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The Review Garage

Rating the best and worst in cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, tools and accessories.

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Frank A. Aukofer

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD Z71: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Once regarded as a truncated version of the historic Chevrolet Suburban, the all-new 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe has become a distinct competitor in the full-size sport utility realm, especially in the four-wheel drive Z71 trim tested for this review.

The Suburban has been with us as a premier hauler of family and cargo since 1934, probably a week or two before most of its buyers were born. Over the years, it was the choice of anyone who needed lots of space for passengers and cargo, as well as brute force towing capability.

For Chevrolet and General Motors, the Suburban functioned as a bulwark against the increasingly popular minivan, popularized in the mid-1980s by Chrysler. But it always retained its muscular personality, and spun off other iterations, including the luxury Cadillac Escalade and the GMC Yukon — no surprise because they were based on the same platform as General Motors’ Silverado and Sierra full-size pickup trucks.

That’s either a positive or negative depending on the chores you want to assign to your big boomer. Full-size SUVs can carry the same number of passengers and cargo as a now-traditional minivan. And they can tow heavier trailers and handle heavier loads. But big SUVs lose to the minivan on fuel economy, handling and comfort. On a beach trip, the kids in back likely would prefer a Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, or the all-new Kia Carnival, which masquerades as an SUV.

On the other hand, if you’re regularly towing your 27-foot party barge for a family cruise on Lake Tahoe in Nevada and California, you’d likely choose the Chevrolet Tahoe or some other lunker like the Ford Expedition MAX, Nissan Armada, or Toyota Sequoia.

The Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD Z71 that is the subject here did not arrive as the Suburban’s sibling until 1994 — a somewhat smaller and slightly less expensive alternative. At the outset, the two vehicles seemed alike except that the Tahoe looked like a Suburban with about 15 inches whacked off the back end.

But now, all-new for 2021, the Tahoe comes with well-balanced styling and a personality all its own despite its family resemblance to big brother — or sister — Suburban.

In an era when manufacturers are trending toward smaller turbocharged four-cylinder engines, the 2021 Tahoe Z71 continues with good old-fashioned Detroit muscle — a pushrod 5.3-liter V8 engine with 355 hp and 358 lb-ft of torque. It sends its power to all four wheels via a 10-speed automatic transmission.      

The combination guarantees that you will never feel at a disadvantage either in the hiccups of plugged up/high speed interstate travel or urban puddling around. But no matter how you are driving, don’t count on competing with any economy cars. The tested Tahoe Z71 has a city/highway/combined EPA fuel consumption rating of 16/20/18 mpg, and almost everybody will get less.

But there’s quiet comfort in cruising. Buttressed with an air suspension system and adaptive shock absorbers, the tested Tahoe exhibited good handling for its size, cruised quietly and comfortably for long distances at Interstate speeds and featured mostly fatigue-free seating. 

The air suspension system also enabled a larger cabin with 178 cubic feet of space for up to seven passengers and 25 cubic feet for cargo behind the third row. Both the second and third rows can be folded to greatly expand the cargo capacity. Third-row seats have power folding.

The tested Z71, with standard four-wheel drive, came with a $5,735 off-road package of options that included the air suspension, magnetic ride control and a heavy-duty radiator for enhanced cooling. The package also featured an advanced trailering system with hitch guidance and trailer brake control. 

Safety equipment on the tester, both standard and optional, included automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, following-distance indicator, lane-change alert with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-keeping assist with lane-departure warning.

Inside, the Z71 offered a complement of infotainment, comfort and convenience functions. Among them: tri-zone automatic climate control, wireless smart phone charging, Wi-Fi, five USB ports, SXM satellite radio, nine-speaker Bose audio system, and a rear window that opens independently of the power rear hatch for convenience in loading smaller items.

The Z71 is one of six versions, called trim levels in the industry, that have starting prices from $51,195 to $71,220, including destination charges, with the Z71 in the middle of the range at $60,495. With options, the tested Tahoe Z71 topped out at $68,940.

Specifications 

  • Model: 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD Z71 four-door sport utility vehicle. 
  • Engine: 5.3-liter Ecotec V8, 355 hp, 358 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 178/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,865 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,600 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 16/20/18 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $60,495.
  • Price as tested: $68,940.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Chevrolet

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It’s easy to conclude that Hyundai decided to go over the top with the 2021 Palisade three-row crossover sport utility vehicle. After making its debut as a 2020 model, the Palisade scored plaudits all over the automotive multiverse along with its fraternal cousin, the Kia Telluride. In any number of ratings and reviews, the two crossovers were ranked one and/or two in the midsize, three-row crossover category.

