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three-row suvs

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD Z71: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifications 

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

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

Photos (c) Chevrolet

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifications

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

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

Photos (c) Hyundai

2021 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 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 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 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

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

2020 Lexus GX460 Luxury: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Although it is beginning to show its age, the 2020 Lexus GX460 has managed to stay relevant and even desirable among midsize premium sport utility vehicles.

The GX460 comes from the luxury brand of Toyota, with all the expectations of quality and durability that entails. But unlike most other new SUVs in its class, it is an older design that harks back to the days when most SUVs were built like pickup trucks, with body-on-frame construction.

Front 3q Left Snow

Though Lexus also produces crossover SUVs, which have unit-body construction like conventional sedans, it has stuck with the truck-like architecture for both of its top-line models: the GX460 and the LX570.

With that, it is out of sync with the avalanche of crossover SUVs in every price class that are taking over the market in the United States. Yet the LX460 is not alone. There still are quite a few truck-based SUVs struggling against the crossover onslaught.

The basic design has roots in the depths of the Great Depression when manufacturers started building tall station wagon-style vehicles dubbed Carryalls or Suburbans. Chevrolet’s Suburban made its debut 85 years ago, in 1935.

Front 3q Right

Modern SUVs came along in the latter part of the 20th century with vehicles like the Jeep Cherokee and Wagoneer, and what became the most popular of its genre, the Ford Explorer, which made its debut in 1990 and soon became a best seller. Over the years, it alternated between a truck-based SUV and a unit body crossover and also provided the basis for the Lincoln Navigator.

The first clue that the Lexus GX460 is no longer a fully realized modern SUV comes when you give the turn signal lever a brief click, expecting the three flashes of the lights to indicate a lane change — a longstanding feature on European cars and now nearly universal. There’s no response. You have to click the lever all the way and then turn it off after you change lanes.

Dashboard

Then there’s the lane departure warning, another safety feature especially aimed at inattentive driving. However, the GX460’s system does not include an assist feature to steer the wandering vehicle back in its lane.

Then there’s the so-called “refrigerator door.” Instead of the ubiquitous tail gate that opens overhead, the GX460 has a side-swinging door—not unlike the original Honda CR-V in the 1990s — that opens on the left side. Anyone loading cargo on the street has to stand in traffic. You could also argue that the 4.6-liter V8 engine with 301 hp and 329 lb-ft torque is also something of a relic in an age of powerful, turbocharged, small displacement engines. But there’s nothing like the Lexus V8’s surging, silky power, delivered to all four wheels through an unobtrusive six-speed automatic transmission.

Second Row

On or off the road, the GX460 is never out of breath or lacks power for the task at hand. It is a comfortable, serene highway cruiser with capable handling on curving roads, as well as one of the few vehicles of its size with a reputation for capability to negotiate serious off-road terrain.

Despite the fact that the Lexus GX460 last had a complete redesign a decade ago, it has kept up on safety equipment, off-road capability and luxury amenities. There are three rows of seats. On the tested GX40, there were captain’s chairs in the second row for a total of six-passenger seating. Mostly, owners likely will leave the tiny third-row seats folded flat to expand the stingy cargo space of 12 cubic feet. But to use the seats you must remove a big, clumsy cargo cover shade and re-install it.

Cabin Cutaway

With the third row folded, there’s 47 cubic feet of space and, if you also fold the second row, a total of 65 cubic feet.

No surprise, the 2020 GX460 has most of the equipment and features any customer would expect of a modern luxury SUV with a base price of $65,290, including the destination charge. And, as equipped for this review, an as-tested price of $71,240.

There’s automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert; automatic headlight high beams; radar adaptive cruise control; headlight washers; LED lighting for headlights, fog lights, running lights and brake lights, intuitive parking assist, auto-leveling rear air suspension and trailer sway control.

On the amenities list, there’s plenty of posh luxury items that include power everything, perforated, heated and cooled leather upholstery, and a rear entertainment system, among others.

Rear 3q Left

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Lexus GX460 Luxury four-door sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 4.6-liter V8; 301 hp, 329 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with full-time four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet.
  • Height: 6 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 129/12 cubic feet. (47, 65)
  • Weight: 5,260 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 15/19/16 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $65,290.
  • Price as tested: $71,240.

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

Rear 3q RightPhotos (c) Lexus

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