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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 BMW 330e Sedan: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Electrification. It’s the current buzzword for the future in the automotive industry. There’s a lot to embrace in the various approaches so far, including the 2021 BMW 330e plug-in hybrid sedan.

There are at least four avenues so far: electric motor, where you plug in to charge the battery pack; hybrid, with an electric motor working in concert with a gasoline engine; plug-in hybrid, which combines the first two, and hydrogen fueled from a service station pump or manufactured onboard from a fuel cell.

The bottom line from whatever source is electric power, which is non-polluting, fuss-free mechanically and delivers instant torque, or twisting force, as soon as it is switched on. 

Eventually, as the technology advances, battery electric likely will take over with quick charging that takes no longer than fueling a gasoline or diesel engine vehicle. 

The simple hybrid is the method of choice now. Hybrids, led by Toyota’s popular Prius, have delivered millions of economical, reliable vehicles to owners all over the world.

Then there are the plug-ins, epitomized by the tested BMW 330e. The concept has merit. Hook up the 330e to a 240-volt charging station — there are many all over the country — and in three hours the battery pack is charged. 

When you engage, the first thing it does is to enable BMW’s so-called XtraBoost, which conjures up an additional 40 horsepower when you punch the hot pedal off the line. It only lasts a few seconds but enables the 330e to accelerate to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, BMW says.

If that hasn’t sucked the juice from the batteries, you can then cruise about 22 miles on pure electric power. After that, your 330e becomes a regular hybrid, toggling back and forth between and in concert with the gasoline engine until you either plug in again or fill up the tank.

All this folderol earns the 330e a miles per gallon equivalency rating from the EPA of 75 MPGe. If you don’t bother to charge it, the 330e’s city/highway/combined fuel consumption on mainly gasoline power comes to 25/38/28 mpg.

It works, too. On a 100-mile round trip, the tested 330e’s gasoline gauge pointer barely moved off the “full” peg. But it’s not all honey in the tea or toddy. The tested 330e’s base price is $45,545. A standard 330i costs $2,000 less and, curiously, delivers slightly better gasoline-only fuel economy of 26/36/30 mpg. 

So, if spending a couple of grand more to plug in and get up to 22 miles on pure electric power is your thing, go for it. Truth is, with this BMW you hardly detect the difference between all-electric and hybrid driving anyway, so seamless does the system switch back and forth.

Until you do a bit of schooling, either by yourself with the owner’s manual or with a BMW instructor, you do have to puzzle over the scattershot of numbers on the instrument panel. With some of these systems, especially with premium cars, it seems as if infotainment functions are made deliberately complicated to justify the higher prices.

For example: On other models, BMW has a simple button below the instruments to re-set the trip odometer. On the 330e, you have to search through a bunch of menus to find a display that gives you that information, along with your fuel economy. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to ask.

But if a performance/luxury plug-in hybrid activates your synapses and you can spend about 60 large, you won’t be disappointed. This is a BMW, after all, which telegraphs that you will inherit driver involvement in a sweet-handling and easygoing transporter in any driving situation.

This tester carried $14,100 worth of options, bringing its as-tested price to $59,645. That, of course, made it uncommonly well equipped with such items as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. 

Both, by the way, are uncommonly aggressive — no doubt because of their BMW genes — so don’t get too spooked when you appear to be headed for a collision with that 18-wheeler before the adaptive cruise brakes slam on, or the lane keeping almost jerks the steering wheel out of your lazy hands.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 BMW 330e PHEV four-door sedan. 
  • Engine/motor: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline, turbocharged, 181 hp, 258 lb-ft torque; paired with 107 hp, 77 lb-ft torque electric motor and 12.0 kWh lithium-ion battery; total system 288 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 98/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,039 pounds.
  • Electric-only range: 22 miles. 
  • Charging time (@ 240 volts): Three hours.
  • EPA combined miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe): 75. Gasoline only: 28 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,545.
  • Price as tested: $59,645.

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

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Photos (c) BMW

2021 Ford Edge Titanium AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Now a teenager, the 2021 Ford Edge has lost some of its edgy styling in favor of softer attractive styling, but it retains its everyday comfort and practicality as an easy-driving midsize two-row crossover sport utility vehicle.

