Featured Reviews
Stealing the appeal of Duluth's Aerial Bridge, the LC500 is at home anywhere.

LC500 dazzles from looks, power, to top

Lexus is Toyota's upscale brand, but the 2021 LC500 proves as either coupe or convertible it also is the company's high-performance/luxury nameplate.

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Turbo-3 lifts Bronco Sport above 30 mpg

Ford has connected on style with the new Bronco Sport, and one of the surprising models is the Outer Banks, with a peppy 1.5-liter turbo engine.

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F-150 adds hybrid to boost power, mpg

Ford has just about done it all, with pickup trucks, but its new F-150 offers hybrid electrical support to its 3.5-liter PowerBoost for a range of nearly 700 miles.

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Parked at the entrance to Duluth's Rose Garden, the revised Buick Envision shows off its new look.

Did Buick Envision 'Chinese takeout?'

General Motors used Buick to make sales inroads into China, and part of the payback is the Buick Envision, a smooth, stylish SUV built entirely in China.

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Infiniti Q50 adds AWD to upscale bargain

Competition among Japanese luxury brands is stiff, but the new Infiniti Q50 rises to the top with twin-turbo V6 and AWD.

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Unusual curves and contours sets Ascent apart from normal Subarus.

Ascend lets Subaru ascend to big SUV realm

Subaru has been a solid builder of compact SUVs through the years, but now the Ascent raises the company up to 3-row competition.

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Mitsubishi connects its 2.0-liter engine to battery-powered hybrid motors.

Erika, Outlander tour U.S. to change the world

A Detroit Lakes woman and a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV with a tiny trailer are on a solo U.S. documentary tour to "change the world."

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Kia Carnival assumes role of ultimate cruiser

Kia made over its Sedona minivan for 2022, and gave it a new name: Carnival, plus a new engine, new stiffer platform and clever touches throughout.

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New Forester -- ideal way to cruise Gordy's

Subaru is maneuvering to stay at the top of the inexpensive SUV genre and the 2021 Forester offers a roomier way for modern-day "cruising."

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Huge and handsome, the Escalade tries hard to justify big sticker.

Lane-changing Escalade splurges atop SUV list

The Escalade has traditionally been the president-carrying limo-SUV of choice for Cadillac, but for 2021, it aims to become the world standard.

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LC500 dazzles from looks, power, to top

September 17, 2021 by · Comments Off on LC500 dazzles from looks, power, to top
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Lexus LC500, stunning in “Infrared,” is a new standard in luxury sports cars.

By John Gilbert

If you were buying a car and could only pick one, would you prefer a high-performance sports car with exceptional power and handling, or a stunning, great-looking sports car that freezes passersby in their tracks every time you drive past?

The answer, of course, is both. And both are readily attainable — for a price. The provider of this spectacular vehicle that combines such mind-blowing attributes is Toyota. Surprised?

Known almost exclusively for steady, durable and intelligent engines and vehicles, Toyota has made inroads into the higher-performance segments in the last couple of years, mostly through its upscale Lexus nameplate. They’ve struck paydirt, with the 2021 Lexus LC500.

That badge has been the ultimate, for Lexus, and the plateau of excellence has been raised on several counts with the 2021 L:C500.

The sleek, form-fitting roof gives the LC500 the sleekness of any coupe when up.

First, beautiful as a coupe, for this year, it’s a convertible. The LC500 is great looking with the top up, as a coupe, but it goes from attractive to spectacular with the holding of a concealed console switch that executes a mechanical coordination of erector-set inner parts, which raise the rear deck, lift off the sleek roof, and nestle it down into the rear compartment before uncoiling the mechanical routine and latching the decklid over the whole thing. It takes about 12 seconds for the process, which means you can easily put the top down at a stoplight. More importantly, if you’ve been driving top-down and avoiding the threat of rain sprinkles, you can put the top back up at the next stoplight in the same brief mechanical flurry to keep you dry.

The test LC500 came in “Infrared,” a sizzling metallic red that reflects every meaningful bit of light back at your receptive eyes. Somehow, convertibles look better in red, and red looks better in Infrared.

Comfortably thick, steering wheel has shift paddles for 10-speed.

Toyota also straddles another fine line to reise above the reputation of being stodgy and using its excellent engines for so long they become outdated. An exceptional engine can stand the test of time, but there is a difference between an exceptional engine and a decade-old exceptional engine.

The LC500 conquers the debate by getting Toyota’s well-proven 5.0-liter V8, with its dual overhead-camshafts and combination direct fuel injection, and it gets new life in the LC500 as a 471-horsepower unit under the hood of the sleek convertible. It gives you all the performance you might have thought was beyond such a luxurious vehicle. Lexus will use that same engine in a couple of other luxury sedans for the upcoming model year, as well.

