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SUV Reviews

2021 Ford Edge Titanium AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Now a teenager, the 2021 Ford Edge has lost some of its edgy styling in favor of softer attractive styling, but it retains its everyday comfort and practicality as an easy-driving midsize two-row crossover sport utility vehicle.

Introduced as a 2007 model, the Edge has been a staple of the Ford lineup with sales of well over 100,000 most years. It slots between the smaller Escape and the larger Explorer. Four adults sit comfortably and a fifth less so in the center-rear position. But with a nearly flat floor, that person at least has a place to plant his or her feet. Moreover, unlike some luxury SUVs, the rear seatbacks recline for long-trip relaxation.

Behind the second row is a generous cargo area of 39 cubic feet, enough to haul the luggage and stuff for a small family’s week at the beach. A full-size temporary spare wheel and tire is stashed beneath the floor and the rear seatbacks fold 60/40 for extra cargo if needed.

There’s a broad range of trim levels for different budgets and desires, starting with the front-wheel-drive SE at around $33,000 to the top-line ST at more than $45,000. Tested for this review was the mid-level Titanium with all-wheel drive that started at $42,325 and had a bottom-line sticker of $48,990.

All Edge models come with modern basic safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring. In addition, the tested Edge came with knee air bags up front, evasive steering assist, adaptive cruise control, a reverse sensing system and rain-sensing windshield wipers with de-icing.

Other equipment on the tested Titanium model, some of it optional, included a hands-free motorized rear tailgate, dual-zone automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, voice-activated navigation, SXM satellite radio, 4G Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless smart phone charging, leather trimmed heated and cooled front seats with power memory driver’s seat, and heated rear seats.

The Edge Titanium infotainment system comes with Ford’s new SYNC 4 interface viewed on a 12-inch center display. It features wireless compatibility with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and apps from smart phones and other mobile devices. 

With that list of equipment, anyone could be forgiven for assuming that the Edge Titanium competes in the near-luxury crossover class. It does, but at a lower price than some of the others.

It shows on the open road, where cruising at freeway speeds and higher is fatigue-free, with few steering corrections needed in straight-line driving. If you’re caught up in stop-and-go traffic, as happens to motorists on the east coast’s Interstate 95 during beach vacation season, it’s another story. 

The cabin is quiet, with little intrusion of mechanical, tire and wind noise. Handling on twisting roads is capable and secure as long as you don’t push the Edge too hard. 

Comfort and ergonomics are first-rate. The seats, done up in perforated leather, are supportive and comfortable, and controls are easy to locate and operate. The shifter is a rotary knob that is as intuitive and easy to use as any shifter currently on the market. There’s an idle stop-start system that, thankfully, can be switched off, eliminating that hesitation if you have to accelerate quickly from a stop.

Except for the top-line ST performance model, the Edge gets its power from a 250-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 275 lb-ft of torque. With that, the tested Titanium model is not the quickest crossover out of the gate. But with a 0-60-mph acceleration time of less than seven seconds, it will do nicely. A few years ago, that was considered fast.

The top-line ST performance version is powered by a 2.7-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers. It makes 335 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque, and comes with all-wheel drive standard. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic for all models.

However, unless you’re the sort who simply must have the most powerful — and least economical — model in any lineup, the Titanium version is more than satisfactory. It does everything buyers look for in a two-row crossover.

Competitors include the Honda Passport, Kia Sorento, Chevrolet Blazer, Hyundai Santa Fe and Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport. The Mazda CX-9 has the same interior space but squeezes in three rows of seats.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Ford Edge Titanium four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 250 hp, 275 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 110/39 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,124 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/28/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $42,325.
  • Price as tested: $48,990.

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

Photos (c) Ford

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Mercedes-Benz regards the all-new 2021 GLA250 as its entry-level crossover SUV, but for many motorists it could represent a dual-purpose icon on the mountaintop.

That’s because it delivers the practicality of a small crossover, with up to 51 cubic feet of cargo space (rear seatbacks folded) and an engaging, even sporting, personality — all at a price that likely is reasonable for some though out of reach for many.

That, of course, is the usual state of affairs with Mercedes and other European luxury brands. You can find many cars and crossovers at reasonable prices for the majority of the hoi polloi. But when you’re talking BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Volvo and Alfa Romeo, forget any bargain basement deals.

The GLA250’s starting price actually looks fairly reasonable. At $37,280 with front-wheel drive and including the destination charge that rarely is advertised but everybody must pay, it comes close to the average price of a new car these days.