Introduced as a 2007 model, the Edge has been a staple of the Ford lineup with sales of well over 100,000 most years. It slots between the smaller Escape and the larger Explorer. Four adults sit comfortably and a fifth less so in the center-rear position. But with a nearly flat floor, that person at least has a place to plant his or her feet. Moreover, unlike some luxury SUVs, the rear seatbacks recline for long-trip relaxation.

Behind the second row is a generous cargo area of 39 cubic feet, enough to haul the luggage and stuff for a small family’s week at the beach. A full-size temporary spare wheel and tire is stashed beneath the floor and the rear seatbacks fold 60/40 for extra cargo if needed.

There’s a broad range of trim levels for different budgets and desires, starting with the front-wheel-drive SE at around $33,000 to the top-line ST at more than $45,000. Tested for this review was the mid-level Titanium with all-wheel drive that started at $42,325 and had a bottom-line sticker of $48,990.

All Edge models come with modern basic safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring. In addition, the tested Edge came with knee air bags up front, evasive steering assist, adaptive cruise control, a reverse sensing system and rain-sensing windshield wipers with de-icing.

Other equipment on the tested Titanium model, some of it optional, included a hands-free motorized rear tailgate, dual-zone automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, voice-activated navigation, SXM satellite radio, 4G Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless smart phone charging, leather trimmed heated and cooled front seats with power memory driver’s seat, and heated rear seats.

The Edge Titanium infotainment system comes with Ford’s new SYNC 4 interface viewed on a 12-inch center display. It features wireless compatibility with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and apps from smart phones and other mobile devices. 

With that list of equipment, anyone could be forgiven for assuming that the Edge Titanium competes in the near-luxury crossover class. It does, but at a lower price than some of the others.

It shows on the open road, where cruising at freeway speeds and higher is fatigue-free, with few steering corrections needed in straight-line driving. If you’re caught up in stop-and-go traffic, as happens to motorists on the east coast’s Interstate 95 during beach vacation season, it’s another story. 

The cabin is quiet, with little intrusion of mechanical, tire and wind noise. Handling on twisting roads is capable and secure as long as you don’t push the Edge too hard. 

Comfort and ergonomics are first-rate. The seats, done up in perforated leather, are supportive and comfortable, and controls are easy to locate and operate. The shifter is a rotary knob that is as intuitive and easy to use as any shifter currently on the market. There’s an idle stop-start system that, thankfully, can be switched off, eliminating that hesitation if you have to accelerate quickly from a stop.

Except for the top-line ST performance model, the Edge gets its power from a 250-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 275 lb-ft of torque. With that, the tested Titanium model is not the quickest crossover out of the gate. But with a 0-60-mph acceleration time of less than seven seconds, it will do nicely. A few years ago, that was considered fast.

The top-line ST performance version is powered by a 2.7-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers. It makes 335 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque, and comes with all-wheel drive standard. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic for all models.

However, unless you’re the sort who simply must have the most powerful — and least economical — model in any lineup, the Titanium version is more than satisfactory. It does everything buyers look for in a two-row crossover.

Competitors include the Honda Passport, Kia Sorento, Chevrolet Blazer, Hyundai Santa Fe and Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport. The Mazda CX-9 has the same interior space but squeezes in three rows of seats.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Ford Edge Titanium four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 250 hp, 275 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 110/39 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,124 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/28/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $42,325.
  • Price as tested: $48,990.

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

Photos (c) Ford

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Mercedes-Benz regards the all-new 2021 GLA250 as its entry-level crossover SUV, but for many motorists it could represent a dual-purpose icon on the mountaintop.

That’s because it delivers the practicality of a small crossover, with up to 51 cubic feet of cargo space (rear seatbacks folded) and an engaging, even sporting, personality — all at a price that likely is reasonable for some though out of reach for many.

That, of course, is the usual state of affairs with Mercedes and other European luxury brands. You can find many cars and crossovers at reasonable prices for the majority of the hoi polloi. But when you’re talking BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Volvo and Alfa Romeo, forget any bargain basement deals.

The GLA250’s starting price actually looks fairly reasonable. At $37,280 with front-wheel drive and including the destination charge that rarely is advertised but everybody must pay, it comes close to the average price of a new car these days.

