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SUV Reviews

2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If “aggressive” is a word that gets your automotive juices flowing, and you’re in the market for a midsize luxury SUV, you might want to schedule a test drive in the 2019 BMW X5 xDrive crossover.

Now 20 years old, the X5 was the Bavarian Motor Works’s answer to the 1998 Mercedes-Benz ML 320, which had the distinction of leading the parade of modern luxury SUVs. They now have multiplied to the point where you can select from nameplates like Bentley, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, Acura, Audi, Volvo, Land Rover, Infiniti, Cadillac, Jaguar, Lincoln, Lexus and, of course, Mercedes-Benz.

P90325220-highResIn this company, as in other areas of the automotive firmament, the BMW X5 chooses to compete in a clique of vehicles oriented more toward performance than plush ride and comfort — hence the “aggressive” moniker.

Though it’s not up there in nosebleed price territory like the Rolls-Royce or Bentley, the X5 is aggressively priced. The tested X5 — the xDrive designation is superfluous because all of the 2019 models come with all-wheel drive — came with a base price of $61,695, including the destination charge.

As usual with European luxury cars — though the X5 actually is built in BMW’s U.S. plant near Spartanburg, S.C. — the devil is in the detailed list of options. The tested X5 was crammed with $12,285 worth, resulting in a bottom-line sticker price of $73,980.

P90325209-highResOptions included items that a customer might expect should be standard equipment in a vehicle in this price class—for example, the leather-trimmed dashboard, head-up display, Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless smart phone charging, rear camera with surround view, four-zone climate control and SXM satellite radio.

But BMW does focus on the performance gear, which is standard and not part of the options list. The silky in-line six-cylinder engine delivers 335 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque — enough, the company says, to accelerate to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, with a governed top speed of 130 mph.

That aggressive power gets to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with paddles mounted on the steering wheel. Want to do some stoplight drag races with a Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes-Benz GLE or Audi Q7? Go seek them out and the likely result will have more to do with driver skills than  power under the hood.

P90325505-highResThe X5’s aggressive nature extends to its lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control. Though it cruises sedately in easy-flowing Interstate traffic, the X5 gets downright mean if the driver’s attention wanders. Drift out of your lane and the system nearly jerks the steering wheel out of your hands as it brings this 4,613-lb machine back on track.

As with other adaptive cruise control systems, the driver can select the following distance from the vehicle ahead. It’s best to allow some extra air for the X5. Set it to the shortest distance and it can scare the daylights out of the driver as it aggressively closes, then slams on the brakes before meekly matching the target’s speed.

Even with its responsive acceleration and handling, the X5 still is a tall SUV and would not compete on a twisting racecourse with its sibling sedans. Still, among luxury crossover SUVs, it stands out for steady tracking, steering feel and feedback, and the capability to negotiate mountain curves with aplomb and control.

P90325536-highResAside from its aggressive personality, the X5 comports with other luxury vehicles in designing its driver-interactive systems more for engineers and tech enthusiasts than average moderately-savvy drivers. It often seems that infotainment systems on luxury vehicles are needlessly complex to justify the high prices. The attitude seems to be that if the systems are simple, they must be cheap.

Not so. Almost anybody would happily and quickly learn an infotainment system from, for example, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) than try to dissect the owner’s manual on a BMW or Mercedes to figure out how to, say, set the pre-sets on the SXM satellite radio.

P90325526-highResThough there are capable midsize crossover SUVs available for way less money — the 2020 Kia Telluride, Subaru Outback and Hyundai Palisade come to mind — the X5 is a fine choice for those with the wherewithal and a taste for aggressive performance.

In addition to its road-going manners, the X5 boasts some off-road chops, though likely not in the same manner as Land Rovers and Range Rovers. The emphasis, as is traditional with BMW, is “ultimate” street driving.

P90325383-highResSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged; 335 hp, 330 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 105/34 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,613 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,503-7,209 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/26/22 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $61,695.
  • Price as tested: $73,980.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

P90325519-highResPhotos:  BMW

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2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

You might come up short with a big family, but the 2019 Mazda CX-9 works smartly for a couple of couples on a cross-state jaunt of hundreds of miles and many hours behind the wheel.

Of course, that’s if you fold down the third-row seat to stash the luggage. If your couples came with a couple of kids to sit in that third row, there wouldn’t be room for but a few suitcases or carry-ons.

MY16 Mazda CX-9Such are the compromises inherent in the tested CX-9 Signature, Mazda’s top-of-the-line three-row crossover sport utility vehicle.

Though it has those three rows of seats for seven-passenger accommodations, it is smaller inside than similar brands. It has 135 cubic feet of space for passengers with just 14 cubic feet for cargo behind the third row — not enough with kids exported back there.

Fold that third row, as that couple of couples did for a trip across Wisconsin to the Green Bay Packers shrine at Lambeau Field, and you realize an ample 38 cubic feet of space for the baggage to carry home Wisconsin-only Spotted Cow beer, and green and gold clothing and artifacts from the Packers Pro Shop.

2016_cx9_016Now that we’ve established that the CX-9 can be useful for hauling half a dozen grade-school kids to soccer practice but would require a top carrier for a family beach outing, fairness demands an assessment of other attributes.

It turns out there are many, starting with the inescapable conclusion that this is what colleagues at the enthusiast magazines like to anoint as a driver’s car. The chassis is stiff, the electric power steering precise and responsive, the independent suspension system compliant, the turbo engine powerful and the six-speed automatic transmission unobtrusive.

About the only gripe heard on the trip came from one of the drivers, a large and muscular male who said the cockpit width at thigh level was uncomfortably narrow for his chunky legs. This reviewer had no problem.

