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SUV Reviews

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

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer AWD Activ: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer sports an adventurous name, though it’s not likely to blaze any trails. 

It’s a small, competent crossover sport utility vehicle, new for this model year and bearing the name of an earlier, larger Chevy SUV sold from 2001 to 2008, then replaced by the Chevrolet Traverse. But it’s no Jeep or Land Rover. 

The original Trailblazer, built with a body on frame, and the 2021 model, a crossover built with a unit-body like a car, are way different. The original left the market powered by a 394-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8 engine that delivered 400 lb-ft of torque.

That’s about 4.6 times the size of the tiny, 1.3-liter, three-cylinder turbo engine in the Trailblazer Activ tested for this review. It makes 155 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque along with surprising verve for such a diminutive motor.

Moreover, it’s not even the smallest engine available. Base Trailblazer models come with a 1.2-liter three-cylinder turbo that delivers 137 hp. It powers front-drive versions with continuously variable automatic transmissions. The upgrade, as on the tested Activ Trailblazer, has all-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic transmission.

The Trailblazer slots in the Chevy crossover lineup between the smaller Trax and the larger Equinox. There are five trim levels: L at $20,195, LS at $22,795, LT at $24,895, the Activ tested here at $26,695, and the RS, also at $26,695. All prices include the destination charge. The Activ strives to project a rugged persona, where the RS aspires to a sporty mien.

But rugged is as rugged does. The Activ comes across more like the increasing number of small crossovers crowding the nation’s highways and byways, including names like the Kia Seltos, Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, Hyundai  Kona and Venue, Nissan Kicks, Mazda CX-30, and the Trailblazer’s fraternal cousin, the Buick Encore GX, which also uses the 1.3-liter three-cylinder turbo engine.

The Trailblazer’s strong suit is its attractive looks, inside and out. The tester wore a bronze dark copper metallic paint with a white roof and outside mirrors topped in white. Inside, red, black, and beige cloth and leatherette cover the seats, with a sort of denim cloth trim on the doors.

Front seats have decent bolstering to hold the torso in place. The outside seating positions offer plenty of head and knee room in the back, and even the usually disrespected center-rear seat has enough space for an average-size adult. However, the poor soul must sit on a lump with an intrusive back and a small floor hump.

Behind the back seat is a decent-sized, 25 cubic-foot cargo area with small extra space beneath the floor, home of the temporary spare wheel and tire. Rear seatbacks fold nearly flat 2/3 and 1/3 for additional cargo.

On the road, the surprise is the rapid throttle response off the line, which makes the Trailblazer feel faster than it is. Car and Driver magazine clocked an all-wheel-drive model with the 155-hp engine at 9.4 seconds, pretty pokey in this age, partly a testimony to its 3,325-pound weight. But the quick response makes it ideal for shooting through holes in urban and freeway traffic.

Handling is competent and inspires confidence on curving roads, even though there’s enough power available to get a hasty driver in trouble overdoing it. The handling tradeoff is a stiff ride.

Though the Activ model is supposed to project a rugged vehicle, the Trailblazer does not fall into the category of having any off-road chops. With the all-wheel drive, you could likely take it on a logging road or other modest terrain but nothing more challenging.

Interior noise is the main Trailblazer bugaboo. The tires and chassis transmit road irregularities directly into the cabin, abetting a smaller amount of engine noise. Long hours at the wheel could become fatiguing. More sound insulation would be welcome.

The Trailblazer Activ comes well equipped with such amenities as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist with lane departure warning, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, single-zone automatic climate control, high definition, and SXM satellite radio, premium Bose audio, Bluetooth streaming, wireless smartphone charging, an eight-inch color touch screen, auto-dimming inside mirror, heated outside power mirrors, and LED headlights.

All of that brought the Trailblazer Activ’s base price of $27,995 up to a relatively pricey, in this class, $30,730.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer AWD Activ four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.3-liter three-cylinder, turbocharged; 155 hp, 174 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 6 inches.      
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 98/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,325 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/30/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,995.
  • Price as tested: $30,730.

