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SUV Reviews

2022 Ford Bronco 2-Door Black Diamond: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer     

Ford’s fondness for free-spirited, even feisty, names for its vehicles comes to fruition with the 2021/22 Bronco revival, especially the two-door Black Diamond model with four-wheel drive and a seven-speed manual gearbox.

It joins the Raptor trucks; Mustang models, including those with electric power or brutish gasoline engines, and the all-new Maverick, now no longer an economy sedan but a small pickup truck with a hybrid powertrain.

There’s some minor confusion because the Bronco name attaches to two completely different vehicles—the Bronco Sport, a pleasant compact crossover sport utility vehicle based on the Ford Escape, and the off-road oriented Bronco tested here. 

The Bronco comes in six versions, starting with the Base trim level and its price tag of $31,490, and climbing up to the top-line First Edition, which nudges $60,000 with options. There are two engine and transmission choices, along with available four-wheel drive.

Driven for this review was the 4X4 Black Diamond version, up two notches from the Base model and down four from the First Edition. It is powered by a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. It arrived with a starting price of $38,340 and, with a modest list of options, topped out at $40,025, reasonable given its off-road capabilities, 

On the tester, the turbo four-banger was mated to a seven-speed manual gearbox, with second through seventh of those speeds set up for overall driving. First gear has an ultra-low crawl ratio for turtle traveling  in rugged terrain. 

The other drivetrain combination pairs a 10-speed automatic transmission with a twin-turbocharged V6 engine that delivers 330 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels or all four wheels. The V6 is not available with the seven-speed stick shift.

At first blush, this Bronco comes across as a lean, mean machine that would be amenable to an owner who relaxes in sack cloth and ashes. Though it’s as well equipped as most vehicles are these days, it makes do with manual climate control and without adaptive cruise control.

As with its main competitor, the Jeep Wrangler, you can remove the roof and doors for adventuring in the elements, where it is most comfortable in its steel skin. This is a vehicle for challenging the boondocks; it is not suited to long-distance cruising. 

There’s plenty of power from the turbo four-banger, and the seven-speed manual gearbox shifts smoothly, though with long throws. (You don’t use the crawl ratio in normal on-road driving). Zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration is in the seven second range and the EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating is 17/19/18 miles to the gallon.

At highway speeds, the cavernous interior functions like an echo chamber, amplifying sounds from tires, road, engine and wind. At lower speeds on smooth surfaces, it quiets down some but the racket at speed, combined with a stiff, choppy ride, can make for driver fatigue.

The Bronco handles well enough in everyday traffic, though the steering is slow at 3.5 turns lock to lock. But the saving grace is its short wheelbase — the distance between the front and rear axles — of just 8 feet 4 inches, which results in a tight turning circle for maneuvering on and off-road.

There’s plenty of utility to go with the sport qualities. It is strictly a four-passenger vehicle with bucket seats in front and back. The back seats only partially fold, limiting the cargo carrying capability of 22 cubic feet with the seats up and 52 cubic feet folded. Loading is through a big sideways opening third door. Unfortunately, it is hinged at the right side, which means that the person doing the loading has to stand in the street.

Embarking passengers, especially into the back seats, presents a challenge. The step-in height is more than knee high and, as in any two-door, you have to clamber past the front seatback. Children and tall gymnasts won’t have much of a problem but it’s nearly impossible for older adults to crawl back there. The lesson here is if you’re going to regularly accommodate passengers, wait for the four-door Bronco.

The Ford Bronco® brand just opened its all-new Bronco build-and-price configurator, enabling customers for the first time the opportunity to visualize the color and material choices that reinforce the rugged nature of the Built Wild™ brand.

The Ford Bronco dates back to 1966 and the version most similar to the 2021/22 model was the last of the first-generation Broncos in 1977. It was about the same size and had a V8 engine but with just 135 hp.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021/22 Ford Bronco 2-Door Advanced 4X4 Black Diamond sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.3-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 300 hp, 325 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed manual with low off-road crawl gear and four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 97/22 cubic feet. (52)
  • Weight: 4,630 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 3,500 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,170 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/19/18 mpg.
  • Base price (2021), including destination charge: $38,340.
  • Price as tested: $40,025.

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

Frank drives the two-door 2022 Ford Bronco.

Photos (c) Ford

2022 Hyundai Tucson Limited Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Hyundai jumped the gun in the race for buyers of compact crossover sport utility vehicles with its fully redesigned 2022 Tucson, which features eye-catching body sculpting and creative lighting, among many new features.

