Featured Reviews
The Jeep Gladiator strikes a mystical image against Lake Superior at dusk.

Gladiator opens new doors for Jeep

Jeep used to have a utility pickup, and for its long-awaited return as the 2020 Gladiator, it gives the company a full array of useful and fun attractions.

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4. Sloping rear roofline gives the GLC43 a coupe-like shape.

Mercedes blends sports sedan, SUV in GLC43 Coupe

Mercedes has proven to be a master of high-performance sedans and SUVs, but the new AMG GLC43 Coupe combines the best features of both, with even a hot-rod exhaust sound.

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'Hot' CT5-V gets sibling rival in CT5 Luxury

In Cadillac's new model designation, the CT5 Premium Luxury and the CT5 V-Series are very similar, but the V-Series is the racy one.

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In fierce SUV competition, Ford has an Edge

In Ford's vast array of SUVs of all sizes, the 2020 Edge ST fits between the Escape and midsize Explorer, and adds a dose of sportiness with the 2.7 Turbo V6.

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Symbol of luxury, Avalon gets TRD spark

The Avalon remains Toyota's luxury sedan, but new for 2020 is the TRD version, which adds a sporty look and action while retaining luxury.

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Alfa gives Stelvio a little dose of Formula 1 spirit

Everything Alfa Romeo builds has an underlying dose of fun, and that is magnified when the Stelvio SUV adds the Quadrifoglio's Formula 1-engineered 505 horsepower.

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Redesigned grille gives Sonata a low, seductive look, befitting its new technology.

2020 Sonata: Sexy look, comfort, and 47 mpg!

The Sonata lifted Hyundai to elite status in 2011, and after top-ranked SUVs and luxury cars, the 2020 Sonata clearly reestablishes it as the company's signature vehicle.

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Seltos takes Kia on its own compact-SUV road

Kia has risen from its position as South Korean subsidiary to Hyundai to go its own way, and the 2021 Seltos proves that conclusively.

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Mazda fits CX-30 between CX-3 and CX-5

Mazda earned its niche in the automotive world with stylish and efficient cars before moving to the SUV world. Now is adding the CX-30 crossover between the CX-3 and CX-5 and man

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Lexus ES300h goes its own way -- smoothly

The Lexus 300 has always been the most basic sedan in Toyota's upscale line, but the new ES 300h has its own platform, newly revised engine and upgraded interior to add a sporty

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Gladiator opens new doors for Jeep

September 21, 2020 by · Comments Off on Gladiator opens new doors for Jeep
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The Jeep Gladiator strikes a mystical image against Lake Superior at dusk.

By John Gilbert
The first time I saw a Jeep Gladiator in the flesh, it was almost surreal, as though I was looking at a cartoon and it suddenly sprang to life. Ever since World War II we’ve had Jeeps, best identified by the go-anywhere Wrangler, and the new Gladiator looked as though some Jeep designer thought he might play a prank by taking the rough, squarish outline of a Wrangler, fit a pickup bed on the rear, and put it out as a “concept car” to attract attention and stir conversation.

It’s possible that nobody at FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) would admit it if that were true, but if so, the resulting acclaim and fanfare from the public might have inspired FCA to order Jeep to make the vehicle.

At a large Midwest Auto Media gathering at Elkhart Lake, Wis., a year and a half ago, there was a prototype Gladiator there for us to drive, briefly, around the area highways. I did that, and was anxious to get my hands on one for a thorough test drive.

That took awhile, as in over a year, during which time demand skyrocketed and manufacturing took more time. By the time one was driven to my driveway up on the hill just north of Duluth, Minnesota, I was more than eager to get into it. Even then, the surreal overtones continued. It caught me off-guard, just by its color — “Gator” clear-coat — a most-unusual flat grey, unlike any gator I’ve ever seen, but certainly unique.

Bold and stylish in its Gator paint job, Gladiator has created its own demand.

The Gladiator is not a scaled-up version of a Wrangler, as I had expected. It has its own chassis, and don’t forget parent FCA also makes the award-winning Ram pickups, which is where a lot of the Gladiator basics come from. A 4-door pickup Jeep, and the name Gladiator fits its aggressive outlook on life.