When you start plumbing the options list, the amount inflates. On the tested GLA250, the extras came to $10,980, or nearly a third of the basic price. That’s not uncommon with many luxury brands, which have options lists that stretch to the horizon. They send the GLA250’s “as-tested” price to $48,620.

But it’s unlikely Mercedes even bothers to assemble any base vehicles, likely because its customers would not even consider what used to be called a stripper. So, what you see is what you get. 

In this case, it’s a well-equipped small luxury conveyance with a lot of desirable equipment — some of it superfluous — and a few shortcomings that anyone likely could live with unless they were terminally picky. 

Of course, this is Mercedes engineering and quality, so the fundamentals are present. The GLA250 is powered by a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 221 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. The power makes its way to the front wheels via an also new eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode triggered by paddles on the steering wheel. There’s also an all-wheel-drive 4Matic model for an additional $2,000.

City/highway/combined fuel economy is rated by the EPA at a decent 25/34/28 mpg, aided by a standard idle stop-start system. It’s not a favorite with this reviewer because of the re-start hesitation when there’s a need to accelerate quickly off the line. But on the GLA250, there’s an off switch directly below the start button so you can disable it without searching through touch-screen menus. 

Safety equipment includes forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking — now increasingly demanded for motor vehicles everywhere — as well as the Mercedes attention assist, which monitors driver behavior and issues warnings to take a break.

Standard equipment includes such amenities as Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and dual-zone automatic climate control. Options on the tested GLA250 included $2,240 for performance AMG body styling, including a classy black diamond grille, and perforated front disc brakes; panorama sunroof (with a flimsy perforated sunshade), navigation system, SXM satellite radio, digital instrument cluster and center display, heated front seats, and auto-dimming inside and outside mirrors.

However, the tested GLA250’s sun visors did not slide on their support rods to adequately block sunlight from the side, there was no adaptive cruise control, and the redundant steering wheel controls included tiny buttons that mimic the center touch pad. The buttons were too susceptible to inadvertently touch while driving and, among other things, change a radio station.

The main attraction of the GLA250, however, is the driving dynamics, and this is where this borderline luxury crossover SUV shines. Its tidy dimensions — six inches shy of 16 feet — along with a stiff but supple suspension system and accurate steering delivers handling on curving roads that can match or better some sports sedans. The tradeoff is a choppy ride on the many pockmarked surfaces on U.S. roads.

It also is a comfortable long-distance cruiser that tracks steadily with few steering corrections needed and a reasonably quite cabin. Front and outboard rear seats, though covered in MB-Tex faux leather, are supportive and comfortable. The center-rear seat, as usual in many vehicles these days, is compromised by a high, hard cushion and intrusion of a floor hump that is a full eight inches high.

Sales of the Mercedes GLA-Class have been slipping in 2020. COVID-19 permitting, the new models should help them regain some solid footing.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 221 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed dual clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive. 
  • Overall length: 14 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 98/15 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 3,410 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/34/28 mpg. Premium gasoline required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,280.
  • Price as tested: $48,620.

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

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2021 Toyota Sienna XSE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Despite the ridicule it endures, the minivan still is the most practical personal passenger vehicle on the planet. Now, with the 2021 Toyota Sienna, there’s one less argument against it.

For the first time with any minivan, all Sienna models are hybrids. So with their other attributes, they deliver impressive fuel economy along with their ginormous 206 cubic feet of passenger and cargo space, about the same as in two Nissan Versa sedans together.

The EPA city/highway/combined numbers for the tested Sienna XSE with front-wheel drive are 36/36/36 mpg. It’s 1 mpg less combined with the available all-wheel drive.

The hybrid system mates a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with a 134-kW electric motor to deliver 245 net hp. They are linked to a capable continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that features what Toyota calls a “sequential shift mode,” meaning that it can be manually shifted with the console-mounted shift lever. There are no steering-wheel paddles. It doesn’t change much so most people are unlikely to bother shifting for themselves.

There are five versions, starting with the $35,635 LE model, followed by the $40,925 XLE, the tested sporty XSE at $43,175, Limited $47,875, and the top-line Platinum, $51,075. The prices are for front-drivers. Add bargain priced all-wheel drive for $740.