Moreover, this new contender comes in 10 different versions, called trim levels in the industry, including three hybrids and price tags ranging from $26,135 for the base SE model to $38,704 for the top-line Limited Hybrid version with all-wheel drive tested for this review. Hybrids come with all-wheel drive and other models also are available with front-wheel drive. Prices include the destination charge.

Even with its 38 grand as-tested price, the Tucson Limited Hybrid sells for less than the average price of a new car in the United States — now more than $40,000 — and presents itself more as a small luxury crossover than an economical utility vehicle, which it also can claim.

A crossover is a sport utility vehicle (SUV) built like a car, with unit body construction. An SUV is built with the body mounted on a frame, like a pickup truck. The Tucson is an example of the former; the Chevrolet Tahoe or Jeep Wrangler are traditional rugged SUVs.

Coming or going, the Tucson is a grabber. Its grille is highlighted by 10 (count ’em) LED daytime running lights. Hyundai says the idea was to craft a recognizable work of art. On the road, if a Tucson overtakes your vehicle, you will witness a tail gate that sports a full-width light bar and angular bright brake lights.

For all of its luxury and technological highlights, this Tucson will not disappoint at the gasoline pumps. It delivers a 37/36/37 mpg city/highway/combined EPA fuel economy rating, which some new owners already have exceeded.

The power train consists of a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a 90-hp electric motor. Together, they deliver 261 hp and 224 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission, meaning this Tucson will never be embarrassed in the stoplight sprints or freeway wrangling. 

For peace of mind, every Tucson comes with modern safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist. The tested Limited Hybrid also was equipped with adaptive cruise control and lane-following assist, blind-spot warning, driver attention detection and warning, rear occupant alert, rear cross-traffic avoidance alert, and front and rear parking assist warning.

Inside, driver and passengers of the Limited Hybrid are treated to quality materials, well-designed equipment and accents, including perforated leather upholstery, and topped off by a panoramic sunroof. A large center screen handles infotainment functions. However, all controls are either touchscreen or pushbutton. You have to look at the screen to select functions, which could be distracting. A few knobs would be welcome for things like radio volume.

Outboard back seats are big and comfortable with plenty of head room and knee room. However, as usual in too many vehicles, the forlorn center rear passenger gets treated to a hard, high cushion and a big floor hump. 

With the rear seatbacks in place, the tested Tucson had 39 cubic feet of space for cargo, more than any conventional sedan on the market. To nearly double that, simply fold the seatbacks almost flat. There’s no spare wheel under the cargo floor — just a “tire mobility kit.” So, figure on calling for emergency service.

The Tucson Hybrid’s forte is serene distance cruising, with the gasoline engine and electric motor quietly working in concert. But it also is no slouch on twisting roads, though it would be a mistake to assume it handles like a sports sedan. However, with a supple suspension system mated to compatible tires, it is capable and secure with a comfortable ride.

Hyundai also offers a Tucson plug-in hybrid, which can deliver up to 32 miles of purely electric operation. An onboard charger can top up the battery in about two hours with a level two 240-volt connection. But once the electric juice dries up it simply switches to regular hybrid operation, so the current better choice is a standard hybrid like the tester, which doesn’t need to be plugged in.

The new Tucson competes in tough company against the Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-30, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, and the Kia Sportage from Hyundai’s sister division. It should prove to be a formidable foe.

Specifications     

  • Model: 2022 Hyundai Tucson Limited Hybrid four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 180 hp, 195 lb-ft torque; 90 hp electric motor. Total system: 261 hp, 224 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 106/39 cubic feet.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • Weight: 3,695 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 37/36/37 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,535.
  • Price as tested: $38,704.

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

Photos (c) Hyundai

2022 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL 2.5 S-AWC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The all-new 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander comes with a description that a 2-year-old child would enjoy: “I-Fu-Do-Do.” The company says it’s a product concept that means “authentic and majestic.”

Not sure whether the tested Outlander SEL 2.5 S-AWC, a three-row crossover sport utility vehicle, is majestic. But it is an attractive, capable, and comfortable rendering of Mitsubishi’s goal to deliver quality, strength and confidence.

It’s cultural. And who’s to argue? The Japanese produce some of the finest motor vehicles, though they are increasingly challenged by the South Koreans — and Americans, and Europeans.

According to a well-placed and impeccable source, “I-Fu-Do-Do” at Mitsubishi is “Kinda like Mazda’s ‘rider and horse as one.’ It’s a high-level concept that led the development of the vehicle. Not a literal translation, but a Japanese higher-level concept.”

We’re not smoking anything here. Concepts are important to automotive designers and engineers, who spend entire careers to divine what customers in the future will embrace.