At that time, I hadn’t seen a Gladiator on area highways or in Duluth. I’m sure there must have been a visitor-driven model somewhere along the line, but we just hadn’t seen one. My first impression was that it lacked the steering tightness of the new Wrangler, and the slight looseness made you feel that you had to pay special attention to avoid wandering. That made it a little unsettling as my wife, Joan, and I took off for a drive up the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Among other bits of lunacy, our family has a tendency to humanize our vehicles, and in my case, it’s a frequent changeover because it’s important to spend my week-long road-tests immersed into whatever car I’m testing, to observe how it fits into our lifestyle. Sort of like a short-term adoption. Sometimes, it seems that the car takes control. I joke about how any car I’m driving prefers to cruise up the North Shore Drive, which takes us through the tiny sailboat haven of Knife River, Minnesota. As we drive through Knife River, whatever vehicle I’m driving takes over and turns immediately into the small parking area out front of the Great! Lakes Candy Company. I’m powerless to prevent it. And why would I?

On that day in the Gladiator, it happened, and it just turned in, and parked, so we could follow the coronavirus protocol to submit our order online, via my iPhone, to get a selection of the absolute best homemade chocolate stuff, in this case, dark chocolate covered almonds with tiny toffee bits imbedded in the chocolate, and some almond bark. Once submitted, you get a response time for when the staff will set out a white paper bag with your name on it on a front porch table.

We were waiting for our proper time to arrive as we sat in the Gator Gladiator, when a white vehicle pulled in and parked alongside us. It was a husband and wife, driving a pure white Gladiator. You want surreal? We hadn’t seen a Gladiator in real-world driving, and here were two of them, identical, next to each other. They wanted to try the candy shop and didn’t understand the online bit, and I was unsuccessful helping them put in an order, even though I stressed that if they tried it, I knew they would be coming back.

We did, however, get the opportunity to compare Gladiators. We had a nice conversation, and I asked the fellow driving how he liked his new vehicle. He loved it. I asked if he had the 3.6-liter V6 engine, and he did. I told him that I had also driven the Wrangler, on which the Gladiator is loosely fashioned, and in it you can get the new 2.0-liter turbocharged 4, which has a lot of power and could easily handle the Gladiator, plus get better fuel economy. He said he would prefer the 3.6 anyway, because he and his wife haul a camping trailer and the extra torque of the V6 is a big benefit for ease of towing. In fact, it has the most towing capability in its segment.

The rare opportunity to interview someone driving the same vehicle I was testing prompted me to obtain a scouting report, about various issues I had heard might discourage some buyers. What about the ride: Is it too harsh?; some thought there might be a lack of refinement; there was some suggestion that the difficulty in building the Gladiator as a compromise between a smooth family vehicle and a rugged off-roader might have missed on one extreme or the other. But my new acquaintance denied any of those things were valid complaints, in his experience. Valuable input.

With that, the fellow and his wife headed back to their North Shore campsite in the White Gladiator, and we took our bag of homemade dark chocolate confections, and headed up the Shore in the Gator-colored Gladiator.

His input backed me off a bit, and as a few days passed, I found the initial looseness less of an issue, probably because I became accustomed to it with a few days’ experience.

Room in the rear seat is decent, although better for the two kids you’re taking camping than for two full-sized adult passengers. But the sophistication of the interior is impressive and converts your ideas of a rugged truck into a decent family pickup.

Jeep’s Wrangler is the best at uncompromising off-roading, but traditionally has been not-so-smooth on the road, although the most recent generation of Wranglers has bridged that gap, and it has become smooth and easy to handle on the highways, with quick, taut steering. That is what unnerved me about my perceived steering-wheel play in the Gladiator.

Gladiator interior is simple but inclusive for controls and features.

So maybe it was training me to become accustomed as much as I was training it. Sort of like the short-term adopted kid being stubborn enough to prove convincing.

The 3.6-liter V6 is a mainstay of all Fiat Chrysler Auto vehicles, from Challengers, Chargers and Chryslers to Durangos and pickup trucks. It is durable, dependable and matches up to the power and efficiency of similar-sized engines from General Motors and Ford. The dual-overhead-camshaft powerplant has 285 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque, with an 8-speed automatic, with Command-Trac part-time 4-wheel drive that you can lock into strict 4-by-4. It has heavy-duty Dana 44 front and rear axles with the 3.73 axle ratio replaced by a steeper 4.10 unit. Skid-plates protect the fuel tank and transfer case from off-road irregularities, and it is also equipped with electronic trailer sway-control, stability control, and roll mitigation.