CX9ENGINE-201The power train starts with a touch of a pushbutton to wake up the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It is turbocharged to deliver 227 hp and the surge of 310 lb-ft of torque, the twisting force that pins the spine against the seatback when you punch the pedal when the light changes.

That’s with Mazda’s recommendation to use regular 87-octane gasoline. If you are the sort who values a bit of extra punch, dump in premium fuel and you’ll get 250 hp, though the torque rating doesn’t change.

Either way, your zero-to-60 mph acceleration time will come up either slightly north or south of seven seconds, according to independent tests. Though there are any number of cars out there that could beat you in a drag race, that’s more than respectable for a crossover that measures 16 feet 7 inches long and weighs 4,383 lbs.

2019_-CX-9_US_IN_P7_20180719Moreover, the CX-9 manages the sprint effortlessly. The Mazda engineers have used their talents to wipe out any hint of the dreaded turbo lag, that hesitation that causes some turbo-engine cars to hiccup before they belch their power. City/highway/combined fuel economy is respectable at 20/26/23 mpg.

Though front-wheel drive is standard, the tested Signature model came with all-wheel drive, useful for areas with nasty weather. But if you don’t expect to battle snowstorms or visit ski areas you can operate nicely with the front-drive and save some money.

Mazda, the Japanese manufacturer that has given us exciting cars like the MX-5 Miata and the Mazda3 hatchback, has been on a campaign to upgrade its vehicles to premium and perhaps luxury status. It shows on the CX-9 Signature, with features a cut above the ordinary and a bottom-line sticker of $46,660.

2019_-CX-9_US_IN_P4_20180719Full safety equipment includes adaptive cruise control, brake assist, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking assist.

Inside, there’s three-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof to put wind in and sun on the hair, aluminum and wood trim, perforated leather upholstery with heated front seats, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, 12-speaker Bose audio system, an eight-inch touch screen that displays navigation, SXM satellite radio, HD radio, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth streaming audio, and apps for Pandora, Stitcher and Aha internet radio.

Exterior features, in addition to the attractive sheet metal, include 20-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, rain-sensing windshield wipers with windshield de-icer, power rear tailgate, heated and powered outside rear-view mirrors, and aluminum roof rails.

2019_-CX-9-16-G-US-LOC-004_R10_20170616Specifications

Model: 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.

Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 227 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.

Overall length: 16 feet 7 inches.

Height: 5 feet 8 inches.

EPA passenger/cargo volume: 135/14 cubic feet.

Weight: 4,383 pounds.

EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/26/23 mpg.

Base price, including destination charge: $46,360.

Price as tested: $46,660.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2019_-CX-9_Exterior_003-1_R5Photos:  Mazda

 

2020 Hyundai Palisade: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With the introduction of the Palisade, its all-new midsize crossover SUV, Hyundai lines up for a long-distance race against its sister company’s similarly homologated entry.

That’s because the three-row Palisade starts life as a direct competitor of the also all-new Kia Telluride. The two vehicles even share many of the same genes.

Large-38050-2020PalisadeSouth Korea’s Kia is a subsidiary of Hyundai, and the two brands share engines and transmissions, though they operate independently and do their own interior and exterior designs, as well as suspension system tuning and other components.

With similar DNA, you’d expect the Palisade to be something of a knockoff of the Telluride. But no. They were developed in parallel automotive universes and each is distinctive in its own dimension.

However, both vehicles are excellent contenders in the midsize, three-row crossover category, against such worthy competition as the Honda Pilot, Subaru Ascent, Volkswagen Atlas, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, Mazda CX-9 and Nissan Pathfinder.

Large-36538-2020PalisadeThe conclusion here in an earlier review was that the Kia Telluriderolls as an example of the heights of perfection that vehicle manufacturers have achieved, getting to the point where reviewers are reduced to criticizing at ever-narrowing margins.

The same applies to the Palisade. With the departure of Hyundai’s Genesis nameplate to become its own brand, the Palisade now is Hyundai’s flagship — the model at the top of its pyramid of sedans, hatchbacks and crossovers with gasoline, hybrid, electric and fuel-cell power trains.

As is usual in all-new vehicle introductions, Hyundai put its best bumper forward at the national news media introduction. So the focus inevitably — at least for this review — settles onto the top-line, fully equipped Limited model.

There are half a dozen trim lines, three with front-wheel drive and three with all-wheel drive, including the version that is the subject here. If you don’t live in a place where nasty conditions prevail, you can save $1,700 by ordering the Palisade with front-wheel drive.

Large-36542-2020PalisadeHowever, if you customarily trundle the kids and their gear off to winter family vacations, you’ll want the tested Palisade Limited with all-wheel drive. It comes as a fully-equipped, near-luxury, three-row crossover SUV with about every feature you’d want. The $47,445 price reflects that.

It includes such items as an exclusive blind-view monitoring system. When you click the left or right turn signal, the rear view on either side shows up directly on the instruments, substituting briefly for the speedometer or tachometer.

It means you can check the blind spots without looking at the outside rear-view mirrors. Of course, if you are among the few drivers who actually know how to adjust the original blind-spot monitors — the outside mirrors — you don’t need the system. Still, it’s a comfort for the vast majority.

Large-36544-2020PalisadeOther Limited features include an auto-leveling rear suspension system, second-row captain’s chairs, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, 20-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing windshield wipers, third-row power folding and reclining seats, heated and ventilated Nappa leather seats, high-zoot Harman Kardon audio system and a speaker system to yell at the kids in back without raising your voice. (They don’t get the assist if they talk back).

But you can also get a satisfactory Palisade SE model for as little as $32,595, assuming you don’t want any options. Still, it is decently equipped with all the same basics as the higher trim levels, including the 291-hp, 3.8-liter V6 engine with 262 lb-ft of torque, eight–speed automatic transmission and the capability to tow a trailer weighing 5,000 lbs.