All the many controls are handled from the center console switches.

In the LC500, the engine runs through a 10-speed automatic, and if the power comes on too smoothly, you can use those long, readily-reached paddles on either side of the steering wheel to upshift and downshift whenever you choose. And your choice can be altered by the simple clicking of a console toggle switch that shows you on the instrument panel that you can keep clicking until you get comfort, economy, or sport, or sport-plus. Sport tightens up the steering and suspension, and hold the revs to a higher calling. and sport-plus does it moreso, supplementing the power and handling enhancements with a bold, mellow roar of power.

Toyota advertising has only recently gone onto a campaign to rave about the new-found sportiness of the Camry and the Corolla, by showing drivers cheerfully smiling while  virtually street-racing across bridges and around parking ramp circular exits. They’s let their engineering do the talking on the LC500.

As a subtle example, Toyota, which prefers to do everything in-house, has engaged Yamaha to provide and tune the actively adjustable dampers on all four corners of the LC500.

Exceptional bucket seats support you no matter how hard you push that firm suspension, or power around a tight curve, and a thick, grippy steering wheel fills your hands and encourages you to experiment with the handling limits.

If that’s a brief overview of how the LC500 fills both the requirements of power and performance as well as being clearly the best-looking vehicle ever built by the corporation, in my opinion, the other element of such a creation is the sticker price. It is a high, reflective of the theory that technology and refinement costs a lot. The base price is $101,000, and as tested, with all the extra ingredients from 21-inch alloy wheels to the magical top, the sticker says $112,420.

Everybody who asks, flinches at the thought of any car costing that much, which causes me to explain that a lot of high-tech equipment is expensive, and when you get all that is offered on the LC500, it is probably worth the high price.

In the quest for superlatives, save a few for the Mark Levinson audio system, which is a premium device with possibly the best separation of sounds I’ve ever heard in a car, or in-home unit. It plays through a 13-speaker surround system that gives you radio, satellite radio, Bluetooth, MP3, and even a CD player. We folded my older son and resident audiophile, Jack, into the very tight, very small rear seat — at his own choosing — and as we drove all over. Up the North Shore and later down to St. Paul to the Minnesota State Fair, as well as catching one of the closing weekends at Gordy’s Hi-Hat Drive-In in Cloquet, and on every jaunt we marveled at how fantastic the sound system was.

Pick your favorite angle, the LC500 is dazzling.

These days, a lot of performers rerecord their top tunes onto new albums, for contemporary updates to established songs. Several times we wondered if we were listening to new versions of old songs, because of newly discovered background guitars, for example, and later realized we were not. We were hearing all the sounds that had been previously obscured or suppressed by lesser sound systems, including in our home, now isolated and featured by Mark Levinson, whoever he is.

That is not to say everything is perfect in the LC500, even at its steep price. The long console has a palm pad to ease your use of a fingertip mouse panel that you use to summon up all the various controls on the center stack’s 10.3-inch display. But it often was reluctant to respond promptly to my fingertips, and other times it seemed hyper. Frequently, both extremes came together, such as when I was trying to scroll up to reach a certain satellite radio station, and after going up, up, and up, suddenly it would switch to AM. Maddening. If we owned the car, I’m sure we’d get used to its idiosynchracies, but as it is, every time we wanted to tune the radio it was a source of frustration.

The climate control was a similar puzzle of mouse-ramblling that was complex. I worked for 20 minutes to kill the seat-ventilation that blew chilly air through the perforated backrest of my seat when it was not needed, and after solving it, a few minutes later my back was scorched because the system had switched from cooling to heating, unintended. Again, I would get used to it if I owned the car, instead of just turning it off and not using it any more during my weeklong test.

The latest news from JD Power, by the way, tells us that the latest Initial Quality survey of new cars calculates the nuisance factor of adjusting electronic controls right along with power, performance, handling, comfort and convenience attributes of a new car. Personally, I don’t think that’s appropriate. If an aftermarket company installs an audio, climate control, or cell-phone connectivity system that is needlessly complex, I don’t think it should detract from a new vehicle’s operation.

Stealing the appeal of Duluth’s Aerial Bridge, the LC500 is at home anywhere.

My suggestion to JD Power is to exclude the audio and connectivity controls from all the other new-vehicle operations in the equation, and then conduct an entirely separate poll to determine the best and worst operational processes for a separate ranking.

With the LC500, there is an easy solution. Put the top down, switch to Sport, and then turn the climate control and audio system OFF as you drive off over the horizon to the tune of that mellow exhaust note — poorer, maybe, but well-satisfied.