As with all modern Jeeps, the Gladiator Sport 4X4 I test-drove came loaded with all the contemporary safety features: Back-up camera is standard, and options include power tailgate, automatic headlights, 7-inch reconfigurable color display, heated seats, remote start, park-sense assist, blind-spot detection, adaptive cruise, and front collision warning, plus an Alpine audio upgrade. Base price of the test vehicle was $33,545, and loaded up the sticker is $50,540.

Because of the squarish design, the windshield is a lot closer to vertical than the swept-back windshields of normal cars or most SUVs and trucks. Driving along into the sun, I would occasionally spot flashes of reflections, and I wondered if they might be troublesome to oncoming drivers. When the sun hits the windshield, it reflects a spotlight-like beam of light that can light up reflective road signs. I found it interesting more than problematic, but I could see how it could momentarily flash in the eyes of oncoming drivers.

Hwy. 61, revisited.

Sun’s reflection off Gladiator windshield lights highway sign.

The amazing loyalty that lures Jeep owners to come back for more in future years is at least partly because of Jeep’s cool image. You may work all day in an office, but if you drive home in a Jeep — a Grand Cherokee, a Cherokee, a Compass, Patriot, Renegade, or Wrangler — you are perceived as being a rugged individualist. Even if you never go farther off-road than the gravel road to the cabin Up North or a driveway to the corner store.

For that image, the Gladiator has been met with an intense response and seeking by customers. The ride is good on-road, the back seat is good enough for two or three, the bed in back can haul all sorts of worldly goods — including a vacation-trip supply of homemade candy — and it attracts an amazing amount of attention.

For those who don’t do serious off-roading, it may seem strange that anyone would want a tight, stylish vehicle like the Gladiator, and then expose its neat paint job to the dust and other elements that Jeeps tend to find and conquer in a normal off-roading venture.

The utility of a pickup bed adds to the Gladiator’s versatility.

But if you are familiar with off-roaders, you know that the Gladiator might offer a step up from the Wrangler, and while it may or may not be attractive for all the right reasons, it is incredibly cool.

Mercedes blends sports sedan, SUV in GLC43 Coupe

September 9, 2020 by · Comments Off on Mercedes blends sports sedan, SUV in GLC43 Coupe
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The GLC43 Coupe scales new heights with AMG performance tricks.

By John Gilbert

Mercedes Benz has maintained a consistent trajectory onward and upward with both its sedans and SUVs, and as a virtual poster-child for the blending of cars and SUVs, the 2020 Mercedes AMG GLC43 Coupe is either a very sporty compact SUV, or a slightly taller high-performance sedan that will go off-road.

GLC is the standard designation for the company’s compact sports-utility vehicle, and it won Motor Trend’s SUV of the year award when it was born for 2019. Ah, but now it fits the appearance of a compact SUV that wants to fill a sedan’s shoes, it gets both the 4-door “Coupe” treatment, and the high-performance makeover by AMG engineers.

That all conspires to make the AMG GLC43 Coupe the ultimate tool of subterfuge to confuse the vehicle-buying public. AMG used to take the sportiest Mercedes sedans and give them a sporty upgrade in power and performance, expanding to include suspension, interior, seats, and even the steering wheel, and then it gained some identifying bits of added-on grooves, contours and special effects. AMG became so prominent that Mercedes took on its affiliate to make it part of the company.

Walking up to the GLC43, I was taken by the brilliant blue metallic paint — identified as “Brilliant Blue Metallic,” in a simple, straightforward description.  It is not as dark as deep navy and not as bright as royal. As a compromise, it is a unique color, even to a blue-freak like me, and I believe I like it better than either navy or royal for a car’s exterior.

Room for four or five, AMG exhaust and suspension.

If you approach from the rear, you’re thinking you suspected it was an SUV, but you must be mistaken, because that sloped rear roofline has a sporty-car flair, and there are those four silver exhaust tips, and the rear decklid spoiler. From the front, the thin grille conveys more sportiness, so by the time you get ready to climb aboard, you’ve forgotten all the SUV-like traits, and once you get a look at the quilted white leather bucket seats and the high-tech, flat-bottomed steering wheel, you’re ready to drive a sporty sedan. Swiftly.

Under the hood there is a 3.0-liter V6 Biturbo engine, which means a pair of turbochargers feeding the two banks of the V6. It develops 385 horsepower and 384 foot-pounds of torque, which is not only a perfectly balanced distribution but is another example of what AMG can do with a perfectly good 3.0 V6.

