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There’s another new sparkly from Sweden’s Volvo: the Polestar 2, a fully electric, midsize performance/luxury fastback/hatchback that can more than hold its own with many of the electrics that now are popping up like shoots in a garden.
It can compete handily with another all-new electric from Volvo, the XC40 Recharge, a small crossover SUV. That’s because they share power sources — separate electric motors for the front and rear wheels to enable all-wheel drive.
There are minor differences. The Polestar’s motors together make 408 hp with 487 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. The XC40’s make 402 hp and 486 lb-ft of torque. But the vehicles bear little physical resemblance to each other.
Each also claims to be the first on the market with Volvo’s new UX infotainment system, which makes use of the Android Automotive Operating System with Google Maps, Google Voice and Google Assistant. As on the previously reviewed XC40 Recharge, the system can be frustrating to use without detailed instruction and practice.
Like the XC40 Recharge, the Polestar has a small trunk of one cubic foot under the hood — a good place to store charging cables.
Yet they are both essentially Volvos, from the company that pioneered the three-point seatbelt and other safety innovations. It held up during some difficult times, including a decade when it was owned by Ford. Now the owner is Geely Holding, a Chinese company based in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Wisely, the owners let Volvo be Volvo, with the result that the new Polestar 2 delivers Scandinavian flavor with classy but minimalist design. Though Nappa leather upholstery is an option, everything else inside, the company says, is “sustainable, vegan materials, like a fully vegan interior with the new WeaveTech fabric and reconstructed wood.”
The test car provided for this review had the vegan interior. Though the WeaveTech cloth has previously made an appearance on Volvo cars, it continues to be cozily comfortable and supportive — superior to leather, in this view. Besides, the Nappa leather option comes with a $4,000 price tag.
Like the XC40, the Polestar 2 is something of a dragster, with a zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time, according to the manufacturer, of 4.45 seconds and a top speed of 125. The XC40 Recharge is only marginally slower with a zero to 60 time of 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 112 mph.
With its powerful electric motor and a 75-kWh battery, the Polestar gets a rapid jump off the line. Because electric motors deliver maximum torque, or twisting force, as soon as they are activated, there are no shift points — and no engine roar. Silent running is the mode for acceleration and cruising. The suspension is biased toward sharp handling, which sometimes makes for a choppy ride.
The Polestar’s range is about 200 miles when fully charged. But it can be enhanced with regenerative braking. There are Low and Standard settings. Both enable one-pedal driving. When you lift off the throttle the Polestar automatically starts braking and will come to a stop without touching the brakes. It takes practice but is not difficult.
There’s also creep mode that allows the Polestar to keep moving in slow traffic without much intervention from the driver. All of the drive modes, including another that determines steering effort, are controlled from the center touch screen.
One feature shared with the XC40 that likely will lead to lively discussion: There’s no Start button. Simply unlock the car, sit in the driver’s seat, pull the shift lever back to the Drive setting and the Polestar can go. When you leave, it all shuts down.
The Polestar seats four comfortably. There’s a fifth seatbelt for the center-rear position. But it is compromised by a large floor hump, intrusion of the center console and a high, hard seat cushion.
Rear vision also is restricted by large headrests in back. So it’s important to get the side view mirrors properly adjusted to eliminate blind spots.
There’s a full panoramic glass moon roof that does not open and lacks a sun shade, though it has automatic light dimming. And the front sun visors do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sunlight from the sides.
Model: 2021 Polestar 2 four-door hatchback sedan.
Electric motors: Two permanent-magnet synchronous AC; total system 408 hp, 487 lb-ft torque.
Transmission: direct-drive automatic with full-time all-wheel drive.
Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 96/15 plus one cubic foot in front trunk. 39 plus one cubic foot with rear seatbacks folded.
Weight: 4,715 pounds.
City/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 96/88/92 MPGe.
Range: Up to 200 miles.
Charging time: Eight hours with 240-volt, level 2 charger; 22 hours with household 120-volt current; 40 minutes to 80% capacity with DC fast charger.