Turbo-3 lifts Bronco Sport above 30 mpg

September 9, 2021 by · Comments Off on Turbo-3 lifts Bronco Sport above 30 mpg
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Joan hiked off to Iona’s Beach in Castle Danger on our drive in the Bronco Sport Outer Banks.

By John Gilbert

The new Ford Bronco Sport — the smaller of the two Broncos being introduced for 2021 — may be the big seller for Ford because of its sophistication as a utility vehicle for everyone, not just heavy-duty off-road types. There are various models within the Bronco Sport group, and having reported on a couple of them, it’s time to also delve into the Outer Banks.

Or maybe you dive into the Outer Banks, if you’re taking a late-summer vacation. We took it everywhere, to play tennis, and to go hiking, where my wife, Joan, enjoyed exploring new trails.

The inner features of the Outer Banks model are set up for folks or small families that have an adventurous side and may want a vehicle that will do anything and everything as a small-family hauler, but also can take the water-toys along and make sure the leftover sand can be easily washed out, or the family hound can be transported home messy knowing you can clean up with a rinse.

I found the Outer Banks had its biggest surprise under the hood, where the Rapid Red Bronco Sport carried Ford’s smallest mainstream engine — a 1.5-liter, 3-cylinder, turbocharged up to EcoBoost standards, which means 181 horsepower.

Stylishly rounded square corners are accented by LED lights all around.

When you go for a test-drive, do not bypass this one just because it’s a 3-cylinder, which seems weird to the sensibilities of American buyers used to V8s, V6es, or 4s.

In building engines, a lot of 4-cylinders run smooth, but a lot of them don’t, too, because they have a harmonic vibration that frequently needs to be settled down with anti-vibration techniques, up to and including counter-balance shafts. Remember companies such as Volvo and Audi used to have 5-cylinder engines that had the same effect on buyers, but having 3 or 5 cylinders means inherently vibration-free operation.

So when you take a drive in a Bronco Sport, try the Outer Banks and pretend that you’ve been told it is either a small V6 or a quite-potent 4-cylinder, and you’ll be extra impressed at the pep of that 1.5 EcoBoost. For those who understand all that, knowing it is a turbocharged-3 will be an attraction, rather than a detriment, and the way it sips fuel running around in traffic will impress you even more.

What will astound you, is when you stop to refill the fuel tank and calculate that on your last tankful you got 32.4 miles per gallon. That is not just an estimate, either. The test vehicle I drove for a week up and down the North Shore, revisiting Hwy. 61 along Lake Superior’s wildfire-smoke-infested air in this late summer of 2021, was driven in both highway travel and up and down the hills of Duluth, Minnesota.

Our combined driving included a run up the Shore to Castle Danger, where we again marvelled at the all-rock expanse of beach. After all our combined driving, our tankful calculated out to 32.4 miles per gallon.

Now, in an all-wheel-drive SUV, even if compact, that’s impressive, although I must admit we never bothered with the AWD in the heat of August, which has now proven to be the hottest in Duluth’s history.

For those unfamiliar with the Bronco Sport, it gets the old name on an all-new project, which is a sort of boxy vehicle plunked down on a smaller platform from the full-sized Bronco. No sense creating an all-new platform, though, because the popular Ford Escape compact SUV is right across the showroom and is one of Ford’s most popular vehicles. So Ford put the neat new body on the Escape platform.

With some surprise, I find the Bronco Sport, boxy or not, handles with quicker agility than the sleeker Escape, so the match works.

Comfortable bucket seats up front, and fold-down bench in the rear are covered with this special bullet-proof fabric that feels rugged and yet not uncomfortable, and again is aimed at efficient clean-up. You could, as mentioned, hose out the rubberized rear storage area, after you’ve folded the rear seats down, or by leaving them up.

The larger EcoBoost 4 develops 245 horsepower, which is more than enough for any service. I say more than enough because I am convinced the EcoBoost 3 with its 181 horses can breeze up Duluth’s steepest mile-long avenues with ease.

High-tech material readily washes out in large storage area after vacation, or lake ventures.

In fact, a feature I really appreciate is the hill-start assist, which some may find unnecessary. When you drive up Lake Avenue, however, and come to a 4-way stop at fourth Street, for example, you step on the brake to stop fully, and the stop-start system kills the engine. The hill-assist holds you position in place, though, so when it’s your turn, you stop on the gas, the engine starts instantly and the hill-assist releases in the same instant, and you’re off.

The 8-speed automatic transmission is standard on all Bronco Sport models, whether you prefer the Badlands, or any other model to the Outer Banks.