The Palisade is three inches shorter than the Telluride, weighs 246 lbs less and has slightly less passenger and cargo space — 157 cubic feet for passengers versus 167, and 18 cubic feet versus 21 for cargo. But it’s a distinction without much of a difference. Both vehicles earn city/highway/combined EPA fuel economy numbers of 19/24/21 mpg on regular gasoline.

Large-36545-2020PalisadeIn the top-level trims, the Telluride is slightly less expensive. The SX all-wheel drive tested earlier had a sticker price of $46,860, or $485 less.

In the end, with two family-oriented vehicles as closely matched as these two, it will come down to individual reactions, mainly due to styling. Like other Kia models up against those from its sister division, the Hyundai Palisade comes across as more mainstream in its orientation, while the Kia Telluride presents a slightly more sporting personality.

Pay your money and take your choice. You can’t go wrong either way.

Large-37498-2020PalisadeSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Palisade Limited four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.8-liter V6; 291 hp, 262 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 157/18 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,236 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,445.
  • Price as tested: $47,605.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Large-34822-2020PalisadePhotos (c) Hyundai

2019 Kia Niro EV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Although it sometimes seems as if Elon Musk’s Tesla gets all the publicity, an increasing number of fine electric vehicles are rolling into the market. An intriguing new one is the 2019 Kia Niro EV.

It is an engaging small crossover sport utility vehicle that also comes as a gasoline-electric hybrid or a plug-in hybrid. The EV competes against half a dozen other electrics in the sub-$40,000 category, including the Chevrolet Bolt, Kia Soul and Nissan Leaf hatchbacks; the Hyundai Kona subcompact crossover, and the Tesla Model 3 sedan.

2019 Niro EV

Because South Korea’s Hyundai owns about 38% of Kia, the Niro EV shares its power train with the Hyundai Kona, though with slightly different tuning. Kia and Hyundai gasoline and hybrid models also share engines and transmissions but do their own designs, styling and other components.

The Niro EV uses a 356-volt electric motor that delivers 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque. Power makes its way directly to the front wheels because electric motors deliver maximum torque immediately so there’s no need for a conventional automatic transmission.

Though Kia lists the zero to 60 mph acceleration time at 7.8 seconds, independent tests put it in the 6-second range. Top speed is 104 mph and the government rates the electric equivalent city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 123/102/112 mpgE.

2019 Niro EV

Among the current purely electric powered vehicles, the Kona EV delivers a respectable advertised range of 239 miles on a full charge, less than the Kona’s 258 miles. However, the Niro is heavier, five inches longer than the Kona and more expensive. Also, you are likely to get fewer miles in real-world driving.

You can enhance the range two ways: Select the Eco drive mode instead of Normal or Sport, which increases motor drag to regenerate the battery pack. You also can use the steering-wheel mounted paddles to accomplish the same thing, even in Sport mode. However, the owner’s manual does not tell you how the paddles work.

If you opt for the Niro EV, with all its virtues, make sure to invest in a Level 2 240-volt charger, which will recharge your Niro in nine hours and 35 minutes, easily overnight. If you stick with your standard 110-volt household outlet, figure on a weekend. That charging time is 59 hours. If you have access to a 100-KWh DC fast charger, you can top up your Niro’s battery to 80% in an hour. All numbers come from Kia.

2019 Niro EV

The Niro’s base price is $37,995, including the destination charge. But because it is new it qualifies for the federal government’s $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicle purchases. The credit has phased out for the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3. Unfortunately, for now the Niro is available in only 12 of the 50 states: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington.

Tested for this review was the top-line Niro EV EX Premium, which had a starting price of $44,995. It includes full basic safety equipment plus forward collision avoidance, lane keeping and following assist, driver attention warning, blind spot collision warning and rear cross-traffic alert, and stop-and-go adaptive cruise control.

2019 Niro EV

In addition, the tested EX Premium came with automatic climate control, heated and ventilated leather-upholstered front seats, navigation system, motorized sunroof, Harman Kardon premium audio, SXM satellite radio, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, wireless smart phone charging, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, power driver’s seat, and LED headlights and taillights.

On the road, the Niro EV is a sprightly performer. With the electric motor’s instant torque, it gets a quick jump off the line while other automobiles and trucks are just getting revved up.

2019 Niro EV

The steering has a hefty feel, not unlike that of some European luxury cars. It validates the old adage that a small car should drive like a big car, and vice versa. Small bumps and potholes do not upset the suspension system, which easily soaks them up.

However, the Niro EV’s short wheelbase — the 8 feet 10 inches distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels — results in some fore-and-aft pitching on undulating surfaces.

Overall, the handling is competent and secure, partly due to the Niro’s low center of gravity. The battery pack is housed under the floor. Front seats are well bolstered and the outboard back seats deliver space and comfort.

2019 Niro EV

Specifications    

  • Model: 2019 Kia Niro EV EX Premium four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 356-volt permanent magnet synchronous electric motor; 201 hp, 291 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed direct drive automatic; front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 97/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,854 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined mpgE: 123/102/112.
  • Advertised range: 239 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $44,995.
  • Price as tested: $47,155.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2019 Niro EV

Photos (c) Kia

2019 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As a new trim level, the 2019 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek arrives as the least truck-like sport utility vehicle in the Pathfinder lineup during its more than three-decade history in the United States.

This is a fully realized midsized crossover SUV in the current idiom that leans more toward family transportation and long-distance cruising  than off-road bashing around in bush country. It is neither expensively luxurious nor barefoot economical but a decent performer at a competitive price.