Base price, including destination charge: $60,000.
Price as tested: $66,200.
Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.
Other than its menacing mien, the clue to the purpose of the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX is that gigantic spare wheel and tire bolted into the cargo bed.
There’s a twin, another spare hanging underneath, because both might be needed. Together they announce that this behemoth is not your average big pickup. Far from it. This dystopian machine starts out as a Ram 1500 but gets a shape-shifting transformation into a mighty dune busting, rock climbing, Baja California racing truck without peer.
Start with the brutish power. Under the hood is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ 6.2-liter supercharged Dodge Hellcat V8 engine, snorting out 702 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque that forces its way through a mighty eight-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels.
Anyone might conclude that power of that magnitude might be needed to get this 6,866-pound truck away from the curb. But Car and Driver magazine, using testing equipment and the TRX launch control, measured its 0-60-mph acceleration time at 3.7 seconds. Forget inertia, Newton’s first law of motion that an object at rest stays at rest.
That’s not all. The Ram TRX, dubbed T-Rex by some of its enablers, comes with a whole bag full of off-road goodies, including adaptable Bilstein shock absorbers that enable it to rocket off hills and sand dunes and cushion its landings on the other side, a la Evel Knievel.
Time for a disclaimer. In this Covid-19 restricted metropolitan area surrounding Washington, D.C., there was no opportunity to do the fun stuff of boondocks-bashing for this review. But other assessments by professionals have testified to the TRX’s extraordinary capabilities in tough terrain.
The surprise is that this Marvelous Mrs. Maisel of the truck world handles itself — with a little help from the driver — quite well in the real world of urban and suburban commuting, though of course not economically.
The EPA rates the TRX’s city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 10/14/12 mpg on premium gasoline — not the sort of numbers that would endear it to environmentalists hoping to save the planet from premature oblivion. Likely the argument would be that, at the tested TRX’s bottom line sticker price of $87,570, it would be but a blip on the green movement’s charts.
Back to the surprise. Climb up into the TRX’s cab — make sure you have strong leg muscles — and punch the start button. The Hellcat V8 roars into life, frightening any small wildlife in the area, but soon settles into a muted drone.
You can actually tootle around in city traffic without contributing to noise pollution. If you keep the massive supercharged eight-cylinder sedated under 1500 rpm — watch the tachometer — you won’t bother yourself or anyone around you.
But punch the throttle and you’re noisily off to the urban drag races. Another surprise: the TRX is relatively light on its tires and delivers a not great but acceptable steering feel and handling. So if you’re not weekend hammering the dunes or rocks, you could use the TRX as a commuter vehicle — and also as a family hauler because it has a generous amount of space for five people.
But its forte is conquering grueling terrain, including sharp rocks that can blow a tire in an instant, which is why the TRX carries two full-size spares. It also has seven selectable drive modes to likely cover anything it encounters: auto, custom, mud/sand, rock, snow, towing, sport and Baja.
The TRX has full-time four-wheel drive with high and low ranges, as well as a locking rear axle. Two-wheel drive for economical cruising on pavement is not available.
With a base price of $71,690 and $87,570 as tested, it comes with a classy interior with carbon fiber accents. A long list of standard and optional equipment includes full-speed collision warning and emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, high-performance brakes, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, blind spot and cross-path detection, front and rear parking assist, and head-up display.
Also: 12-inch iPad-style center screen, navigation, leather-trimmed and heated seats, premium audio system, SXM satellite radio, rain-sensing windshield wipers and a power tailgate release.
So there’s actual comfort when you aren’t bashing the boondocks.
Before Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was re-named Stellantis, it developed a virus of its own in the Dodge Division that now has infected the 2021 Dodge Durango.
It’s called the Hellcat, a monstrous 6.2-liter supercharged engine that, in the new Durango SRT Hellcat, delivers 710 hp and 640 lb-ft of torque, enough to launch this 5,335-pound three-row sport utility vehicle to 60 mph in about 3.5 seconds.