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

Photos (c) Chevrolet

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As a manufacturer that came relatively late to the SUV party/game, Kia brought a gift for figuring out how to satisfy buyers of crossover sport utility vehicles, including the 2021 Sorento Hybrid EX.

It’s no small feat to develop a lineup of these practical, popular vehicles. South Korea’s Kia has delivered five — seven if you count the hatchback Soul and the Sedona minivan.

In 2020, the top-line Kia Telluride won North American Utility of the Year, beating its close cousin, the Hyundai Palisade, and the luxury Lincoln Aviator. Though a separate brand, Kia is part of the Hyundai automotive family, and the two marques share engines and transmissions.

The Soul is technically not a crossover, defined as an SUV with a unit body. It is a boxy hatchback sedan and, at times, has been Kia’s best-seller in the U.S. Also not fitting the crossover designation is the Sedona minivan, which competes against the Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Pacifica, and Toyota Sienna.

That leaves the small Seltos, compact Sportage and Niro, midsize Sorento, and the flagship Telluride. Each has much to recommend it in its class, but the new Sorento comes closest to the excellent Telluride in concept and execution.

The Hybrid EX, reviewed here, not only delivers outstanding city/highway/combined fuel economy of 39/35/37 miles to the gallon on regular gasoline. It also makes additional horsepower and torque for better all-around performance. A standard non-hybrid Sorento S uses a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 191 hp.

The Hybrid, on the other hand, comes with a turbocharged 1.6-liter gasoline engine linked to a 60-hp electric motor. Together, they deliver 227 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode.

All-wheel drive is not yet available on the Hybrid.

Classified as a midsize crossover, the Sorento Hybrid comes with 143 cubic feet of passenger room in three rows of seats. On the tested Hybrid, the second row consisted of two captain’s chairs and a third-row seat for two, making the Sorento a full six-passenger vehicle — although twisting and sliding back into the lowdown third row takes some youthful agility. Those poor souls sit with their knees up under their chins. Fortunately, the second-row seats have enough fore-and-aft travel to give the third row enough knee room.

But the cargo space behind the Hybrid Sorento’s third row is a stingy 13 cubic feet — about what you’d find in a compact sedan’s trunk. Likely most owners will simply drive around with the third row folded until it’s needed. The Telluride does better, with generous cargo space behind its third row.

The Hybrid EX Sorento is 10 inches shorter than the Telluride with 32 cubic feet less passenger and cargo space. The Telluride has 167 cubic feet of space for passengers with 21 cubic feet for cargo behind the third row. 

Despite its hybrid power train and higher price — $1,700 more than the standard gasoline-only Sorento — the Hybrid comes across as something of a bargain — even before dickering with the dealer. The tested EX model had a starting price of $37,760, close to the average cost of a new vehicle in the U.S., and a delivered price, including the destination charge, of $38,205.

It was well equipped, with full safety equipment: automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection; lane-keeping and lane following assist; driver attention warning, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor, and collision avoidance displayed in the instrument cluster. In addition, rear occupant alert with motion detection and rear passenger safe exit assist using the blind spot monitor to detect passing vehicles.

There also were luxury touches, including a panoramic sunroof with one-touch opening, dual-zone automatic climate control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, SXM satellite radio, wireless Bluetooth, heated front seats, and USB chargers in all three rows.

On the road, the Sorento delivered a comfortable ride, capable handling, and a quiet interior with little intrusion of wind, mechanical, or road noise except on very rough surfaces. It’s not the quickest arrow in the quiver, but the electric motor in the hybrid system delivers a bit of extra oomph off the line, enabling a zero-to-60 acceleration time in the seven-second range.

Made in the USA in a plant in West Point, GA, the Kia Sorento Hybrid EX deserves consideration by anyone shopping in this category.