You start up the engine, and it sounds calm enough, then you engage the gear lever — which I find odd, no matter how well it works. It is a thin little stalk sticking off to the right of the steering column, right about where most other companies would mount a windshield wiper stalk, while putting the shifter on the console, either as a lever or a rotating knob, or whatever. This little stalk can do three things: up for reverse, down for drive, or in the middle for neutral.

My trouble is that when cruising along, if you happen to hit a tiny bit a misty shower, you might flick the lever up or down, to get just one swipe of the wipers. Except in the Mercedes scheme, you have just shifted the gear selector as if trying to engage reverse — a no-no, for sure — or reinforced your desire to be in drive. My point is that when you intuitively go for the wipers, you are moving the gear shifter.

Control center steering wheel, with paddles, quilted white leather seats.

Menacing nose of GLC43 AMG says sports sedan more than SUV.

The transmission, incidentally, is a 9-speed, and when left alone it shifts with smooth precision. If you really want to get involved in the shifting, there are shift paddles comfortably behind the steering wheel, left for downshifting and right for upshifting.

In case all those features haven’t made you completely forget the GLC’s SUV-roots, there is another little button on the console that, when activated, opens up the exhaust system for a wonderfully exhilarating sound of every one of those 385 horsepower screaming for attention. Engaging a performance mode does the same thing, but the switch means you don’t have to be in track mode to get the impressive sound.

The AMC tuned suspension with air-shock support that is instantaneously activated and quick steering that is a trademark completes the performance enhancements that AMG has implemented. If you settle for not overdoing it on the gas pedal, you could reach the EPA estimate of 24 miles per gallon in highway driving, with 18 city, but you need restraint. Maybe you only lapse briefly,  opening up the exhaust for short bursts of performance satisfaction.

The reminder that this quick, swift, great-handling vehicle can do still more than portray a hot sedan, isthe 4Matic designation, which is Mercedes for all-wheel-drive, another AMG masterpiece, of stability and traction,  working to keep the vehicle stable and stability firm in all conditions, even with low-profile high-performance tires mounted on those stylish 21-inch alloy wheels.

Oh yeah — this is an SUV, after all. Just a swift, comfortable, potent accelerating, high-performance AMG-enhanced SUV.

Just-right deep blue color sets off AMG’s 385 horsepower/384 foot-pounds of torque prize.

Actually, it is the best of both, rather than a compromise that fulfills neither ideal. Does that make it worth its $63,000 sticker price? Well, that’s the standard price for an AMG GLC43 Coupe. Once you add on some captivating options, such as active steering, active distance assist, brake assist, blind-spot assist, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot and cross-traffic assist, parking assist, multimedia addition, LED lighting all around, and the Burmeister surround sound system. you have increased the sticker price to $75,955.

That’s a lot, and you could probably buy a small SUV and a small sporty sedan for that money. But you would not get both of them in one package. Besides, you can get it in Brilliant Blue Metallic.

‘Hot’ CT5-V gets sibling rival in CT5 Luxury

September 6, 2020 by · Comments Off on ‘Hot’ CT5-V gets sibling rival in CT5 Luxury
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

 

The only green prettier than Duluth foliage might be the Evergreen Metallic of the 2020 Cadillac CT5-V Series.

By John Gilbert

Another quiz on new car identification?  Park a 2020 Cadillac CT5 sedan between a CT4 and  a CT6, with all of them pointing right toward you. Try to tell them apart, from the vertical rows of running lights on both front fenders to outline their “signature” grilles.

If the CT5 was  the V-Series, painted Evergreen Metallic, as was my test car, that would be my pick, because I think it’s the most beautiful green I’ve ever seen on a car.

The near-identical looks are even more similar within the CT5 line itself, with the V-Series aimed at high-performance, and the regular CT5 targeting luxury. It all makes me wonder what I’d have done as a little kid, when my passion for cars far outstripped their aesthetic appeal and technical capabilities. In the 1950s, I would walk out to the top of the big hill we lived on, and watch for any approaching cars on our then-gravel road, and fix my gaze down a couple miles toward Lake Superior’s North Shore Drive. My plan was to see how close an approaching car would have to get before I could identify it. I could discern a 1952 Ford from a 1951 DeSoto, or a 1953 Chevrolet, from a 1950 Cadillac. There weren’t many different models back then, and the proliferation of models would make that a lot more challenging in later years.

