New Mercedes GLB 250 fills curious niche

June 26, 2020 by · Comments Off on New Mercedes GLB 250 fills curious niche
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Mercedes GLB is the company’s newest compact SUV.

By John Gilbert
Deciding what vehicle to buy at a Mercedes-Benz dealership is a lot like making a menu selection at “Alice’s Restaurant” — Arlo Guthrie’s iconic song. The great line from the chorus — “You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant” — can be duplicated when looking over the delectable selections from Mercedes, which includes assorted tasty cars and SUVs.

The SUV world is running red-hot these days, and something like half of all SUVs fall into the compact or small segment. That had to make it tough for Mercedes, that proud company from Stuttgart, Germany, that invented the first automobile back before the 20th Century, and remains greatly responsible for what has become the crazy automotive world. After establishing its plateau for luxury and class, it was one thing to branch into the large SUV market, but quite different to build a compact utility vehicle.

Lake Superior waves seemed to applaud GLB 250.

But Mercedes has made the leap, and the 2020 GLB 250 is a remarkable example of what a company — a great company, at that — can do to command a slot in a segment that has to be out of its comfort zone.

Mercedes, of course, in its uncompromising way, creates an internal battle for supremacy with the GLB. There might be a question of how inexpensive can Mercedes make an SUV, or how expensive it dares make it. Same with its size, can a compact SUV house three rows of seats with the accommodations Mercedes is known for?

The GLB 250 checks all the boxes. With larger SUVs like the GLS and GLE out there, the company also turns out the GLC, which won Motor Trend’s SUV of the Year for 2017, so the intramural targets were in place and meant Mercedes engineers didn’t need to look outside for competition, although it is plentiful.

Red leather seats startle the senses, and extendable thigh support is a neat touch.

At a glance, the GLB has smooth lines but with more of a blunt look to it, snub-nosed and fairly tall, which allows a lot of interior ingredients. That includes a third-row of temporary seats, which will probably spend most of their career folded down into a flat and convenient floor for storage. The second row also folds down flat, while also sliding and reclining to add to the occupants’ comfort.

The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine performs well, and is part of a highly technical approach Mercedes has taken with the GLB. While other, larger Mercedes SUVs are built on a large-vehicle rear-drive platform, this one is built on a compact front-wheel-drive chassis, and the power of 221 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque are applied via an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission, and the 4Matic all-wheel drive system operates normally through front-drive only, with the all-wheel-drive kicking in only when the system detects the tendency for the front wheels to spin.

You don’t feel all that mechanical operation, of course. It drives smoothly and its shifts are close to imperceptible, but right on, for keeping you in a proper power band.

Tiny shift lever esy to operate, just be careful not to think it’s a wiper control.

Now we get to the price discrepancy. The test GLB 250 had a base price of $38,600, and it comes equipped with a lot of convenient features: the 4Matic, automatic stop-start, keyless start as well as entry, power lift-gate, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, LED head and tail lights, active assists for braking, antilock, electronic stability, rearview camera, black and red leather seats, Linden wood trim, and multi way power front buckets. You could own this vehicle for a long time with only those features and be a very happy traveler.

But now tell me which of the optional features you would gladly do without: Exclusive AMG sport steering wheel, panoramic roof, adjustable damping suspension, Burmester audio system, wireless charging, 20-inch black alloy wheels, a Driver Assistance package with active braking assist, cross-traffic Distronic X braking, emergency assisted steering, blind-spot assist, lane-changing alert, lane-keeping assist, and active assists for emergency stopping and steering. Other options include parking assist, exterior ambient lighting and a navigation map that updates itself for changing road conditions.

That’s nearly $20,000 worth of optional equipment, but all of it has great value in enhancing safety or comfort or convenience — even though it boosts the sticker price up to $57,800.

On a calmer day, the GLB 250 can show off its 20-inch alloy wheels and classy sdtance.