Specifications:

  • Model: 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX four-door crossover sport utility vehicle,
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline, turbocharged; 60 hp electric motor; combined 227 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 143/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,050 pounds (est.).
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 39/35/37 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,760.
  • Price as tested: $38,205.

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

Photos (c) Kia

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Some autophiles, likely including buyers and intenders for the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 4MATIC crossover sport utility vehicle, gravitate toward the best performing vehicle in the class. 

That attitude is what prompted the development of more expensive ultra-performance machines like the BMW M series, Audi S, Cadillac V, Lexus F, and, of course, Mercedes-AMG. The last started as an independent tuner outfit that massaged standard Mercedes automobiles and gave them supercar transplants.

Mercedes eventually bought AMG, and now it is the hot rod division of the German manufacturer, tweaking existing models and adding styling touches, some of which became options that made standard models look like AMGs but without the performance innards.

That’s what happened with the Mercedes GLA 250, the company’s entry-level crossover SUV. It was redesigned for the 2021 model year and can be ordered with a $2,240 AMG appearance package. 

The one reviewed here earlier had the AMG package, front-wheel drive, and a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 221 horsepower 258 lb-ft of torque. A quick-shifting eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission enabled a 0-to-60 acceleration time in the six-second range. It had a competitive base price of $37,280, including the destination charge and, with options, a bottom-line sticker of $48,620.

Moreover, the GLA250 had a sporting personality that made it a candidate for an AMG makeover, which has become a substantial niche for Mercedes. In 2020, the company sold 294,916 passenger cars and crossovers and 50,999 vans. AMG versions of the passenger vehicles totaled 34,079, or 12.4 percent.

The AMG GLA 35 and the GLA 250 are lookalike, fraternal twin athletes, about the same size but with different orientations — getting the performance job done with brute force instead of finesse.

The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 4MATIC tested here came with all-wheel drive and a 302-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with 295 lb-ft of torque, enough for a stated 0-to-60 acceleration time of five seconds. Its starting price of $48,600 is close to the as-tested price of the GLA250. A substantial list of options, including $1,500 for a panoramic sunroof and $1,450 for leather upholstery, brought the tested price to $54,455.

Standard equipment included blind-spot monitoring in a full suite of active and passive safety measures, as well as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, dual-zone automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio,  LED headlights and taillights, digital instrument cluster and center display, heated front seats, and auto-dimming inside and outside mirrors.

A couple of negatives: the sun visors did not extend to block sunlight from the side entirely, and a flimsy cloth sunshade allowed too much sunlight inside.

Aficionados might argue that the $5,835 higher price for the AMG GLA 35 is acceptable, given its increased horsepower, faster acceleration, tighter suspension system, and luxury appointments. 

But unless you’re a buyer who craves the top of the line no matter what, you can easily justify choosing the less expensive GLA 250. It has exceptional handling for a small crossover and enough power for any situation on the nation’s increasingly traffic-choked and pockmarked streets and highways.

The AMG GLA 35 4Matic, on the other hand, acts more like an aggressive racer with distinct sounds from under the hood that loudly advertise the surplus of power. 

With its stiffer suspension system and bigger wheels and tires, the GLA 35 has a choppy ride, even in the Comfort driving mode, on all but pool-table smooth asphalt surfaces. Bumps and indents send shock waves directly to passenger tailbones. Seats are reasonably comfortable with good support and bolstering, though the lumbar adjustments could use improvement.

The GLA 35 has five drive modes: Slippery, Individual, Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus. The last two tighten up an already stiff chassis and change the shift points for more aggressive acceleration. 

The outboard seats are supportive and comfortable in the back, with ample knee and headroom for averaged sized adults. However, think of the GLA 35 as a four-passenger vehicle. As usual in many vehicles these days, the center-rear seat is compromised by a high, hard cushion and intrusion of a big floor hump. There’s a cargo area of more than 15 cubic feet that expands to 51 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.