My Sport Outer Banks 4X4 listed for $36,440, which included Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 assist, and the Outer Banks package, rising over the base $32,160.

All the connectivity stuff is there, with rear-view camera, remote keyless entry and remote start, reverse sensing, terrain management, wireless charging, power moonroof, B&O audio system with 10 speakers, the latest version of Ford’s SYNC, LED lights fore and aft, foglights, tailgate assist with a lift-glass that also is handy when you don’t want to open the whole lift gate.

One of these days, I’ll get the just-released larger Bronco for a test-drive, but as of now, the Bronco Sport is fully satisfying from the standpoint of creature features, comfort, utility, as well as power and handling agility, and the climate control and audio system.

Any thought that the EcoBoost-3 won’t be enough power is easily overwhelmed by the realization that you might have your hands on a quick and agile compact SUV that is also capable of getting over 30 miles per gallon.

Trendy design of the Bronco Sport gives new life to the Escape platform.

The other day, I went to fill up with gas and found I was too far away from one of those stations that advertised $2.99 per gallon, so I settled for one that sold regular for $3.09 a gallon. As I hooked up my credit card, I noticed that premium fuel was $3.59 a gallon at that very pump.

No wonder they advertise regular, and why they don’t boast about premium at $3.59. Having to pay 60 cents more per gallon for premium? Calculate that out over the course of a month, or a year, and you will appreciate that your vehicle runs just fine on regular. And then add in that your Outer Banks not only runs on regular, but gets 32 miles per gallon!

F-150 adds hybrid to boost power, mpg

September 9, 2021 by · Comments Off on F-150 adds hybrid to boost power, mpg
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

A stop at Whole Foods seemed appropriate for Ford’s new hybrid F-150.

By John Gilbert

As we’ve learned through the COVID-19 pandemic, we have not only survived, but gotten comfortable working from home instead of in the office. Ford Motor Company is trying to take us one step beyond that — working not in the office, not at home, but in a new F-150 pickup truck.

Not just any garden-variety F-150, of course, but an F-150 4X4 SuperCrew XLT. The name and designating letters don’t tip it off, but this pickup takes it one notch beyond that. It’s a hybrid.

Ford knows that its top competitors, particularly the Ram 1500, but also including Chevrolet’s Silverado, GMC Sierra, Toyota Tundra, and even the midsize Honda Ridgeline, have filled their interiors with all sorts of creative features and ideas to make it more livable, so Ford has tried to include all that, with a larger dashboard screen, the latest in SYNC technology, and a console large enough to house all sorts of work-targeted things, such as file folders and just about the files themselves.

Interior is made to be an office away from the office in the new F-150.

Flipping the console lid creates a desk-like surface, and the Pro Power OnBoard system makes it a virtual office on wheels.

But while loading it up with features, Ford makes sure the SuperCrew XLT over-achieves when it comes to operating as a basic pickup truck, too!

For power, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost is renamed by Ford as  “PowerBoost,” to designate not only a turbocharged power boost, but also the added energy from a 44-horsepower permanent magnetic synchronous electric motor. This concept is Ford’s own, dating back to when it competed with the first Toyota Prius and Honda hybrids. It mostly resembles Honda’s, fitted between the V6 and the 10-speed electrically operated transmission. There is also a 1.5 kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery under the floor of the rear seats.

Combining all that power gives you 430 horsepower and a whopping 570 foot-pounds of torque.

That adds up to a payload of 2,120 pounds, and a towing capacity of 18,700 pounds.

The other more useful and more obvious benefit of the hybrid modulating the turbo V6 power is that the test pickup — which came in stunning Velocity Blue that led numerous passers-by to casually say, “Beautiful color,” or “Nice color” whenever I climbed out of it — also is fantastic when it comes to fuel efficiency.

Having driven virtually every pickup that has come out over the last few decades, I am used to full-sized pickups getting 10-14 miles per gallon, and maybe 17-18 on a good day. Adding the turbocharger won’t improve gas mileage, but adding the hybrid technology meant that driving mostly in city traffic, up and down the hills of Duluth, Minnesota, I was able to get 24-25 mpg, even while showing off the trucks power with bursts of acceleration.

Having the enlarged fuel tank also means you can drive from Duluth to Chicago without refilling the tank, and you would still have enough left to drive around for a day or two. As I drove on my appointed tasks, and a few unappointed ones, I kept a closer and closer watch on the fuel gauge. When I had driven 486 miles, with an indication that 123 of those miles were on electricity, the instruments indicated that I still had 194 miles to go before empty. In a lot of cases, a normal pickup truck with a potent engine might settle for 194 miles on a full tank.

