Featured Reviews
Graceful lines, moderate price should make TourX popular.

New Buick Regal, Avenir stretch expectations

Buick has added an upgraded Avenir to the Enclave, and unveils an all-new TourX wagon to replace the Regal midsize sedan.

Read Full Review

Mazda6 bridges model gap with 2017.5

Nobody questions the beauty of the Mazda6, but to add new features, Mazda chose to bring out an upgraded 2017.5 model.

Read Full Review

Sweeping fastback lines imply 2-seater, but Q60 has fair room in the rear, too.

Q60 Coupe means alpha-numeric sports-luxury

The alpha-neumeric trend in identifying automobiles has led Infiniti over the top, but the Q60 Coupe will eave a distinct impression.

Read Full Review

Continental grille recaptures various touches from Lincoln's luxury car past.

Lincoln Navigates back to top of luxury SUVs

Once nearly extinct, large SUVs have made a big comeback, and Lincoln's new 2018 Navigator might be the best of the lot.

Read Full Review

If you choose wisely, you can get either an Audi Q5 or A5 sedan with the same drivetrain.

Audi eases -- or adds to -- sedan-SUV debate

For those pondering whether to choose a midsize SUV or a sporty midsize sedan, Audi has two options with the same powertrain in the A5 Sportback and Q5.

Read Full Review

Dramatic change from grille, to interior, frame ride, handling mark 2019 Ram.

Redone 2019 Ram moves to top of pickup class

The pickup wars get bigger and better, and the 2019 Ram might just move to the top of the list for discerning buyers.

Read Full Review

A young lad was enthralled at watching grownups play with Jeeps scaling obstacles at Camp Jeep.

Car-show kids: 'Let's play trucks!'

The current SUV takeover of our vehicle-buying can attract many to car shows, but for little kids who like to play with trucks, the world's car attractions are a lot simpler.

Read Full Review

Mazda designers blended style into every contour and crease of the CX-3.

2018 Mazda CX-3 churns on true vector through snow

Reviewers used to larger, roomier SUVs complained about the Mazda CX-3's lack of room, but the compact SUV is adequate for most, performs well and delivers over 30 mpg with AWD.

Read Full Review

Rain in Texas Hill Country caused the rivers to rise, and the Volvo XC40 never flinched.

XC40 is new, stylish, agile -- and still Volvo-safe

Volvo continues to roll out impressive new members of its expanding family, and the XC40 is the latest example -- a compact utility with zip, agility and style..

Read Full Review

Lexus LF-1 Limitless attracted maximum attention as an SUV concept.

Chicago Show: Cars, stars...and deep-dish pizza

The Chicago Auto Show is the most fun of the major U.S. shows, and it runs through Monday, Feb. 19, showing everything new, and concepts like the Lexus LF-1 Limitless.

Read Full Review

New Buick Regal, Avenir stretch expectations

April 18, 2018 by · Comments Off on New Buick Regal, Avenir stretch expectations
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Buick Regal sedan disappears for 2018, replaced by the TourX wagon.

    Buick has led a charmed life through the pitfalls of General Motors cutbacks and a highly competitive global auto industry. Some are puzzled by Buick’s continued success, or even existence. But it all makes sense, even if some of its newest vehicles are both surprising and intriguing.

   The biggest surprise is the Regal TourX, a curiously sized and shaped station wagon that seems surprisingly low and amazingly long.

   More subtle, perhaps, is the curiously named high-end version of the very successful Buick Enclave SUV, named the Avenir. It conjures up the idea that somebody, perhaps with a New Jersey accent, might have meant to name it “Avenue,” but missed, just a bit.

 

Popular Enclave SUV adds the Avenir as top-line model.

  By chance, I got the opportunity to spend a week test-driving both vehicles, which was a coincidence on its own. I got the two Buicks together, during one of those rare spells of Upper Midwest springtime — a rare couple of days of 50 degrees and sunshine on the North Shore of Lake Superior. As if to make sure I got valid tests of both vehicles, Mother Nature kicked in one of those 2018-special weeks, blasting Duluth with an 8-inch blizzard and accompanying it with some harsh winds off the big lake.

   No worries, because both vehicles have all-wheel drive, and are either “soft” SUVs or can impersonate them.

 

Plain but cautiously luxurious is the Avenir’s interior.