It’s getting to be a familiar story. The two South Korean companies are part of the same family and lately have consistently delivered desirable vehicles with high-grade content and competitive prices. They share engineering, engines, and drive trains but follow their own instincts on styling and other ingredients. 

For the 2021 model year, Hyundai upped the ante with a new top-line trim level, called the Palisade Calligraphy. The former top Limited has been relegated to secondary status along with the less expensive SEL and SE versions.

The Calligraphy, with striking exterior styling highlighted by an intimidating in-your-face grille with triangle accents and eye-catching alloy wheels, has tilted into the luxury category despite its more bourgeois price tag.

Inside, the Calligraphy’s luxurious personality encompasses a variety of quality materials including quilted leather trim on the doors and faux wood accents. Also: perforated leather upholstery and steering wheel; rear side sunshades; heated and ventilated seats; a 10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation, SXM satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The center console expands the storage area with cup holder surrounds that fold into the console inside and are spring loaded. If you need to secure a cup you simply touch a button, and they snap into place.

Full safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping and lane-following assist, adaptive cruise control, and a clever blind-spot warning system built into the instrument cluster. When you click the left or right turn signal, the rear view on either side shows up, substituting briefly for the speedometer or tachometer.

You can check the blind spots on both sides without looking at the outside mirrors. However, though innovative, the system is unnecessary if you are among the rare motorists who know how to properly adjust the outside mirrors, which are the original blind sport monitors.

The Calligraphy tested for this review carried an opening price tag of $48,935. But it was so well equipped there was only one option: $215 for carpeted floor mats. All-wheel drive is standard. The lesser trim levels, with both front drive or optional all-wheel drive, are the SE, which starts at $33,800 including the destination charge; SEL, at $36,510, and Limited, $46,460.

There’s power aplenty from a 291-hp, 3.8-liter V6 engine that delivers 262 lb-ft of torque, enough to move this 4,387-pound beauty to 60 mph in a snippet under seven seconds, with a top speed of 130 mph. An eight-speed automatic transmission with manual mode and paddle shifters gets the power to the pavement.

There are five selectable drive modes: Comfort, Sport, Eco, Smart, and Snow. Comfort provides a slightly softer ride and Sport delivers slightly crisper handling. But you have to pay close attention to notice the differences. Either works well in everyday driving.

Traveling, the Palisade was an amiable companion. It cruised quietly with confident handling and fatigue-free long-distance motoring, though it’s not particularly anxious to challenge twisting mountain roads.

The tested Calligraphy was a seven-passenger model with generous space and captain’s chairs in the second row. They were as comfortable and supportive as the front seats, with multiple adjustments and enough travel to provide knee room to passengers in the third row. 

The third row sits on a raised platform about four inches higher than the second-row floor. But there’s still enough head room for modest sized humans and knee room if the second-row seats are moved forward. There are three seatbelts back there, but passengers better be skinny or kids. 

Third-row seats have powered reclining and seatback folding. There’s 18 cubic feet for cargo, accessed by a hands-free automatic tailgate, which expands to 46 cubic feet with the third row folded, and 86 cubic feet if you also fold the second row. Headrests drop automatically when you drop the seatbacks.

Besides the Telluride, the Palisade competes handily against the Ford Explorer, Buick Enclave, Mazda CX-9, Volkswagen Atlas, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and Nissan Pathfinder.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.8-liter V6; 291 hp, 262 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 155/18 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 4,387 pounds.
  • Towing capability: Maximum 5,000 pounds properly equipped.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $48,935.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Hyundai

2021 Lexus LS 500: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Musing for a description of the 2021 Lexus LS 500 luxury sedan, a Sherpa fleece blanket comes to mind. It’s cozy comfortable and bereft of objectionable traits.

Introduced in 1989, the LS commands the top tier of Lexus automobiles. Early on, the upscale nameplate from Japan’s Toyota was a full-size sedan with V8 power and rear-wheel drive. It was designed to compete against the best of the world’s luxury cohort, including Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Jaguar, Audi, Maserati, Volvo, BMW, and Lincoln — but not such nosebleed-priced machines as Rolls-Royce or Bentley.

It has held steady in the U.S., though sales dropped in 2020 as increasing numbers of buyers chose crossover sport utility vehicles. But it’s way different from the original. It originally was classified as a large car by the Environmental Protection Agency, defined as having more than 120 cubic feet of interior space, including the passenger cabin and the trunk.

