experience was more along the 260-mile range with AWD. Ford says the test model beats Tesla’s Model Y in range. I’ve not tested a Tesla.

On the practical side, if you are purchasing any electric vehicle, you’ll want to install a 240-volt outlet in your garage for quicker charging. The normal 120-volt outlet seems to add about 3-4 miles of range per hour of charge, while the 240-volt outlet reportedly will add 20 to 30 miles per hour of charge.

With a 50% charge I left the Mach-E plugged into my 120-volt outlet for 24 to 26 hours and got it to 100%. Be aware that more and more car dealers, stores, hotels and such are installing fast chargers that you can tap into for a charge (electric and monetary). I’d recommend the PlugShare app for your phone to alert you to spots to recharge, if on a trip. There are other such apps too. Note that sometime the charging station listed is not available when you arrive, or is out of order, as was one at a chain gas station near my house.

Here’s the door release button and small handle for the front door.

The Mustang Mach-E is a speedy crossover with good range and a comfortable and functional interior. This represents what most electric vehicles will be like eventually from the surviving automakers. Marketers name dropping aside, at least this one has some style.

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Premium AWD

Hits: Distinct styling, monster power (3 modes), good handling, plenty of cargo space, roomy for 5 adults. Giant tinted sunroof, 15.5-inch vertical info screen, heated front seats and steering wheel, plus wireless charger and usual cadre of safety features.

Misses: No sun shade, stiff ride, big A- B- and C-pillars limit view, could use a solar roof panel to boost battery charge.

One more look at that giant infotainment screen.

Made in: Cuautitlan, Mexico

Engine: 88kWh electric battery/motors, 346 hp

Transmission: Single-speed automatic

Weight: 4,394 lbs.

Wheelbase: 117 in.

Length: 186 in.

Cargo: 59.7 cu.ft. + 4.7 cu.ft. (front)

Range: 270 mi.

Base Price: $50,800 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $48,100

Major Options:

Extended range battery, $5,000

Rapid red paint, $400

Test vehicle: $56,200

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

VW Atlas Cross Sport SEL R-Line Premium

Shorter Cross Sport aims at slightly different buyer …

VW’s Atlas Cross Sport is shorter than the Atlas with a more sloped rear roofline.

Rarely are two vehicles as similar as the Volkswagen Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport. Rarer yet is my getting to test such a duo within weeks of each other.

This is the VW Atlas, which is longer, with a third-row seat and squarer rear styling.

A little more than a month ago I enjoyed the Atlas, which is about 5 inches longer than the self-proclaimed “sportier” Cross Sport. This was a handsome Tourmaline Blue Metallic (dark metallic blue) Atlas Cross Sport SEL R-Line Premium. That’s a monster name for a sport-ute that intends to lure buyers with its slightly more sloped roofline, shorter length and oodles of interior room, especially for cargo. Continue reading VW Atlas Cross Sport SEL R-Line Premium

2021 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition

 

Old school Land Cruiser remains off-roading icon …

To some off-roaders Toyota’s Land Cruiser ranks right up there with Jeep’s Wrangler as an icon, the ultimate all-star of mucking around in mud and slop.

Certainly it will do all that with ease, yet like many Land Rovers before it, the Land Cruiser is an expensive luxury beast that only upscale off-roaders can approach. Case in point, the 2021 Land Cruiser Heritage Edition in Midnight Black. (Not sure it’s any darker than just black.)

This week’s test truck, and yes it’s body-on-frame, not unibody like a crossover or car, was pricey. Continue reading 2021 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition

2021 Volkswagen Atlas SEL

New VW Atlas is a 3-row Easy Rider …

Some vehicles stand out by not standing out. They are what I call Easy Riders, or maybe more appropriately Easy Drivers.

Such is Volkswagen’s restyled Atlas, the German firm’s mid-size crossover and one of its best-selling models in the U.S. market. VW restyled its nose and tail to give it more character. The grille is more pronounced and the body’s character lines make it look a bit more muscular with bulges high over the wheel wells.

The new look is more noteworthy than its original blandness, but still not something that will catch your attention at the drive-up window while you await your burger and fries. Continue reading 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SEL

2020 Land Rover Defender 110 First Edition

Rover Defender goes mostly back to its off-road roots …

My introduction to Land Rover was as a kid when Matchbox created a sharp dark green boxy version with brown plastic luggage atop its roof. Then there was Daktari, the TV show about a wild animal veterinarian running the African savanna in a Rover.

I still think of Land Rovers as those boxy utilitarian beasts that mostly British folks used to roam Africa’s plains in search of wild game. One hopes now it was mostly for photography purposes instead of butchery.

Indeed, off-road prowess is Land Rover’s claim to fame, much like Jeep’s reputation was built on its ruggedness and ability to go anywhere, crushing rocks, sloshing through mud and swamp, swooshing around sand dunes and fording rivers. Then came luxury! Continue reading 2020 Land Rover Defender 110 First Edition

2020 BMW X7 M50i

Muscular X7 M50i ups the SUV performance ante …

When the heck is a large $94,000 SUV with 456 horsepower not enough? German luxury vehicle maker BMW would answer, when it’s an X7 50i model. Thus the X7 M50i.

Those in the know of BMW lingo realize adding an M to any BMW nameplate means two things, more performance, and naturally, more money.

New for 2020 the M50i ups the ante for both. It touts the same 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 as the 50i, but bumps up the horsepower to a wowing 523 with an equally wow-worthy 553 torque rating. Price jumps to $100,595 for this monster out of BMW’s Spartanburg, S.C., plant. Continue reading 2020 BMW X7 M50i