When you start plumbing the options list, the amount inflates. On the tested GLA250, the extras came to $10,980, or nearly a third of the basic price. That’s not uncommon with many luxury brands, which have options lists that stretch to the horizon. They send the GLA250’s “as-tested” price to $48,620.

But it’s unlikely Mercedes even bothers to assemble any base vehicles, likely because its customers would not even consider what used to be called a stripper. So, what you see is what you get. 

In this case, it’s a well-equipped small luxury conveyance with a lot of desirable equipment — some of it superfluous — and a few shortcomings that anyone likely could live with unless they were terminally picky. 

Of course, this is Mercedes engineering and quality, so the fundamentals are present. The GLA250 is powered by a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 221 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. The power makes its way to the front wheels via an also new eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode triggered by paddles on the steering wheel. There’s also an all-wheel-drive 4Matic model for an additional $2,000.

City/highway/combined fuel economy is rated by the EPA at a decent 25/34/28 mpg, aided by a standard idle stop-start system. It’s not a favorite with this reviewer because of the re-start hesitation when there’s a need to accelerate quickly off the line. But on the GLA250, there’s an off switch directly below the start button so you can disable it without searching through touch-screen menus. 

Safety equipment includes forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking — now increasingly demanded for motor vehicles everywhere — as well as the Mercedes attention assist, which monitors driver behavior and issues warnings to take a break.

Standard equipment includes such amenities as Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and dual-zone automatic climate control. Options on the tested GLA250 included $2,240 for performance AMG body styling, including a classy black diamond grille, and perforated front disc brakes; panorama sunroof (with a flimsy perforated sunshade), navigation system, SXM satellite radio, digital instrument cluster and center display, heated front seats, and auto-dimming inside and outside mirrors.

However, the tested GLA250’s sun visors did not slide on their support rods to adequately block sunlight from the side, there was no adaptive cruise control, and the redundant steering wheel controls included tiny buttons that mimic the center touch pad. The buttons were too susceptible to inadvertently touch while driving and, among other things, change a radio station.

The main attraction of the GLA250, however, is the driving dynamics, and this is where this borderline luxury crossover SUV shines. Its tidy dimensions — six inches shy of 16 feet — along with a stiff but supple suspension system and accurate steering delivers handling on curving roads that can match or better some sports sedans. The tradeoff is a choppy ride on the many pockmarked surfaces on U.S. roads.

It also is a comfortable long-distance cruiser that tracks steadily with few steering corrections needed and a reasonably quite cabin. Front and outboard rear seats, though covered in MB-Tex faux leather, are supportive and comfortable. The center-rear seat, as usual in many vehicles these days, is compromised by a high, hard cushion and intrusion of a floor hump that is a full eight inches high.

Sales of the Mercedes GLA-Class have been slipping in 2020. COVID-19 permitting, the new models should help them regain some solid footing.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 221 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed dual clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive. 
  • Overall length: 14 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 98/15 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 3,410 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/34/28 mpg. Premium gasoline required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,280.
  • Price as tested: $48,620.

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

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Before Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was re-named Stellantis, it developed a virus of its own in the Dodge Division that now has infected the 2021 Dodge Durango.

It’s called the Hellcat, a monstrous 6.2-liter supercharged engine that, in the new Durango SRT Hellcat, delivers 710 hp and 640 lb-ft of torque, enough to launch this 5,335-pound three-row sport utility vehicle to 60 mph in about 3.5 seconds.

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

Just to make sure, the all-wheel drive Durango Hellcat comes with a sophisticated launch control system that keeps the tires hooked to the pavement, eliminating wheel spin. Punch the launch control button, floor the throttle and feel your eyeballs thrust into their sockets.

At the same time, your eardrums are assaulted by the engine’s racket, which blasts mostly out of the tailpipes, to the point where you’d be forgiven for thinking the engine is somehow mounted below the third-row seat.

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

This is the main drawback to the Durango Hellcat. Though you can feather foot and motor relatively quietly at speeds up to about 62 mph, it has to be on a smooth, level surface. Any time you need to add power for any reason — a modest uphill incline, passing another car — the blast of engine noise from the tailpipes reverberates throughout the cabin. As exciting as it can be, there’s also a fatigue factor on a long drive.

Of course, it’s music to the ears of smug enthusiasts who enjoy knowing that they can take on almost anything on the road and power past whatever.