For 2021, it has sleek, attractive styling but no longer is a large car. With a total of 115 cubic feet of interior room, divided 98/17 for passengers and trunk, it is classified as a midsize, like the Toyota Camry. Moreover, it should be regarded as a four-passenger vehicle, even though there’s a fifth seatbelt in back if you fold the center console/armrest into the seatback.

But that middle position is an aggressively uncomfortable perch, with a hard cushion, a shortage of head room and a large floor hump. It contrasts sharply to the powered 18-way adjustable, heated and cooled reclining outboard back seats, which offer the same support and comfort as the front seats. 

The center seat aside, the LX 500’s interior could qualify in any showing of a luxury limousine interior, with airy passenger space, leather upholstery and armrests, premium wood trim, navigation system, four-zone automatic climate control, $1,940 Mark Levinson audio system, power rear window sunshades and a panoramic glass sunroof.

Much of that comes with the optional $12,710 luxury package. All told, options on the tested LS 500 tacked $21,055 onto the base price of $77,025, bumping the bottom-line sticker to $98,080. That’s daunting for many prospective buyers but it’s still less than some of its European competitors — the Audi RS 7, for example, which can easily top $125,000.

LS options also included an adaptive air suspension system for all four wheels, which helped deliver a creamy ride as well as sharp handling and good steering feedback. Add the active noise canceling system and you have a posh conveyance that can carry you across the country with Sherpa blanket comfort and minimal distraction or annoyance.

Other equipment included Apple Car Play, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, a Wi-Fi hotspot, SXM satellite radio and HD radio, all controlled with a high-resolution 12.3-inch touchscreen, which offers relief from the still installed console-mounted Lexus track pad, which can sometimes be irritating.

The LS 500’s motivation comes from a 3.4-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers that quietly — except when you floor it–delivers 416 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. Power makes its way to the rear wheels by way of a 10-speed automatic transmission that, if the spirit moves you, can be manually shifted with paddles mounted on the steering wheel. But why bother? The onboard computer deftly and unobtrusively manipulates gear selections and the smooth shifts expected in a luxury sedan.

 There’s also plenty of punch off the line. Zero to 60 mph ticks off at less than five seconds with a top speed of 136 mph. Of course, nobody should attempt the latter on any public road or even a racetrack because this cushy beauty doesn’t come with racing credentials.

Lexus and Toyota are leaders in emphasizing standard safety equipment and the LS 500 doesn’t disappoint. The tester came with a pre-collision system that included automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, intersection turning assist, active steering assist, front lateral side pre-collision protection and a comprehensive head-up display. It also had front cross-traffic alert, lane changing assist and all-speed dynamic radar cruise control with curve speed reduction.

Over the years, the Lexus LS has proved its mettle. It competes on a stage with expensive luxury stars, many of which can satisfy customers with 100 grand to spend or finance. For some buyers, part of the attraction is the Mercedes three-point star or the four rings of Audi. Lexus uses a simple stylized “L” inside an oval but is no less attractive.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Lexus LS 500 four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.4-liter V6, twin turbochargers; 416 hp, 442 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 98/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,740 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/29/22 mpg. Premium gasoline required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $77,025.
  • Price as tested: $98,080.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Lexus

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though it does not compete in the luxury class of crossover sport utility vehicles, the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Limited owns some of those attributes, notably a substantial feel and a peaceful cabin on the road.

It’s a midsize four-door with two rows of seats, powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor that together deliver 226 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is standard.

The new Santa Fe arrives in exceptional company. It slots between Hyundai’s acclaimed larger three-row crossover, the Palisade, and the redesigned 2022 Tucson, a compact which offers its Hybrid model with a power train that is nearly identical to the Santa Fe’s and is priced about $2,500 less comparably equipped. 

The Santa Fe also is a fraternal twin of the Kia Sorento. Hyundai and Kia are sister companies in South Korea, and share engines and transmissions, though each does its own engineering, design and tuning. A Kia Sorento EX Hybrid previously reviewed here came with a nearly identical engine/motor combination. As on the Santa Fe Hybrid, power moves through a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode operated by steering-wheel paddles. 

The main difference between the two was that the Sorento had front-wheel drive and three rows of seats compared to the Santa Fe’s all-wheel drive and two rows. Other dimensions were within inches between the two vehicles and the Kia’s price tag was about $3,000 lower, mainly because of the Hyundai’s all-wheel drive.