Just to make sure, the all-wheel drive Durango Hellcat comes with a sophisticated launch control system that keeps the tires hooked to the pavement, eliminating wheel spin. Punch the launch control button, floor the throttle and feel your eyeballs thrust into their sockets.
At the same time, your eardrums are assaulted by the engine’s racket, which blasts mostly out of the tailpipes, to the point where you’d be forgiven for thinking the engine is somehow mounted below the third-row seat.
This is the main drawback to the Durango Hellcat. Though you can feather foot and motor relatively quietly at speeds up to about 62 mph, it has to be on a smooth, level surface. Any time you need to add power for any reason — a modest uphill incline, passing another car — the blast of engine noise from the tailpipes reverberates throughout the cabin. As exciting as it can be, there’s also a fatigue factor on a long drive.
Of course, it’s music to the ears of smug enthusiasts who enjoy knowing that they can take on almost anything on the road and power past whatever.
On a test drive, the thought occurred that if the famed 1893 painting, “The Scream” by Edvard Munch, had been about a 21st century vehicle, the open mouth would have been the grille of the Durango Hellcat.
Though infecting any vehicle with the Hellcat virus — the Dodge Charger and Challenger come to mind — transforms it into a hellish performer, the Durango Hellcat also has a softer, practical side. No surprise, it can tow up to 8,700 pounds, be it a boat or a house trailer.
If set up like the tester here, it can carry six people, with four in comfort. The front seats are wide and accommodating, with huge bolsters to hug the torso in aggressive driving on twisting roads. Second-row captain’s chairs are similar, with gobs of headroom and enough knee room for most people.
Even the third row can accommodate a couple of medium-sized adults, though they’d best be moderately athletic types without too many years on the clock because of the calisthenics required to get back there. The second-row seats do not adjust fore and aft but there’s plenty of headroom in the third row and just enough knee room as long as you’re not Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks.
A clever addition is a console between the second-row seats that contains cup holders and storage. It opens from both the front and back so third-row passengers can access the USB port and the 12-volt power source.
On the road, the Durango Hellcat is a welcome companion. Instruments and controls will be familiar to almost anyone who has driven a 21st century vehicle, and the Stellantis (nee FCA) infotainment system is among the best and most intuitive anywhere.
Even with the almost scary power under the hood, the Durango Hellcat has capable handling and communicative steering feedback, and a relatively tight turning radius. It can easily chase some smaller and more sporting vehicles on curving mountain roads.
At some point, however, there are downsides to discuss. For all of its attributes, this sucker is a relentless guzzler — no surprise given the heft and Hercules personality. The EPA rates the city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 12/17/13 mpg — shades of the 1960s and 1970s. Most owners will get less.
With General Motors coming out with an electric Hummer, maybe we should wait for a rechargeable Durango Hellcat and save some of that fossil fuel for campfires on our winterized planet.
Then there’s the out-of-pocket moolah to get one. The tested Durango SRT Hellcat arrived with a price tag of $82,490, including the destination charge, which everyone has to pay. By the time options were added, including a rear-seat entertainment system to keep the kids from freaking out during stoplight drag races, the bottom line sticker came to a whopping $92,690.
Problem is, there’s currently no vaccination for a dearth of disposable income.
Many enthusiasts regard the 2021 Mazda MX-5, also called the Miata, as the direct descendant of the classic British sports cars of the 1950s and 1960s — enjoyable two-seaters with names like MG, Lotus, Triumph, Jaguar, Morgan, Sunbeam, and Austin-Healey.
The question is whether any of them would have evolved into the MX-5 Club RF tested here. RF stands for “retractable fastback,” which describes the folding hard top that morphs the MX-5 from an open roadster to a closed grand touring car.
Sure, it’s been 60 years or so but some of us still remember the agony that went with the ecstasy of owning a mid-20th century British roadster, especially when the weather got nasty.
A fun favorite here was the mid-1960s Lotus Elan, a stellar performer with great handling, which set British sports cars apart from brutish American cars with honking big V8 engines that were great only in a straight line.