Like other minivans, the Sienna is long at 16 feet 9 inches. But with all-new styling enhanced on the XSE model with 20-inch wheels, it’s also graceful looking and less ponderous in its handling than a full-sized sport utility vehicle like a Chevrolet Suburban, Ford Expedition or Toyota’s own Sequoia.

In fact, it feels like a much smaller vehicle on the road and can even be hustled through moderate curves without getting unsettled. There are various drive modes, including Eco, EV, Normal and Sport. But the differences are minor, though the Sport setting delivers a modest tightening of the steering and suspension system. It also seems to provide slightly more deceleration regenerative braking to help recharge the battery pack.

Overall, the tested Sienna XSE was a pleasant road-going companion, quiet in operation with enough power to handle any public highway situation and a bump-soaking ride no doubt enhanced by its length. Independent tests have clocked the 0-60 mph acceleration time in the seven-second range.

The XSE’s seven-passenger cabin was a welcoming space. It comes standard with second-row captain’s chairs,  providing between-seat access to the third row, where there’s plenty of head room and ample knee room as long as the second row seats are pushed forward — they have 25 inches of travel. But if you cram three passengers into the third row they’d better be children or very skinny adults.

Soft faux leather in black and embossed white covered the seats in the tested XSE, with well-bolstered sport seats up front. Second row seats cannot be stored but can be jackknifed with the pull of a lever to provide additional space for cargo. The third-row seats, divided two-thirds and one-third, can be folded almost flat with the pull of one lever and easily brought back up with the lever and a pull strap.  

Up front, the center console features built-in non-adjustable armrests at the same height as the armrests on the doors. There’s a deep bin and four cup holders, two large and two small, and a dozen other cup holders throughout the cabin. Seven USB ports are scattered around to serve passengers. Below the dash is a narrow side-to-side shelf with a wireless smart phone charging port.

The Sienna comes with Toyota’s extensive Safety Sense, including a pre-collision system with automatic emergency braking, low light pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection; lane-departure mitigation with lane-keeping assist, road edge detection and sway warning; blind spot monitoring, and dynamic radar cruise control.

Convenience items included advanced voice recognition, hands-free phone operation, WiFi, and an intuitive nine-inch center screen that controls a navigation system, premium audio, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, SXM satellite radio and HD radio. There’s also a 1500-watt electric inverter. 

Other XSE equipment: Power side doors and rear lift gate; four-zone automatic climate control; second row side window sunshades; black roof rails, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with compass, and dual upper and lockable lower glove compartments.

To prevent Mom or Dad from getting laryngitis yelling at the kids, a Driver Easy Speak microphone amplifies the driver’s voice through the rear speakers.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Toyota Sienna XSE seven-passenger minivan.
  • Engine/motor hybrid system: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 134 kW electric motor; combined system 245 hp.
  • Transmission: Electronically controlled continuously variable automatic with sequential shift control and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 167/39 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,430 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 3,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 36/36/36 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,175.
  • Price as tested: $44,625.

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

Photos (c) Toyota, Jason Fogelson

2021 Polestar 2 EV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer      

There’s another new sparkly from Sweden’s Volvo: the Polestar 2, a fully electric, midsize performance/luxury fastback/hatchback that can more than hold its own with many of the electrics that now are popping up like shoots in a garden.

It can compete handily with another all-new electric from Volvo, the XC40 Recharge, a small crossover SUV. That’s because they share power sources — separate electric motors for the front and rear wheels to enable all-wheel drive. 

There are minor differences. The Polestar’s motors together make 408 hp with 487 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. The XC40’s make 402 hp and 486 lb-ft of torque. But the vehicles bear little physical resemblance to each other. 

Each also claims to be the first on the market with Volvo’s new UX infotainment system, which makes use of the Android Automotive Operating System with Google Maps, Google Voice and Google Assistant. As on the previously reviewed XC40 Recharge, the system can be frustrating to use without detailed instruction and practice.

Like the XC40 Recharge, the Polestar has a small trunk of one cubic foot under the hood — a good place to store charging cables.

Yet they are both essentially Volvos, from the company that pioneered the three-point seatbelt and other safety innovations. It held up during some difficult times, including a decade when it was owned by  Ford. Now the owner is Geely Holding, a Chinese company based in Gothenburg, Sweden. 