But if a luxury look and feel cranks your motor, the Santa Fe would fit the bill nicely. As noted, it imparts solidity and silence to the driver and passengers, with a tactile steering feel that would not seem alien to a Mercedes-Benz or BMW owner. Handling is secure and competent with little body lean on curves. 

Contributing to the placid driving experience is the Santa Fe’s hybrid drive train, which switches unobtrusively between electric and gasoline power. 

Though the Santa Fe is not the quickest sprinter off the blocks, the electric motor’s instant torque delivers a boost at low speeds, so it is not embarrassed in urban, suburban or freeway traffic. The zero-to-60-mph acceleration time is in the seven-second range, respectable but not outstanding in this era. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated by the EPA at 33/30/32 mpg.

The interior exudes stylish quality. On the test car, the upholstery had an attractive combination of black and dark brown perforated and quilted leather and other materials for the upholstery, door trim and dash. Substantial bolstering on the front seat keeps the torso tidily in place. Overhead, a panoramic glass sunroof came with an opaque power shade.

Comfort and support in the outboard rear seats is first rate. But the center seat, despite a nearly flat floor, is still an uncomfortable perch that is high and hard, though roomier than many others. Rear seatbacks recline and fold nearly flat.

The instruments included Hyundai’s signature blind spot warning system. When the turn signals are activated, camera views to the right- or left-rear so-called blind spots are displayed in the instruments. The only drawback is that heavy rain can leave drops on the camera lenses, which partially obscures the view. 

As wonderful as the system is, it is not needed if the driver uses the original blind spot warning system by properly adjusting the inside and outside rear-view mirrors to provide a wide-ranging view behind the vehicle.

The Santa Fe Limited Hybrid’s base price of $41,235 includes almost everything any buyer might want, especially full safety equipment: forward collision assist, blind-spot warning, automatic high headlight beams, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, driver attention warning, lane-keeping and lane following assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, and rear occupant alert.

Other features: Navigation system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual automatic climate control, memory driver’s seat, SXM satellite radio, premium Harman Kardon audio, Bluetooth connectivity, wireless device charging, surround view rear monitor, parking assist, and heated and ventilated front seats.

The only option on the tested Santa Fe was $155 for carpeted floor mats, bringing the as-tested price to $41,290, which now is only about $1,000 more than the average price of a new automobile in the United States.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Limited AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline, turbocharged, 178 hp, 195 lb-ft torque; 59-hp electric motor, 195 lb-ft torque; combined system output 226 hp, 258 lb-ft torque. 
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 112/36 cubic feet. 
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • Weight: 4,245 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 33/30/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $41,135.
  • Price as tested: $41,290.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Hyundai

2022 Volkswagen Taos SE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As crossover utility vehicles continue to insinuate themselves into the automotive market, manufacturers fill out their lineups to offer more sizes and styles, as Germany’s Volkswagen has done with its all-new 2022 Taos.

It now is the smallest crossover in the VW lineup, joining the Tiguan, Atlas Sport, Atlas, and the new all-electric ID.4 It is described as a small sport utility vehicle by the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel economy website. There are no specific size categories for crossovers, but the Taos has more room inside than a sedan classified as large by the EPA.

It is four inches shorter than 15 feet long, 5 feet 4 inches tall and seats five in a passenger pod of 96 cubic feet, with a generous 28 cubic feet of space for cargo behind the back seat, some of it recessed into the floor. Fold the rear seatbacks and the cargo area expands to 66 cubic feet, though there’s a step up of more than six inches from the cargo floor.

The Taos, named for a town in north-central New Mexico, presents itself as an affordable and economical alternative to such established crossover SUVs as the Subaru Crosstrek and Hyundai Kona. The name derives from the American Indian Taos language and means “place of red willows.”

The Volkswagen red willow is powered by a turbocharged, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 158 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. That engine is mated to two different transmissions: a conventional eight-speed automatic in front-wheel drive models and a dual-clutch seven-speed automatic (DCT) in all-wheel drive versions.

On paper, that doesn’t look like a lot of juice to drive a 3,175-pound vehicle and its passengers. But the Taos delivers sprightly acceleration, though only after you suffer a second or three of turbo lag, that dreaded hesitation as the turbocharger spools up. Once past that, acceleration is strong. 

Highway cruising is mostly quiet except for some modest engine drone and tire noise. The latter is either pleasant or annoying, depending on the road surfaces, which these days have too many variations that need to be included in infrastructure improvements.

Handling is competent and secure with tactile steering feel. The tested Taos tracked true on turnpikes and twisting two-lane roads. Of course, even a small crossover is usually no match for a reasonably capable sports coupe or sedan.