British convertibles and roadsters had fabric tops that were masterpieces of Rubik’s Cube complexity. The Elan’s, in particular, was so complicated that it featured a decal on the inside of the panel that covered the top when it was folded.
The decal had step-by-step instructions on how to remove the cloth top and its frame and fold them properly. However, hewing to the British quirkiness of the era, when you folded the top according to the first step, it covered the decal — and, of course, the instructions.
The owner’s manual also had about a dozen pages of instructions describing how to manipulate various switches to turn interior lights on and off in different combinations. But that’s another story.
So now we have the 2020 Mazda MX-5 Club RF, which converts from a closed coupe to an open convertible in a matter of seconds with the touch of a switch, and it’s not even British. Japan’s Mazda introduced the MX-5 Miata back in 1990 as a modern clone of some of the English classics. Among other things, it had an easy-folding convertible top.
You can still get one of those and even buy a removable hard top. But it must be stored in the garage while you buzz about with the fabric top dropped. The RF, however, is self contained with a cleverly designed top that disappears into the bodywork behind the driver in about about a dozen seconds. It ends up looking like a roadster with a roll bar. There’s even a built-in transparent rear wind blocker.
The top’s bin doesn’t even intrude into the tiny trunk, which has less than five cubic feet of space, enough for some soft overnight luggage and a few small items. However, the top must be up or the trunk won’t open.
Tested for this review was the midlevel Club model. The 2021 RF Club comes with a price tag of $34,635, including the destination charge. There’s also a lower-priced Sport and a top-line Grand Touring version.
That’s for a fully equipped car. There were no extra-cost options on the tested Club. Equipment included automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning and tire-pressure monitoring. Also: Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, and SXM satellite and HD radio.
Under the hood and driving the rear wheels is a 181-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 151 lb-ft of torque. With a relatively light weight of 2,452 pounds, the zero-to-60-mph acceleration time is less than six seconds. Two transmissions are available: a six-speed manual and, on the tested RF, a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode operated by paddles on the steering wheel.
As might be expected of a balanced rear-drive sports car, the RF had exceptional handling on curving roads with good feedback through the electric power steering. The tradeoff, as usual, is a ride that can get unsettled on pockmarked surfaces, though the MX-5 has a supple, forgiving suspension system with front and rear stabilizer bars that subdues some of the choppiness.
Inside, the comfortable cloth sport seats have plenty of adjustments for different body types and seatbacks with substantial bolstering. The combination keeps the torso in place during spirited driving. The RF also cruises fairly quietly with the top up except for occasional blatting from the exhaust system.
Top up or stowed, this affordable Miata is a first-class contender in sports motoring.
Model: 2021 Mazda MX-5 Club RF two-door, two-seat retractable hard top roadster.
Spend some time in Volvo’s XC90, specifically the T8 E-AWD Inscription hybrid, and you will realize that the Swedish manufacturer deserves a pedestal in the pantheon of high-performance luxury brands.
It was not always so. Back in the day — mid 20th century — Volvo earned an enviable reputation as a middle-class brand that delivered reliable everyday transportation with industrial strength. It was said that the station wagons were built on truck chassis — believable because Volvo originally was a manufacturer of buses, trucks and other commercial vehicles as well as automobiles.
The company even had the chutzpah to embrace rear-wheel drive in a snow-ridden Scandinavian country. Its indigenous competitor, Saab, had front-wheel drive and early-on even used two-cycle engines, which were easier to start in subzero temperatures because the oil was mixed with the gasoline.
Sadly, Saab is no more but Volvo thrives, partly on the strength of its reputation for safety and quality engineering. The two most enduring innovations were the inventions of the three-point seat belt in 1959 and the rear-facing child seat in 1964.
Volvo had financial troubles as well, first being taken over by the Ford Motor Co., which at the time also acquired Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover of Great Britain.