  I don’t mean soft in the weak sense, but more in the less-than-harsh suspension area, where both handle well enough but don’t conjure up the idea that you probably should go barreling through the woods on off-road adventures.

   The Enclave has been a favorite of mine since it was introduced, because it came out about the time that the huge General Motors group of SUVs — the Suburban, Tahoe, Escalade, and GMC Yukon and Ford Expedition and Navigator — had all seemed to be headed for extinction, and the Enclave seemed perfectly sized to step in as a three-row people hauler. The Enclave even sprung a smaller sibling, the Encore, as in what can you do for an Encore? Then came the Envision, as in, can you envision enough room in the marketplace to fit another SUV in between the Enclave and Encore?

Pleasing silhouette of redone Enclave offers upgrades to 3-row GM family of SUVs.

   Of course, we all know that the lowering of gas prices prompted American buyers to turn away from even slightly smaller SUVs and start clamoring again for the big guys. The Enclave comes with a 3.6-liter V6 with 302 horsepower and a lot of style in its just revised shape. The top of the line is called Avenir, and it has all the imagined luxury touches. There is no optional engine, and it comes connected to a 9-speed automatic transmission that works efficiently.

   The interior is nice, and in Avenir form has all the connectivity stuff.

   Now let’s switch to the Regal TourX. You can get the Regal in a nice-looking hatchback sedan, too, but if you really liked the basic Regal in all its forms, you might be disappointed to learn that there is no longer a garden-variety Regal.

Lower and longer, the TourX is a rebadged version of Germany’s Opel Insignia.

   Europeans always have retained a fondness for station wagons, while we in the Colonies have zig-zagged back and forth from wagons to minivans to SUVs, and continue to be all over the map. The European tie-in is significant, because if we go back to when GM discontinued Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Saturn. Those were shocking to most of us. Pontiac was GM’s performance outlet, Oldsmobile its high-tech brand, and Saturn its futuristic model. All gone, while Buick was retained, along with Chevrolet and Cadillac. And Buick’s reputation was the favorite of an aging population.

   Ah, but GM had an eye on China’s looming market, where a car company needed to partner with a Chinese company in order to sell cars in that vast country. Buick had become solidly imbedded, and was quite successful in China. Check on the history and you’d learn that Buick wasn’t selling Roadmasters and LaCrosses, but instead was selling rebadged Opels, from GM’s German line.

   So the first thing GM did at that stage was to rejuvenate Buick by giving it an all-new Regal midsize sedan. It quickly became my favorite GM sedan. Turns out, it was a rebadged Opel Vectra sedan. It was even built in Germany for a year, until GM could retool a North American plant.

 

Large storage area behind second row ofs seats adds to TourX versatility.

 

Comfortable leather buckets adorn new TourX interior.

All of that brings us around to this long, low wagon called the Regal TourX. It is a rebadged German wagon, the Opel Insignia wagon. The only catch in the story is that GM recently sold Opel to Peugeot in Europe. But in the process, GM kept a part of the contract alive, so that Opel would continue to build a version of the Insignia as the new Buick Regal wagon.

   The TourX has a U.S. built 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, attached to an 8-speed Aisin transmission, built in Japan. We’re told that the new GM 9-speed, as in the Avenir, will be coming soon to a Regal TourX near you.

   As it is, I thought the whole package came together well. Perhaps the best reason was that there also is a turbocharger fitted to the engine, so it delivers 250 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque. That’s enough, in the all-wheel-drive version like I drove, to make the low and slinky TourX feel strong and swift, although when you pull onto a freeway and notice a large semi barreling down on you at 70-mph-plus, you stand on the gas and realize it’s not as sporty or quick when you need it as you anticipated.

  

Graceful lines, moderate price should make TourX popular.

If TourX is too small, larger Avenir expands Enclave line.

Handling is good, but not what you might call sporty. It is stable and secure, but  it fits that Buick reputation of being pleasantly cushy and comfortable, without leaning toward stiff or, dare we say, sporty. There are numerous sportier sedans and wagons, from BMW, Volkswagen, Audi, Volvo, but for a base price that starts around $25,000 and can rise to $40,000 with all the available attributes, the new Buick does its namesake proud.

   I don’t like the idea of the Regal going away in its normal form, but I’m willing to wait and see how the TourX does in the showroom. As some cynic said, and wagon, even if it’s not sporty or swift, is better than another in the seemingly endless list of SUVs. And if you must have an SUV, you can always walk across the Buick showroom and check out the Enclave. Take it for a drive, down the Avenir.