As a new rendering of Mitsubishi’s flagship vehicle, the company went to great lengths to include everything anyone might expect in a modern automobile, and even some hardly anybody would expect.

For example, in addition to a suite of engineering and insulation measures designed to, among other things, reduce tire noise and deliver a quiet and comfortable ride, the Mitsubishi engineers also devised a system to suppress vibrations through the steering wheel. 

Everywhere you look, there are unexpected features, given the Outlander’s price point. Examples: six selectable drive modes on all-wheel drive models — Eco, Normal, Tarmac, Gravel, Snow and Mud. Garnishing on the rocker panels to reduce dirt that clings to trousers and dresses when passengers swing legs out to exit. Both A and C USB ports. Smartphone stowage for every seat. Side window shades in the second-row seat. Outside mirrors that automatically tilt downward for backup parking. A smartphone app to locate the Outlander in a crowded parking lot.

The new-car window sticker for the tested Outlander, called the Monroney after the senator who introduced the 1958 law requiring it, is numbingly extensive, with 108 separate items of equipment, features and options. The tester had a starting price of $34,940 and a bottom-line sticker of $37,995.

Taking a cue from South Korea’s Hyundai and Kia, the Outlander also comes with the best warranty in motordom: Five years and 60,000 miles overall limited warranty, and 10 years and 100,000 miles on the engine and transmission. 

The Outlander competes in the compact class against such worthy crossovers as the Honda CR-V, Volkswagen Tiguan, Ford Escape, and Toyota RAV-4. But it looks bigger with a prominent, almost menacing grille set off by triple stacked headlights on both sides, and a new one-piece hexagonal tailgate with horizontal T-shaped taillights.

The tested Outlander SEL 2.5 S-AWC comes with all-wheel drive and a 181-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 181 lb-ft of torque. With more than 3,800 pounds to move, it’s not the fastest in stoplight sprints but it’s not embarrassed on the public roads. 

Power gets to the pavement via a continuously variable automatic transmission that has no shift hesitations in sedate driving. But if you punch the loud pedal for a quick getaway, it incorporates shift points to feel like a conventional automatic. There’s also an eight-speed manual shift mode controlled by steering-wheel paddles, adding an entertainment quotient.

Handling and ride are first rate, with composed tracking around mountain curves and cutbacks. Front seats deliver support and comfort with substantial bolstering to hold the body in place. Straight line highway cruising is uneventful.

Second-row outboard seats mimic the front seats and even the center position is not as horrible as those on many other vehicles. There’s still a high, hard cushion, but the floor hump is shallow so there’s space for feet.

The third row should be saved for emergencies or small items like purses and pets. Fortunately, the second-row seats have adequate fore and aft travel. Run them all the way forward and the third row has some tiny foot space. 

Really old-timers will recall that Mitsubishi produced the Japanese A6M Zero fighter plane that battled American aircraft in the Pacific in World War II. Now Japan is a staunch ally and an Olympics host, and the company has evolved into a conglomerate that produces quality merchandise for the world, including the tested Outlander.

Specifications

  • Model: 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL 2.5 S-AWC four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter direct injection four-cylinder; 181 hp, 181 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with eight-speed manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 121/12 cubic feet (34, 78, seats folded).
  • Weight: 3,803 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/30/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $34,940.
  • Price as tested: $37,995.

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

Photos (c) Mitsubishi

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD Z71: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Once regarded as a truncated version of the historic Chevrolet Suburban, the all-new 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe has become a distinct competitor in the full-size sport utility realm, especially in the four-wheel drive Z71 trim tested for this review.

The Suburban has been with us as a premier hauler of family and cargo since 1934, probably a week or two before most of its buyers were born. Over the years, it was the choice of anyone who needed lots of space for passengers and cargo, as well as brute force towing capability.

For Chevrolet and General Motors, the Suburban functioned as a bulwark against the increasingly popular minivan, popularized in the mid-1980s by Chrysler. But it always retained its muscular personality, and spun off other iterations, including the luxury Cadillac Escalade and the GMC Yukon — no surprise because they were based on the same platform as General Motors’ Silverado and Sierra full-size pickup trucks.

That’s either a positive or negative depending on the chores you want to assign to your big boomer. Full-size SUVs can carry the same number of passengers and cargo as a now-traditional minivan. And they can tow heavier trailers and handle heavier loads. But big SUVs lose to the minivan on fuel economy, handling and comfort. On a beach trip, the kids in back likely would prefer a Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, or the all-new Kia Carnival, which masquerades as an SUV.