In 2010, Ford sold its premium brands to concentrate on its core products, mainly pickup trucks, and Volvo wound up as part of China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group. Fortunately, the new owner elected to let Volvo be Volvo, so the designers and engineers concentrated on the future, including a pledge in the last decade to build increasing numbers of environmentally friendly electrified cars.
Cue the tested 2021 XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription four-door, three-row crossover sport utility vehicle, which epitomizes the definition of electrified. However, it is not pure electric. Those are available from various manufacturers, but the world and the industry are in transition and right now hybrids continue as the best choice.
That’s because they combine traditional gasoline- or diesel-fueled engines with electric motors to enhance fuel economy and suppress the production of greenhouse gases that threaten the environment.
The 2021 Volvo XC90 E-AWD takes it a step farther. It is a plug-in hybrid, an expensive technology that provides only short ranges of electric-only motoring, in this case about 18 miles. But for someone in an urban area who takes few trips, it’s enough to minimize stops at the local service station.
Fuel economy in hybrid mode is 55 mpg in combined city/highway driving. Using only the gasoline engine, it drops to 27 mpg. Premium fuel is recommended.
The XC90 E-AWD’s front wheels are powered by a 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 313 horsepower. It is augmented by an 87-hp electric motor that drives the rear wheels. Combined, they deliver 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque, enough to slingshot the 2.5-ton XC90 to 60 mph in under five seconds.
For the most part, a standard hybrid like a Toyota Prius works as well as a plug-in hybrid like this Volvo. But it’s another mile marker on the way to widespread electrification and self-driving automobiles.
Likely because of the short electric-only range, any number of XC90 E-AWD owners will simply skip the plug-in part and treat their machines as if they were standard hybrids. However they do it, they will experience one of the finest crossover SUVs on the market.
Exceptional performance tops the list. As noted, it’s fast, with communicative steering and good handling, as well as a quiet, fatigue-free ride over long distances, abetted by an optional air suspension system.
It’s also among the most luxurious passenger vehicles available anywhere, with a posh interior of blended high-quality natural materials and some of the most supportive leather-covered seats you’ll find anywhere. On the test car, there were six of them, with the front- and second-row chairs the most comfortable. The difficult-to-access third-row seats are cramped for all but smaller adults and children.
Of course, none of this comes cheap. The tested XC90 E-AWD had a base price of $68,495 and, with a load of options, the bottom-line sticker came to $86,990, including the destination charge.
Negatives include sun visors that do not adequately block sun from the sides and a flimsy perforated shade for the sunroof.
At first glance, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63 S Coupe looks like a chubby fastback — something like a Kia Stinger or Audi A5 Sportback in need of laser liposuction.
But no. The porky look, like its extended proper name, identifies a high-performance luxury crossover sport utility vehicle that (gasp) carries an $87,110 price tag, including the shipping charge.
If that sounds deceptive, it is. This 5-foot-2 — no eyes of blue — is a rip-roaring rocket that can shoot to 60 mph in about 3.5 seconds, without even breathing hard. Governed top speed is 155.
It’s part of a relatively new breed of luxury crossovers that give up some functionality for perceived style — basically by lopping off part of the roof and tailgate to change the squared off SUV profile to something that resembles a sleek fastback. Think BMW X6, as one of the originals.
Though it has four doors and a hatchback, Mercedes prefers to call the AMG GLE 63 S a coupe, even as the company works to remove at least seven slow-selling traditional two-door coupes and convertibles from the U.S. market.
At least as important as its shape from a sales standpoint is this machine’s guts. The AMG designation tells the tale: it means this stellar performer has been massaged by the Mercedes extra high-performance division.
In this rendering, the brute power comes from an AMG tuned 4.0-liter V8 engine with twin turbochargers — a so-called biturbo — that delivers 503 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission with manual-mode paddle shifters.
Lest anyone think that the AMG GLC 63 S is simply a powerful boulevardier, there are selectable driving modes that activate its range from Slippery through Individual, Comfortable, Sport, Sport Plus and Race. So, despite its crossover designation, it’s the sort of daily driver that wealthy owners can take on weekends to private, country-club racetracks like Monticello in New York State, where they can shred the tires to their hearts’ content.