Tested for this review was the front-drive SE, which is the middle of three trim levels. It was well-equipped, though lacking automatic climate control, and had a base price of $28,440, including the destination charge. The bottom-line sticker, with options, came to $31,325. Other versions are the base S, which starts at $24,190, and the top-line SEL, $32,685.

Given its relatively tidy size, the Taos was roomy inside with enough head room for all passengers and plenty of air for the knees of second-row passengers. As usual, the disrespected center-rear passenger has to contend with intrusions from the center console and a large floor hump. Front seats are supportive with prominent seatback bolstering to hold the torso around curves.

The seats on the SE were upholstered in a combination of cloth and faux leather, though Volkswagen got it backwards. The seating areas were done up in the leatherette, with cloth trim. The preference anywhere would be for breathable cloth seats with whatever else for trim.

An appreciated feature was the capability to change the view of the instrument cluster with the touch of a button. It was cool to display the speed as digital, with the tachometer surrounding the number. An eight-inch center touch screen handles infotainment functions. 

The center console consists of an open storage area with cup holders and a small storage area under the center armrest. The cup holders have spring loaded grippers to secure different sized cups — another appreciated feature.

 The Taos has full modern safety equipment, including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, rear traffic alert and adaptive cruise control with distance settings.

The tested Taos SE also came with optional black alloy wheels and a panoramic glass sunroof, which opened at the front but not in back. But the motorized sunshade was made of a flimsy, translucent white cloth that admitted some welcome light but too much hot sunlight, straining the air conditioning.

With this new entry, Volkswagen gets another tire solidly into the deepening groove created by consumer demands for more and better vehicles that combine practicality and entertaining motoring.

Specifications

  • Model: 2022 Volkswagen Taos SE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 158 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches. 
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 96/28 cubic feet. (66)
  • Weight: 3,175 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/36/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,440.
  • Price as tested: $31,325.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Volkswagen

2021 Volkswagen ID.4: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Volkswagen’s all-new electric 2021 ID.4 shines competitively as a small crossover sport utility vehicle, with decent performance, range, inside space and ride comfort. But it requires a steep learning curve and a willingness to cuddle with the owner’s manual or sit through an extended class on operating it.

Perhaps it was the individual tested example. But rarely does a reviewer encounter a vehicle so confounding at first blush, some of it by design. Early puzzlements:

The start-stop button on the steering column didn’t seem to work. To get the ID.4 to the silent electric car “Ready” stage, you must twist a blob of a control behind the steering wheel to shift into “Drive,” “B” (for extra regenerative braking), or “Reverse.” 

Moving off, a view from the forward-facing camera sometimes shows up on the center screen, warning the driver to pay attention. It disappears after a few moments but it’s a distraction.

Underway, a message pops up in the instruments display, saying “Warnings and information not available. Drive with greater care.” There’s no answer to “What?” or “Why?” or how to correct the situation.

It takes a close reading of the owner’s manual to figure out the buttons to push or the digital displays to tap in order to crank up the automatic climate control. 

Trying to find the controls for the radio takes another trip to the owner’s manual and even then, it requires a flurry of fiddling to learn the SXM satellite radio doesn’t have an activated subscription. But you can get HD radio on FM.

Stop in a shopping center parking lot and touch the start-stop button to shut the ID.4 down. But the radio keeps playing — even when you open the door — and the air conditioning continues to blow cold air. Then suddenly, and for seemingly no reason, the center screen lights up and reads, “Goodbye.” Presumably that’s your cue to leave.

There’s an explanation. When you switch off the ID.4 and walk away, everything shuts down, although you might first get a message to turn the headlights off. If you don’t comply, they blink off after a few minutes.

It often seems that manufacturers of exotic or very different vehicles like electrics feel a snooty compulsion to make sure drivers are aware they are not driving a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) machine. So, some of the functions operate differently and the instruments deliver unfamiliar information. 

It’s as if the designers and engineers have never heard of the old political adage of K.I.S.S. for getting candidates elected: “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Yet there are hybrids and battery electric cars out there as familiar to operate as our old gassers. Examples are the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt, and Toyota Corolla hybrid.

To be fair, complaints about the Volkswagen ID.4 may simply be traced to driver decrepitude. Likely a 17-year-old would have zero difficulty learning its eccentricities in minutes. But kids don’t buy these vehicles; adults do, and not everyone is savvy.

