Atlas Cross Sport fills VW’s SUV niche

July 12, 2020 by · Comments Off on Atlas Cross Sport fills VW’s SUV niche
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

New Volkswagen Atlas takes on newer sporty roofline as Cross Sport.

By John Gilbert
We were only a couple of days into our weeklong road test of the new 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport when I turned south on 60th Avenue East from Superior Street toward London Road, and the Duluth gateway to the North Shore Drive. I was impressed by the Atlas, because pretty much everything is impressive with the SEL Premium model, and I hadn’t yet closely examined what makes the Cross Sport different from the garden-variety Atlas.

There is a hiking/biking trail that crosses 60th, just about 10 feet before you cross a set of railroad tracks. I was going about 20 miles per hour, no hurry, and not fast enough to give us any jolts from the railroad tracks.

Suddenly, there was a terrible noise and the Atlas Cross Sport lurched to a stop. Very sudden. Fortunately, I had experienced the same jolt in previous road tests, so I recovered my decorum right away. What it was, was what the VW information refers to as “forward collision detection and assist,” and this was definitely in the “assist” category. The finely discerning VW system with its radar, sonar, camera and computer system all coordinated, spotted the railroad tracks as a nasty enough hazard to help me decide that I shouldn’t just sail over it. It helped me decide by deciding for me, that I should be stopped, and then maybe creep over the hazard.

Pretty impressive safety item, particularly for objects you might not see in the road ahead, and it could prevent you from hitting somerhing you and your VW would be better off not hitting.

Sloping rear pillar denotes Cross Sport, which is a 2-row SUV.

There are a lot of other neat features in the new Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, which is an intriguing look at what VW is thinking these days, but none of them makes a more abrupt impression.

Volkswagen came out with the Atlas a couple years ago, as a vehicle that sits taller than the Jetta or Passat, and is up there amid the segment already populated by VW’s two SUVs — the Tiguan and the Touareg — but which defies accurate description. Is it a wagon, or a bulky sedan, or a sleek SUV? The answer is: All of the above. Read more

Traverse grows up to challenge Tahoe segment

June 30, 2020 by · Comments Off on Traverse grows up to challenge Tahoe segment
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Chevy Traverse has grown to near Tahoe size  with luzury features on a new platform.

By John Gilbert

In the old days, Chevrolet took care of all the size requirements for SUVs by offering small (Blazer), medium (Tahoe) and large (Suburban). Of course, those intentions expanded to the 2020 model year, when Chevrolet stretches from the largest Suburban, to the Tahoe, then the midsize Traverse, down to the reimagined Blazer, the compact Equinox, the more-compact Trax, and the also-compact TrailBlazer.

There was a recent time when fuel economy restrictions caused a realistic elimination of the largest vehicles and a splurge of the compacts. But my memory was challenged recently, after I test-drove and reported on the new Chevrolet Equinox, which surprised me because it performed well and handled impressively in its latest form.

Most recently, I got a Traverse to test for a week, and when I first laid eyes on it, I was impressed by the shapely form that made it look modern and sporty, with a dash of luxury. When I climbed into the driver’s seat, I was impressed with the amount of room, and when I hit the ignition button and stepped on the gas, it took off with a bit of a jolt, and it showed tendencies for power whenever I touched the gas.

Always looking for the reasons a company builds a certain vehicle, I thought it was curious that the new midsize Traverse seemed to have grown into something larger than midsize. In fact, I thought the Traverse might have been a flashback for Chevy, to the days when it built vehicles that were always a little bigger than last year’s models, gradually luring us to buying bigger vehicles that were, yes, less fuel-efficient, while hauling larger groups of people.

Leather-faced seats and upgraded materials fill the interior of the 2020 Traverse.

Because of the difficulty I had estimating the dimensions whenever I tried to park the Traverse, and the way it seemed almost cumbersome whenever I tried to take a corner with a dose of performance, the Traverse’s size bothered me. The old rule still works, that if you need more room you have to sometimes build the vehicle bigger, but the Traverse seemed to have grown large enough to intrude on the Tahoe’s turf. Read more

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? Read more

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. Read more

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! Read more

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