From an economic standpoint — though who buys either machine for economy? — there’s not much difference. The GLA 250 front-driver has a city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 25/34/28 miles to the gallon compared to 23/29/25 for the GLA 35.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 4Matic four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 302 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 98/15 cubic feet. (51)
  • Weight: 3,653 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/29/25 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $48,600.
  • Price as tested: $54,455.

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

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2021 Genesis GV80 2.5T Prestige: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Following closely in the tire tracks of its all-new 2021 G80 sedan, the never-before Genesis GV80 crossover sport utility vehicle makes its impressive debut as a 2021 model.

Genesis is just five years old as the luxury brand from South Korea’s Hyundai. It’s a similar venture to Toyota’s luxury Lexus and Honda’s Acura brands. Genesis has delivered three classy premium sedans in its brief lifetime: G70, G80, and G90.

The GV80 is equally impressive with luxury interiors, a choice of power plants and performance levels, solid handling with tactile steering feedback, long-distance comfort, and silent running on the road. The 2.5T comes with a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 300 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. 

The 3.5T, also with the eight-speed automatic, comes with all-wheel drive and is powered by a twin-turbo V6 engine that delivers 375 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. 

The 2.5T and 3.5T come in three trim levels: Standard, Advanced, and Prestige. Driven for this review were the 2.5T Prestige trim with all-wheel drive, which added $6,350 and brought the price to $64,425, and a 3.5T Advanced model with all-wheel drive and a price tag of $65,375. 

There’s also a 3.5T Advanced version with provisions to add an optional third-row seat. But given the GV80’s passenger space of 109 cubic feet, on the cusp between a compact and midsize sedan, it’s not likely that the third row would be helpful for anyone other than children or a few of the seven dwarfs.

The Standard 2.5T with rear drive has a starting price of $49,925.  Advanced and Prestige models are priced at $53,825 and $58,075, respectively. All prices include the $1,025 destination charge.

Both the 2.5T and 3.5T are luxury crossovers with interiors and equipment to match, designed to compete with the Mercedes-Benz GLE Class and the BMW X5, both of which have rear-drive standard with all-wheel drive optional like the GV80. But it likely also will compete well against front- and all-wheel drivers like the Acura RDX and Lexus RX.

Likely almost any customer would be satisfied with either the 2.5T or 3.5T models, though the preference here would be for the velvety V6 engine with the twin turbos. Moreover, if you do the math and pick the mid-level 3.5T Advanced, it’s only $950 more than the loaded all-wheel-drive 2.5T Prestige four-banger.

Both versions feature beautifully designed interiors with quality materials and craftsmanship, including indirect lighting, burl wood, and metal trim, as well as a 14.5-inch center touch screen set up vertically.

But the Prestige trim adds an electronically controlled suspension system, head-up display, active road noise cancellation, three-zone automatic climate control, heated second-row seats, and a power driver’s seat with bolster adjustment and cushion extension.

That’s in addition to the Advanced equipment, which includes a surround-view monitor, blind-spot warning, parking rear collision avoidance, quilted and perforated Nappa leather upholstery, and premium audio. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, with good bolstering to hold the torso around fast curves. There’s also an optional massage function. 

All Genesis GV80 versions come with modern safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise with a semi-autonomous driving mode. The last system learns the owner’s driving habits and can mimic their driving style.

The lane-keeping assist, unfortunately, is very aggressive. On a stretch of highway with narrow lanes because of construction, it took hold of the steering wheel and bounced the GV80 side-to-side as if it were a ping-pong ball in a chute, all the while sounding the warning alarm. It was less intrusive in wider lanes.

Another negative: although the capacious cargo area has a small hideaway storage area under the floor, it forces the spare wheel and tire forward, where it looks challenging to retrieve. Best to call roadside assistance if you get a flat.

Next up for Genesis will be the 2022 GV70 crossover, smaller than the GV80 and competing in the compact luxury class. Like the GV80, it will use the turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and the twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6. Both will have eight-speed automatic transmissions.

