Featured Reviews

Bright leaves no match for Lexus LC500

The new era of Toyota design and performance is nearly upon us, and the Lexus LC500 might be the best example as the pinnacle of Toyota's upscale line,

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amore ground clearance, armor-plated grille and skidplates underneath, Rebel is built for off-road.

Ram vs. Ram in pickup battle

The versatility of Ram pickups have led to competition within the brand, as the Rebel EcoDiesel compares sporty off-road readiness to the iconic V8 Laramie's luxury.

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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

July 28, 2020 by · Comments Off on Mazda fits CX-30 between CX-3 and CX-5
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Mazda’s new CX-30 resembles the smaller CX-3 and larger CX-5, but fits right in between.

By John Gilbert
As purchasers of a vast array of automobiles, we in the U.S. have lost track of what passes for new technology. Some manufacturers spend more on advertising campaigns than on building better cars, because they are so addicted to bottom-line profits that they’re content to try to convince a naive public that the low-tech equipment they’ve restyled is actually the high-tech cars we seek.

Then there’s Mazda, a comparatively tiny manufacturer based in Hiroshima, Japan, but is loaded with brilliant engineers who not only stay on the cutting edge of technology but push the limits of what is possible to do with an automobile engine, while keeping its prices within reach of the average consumer, and also insisting that its cars maintain the simple belief that driving should be fun — embodied in the catch-phrase “Zoom-Zoom.”.

I recently got a chance to test-drive a Mazda CX-30 compact SUV, and it had so many advanced technical goodies built into it that I wasn’t sure what all it had.

If CX-3 is too small and CX-5 a bit bigger than you need, the new CX-30 may be just right.

Mazda already has an award-winning string of SUVs, from the compact CX-3, to the CX-5, and on up to the largest CX-9, and all of them over-achieve their targets. It didn’t seem that there wasn’t much of a gap between the smallest CX-3 and the CX-5 to squeeze another SUV between them, but Mazda thought differently. The CX-30 is right there, and sure enough, Mazda knew best, because the CX-30 relieves the concern that the CX-3 is almost but not quite big enough and that the CX-5 offers more room than a small family might need. The CX-5 is 179 inches long and the CX-3 measures 168 inches long, while the new CX-30 measures 173 inches in length — 5 inches longer than the CX-3 and 6 inches shorter than the CX-5.. The CX-30 wheelbase is 104.5 inches, 2.1 inches less than the CX-5.

I’m quite certain that anyone who considered either the CX-3 or CX-5 would find the CX-30 just right. Same with its pricer. It starts at the bargain rate of $21,900, although the test car was loaded up with what Mazda calls its Premium Package, which zooms the sticker up to $28,200 — still a bargain, particularly when you hear its ingredients.

It is fun to drive, quick and agile, and would probably be even quicker with only front-wheel drive. The test car had Mazda’s exceptional all-wheel drive, which may aid handling in the dry and certainly will in the wet or snow.

A couple years ago, Mazda engineers completed a decade of plotting, planning and developing to make its Zoom-Zoom go around corners even better than its standard of excellence in handling. To over-simplify, the idea of turning abruptly to go around a left turn, for example, common sense tells us we want to stiffen the outside wheel’s suspension and maybe give it an extra dose of power. Nay nay, says Mazda. Its engineers found exactly the opposite — if you start to turn in to the left and the power is reduced to the outside right front while its suspension is also softened just a bit, both for just a millisecond or two, you as the driver are emboldened that you’ve made the right choice to turn in at that spot. Read more

Lexus ES300h goes its own way — smoothly

July 23, 2020 by · Comments Off on Lexus ES300h goes its own way — smoothly
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Triple-beam LED headlights flank the upscale signature Lexus 300h grille.

By John Gilbert
It’s become ingrained among auto critics to call cars built by Toyota “boring” and likening them to appliances,” which meant the Lexus luxury line models were probably “stylish appliances.” It’s going to take some adjusting, but those days have passed. When you examine the technical upswing of the 2020 models, it’s obvious those long-suffering cocoons have released a whole range of  butterflies.

Toyota is such a huge company, with factories all around the world, building vehicles that were so trouble-free, the company reached the point of satisfaction. Everything Toyota built was basically bullet-proof as far as breakdowns were concerned, with strong, durable engines that would easily top 200,000 miles while housed in solid, safe vehicles.

Years slipped by, and competitors kept improving, but finally, a young man named Akio Toyoda became president of Toyota Motor Company. He is the grandson of Kiichiro Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Motors, but Akio is different. At age 64, he enjoyed sports and racing high-performance vehicles. And he determined that the boring title would be rendered to the scrap-heap, even if his company’s cars never seemed to suffer that fate.

He sent some new model designs back to the drawing board, demanding sportier exteriors to accompany the resurgence back to the cutting edge of technology it had seemed to abandon, while Honda, Mazda, Nissan, and South Korean newcomers Hyundai and Kia went right on by. Without a doubt, the new Camry, Corolla, RAV-4, and other models, and their accompanying ad campaigns, indicate new recipes are boiling up on the menu.

The 2020 Lexus ES 300, for example, had always been a stretched Camry with bling, but the new car I got for a test drive was not just any ES 300. It was an ES 300h Ultra Luxury, where the “h” stands for hybrid, and which shows that the Japanese may still need to bring their naming concepts up to the car’s new edge. This 300h is a long, low, slinky luxury liner, so “Ultra Luxury” is not inappropriate, if comparatively trite.

Houdini could have used a 300h grille in his act to hypnotize the audience.

As you approach the car, the bold, sporty-car grille, sporting a new Lexus signature look, and blends into 6-headlight LED beams, and then that long, sensuous body. The grille itself, with its intricate fanning out of metal struts could probably hypnotize you if you stared at it long enough. It was placed on a new platform of its own one year ago, meaning the 2019 model got a head start on other Toyota and Lexus models making their way upward to new levels of stiffness and sophistication.

And while Toyota rules the world of hybrids with its ever-expanding Prius models, Toyota’s “Hybrid Synergy Drive” has spent a decade using nickel-metal-hydride battery packs, but the test car has “Lexus Hybrid Drive” includes a slick Lithium Ion battery pack that sits low and flat under the rear seat to leave extra room in the rear seat and the trunk.

With a new platform and an appealing body, the ES 300 gets a new powertrain, with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine coupled to that electric system. Together, they provide 215 horsepower, a commendable blend of power and fuel economy. It’s one of those perception things — drive it, and use the paddle shifters on the beautifully designed steering wheel, and you will declare that the power is easily adequate for hauling your family around. Read more

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

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