    

Mazda6 bridges model gap with 2017.5

April 13, 2018 by · Comments Off on Mazda6 bridges model gap with 2017.5
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The Mazda6 always has had sporty lines, and the 2017.5 upgrade adds interior features and such functions as G-Vectoring.

If you had never seen the most recent version of the Mazda6 sedan, and got a chance to spend some time with a 2017 model, chances are you would be impressed at how  such an impressive, state of the art sedan could have eluded your notice.

The Mazda6 is the small Japanese company’s flagship sedan, officially midsize in the same way that the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Volkswagen Passat, Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu are midsizers.

Flowing, organic lines of Mazda6 conceal upgrades for 2017.5 model.

I had not driven a 2017 Mazda6, although it always has been one of my favorite cars because of its tight handling, sporty performance and flashy appearance. Pretty hard to beat that trio of assets.

When I discussed some test drives upcoming, I asked if the distribution company happened to have any 2018 Mazda6es, and he said they hadn’t seen one, “but we have a 2017.5,” he said.

What I remember about the last Mazda6 I had driven, maybe a 2015 or 2016, was that the interior was basic and simple, which in contemporary vernacular means non-luxurious.

From an engineering standpoint, nobody matches Mazda’s dedication. Others are excellent, but in my opinion, Mazda is on top. The Skyactiv engine technology is just one of those features. A more recent one is the elaborate G-Vectoring technique to limit torque to the outside front wheel in tight cornering, virtually coaxing the driver to turn at the first moment he should.

Rich Nappa leather and soft-touch features are part of the interior makeover.

The G-Vectoring was put in place on the CX-5 and the Mazda3 a year ago, but it missed this cycle of the Mazda6.

So what could knowing a new and improved Mazda6 is coming soon, to upgrade the present car — the 2017 model — to completely redo the interior, to slightly tweak the exterior, and to install the G-Vectoring to the Mazda6?

I had no idea what the 2017-and-a-half would look like, so I paid extra attention to it when it showed up from the Chicago press fleet. It was bright red, or, in Mazda terms, Soul Red Metallic. Mazda, it must be noted, has at least three different red colors for the exteriors of its cars and SUVs, with the newest one being exclusive to the CX-5 compact SUV. That is my favorite of the array of reds, but they all are attractive. The test car was the GT model, which means a few extra sporty touches.

This 2017.5 Mazda6 wears its paint well. On a sunny day, parked at the right angle, it picks up the rays of sunshine and puts them to use on every contour that graces the body. That makes all the well-designed contours meaningful, and gives the car a little extra appeal.

Harmony of contours start from the aggressive aerodynamically-shuttered Mazda6 grille.

The beak of the nose is dramatic, sharply bringing together all those lines with a menacing opening, and the roofline flows back gracefully into an almost coupe-like shape that comes down to the rear hatch. That grille, incidentally, has shutters that open and close when you’re at highway speeds to aid the aerodynamics a bit.

Mazda has made a career out of providing “zoom-zoom” in its cars — a little added dash of sporty handling and pep. You can kiss that off as marketing, but there is no question Mazdas are fun to drive. With powertrains that are both quick and fuel-efficient, the zoom-zoom comes alive.

From marketing strategy, Mazda has done some fantastic engineering in recent years, including its Skyactiv engines that extracts all the available power fuel economy out of the Atkinson cycle’s delayed valve operation on the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine.

The numbers don’t convey street racing or drag racing, but they are misleading effective in swift travel, if you need it. There is 184 horsepower and 185 foot-pounds of torque, and with front-wheel drive you’re not going to get much tire-smoking wheelspin at those rates. The 6-speed automatic is wide-set in its ratios, which means you don’t get a drag-racer’s close-ratio shifts.

Instead, you can use the Sport-mode of the settings, and you can stand on the gas a little to get full spunk out of that engine.

It does challenge you as a driver, and it’s a real-world compromise. For most of your daily driving, the gearing is just right. You start up moderately and get to where you’re going efficiently. If you want a little dash, you shift into sport mode and step on the gas firmly, holding the revs as they build.

Added luxury doesn’t detract from “zoom-zoom” focus of driver.

