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2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

Mazda CX-5 remains a sporty crossover … 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

As the world turns toward an all crossover and SUV automotive market it’s encouraging that the likes of Mazda continues to try and design sharp-looking vehicles that drive more like sports cars than trucks.

This week’s fun four-wheeler is the midsize CX-5 crossover in top-level Grand Touring 4×4 trim and bathed oh so beautifully in Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint. That’ll cost you $595 extra, but it’ll also turn heads. Continue reading 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

2018 Range Rover Velar R-Dynamic HSE

Range Rover Velar a sport-ute rolling in luxury …2018 Range Rover Velar

Don’t ask me what Velar means; something to do with your soft palette, but that doesn’t make me think of cars much. So to me it sounds like another made-up car name. I suspect though that Land Rover feels Velar sounds sexy and luxurious, which is certainly how this sport-utility vehicle looks.

There’s enough leather and aluminum inside to worry cattle and cheer miners. Velar’s streamlined looks with a swept-back tail that tapers from front to rear is distinctive in the sport-ute market. Well, Kia’s Soul has a similar look, but on a much smaller scale. Continue reading 2018 Range Rover Velar R-Dynamic HSE

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd. Platinum

Highlander Hybrid excels at moving people, things …2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

A road trip to Louisville with a couple buddies, and plenty of cargo, proved Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid to be a perfect transport choice.

Ours was a medium metallic brown, what Toyota calls Toasted Walnut Pearl. Probably should have been pecan since we were headed to the South. But, color aside, this fine family mover will carry eight folks and their stuff, or in our case, three and luggage, boxes, a monster camera bag, etc.

Highlander is quiet, comfortable, roomy, nice looking and, being the hybrid model, got darned fine gas mileage for its heft. Even without three dudes and their gear it weighs 4,965 lbs.2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

There was plenty to like and really nothing to irritate a crabby old guy and his friends.

Start with power. There’s a bunch. Toyota puts a new 3.5-liter V6 under the hood, mated with its reliable hybrid power system. Combined these get 306 horsepower and operation is silky smooth. Creeping through Chicago traffic on the return trip, at about 5-20 mph, the Highlander hummed along on electric power. Once I needed to accelerate somewhere near Gurnee, Ill., its electronically controlled CVT (continuously variable transmission) eased right into it and off we went at 70+ mph. In fact, cruising through Indiana the Highlander is so quiet and comfy that we had no difficulty commenting on how far we could see in any direction.2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Ride is super. Highlander rides on a 109.8-inch wheelbase and the independent front McPherson struts and rear double wishbone suspension eat up highway imperfections. Few vehicles feel this smooth on rough Midwestern roads. Continue reading 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Ltd. Platinum

2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited

A happy surprise, new 2017 Elantra arrives early …2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited

Looks like 2017 is already here, at least at Hyundai.

My test car was a sparkling white 2017 Elantra Limited, the compact sedan that improves with each iteration. One thing that hasn’t changed is its stellar looks. Hyundai and its cousin Kia have been leading the styling charge for mainstream car buyers for several years now.

This new Elantra is another sharp looker with a bit of swept-back styling that looks more like a fastback than your typical compact sedan.

Another thing that doesn’t change (and this too is good), is excellent gas mileage. The Elantra is rated 28 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. I got 32.1 mpg in a 50-50 mix of city and highway driving.

Some might wonder if that’s because the new Elantra is made of cardboard and powered by a lawnmower engine. No, there’s lightweight high-tensile steel to keep the four-door at 2,811 lbs. and there’s a 2.0-liter I4 under the hood providing 147 horsepower and 132 lb.-ft. of torque.

2017 Hyundai Elantra LimitedCertainly that’s not monstrous power, but it is sufficient and with Hyundai’s smooth 6-speed automatic seems well suited to everyday driving. The previous Elantra I’d driven had a 1.8-liter I4 of similar power, but this one gave the car steadier pull from a stop. Plus Hyundai includes Drive Mode Select, a button that allows you to choose between Normal, Sport and Eco. You won’t need Eco to extend fuel mileage as I rarely used it and still got excellent mileage. Continue reading 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited

2016 Ford Explorer Platinum 4×4

Ford Explorer less trucky, more luxuryexplorer2

            Long gone is the truck-based Ford Explorer that fueled the SUV craze that begot today’s crossover craze. The 2016 Explorer while tall and muscular is car-based and luxurious, which explains both its popularity and in the tested unit’s Platinum trim, its price.

A base Explorer starts at $31,595 in two-wheel-drive mode, or $33,595 for a four-wheeler, but the Platinum comes equipped like a rock star tour bus and lists at $52,600. Add in a $945 delivery fee, second row bucket seats and the test ute’s spiffy bronze fire metallic paint scheme and this one hit $54,635. Continue reading 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum 4×4

2015 Acura TLX 3.5L SH-AWD Tech

New TLX a blend of two Acura winnersTLX

Acura basically blends two of its fine sedans, the TL and TSX into one, now the mid-size TLX.

Beyond the alphabet scrambling, the tested dark blue TLX 3.5L SH-AWD Tech is a solid luxury sedan that will seat four in comfort, five if needed. This version comes too with all-wheel drive, a strong quiet V6 and all the tech features most folks expect at $40 grand and change.

Continue reading 2015 Acura TLX 3.5L SH-AWD Tech

2015 Chrysler 200C AWD

Fiat gives Chrysler a fine mid-size car with new 200C

The 200C (left) and 200S feature sophisticated styling and one might argue, a bit of Italian flair.
The 200C (left) and 200S feature sophisticated styling and one might argue, a bit of Italian flair.

The former Chrysler 200 was so long in the tooth you may have wanted to nickname it Snagglepuss.

It was updated a couple years back by Fiat, after it snaggled Chrysler away from bankruptcy and the U.S. government. Mostly, that change in ownership has done nothing but help Chrysler’s various lineups, and the new Chrysler 200 again confirms that.

The midsize sedan, which rides on the Jeep Cherokee platform (see my interview with the lead engineer done at the Chicago Auto Show) so is available with all-wheel-drive, carries the rounded styling first seen on the sporty Dodge Dart. This is a handsome sedan with swept back rear quarter to give it both a modern and sporty profile. The tested C model with AWD tops the 200 lineup and its $30,195 starting price reflects that. This isn’t your great aunt’s old Chrysler 200 winter beater car.

The 200 comes in basic LX trim with a list price of $22,695 and in that form is front-wheel drive with a competent 184-horse MultiAir 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. A mid-level S model is available in all- and front-drive as is this upscale C model.

This C stands out due to its more powerful 3.6-liter V6 that features variable valve timing and delivers 295 horses and a torque rating of 262. Tires also grow to 18 inches and the interior is decked out with leather trimmed heated seats and a load of bells and whistles. The vivid blue pearl (bright metallic blue) test car ladled on three option packages to doll itself up and hit a rather optimistic $34,675, including a $795 delivery charge.

The 200 looks attractive from the rear too.
The 200 looks attractive from the rear too.

The car itself feels more modern and refined that past 200 models. The engine is strong and will get to highway speeds easily, even with four people aboard. This is a fine highway cruiser for the family and the giant 16-cubic-foot trunk will accommodate a load of luggage.

While the car feels strong, it doesn’t really jump from a stop as you might expect. It feels heavy despite a moderate 3,473 lbs. Its 9-speed (that’s right!) automatic transmission is designed to save gas, but not to put the car on a speedy trajectory, especially in city driving. The car is rated 18 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. I averaged a fine 24.2 mpg in about 75% highway driving and with up to four aboard. Continue reading 2015 Chrysler 200C AWD