Nissan at Chicago Auto Show

There are three rows of seats for seven passengers, so this Pathfinder can substitute for a minivan, though overall it is not as commodious, especially for beach-vacation cargo. The second-row seats slide fore-and-aft, allowing a division of knee room that enables third- and second-row adult passengers enough space for moderate comfort.

Original Pathfinders were built like Nissan’s Hard Body compact pickup trucks, with body-on-frame construction. As used vehicles, they were sought after by rock climbers and mountain bikers without the wherewithal to purchase expensive Jeeps or Land Rovers. Their main competitor was the Toyota 4Runner and the short-lived Isuzu Trooper.

Nissan at Chicago Auto Show

There was some indecision along the way. From 1996 to 2004, the Pathfinder became a crossover with unit-body construction, though it retained the looks of a truck. Then it was redesigned again as a body-on-frame SUV, where it remained until 2013, when it returned to a car-like unit-body.

Today, competitors include the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, GMC Acadia and Mazda CX-9.

Customers familiar with Washington, D.C., will immediately associate the Rock Creek Edition with the creek and park of the same name that runs up the spine of the city. But Nissan says the name was chosen to connect the vehicle’s rugged heritage to outdoor-adventure minded families.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-24-sourceThe Rock Creek Edition package is available on the Pathfinder’s midlevel SV and upscale SL trim levels, in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations. Tested for this review was the SV with all-wheel drive. It had a base price of $37,005 and, with the Rock Creek package and a few other options, topped out at $39,675. Both prices include the destination charge.

Rock Creek items include special tires on 18-inch alloy wheels with a smoky patina, and black mesh grille, roof rails, door handles, outside rearview mirrors and fender details. Inside are unique two-tone seats (upholstered with comfortable cloth on the SV tester), metallic trim and high-contrast stitching on seats, doors, console lid and steering wheel.

The Rock Creek comes with adaptive cruise control and safety equipment that includes automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert and tire-pressure monitoring along with basic traction control , rear camera and electronic brake-force distribution.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-20-sourceOptional equipment included Nissan Connect infotainment with a navigation system, SXM satellite radio, and heated front seats, outside rearview mirrors and steering wheel.

Controls are intuitive and consist of a touch screen, large knobs and buttons. There even are redundant radio pre-set buttons in addition to those on the screen. However, USB and charge ports are so far back in a center stack cubby they are nearly inaccessible. Fortunately, there are extras ports in the console.

The Pathfinder is powered by 284-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes 259 lb-ft of torque. On the tested all-wheel drive SV, the power travels to all four wheels via Nissan’s Xtronic continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). Both two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions can tow up to 6,000 pounds.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-8-sourceSome critics routinely bash CVTs, which multiply torque with systems of belts and pulleys or, in some cases, with gears. Their main characteristic is a lack of shift points, so acceleration is smooth and seamless. However, some CVTs feel and sound as if they are slipping.

That’s not the case with the Pathfinder and other CVTs from Nissan, which arguably has more experience with them than other manufacturers. Moreover, the transmission on the Pathfinder incorporates a kick-down passing gear that mimics a conventional automatic.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-12-sourceWith ample power from the smooth-running V6, the Rock Creek Pathfinder is an amiable highway companion. It cruises quietly and effortlessly with few steering corrections needed in straight-line driving. Of course, it is no sports sedan but handles curves capably as long as it’s not pushed too hard.

A twist knob allows the driver to select two-wheel drive for economy, automatic all-wheel drive and locking all-wheel drive for gooey or gravelly conditions. Though marketed as a rugged vehicle, the Pathfinder is not equipped for serious off-roading.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-19-sourceSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Pathfinder SV Rock Creek Edition four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 284 hp, 259 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nissan Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 138/16 (47, 80) cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,448 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/26/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,005.
  • Price as tested: $39,675.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-21-sourcePhotos (c) Nissan

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The redesigned 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 possesses a heritage that none of its sport utility siblings can claim.

It is the direct descendant of the 1998 Mercedes ML320, originally described as the M-Class All-Activity Vehicle. It astounded the motoring public as the first SUV from a luxury manufacturer with an affordable price tag of $34,545.

All-new Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV to start at $53,700

By the standards then and now, it was a midsize. It also was a true SUV with truck-like body-on-frame construction, and solid off-road capabilities with an all-wheel drive system that could get you out of trouble even if only one wheel had traction.

Moreover, it was a true five-passenger vehicle, with a flat floor and three separate and equal back seats. It was unlike most vehicles nowadays, most of which are crossover SUVs with unit-body construction like automobiles. They usually disrespect any center-rear passenger with a narrow, hard cushion and little if any comfort. The GLE450 follows that trend.

Over the 22 years since the ML320, Mercedes switched it to unit-body construction and designed additional crossovers, to the point where it now has four: small GLA, compact GLC, midsize GLE and full-size GLS. It also markets the G-Class, a military-style truck-like SUV.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

Interestingly, the 2020 GLE450 comes across as a modern iteration of the original — better in most ways but not as good as in some. Besides the lack of comfort for the third-row passenger, and despite the fact that it is more than a foot longer than the ML320, it has less interior room.

The ML320 had 105 cubic feet of space for passengers and a generous cargo area of 45 cubic feet. The new GLE has 102 cubic feet for passengers and 38 cubic feet for cargo.

Of course, the GLE has way more sophistication, safety equipment and power than its predecessor. With twin turbochargers, its new inline six-cylinder engine makes 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, delivered to all four-wheels with a nine-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

The 1998 ML320’s 3.2-liter V6 engine had a five-speed automatic transmission to handle 215 hp and 233 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy was rated at 17 mpg city and 21 mpg highway. Now, using the EPA’s new system, the city/highway/combined rating for the GLE works out to 19/24/21 mpg.