Gripes aside, the ID.4 (initials for “intelligent design”) is a worthy crossover utility vehicle. It handles well and cruises quietly. Five passengers can ride comfortably in 101 cubic feet of space, about the same as in a midsize sedan, though as usual the center-rear occupant gets disrespected. There’s 30 cubic feet of air for cargo behind the back seat, more than you find in a full-size sedan.

The ID.4 gets its motivation from an electric motor that delivers 201 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque, sent to the rear wheels. It’s plenty of power for the 4,700-pound conveyance but doesn’t provide that instant shot of power that characterizes many electric vehicles. As with any battery electric, the maximum torque — or twisting force — arrives as soon as you mash the pedal. But the ID.4’s zero-to-60-mph acceleration is in the seven-second range, respectable but not among the quickest.

Volkswagen ID.4 1ST

The ID.4, fully charged, has a range of up to 250 miles and a towing capability of 2,700 pounds. City/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent is rated by the EPA at 104/89/97 MPGe.

There are three ID.4 versions: Pro at $41,190, including the destination charge; 1st Edition, $45,190, and Pro S, $45,690. The tester’s standard equipment included two otherwise optional packages so its tested price was the same as the base price.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 First Edition four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Motor: Mid-mounted electric, 201 hp, 229 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed direct with rear-wheel drive.
  • Battery pack: liquid-cooled lithium-ion, 77.0 kWh.
  • Range: Up to 250 miles.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 101/30 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 4,700 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,700 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 104/89/97 MPGe.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,190.
  • Price as tested: $45,190.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Volkswagen

2021 Subaru Ascent Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

When the Subaru Ascent crossover SUV made its debut as a 2019 model, the conclusion here was that it was among the most family-friendly vehicles available, minivans notwithstanding. Now in its 2021 guise, it adds refinement to its attributes.

It’s a full-size, three-row vehicle with 148 cubic feet of space for seven or eight passengers, depending on whether you choose a second-row bench seat or separate captain’s chairs. Even the third row can accommodate three skinny adult passengers with enough head and knee room because the second-row seats have ample fore and aft adjustments.

There are only 18 cubic feet of space for cargo behind the third row. But folding it opens up 47 cubic feet and 86 cubic feet if you also fold the second row. 

Power comes from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which makes 266 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque, enough to take the 4,600-pound Ascent to 60 mph in milliseconds less than seven seconds. The EPA rates the Ascent’s city/highway/combined gasoline consumption at 20/26/22 mpg.

The engine is a horizontally opposed design of the same type that powered the old Volkswagen Beetle, which chugged around worldwide from World War II to 1975. Also called a pancake, boxer or flat-four design, the cylinders lie feet-to-feet on both sides of the crankshaft instead of the more common standing upright or leaning in a V design. 

You won’t hear any chugging sounds from the Ascent’s boxer engine. The Subaru engineers have refined it and added insulation to the cabin so occupants can barely hear engine noise. Moreover, with its short vertical profile, the engine can be mounted low in the engine bay. This position gives any vehicle a lower center of gravity, enhancing handling and stability. Subaru is the only manufacturer installing boxers in all its vehicles, though you can also find them in some Porsche models.

The transmission is one of the better continuously variable designs that deliver decent fuel economy. Continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVTs) use a system of belts and pulleys to multiply power and have no shift points, though the Ascent’s can be shifted manually like an eight-speed automatic. Braking is relaxed and confident with a solid pedal feel.

There are four Ascent versions, called trim levels in the industry: Base, which starts at $33,345, including the destination charge; Premium, $35,845; Limited, $40,645, and Touring, $46,495. Tested for this review was the Limited with second-row captain’s chairs and a $2,950 option package that included a surround-sound Harman Kardon audio system with 14 speakers, panoramic sunroof, navigation system, and a cargo area cover.

As with all Subaru vehicles except the rear-drive BRZ sports coupe, the tested Ascent has all-wheel drive as standard equipment, enhanced by the company’s vehicle dynamics control. 

Safety equipment includes forward and reverse automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping warning and assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, and side-curtain airbags with rollover sensors.

The tested Limited Ascent also came with 20-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, the captain’s chairs, tri-zone climate control, heated seats, memory driver’s seat and power front passenger seat, Bluetooth connectivity, SiriusXM radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Pandora and iHeart radio, power rear tailgate with height memory, and six USB charge ports — two in front with phone connectivity and four in back. 

Oh, and don’t miss the 19 (count ‘em) cup holders and the retractable sunshades in the second-row windows.