Wisely, the owners let Volvo be Volvo, with the result that the new Polestar 2 delivers Scandinavian flavor with classy but minimalist design. Though Nappa leather upholstery is an option, everything else inside, the company says, is “sustainable, vegan materials, like a fully vegan interior with the new WeaveTech fabric and reconstructed wood.”

The test car provided for this review had the vegan interior. Though the WeaveTech cloth has previously made an appearance on Volvo cars, it continues to be cozily comfortable and supportive — superior to leather, in this view. Besides, the Nappa leather option comes with a $4,000 price tag.

Like the XC40, the Polestar 2 is something of a dragster, with a zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time, according to the manufacturer, of 4.45 seconds and a top speed of 125. The XC40 Recharge is only marginally slower with a zero to 60 time of 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 112 mph.

With its powerful electric motor and a 75-kWh battery, the Polestar gets a rapid jump off the line. Because electric motors deliver maximum torque, or twisting force, as soon as they are activated, there are no shift points — and no engine roar. Silent running is the mode for acceleration and cruising. The suspension is biased toward sharp handling, which sometimes makes for a choppy ride.

The Polestar’s range is about 200 miles when fully charged. But it can be enhanced with regenerative braking. There are Low and Standard settings. Both enable one-pedal driving. When you lift off the throttle the Polestar automatically starts braking and will come to a stop without touching the brakes. It takes practice but is not difficult. 

There’s also creep mode that allows the Polestar to keep moving in slow traffic without much intervention from the driver. All of the drive modes, including another that determines steering effort, are controlled from the center touch screen.

One feature shared with the XC40 that likely will lead to lively discussion: There’s no Start button. Simply unlock the car, sit in the driver’s seat, pull the shift lever back to the Drive setting and the Polestar can go. When you leave, it all shuts down.

The Polestar seats four comfortably. There’s a fifth seatbelt for the center-rear position. But it is compromised by a large floor hump, intrusion of the center console and a high, hard seat cushion. 

Rear vision also is restricted by large headrests in back. So it’s important to get the side view mirrors properly adjusted to eliminate blind spots.

There’s a full panoramic glass moon roof that does not open and lacks a sun shade, though it has automatic light dimming. And the front sun visors do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sunlight from the sides.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Polestar 2 four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Electric motors: Two permanent-magnet synchronous AC; total system 408 hp, 487 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: direct-drive automatic with full-time all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 96/15 plus one cubic foot in front trunk. 39 plus one cubic foot with rear seatbacks folded.
  • Weight: 4,715 pounds.
  • City/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 96/88/92  MPGe.
  • Range: Up to 200 miles.
  • Charging time: Eight hours with 240-volt, level 2 charger; 22 hours with household 120-volt current; 40 minutes to 80% capacity with DC fast charger.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $60,000.
  • Price as tested: $66,200.

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

Photos (c) Polestar

2021 Ram 1500 TRX Crew Cab 4X4: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Other than its menacing mien, the clue to the purpose of the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX is that gigantic spare wheel and tire bolted into the cargo bed. 

There’s a twin, another spare hanging underneath, because both might be needed. Together they announce that this behemoth is not your average big pickup. Far from it. This dystopian machine starts out as a Ram 1500 but gets a shape-shifting transformation into a mighty dune busting, rock climbing, Baja California racing truck without peer.

Start with the brutish power. Under the hood is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ 6.2-liter supercharged Dodge Hellcat V8 engine, snorting out 702 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque that forces its way through a mighty eight-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels.

Anyone might conclude that power of that magnitude might be needed to get this 6,866-pound truck away from the curb. But Car and Driver magazine, using testing equipment and the TRX launch control, measured its 0-60-mph acceleration time at 3.7 seconds. Forget inertia, Newton’s first law of motion that an object at rest stays at rest.

That’s not all. The Ram TRX, dubbed T-Rex by some of its enablers, comes with a whole bag full of off-road goodies, including adaptable Bilstein shock absorbers that enable it to rocket off hills and sand dunes and cushion its landings on the other side, a la Evel Knievel.

Time for a disclaimer. In this Covid-19 restricted metropolitan area surrounding Washington, D.C., there was no opportunity to do the fun stuff of boondocks-bashing for this review. But other assessments by professionals have testified to the TRX’s extraordinary capabilities in tough terrain.