Other than years, the biggest gap between the original and the new GLE450 is price. The ML320’s price of $34,545, including the destination charge, as tested by this reviewer, pretty much covered everything. The standard upholstery was a sturdy cloth trimmed with leatherette that usually outlasted the optional leather. You also could order such options as side-step rails and a multiple-disc CD changer mounted in the cargo area.

In today’s dollars, that ML320 would cost $53,890. The 2019 450GLE tested for this review had a base price of $62,145 and, with options, the bottom-line sticker came to a whopping $85,120.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

Of course, the standard equipment and $22,975 worth of options included items not dreamed of two decades ago: Automatic emergency braking, active lane-keeping assist, Distronic adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic braking, rear collision protection, idle stop-start technology, blind-spot monitor, navigation with voice control, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, four-zone automatic climate control, heated and cooled cup holders and front seats, powered rear- and side-window sun blinds, and even a way to perfume the passenger pod. To name a few.

The instruments and infotainment center screen are combined in a broad display across the dash that looks something like a wide-screen video game. Functions are accessed by a controller for the screen and a tiny button on the steering wheel to change instrument views. Younger owners will adapt immediately; older folks will require lessons.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

On the road, the GLE450 exhibits everything you expect from a modern Mercedes. The steering has a substantial, heavy feel. The luxurious interior is isolated from almost all nasty environmental noises. Seats are designed for long-distance support and comfort.

Though it’s a tall, nearly 2.5-ton machine, the GLE450 comports itself well on twisting roads, though of course it’s no sports sedan. The optional air suspension system keeps the wheels planted and the ride supple, though there is some delayed pitching and bouncing on undulating roads.

Time marches on. The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 incorporates way more performance, comfort and convenience than the original M-Class. But it’s an evolution. The ML320 was a game changer. Which is better?

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450 4Matic four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder; turbocharged, 362 hp, 369 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall Length: 16 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: TBA/TBA.
  • Weight: 4,990 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,700 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $62,145.
  • Price as tested: $85,120.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Der neue Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018 // The new Mercedes-Benz GLE, San Antonio 2018

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2019 Jaguar I-PACE: Driving the Future

by Tod Mesirow

The Future of the Automobile is electric.

The gasoline powered car will battle it out with electrics until all the ice on earth melts and we’re just scrabbling as a species to find food and shelter.

That could happen. If there is a future.

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But for now, billions and billions are being spent by every major automobile manufacturer on electric cars. Think of all that investment like a ship-destroying iceberg. Even if the icebergs are melting, that’s not the kind of momentum you turn around for hydrogen, or diesel. Unless Tony Stark lets everybody in on his super-secret glowing blue power source, we’re looking at an electric wheeled future for all our mobility options.

Sure the purists will hold on to gasoline-powered cars the way Charlton Heston held on to his guns. But he’s gone, and soon, so will the majority of the gasoline-powered vehicles.

And really – what’s to be missed?

Well, I will admit, plenty. The throaty grumble turned to a roar as small explosions power the piston – say, eight of them – up and down as the gears are manually engaged one at a time through the power curve, the wind whipping in the windows or over the windshield, the peripheral view a blur as the world is altered with a sense of certain power and the sensation of speed. I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy those moments in spectacular cars, and hope to have more such experiences before it becomes completely out of reach for the non-billionaire.

An apparent 180 from those rarefied gasoline infused realms, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a 2019 Jaguar I-PACE all-electric SUV.

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One of the early challenges to Tesla’s dominance from a major manufacturer of the upper echelons of electric vehicles – with a nod to the Leaf, and the Bolt, and others – the I-PACE from Jaguar looks like a car, by which I mean a gasoline powered car, unlike the Teslas, which feel more like high end display booths at a technology trade show, or the cockpit of a shuttle one might find on the starship USS Enterprise. The Teslas are wide open, with minimal controls, and a massive touch screen – like a computer tablet – that replaces every knob and dial on an old-fashioned car.

And that’s part of the appeal. Tesla owners embrace their journey to the future every time they open the door and climb in to their cars. More power to them. But their numbers after the initial stampede seem to have plateaued, and the brass ring of a giant best-selling all electric vehicle has yet to be grasped by any company riding the scary not merry go round. Huge fortunes have to be committed to bring about the electric vehicle future, and there is no way that everyone in the car manufacturing world is not terrified and consistently tense about when the future will arrive.

Meanwhile, the I-PACE.

I walked to the NY garage where I was to pick up the car. It was parked on the street in front of a garage. Passersby stopped and gawked, a few inquiring about it. Being orange helped it stand out from the other cars, but the design was the major factor. It looks sleek, with the signature Jaguar nose, scoops to either side, low to the ground, powerful haunches over the rear wheels. Appealing slope to the roof line, which becomes glass, leading to straight rear, 90 degrees from the ground. Overall, a successful first impression, of refined aggression, that looks commanding and potentially fast.

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The instructions from the representative were brief but thorough – the interfaces all very intuitive.

I was ready to hit the road.

My destination was Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

As I sat in the car, and the display told me I had a full charge, and 231 miles of range, I wondered how much of a fool I was.

Rehoboth was 210 miles. That gave me a 21 mile cushion. Or so I thought.

My friend Brett Burke, automotive writer, gave me some helpful advice. Download the apps, he said, that will tell you where there are charging stations. You’ll need them.

He was right.

Jaguar included a small piece of plastic attached to the key chain with an RFID and their account. Radio Frequency Identification. It was linked to a Charge Point account. Which was one of the apps that Brett suggested I download.

Off I went. My iPhone linked easily with the I-PACE, not just because they both use the “I” naming architecture. I had my route plotted.

jipace19mystudioimage01031814Helpfully, the map also displayed Charge Point stations along the route.