The Plymouths and DeSotos of my childhood, as well as Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and American Motors, have all disappeared, among others, and now we’re evolving to fewer and fewer sedans and more and more trucks. But back then, I could discern a 1952 Ford as opposed to a 1951 DeSoto, or a 1953 Chevrolet, or a 1950 Cadillac. There weren’t many different models back in the 1950s, and the proliferation of models would make that a lot more challenging in later years.

Loaded interior of CTS5 Luxury features soft leather seats, high-end trim.

Cadillac, however, is still the pinnacle of General Motors, although its models have been reduced to those three remaining sedans. Forget Fleetwood, or de Ville — we’re into CT4, CT5, and CT6. Before they are further reduced, let’s check out the CT5.

I had occasion to get a pair of CT5 sedans back-to-back recently, with the first being a CT5 V-Series. Under the heading of “you can’t tell the players without a program,” my biggest question is why, with only three sedans left, would Cadillac want to make all three look practically identical? Furthermore, it’s interesting that there also is a distinction between the luxury CT5 and the high-performance CT5 V-Series high performer.

That V-Series designation means it was the hot-rod version of the CT5, with a 3.0-liter V6, twin turbocharged to deliver 360 horsepower and 405 foot-pounds of torque, through all-wheel drive. The horsepower peak is at 5,400 RPMs and the torque peaks at 2,350.

The CT5 V-Series was a treat to drive, with dark grey leather bucket seats, and refined comfort throughout. The most pleasant surprise is the V-Series suspension, which is listed as a “luxury compact” in size. It is plenty roomy, which no makes me wonder whether Cadillac is going to stretch the CT5 into the full-size region, or if the compact segment has grown to such dimensions.

The CT5 V-Series accelerates well, with a proper sporty car sound, and you can shift the  10-speed automatic with steering wheel paddles if you want to exploit its sportiest tendencies. The look, with quad tailpipes, and low-profile “summer only” run-flat tires on 19-inch ‘premium painted alloy wheels with pearl nickel finish,” if you’re interested in wheels to that extent. Run-flats work well if you suffer a blowout from a road irregularity and would rather drive on home than have to change a tire. But they are enormously expensive to replace, and they don’t just keep running indefinitely.

Optional red offers a classy glow to the CT5 Luxury model.

Rear seat room is good, even if you have to duck your head a bit to avoid the sloping roof, and the trunk is spacious. Overall, the CT5 V-Series lives up to its billing and is a very satisfying drive. Fuel economy is estimated at 17 city and 25 highway, with a 20 miles per gallon combined figure by the EPA, and if you switch it away from sport you still may have trouble getting more than 20 with all that tempting power.

With magnetic shocks that GM has tried on various Corvettes in the last decade, the V-Series handles very well, and with the blacked-out trim all around, it sets itself apart as a high-performer. Never mind all the creature comforts, with the rear camera, park assist, cross-traffic alert, forward collision alert, lane change alert with blind-spot, nd front pedestrian braking, and the driver awareness package that includes one keep assist with departure warning, head-up display, and “intellibeam” headlights.

Then we get back to the appeal of such a stunning dark green. My wife, Joan, thought it was black for the first night and day she observed me zipping in and out of the driveway. Then she, too, admired the green. We never had occasion to tax the all-wheel-drive system, but it added to the feeling of stability wherever we drove. Base price of the CT5 V-Series is $47,695, and the various upgrades lift it to $58,305.

The Cadillac CT5, left, lacks the flair of the CT5 V-Series, right, but both have the same power.

It was with some disappointment that I awaited the press-fleet guys to arrive from Chicago a week later to pick up the CT5 V-Series, even though they were swapping me into a “Premium Luxury” version of the CT5. But as they rolled into my driveway, I was impressed by the “Garnet Metallic” paint — a dark, deep red that may not have approached the appeal of the unique green, but it was close.

They looked good side by side, and you’d have to look very closely to realize the V-Series had an inch larger wheel diameter and lower-profile tires, Technically, the 18-inch wheels on the Premium Luxury model were “Premium painted alloy with Manoogian Silver finish,” mounted with all-season self-sealing tires. The inch-thicker tires helped give the Premium Luxury CT5 a slightly softer and less performance-oriented ride, and as if to give me a test of perceptions in my driving, it didn’t feel anywhere near as racy as the V-Series.’