Adding to the enjoyment of driving the GLB 250, paddle shifters allow manual overriding of the 8-speed, and the suspension adjusts to comfortable firmness. Fuel economy is 23 miles per gallon city, 31 highway, and an average of 26 mpg. We found we got 28-32 even in city driving if we used the turbocharged power judiciously.

With its style and panache, the GLB will fit in well with its larger siblings in the Mercedes showroom, and more than most of the others, it can be bought as a “stripped down” economy SUV, or as a sporty-luxury SUV that you have to pay more to obtain. Maybe the best of both worlds, expanding the way you can get anything you want…at your closest Mercedes dealership.

Infiniti QX80 shoots for top in size, features

June 26, 2020 by · Comments Off on Infiniti QX80 shoots for top in size, features
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Squared off “formal” rear on QX80 — the more people and pastry to fit inside.

By John Gilbert
With travel severely limited during the Covid-19 pandemic, there still are some gems available. One popped up while road-testing the 2020 Infiniti QX80 — yes, the big one — for a week in Duluth, Minnesota. Word made the national news that Vikre Distillery in Duluth had changed over its operation to make hand sanitizer, and it was giving away the stuff free as a public service gesture to anyone who stopped by with a modest sized vessel at their shop, located in the shadow of the famous Aerial Bridge.

My wife, Joan, is more of a neat and tidy type than I am. She’s one of those who, on the rare occasion when I attempt cleaning something thoroughly, she will immediately complain how grungy it is. So she was enthused to accompany me downtown, driving through what seemed like a ghost-town via all the vacant roadways. She does share my feelings about SUVs and trucks that are too big — far too large for the person, couple, or small family that universally seems to be driving them, and as we drove, I pondered how big the QX80 really was.

It steers and handles well enough, for a large vehicle, and those 22-inch Bridgestone tires on stylish alloy wheels could probably crush a compact car if one got in its path. The big V8 and the enormity of the QX80 were well-matched, but I couldn’t help thinking of the various smaller Infiniti SUVs that are among my favorites in the whole industry. Compared to those, the QX80 seems too tall, too hefty, too big, and like a huge block to house all it has.

If y ou make a large SUV, might as well flaunt the largeness!

I parked and walked around the rear of the QX80 with my 16-ounce jug in hand, past a couple of men talking to each other on the sidewalk. Being a non-drinker, it was my first time inside the Vikre shop, and I was greeted by a friendly staff person who filled my jug out of the spigot and sent me off, out of the one-customer-at-a-time restriction.

I walked back up the sidewalk, past the two fellows still talking there, and one of them said: “Hey, great-looking vehicle you’ve got there. Very impressive!”

“Thanks,” I said, explaining that I was just test-driving it, before I climbed in the driver’s door.

Now, regardless of its size, the QX80 was a dazzling metallic red that almost seemed to flow off its high stack of sheetmetal, and maybe the color inspired this fellow’s comment, but he meant the vehicle itself, its shape and size, for being impressive. It made me realize, suddenly, that it takes all kinds to make up our car-buying society, and what might seem too big for some is just right for others. I must admit, I appreciated the contours of the QX80 much more for the rest of the week.

Over the years, I’ve watched the vast herd of sport-utility vehicles rise from only a couple to everybody’s-got-one status, so I try to judge each one within the perspective of its own size, suppressing my original belief that if you need a big truck for hauling stuff, then get a big one, but don’t get anything bigger than you need, because to drive an enormous SUV around for status, when you might need a lot of storage room twice a year, is a waste.

Among the 50 or so SUVs on the market right now, every manufacturer started out pretty big but then expanded downward after the competition discovered crossing over to car-based platforms that allowed continuous downsizing, suddenly attracting smaller families while also increasing performance and agility without heft.

Plush leather and flawless fit and finish makes the interior live up to QX80’s image.