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

On a test drive, the thought occurred that if the famed 1893 painting, “The Scream” by Edvard Munch, had been about a 21st century vehicle, the open mouth would have been the grille of the Durango Hellcat.

Though infecting any vehicle with the Hellcat virus — the Dodge Charger and Challenger come to mind — transforms it into a hellish performer, the Durango Hellcat also has a softer, practical side. No surprise, it can  tow up to 8,700 pounds, be it a boat or a house trailer. 

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

If set up like the tester here, it can carry six people, with four in comfort. The front seats are wide and accommodating, with huge bolsters to hug the torso in aggressive driving on twisting roads. Second-row captain’s chairs are similar, with gobs of headroom and enough knee room for most people.

Even the third row can accommodate a couple of medium-sized adults, though they’d best be moderately athletic types without too many years on the clock because of the calisthenics required to get back there. The second-row seats do not adjust fore and aft but there’s plenty of headroom in the third row and just enough knee room as long as you’re not Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks.

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

A clever addition is a console between the second-row seats that contains cup holders and storage. It opens from both the front and back so third-row passengers can access the USB port and the 12-volt power source.

On the road, the Durango Hellcat is a welcome companion. Instruments and controls will be familiar to almost anyone who has driven a 21st century vehicle, and the Stellantis (nee FCA) infotainment system is among the best and most intuitive anywhere.

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

Even with the almost scary power under the hood, the Durango Hellcat has capable handling and communicative steering feedback, and a relatively tight turning radius. It can easily chase some smaller and more sporting vehicles on curving mountain roads.

At some point, however, there are downsides to discuss. For all of its attributes, this sucker is a relentless guzzler — no surprise given the heft and Hercules personality. The EPA rates the city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 12/17/13 mpg — shades of the 1960s and 1970s. Most owners will get less. 

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

With General Motors coming out with an electric Hummer, maybe we should wait for a rechargeable Durango Hellcat and save some of that fossil fuel for campfires on our winterized planet.

Then there’s the out-of-pocket moolah to get one. The tested Durango SRT Hellcat arrived with a price tag of $82,490, including the destination charge, which everyone has to pay. By the time options were added, including a rear-seat entertainment system to keep the kids from freaking out during stoplight drag races, the bottom line sticker came to a whopping $92,690.

Problem is, there’s currently no vaccination for a dearth of disposable income.

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat AWD four-door sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 6.2-liter V8, supercharged; 710 hp, 640 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 142/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,335 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 8,700 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 12/17/13 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $82,490.
  • Price as tested: $92,690.

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

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

Photos (c) Stellantis

2021 Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Spend some time in Volvo’s XC90, specifically the T8 E-AWD Inscription hybrid, and you will realize that the Swedish manufacturer deserves a pedestal in the pantheon of high-performance luxury brands.

It was not always so. Back in the day — mid 20th century — Volvo earned an enviable reputation as a middle-class brand that delivered reliable everyday transportation with industrial strength. It was said that the station wagons were built on truck chassis — believable because Volvo originally was a manufacturer of buses, trucks and other commercial vehicles as well as automobiles.

The company even had the chutzpah to embrace rear-wheel drive in a snow-ridden Scandinavian country. Its indigenous competitor, Saab, had front-wheel drive and early-on even used two-cycle engines, which were easier to start in subzero temperatures because the oil was mixed with the gasoline.

Sadly, Saab is no more but Volvo thrives, partly on the strength of its reputation for safety and quality engineering. The two most enduring innovations were the inventions of the three-point seat belt in 1959 and the rear-facing child seat in 1964. 

Volvo had financial troubles as well, first being taken over by the Ford Motor Co., which at the time also acquired Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover of Great Britain. 

In 2010, Ford sold its premium brands to concentrate on its core products, mainly pickup trucks, and Volvo wound up as part of China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group. Fortunately, the new owner elected to let Volvo be Volvo, so the designers and engineers concentrated on the future, including a pledge in the last decade to build increasing numbers of environmentally friendly electrified cars.

Cue the tested 2021 XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription four-door, three-row crossover sport utility vehicle, which epitomizes the definition of electrified. However, it is not pure electric. Those are available from various manufacturers, but the world and the industry are in transition and right now hybrids continue as the best choice.

That’s because they combine traditional gasoline- or diesel-fueled engines with electric motors to enhance fuel economy and suppress the production of greenhouse gases that threaten the environment.  