It was, however, an eye-opener to examine the differences in powertrains between the two cars. Cadillac fits a base 2.0-liter turbocharged 4 into the base CT5, but the Premium Luxury had, of all things, a “3.0-liter turbocharged V6, with 360 horsepower and 405 foot-pounds of torque” — exactly the same as the V-Series! It also had the same 10-speed automatic transmission, and the same paddle shifters, although lacking the magnesium paddles of the V-Series. It also lacked the quad exhaust tips, the rear spoiler, and the throaty sound of its racier sibling.

But my perception had to be upgraded after learning that it had the same drivetrain, and we started driving it a little more forcefully. As anticipated, the V-Series was plenty luxurious, and the Premium Luxury model was plenty sporty, after we drove it a few days.

The interior of the Premium Luxury Caddy also was leather, in a soft beige, and the Bose audio system was declared a premium unit, with 15 speakers. Otherwise, the equipment was remarkably the same, including the all-wheel-drive system, with EPA fuel-economy estimates of 18 city, 25 highway and 21 combined — one mpg higher in the city than the V-Series.

The sticker on the luxury-loaded Premium Luxury model showed $40,695, with added options lifting it to $52,155.

Stunning green of the V-Series CT5 is tipped by four exhaust tubes.

What price performance? In the case of the Cadillac CT5, it’s about $5,000 more for the V-Series. Worth it, if you like the sound and the style of magnesium paddles, the blacked-out grille and trim features of the V-Series. The Evergreen Metallic that cost an extra $625 on the V-Series, is offset by the Garnet Metallic’s $625. Both paint schemes are probably available on both cars. Take your pick.

I’m going green.

In fierce SUV competition, Ford has an Edge

August 27, 2020 by · Comments Off on In fierce SUV competition, Ford has an Edge
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The 2020 Ford Edge ST in Rapid Red tips off sportiness with black grille, wheels.

By John Gilbert
When it comes to building a new truck of any size, Ford has an unfair advantage, it seems. So when the niche-seeking 2020 Ford Edge shows up, we take notice. And there is nothing disappointing about the Edge, especially when it wears the “ST” badge, indicating sporty upgrades in performance and handling.

The Edge might be the right-sized SUV for many consumers who are willing to swap overpowering towing and hauling capacity for agility and fuel-efficiency for everyday family flexibility, without ever risking losing that off-roads advantage. For openers, look at its heritage.

Ford has given us the F-150 pickup truck, which has led the market in sales every year for nearly four decades, and that truck is all-new for 2021, while leaving the company the basic template for forging ahead. The Explorer showed up and captured the imagination of consumers who wanted truck-like durability and the newly created SUV flexibility for family hauling and became the breakthrough vehicle to start and popularize the whole SUV segment.

Ford went both ways at once from there, to build the enormous Expedition and then the even larger Excursion, while also undercutting the Explorer with the compact Escape, which came in as Ford’s smallest sized SUV and immediately became a leader among compact SUVs.

The flow of new vehicles has never abated, and the Edge fit perfectly between the Escape and Explorer, and was joined by interesting specialty SUVs like the Flex, and the subcompact EcoSport, seem to fill every possible niches in the range of segments. It would be easy to get bored with the constant increase in the sheer number of vehicles, except that every time you get a chance to climb aboard any of them, you come away impressed.

With my wife, Joan, and older son Jack, we filled the Edge ST with hiking/walking stuff and parked on Duluth’s Skyline Drive.

The 2020 Edge is built on a platform that was new for 2019 and is firm and refined and stiff enough to provide excellent handling around corners without ever tending to be harsh. For my road-test week, I cheated just a little, without even trying. The bright “Race Red” Edge that came to my driveway just up the North Shore from Duluth, Minnesota, was the ST version, which was introduced about a year ago and means this Edge had a distinct edge in sporty performance as well as appearance.

The basic Edge starts with Ford’s peppy 2.0-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine and it is more than adequate for performance of the well-sized Edge. But the ST version takes a major leap forward, with the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 that develops 335 horsepower at 5,550 RPMs, and 380 foot-pounds of torque at 3,250 RPMs. That’s 90 horsepower and 105 foot-pounds more than the EcoBoost 4.

Light to medium trailer towing for camping or a fishing boat is no problem, and the 8-speed automatic transmission seamlessly finds the right gear regardless of load. If it doesn’t, in your estimation, you can simply click the shift paddles to up or down shift.