On the other hand, if you’re regularly towing your 27-foot party barge for a family cruise on Lake Tahoe in Nevada and California, you’d likely choose the Chevrolet Tahoe or some other lunker like the Ford Expedition MAX, Nissan Armada, or Toyota Sequoia.

The Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD Z71 that is the subject here did not arrive as the Suburban’s sibling until 1994 — a somewhat smaller and slightly less expensive alternative. At the outset, the two vehicles seemed alike except that the Tahoe looked like a Suburban with about 15 inches whacked off the back end.

But now, all-new for 2021, the Tahoe comes with well-balanced styling and a personality all its own despite its family resemblance to big brother — or sister — Suburban.

In an era when manufacturers are trending toward smaller turbocharged four-cylinder engines, the 2021 Tahoe Z71 continues with good old-fashioned Detroit muscle — a pushrod 5.3-liter V8 engine with 355 hp and 358 lb-ft of torque. It sends its power to all four wheels via a 10-speed automatic transmission.      

The combination guarantees that you will never feel at a disadvantage either in the hiccups of plugged up/high speed interstate travel or urban puddling around. But no matter how you are driving, don’t count on competing with any economy cars. The tested Tahoe Z71 has a city/highway/combined EPA fuel consumption rating of 16/20/18 mpg, and almost everybody will get less.

But there’s quiet comfort in cruising. Buttressed with an air suspension system and adaptive shock absorbers, the tested Tahoe exhibited good handling for its size, cruised quietly and comfortably for long distances at Interstate speeds and featured mostly fatigue-free seating. 

The air suspension system also enabled a larger cabin with 178 cubic feet of space for up to seven passengers and 25 cubic feet for cargo behind the third row. Both the second and third rows can be folded to greatly expand the cargo capacity. Third-row seats have power folding.

The tested Z71, with standard four-wheel drive, came with a $5,735 off-road package of options that included the air suspension, magnetic ride control and a heavy-duty radiator for enhanced cooling. The package also featured an advanced trailering system with hitch guidance and trailer brake control. 

Safety equipment on the tester, both standard and optional, included automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, following-distance indicator, lane-change alert with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-keeping assist with lane-departure warning.

Inside, the Z71 offered a complement of infotainment, comfort and convenience functions. Among them: tri-zone automatic climate control, wireless smart phone charging, Wi-Fi, five USB ports, SXM satellite radio, nine-speaker Bose audio system, and a rear window that opens independently of the power rear hatch for convenience in loading smaller items.

The Z71 is one of six versions, called trim levels in the industry, that have starting prices from $51,195 to $71,220, including destination charges, with the Z71 in the middle of the range at $60,495. With options, the tested Tahoe Z71 topped out at $68,940.

Specifications 

  • Model: 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD Z71 four-door sport utility vehicle. 
  • Engine: 5.3-liter Ecotec V8, 355 hp, 358 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 178/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,865 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,600 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 16/20/18 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $60,495.
  • Price as tested: $68,940.

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

Photos (c) Chevrolet

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It’s easy to conclude that Hyundai decided to go over the top with the 2021 Palisade three-row crossover sport utility vehicle. After making its debut as a 2020 model, the Palisade scored plaudits all over the automotive multiverse along with its fraternal cousin, the Kia Telluride. In any number of ratings and reviews, the two crossovers were ranked one and/or two in the midsize, three-row crossover category.

It’s getting to be a familiar story. The two South Korean companies are part of the same family and lately have consistently delivered desirable vehicles with high-grade content and competitive prices. They share engineering, engines, and drive trains but follow their own instincts on styling and other ingredients. 

For the 2021 model year, Hyundai upped the ante with a new top-line trim level, called the Palisade Calligraphy. The former top Limited has been relegated to secondary status along with the less expensive SEL and SE versions.

The Calligraphy, with striking exterior styling highlighted by an intimidating in-your-face grille with triangle accents and eye-catching alloy wheels, has tilted into the luxury category despite its more bourgeois price tag.

Inside, the Calligraphy’s luxurious personality encompasses a variety of quality materials including quilted leather trim on the doors and faux wood accents. Also: perforated leather upholstery and steering wheel; rear side sunshades; heated and ventilated seats; a 10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation, SXM satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The center console expands the storage area with cup holder surrounds that fold into the console inside and are spring loaded. If you need to secure a cup you simply touch a button, and they snap into place.

Full safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping and lane-following assist, adaptive cruise control, and a clever blind-spot warning system built into the instrument cluster. When you click the left or right turn signal, the rear view on either side shows up, substituting briefly for the speedometer or tachometer.