Nissan is a big player in the SUV world, both on its own and under its upscale Infiniti line. Most recently, Nissan’s compact Rogue has taken charge of all Nissan sales, leading the way ahead of some impressive sedans, such as the Altima, Maxima, Sentra and Versa. Nissan also has its sturdy Pathfinder midsize SUV, it also went after the large end of the spectrum about a decade ago with the Armada, a stout competitor for everybody else’s big-body flagships.

When it comes to Infiniti, Nissan graced its luxury line with a fleet of sleek, swift, high-tech SUVs, some with high-performing turbocharged 4-cylinder engines, and most benefitting by actual transmissions instead of the sometimes annoying continuously variable transmissions found in most Nissans. Up at the top end of the Infiniti herd is the QX80 — the king of all it surveys in Infiniti-land, which is a lot, particularly if you happen to be standing atop its roof. The QX80 is, in a word, huge, at 210 inches long, 80 inches wide, and 76 inches high.

That’s tall, folks. Taller than any owners and occupants, unless they are over 6-foot-3. That means climbing aboard is a chore, made easier by a variety of solid grip-handles located strategically at all four doors.

While driving the QX80, there are several impressive elements you can’t escape noticing. One is the power — it takes off with the roar and punch of a 5.6-liter V8, and, typically, this piece of machinery has dual overhead camshafts on either bank of cylinders, and those pistons play an impressive tune, remindful of the good-old days when we could drive pony cars, or Z-cars, and coax that racetrack-like roar out from under the hood.

Big enough for a family to live in, QX80 adorns Lake Superior’s North Shore.

The QX80, like Nissan’s Armada, of course, has benefitted by the corporate pickup truck venture. When they made the full-size Titan, the engineers wanted it to pull with the best of the competition, so it installed the big 5.6-liter V8 under the hood, helping it run away from competitors — except when it came to fuel economy. As an aside, while I’ve always been someone who pays close attention to fuel efficiency, I’ve always cut the Titan some slack because if a pickup buyer needs to haul or tow heavy things, paying a bit more for fuel probably is worth the tradeoff.

After a decade or so of refinement, that 5.6-liter V8 is better than ever, snarling and putting 400 horsepower down on the asphalt, with 413 foot-pounds of torque zipping you off from a standing start, with or without the maximum 8,500 pounds of towing trailing obediently.

QX80s come in various models, and the test-vehicle was the Limited All-Wheel Drive — top of the list. Equipped with everything Nissan could put on it from a performance, luxury, safety, comfort, and convenience standard, the QX80 Limited AWD lists for $93,795.

For that, you can shop all sorts of competitors, from the top Chevrolet Suburbans, Cadillac Escalades, Lincoln Navigators, to the best Lexus, BMW or Mercedes SUVs and not find yourself out of financial range. But $94,000 is a lot of money.

To reach that price segment, the QX80 has richly appointed leather seats for six, because it had the two captain’s chairs in the second row, while a three-across bench is available to boost capacity to seven. The wood and metal trimmed dash and doors house an impressive navigation screen that tells all about the safety items that you’ve activated, as well as the frequencies of the high-powered Bose audio system, with its 17 speakers.

In the rear, the buckets flip forward with the touch of a lever, to assist the ease to climb into the third-row bench seat. It’s not like your living room back there, but there is sufficient space to carry a couple adults on a trip. Sitting in the second row, you have large, 8-inch monitors imbedded into the front seat headrests, so you can independently watch your own thing or play your own game.

Quite the family hauler. Up front, the driver seat adjusts 12 ways, the passenger seat 10 ways. All the contemporary safety and security systems for handling and braking are in place, with lane departure warning and assist, blind spot alert, front sensors that detect anything in your path, including pedestrians, and rear backup warning with collision intervention. The QX80 also has hill-start assist to make sure you don’t roll backward on a sharp hill.

Such items as remote start and high-beam assist are nice features, certainly not out of place on the QX80. And the Apple Car Play and other connectivity alternatives have a WiFi hot spot of its own.