Despite its arrest-inspiring power, the AMG GLC 63 S can function as your grand-aunt’s docile daily driver. Punch up the Normal driving mode and the throttle response softens for tootling around the suburban shopping malls.
As a daily driver, this Mercedes delivers functionality with its posh luxury. It has about the same interior space as a midsize sedan with 99 cubic feet of space for up to five passengers and 18 cubic feet of cargo space, which expands to 36 cubic feet if you drop the rear seatbacks — easy with the touch of a button. However, manually wrestling them back up is a bit of a chore.
The outboard back seats have plenty of head- and knee-room, and even the center-rear position has decent headroom, though the seat bottom is hard, and feet must be splayed beside a huge floor hump. The front seats are the place to settle, with giant seatback bolsters to grip your body in constant-radius racetrack sweepers.
For more routine entertainment, dial up the Sport, Sport Plus or Race settings and everything tightens up. The steering gets more responsive, and the transmission holds its breath until the engine rpms become unbearable, then it snaps off to the next gear.
Of course, if your preference is a weekend at the track, there also are settings within the settings to challenge your abilities: Basic, Advanced, Pro and Master. Among other things, they allow you to disconnect the traction control, which no novice driver should ever do but which can help an experienced racer to hustle around the track.
The GLC 63 S Coupe, no surprise, is uncommonly well endowed, with as much standard active and passive safety equipment as you can cram into a modern automobile, as well as a host of luxury features.
One that Mercedes should keep to itself is a couple of tiny touchpads — no more than a quarter-inch square — mounted on the steering wheel, which provide redundant controls for infotainment functions accessed from the center screen or touchpad.
They are located close to the steering wheel rim where your fingers and thumb rest if you use the recommended 9 and 3 o’clock hands position on the steering wheel. As often as not when you make a turn, a finger or thumb brushes one and changes a radio station or some other setting. It’s distracting and unnecessary.
Everything else is great.
Model: 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
It looks like Volkswagen slipped some of its Cross Sport into the family lunker, the 2021 Atlas crossover sport utility vehicle.
That’s the initial reaction to the tested Atlas SE R-Line model with the Technology package, mainly a reference to the steering feel and handling of this cavernous three-row hauler that stretches nearly 17 feet long.
It’s the biggest Volkswagen to ever entice American buyers and is a solid choice for families that might be put off by minivans. It welcomes seven passengers with headroom that can accommodate someone in an Abraham Lincoln top hat. Even the third-row denizens are not disrespected.
However, the Atlas has formidable competition: Subaru Ascent, Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, GMC Acadia, Kia Telluride, Buick Enclave, Hyundai Palisade, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander. The Mazda CX-9 also has three rows but is smaller.
The Atlas made its debut as 2018 model, designed specifically for the U.S. market and built in Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. VW followed with the Atlas Sport, a smaller five-passenger version with two rows of seats and a generous cargo area of 40 cubic feet.
It’s only about five inches shorter than the three-row Atlas but focuses on attributes of responsive handling and a decent, mostly fatigue-free ride. It has 112 cubic feet of space for passengers and 40 cubic feet for cargo behind the second row.
Contrast that with the tested three-row 2021 Atlas, which has 154 cubic feet of space for its seven passengers and 21 cubic feet for cargo behind the third row. Flop the third-row seatbacks flat and the cargo area expands to 56 cubic feet.
Unlike some other three-row SUVs, the Atlas has cleverly designed second-row seats that flip and slide forward, opening an entry area to the third row that can be negotiated even by someone with clodhopper-sized feet. Just duck and step in — it’s easy if you’re an agile teenager. Oldsters should stick to the forward seats.
However, to get enough knee room back there you have to slide the second row to a midpoint that divvies the space between the rows. It’s not particularly easy to wrestle the big and heavy seats, and you have to make sure they’re locked in place lest they noisily crash forward and back as you drive and brake.