With the same power as the GV80 in a smaller, lighter package, the GV70 likely exhibit strong acceleration and handling performance attributes. Likely there’ll be lower prices as well.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Genesis GV80 2.5T Prestige AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle. 
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 300 hp, 311 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches. 
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 109/35 Cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,742 pounds
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/25/22 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $58,075.
  • Price as tested: $64,425.

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

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson

2021 Buick Envision Essence FWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2021 Buick Envision crossover sport utility vehicle could substitute as an antidote to former President Donald Trump’s ill-fated attempt to blame his coronavirus woes on China. 

Trump seldom failed to speak of our more than one-year-old plague — OK, the pandemic — as the “Chinese virus,” as if that nation was solely responsible for the worldwide affliction, absolving him of any responsibility for combating it. 

On the bright side, we have the redesigned 2021 Envision Essence, tested here, a decent near-luxury contender in the compact crossover class. It is, in fact, a fundamentally Chinese vehicle, though you’d be hard-pressed to recognize it. 

A whopping 94% of its parts come from China. A joint Chinese-U.S. General Motors plant in Yantai, China, builds the Envision. Only 1% of its components come from the United States and Canada.

Yet the Envision crossovers sold here in the U.S. look, feel, and drive as if they were Thoroughly Modern American Buicks. It was designed that way from the get-go, introduced at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It joined two other similar offerings from General Motors—the Chevrolet Equinox and the GMC Terrain.

Of course, as a Buick, it took a more luxurious tack than its garage mates. At the same time, it became the first Chinese-built GM vehicle sold in the United States. 

Redesigned for 2021, the Envision is slightly smaller and less potent than its predecessor but also delivers better fuel economy and a lower price. Though touted as a luxury crossover competing with the likes of the BMW X3, Lincoln Corsair, and Audi Q5, its relatively bargain price in that company is the tipoff.

The mid-pack Envision Essence trim level tested here came with a base price of $36,995, including the destination charge. With options, the bottom-line sticker came to $41,315. That’s more upper-middle-class and near-luxury than most of the machines it seeks to conquer. The BMW X3 starts at $43,995, and the Lincoln Corsair sets up at $44,825, and either can creep up to tens of thousands of dollars more.

Most of the Envision Essence’s $4,320 worth of extras came from two options packages: Technology at $2,500 and Sport Touring at $1,325. Basic equipment included automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, following distance indicator, blind-spot warning, Wi-Fi hot spot, active noise cancellation, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear parking assist.

The options packages added, among others: head-up display, surround vision rear camera, premium Bose audio, Bluetooth streaming, wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play, navigation with 10-inch touch screen, HD radio and SXM satellite radio, 20-inch aluminum wheels, roof rails and “Cinnabar Metallic” exterior paint.

The Envision has about the same passenger space as a midsize car—100 cubic feet — but with 25 cubic feet for cargo, almost twice that of a midsize car’s trunk. Fold the rear seatbacks and enjoy a two-passenger vehicle with 53 cubic feet for cargo. If you absolutely must tow something, make sure it’s not more than 1,500 pounds.

Like many modern cars and crossovers, the Envision uses a four-cylinder engine. Modern four-bangers, especially with turbochargers, have replaced their forerunner V8s and even, in some cases, in-line six-cylinder and V6 engines. Thank computer technology for the enhanced power and fuel economy.

The Envision Essence offers only one power plant: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. That’s slightly less than its predecessor’s 252 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. A nine-speed automatic transmission transfers the power to either the front wheels or all four wheels. The tested Essence came with front-wheel drive.

But unless you live in an area prone to snowstorms and other nasty weather, you’d likely be entirely happy with the front-driver, which can account for itself reasonably well in all but the most challenging weather. 

On the road, the Envision Essence was a capable though not inspiring performer. It cruises mostly quietly with enough power for passing situations on two-lane roads and the cut and thrust of heavy freeway traffic. Acceleration to 60 miles an hour is in the acceptable seven-second range. However, avoid impromptu stoplight drag races. 