Sliding second-row bucket moves far enough to ease entry to 3rd row seats.

Luxury ride in 2nd-row bucket has separate video screen.

Smooth cruising on freeways is also standard, and the 7-speed automatic transmission is adaptable through a manual mode, while operating the all-mode all-wheel drive, which can be switched form automatic to 4WD High and 4WD Low. Mode control helps go from snow to towing settings, in case you want to pull your neighbor’s 8,500-pound rig out of a snowdrift.

Joan and I remain committed to lighter, more agile and smaller SUVs that can reach 30 miles per gallon — which would be double the 15 we registered on the hillsides of Duluth with the QX80. But we also can look past the beautiful paint job to appreciate the utility of the extra large Infiniti. Besides, we’ve gotten great use out of our dispenser of hand sanitizer, and every time I pump a dose of it, I can’t help thinking about that fellow on the sidewalk who truly appreciated the size, shape and color of the QX80. Even if it was a bit large to use as a conveyance for a small jug of sanitizer.

XT5 spells crossover highlight for Cadillac

June 26, 2020 by · Comments Off on XT5 spells crossover highlight for Cadillac
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

New XT5 is compact yet spacious and sporty.

John Gilbert
Maybe Cadillac is planning to give us all a quiz. Line up all the luxury car buyers and see if they can identify and distinguish among an ATS, a CTS, an XT4, an XT6, a CT6, an XTS, the XRS, and an XT5.

Then ask us all which ones are cars, which are SUVs, and which are a combination, sort of combining the station wagon of the old days, the crossover SUVs so popular today, and the luxury sedan that we used to know and love. So long, Coupe deVille!

The XT5, which I recently road-tested for a Coronavirus Pandemic week of social distancing around Duluth, Minnesota, and which is this week’s subject, caught me my surprise. I’ve driven several Cadillac models, as General Motors’ elite brand tries to pull itself up to compete with the best luxury vehicles from Germany, Japan, the UK, and even Korea.

As an aside, I am a purist for type-face fonts, wherever they appear and whatever they are supposed to identify. For example, I absolutely hate the futuristic font on the Minnesota Vikings uniform numbers, with serifs jutting up, looming down, or melting off the edges, everywhere. I want to be able to distinguish the numbers at a glance, and uniform numbers should be as simple and straightforward as possible — maybe make them italic, if you want to get daring. The numeral 5, for example, should have the top horizontal bar end, just end, as it ventures to the right. If you put a serif on the tip of it, now that bold bar turns downward, and at a glance you have no idea whether it’s an S or a 5.

Familiar Cadillac vertical taillights swt off the stylish rear design.

With that in my brain, when I saw I was going to get an “XT5” for a test, I was certain it was a mistake of tiny print and I was going to be an XTS — which I’ve driven, but is always pleasant to drive.

This time, howerver, Cadillac can celebrate scoring an “Aha moment” on me when the vehicle showed up as a quite sleek, station-wagon-wannabe, with nice lines and the dramatic grille Cadillac has featured recently. When I pulled out the equipment sticker, it said “2020 XT5 Sport AWD.”

No serifs, so the 5 is a 5 is a 5, as it were. I had driven an XT4, which is similar and powered by a 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder. And I’d driven an XT6, which came with a 4, a V6, a V8, and turbo versions of most.

So I had to do a little research on the XT5 Sport. And then I figured the heck with it — let’s drive!

Impressive interior, high-tech switchgear, comfortable bucket seats, in white leather, thank you, and only a requisite few minutes to make sure I realized how the shifter works.

With all the LED lights and accent lights and ambient identifying lights on the roadway below your doors and tailgate at night, the XT5 certainly signals when it arrives or departs or stops to let you in or out. A panoramic sunroof covers both front and back buckets, and the storage area in back has a neat, sliding, vertical aluminum barrier that you can use to isolate grocery bags or other items to prevent them from flying around.