You can check the blind spots on both sides without looking at the outside mirrors. However, though innovative, the system is unnecessary if you are among the rare motorists who know how to properly adjust the outside mirrors, which are the original blind sport monitors.

The Calligraphy tested for this review carried an opening price tag of $48,935. But it was so well equipped there was only one option: $215 for carpeted floor mats. All-wheel drive is standard. The lesser trim levels, with both front drive or optional all-wheel drive, are the SE, which starts at $33,800 including the destination charge; SEL, at $36,510, and Limited, $46,460.

There’s power aplenty from a 291-hp, 3.8-liter V6 engine that delivers 262 lb-ft of torque, enough to move this 4,387-pound beauty to 60 mph in a snippet under seven seconds, with a top speed of 130 mph. An eight-speed automatic transmission with manual mode and paddle shifters gets the power to the pavement.

There are five selectable drive modes: Comfort, Sport, Eco, Smart, and Snow. Comfort provides a slightly softer ride and Sport delivers slightly crisper handling. But you have to pay close attention to notice the differences. Either works well in everyday driving.

Traveling, the Palisade was an amiable companion. It cruised quietly with confident handling and fatigue-free long-distance motoring, though it’s not particularly anxious to challenge twisting mountain roads.

The tested Calligraphy was a seven-passenger model with generous space and captain’s chairs in the second row. They were as comfortable and supportive as the front seats, with multiple adjustments and enough travel to provide knee room to passengers in the third row. 

The third row sits on a raised platform about four inches higher than the second-row floor. But there’s still enough head room for modest sized humans and knee room if the second-row seats are moved forward. There are three seatbelts back there, but passengers better be skinny or kids. 

Third-row seats have powered reclining and seatback folding. There’s 18 cubic feet for cargo, accessed by a hands-free automatic tailgate, which expands to 46 cubic feet with the third row folded, and 86 cubic feet if you also fold the second row. Headrests drop automatically when you drop the seatbacks.

Besides the Telluride, the Palisade competes handily against the Ford Explorer, Buick Enclave, Mazda CX-9, Volkswagen Atlas, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and Nissan Pathfinder.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.8-liter V6; 291 hp, 262 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 155/18 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 4,387 pounds.
  • Towing capability: Maximum 5,000 pounds properly equipped.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $48,935.

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

Photos (c) Hyundai

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though it does not compete in the luxury class of crossover sport utility vehicles, the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Limited owns some of those attributes, notably a substantial feel and a peaceful cabin on the road.

It’s a midsize four-door with two rows of seats, powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor that together deliver 226 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is standard.

The new Santa Fe arrives in exceptional company. It slots between Hyundai’s acclaimed larger three-row crossover, the Palisade, and the redesigned 2022 Tucson, a compact which offers its Hybrid model with a power train that is nearly identical to the Santa Fe’s and is priced about $2,500 less comparably equipped. 

The Santa Fe also is a fraternal twin of the Kia Sorento. Hyundai and Kia are sister companies in South Korea, and share engines and transmissions, though each does its own engineering, design and tuning. A Kia Sorento EX Hybrid previously reviewed here came with a nearly identical engine/motor combination. As on the Santa Fe Hybrid, power moves through a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode operated by steering-wheel paddles. 

The main difference between the two was that the Sorento had front-wheel drive and three rows of seats compared to the Santa Fe’s all-wheel drive and two rows. Other dimensions were within inches between the two vehicles and the Kia’s price tag was about $3,000 lower, mainly because of the Hyundai’s all-wheel drive.

But if a luxury look and feel cranks your motor, the Santa Fe would fit the bill nicely. As noted, it imparts solidity and silence to the driver and passengers, with a tactile steering feel that would not seem alien to a Mercedes-Benz or BMW owner. Handling is secure and competent with little body lean on curves. 

Contributing to the placid driving experience is the Santa Fe’s hybrid drive train, which switches unobtrusively between electric and gasoline power. 

Though the Santa Fe is not the quickest sprinter off the blocks, the electric motor’s instant torque delivers a boost at low speeds, so it is not embarrassed in urban, suburban or freeway traffic. The zero-to-60-mph acceleration time is in the seven-second range, respectable but not outstanding in this era. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated by the EPA at 33/30/32 mpg.

The interior exudes stylish quality. On the test car, the upholstery had an attractive combination of black and dark brown perforated and quilted leather and other materials for the upholstery, door trim and dash. Substantial bolstering on the front seat keeps the torso tidily in place. Overhead, a panoramic glass sunroof came with an opaque power shade.