That makes the Edge ST about the most potent way to haul around a family of five as you can imagine, and once you climb into that attractively stitched leather bucket driver’s seat, your first objective is to start up from a stop without giving a dose of whiplash to the four other occupants. The Edge ST is sort of a race-car in compact SUV form, and while the base engine is adequate, the 2.7 twin-turbo is a rocket.

The color is up to the task of announcing your arrival, and the 21-inch black alloy wheels and performance tires set off the styling further. The blacked-in grille and the front styling with its faired-in headlights and foglights also are projected, to coin a phrase, at both usefulness and style.

True, some families need more room, and for them there are those larger SUVs right across the showroom floor, but for a young family with one or two or even three youngsters, the Edge is just right. Same goes for older families, when the kids have grown up and fled to college, and you want to downsize back to more reasonable handling and parking and garaging.

Variable information instrument panel and control-filled steering wheel accent Edge ST.

Edge ST interior with rich materials, handy features including rotating shifter on console.

The features inside are considerable. Heated front and rear seats add cooled front buckets; adaptive cruise control with stop and go and lane centering; panoramic sunroof; voice-activated navigation touch-screen; hands-free, foot-activated tailgate for opening up when your arms are full; evasive steering assist; remote starting system; cold-weather package with heated steering wheel; windshield wiper de-icer; ST performance brake system — all standard or on optional packages.

Edge ST features a version of Ford’s signature grille on a “right-size” SUV that seats five.

While driving or riding, you have 1-touch up or down windows, a 60-40 rear seat for folding down, aluminum pedals, auto-dim mirror, 10-way front bucket adjustments, smart-charging cell-phone set-up are also things you need to adjust to. You also get major illumination because the headlights are bi-LED, the foglights are LED and the taillights are LED. There is also something called “signature lighting” that consist of LEDs, and you are surrounded by ambient lighting to welcome you aboard.

For driving, you have a clean, spacious console because Ford uses a rotating dial for a shifter instead of a lever. I didn’t think I would like that, but I adapted quickly and now I can appreciate the advantages of not blocking out one-fourth of the console space for a shift lever. With the auto-start-stop technology, and all the safety devices that can be reached by Ford’s sophisticated SYNC system, are included as standard equipment. That goes beyond the performance-tuned suspension, the pre-collision assist, rear-view camera with a washer built in, reverse sensing system are things that are not unique by themselves but are doubly impressive grouped with all the other complementary features.

All the expected airbags are there for front, side and rollover protection are built in. The amount of options on top of the basic Edge sticker price results in a total of $52,935, which has another advantage in competition, because so many larger and more luxurious SUVs cost so much more that $52,935 seems more than reasonable.

Also, along with the instrument panel that is like an advanced video game for providing useful information, and you also get a high-tech Bang and Olufsen audio system with 12 speakers filling that interior space.

Every company that makes SUVs is trying frantically to fill all the niches, but Ford’s dedication to the concept goes so far as eliminating most of the sedans and cars in their fleet, such as the Fiesta, Focus, Fusion and Taurus. They’ll keep making the Mustang, with several variations, and they’ll convert sedan assembly plants to pouring out more and more trucks.

Seating for five and surprising storage space fit inside the Edge ST, which has towing package, dual exhausts, and automatic foot-operated opening switch.

The EPA mileage estimates range from 19 city to 26 highway, and we proved you can reach that high, if you can resist the temptation to punch the gas pedal floorward. When you stop by a Ford dealership to check out an F-150, or an Explorer, don’t pass up the chance to take a close look and then a road-test in the Edge, which is a lot more than just another of a lot of trucks parked there. Especially if you spot that little “ST” badge on the grille.

Symbol of luxury, Avalon gets TRD spark

August 24, 2020 by · Comments Off on Symbol of luxury, Avalon gets TRD spark
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The Toyota Avalon still is luxurious, but adding new TRD version gives it sporty flair.

By John Gilbert
We can appreciate Toyota’s efforts to lift up some previously-boring sedans and give them a dose of performance, such as the Camry, Corolla, and even a couple of Lexus sedans, and we can celebrate the company’s producing some advanced platforms and even new engines as well as major alterations in its hybrid systems.

Throughout the corporate wide renovations, though, we could all take comfort in knowing there will always be an Avalon.