Most impressive is when you get into the driver seat and pull the shift lever to “D” and pull out into traffic. Swift and sure, this thing has enough power to keep up with any of the luxury cars or SUVs, even if you’re still not sure which category this belongs to.

The test car, being a Sport model, rises above the 2.0 turbo and was fitted with the venerable 3.6-liter V6, with direct injection, turning out 310 horsepower at 6,700 RPMs, and 271 foot-pounds of torque at 5,000 RPMs. The engine is mounted in front, and is either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, with a twin-clutch unit controlled by a 9-speed automatic transmission that can be manually operated via paddles on the steering wheel.

Leather faced seats and the luxury touches of real wood and aluminum set off the interior.

I may be one of the rare auto journalists who likes and uses paddles, because I’m a long-standing stick-shift guy, and being able to run the revs up and shift when you want, or using the left paddle to downshift — a huge advantage when you drive down one of the many ultra-steep avenues in Duluth, without any threat of sailing right on into the bay.

There is a luxury version above this Sport, but this one had enough high-tech options to boost the price from $55,000 to $59,340, including the advanced visibility and tech package. Oh, and the attractive “Shadow Metallic” paint is worth $625.

If you think the XT5 seems a little longer than you anticipated, it is. It came to life to replace the SRX two years ago, and it rides on the new redesigned Cadillac “global” chassis. That stretches the XT5 out 7 inches longer than the old SRX, with a wheelbase 2 inches longer, and the track 1 inch wider.

Modern building techniques and materials conspire to make the XT5 slightly smaller and sleeker-looking than the SRX was, yet with more interior room to play with. Most of that was spent on improving rear seat riding in the two-row vehicle, with 3.2-inches more legroom, and the added feature of reclining rear seats.

The ride is comfortable and the luxury of real wood, real carbon-fibre, and real leather makes a strong impression. The handling feel is good, too, and for a big vehicle, its agility is very good. For some reason, I found that in performance steering, there was a little looseness between the steering wheel and the agility. But that might be because I had the mode set to “Tour” rather than a higher performance Sport setting, which might have taken care of my nitpick.

Lake Superior provided perfect backdrop fdor Cadillac XT5.

All of the contemporary connectivity stuff is on board, and thankfully Cadillac has improved its “Cue” system to not go haywire every time you tried to change the station or go to a different screen on the dash unit.

One other catchy attraction is that the XT5 had the optional 20-inch wheels, mounted with 255-35/20 Michelin tires that helped keep us planted in every sortie.

Not sure how much importance buyers of a $60,000 Cadillac car-wagon-suv vehicle would put in fuel economy, but with EPA estimates of 18 city, 25 highway, we averaged 20-24 mpg in mostly city driving.

This might be among the most impressive vehicles Cadillac has brought out in a decade or two, but remember, if you go into a showroom to check one out, jot down the numbers and letters that matter most — “X,” “T,” and “5.” Hold the serifs.

Diesel pushes Wrangler above mere icon

April 30, 2020 by · Comments Off on Diesel pushes Wrangler above mere icon
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

By John Gilbert
It used to be that the arrival of a Jeep Wrangler to the Western tip of Lake Superior for a test drive promised equal parts adventure and nuisance. But the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4X4 has altered that dual description. It’s still adventurous, but the nuisance factor has been pretty well left in the dust and rubble by technology and refinement.

The Wrangler loses none of its ruggedness against the backdrop of Lake Superior, but has significant upgrades inside and out.

The test vehicle arrived in Firecracker Red paint that was so red that it was almost red-orange, bright enough to cause passers-by to take another look and to offer the occasional thumbs-up.

When automakers return to full production if and when this Coronavirus shutdown ends, it might be the perfect time to take a look into the expanding FCA line — which stands for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, but also includes Jeep.

Especially Jeep.