The surprise is that this Marvelous Mrs. Maisel of the truck world handles itself — with a little help from the driver — quite well in the real world of urban and suburban commuting, though of course not economically.

The EPA rates the TRX’s city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 10/14/12 mpg on premium gasoline — not the sort of numbers that would endear it to environmentalists hoping to save the planet from premature oblivion. Likely the argument would be that, at the tested TRX’s bottom line sticker price of $87,570, it would be but a blip on the green movement’s charts.

Back to the surprise. Climb up into the TRX’s cab — make sure you have strong leg muscles — and punch the start button. The Hellcat V8 roars into life, frightening any small wildlife in the area, but soon settles into a muted drone.

You can actually tootle around in city traffic without contributing to noise pollution. If you keep the massive supercharged eight-cylinder sedated under 1500 rpm — watch the tachometer — you won’t bother yourself or anyone around you.

But punch the throttle and you’re noisily off to the urban drag races. Another surprise: the TRX is relatively light on its tires and delivers a not great but acceptable steering feel and handling. So if you’re not weekend hammering the dunes or rocks, you could use the TRX as a commuter vehicle — and also as a family hauler because it has a generous amount of space for five people.

But its forte is conquering grueling terrain, including sharp rocks that can blow a tire in an instant, which is why the TRX carries two full-size spares. It also has seven selectable drive modes to likely cover anything it encounters: auto, custom, mud/sand, rock, snow, towing, sport and Baja. 

The TRX has full-time four-wheel drive with high and low ranges, as well as a locking rear axle. Two-wheel drive for economical cruising on pavement is not available. 

With a base price of $71,690 and $87,570 as tested, it comes with a classy interior with carbon fiber accents. A long list of standard and optional equipment includes full-speed collision warning and emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, high-performance brakes, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, blind spot and cross-path detection, front and rear parking assist, and head-up display. 

Also: 12-inch iPad-style center screen, navigation, leather-trimmed and heated seats, premium audio system, SXM satellite radio, rain-sensing windshield wipers and a power tailgate release.

So there’s actual comfort when you aren’t bashing the boondocks.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Ram 1500 TRX Crew Cab 4X4 pickup truck.
  • Engine: 6.2-liter V8, supercharged; 702 hp, 650 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with four-wheel drive, high and low range.
  • Overall length: 19 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger volume: 132 cubic feet.
  • Cargo bed length: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • Cargo bed volume (est.): 50 cubic feet.
  • Off-road approach, break-over, departure angles: 30, 22, 24 inches.
  • Ground clearance: 12 inches.
  • Water-fording depth: 32 inches.
  • Weight: 6,866 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,310 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 8,382 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 10/14/12 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $71,690.
  • Price as tested: $87,570.

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

Photos (c) Stellantis

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Before Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was re-named Stellantis, it developed a virus of its own in the Dodge Division that now has infected the 2021 Dodge Durango.

It’s called the Hellcat, a monstrous 6.2-liter supercharged engine that, in the new Durango SRT Hellcat, delivers 710 hp and 640 lb-ft of torque, enough to launch this 5,335-pound three-row sport utility vehicle to 60 mph in about 3.5 seconds.

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

Just to make sure, the all-wheel drive Durango Hellcat comes with a sophisticated launch control system that keeps the tires hooked to the pavement, eliminating wheel spin. Punch the launch control button, floor the throttle and feel your eyeballs thrust into their sockets.

At the same time, your eardrums are assaulted by the engine’s racket, which blasts mostly out of the tailpipes, to the point where you’d be forgiven for thinking the engine is somehow mounted below the third-row seat.

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

This is the main drawback to the Durango Hellcat. Though you can feather foot and motor relatively quietly at speeds up to about 62 mph, it has to be on a smooth, level surface. Any time you need to add power for any reason — a modest uphill incline, passing another car — the blast of engine noise from the tailpipes reverberates throughout the cabin. As exciting as it can be, there’s also a fatigue factor on a long drive.

Of course, it’s music to the ears of smug enthusiasts who enjoy knowing that they can take on almost anything on the road and power past whatever.

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

On a test drive, the thought occurred that if the famed 1893 painting, “The Scream” by Edvard Munch, had been about a 21st century vehicle, the open mouth would have been the grille of the Durango Hellcat.