All the features and technology costs a bit, of course. The basic XLT starts at $43,805, but the liberal offerings from the option list boost the total to $65,256. I’ve driven more expensive trucks, but none with the same level of useful features as this F-150 XLT Hybrid.

View from the ground through rear door shows blue sky through huge, double-pane moonroof.

Inside, the SYNC system’s latest version makes connecting your smart-phone to you personally easy and without the usual bothersome challenges. The audio system is also of elite status, with a B&O sound system filling the interior with our chosen sounds. Another captivating feature is the large, dual-pane sunroof, which Ford chooses to call a Moonroof. It gives an added, airy feeling to the cabin as well as letting the sunshine in.

There also is the usual complement of front, rear and side warning alerts. This one has lane-keeping, which electronically combines cameras and computers to alert you to your wandering ways, and if you don’t respond, it will nudge you back into your lane.

The two front bucket seats are firm and comfortable, and for some reason, they seem easy to climb up into and drop down out of, and it can’t just be the 6-foot running-board that runs along the lower sides. My wife, Joan, noticed the same convenience, and she is usually the first one to complain when trucks require extra effort to enter or the thought of a parachute to exit.

The rear bench seat is a 60/40 thing, and the cushions on both sides fold up and lock firmly in place against the backrests, offering more large stowage areas, which can also be used with the seats in place. The legroom in the rear is spacious, which isn’t always the case, and full-sized adults commented on the roominess of the rear.

Driving the XLT was also remarkably easy for a pickup truck, and my only complaint was that as I pulled into a perpendicular parking slot, I invariably pulled up as far as I dared, and then when I got out and checked, I was still three or four feet short of contact. After a few days, I learned that when you have the rear camera, you also get a front camera, but it doesn’t come on until you are very close to contact, then it gives you plenty of warning to help you park as close as you want.

While we’ve discussed for years the brilliantly devised F-150 pickup tailgate possibilities, it seems we need to revisit that, just because GMC and General Motors apparently are mounting a big ad campaign to show a unique breakthrough in tailgates — a fold-down step that allows easy access to climb into or out of the box.

Now, that’s very similar, if not identical, to the F-150’s tailgate system, and I can’t believe that marketing folks at GM  are unaware that they are blatantly stealing Ford’s idea, and also claiming credit for inventing it!

Soft-touch tailgate has decade-old drop-down step for easy climbing in or out of the box.

The Ford tailgate has been improved to fold down at a touch, and it drops down at a cushioned, soft-touch rate. When down, you grasp the latch again and as you pull it, the top edge turns into a step and drops down, right where you can reach it with one step, and another step gets you into the box..

That’s not all. To the left of the now-exposed step is a bright yellow plastic tip, and you grasp it and pull it straight out, and there you have a long sturdy steel rod. Tilt it up and it locks in place, pointing straight upward. You can easily grasp it as you climb a step, and it is the ultimate convenience to balance yourself as you climb in or out with stuff in your arms.

Others, such as RAM, have cut a corner slot into the bumper, which is helpful because you can put your toe in there and climb up effectively, and others have tried to come up with their version of a climbing aid. But until now, nobody has copied it almost exactly and tried to claim, in national television ads, that they invented it.

All off its features and compelling list of truck ideas should assure the F-150 of keeping its position as the largest-selling vehicle in the nation. And now that it’s capable of letting you do office duties as well as pickup business, it should only expand its appeal.

Full complement of gauges includes miles driven, miles to go, and current 23.5 miles per gallon with hybrid version.

Ford’s ability to put a potent hybrid of its own design into the pickup wars is the perfect stop-gap between gas engines we know so well and pure electric we know is coming. Ford already is producing a pure electric F-150, to be introduced by the year’s end, but for many consumers, a good hybrid is a logical stopping off place on its way to an electric future.

Competitors are sure to copy some F-150 assets, but they should be careful about claiming them as their own.

Did Buick Envision ‘Chinese takeout?’

September 9, 2021 by · Comments Off on Did Buick Envision ‘Chinese takeout?’
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Parked near Duluth’s Rose Garden, the revised Buick Envision shows off its new look.

By John Gilbert

We went for a casual ride to downtown Duluth last weekend, and we decided to park the 2021 Buick Envision I was test-driving at the curb on London Road, so my wife, Joan, our older son, Jack, and I could stop to smell the roses, so to speak.

One of the true treasures of Duluth is that Rose Garden, which spreads out across a couple blocks of parkland from 11th to 14th Avenues East, near Leif Erickson Park. A stroll through the various clusters of roses and other flowers also affords you a stunning view of the Aerial Bridge and the Westernmost tip of Lake Superior. A major attraction of that garden is that the roses are almost all hybrids, in a mix and match assortment that simply can’t be duplicated anywhere else in the world.