The hearty all-American utility family was perhaps the prime jewel in the deal, when Fiat bought out Chrysler and all its appendages, and with Fiat’s enthusiasm behind it, Jeep has risen steadily in an industry climate that has been notably stagnant. As time has evolved, I found myself appreciating the Grand Cherokee and everything on down to the Renegade, always cautioning myself to not overlook the Wrangler — that rugged, war-born all-out utility vehicle that you can find climbing ridiculous obstacles wherever ridiculous obstacles can be found to drive over.

Then, a couple years ago, the Fiat-pushed refinement hit the Wrangler, adding various options to the suspension and drivetrain, coupled with some outstanding interior upgrades that have pretty much ruined Wrangler’s life-long reputation of being rugged and tough in all circumstances, even if it means being a little harsh to the uninitiated. That disclaimer is no longer needed, because the refinement has turned the rugged off-roader into an on-roader that is actually pleasant to drive, even on long trips.

Roomy as a 4-door, the tight-fitting fabric top also offers a fold-up hardtop.

The biggest news about the new Wrangler is…well, it’s several things. First, the diesel engine is a 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel, which FCA calls “EcoDiesel.” It is built in Italy, and the 8-speed automatic transmission handling the versatile 4-wheel-drive beast is made in Germany by ZF. The Wrangler itself is assembled in Toledo, Ohio. Talk about a citizen of the world.

The turbodiesel is not huge, at 3.0-liters, but it turns out huge power. It has 260 horsepower and a whopping 442 foot-pounds of torque. That allows the Wrangler to tow up to 3,500 pounds, which is a large haul for a tightly made 4-door Wrangler that still appears to be made to challenge rocks and hillsides off-road, where you wouldn’t be towing any trailers.

Beyond the powertrain, which shows EPA fuel estimates of 22 city and 29 miles per gallon highway, the diesel is quiet and hurls you off the line with quick power. The 8-speed shifted smoothly. The Wrangler now offers buyers a very difficult decision, coming with a tried and true 3.6-liter V6, or the outstanding new 2.0-liter turbo 4, or the turbo-diesel. Those fans who have had diesels know of their strength and durability, and won’t flinch at the option tag of $4,000 to add this Fiat-sourced 3-liter V6 turbodiesel, which is as quiet as the 3.6 gas V6 and about doubles the torque.

The suspension is heavy duty, with gas shocks, and the Command-Track part-time 4-wheel-drive system worked efficiently and without flinching. The part-time thing means you can shift it into 4×4 or 4-wheel-drive high, or 2-wheel-drive. In Minnesota, you’re still in 2WD most of the time if the highways are free of ice, but there aren’t many things more conducive to a secure feeling than to be in a Jeep with the system in 4WD, and the Dana front axle means it will also work over rough terrain, while hill-descent control will ease you down even the mile-high hills of Duluth, Minnesota.

Plush leather bucket seats lead the revised interior on the Sahara Unlimited.

The interior’s straightforward and efficient instruments, its shift levers on the console, a navigation screen in easy view atop the center stack all are without criticism, but what sets the new Wrangler Sahara’s interior apart is the remarkably classy soft-leather front bucket seats, heated for the harshest weather and embossed with a Sahara logo.

With all the connectivity and satellite audio and remote-start capability, you look around and feel as though you’re in a typical 4-door SUV. It’s almost easy to forget that the roof you’re looking at is heavy-duty fabric, and you also can fasten a 3-piece fiberglass roof firmly in place, simply by sliding it out of its easily-stowed case. The fabric top was fine in some very chilly weather, and it left behind the recollection of flapping fabric tops on Jeeps from the old days.

The silhouette remains the same, but a turbodiesel V6 offers 442 foot-pounds of torque.

That is another old Jeep “tradition” that won’t be missed. Add in backup camera, and the safety security cross-traffic controls, and keyless entry and remote start puts this Jeep into its own realm.