Handling is competent though not sporting. The suspension system can deliver a smooth ride in most circumstances, which detracts some from any sharp handling pretensions. But likely, most drivers will not opt to explore cornering limits.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Buick Envision Essence FWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 228 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 100/25 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 3,732 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/31/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,995.
  • Price as tested: $41,315.

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

Photos (c) Buick

2021 Buick Encore GX Essence: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Shoppers can be forgiven for thinking that the 2021 Buick Encore GX Essence is simply a new trim level, or version, in the Encore lineup of small crossover sport utility vehicles. 

It’s not. Introduced as a 2020 model, the GX Essence is still a small crossover SUV, slightly larger than the original Encore, which made its debut as a 2013 model. But it is a separate vehicle underpinned by a different platform, with its own trim levels.

It has a starting price of $25,195, including the destination charge, for the base Preferred trim. The midlevel Select starts at $26,795, and the GX tops out as tested here, with options, at $35,065 for the Essence — close to the average U.S. price of a new automobile. That was for the front-wheel-drive version; tack on $2,000 if you want all-wheel drive.

Yet despite its relatively low price, the Encore GX competes as a small premium crossover. It looks the part, too, with the tester’s classy brown and black interior, perforated leather upholstery, and rich features.

Among those on the tester: Full safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection; forward-collision warning; lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and following distance indicator. Also: head-up display, surround-view rear camera, and navigation.

The Encore GX is a bit larger and longer than the Hyundai Kona, another small crossover. But it is smaller than the Subaru Crosstrek, a ‘tweener that slots between the little guys and compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape. But any of these deliver the passenger room of a midsize sedan with way better cargo space.

Carved out of the GX’s length of 14 feet 3 inches and height of 5 feet 4 inches is a space of 92 cubic feet for five passengers, enhanced by a flat floor, so the center-rear passenger endures some hard cushion discomfort but not as much as on many cars and crossovers. There are 24 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, about double compact sedans. The rear seatbacks do not recline for comfort but fold flat to expand the cargo area to 50 cubic feet.

The 2021 GX is essentially the same as the original 2020 model, all-new at the time. But there have been a few changes and additions. SXM satellite radio now is standard on all trims; adaptive cruise control has been included on Preferred models, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on every version. Yet with that and some minor juggling of other features, the price escalated by just $100 across the board.

The tested GX Essence came with Buick’s upgraded engine, a tiny 1.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that develops 155 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque. Power gets to the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The combination delivers an EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 30/32/31 mpg using regular gasoline. 

A side note: Though the Buick name is as American as pizza and Budweiser beer, only 3% of the GX’s parts come from the U.S. and Canada. Engines and transmissions are manufactured in Mexico, and the vehicles are built in South Korea. That’s a recommendation. Vehicles from the southern Korean peninsula’s Hyundai and Kia consistently show up at or near the top of quality ratings. 

On the road, the GX is a pleasant, if leisurely, companion. Thanks to decent insulation and Buick’s noise-canceling technology, it cruises quietly, although the engine makes itself known under hard acceleration. 

Handling is capable around corners and on curving roads as long as the driver eschews aggression in favor of what is generally a smooth ride. The suspension, however, does get upset if the GX is pushed too hard on a road with uneven pockmarks. The supportive front seats absorb many minor shocks. But remember that this is no sports car.

Overall, the Encore GX Essence provides a stable though not outstanding ride and handling with decent fuel economy, good performance and quiet highway cruising, all with a dollop of what — for many people — would be something of a luxury experience at a middle-class price.

The Encore GX was nominated for North American Utility of the Year by an independent jury of U.S. and Canadian automotive journalists, of which this reviewer is one.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Buick Encore GX Essence FWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.3-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 155 hp, 174 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 92/24 cubic feet (50).
  • Weight: 3,094 pounds. 
  • Towing capability: 1,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 30/32/31 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,595.
  • Price as tested: $35,065.

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

Photos (c) Buick

2021 Toyota Venza Limited Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

When the Toyota Venza made its debut in 2009, it was something of a novelty. Billed as a crossover utility vehicle, or CUV, it looked and felt more like a traditional station wagon, albeit a bit taller than most.