G-Vectoring is a race trick that causes you to develop and then obey your instincts for when to turn in sharply on a corner. It works in production cars to make normal street driving safer, because you don’t spend half of your turns correcting and then maybe over-correcting. You drive a Mazda6 with G-Vectoring and you don’t remark about how neat it feels; all you know is the car feels like it handles with better agility than you anticipate. If you’re really aware, yu mighjt remark about how you never seem to have to correct the steering wheel when you make a turn.

Driver aids can be adjusted by controls on the console.

The seats are wide and supportive, and the interior is covered everywhere with softer surfaces. A lot of leather. Nappa leather, to be specific, parchment color. Heated front and rear seats.

You have extra control with paddle shifters, part of the GT image and a useful tool for any enthusiast driver.

With dynamic stability control and a traction control system with hill launch assist help you go in traffic, and four-wheel independent suspension works in harmony with stabilizer bars front and rear, and the whole package is aided by the latest electronic safety devices — Skyactiv body-rin safey structure, with cross-traffic and blind spot assists.

As a large entry in the midsize segment, the Mazda6 contours catch every bit of reflected light.

LED headlights and foglights also are high-tech touches, and automatic headlight control works well.

Altogether, the 2017.5 Mazda6 seems to be a technical, safety and creature-feature upgrade over the normal 2017 model, and the GT model has a base price of $30,000, with the add-ons boosting the as-tested price to $34,695.

With features you see and touch, that’s not too bad, and with things you can’t see, such as G-Vectoring, and Skyactiv powertrains, it’s pretty much a bargain. It does, however, make me wonder what the all-new 2018 model Mazda6 will be like when it reaches dealerships by early summer.

Q60 Coupe means alpha-numeric sports-luxury

April 6, 2018 by · Comments Off on Q60 Coupe means alpha-numeric sports-luxury
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Infiniti Q60 Sport is a utilitarian sports coupe with turbo V6 power and AWD.

     Spend a few days driving up and down the freeway in the Infiniti Q60 coupe and you will be impressed by the power and the handling and the comfort, and maybe most by the knowledge that you look so darn cool in that sleek sporty car.

    After you’re fully acquainted with its driving and handling assets, one of the last items you might find is the little rocker switch on the console, just southwest of the shift lever. Look closely, and you realize it is a driving mode selector. Click it and a readout shows that you can select eco, normal, snow, or sport, or sport-plus.

    With most of these devices, your car might already be firm enough, and making it firmer could become harsh. The Q60, however, is firm enough but never even hints at harsh, so switching it to Sport-plus turned it into a quite-different ride. Quicker steering, firmer cornering feel, and an engine that goes from swift to swifter, making you feel that you should use the steering wheel paddles to truly appreciate the sportiness yoiu’ve discovered.

   The car in question is not just the Q60, but a beautiful rad metallic color that defines its full name — the 2018 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 AWD. Flipping that switch, which goes back to a default “standard” setting when you start up again, transforms the vehicle from a beautiful boulevardiering sports coupe into something that feels like it might have been designed for the track but allowed out on the street.

  

Sweeping fastback lines imply 2-seater, but Q60 has fair room in the rear, too.

You may be, as I am, forced to stop and think whenever Nissan-Infiniti hits you with a name that starts with Q, or QX where there used to be G and a number. But whatever the designation, the technology remains ever-improving.

   If you aren’t currently impressed with what Nissan/Infiniti has been doing with engines in recent years, you haven’t been paying attention. It’s highest-tech 2.0-liter turbocharged 4 is amazing, and Mercedes uses it in its C-Class and smaller sportier SUVs. It is just bringing to market a new concept that involves variable compression, which alters the engines compression ratio and thus provides almost infinite valve-timing range.

   The Q60 Red Sport 400 rises to a different plateau, using a3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 that channels 400 horsepower and 350 foot-pounds of torque to Infiniti’s intelligent all-wheel-drive system. It is driven via a 7-speed automatic that is quick-shifting to the point that you’ll either have to shift to manual mode or be very quick to beat it with the manual-shift paddles.

 

Comfort and luxury is swathed in leather and carbon-fiber throughout the Q60 Coupe interior.

  There is a rear seat, under that sloping rear window and close behind the well-designed and supporting front bucket seats. I could fit back there, and it would be fine for kids or short folks, although a 6-footer might not care to ride back there for a couple hundred miles. Not that you’d care, if you were in the market to spend about $65,000 for this sleek bundle of technology, and then a lot of adults might not mind riding back there just to be on board such a car.