One thing that everyone says about electric cars is that there is no power curve. All of the energy is immediately available.

What this means is that when you put your foot on the gas, and press it to the floor, the acceleration is fantastic. Rocket launch amazing. The battery sends all the power the wheels can handle to them in an instant, and that’s why electric cars routinely get to 60 from zero in 4.5 seconds. With a weight close to 5,000 pounds that’s impressive. The lowest priced level I-PACE, the S, has an MSRP of $69,500. Which is part of its appeal.

The First Edition I-PACE I drove has an MSRP of $85,900.

But all that speed comes at a price. The faster you drive, the faster the batteries are drained.

Which is why of the Mode choices, I chose Economy. My goal wasn’t speed, as much as I enjoy speed whatever the power source, my goal was to arrive at my destination without stopping.

Good luck with that, I can imagine some of you saying. And you would be correct.

Because the modern electric cars – there were actually many electric cars built and sold and happily owned by Americans from the late 1890’s through the 19-teens but they lost out at that time to gasoline powered cars – are new, the calibration of power, and speed, and distance, and battery life are not an exact science.

jipace19mystudioimage01031817Which means that as I’m driving south from New York to Delaware, I’m watching the number of miles I have left – my range – reduce at a rate greater than the miles traveled.

In other words – when the display indicated I had 183 miles left, and I drove ten miles, which would, in a perfectly calibrated world, result in 173 miles of range left on the display – the display instead said 161 miles. I was losing energy faster than the display had indicated that I would.

And – this is based on highway driving, in Economy mode, with Cruise Control engaged, so I wasn’t using energy in a reckless, foolhardy or fun manner.

This was serious. I wanted to avoid a charging stop.

Driving the I-PACE is superb. It’s quiet inside, comfortable, all the elements one expects to find in a luxury car. But less the Starship Enterprise and more what all modern cars have become – sleek with touch screens – but with some functions performed by buttons knobs and dials, and not just the touch screen. Awesome sound system. Huge panoramic moonroof.  Seats with many adjustable areas. The automatic systems function well, and are easy to turn on and off. The lane reminder includes haptic feedback – the steering wheel shimmered when the car went over a lane line without signaling first. Super handy for these days of distracted driving. The cruise control includes an automatic braking system that reads cars in front of you, and adjusts speed and braking accordingly. The I-PACE will stop itself when the car in front stops. And the distance from the car in front – when following someone on the highway – can be adjusted depending on the driver’s preferences.

jipace19mystudioimage01031818But range anxiety is real. I’m not the first, and won’t be the last, to experience the concern of running out of power.

“What happens if you run the battery down to zero?” someone asked me.

The car stops, I told them. Time to call the Three A’s. As my Mom calls them.

So running out of power, out of charge, out of energy, is something to be avoided.

The Charge Point app has a location function built in, among other helpful tools, so it knew where I was. And I knew where I was going. I searched along the route and found a Level 3 charger at a Royal Farms in Smyrna Delaware.

Royal Farms are like 7 Elevens for people who have not been to one, but better in my opinion. The sell gasoline, and all manner of food and snacks. And they sell giant drinks for $1.00. Including unsweetened iced tea. Or if you want a sugared fizzy soda beverage – they have that too, of course. They also had two chargers, and both were available.

Entering the Royal Farms at a destination and doing some elementary school level math I figured I had 40 miles to spare. Which felt like a big enough cushion. I wasn’t trying to run the car to zero. That would not be pleasant.

But from the time I realized I had to make that stop, and actually arriving at the Royal Farms, with less than the 40 mile buffer, I was a tad anxious.

IMG_4910Electric car chargers cost money. The price differs from station to station. The amount of charge per time on the charger varies as well. Level 3 chargers are the fastest. The app said in an hour it would yield 180 miles of range. More than enough.

So I put the car on charge, and went for a walk around Smyrna.

Which is an interesting many hundreds of years old town. Brick sidewalks. 19thand 18thcentury houses. A great small public library. And a really delicious falafel at a small restaurant that seemed to be run by a husband and wife in a shopping center named Freedom Plaza. Every now and then America can still offer up surprises.

Back at the car, all was well, and the display indicated many more miles of range than I needed.

Because the Level 3 charging stations seemed to be a bit scarce, and because I had to return to New York in a few day’s time, I used the I-PACE sparingly around Rehoboth, mindful every time I turned it on, I was using energy, and of my upcoming trip.

Why not plug it in to the house current? The rate of energy gain from the 110 outlets available were not worth buying or finding the long extension cords. Again – the infrastructure, out on the road and at home – needs to be built out to reduce or remove the range anxiety.

IMG_4815When it was time to head back to NY, I had more than enough range to reach my Smyrna charger – mine, because it had served me well before, and therefore was my friend – and with a full charge there, more than likely enough range to reach the garage where I was to drop it off.

Pulling in to the Royal Farms, I was happy to see the Charge Point available. Even though the app indicated it was free, part of the modern world is that technology is often less than reliable – it fails us in unpredictable ways, which is worse, and why range anxiety falls under an entire umbrella of technological dread – not just fear of Terminators, but fear of internet connected toasters and microwaves, of all of IoT in general, and the people or robots watching everything we do.

I plugged the I-PACE in, used the RFID, heard the buzz of electricity flowing into the car, saw the % start to climb, and headed out on another walking tour of Smyrna.

When I returned after an hour plus I was confronted with the unhappy fact that for whatever reason the charging had not happened as it had before. Or as I had wanted it to. I was 4% more charged than when I had arrived at Royal Farms. Not good.