The 2021 Volvo XC90 E-AWD takes it a step farther. It is a plug-in hybrid, an expensive technology that provides only short ranges of electric-only motoring, in this case about 18 miles. But for someone in an urban area who takes few trips, it’s enough to minimize stops at the local service station.

Fuel economy in hybrid mode is 55 mpg in combined city/highway driving. Using only the gasoline engine, it drops to 27 mpg. Premium fuel is recommended.

The XC90 E-AWD’s front wheels are powered by a 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 313 horsepower. It is augmented by an 87-hp electric motor that drives the rear wheels. Combined, they deliver 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque, enough to slingshot the 2.5-ton XC90 to 60 mph in under five seconds.

For the most part, a standard hybrid like a Toyota Prius works as well as a plug-in hybrid like this Volvo. But it’s another mile marker on the way to widespread electrification and self-driving automobiles.

Likely because of the short electric-only range, any number of XC90 E-AWD owners will simply skip the plug-in part and treat their machines as if they were standard hybrids. However they do it, they will experience one of the finest crossover SUVs on the market. 

Exceptional performance tops the list. As noted, it’s fast, with communicative steering and good handling, as well as a quiet, fatigue-free ride over long distances, abetted by an optional air suspension system.

It’s also among the most luxurious passenger vehicles available anywhere, with a posh interior of blended high-quality natural materials and some of the most supportive leather-covered seats you’ll find anywhere. On the test car, there were six of them, with the front- and second-row chairs the most comfortable. The difficult-to-access third-row seats are cramped for all but smaller adults and children.

Of course, none of this comes cheap. The tested XC90 E-AWD had a base price of $68,495 and, with a load of options, the bottom-line sticker came to $86,990, including the destination charge.

Negatives include sun visors that do not adequately block sun from the sides and a flimsy perforated shade for the sunroof.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline, supercharged and turbocharged, 313 hp; electric motor, 87 hp; combined 400 hp, 472 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic (front-wheels); single-speed direct drive (rear wheels); all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 131/11 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,140 pounds.
  • EPA combined miles per gallon fuel consumption: gasoline/electric, 55 mpg; gasoline-only, 27 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Electric-only range: 18 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $68,495.

Price as tested: $86,990.

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

XC90 Plug-In Hybrid Inscription T8 in Birch Light Metallic

Photos (c) Volvo

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

At first glance, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63 S Coupe looks like a chubby fastback — something like a Kia Stinger or Audi A5 Sportback in need of laser liposuction.

But no. The porky look, like its extended proper name, identifies a high-performance luxury crossover sport utility vehicle that (gasp) carries an $87,110 price tag, including the shipping charge.

If that sounds deceptive, it is. This 5-foot-2 — no eyes of blue — is a rip-roaring rocket that can shoot to 60 mph in about 3.5 seconds, without even breathing hard. Governed top speed is 155.

It’s part of a relatively new breed of luxury crossovers that give up some functionality for perceived style — basically by lopping off part of the roof and tailgate to change the squared off SUV profile to something that resembles a sleek fastback. Think BMW X6, as one of the originals.

Though it has four doors and a hatchback, Mercedes prefers to call the AMG GLE 63 S a coupe, even as the company works to remove at least seven slow-selling traditional two-door coupes and convertibles from the U.S. market. 

At least as important as its shape from a sales standpoint is this machine’s guts. The AMG designation tells the tale: it means this stellar performer has been massaged by the Mercedes extra high-performance division. 

In this rendering, the brute power comes from an AMG tuned 4.0-liter V8 engine with twin turbochargers — a so-called biturbo — that delivers 503 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission with manual-mode paddle shifters.

Lest anyone think that the AMG GLC 63 S is simply a powerful boulevardier, there are selectable driving modes that activate its range from Slippery through Individual, Comfortable, Sport, Sport Plus and Race. So, despite its crossover designation, it’s the sort of daily driver that wealthy owners can take on weekends to private, country-club racetracks like Monticello in New York State, where they can shred the tires to their hearts’ content.

Despite its arrest-inspiring power, the AMG GLC 63 S can function as your grand-aunt’s docile daily driver. Punch up the Normal driving mode and the throttle response softens for tootling around the suburban shopping malls. 

As a daily driver, this Mercedes delivers functionality with its posh luxury. It has about the same interior space as a midsize sedan with 99 cubic feet of space for up to five passengers and 18 cubic feet of cargo space, which expands to 36 cubic feet if you drop the rear seatbacks — easy with the touch of a button. However, manually wrestling them back up is a bit of a chore.     