Much appreciated were the ergonomically designed instrumentation and controls. A couple of examples: A button on the dash behind the steering wheel resets the trip odometer. And the center screen displays pre-sets on the radio home page. Simplicity eliminates the maddening search through menus and sub-menus.

On the road, the Ascent cruises quietly unless you hammer the throttle for maximum acceleration. It also has comfortable front-row and second-row seats. The suspension system and tires combine for a comfortable ride — except when you encounter the many severely pockmarked roads that are candidates for infrastructure enhancement.

With active torque-vectoring and quick-ratio steering, handling is the Ascent’s forte. It validates the old automotive adage that a big vehicle should drive small, and a small vehicle should drive large. The Ascent combines light, responsive and communicative steering with an instant throttle, making it almost pleasurable to maneuver in heavy traffic. 

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Subaru Ascent Limited AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.4-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, turbocharged; 266 hp, 277 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with eight-speed manual mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 148/18 cubic feet. (47, 86)
  • Weight: 4,600 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/26/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,645.
  • Price as tested: $43,595.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Subaru

2021 BMW X5 xDrive 45e: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Luxury plug-in hybrids like the 2021 BMW X5 xDrive 45e present a puzzle that will not be solved until purely electric vehicles become the mainstream.

Manufacturers are increasingly committed to that goal, predicting that in a decade or so, many automobiles, utility vehicles, and even trucks will be 100% battery powered to reduce carbon emissions and help save the planet from premature annihilation.

Meanwhile, we already have excellent electric vehicles from General Motors, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Porsche, Volkswagen, Nissan, Volvo, Audi, Polestar, and, yes, BMW. But they are expensive and lack the convenience of current gasoline- and diesel-fueled machines. 

They will become mainstream when they achieve a similar range, recharge roughly the same time it takes to gas up an internal combustion vehicle and build charging stations in numbers rivaling today’s service stations. 

That will take a while, recalling the time when automobiles began to replace horse-drawn carriages and wagons. Then, you fed oats and hay to the horses but had to drop by the local drug store to buy gasoline.

At this juncture, the compromise is called electrification, and its leading representative is the hybrid gasoline-electric power plant. Led by Toyota’s Prius, with more than 2.4 million sales in the United States, the modern hybrids have proliferated throughout the automotive world.

They deliver outstanding fuel economy because they can run on purely electric power and partially recharge batteries from regenerative braking, with the gasoline engine automatically kicking in as needed. But the main advantage is that the driving experience is no different from that of a standard gasoline-engine car. Some hybrids are more potent than their fossil-fuel brethren, are easy to refuel, and do not have to be plugged in.

Also in the mix are the PHEVs (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles) like the subject here from BMW, its X5 xDrive 45e.

Though the X5 PHEV gets a 50-MPGe fuel economy rating from the EPA, its electric range on a full charge is advertised as 31 miles when it switches to hybrid or gasoline power. Running on gasoline only, it has a 20-mpg rating, which works out to about a 370-mile range.

There have been reports that some owners do not bother to plug in their plug-ins. They simply drive them as standard hybrids, giving up the added economy of electric driving. But if owners plug in and drive less than 31 miles a day, they can avoid gassing up.

The difficulty with plug-ins — especially those of a luxury orientation — is that they are generally more costly than fossil-fueled or hybrid vehicles.

A prime example is the tested X5 xDrive 45e. Its base sticker price of $66,395 is $4,000 more than a gasoline-engine X5 with all-wheel drive, standard on the 45e. If you forego the all-wheel drive and go with a gasoline rear-drive X5 sDrive, the difference is $6,000.

On top of that, BMW has an options list that reaches the horizon. The tested X5 45e had extras that added $15,300 and brought the bottom-line sticker price to $81,695. Of course, that includes every feature common to that luxury category.

It’s a huge nut, likely out of reach for the vast majority of prospective buyers but attractive to people who can afford it. The big item on the tester’s options list is the $5,500 M Sport package, evoking ultra-high-performance BMW models. Here it includes Sport Seats, an M

Steering wheel, unique lightweight alloy wheels and trim pieces, and a performance-tweaked eight-speed automatic transmission.       

The X5 PHEV is motivated by a silky 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine with 282 horsepower, linked to a 111-hp electric motor.  Combined, they deliver 389 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel this 5,672-pound midsize crossover to 60 mph in less than five seconds, with a top speed of 146 mph.