There was no need for immediate panic – no one was injured, it wasn’t a disaster – but it wasn’t ideal. I called the Charge Point people, and a nice woman on the line was able to link her system up to the car, and the Charge Point station, and confirmed that what I was seeing was correct – the charge hadn’t happened as planned. She didn’t know why. We both came to the genius conclusion that I should move the car to the other Charge Point right next to the one that had failed – which luckily was unoccupied – and try again. She stayed on the line as I moved the car, and plugged in the other charger. Again I heard the buzz, the charge started, and it seemed as if all would be well. I waited a few more moments with her on the line, as the battery began to fill up, and after passing 4% gain, was assured enough to thank her for her help, hang up, and head out for more walking around Smyrna.

IMG_4826Happily – luckily? – upon my return after another hour – I found the batteries had reached 98% charge. The range stated was quite a bit more than the number of miles from Smyrna to NY – a good 50 or so – and I thought if I had to stop again I would, but that 2% more wouldn’t make much of a difference. So off I went.

As I drove past all the rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike – and stopped at one for coffee, where I saw wild mushrooms growing next to the parking lot trash can – why do these not have charging stations? None of them do.

And that’s the big problem with electric cars – today – and was the problem around the turn of the 20thcentury when they were battling it out with gasoline engines. The infrastructure just isn’t here yet. Why haven’t state governments taken steps to combat greenhouse gasses by mandating more electric charging stations? One positive aspect of the horrific illegal and deeply evil scheme promulgated by Volkswagen to cheat everyone on the planet by rigging their emissions testing of diesel engines – for which they were caught and prosecuted – is that as part of the settlement they’re required to spend two billion dollars to install fast charging stations nationwide that work for all electric cars over the next decade. But that’s probably not enough to eradicate the range anxiety that almost any owner of an all-electric vehicle has felt, especially for now.

And yet.

The I-PACE is amazing to drive. It won’t be alone for long among major manufacturers – there are a bunch on the way. The Audi e-tron SUV is due this year, with a base MSRP of $74,800, the Mercedes EQC Crossover arriving in the U.S. supposedly after the start of 2020, has a price for its UK release this July, at £65,640, or $83,625 give or take a few based on currency fluctuation, and the Aston Martin Rapide E with no announced price but a 2020 sale date projection.

IMG_4825Electricity generation itself is not always a climate change plus. If the electricity comes from burning coal, then in all likelihood there is no net gain over gasoline. But if the electricity comes from renewable resources like solar wind or hydroelectricity then bring it on. California is faced with a glut of renewable energy – and storage is becoming the key issue.

We’re facing a future that in some ways looks exactly like the past. And in other ways, looks and feels a whole lot better.

I will miss the visceral pleasure of gasoline powered internal combustion engines, but I will enjoy the crisp clean and pleasingly shocking speed of electric cars.

The 2019 Jaguar I-PACE is a nice entry point.

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Specifications:

  • Zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds
  • 90 kwH battery
  • 234-mile maximum range

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Photos (c) Tod Mesirow

I-PACE interior photos (c) Jaguar USA

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a rarity. It is among a few crossover sport utility vehicles that openly disdain their category because they are all about extremist performance.

Yet because of the public infatuation with crossovers, it is almost a given that increasing, and increasingly expensive, numbers of them will be equipped almost like road-racing cars. Think Mercedes-Benz AMG models, BMW M crossovers and Audi’s Sport Division offerings.

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

The Stelvio Quadrifoglio goes bumper-to-bumper against those as well as more expensive exotics like the Aston-Martin DBS and Lamborghini Urus,

Italy’s Alfa Romeo is part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. It has been working to build the brand in the U.S., starting with the 4C coupe and roadster, which were more suited to a race course than cityscapes. Then the company followed with the exciting Giulia compact sedan.

For the 2018 model year, FCA delivered the Stelvio, which basically was a crossover version of the Giulia. The name is taken from the highest pass in the Italian Alps mountains, where there are 48 hairpin turns over 12 miles of highway.

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio NRING

The Stelvio comes in six trim levels, starting with the base rear-wheel drive model at just shy of $42,000, and advancing through the Stelvio Sport RWD, Ti all-wheel drive, Ti Lusso AWD, Ti Sport and the tested Quadrifoglio (the name is Italian for four-leaf clover). The Ti Sport and Quadrifoglio come only with all-wheel drive.

What distinguishes the Quadrifoglio from its lesser brethren is its twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V6 engine, which delivers 505 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. It enabled Car and Driver magazine, in an instrumented test, to nail 60 mph in 3.4 seconds and 100 mph in 8.8 seconds, with a governed top speed of 176 mph.

Though there’s hardly anywhere you can do that — at least without ending up in a jail somewhere — Alfa Romeo thoughtfully provided a race mode and Brembo racing brakes for weekend track use. There also are driver adjustable dynamic, normal and advanced efficiency (economy) modes.

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There’s a stop-start system, ostensibly to improve fuel economy, rated by the EPA at 17/23/19 mpg in city/highway/combined driving. Fortunately, it can be turned off.

The track mode must be set up separately. If you switch to it while plying the public roads, it defaults to dynamic, which provides performance shift mapping with suspension and shock absorber tuning. It delivers a stiffer ride, punishing on some surfaces, especially combined with the hard and well-bolstered sport seats. Best to use the normal mode, a good combination for everyday driving.

An eight-speed automatic transmission sends the power to all four wheels, where the all-wheel drive system is rear-wheel biased for better handling and cornering, although it can also send up to 60% of the power to the front wheels, depending on conditions.

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The transmission can be shifted manually with large paddles mounted on the steering column. Because they are fixed, the driver always knows where they are, even when the steering wheel is cranked one way or the other. It’s so efficient it’s a wonder that all shift paddles are not so located.

Inside, the Quadrifoglio is all about the business of driving. With the racing seats and some plastic trim here and there, it comes up a bit short on luxury. But it is as well-equipped as any sport/luxury vehicle.