The outboard back seats have plenty of head- and knee-room, and even the center-rear position has decent headroom, though the seat bottom is hard, and feet must be splayed beside a huge floor hump. The front seats are the place to settle, with giant seatback bolsters to grip your body in constant-radius racetrack sweepers.

For more routine entertainment, dial up the Sport, Sport Plus or Race settings and everything tightens up. The steering gets more responsive, and the transmission holds its breath until the engine rpms become unbearable, then it snaps off to the next gear. 

Of course, if your preference is a weekend at the track, there also are settings within the settings to challenge your abilities: Basic, Advanced, Pro and Master. Among other things, they allow you to disconnect the traction control, which no novice driver should ever do but which can help an experienced racer to hustle around the track.

The GLC 63 S Coupe, no surprise, is uncommonly well endowed, with as much standard active and passive safety equipment as you can cram into a modern automobile, as well as a host of luxury features. 

One that Mercedes should keep to itself is a couple of tiny touchpads — no more than a quarter-inch square — mounted on the steering wheel, which provide redundant controls for infotainment functions accessed from the center screen or touchpad.

They are located close to the steering wheel rim where your fingers and thumb rest if you use the recommended 9 and 3 o’clock hands position on the steering wheel. As often as not when you make a turn, a finger or thumb brushes one and changes a radio station or some other setting. It’s distracting and unnecessary.

Everything else is great.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 4.0-liter V8, bi-turbo; 503 hp, 516 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and 4Matic all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 99/18 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,548 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 16/22/18 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $85,095.
  • Price as tested: $87,110.

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

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE R-Line: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It looks like Volkswagen slipped some of its Cross Sport into the family lunker, the 2021 Atlas crossover sport utility vehicle.

That’s the initial reaction to the tested Atlas SE R-Line model with the Technology package, mainly a reference to the steering feel and handling of this cavernous three-row hauler that stretches nearly 17 feet long.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE R-Line

It’s the biggest Volkswagen to ever entice American buyers and is a solid choice for families that might be put off by minivans. It welcomes seven passengers with headroom that can accommodate someone in an Abraham Lincoln top hat. Even the third-row denizens are not disrespected.

However, the Atlas has formidable competition: Subaru Ascent, Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, GMC Acadia, Kia Telluride, Buick Enclave, Hyundai Palisade, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander. The Mazda CX-9 also has three rows but is smaller.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE R-Line

The Atlas made its debut as 2018 model, designed specifically for the U.S. market and built in Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. VW followed with the Atlas Sport, a smaller five-passenger version with two rows of seats and a generous cargo area of 40 cubic feet.

It’s only about five inches shorter than the three-row Atlas but focuses on attributes of responsive handling and a decent, mostly fatigue-free ride. It has 112 cubic feet of space for passengers and 40 cubic feet for cargo behind the second row.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE R-Line

Contrast that with the tested three-row 2021 Atlas, which has 154 cubic feet of space for its seven passengers and 21 cubic feet for cargo behind the third row. Flop the third-row seatbacks flat and the cargo area expands to 56 cubic feet.

Unlike some other three-row SUVs, the Atlas has cleverly designed second-row seats that flip and slide forward, opening an entry area to the third row that can be negotiated even by someone with clodhopper-sized feet. Just duck and step in — it’s easy if you’re an agile teenager. Oldsters should stick to the forward seats.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE R-Line

However, to get enough knee room back there you have to slide the second row to a midpoint that divvies the space between the rows. It’s not particularly easy to wrestle the big and heavy seats, and you have to make sure they’re locked in place lest they noisily crash forward and back as you drive and brake.

The Atlas is an easygoing handler with relatively light steering and responsive moves even on twisting two-lane roads, though you have to be cognizant of its size and not push too hard. It cruises quietly with just enough engine and mechanical noise to let you know there’s something powerful under the hood.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE R-Line

That something is a 276-hp V6 engine that develops 266 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, delivered to all four wheels on the tester via an eight-speed automatic transmission that shifts surreptitiously. Six-cylinder engines are famously smooth and shudder-free, and the Atlas’s is no exception.

The Atlas uses the Volkswagen Drive/Sport shifter. In Drive, it has leisurely moves off the line, though you can override it with a determined punch on the loud pedal. Tap the shift lever back a notch and the Sport mode is engaged, which keeps the engine at higher revs before the transmission shifts. Another tap of the shifter takes you back to Drive.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE R-Line

There are four selectable drive modes, mostly for nasty conditions or off-roading: Snow, Normal, Off-road and Off-road Custom. Given its size, however, the Atlas is not the sort of machine you’d pick for any serious off-road adventures.