The Atlas is an easygoing handler with relatively light steering and responsive moves even on twisting two-lane roads, though you have to be cognizant of its size and not push too hard. It cruises quietly with just enough engine and mechanical noise to let you know there’s something powerful under the hood.
That something is a 276-hp V6 engine that develops 266 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, delivered to all four wheels on the tester via an eight-speed automatic transmission that shifts surreptitiously. Six-cylinder engines are famously smooth and shudder-free, and the Atlas’s is no exception.
The Atlas uses the Volkswagen Drive/Sport shifter. In Drive, it has leisurely moves off the line, though you can override it with a determined punch on the loud pedal. Tap the shift lever back a notch and the Sport mode is engaged, which keeps the engine at higher revs before the transmission shifts. Another tap of the shifter takes you back to Drive.
There are four selectable drive modes, mostly for nasty conditions or off-roading: Snow, Normal, Off-road and Off-road Custom. Given its size, however, the Atlas is not the sort of machine you’d pick for any serious off-road adventures.
Better to treat it as a minivan alternative for motoring trips and family vacations. It’s an easy-going long-distance cruiser with a composed ride that soaks up bumps and ruts. There are four comfortable seats and three not so much but acceptable: the center second-row seat and the two third-row seats. On the tester, the seats were upholstered in perforated leatherette and the front seats resembled sport seats with substantial bolstering to hold the torso in place.
With the R-Line trim and the Technology package, the tested Atlas came fully loaded with modern safety and convenience equipment, and no extra-cost options. Items: adaptive cruise control, automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, wireless smart phone charging, blind-spot monitor, Bluetooth and power rear lift gate.
Its base price, including the destination charge, was a reasonable $42,615, which also was the bottom-line sticker price.
Model: 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE w/Technology R-Line four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
A first impression: It’s easy to mistake the Kia K5 GT-Line sedan, tested here at $28,400 in flashy Passion Red paint, for an Audi A7 fastback, which starts at $70,195.
The K5 is a stone beauty with sleek lines, neck-twisting styling and a low profile that gives it the air of a sports car despite its four doors and a trunk. Its dimensions are within inches of the Audi. An example: The K5 is 4 feet 9 inches tall next to the Audi’s 4 feet 8 inches. The Kia also boasts an interior that has the look of luxury with upscale equipment despite its low price.
All-new for the 2021 model year, the K5 replaces the Optima sedan in the Kia lineup. With 121 cubic feet of interior space — one cubic foot more than the A7 — it is classified by the EPA as large sedan, though Kia markets it as a midsize against competitors that include Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and the Sonata from South Korean sister company Hyundai, which shares its platform with the K5.
Of course, the Audi has a lot of equipment to justify its nosebleed price, including a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine with 335 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, seven-speed automatic transmission and Quattro all-wheel drive.
Though with less power, the K5 is no slouch. For the first time, it also offers all-wheel drive, a $3,700 option. Its engine is a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 180 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode.
The K5 comes in five trim levels: LX at $24,455, LXS at $25,455, the tested GT-Line, which starts at $26,355, EX at $28,955, and the more powerful 290-horsepower GT at $31,455. All prices include the destination charge.
Standard equipment on the GT-Line included forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot collision avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist, lane-keeping and lane-following assist, and leading vehicle departure alert.
Other standard equipment included an eight-inch touch screen with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton and remote starting, LED headlights, fog lights and daytime running lights, power driver’s seat with lumbar adjustments, 18-inch alloy wheels, and a rear spoiler.
The tester also came with a $1,600 premium package that included forward collision avoidance assist with cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, panoramic sunroof with opaque power sunshade, wireless smart phone charger and LED interior lighting. The only notable item missing on the tested K5 was the optional SXM satellite radio, though HD radio was included.