That is not unlike a parallel to the new Buick Envision. When Buick brought out a new, somewhat compact wagon called the Envision five years ago, I found it to be surprisingly attractive and remarkably competent. It wasn’t world class or anything, but it was pretty neat, and reasonably without disagreeable elements.

There was a lot of talk about “buy American,” and here was a proud American car name affixed to a car built in China.

Stylish from the rear as well, the Envision has lots of storage space behind the second seats.

For 2021, Buick has thoroughly redesigned the Envision, and our trip to the Rose Garden was pretty conclusive evidence that the car is, after all, world class. As well as evidence that the rapidly developing Chinese auto culture is catching on to the things that are important to U.S. buyers.

After we spent a half hour at sundown mingling with tourists and roses, we circled back to behind where the Envision was parked along the curb. Joan walked up at first to a vehicle parked 50 feet behind it, and Jack and she examined it alongside our Envision. It was a new BMW X5, one of the more impressive SUVs in a world full of SUVs. We looked over both of them strictly from a design standpoint, and we all agreed that the Buick Envision was the better looking of the two.

Outrageous? Maybe, but it is a comparison based on the overall similarity of the two, bolstered by the fact that a person could mistake one for the other. Both appeared to be black from the outside, but a closer look at the many metallic highlights verified the Envision’s “Ebony Twilight Metallic” identification worked.

The all-new Envision design has a quite-racy front end and a pleasingly attractive silhouette, plus a neat rear end as well. Inside, Jack drew rear-seat duty most of the time, but he never complained because it had supportive 60-40 bench seats and a lot of headroom and legroom. He did complain that the Bose 9-speaker premium audio system could use a more dynamic approach to rear sound.

The front buckets were also comfortably supportive, and while the Envision would not be mistaken for having sports-car handling, the tester ST model had an upgrade from 17-inch wheels to 20-inch black alloys, mounted with 245-45 R20 Continental tires. There is a driving mode that allows you to select Tour, Sport, or Snow/Ice, and we found it was not harsh in sport, and it was a bit softer in tour. I would like to compare, however, because generally, going to 20-inch wheels with lower profile tires can lead to rigidity, compared to reaching the same circumference with thicker tires, giving you more rubber between smaller wheels and the pavement.

Upgraded Envision has leather seats and attractive instruments, attending to both driver and passenger requirements..

The 2.0-liter turbo four was quick and substantial in all acceleration challenges, and the 9-speed automatic was a welcome presence compared to a CVT, and shift paddles on the leather-covered steering wheel add to the sportiness and flair.

The EPA estimates for fuel economy showed 24 city and 31 highway, and we recorded an average of 31.5 in combined city-highway driving — very impressive compared to other middle-and smaller SUVs. The Envision should be ranked among SUVs, although it isn’t much of a stretch to consider it as a trendy station wagon with SUV tendencies.

Behind the fold-down second row of seats there is a surprisingly large storage area, and I must confess to a surprise that took me the full week to figure out. The first time I opened the hatch, I reached up for the remote switch to electrically close it, but nothing happened. I tried several times, and after finding no response, I pulled down on the hatch and it stubbornly closed, but not quite all the way. As I reached to force it to the final latching, it buzzed and latched itself.

I also asked Joan and Jack to try closing it but they found the same refusal of the push-button to activate it. On the final morning in my possession, I was looking over the array of many buttons and switches and spotted a small button on the door, down below the various window switches. Looking closer, I saw it was a rotating switch that showed full, 3/4, and off, and it was switched to “off.” Sure enough, when I rotated it and pushed it, the hatch opened up, smoothly and efficiently. And also closed at a second push.

If some of the switchwork evaded my familiarity, I might be able to explain by the fact the Envision’s final assembly point is Yantai, China. The country of origin of the engine is China, and the country of origin of the transmission is — you guessed it — China. A lot of people are aware of the advances being made in design and quality by China’s auto-makers as that country surges toward incredible numbers of vehicles and drivers, and they wonder when a truly solid and competent Chinese vehicle will make inroads into the U.S. market.

Clever but hidden switch on door power-opens self-latching hatch.

They can wonder no longer. The Envision is here to tell us all, China is here and has produced a solid, competent vehicle that you might mistake for any of a dozen competitive SUVs. The surprise is that General Motors has been the anchor for U.S. vehicles for so many decades that we are startled to change the old slogan “Buy American” to “Buy Chinese With an American name.”

The price of the new Envision ST is $35,800 as a base, and once you load it up with the Technology Package and the ST package it rises to $41,315. Those additions include a forward park assist, to augment the standard rear park assist, which is the auto-park system that you can see if you watch multiple TV ads for the Envision, parking itself in a tight space, on any Twins broadcast, or elsewhere.

The lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring are all included standard as well, and all the connectivity devices are in place, too. It is hard to envision, so to speak, all the standard stuff on a competitor for $35,000, or all the included equipment on the ST for $41,000.

One thing that is missing on the test vehicle is that its proper title adds the suffix “FWD” and not “AWD.” The tester was pulled along by front-wheel drive and did not have the all-wheel drive that I know is available. I have written often that if you’re going to get an SUV of any size and you live in the snow-belt area such as Minnesota, you would be foolish to not get AWD.

Sophisticated styling upgrades are the feature of the Envision’s latest redesign.

Naturally, driving the new Envision in Northern Minnesota in this 90s-featured summertime makes AWD unnecessary, ecen to think about, but we also know that winter is coming.

The hot summer makes air-conditioning more important, and it worked fine, even if it did take a half-mile to start throwing out chilly air. You fiddle with the switches and lower the temperature while raising the fan speed, and all of a sudden you are getting icy-cold air blowing too hard. Best to get used to setting it more moderately and driving the first half-mile to get the right blend.

We know that China has been fighting severe air-pollution for years, and we are getting it in Northern Minnesota this year from the numerous wildfires in Canada and in the Boundary Waters, sharing their windblown smoke to choke us up closer to Lake Superior and on into Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Envision has a climate control switch that lets you activate an air-quality indicator, and an air ionizer. When the smoke was at its worst, we flipped on the ionizer and the air-conditioner turned  recirculation, and we were breathing cleaner air than anybody on the outside.

Meanwhile, the paddles help in hill-descent, and the stop-start, which is switchable, did a nice job of climbing Duluth’s many steep avenues. When you stop for even a brief stop sign halt, the stop-start shuts down the engine but you are held in place. As you start up, it instantly re-engages and you’re off.

Whether cruising or outwaiting road construction, the Envision is a proper conveyance.

Maybe Buick is setting a good example for General Motors, beating the current chip shortage by expanding on the build capabilities in a country where those chips undoubtedly will come from. But all the right stuff is included on the Envision, which I must say is my favorite Buick model I have ever driven, or seen.

When you park in a shopping center lot, just be prepared for some long looks, and even for some folks to ask you what kind of car that is. Be nice, and don’t say “BMW.” It’s time to spread the word in Buick’s favor.

Infiniti Q50 adds AWD to upscale bargain

August 11, 2021 by · Comments Off on Infiniti Q50 adds AWD to upscale bargain
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Parked atop the rocky North Shore of Lake Superior, the Infiniti Q50 has a regal look.

By John Gilbert

The “big three” Japanese automakers have been dominant in the U.S. auto market for several decades, and as good as utilitarian Honda, Toyota and Nissan models have been, all three have upscale brands that have branched off from the mother ships and made their own way to the top.

At Toyota, that would be Lexus; Honda has Acura; and Nissan has Infiniti. In most cases, the companies push their newest technology out to the public in those upscale brands, and in some cases there is no comparison between the top tech of those and the basic stuff. Toyota, for instance, uses Lithium-ion battery packes on Lexus hybrids compared to nickel-metal-hydride on Toyotas; Honda uses new engines in Acuras, and Nissan uses more potent engines and veers away from dependence on only CVTs in its Infinitis.

In the recent economic drop-off, those companies are reeling in some of their more futuristic vehicles, retrenching in the face of the threat of sales dropoffs.

Some of the Infiniti models may lack the promotional punch of the Lexus and Acura vehicles, but at our house, we figure a couple of Infinitis make our all-time favorite list.

Rich, dark blue — identified only as “Premium Paint” — is a classy pick on the Q50 Signature.

A perfect example is the 2021 Infiniti Q50 sedan, which I recently spent a week driving on the North Shore of Lake Superior. The pleasure of driving such a precise and sporty-performing sedan with climate-control blowing air conditioning throughout the cabin, easily outclasses the discomfort of enduring the outrageous 90-degree heat we’ve been feeling most of this sizzling summer.

The particular model we drove was a Signature Edition, which had extra features inside and out, including a couple that are far too significant to have escaped scrutiny in Motor Trend’s annual new-car-capsule edition. Motor Trend’s “experts” seemed to look for all sorts of reasons to put down the Q50 as less worthy than competitive cars, and while claiming the 2021 model is “unchanged” from the 2020 version, overlooked such details as the 300 horsepower or 295 foot-pounds of torque from the 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6.