Better to treat it as a minivan alternative for motoring trips and family vacations. It’s an easy-going long-distance cruiser with a composed ride that soaks up bumps and ruts. There are four comfortable seats and three not so much but acceptable: the center second-row seat and the two third-row seats. On the tester, the seats were upholstered in perforated leatherette and the front seats resembled sport seats with substantial bolstering to hold the torso in place.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE R-Line

With the R-Line trim and the Technology package, the tested Atlas came fully loaded with modern safety and convenience equipment, and no extra-cost options. Items: adaptive cruise control, automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, wireless smart phone charging, blind-spot monitor, Bluetooth and power rear lift gate.

Its base price, including the destination charge, was a reasonable $42,615, which also was the bottom-line sticker price.

2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE R-Line

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE w/Technology R-Line four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.6-liter V6, direct fuel injection; 276 horsepower, 266 pound-feet torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.    
  • Overall length: 16 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 154/21 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,612 pounds. 
  • Payload: 1,080 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds (5,000 pounds with towing package and braked trailer).
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 16/22/18 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $42,615.
  • Price as tested: $42,615.

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

2021 Volkswagen Atlas SE R-Line

Photos (c) Volkswagen

2021 Lexus NX 300h Luxury: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Driving alone is one of those pleasant outings you can experience during the coronavirus pandemic, and even more so if your ride is the 2021 Lexus NX 300h crossover sport utility vehicle.

You don’t have to wear a mask and you can settle into and ogle the pleasant, quality interior, set off as in the tested NX with crème perforated leather upholstery and black accents. And even if you decide not to drive, you can simply sit in the comfortable, well bolstered seats, leave the automatic climate control running, keep the doors locked, lower the power seatbacks and maybe even take a nap.

In that case your fuel economy would be dragged down a bit from the NX’s excellent city/highway/combined EPA rating of 33/30/31 mpg — one result of the vast, established hybrid experience of luxury Lexus’s parent company, Toyota.

On the NX, it consists of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine mated to three electric motors dancing together to drive all four wheels through a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). As many people now are aware, CVTs are smooth, smooth, with no shift points.

However, in case the NX owner wants a bit more verve, an easy selection of the Sport driving mode triggers an onboard computer that mimics a six-speed automatic’s shift points, controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. So you don’t have to be shiftless, although the system doesn’t entirely trust you and will shift for you if you butcher it.

Positioned a notch above the smaller entry-level Lexus UX SUV, the NX is a luxury competitor and is priced accordingly. In common parlance, it is referred to as a compact crossover. However, in the often confusing vehicle size designations it has the interior space of a midsize sedan. Competitors include the Acura RDX, BMW X1, Volvo XC40, Audi Q3, Cadillac XT4 and Mercedes-Benz GLB.

The tested NX 300h Luxury version came with a base price of $47,535, including the destination charge. With a fairly short list of options, the bottom line sticker price came to $52,434. With that, it had the stones of safety and luxury to match almost any luxury automobile.

Safety: Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, panoramic backup camera, lane-tracing with steering assist, road-sign detection, rain-sensing windshield wipers, all-speed dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high beam headlights.

Luxury: Perforated leather heated and ventilated front seats with memory, navigation system, premium Mark Levinson surround-sound audio, heated power-adjustable steering wheel, auto-dimming and heated outside mirrors, power motorized glass sunroof, power rear tailgate, SXM satellite radio, voice command with Siri Eyes Free and Google Voice, and Android Auto and Apple Car Play connectivity. 

The NX is not the quickest kid on the block. The total gasoline/electric system horsepower is 194, with 152 lb-ft of torque. Lexus lists the zero to 60 acceleration time at 9.1 seconds with a top speed of 112. But punch in the Sport mode and it feels faster than that. You’ll not be embarrassed at stop lights or freeway on-ramps.

It’s a quiet, comfortable long-distance runner, though you quickly realize that the suspension system delivers a stiff ride—no doubt because the engineers decided to dial in some extra handling prowess. On curving roads, it is stable at speeds with little body lean.

The windshield side pillars (called A-pillars in the industry) are cleverly angled so that the driver, with little effort on a two-lane tight corner, can see around the left one to check if a vehicle is coming in the opposite direction.