Out back, there’s a roomy though shallow trunk of 16 cubic feet, augmented by knobs that, when pulled, drop the rear seatbacks to expand the cargo space. One negative: the trunk’s C-hinges are not isolated and could damage items in the trunk. A full-size compact spare tire lies beneath the trunk floor.
Entering the K5 requires a bit of ducking and twisting, thanks to the low roof line. If you prefer to sit as high as possible, the head room feels a bit tight up front. It’s more than generous in back because the seats are mounted low and are not adjustable for height. As usual, the center-rear position offers a hard, high cushion, though there’s foot room thanks to a small center hump.
The GT-Line’s interior comfort up front and in the outboard back seats was first rate. Seats were upholstered in a breathable cloth with leatherette trim that, to this reviewer, ultimately delivers better long-distance comfort than leather.
On the road, few would confuse the K5 with an all-out sports sedan. Even with its rakish looks, it presents itself as a capable, even sprightly, family hauler. But it’s no slouch in in traffic or on the open road. An educated guesstimate is that it can hit 60 miles an hour from rest in the seven-second range.
Handling is secure and fuss-free even on twisting roads. In straight-line highway driving there is little need for steering corrections so long-distance cruising can be relaxing depending on traffic.
There are four driving modes: Normal, Sport, Smart and Custom. It doesn’t seem to make much difference which you choose. Sport makes the K5 feel a bit tighter but doesn’t alter shift patterns. Smart maybe enhances fuel economy.
The impression here conjured thoughts of the hip-hop musical “Hamilton.” Kia changed a name and upped its game. It now can reap new fame in the midsize sedan game.
With two out of three wins, the Ford Motor Co. dominated the awards Monday, Jan. 11, in the annual North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year honors.
The new all-electric Ford Mustang Mach-E was judged Utility of the Year, and the Ford F-150 pickup won Truck of the Year. The Car of the Year honor went to the all-new Hyundai Elantra from South Korea, a compact sedan that comes in economy, hybrid and performance models.
However, Hyundai’s luxury brand, Genesis, which had finalists in both Car of the Year with its new G80 sedan and Utility of the Year with its crossover SUV, the GV80, did not score a win — though in 2019 its G70 sedan won Car of the Year.
The awards were announced in a news conference from Detroit by officers of NACTOY, the North American Car of the Year organization.
Dating back to 1994, the awards are determined by votes from a panel of 50 automotive journalists, including this reviewer, from the United States and Canada. They are staff members for publications and web sites, as well as free lances. All told, they contribute to a variety of newspapers, magazines, websites, and television and radio stations.
Jurors are dues-paying journalist members of NACTOY, and they are required to drive and evaluate all of the nominated vehicles. The awards, according to NACTOY, are the longest-running new-vehicle accolades not associated with a specific newspaper or other publication, website, radio or television.
It is not a competition as such because manufacturers do not enter vehicles. The NACTOY leadership determines the initial nominees—43 this year — which are required to be substantially new and potential leaders in their classes.
They are graded on innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for the dollar. NACTOY members this year winnowed the initial nominations down to 27 and then, in a second vote, named nine semifinalists, three in each category. The third vote determines winners. Votes are tallied by Deloittle LLP and kept secret.
Finalists this year were the winning Hyundai Elantra for Car of the Year, along with the Genesis G80 four-door and the Nissan Sentra compact sedan. The Elantra garnered 176 votes to 173 for the Genesis G80. In third place was the Sentra with 151.
In the Truck of the Year category, besides the winning Ford F-150, were the Ram TRX, an off-road racer with a Hellcat V8 engine of 702 horsepower, and the Jeep Gladiator Mojave, also an off-roader with racing credentials. The F-150 ran away with the lead with 340 votes to 130 for the Ram TRX and 30 for the Gladiator Mojave.
Besides the Ford Mustang Mach-E, an electric crossover SUV, finalists for Utility of the Year were the resurrected Land Rover Defender, a luxury SUV from the storied British manufacturer that has been producing all-terrain vehicles since World War II. The Mustang EV led with 265 votes to 136 for the GV80 and 99 for the Defender.