But the most important thing is the overall package, which, when you combine all the high-tech features with the plush leather seats, make the Unlimited Sahara a vehicle that demands a comparison drive, even amid all those other Jeep models joining it in the showroom. Its base price of $38,645 quickly jumps to $55,925, diesel and all, but the lost tradition that will be missed the least is that after handling all sorts of rugged off-roading or even Duluth streets, it rides smoothly on the highways. No more 200-miles-on-a-pogo-stick treks for Wrangler lovers.


A month ago, I began a brief introductory if offbeat “test drive” that is certain to keep me on time. I have been selected to a trial run of a new Szanto ICON Roland Sands signature series wristwatch. This prize timepiece is designed to have the sporty flair of a motorcycle racer, which Sands was, in motocross and road racing, before he turned to designing motorcycles and accessories.

If you’ve ever admired a racer’s wristwatch, Time Concepts has worked with former 250cc. Grand Prix motorcycle champion Roland Sands to design this beauty.

I’ve spent most of my career covering motorsports, with motorcycle road-racing among the highlights, everywhere from World Superbikes from Brainerd in Minnesota to Hockenheim in Germany on a very rainy weekend in 1989. So who better to evaluate a wristwatch designed by a bike racer?

You don’t have to be a motorcycle racer to appreciate the Sands Signature watch.

Among his prizes are leather motorcycle jackets, which are hinted at in the leather ribbed bands of his watches. He helped with the actual design of the watch, itself, otherwise designed by Time Concepts, LLC., which has built outstanding Swiss watches. lt has a mineral crystal with 100-meter water resistance, a satin brushed stainless steel screw-on back, and a design that looks like the sort of watch a rider or racer might wear, both in the handlebar-like attachment bars and the watch face itself. It comes in assorted face colors and bands, starting at $225, and can be seen online at time

Corsair joins Lincoln SUV realm

April 19, 2020 by · Comments Off on Corsair joins Lincoln SUV realm
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos, Uncategorized 

By John Gilbert
Two or three years ago, if Ford Motor Company eliminated its luxury Lincoln brand we might not have been surprised, because only the king-sized Navigator seemed to be successful for Lincoln, and it was basically a Ford Expedition with bling.

Classic grille lifts Corsair above midsize nborm of SUVs.

But in the space of one year, here we are evaluating — and praising — the third of three Lincoln SUVs all of which have carved out prominent places in the hierarchy of U.S. luxury sports-utility vehicles.

The new Navigator was deserving of high praise, and it was followed, barely a month ago, by a review of the entirely new Aviator, which I declared might be the best of U.S. luxury SUVs with its exceptional 3-row luxury as well as performance, tucked inside an extremely stylish exterior. And now, along comes the Corsair — Lincoln’s stylish example of what a compact, 2-row SUV can be, when a company puts its unrestricted mind to it.

Shaprely oin silhouette. the Corsair is a 2-row SUV with luxury and performance.

As someone who tries to be as objective as possible in evaluating any and all new vehicles, I had to admit the Navigator was bigger and heftier than I would choose, but its upscale luxury features made me realize why high-buck buyers would be drawn to it. The Aviator came wrapped in sheet metal that was attractively styled and the interior was loaded to the hilt with luxury pieces that made it expensive, but reasonably compact for a family that needed a 3-row SUV and still wanted something sporty and with surprising performance.

The Lincoln Corsair, on the other hand, fits like a glove my personal preferences for a compact SUV with adequate room for four or five and some baggage in its 2-row configuration, and it puts its tight and sleek styling to work in a sporty package that maneuvers easily, turns in a tight-circle u-turn, and will scat and run with the quickest of the compact SUVs. The competition is ferocious in the compact SUV realm, where Ford’s Escape is one of the standard bearers, and faces the likes of the Toyota RX4, Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, BMW X3 and numerous others, from virtually every manufacturer.