There is a bit of a visibility problem in back, however. The rear seat headrests are large and block part of the view to the rear. But there’s a thoughtful fix. The seatbacks on the tested NX Luxury are powered and can be dropped nearly flat with the touch of buttons—two in the cargo compartment and two on the dash, so a lone driver can fold them without leaving the front seat. However, they will not fold if the NX is moving.

Even with the seatbacks folded, the wide rear D-pillars block some of the rear view. The tester came with blind-spot warning but it’s still best to adjust the outside mirrors out far enough to enable a 180-degree  view to the rear. Outside mirrors are the original blind-spot warning but seldom are correctly adjusted.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Lexus NX 300h Luxury four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motors: 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline; three hybrid electric motors; total system output: 194 hp, 152 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single speed continuously-variable automatic with stepped manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 97/17 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 4,180 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 33/30/31 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,535.
  • Price as tested: $52,434.

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

Photos (c) Lexus

2021 BMW X1 xDrive28i: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If it were a thinking creature, the 2021 BMW X1 xDrive28i likely would be befuddled by the different descriptions attached to it. 

The Bavarian Motor Works, which builds the X1 in a plant in Regensburg, Germany, calls it a sports activity vehicle and places it at the entry level of the company’s extensive lineup of what others call crossover sport utility vehicles.

Yet it actually is larger than the next step up in the lineup, the BMW X2. Both are described as subcompacts in the crossover realm away from BMW. But the Environmental Protection Agency, keeper of fuel economy ratings, classifies the X1 as a large car with a hatchback.

That’s because the EPA’s categories are based not on length, or weight, or wheelbase (the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels), but on the inside space in cubic feet, including both the passenger and cargo room.

A car with more than 120 cubic feet of space for people and cargo gets a classification as large. The BMW X1 has a total of 128 cubic feet, with 101 for passengers and 27 for cargo behind the second row of seats. Like other crossovers, it has a rear hatch to access cargo.

The more expensive X2, on the other hand, has a total interior volume of 115 cubic feet, divided into 93 for passengers and 22 for cargo. It also is lighter, and shorter in length and height than the X1. Moving up the scale of  BMW’s SAVs are the X3, X4, X5, X6 and X7, some of which are built in the company’s U.S. plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

The one thing you always can count on with BMW is exceptional performance and excellent handling. It dates back to the superb 1967 BMW 1600, which Car and Driver magazine described then as the world’s best $2,500 car. It was the template for the brand, though it was overshadowed by the 1968 BMW 2002, which came with a bigger and more powerful four-cylinder engine dictated by U.S. anti-pollution requirements. 

Though BMW focused on performance sedans and the occasional sports car, it quickly recognized how buyers became entranced by crossover SUVs. In the first six months of 2020, 55% of BMW’s 154,204 U.S. sales were of crossovers.

The 2021 BMW X1 is mostly a carryover from the 2020 model. Though it operates in luxury/performance territory, it is not outrageously expensive, with a 2020 base price of $38,195, including the destination charge, which is only a few thousand dollars more than the current average price of a new automobile in the U.S.

However, like other European cars in the category, it has an options list that marches out to the horizon. The tested X1 came with $10,450 worth of extras that brought the bottom-line sticker price up to $48,645. But you’d hardly want any more.

Start with the power train. The tested X1 xDrive28i—the xDrive is BMW-speak for all-wheel drive—comes with a 228 horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 258 pound-feet of torque. The power is transferred via an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by steering-wheel paddles.

It’s enough to propel the X1 to 60 miles an hour in about six seconds, with a top speed near 140 miles an hour and fuel economy that won’t break the bank. The EPA rates its city/highway/combined fuel economy at 23/31/26 mpg on the recommended premium gasoline. 

An idle stop-start system boosts the fuel economy somewhat but it causes hesitation off the line. It can be turned off but there still is some slight lag when you punch the throttle, and it happens in any of the three selectable drive modes: Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport. The last mainly holds the transmission shift points to higher engine revolutions before shifting and is the preferred setting for spirited motoring.

Meeting expectations of BMW, the X1 handles nearly like a sports sedan, tracking true with almost no body lean around curves. The tradeoff is a ride that nods toward stiffness. Sport seats hold the torso tightly, and the X1 cruises quietly at speed on freeways.

One annoyance. The panoramic glass sunroof on the test X1 came with a flimsy perforated sunshade that admitted too much heat and light—probably OK in northern Europe but it makes the air conditioning less effective in 90-100 degree heat in some areas of the U.S.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 BMW X1 xDrive28i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 228 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 101/27 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,715 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/31/26. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge (2020): $38,195.
  • Price as tested: $48,645.