   Base price, by the way, is $54,000, and gives you the drivetrain, the all-wheel-drive system, and enough of the goodies to make it a terrific car. Adding the Red Sport package accumulates the appearance, technical, and sporty options. High performance brakes come with special 20-inch alloy wheels and higher performance tires, and you can spot the red-tipped exhaust pipes, red brake calipers, and upgraded interior features.

   The 3.0-V6 turbo has great thrust, with those 400 horsepower, and I was pleasantly surprised when I recorded a consistent 25.4 miles per gallon in mostly city driving. The EPA estimated highway mileage is 26 mpg, and I never really got it out on a worthy freeway trip to better that figure.  

The Q60 makes a stunning impression from every angle.

The Sensory package comes on the Sport, and includes InTlouch navigation with voice recognition, while the ProAssist package adds blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, backup collision intervention, surround video monitor with moving object detection, sonar front and rear detection gadgets, forward collision warning and emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and rain-sensing wipers.

Feature-friendly controls allow you to modify your Q60 ride, including sport settings.

    The Proactive package lists the adaptive cruise control, adap0tive steering, lane departure prevention, blind spot intervention, adaptive front lighting with auto-leveling headlights, and high beam assist, which has become one of my wife, Joan’s, favorite assets. Especially with those LED lights.

   The 8-way power and heated-cooled front bucket seats can bolster your back cushioning and alter every angle, and you also can telescope the steering wheel, then secure all those setting with a button on the door, so changing drivers won’t necessitate resetting all that, a mere push of the button resets everything,

   Carbon-fiber trim is the rage these days, and along with all the soft leather inside, you get silver fiber-optic trim on the console and doors, and from a structural standpoint, the rear decklid, external mirror covers, fender vents and fog-lamp enclosures are also carbon-fiber for structural lightness.

    Also, that neat dark red metallic paint costs an extra $800, but don’t dismiss that until you examine the luster of the unique paint.

    Altogether, those option packages with all the top-line safety stuff, such as brake force distribution, dynamic enhancement with traction control, and the tire-specific air pressure monitoring, all coordinated to enhance safety and comfort, bring the sticker to $65,795.

Signature grille is less imposing and more attractive in Q60 Coupe application.

    Brilliant LED headlights and foglights and rear brake lights are quickly visible and throw amazing amounts of light down the road. The voice recognition also works with the Bluetooth phone system, and for audio, streaming audio and vehicle information, as well as text-messaging assistance.

   The audio is a Bose Centerpoint system with 13 speakers working with surround sound.

   With all the latest methods of modern transportation, Nissan is at the leading edge with electric, variable-compression, and turbocharging to extract maximum performance from limited displacement. But it does your heart good to know that the company can also arm one of its Infiniti specialty cars with high-tech equipment that might even be more contemporary than futuristic.

   

Lincoln Navigates back to top of luxury SUVs

April 4, 2018 by · Comments Off on Lincoln Navigates back to top of luxury SUVs
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The 2018 Navigator makes a bold claim at the top of the luxury SUV segment.

    If you had a lot of what they call “disposable income” and you wanted to take the family on vacation, you might charter a plane. You would not pick something small, and instead might choose a gigantic 747.

    No, wait a minute. They’ve discontinued the 747, so we can’t charter one.

    But then again, the Lincoln Navigator seemed destined to become a historical footnote a few years ago, too, right along with the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe, Cadillac Escalade, Ford Excursion and all other manner of humongous SUVs, because of  our quest for improved fuel efficiency and better emissions. And now we seem to have forgotten all of that, and luxury-vehicle seekers are lining up to drop six-figure checks on the biggest, baddest and most luxurious trucks and SUVs on the market.

    With that, the 2018 Lincoln Navigator speeds onto the scene with power and all-wheel-drive grip, as if to declare itself biggest, baddest, etc. So maybe there’s hope for the 747, too.

    The only problem is, it appears that even auto journalists can’t decide what’s a truck and what’s an SUV anymore. Years ago, preparing for the car of the year and truck of the year awards at the Detroit Auto Show, I voted to not expand to add utility of the year as a third category. Nobody cared. My concern was that with a huge crop of mid and compact SUVs hitting the market, there might be years when a legitimate truck wouldn’t be coming out new, and leaving trucks with SUVs would keep the integrity of our votes intact. The decision went the other way, and this year we see the result: There are no new trucks, so the committee decided to make the Chevrolet Colorado midsize pickup one of three finalists, even though it was just a cladded-up, off-road version of an existing truck. The other two finalists would be the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator, both of which used to be large SUV by anyone’s measure. justification to evaluate them as trucks was they are body on frame.