Automotive News, the most prominent trade publication in the automotive industry, listed the Venza as a car in its U.S. sales statistics, not in the truck category along with sport utility vehicles and crossovers. 

Though the terms get mixed up and misused, a sport utility vehicle generally is a wagon-like vehicle with body on frame construction, like a truck. Crossovers are built like cars with unit-body construction. 

The Venza crossover lasted just seven years. Its best sales year was 2009, the year it was introduced, when 54,410 were sold in the United States. But sales dwindled and Toyota dropped it after the 2005 model year.

But now it’s back for 2021 as a fully realized crossover SUV, better than ever with economical gasoline-electric hybrid power, not unlike its garage-mate Toyota Prius. Both are hybrid-only, a system with which Toyota has vast experience. The Venza also comes with standard all-wheel drive.

On the tested Venza Limited as well as other trim levels, the hybrid combination delivers 219 horsepower from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with 88 hp and three electric motors, one of which drives the rear wheels. The system earns an EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 40/37/39 mpg. 

Power gets to all four wheels via an electronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Standard CVTs use a system of belts and pulleys to multiply engine torque. Toyota’s ECVT, also used in the Prius, uses electric motor generators to control a planetary gear set, allowing the transmission to continuously change the gear ratio and keep the engine’s rpms at maximum efficiency.

The hybrid system incorporates four driver-selectable drive modes: EV for purely electric motoring, Eco for maximum fuel efficiency, Normal for everyday commuting, and Sport for horsing around (carefully, of course).

There are three Venza versions: Base SE, midlevel SEL and top-line Limited. The last, tested for this review, came with a base price of $40,975, including the destination charge. With options that included a $1,400 panoramic glass sunroof and a $725 technology package with a head-up display and rain-sensing windshield wipers, the bottom-line sticker came $43,525.

The panoramic sunroof is unusual. The glass changes from nearly opaque gray to a translucent white fog at the touch of an overhead switch. But it does not open to the sky for fresh air. There is an opaque power-operated sunroof shade. 

The Venza slots in Toyota’s crossover SUV lineup between the less-expensive RAV4 and the larger Highlander. Curiously, though it shares its basic platform with the RAV4, the Venza actually has less interior space. It has 95 cubic feet of room for passengers and a cargo area of 29 cubic feet. The RAV4 has 99 cubic feet for passengers and 38 cubic feet for cargo.

The Venza is 15 feet 7 inches long compared to the RAV4’s 15 feet 1 inch. But the RAV4, at 5 feet 7 inches, is an inch taller than the Venza’s height of 5 feet 6 inches.

Overall, the Venza presents itself as a stylish and comfortable conveyance, more luxury-oriented than the RAV4. Following a trend among luxury crossover SUVs, it has the roofline of a coupe, though taller, and an interior that has prompted some critics to opine that it looks more like a Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, than a Toyota.

Inside, the upholstery and many surfaces are covered in leather or leatherette. Front and outboard rear seats are roomy, supportive and comfortable. Even the center-rear seat is not horrible, thanks to a shallow floor hump and a decently soft cushion. Rear seatbacks fold flat to expand cargo space to 55 cubic feet.

On the road, the Venza feels strong under acceleration, though there’s some growling from the gasoline engine when you get your foot heavily into the throttle. Once settled on the highway, the ambiance mostly becomes quiet.

For a vehicle that leans toward luxury, the Venza has some sporting road manners. Select the Sport driving mode and it handles curving roads with aplomb as the ECVT transmission keeps the engine on the boil. Not bad for a machine that can deliver 40 mpg.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Toyota Venza Limited four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 176 hp; with three electric motors; 219 combined system hp.
  • Transmission: Electronic continuously variable automatic (ECVT) with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches. 
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 95/29 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,880 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 40/37/39 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,975.
  • Price as tested: $43,525.

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

Photos (c) Toyota

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