Since everybody seems to want an SUV these days, it makes sense that the majority of buyers might want to keep it compact when choosing, hoping to get improved fuel economy and making it easier to lure some performance out of smaller powertrains. The Corsair meets both ends of that bargain, delivering nearly 30 miles per gallon and still delivering some starch when you hit the gas.

Turbocharging is responsible for the compromise, with both Corsair engines, Ford’s 2.0 and 2.3-liter 4-cylinders gaining power from the forced-air feed of the turbos. The test-vehicle I drove was the loaded model, with a 2.3-liter turbo delivering a potent 295 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds of torque. That gives it about a one-second edge over the 2.0, with its 250 horses and 280 foot-pounds, in a 0-60 dash.

Back-up view switches to include 360-degree safety.

Taking a page out of Aviator’s book, the Corsair doesn’t have as flashy a dashboard design, but it does have similar bucket seats, with excellent support and 24-way power adjustability, with a curvaceous design that puts it up at the top of its class for comfort. The smooth leather seats have push-button heating and cooling ventilation, and add the therapeutic massage feature of its bigger siblings.

Lincolns have traditionally swiped the best features from Ford vehicles, and the Corsair wasn’t about to let the flashy new Escape get away with all its stuff, starting with its new and unique platform. The Corsair rides comfortably on the Escape chassis, which is firm in design which aids stability and sporty but safe handling. In its previous round of vehicles, Lincoln had the MKC sedan, which was nice, attractive, but was not an SUV.

The Corsair has the slightly taller stance and all-wheel drive, with all that high-end interior equipment and it is an SUV, retaining its flair for utility, even if compact and eye-catching.

One thing that takes a bit of getting used to is the shifter. Eliminating the console stalk to select gears gives occupants a bit more room, and Lincoln resists the temptation to go with the current and trendy norm of a rotating dial. Instead, on your first time inside and behind the wheel, you might spend a few minutes searching before you spot the location, just under the ledge of the center stack, where push buttons can activate reverse or drive or neutral to control the 8-speed automatic. Only problem, you can’t really see the buttons, so it helps if you know where they are.

On first try, you can play “find the shifter,” for the push-buttons under the center stack ledge.

If the front buckets are supremely comfortable, and encapsulate you as if in a cocoon, the rear seats will slide to add to the quite roomy comfort in the rear. And it helps all the seats that the sunroof is one of those full, panoramic roofs that seems to open the whole ceiling to the outside.

Both models of the Corsair offer all-wheel drive, with the more basic model starting at about $39,000 and the upgraded Reserve model starting at almost $46,000. My test vehicle came loaded up with nearly $15,000 in optional equipment and packages, reaching over $62,000, which maintains its $6,000-$8,000 price status above the base model.

Among all those upgrades are some serious luxury touches, such as LED lights for added brightness in every application. Headlights, taillights and foglights are all LEDs, and it even has what are called approach lights, which give you a little lighted grid on the ground outside the doors to make sure you realize you’re getting into the right vehicle.

I’ve always been an advocate of getting the smallest vehicle that is big enough, and the Corsair is the perfect example of what I was getting at. It will do everything larger SUVs will do, but with the added convenience of agility and maneuverability in traffic and congested driving.

As for the styling, the Corsair has a lot of cues from the larger Aviator, with that distinctive Lincoln grille fitted in between the headlight fixtures, and a side view featuring contour lines blending into the sheet metal on both sides, and large, stylish alloy wheels, with dual exhausts. A nice added touch on the rear is a horizontal taillight that runs the full width of the vehicle and makes a distinctive impression on anyone approaching from the rear, or coming upon a parked Corsair.

Note the dual exhaiusts and the full-width taillights.

Built to slide, the rear seats offer comfort and added fold-down storage flexibility.

Maybe most people choose more compact SUVs because they cost less, but if things keep going the direction of the Corsair, we might have to start paying more to get all that styling into a smaller package.

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