 

Wider, though a tad shorter than a Suburban, the Navigator is roomy throughout, including the third-row seat.

  Whatever. Turns out, he Navigator won truck of the year. I remained a skeptic right up until a recent week when a new 2018 Navigator 4×4 Reserve was delivered for me to road test. It was shiny black, as anyone could tell from a glance out the window. Except it was not. Another illusion. When you got close, you could tell it was a subtle, not-quite-black, dark color, with some red to it.

    Officially, it is listed as “Burgundy Velvet Tinted Clear Coat,” and it was stunning, making the bright chrome grille and stylish 22-inch alloy wheels jump out at you.   Your first impression is that this is a bi-i-i-ig SUV. Gigantic. It is so big that when I later saw one from a distance, the view from the rear corner made me think I was looking at one of those new extra large Suburbans. THAT big.

     Walk up and stand next to it and the Navigator will dwarf you. It is 76.1 inches tall, with a 221.9-inch length, 131.6-inch wheelbase, and a 79.9-inch width. At 6,330 pounds, the Navigator can tow 8,100 pounds of trailer.

    Part of its illusion of size, which is no illusion but more fact, is the flashy wheels are 9.5-inches wide and 22 inches in circumference. Now, we aren’t going to estimate the price, but let’s assume buying replacement 22-inch tires will cost more than a reasonable consumer might be interested in paying.

    However, I do have to restrain my usual sarcasm when dealing with trucks or SUVs I would normally accuse of being too big, because people are plunking down enormous quantities of money to buy these beasts. And the fellow in the White House is ordering his new EPA puppet to roll back former President Obama’s strict emission and fuel economy standards, to the applause of all the U.S. manufacturers who want nothing more than to unleash the largest of large trucks with the least economic of engines in a return to the 1970s, presumably.

Clean and elegant inside, the leather and wood is in stylish abundance in the Navigator.

    Interesting, but one of the most impressive things about contemporary cars and trucks is that these companies continue to make higher and higher technology engines that produce more and more power yet still get more and more miles per gallon. Somehow, U.S. manufacturers would trade all that for cheaper-to-build, less-efficient engines that are more foul-running and will get worse fuel economy.

   The test Navigator provided a sticker sheet that discreetly neglected to list a base or as-tested price. Checking a few car magazines, we can deduce that a Navigator will cost a base price of about $75,000 up to about $98,000, with gusts up to and over the magic $100,000 barricade.

   Seems to me, prices like that could make foreign-make engines and the vehicles that come wrapped around them more popular, simply because intelligent people might prefer 30-plus miles per gallon to 15. I got a top of 19 mpg. But we can just wait to see if the U.S. manufacturers cut the sticker prices of these giant SUVs once the EPA says they can make less costly engines.

   

Continental grille recaptures various touches from Lincoln’s luxury car past.

Ironically, companies like Ford have already made the plunge to high-tech, and they have done a good job, mostly. The Navigator, for example, comes with a 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost engine, which means it is twin-turbocharged and can be tuned to turn out a lot of power. It is also used in the F-150 Raptor. The test vehicle shows 450 horsepower at 5,000 RPMs, and 510 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 RPMs from its 3.5-liter V6. That is more horsepower than Cadillac can extract from the 6.2-liter V8 in its 6.2-liter V8.

    Once you open the door on the Navigator, you realize how happy you are to spot the grip handles to let you pull yourself up and in. That’s before you spot the moving running board that is coming out to meet you. Handy.

   The black leather front bucket seats are wide and comfortably supportive, and as you settle into it and start fiddling with the 30-way electric adjustments of your bucket, you are also taken by the overriding feeling of luxury, which is everywhere.

   And then you push the button and start the Navigator, and all you need is someone to point to where the gearshift might be located. The 10-speed automatic with overdrive is shifted by a thin, horizontal row of push-buttons, located along the lower edge of the radio-navigation screen and above the lower dash-center stack-console area where you might expect to find a modern shifter.

    Worked great, though, once you got used to it and it shifted readily with the paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

Second-row seats slide forward to allow easy access to the spacious third row.