The Avalon has always been an interesting sedan, a stretched version of the popular Camry midsize car, but always loaded up with luxury features. In its lifetime, I always had the theory that since Toyota spun off Lexus as a separate brand for luxury versions of various Toyotas, the company’s preferred progression for customers was to start off with a Corolla, and after a couple of them, move up to a midsize Camry, and after a couple of them, move on into the Lexus brand for something a little more expressive.

Along the way, however, some Toyota customers who loved their mainstream Camrys, decided it might be a bit pretentious to have the neighbors drive by and see a Lexus in their driveway. For those folks, the Avalon was the perfect vehicle. Longer and roomier than the Camry, and with a lot of Lexus-like creature features, the Avalon was there for them, at the top of the Toyota car list.

So we can excuse Toyota for allowing the Avalon to remain constant, naturally tweaking it here and there with interior plushness and upgrading the exterior design now and then. But new chairman Akio Toyoda needn’t include the Avalon in the performance swath covering some of the other models.

Heavily sculpted grille and body panels hint at the Toyota Racing Division impact.

And then a new 2020 Avalon was delivered to my house in Duluth, Minnesota, and to my surprise, bordering on shock, I found the stunning red — Supersonic Red, thank you — Avalon had the letters “TRD” emblazoned on the rear deck. TRDstands for Toyota Racing Division, and it gained its popularity for creating some pretty incredible off-road versions of Toyota’s Tundra and Tacoma pickup trucks. When Toyota moved into NASCAR racing with some totally illogical Camry models — front-engine V8s with rear-wheel drive, neither of which exist in the Toyota line — TRD expanded its reach.

But on the Avalon? Are you kidding me? The last Avalon generation added some better handling firmness and thus a touch of sportier driving, but the big change came a year ago, when the 2019 Avalon hit the showrooms on the New Global Architecture platform Toyota had crafted for future vehicles. It was the first time the Avalon got its own platform and stretched away from the Camry.


Subtle body-color “TRD” emblem, dual exhausts tip Avalon TRD intentions.

But the TRD guys have done a number on the 2020 Avalon, beyond tweaking the familiar if aging 3.5-liter V6, to put its 301 horsepower and 267 foot-pounds of torque to good use through the front-wheel-drive setup. A direct-shifting 6-speed automatic can be manipulated by steering wheel paddles — yes, paddles on an Avalon! — and equally impressive, there are three subtle little buttons on the console, just driver-side of the shift lever, and they allow you to click into Eco, Normal, or Sport. The Sport switch gives you more revs, held longer, and an overall firmer feel to the TRD-tuned suspension, front and rear.

The braces under the car have been replaced by thicker braces, stiffening the platform still more, and even though the V6 is not new — although it has Toyota’s concept of combining direct injection with normal port injection — the tRD engineers have succeeded in an overall feeling of satisfying cornering stiffness and stability, and with Sport you get a little enhanced sound from the dual exhausts.

Naturally, there is the full complement of Toyota safety devices, with lane-departure alert and steering assist if you’re slow to react, plus dynamic radar cruise control that adds pedestrian detection, to the usual rear-view cross-traffic warning. The aero moldings are more subtle ways to detect that the car is something more than the garden-variety Avalon.

If you drive it hard, you can succeed in getting the lower end of the EPA fuel economy estimations, which range from 22 City to 31 Highway, with a proclaimed combination of only 25 mpg. In our driving, on the steep hills of Duluth, mostly, we found we could get up to 31.3 overall, which is impressive, considering the size of the vehicle and the power at hand.

The base price for an Avalon is $42,300, and the TRD alterations take it up to $45,394.

The TRD adds some styling touches, like the moldings, the color-keyed exterior, and 19-inch low-profile tires, which also enhance handling. Yet, it’s reassuring to note that the features that have made the Avalon attractive are still there, only nicer and better than before. The quality of the dashboard fabric, the seats with their red-line trim on black, and the incredible legroom in the rear seat, are things you wouldn’t leave out of an Avalon.

Avalon TRD steering wheel is a technical nerve-center.

Fine quality lines the Avalon TRD interior.

Also, the 14-speaker JBL audio system, with a subwoofer for the 1,200-watt amplifier, creates impressive sound. A 9-inch touchscreen helps you adjust the audio, and everything from climate control to cell-phone usage. So when we figure there’ll always be an Avalon, that’s true. But prepare to be surprised that you can get all the built-in features of an Avalon in a virtual hot-rod model, with the TRD.

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