Comfort and support in the outboard rear seats is first rate. But the center seat, despite a nearly flat floor, is still an uncomfortable perch that is high and hard, though roomier than many others. Rear seatbacks recline and fold nearly flat.

The instruments included Hyundai’s signature blind spot warning system. When the turn signals are activated, camera views to the right- or left-rear so-called blind spots are displayed in the instruments. The only drawback is that heavy rain can leave drops on the camera lenses, which partially obscures the view. 

As wonderful as the system is, it is not needed if the driver uses the original blind spot warning system by properly adjusting the inside and outside rear-view mirrors to provide a wide-ranging view behind the vehicle.

The Santa Fe Limited Hybrid’s base price of $41,235 includes almost everything any buyer might want, especially full safety equipment: forward collision assist, blind-spot warning, automatic high headlight beams, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, driver attention warning, lane-keeping and lane following assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, and rear occupant alert.

Other features: Navigation system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual automatic climate control, memory driver’s seat, SXM satellite radio, premium Harman Kardon audio, Bluetooth connectivity, wireless device charging, surround view rear monitor, parking assist, and heated and ventilated front seats.

The only option on the tested Santa Fe was $155 for carpeted floor mats, bringing the as-tested price to $41,290, which now is only about $1,000 more than the average price of a new automobile in the United States.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Limited AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline, turbocharged, 178 hp, 195 lb-ft torque; 59-hp electric motor, 195 lb-ft torque; combined system output 226 hp, 258 lb-ft torque. 
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 112/36 cubic feet. 
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • Weight: 4,245 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 33/30/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $41,135.
  • Price as tested: $41,290.

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

Photos (c) Hyundai

2022 Volkswagen Taos SE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As crossover utility vehicles continue to insinuate themselves into the automotive market, manufacturers fill out their lineups to offer more sizes and styles, as Germany’s Volkswagen has done with its all-new 2022 Taos.

It now is the smallest crossover in the VW lineup, joining the Tiguan, Atlas Sport, Atlas, and the new all-electric ID.4 It is described as a small sport utility vehicle by the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel economy website. There are no specific size categories for crossovers, but the Taos has more room inside than a sedan classified as large by the EPA.

It is four inches shorter than 15 feet long, 5 feet 4 inches tall and seats five in a passenger pod of 96 cubic feet, with a generous 28 cubic feet of space for cargo behind the back seat, some of it recessed into the floor. Fold the rear seatbacks and the cargo area expands to 66 cubic feet, though there’s a step up of more than six inches from the cargo floor.

The Taos, named for a town in north-central New Mexico, presents itself as an affordable and economical alternative to such established crossover SUVs as the Subaru Crosstrek and Hyundai Kona. The name derives from the American Indian Taos language and means “place of red willows.”

The Volkswagen red willow is powered by a turbocharged, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 158 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. That engine is mated to two different transmissions: a conventional eight-speed automatic in front-wheel drive models and a dual-clutch seven-speed automatic (DCT) in all-wheel drive versions.

On paper, that doesn’t look like a lot of juice to drive a 3,175-pound vehicle and its passengers. But the Taos delivers sprightly acceleration, though only after you suffer a second or three of turbo lag, that dreaded hesitation as the turbocharger spools up. Once past that, acceleration is strong. 

Highway cruising is mostly quiet except for some modest engine drone and tire noise. The latter is either pleasant or annoying, depending on the road surfaces, which these days have too many variations that need to be included in infrastructure improvements.

Handling is competent and secure with tactile steering feel. The tested Taos tracked true on turnpikes and twisting two-lane roads. Of course, even a small crossover is usually no match for a reasonably capable sports coupe or sedan.

Tested for this review was the front-drive SE, which is the middle of three trim levels. It was well-equipped, though lacking automatic climate control, and had a base price of $28,440, including the destination charge. The bottom-line sticker, with options, came to $31,325. Other versions are the base S, which starts at $24,190, and the top-line SEL, $32,685.

Given its relatively tidy size, the Taos was roomy inside with enough head room for all passengers and plenty of air for the knees of second-row passengers. As usual, the disrespected center-rear passenger has to contend with intrusions from the center console and a large floor hump. Front seats are supportive with prominent seatback bolstering to hold the torso around curves.

The seats on the SE were upholstered in a combination of cloth and faux leather, though Volkswagen got it backwards. The seating areas were done up in the leatherette, with cloth trim. The preference anywhere would be for breathable cloth seats with whatever else for trim.