This SUV is a BMW after all, with all that implies: Great handling, aided by a standard air suspension system, a comfortable ride cosseted in the supportive sport seats, quiet cruising, the capability to smoke most contenders in stoplight drag races, and the quiet comfort of great design and engineering. Also, it’s American built, in the BMW plant in Spartanburg, S.C.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 BMW X5 xDrive 45e plug-in hybrid four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 3.0-liter six-cylinder gasoline, turbocharged, 282 hp; electric,111 hp; combined system 389 hp, 443 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 105/33 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,672 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,200 pounds.
  • EPA fuel-economy ratings: 50 MPGe; 20 MPG gasoline only. 
  • Base price, including destination charge: $66,395.
  • Price as tested: $81,695.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) BMW

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer AWD Activ: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer sports an adventurous name, though it’s not likely to blaze any trails. 

It’s a small, competent crossover sport utility vehicle, new for this model year and bearing the name of an earlier, larger Chevy SUV sold from 2001 to 2008, then replaced by the Chevrolet Traverse. But it’s no Jeep or Land Rover. 

The original Trailblazer, built with a body on frame, and the 2021 model, a crossover built with a unit-body like a car, are way different. The original left the market powered by a 394-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8 engine that delivered 400 lb-ft of torque.

That’s about 4.6 times the size of the tiny, 1.3-liter, three-cylinder turbo engine in the Trailblazer Activ tested for this review. It makes 155 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque along with surprising verve for such a diminutive motor.

Moreover, it’s not even the smallest engine available. Base Trailblazer models come with a 1.2-liter three-cylinder turbo that delivers 137 hp. It powers front-drive versions with continuously variable automatic transmissions. The upgrade, as on the tested Activ Trailblazer, has all-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic transmission.

The Trailblazer slots in the Chevy crossover lineup between the smaller Trax and the larger Equinox. There are five trim levels: L at $20,195, LS at $22,795, LT at $24,895, the Activ tested here at $26,695, and the RS, also at $26,695. All prices include the destination charge. The Activ strives to project a rugged persona, where the RS aspires to a sporty mien.

But rugged is as rugged does. The Activ comes across more like the increasing number of small crossovers crowding the nation’s highways and byways, including names like the Kia Seltos, Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, Hyundai  Kona and Venue, Nissan Kicks, Mazda CX-30, and the Trailblazer’s fraternal cousin, the Buick Encore GX, which also uses the 1.3-liter three-cylinder turbo engine.

The Trailblazer’s strong suit is its attractive looks, inside and out. The tester wore a bronze dark copper metallic paint with a white roof and outside mirrors topped in white. Inside, red, black, and beige cloth and leatherette cover the seats, with a sort of denim cloth trim on the doors.

Front seats have decent bolstering to hold the torso in place. The outside seating positions offer plenty of head and knee room in the back, and even the usually disrespected center-rear seat has enough space for an average-size adult. However, the poor soul must sit on a lump with an intrusive back and a small floor hump.

Behind the back seat is a decent-sized, 25 cubic-foot cargo area with small extra space beneath the floor, home of the temporary spare wheel and tire. Rear seatbacks fold nearly flat 2/3 and 1/3 for additional cargo.

On the road, the surprise is the rapid throttle response off the line, which makes the Trailblazer feel faster than it is. Car and Driver magazine clocked an all-wheel-drive model with the 155-hp engine at 9.4 seconds, pretty pokey in this age, partly a testimony to its 3,325-pound weight. But the quick response makes it ideal for shooting through holes in urban and freeway traffic.

Handling is competent and inspires confidence on curving roads, even though there’s enough power available to get a hasty driver in trouble overdoing it. The handling tradeoff is a stiff ride.

Though the Activ model is supposed to project a rugged vehicle, the Trailblazer does not fall into the category of having any off-road chops. With the all-wheel drive, you could likely take it on a logging road or other modest terrain but nothing more challenging.

Interior noise is the main Trailblazer bugaboo. The tires and chassis transmit road irregularities directly into the cabin, abetting a smaller amount of engine noise. Long hours at the wheel could become fatiguing. More sound insulation would be welcome.

The Trailblazer Activ comes well equipped with such amenities as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist with lane departure warning, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, single-zone automatic climate control, high definition, and SXM satellite radio, premium Bose audio, Bluetooth streaming, wireless smartphone charging, an eight-inch color touch screen, auto-dimming inside mirror, heated outside power mirrors, and LED headlights.

All of that brought the Trailblazer Activ’s base price of $27,995 up to a relatively pricey, in this class, $30,730.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer AWD Activ four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.3-liter three-cylinder, turbocharged; 155 hp, 174 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 6 inches.      
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 98/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,325 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/30/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,995.
  • Price as tested: $30,730.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Chevrolet

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