    Driving the Navigator was easy. For such a big beast, it handled well and gave back only moderate sway, which you could eliminate by switching the mode switch from normal to “excite,” which tightens the steering, stiffens the  suspension and holds shift points longer.

    A panoramic sunroof adds to the luxurious feel, but with all that room you also feel guilty if you have fewer than six occupants. Opening the rear door shows off a roomy second row area, with a fold-down center armrest to go from three seats to two and a console. One of the neat features is that when you want to put someone — and we’re talking children or adults — into the surprisingly roomy third-row seat, you fold the outer second-row seat forward and it slides what seems like a foot forward, which presents an easy-access opening to hop through and reach the far rear.

   I had fun wrestling with the second-row seats, then I learned that there is a power switch that controls fold-tip-slide action. No wrestling is required.

  

Ruggedness contrasts with the classiness of a family touring vehicle.

Naturally, the Navigator has all the latest safety gadgets, for lane warning and control, surround view of any and all things approaching from any and all directions, blind-spot alert, a 20-speaker audio upgrade, and all the connectivity gizmos you might want, including some things you didn’t know you wanted, like a wireless charging pad.

   What would you expect from the Navigator, which we can welcome as 2018 truck of the year in a year when big trucks are making a big — and we mean BIG — comeback.   

Audi eases — or adds to — sedan-SUV debate

March 21, 2018 by · Comments Off on Audi eases — or adds to — sedan-SUV debate
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

If you choose wisely, you can get either an Audi Q5 or A5 sedan with the same drivetrain.

    Maybe we can all get along, after all — that is, those who demand to buy, own, drive, and put fuel in an SUV, and those who resist the SUV trend and think we should all be driving cars.

   Audi is in the position of many car-makers these days, and doesn’t particularly care which you choose, because it provides several excellent examples of both from which consumers can choose.

   The remarkable thing about Audi is they can reach any reasonable compromise, with midsize vehicles such as the A5 Sportback 2.0T sedan, and the Q5 2.0T midsize SUV, which might provide the best example of how you can pick either one, and not possibly miss.

   By absolute luck of a scheduling quirk, I got one of each of those Audis to drive for the same week in wildly fluctuating mid-winter weather that went from surprisingly mild to unsurprisingly harsh, sometimes in the same day. Such is life in Duluth, Minnesota, on the glorious — and sometimes unyielding — North Shore of Lake Superior. A blizzard here, some below-zero temperatures there, and all in all, it gave us a fantastic opportunity to try, and to appreciate, all of the creature features that make Audis among the world’s finest driving machines 

Coupe-like sleekness is the calling card of the midsize A5 Sportback.

While the A5 Sportback has its wonderfully sleek lines — better, I think, than the longer Sportback version of the longer, costlier and more exotic Audi A7 sedan — the Q5 is a very neat size that drops in between the larger Q7 and the compact Q3, and has a unique look of its own.

   The worldwide trend of the last few years has been to try to meet new and exacting emission and economy standards by reducing engine size without eliminating driving satisfaction, and the answer has been to use turbocharged 4-cylinder engines where V6 or even V8 power-plants formerly resided. It’s a technique that everybody is trying to perfect, and the advantage Audi has is that it, and parent Volkswagen, have for years been using and perfecting a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, turbocharged engine to give V6-type power with far better fuel efficiency.

   For example, take the latest 2.0-liter Audi 4 with direct injection, and turbocharging. You can tweak it through the computer up to 252 horsepower and 273 foot-pounds of torque. That is sufficient to move the A5 Sportback to its more-agile best, through Audi’s traditional quattro all-wheel -drive system, regulated by a 7-speed S-tronic automatic transmission that is not only smooth shifting, but can be manually overridden by steering-wheel-mounted paddles.

  

Graceful arching back of Q5 provides room and utility to serve as family SUV.

And, get this: That exact powertrain can be placed on a stiff, rigid platform, and then you could set a sleek, artfully crafted A5 Sportback body on it, or you could set a neatly contoured midsize Q5 SUV body on it. In this case, both vehicles have the 2.0 turbo 4, with the same 7-speed transmission, the same quattro AWD system, and with even the same horsepower and torque figures.

   For those wondering how to afford one over the other, the sticker prices also are very similar. The A5 Sportback with the Prestige package goes up from a base price of $42,600 to a sticker of $55,400. The Q5 with the Prestige package starts at $41,500 and lists as equipped for $56,100. Read more

Next Page »