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

Photos (c) BMW

Drive After Drive in the 2020 Acura MDX

by Jason Fogelson

I have a friend whose sister Amy recently bought her fourth Acura MDX in a row. She owned a first-generation (2001 – 2006); a second-generation (2007 – 2013); and a third-generation (2014 – present) MDX, and just upgraded to a 2020 Acura MDX AWD A-Spec – just like the one that I spent a week test-driving recently. Amy is a medical professional in California, so she’s quite busy with serious business right now. But she did take the time to tell me what she loved about MDX, and why she’s stuck with the model over the past two decades.

Her family had always been luxury car buyers – her dad favored Mercedes-Benz vehicles, while her mom was a Jaguar driver. Her brother (my friend) has rarely been without a Porsche 911. When Amy started a family, she wanted to get a three-row SUV to accommodate her children. While she was accustomed to luxury vehicles, she didn’t want to fall into the European pattern that the rest of her family had followed, and stumbled across the MDX. She appreciated the build quality, the V6 engine, the standard all-wheel drive and the roomy interior of the MDX, and claims that each generation has built on the original’s promise. 

I’ve driven each generation of MDX, and I have to agree with Amy. And the latest iteration of the third generation is even better. 

Though MDX is bigger and roomier than before, it is also lighter and more powerful – which means that it performs and handles better. First- and second-generation MDX models weighed in at about 4,600 lbs, while the 2020 MDX AWD A-Spec (list price $54,900) comes in between 4239 – 4264 (depending on equipment). Its naturally aspirated (non-turbo) gasoline 3.5-liter V6 engine pumps out 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque through a nine-speed automatic transmission, and is rated to achieve 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway/21 mpg combined. 

The A-Spec package ($3,500) is a 2020 first for MDX. It includes A-Spec styling, sport seats with Alcantara inserts and contrast stitching, sport pedals, ventilated seats, 20-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, and LED fog lights. Selecting the A-Spec package automatically includes the Technology package ($5,000), a comprehensive group of upgrades including navigation with voice recognition, AcuraLink Communication System, Acura ELS Studio Premium Audio System with 10 speakers, HD Radio, Blind Spot Information, remote engine start, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding side mirrors, LED puddle lights, rear cross-traffic monitor, and front and rear parking sensors. Add $400 for the premium exterior color (Apex Blue Pearl, worth every penny) and $995 for Destination and Handling, and the as-tested price for my 2020 MDX AWD A-Spec came out to $56,295. That’s substantially more than the average transaction price for a car in the United States right now, which hovers around $35,000, but actually a competitive price measured against other three-row luxury SUVs on the market right now, like the Lexus RX-L, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, BMW X5, Infiniti QX60, Audi Q7, Cadillac XT6 and Volvo XC90. MDX is also available in a front-wheel drive variant starting at $44,500, using the same V6 engine as the AWD version, and as an MDX Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive starting at $53,000, using a 3.0-liter V6 and three electric motors.

Driving the MDX, I really appreciated the comfortable, yet sporty and nimble ride. The nine-speed automatic transmission is seamless, and does a great job of downshifting multiple gears when needed. The Integrated Dynamics System allowed me to easily select Comfort, Normal or Sport mode, shaping throttle response, shift mapping, AWD settings, steering response and Active Sound Control (noise cancelling) all at once for the desired effect. I wish I could have tested an MDX with the new Active Damper System, but that’s part of the Advance Package, not A-Spec. I always enjoy driving an Acura with SH-AWD (Super Handing All-Wheel Drive), which includes torque vectoring. Torque vectoring sharpens turn-in by directing power to the outside wheels in a turn, and Acura’s system is one of the best in its class.

Each MDX includes AcuraWatch active safety features. On A-Spec, the list includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Collision Mitigation Braking, Road Departure Mitigation, Forward Collison Warning, Lane Departure Warning, and Lane Keeping Assist System. For long drives on the (now wide-open) freeways, this combination of features and functions takes you part of the way toward autonomous driving. Set the cruise, keep your hands on the wheel, and AcuraWatch will help keep you between the lines. It makes a nice drive very relaxing. 

I know that my friend’s sister Amy appreciates all the relaxation she can get right now, and I hope that her new 2020 Acura MDX is helping. 

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

Photos (c) Acura

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