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

The base price of $81,390 includes full safety and power equipment, though the cruise control is not of the adaptive type. Few would take it off road, yet it comes with hill descent control. Options that included a special $2,000 paint job, along with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, brought the tested price up to $84,890.

There is adequate seating for four passengers with decent head and knee room for the outboard rear passengers. There is a center seat but forget about it. With a giant floor hump and intrusion of the center console, it is not usable.

One drawback: the backseat headrests block visibility to the rear  quarters through the inside mirror, so it’s important to get the side mirrors adjusted properly to eliminate blind spots. For those who don’t or won’t do that, blind-spot warning is standard.The cargo area, with 19 cubic feet of space, is nicely upholstered and includes adjustable tie-downs to secure luggage during the inevitable temptation to engage in spirited driving.

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Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.9-liter V6, twin turbochargers; 505 hp, 443 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 97/19 cubic feet. (57)
  • Weight: 4,360 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/23/19 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $81,390.
  • Price as tested: $84,890.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio NRING

Photos (c) Alfa Romeo

2019 Lexus RX 350L: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

When you produce the 2019 Lexus RX, the best-selling luxury crossover sport utility vehicle, it never hurts to up the ante.

That’s the reason for the RX 350 L model, a slightly stretched version of the original with three rows of seats. RX sales in 2018, including the L, totaled 111,641 nation-wide, more than any other luxury model and all of Land Rover’s or Cadillac’s SUVs.

2018_RX_350L_01_1854DDD44F40A20159D5FB2E679DBF11CF655689In the Lexus lineup, the RX — the name originally was intended to signify “Radiant Crossover”—slots dead center among the SUVs: above the subcompact UX and compact NX but below the GX and LX. The latter two are full-fledged SUVs, with truck-like body-on-frame construction. The others are crossovers, built with unit bodies like automobiles.

The 350 L is built on the same platform with the same wheelbase — the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels — as the standard RX. Overall, however, it is four inches longer.

That enabled the Lexus designers to squeeze in that third row, which ostensibly seats two. But it was not enough. Even though the second row has about eight inches of fore-and-aft travel, it’s not enough to divvy up and provide enough knee room for passengers in either the second or third rows.

2018_RX_350L_19_544D1BB8ACAB86AAC1D207684F272EE8A4395A5FAdjust the second row for decent space and the third row becomes a storage place for backpacks or watermelons. Moreover, even if you set it up for a teeny bit of knee room, it’s a chore to twist and turn to crawl back there. Forget grownups and reserve the area for agile small children.

With the second row all the way back, there’s sumptuous comfort for four. Both the front bucket seats and the outboard back seats are supportive with cozy bolstering. Upholstery is ventilated leather with the front seats heated and cooled, and the back seats heated.

As usual in almost every vehicle on the market, the center-rear passenger is disrespected, though in the RX 350 L, he or she need not be. The floor is flat, and the center console intrudes only slightly. But the seat cushion is high and hard.

2018_RX_350L_17_C591F9A39AAC9742668074F4D7B952976997110BThe classy surroundings include a wood and leather steering wheel and wood trim. A jewel-like analog clock resides in the center of the dash, topped by a large center screen that displays infotainment and other functions.

There is much that is familiar. The shift lever has traditional slots and the cruise control stalk on the lower right side of the steering wheel would be familiar to any Toyota or Lexus owner.

Shorter drivers will appreciate the Lexus decision to mount the outside mirrors on the doors. That leaves a small pane of glass forward of the mirrors, which enables a view of the ground and vehicles approaching from the sides.

2018_RX_350L_15_D8C0267CB3C528EA3342A7BBB82CD615B35826C9The RX 350 L is powered by a 290-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine that develops 267 lb-ft of torque, enough propel this luxury critter to 60 mph in less than eight seconds, which is respectable in any company. An eight-speed automatic transmission sends the power to all four wheels, which automatically adjust traction depending on conditions.

There are driver-selectable drive modes: eco, normal and sport. The modes adjust shock absorbers and shift mapping for fuel economy, more aggressive acceleration or everyday driving.

2018_RX_350L_21_EDEC9ADB65343041C6CD3386355726C32D9F2D53The normal setting will do fine for most drivers. This is not a vehicle for rapid flogging around hilly curves. Laid-back cruising in lavish surroundings with silent running exceeded only by an electric car is its forte.

Handling is capable, though not what any enthusiast would regard as sporting, and straight-line tracking is fatigue-free with minimal corrections needed. Augmenting the comfort equation is a supple suspension system that keeps everything planted and also delivers a creamy ride.

2018_RX_350L_12_34677EBDE98217061B58D281215B1EE07AD983BAStandard equipment, as part of the base $50,195 price, included pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, dynamic adaptive radar cruise control, lane-keeping assist, automatic headlight high beams, rain-sensing windshield wipers, tri-zone automatic climate control, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, memory settings for seats and outside mirrors, and SXM satellite radio.

Options on the tested RX 350 L included the wood and leather steering wheel, rear camera with a panoramic view, parking assist with automatic braking, blind-spot monitor, a color head-up display, touch-free power rear tailgate, navigation system, Mark Levinson 15-speaker premium audio package, auto-leveling LED headlights with washers, and LED turn signal lights and rear combination lights. All of that brought the suggested delivered price up to $60,579.

2018_RX_350L_20_BA2ADF9A8AE9C9310258B2970A2DB0685106A11ESpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Lexus RX 350L AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 290 hp, 267 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 121/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,387 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 3,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/25/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $50,195.
  • Price as tested: $60,579.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2018_RX_350L_08_CC77938F17406CC47991BE560BAC65BCCCDB53D6Photos (c) Lexus

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