Also overlooked in their snarky evaluation is the fact that the new Signature Edition has Nissan’s “Intelligent” all-wheel-drive system, accessed by a console switch to allow you to direct the power via the 7-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels when you perceive the need. Such an addition, you might think, would elevate the Q50 up to or beyond the competitors in that segment, instead of trailing. And we got over 25 miles per gallon with all that power available, and that was overall, with most of our driving up the hills of Duluth.

But before we blame Motor Trend too much, Nissan/Infiniti itself needs to be called to account in its Monroney sheet of vehicle details for pointing out that the tester’s sticker price of $52,800 includes $695 for “Premium Paint,” but it fails to inform us what the name of that color is. Paint colors are one place where manufacturers can exercise all sorts of cleverly creative hyperbole. But while you can get away with kissing off black or white as, say, black or white, the test car was a stunning dark blue, which sent me scurrying for the sticker sheet to identify the color.

I admit to being a “blue” person, to the point where my wife, Joan, often downplays blue things because she knows I’ll like them too much. But the Q50 Signature was such a riveting dark blue that Joan pointed out to me how much she liked it before I even had the chance to rave about it. It’s so dark that it appears black in subdued light or at nighttime, but when the sun hits it, the dark blue penetrates your senses.

It also makes the bright silver on the aluminum 19-inch wheels an impressive accent, although Joan and I agreed we’d prefer brushed alloy to let the color be even more prominent.

Leather seats and feature-filled interior includes drive-mode and AWD control switches on the console.

In the annual battle to beat the competition out with features, a couple of Nissan’s major achievements have been in accident-avoidance technology, and in the tech-screen display of monitoring anything you might be backing up toward. While others were coming out with impressive rear-view camera views, Nissan was the first I experienced with full 360-degree surround video in some Infinitis, which showed the ability to scrutinize anything within several feet of your road space in all directions.

On the new Q50, if you hit the right setting you get a top-down perspective of your vehicle with a moat around it, preferably free of any objects. And in their best simplicity, Infiniti calls the system “AroundView Monitor with Moving Object Detection.” That view is in addition to the car’s innate ability for automatic collision notification, predictive forward collision warning, blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning and back-up collision intervention.

The shifter shares console space with AWD and drive mode switches.

All that stuff is standard on the $50,000 Signature version, as is the hill-start assist, adaptive cruise control with distance-control assist, and active trace assist, which can use all those electronic features to keep you in your lane around curves. Naturally, with all those ingredients, linking up with your smart phone is a given, as is the navigation system.

Going back to Nissan’s early sports-car days, with the 240Z and since then, the company has put a premium on sporty and precise handling, and the Q50 snakes around curves as if on those sports-car rails, making it enjoyable to drive and also comfortable both in the passenger and rear seat. A switch on the console lets you pick standard, eco, sport, personal, or snow/ice, for handling or traction needs.

All of those seating surfaces were covered a rich and soft leather.

Also, all the driving enjoyment was amplified — literally — by the Bose 15-speaker audio system, which filled the interior with sounds of your choosing. In fact, so good was the audio system that we spent seven solid days of driving the car before, on the final morning, discovering a neat little horizontal trim line near the audio controls; it was not a trim line, but a CD player! I love CD players, which almost all new cars don’t bother installing any more, I give added gold stars to any that do, because all of us, right up to the biggest MP3 addicts, have shelves or drawers full of CDs, and you would love to be able to play them while on the road.

Maybe if the Q50 had fewer gadgets and features, I might have noticed the CD slot a lot sooner, but I’m going to blame Infiniti for not boasting about it more or at least pointing it out.

If that is the ultimate nitpick, I have one more complaint in such a near-perfect car. OK, two other complaints. One is that the heated seats lacked the more-recent trend of having perforated leather that allows cooled air to circulate and keep you infinitely cooler on hot days. My car doesn’t have them either, but I’ve appreciated them on many of the vehicles I’ve driven since Climate Change decided to fry us all, and I’m sure you could probably find them on the option list for the Q50. But if I’m calling this one of the best near-premium, sports-luxury sedans for the bargain price of $52,800, then cool off my backside, OK?,

From the rear, the curves and contours qdd to the twin tailpipes of the Q50 appearance.

My other suggestion is that the Q50’s 7-speed automatic is smooth-shifting and precise, but it lacks steering-wheel paddles, which, with such tremendously responsive power, would be an ideal feature. Maybe they were left behind because the steering wheel already is loaded up with remote controls, but they would advance the pleasure of accelerating or decelerating — especially on hills, where downshifting is the best brake preservative on the planet.

Maybe such things are available for a few more bucks, but those two features are significant enough that one of them would add to the luxury image and the other to the sporty image. Maybe they wanted to see if Motor Trend would notice.

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