An appreciated feature was the capability to change the view of the instrument cluster with the touch of a button. It was cool to display the speed as digital, with the tachometer surrounding the number. An eight-inch center touch screen handles infotainment functions. 

The center console consists of an open storage area with cup holders and a small storage area under the center armrest. The cup holders have spring loaded grippers to secure different sized cups — another appreciated feature.

 The Taos has full modern safety equipment, including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, rear traffic alert and adaptive cruise control with distance settings.

The tested Taos SE also came with optional black alloy wheels and a panoramic glass sunroof, which opened at the front but not in back. But the motorized sunshade was made of a flimsy, translucent white cloth that admitted some welcome light but too much hot sunlight, straining the air conditioning.

With this new entry, Volkswagen gets another tire solidly into the deepening groove created by consumer demands for more and better vehicles that combine practicality and entertaining motoring.

Specifications

  • Model: 2022 Volkswagen Taos SE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 158 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches. 
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 96/28 cubic feet. (66)
  • Weight: 3,175 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/36/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,440.
  • Price as tested: $31,325.

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

Photos (c) Volkswagen

2021 Subaru Ascent Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

When the Subaru Ascent crossover SUV made its debut as a 2019 model, the conclusion here was that it was among the most family-friendly vehicles available, minivans notwithstanding. Now in its 2021 guise, it adds refinement to its attributes.

It’s a full-size, three-row vehicle with 148 cubic feet of space for seven or eight passengers, depending on whether you choose a second-row bench seat or separate captain’s chairs. Even the third row can accommodate three skinny adult passengers with enough head and knee room because the second-row seats have ample fore and aft adjustments.

There are only 18 cubic feet of space for cargo behind the third row. But folding it opens up 47 cubic feet and 86 cubic feet if you also fold the second row. 

Power comes from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which makes 266 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque, enough to take the 4,600-pound Ascent to 60 mph in milliseconds less than seven seconds. The EPA rates the Ascent’s city/highway/combined gasoline consumption at 20/26/22 mpg.

The engine is a horizontally opposed design of the same type that powered the old Volkswagen Beetle, which chugged around worldwide from World War II to 1975. Also called a pancake, boxer or flat-four design, the cylinders lie feet-to-feet on both sides of the crankshaft instead of the more common standing upright or leaning in a V design. 

You won’t hear any chugging sounds from the Ascent’s boxer engine. The Subaru engineers have refined it and added insulation to the cabin so occupants can barely hear engine noise. Moreover, with its short vertical profile, the engine can be mounted low in the engine bay. This position gives any vehicle a lower center of gravity, enhancing handling and stability. Subaru is the only manufacturer installing boxers in all its vehicles, though you can also find them in some Porsche models.

The transmission is one of the better continuously variable designs that deliver decent fuel economy. Continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVTs) use a system of belts and pulleys to multiply power and have no shift points, though the Ascent’s can be shifted manually like an eight-speed automatic. Braking is relaxed and confident with a solid pedal feel.

There are four Ascent versions, called trim levels in the industry: Base, which starts at $33,345, including the destination charge; Premium, $35,845; Limited, $40,645, and Touring, $46,495. Tested for this review was the Limited with second-row captain’s chairs and a $2,950 option package that included a surround-sound Harman Kardon audio system with 14 speakers, panoramic sunroof, navigation system, and a cargo area cover.

As with all Subaru vehicles except the rear-drive BRZ sports coupe, the tested Ascent has all-wheel drive as standard equipment, enhanced by the company’s vehicle dynamics control. 

Safety equipment includes forward and reverse automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping warning and assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, and side-curtain airbags with rollover sensors.

The tested Limited Ascent also came with 20-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, the captain’s chairs, tri-zone climate control, heated seats, memory driver’s seat and power front passenger seat, Bluetooth connectivity, SiriusXM radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Pandora and iHeart radio, power rear tailgate with height memory, and six USB charge ports — two in front with phone connectivity and four in back. 

Oh, and don’t miss the 19 (count ‘em) cup holders and the retractable sunshades in the second-row windows.

Much appreciated were the ergonomically designed instrumentation and controls. A couple of examples: A button on the dash behind the steering wheel resets the trip odometer. And the center screen displays pre-sets on the radio home page. Simplicity eliminates the maddening search through menus and sub-menus.

On the road, the Ascent cruises quietly unless you hammer the throttle for maximum acceleration. It also has comfortable front-row and second-row seats. The suspension system and tires combine for a comfortable ride — except when you encounter the many severely pockmarked roads that are candidates for infrastructure enhancement.

With active torque-vectoring and quick-ratio steering, handling is the Ascent’s forte. It validates the old automotive adage that a big vehicle should drive small, and a small vehicle should drive large. The Ascent combines light, responsive and communicative steering with an instant throttle, making it almost pleasurable to maneuver in heavy traffic. 

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Subaru Ascent Limited AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.4-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, turbocharged; 266 hp, 277 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with eight-speed manual mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 148/18 cubic feet. (47, 86)
  • Weight: 4,600 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/26/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,645.
  • Price as tested: $43,595.

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

Photos (c) Subaru

2021 BMW X5 xDrive 45e: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Luxury plug-in hybrids like the 2021 BMW X5 xDrive 45e present a puzzle that will not be solved until purely electric vehicles become the mainstream.

Manufacturers are increasingly committed to that goal, predicting that in a decade or so, many automobiles, utility vehicles, and even trucks will be 100% battery powered to reduce carbon emissions and help save the planet from premature annihilation.

Meanwhile, we already have excellent electric vehicles from General Motors, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Porsche, Volkswagen, Nissan, Volvo, Audi, Polestar, and, yes, BMW. But they are expensive and lack the convenience of current gasoline- and diesel-fueled machines. 

They will become mainstream when they achieve a similar range, recharge roughly the same time it takes to gas up an internal combustion vehicle and build charging stations in numbers rivaling today’s service stations. 

That will take a while, recalling the time when automobiles began to replace horse-drawn carriages and wagons. Then, you fed oats and hay to the horses but had to drop by the local drug store to buy gasoline.

At this juncture, the compromise is called electrification, and its leading representative is the hybrid gasoline-electric power plant. Led by Toyota’s Prius, with more than 2.4 million sales in the United States, the modern hybrids have proliferated throughout the automotive world.

They deliver outstanding fuel economy because they can run on purely electric power and partially recharge batteries from regenerative braking, with the gasoline engine automatically kicking in as needed. But the main advantage is that the driving experience is no different from that of a standard gasoline-engine car. Some hybrids are more potent than their fossil-fuel brethren, are easy to refuel, and do not have to be plugged in.

Also in the mix are the PHEVs (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles) like the subject here from BMW, its X5 xDrive 45e.

Though the X5 PHEV gets a 50-MPGe fuel economy rating from the EPA, its electric range on a full charge is advertised as 31 miles when it switches to hybrid or gasoline power. Running on gasoline only, it has a 20-mpg rating, which works out to about a 370-mile range.

There have been reports that some owners do not bother to plug in their plug-ins. They simply drive them as standard hybrids, giving up the added economy of electric driving. But if owners plug in and drive less than 31 miles a day, they can avoid gassing up.

The difficulty with plug-ins — especially those of a luxury orientation — is that they are generally more costly than fossil-fueled or hybrid vehicles.

A prime example is the tested X5 xDrive 45e. Its base sticker price of $66,395 is $4,000 more than a gasoline-engine X5 with all-wheel drive, standard on the 45e. If you forego the all-wheel drive and go with a gasoline rear-drive X5 sDrive, the difference is $6,000.

On top of that, BMW has an options list that reaches the horizon. The tested X5 45e had extras that added $15,300 and brought the bottom-line sticker price to $81,695. Of course, that includes every feature common to that luxury category.

It’s a huge nut, likely out of reach for the vast majority of prospective buyers but attractive to people who can afford it. The big item on the tester’s options list is the $5,500 M Sport package, evoking ultra-high-performance BMW models. Here it includes Sport Seats, an M

Steering wheel, unique lightweight alloy wheels and trim pieces, and a performance-tweaked eight-speed automatic transmission.       

The X5 PHEV is motivated by a silky 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine with 282 horsepower, linked to a 111-hp electric motor.  Combined, they deliver 389 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel this 5,672-pound midsize crossover to 60 mph in less than five seconds, with a top speed of 146 mph.

This SUV is a BMW after all, with all that implies: Great handling, aided by a standard air suspension system, a comfortable ride cosseted in the supportive sport seats, quiet cruising, the capability to smoke most contenders in stoplight drag races, and the quiet comfort of great design and engineering. Also, it’s American built, in the BMW plant in Spartanburg, S.C.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 BMW X5 xDrive 45e plug-in hybrid four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 3.0-liter six-cylinder gasoline, turbocharged, 282 hp; electric,111 hp; combined system 389 hp, 443 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/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 105/33 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,672 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,200 pounds.
  • EPA fuel-economy ratings: 50 MPGe; 20 MPG gasoline only. 
  • Base price, including destination charge: $66,395.
  • Price as tested: $81,695.

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

Photos (c) BMW

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