Though infecting any vehicle with the Hellcat virus — the Dodge Charger and Challenger come to mind — transforms it into a hellish performer, the Durango Hellcat also has a softer, practical side. No surprise, it can  tow up to 8,700 pounds, be it a boat or a house trailer. 

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

If set up like the tester here, it can carry six people, with four in comfort. The front seats are wide and accommodating, with huge bolsters to hug the torso in aggressive driving on twisting roads. Second-row captain’s chairs are similar, with gobs of headroom and enough knee room for most people.

Even the third row can accommodate a couple of medium-sized adults, though they’d best be moderately athletic types without too many years on the clock because of the calisthenics required to get back there. The second-row seats do not adjust fore and aft but there’s plenty of headroom in the third row and just enough knee room as long as you’re not Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks.

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

A clever addition is a console between the second-row seats that contains cup holders and storage. It opens from both the front and back so third-row passengers can access the USB port and the 12-volt power source.

On the road, the Durango Hellcat is a welcome companion. Instruments and controls will be familiar to almost anyone who has driven a 21st century vehicle, and the Stellantis (nee FCA) infotainment system is among the best and most intuitive anywhere.

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

Even with the almost scary power under the hood, the Durango Hellcat has capable handling and communicative steering feedback, and a relatively tight turning radius. It can easily chase some smaller and more sporting vehicles on curving mountain roads.

At some point, however, there are downsides to discuss. For all of its attributes, this sucker is a relentless guzzler — no surprise given the heft and Hercules personality. The EPA rates the city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 12/17/13 mpg — shades of the 1960s and 1970s. Most owners will get less. 

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

With General Motors coming out with an electric Hummer, maybe we should wait for a rechargeable Durango Hellcat and save some of that fossil fuel for campfires on our winterized planet.

Then there’s the out-of-pocket moolah to get one. The tested Durango SRT Hellcat arrived with a price tag of $82,490, including the destination charge, which everyone has to pay. By the time options were added, including a rear-seat entertainment system to keep the kids from freaking out during stoplight drag races, the bottom line sticker came to a whopping $92,690.

Problem is, there’s currently no vaccination for a dearth of disposable income.

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat AWD four-door sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 6.2-liter V8, supercharged; 710 hp, 640 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 142/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,335 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 8,700 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 12/17/13 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $82,490.
  • Price as tested: $92,690.

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

2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

Photos (c) Stellantis

2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Many enthusiasts regard the 2021 Mazda MX-5, also called the Miata, as the direct descendant of the classic British sports cars of the 1950s and 1960s — enjoyable two-seaters with names like MG, Lotus, Triumph, Jaguar, Morgan, Sunbeam, and Austin-Healey.  

The question is whether any of them would have evolved into the  MX-5 Club RF tested here. RF stands for “retractable fastback,” which describes the folding hard top that morphs the MX-5 from an open roadster to a closed grand touring car.

Sure, it’s been 60 years or so but some of us still remember the agony that went with the ecstasy of owning a mid-20th century British roadster, especially when the weather got nasty.

A fun favorite here was the mid-1960s Lotus Elan, a stellar performer with great handling, which set British sports cars apart from brutish American cars with honking big V8 engines that were great only in a straight line.

British convertibles and roadsters had fabric tops that were masterpieces of Rubik’s Cube complexity. The Elan’s, in particular, was so complicated that it featured a decal on the inside of the panel that covered the top when it was folded. 

The decal had step-by-step instructions on how to remove the cloth top and its frame and fold them properly. However, hewing to the British quirkiness of the era, when you folded the top according to the first step, it covered the decal — and, of course, the instructions. 

The owner’s manual also had about a dozen pages of instructions describing how to manipulate various switches to turn interior lights on and off in different combinations. But that’s another story.

So now we have the 2020 Mazda MX-5 Club RF, which converts from a closed coupe to an open convertible in a matter of seconds with the touch of a switch, and it’s not even British. Japan’s Mazda introduced the MX-5 Miata back in 1990 as a modern clone of some of the English classics. Among other things, it had an easy-folding convertible top.

You can still get one of those and even buy a removable hard top. But it must be stored in the garage while you buzz about with the fabric top dropped. The RF, however, is self contained with a cleverly designed top that disappears into the bodywork behind the driver in about about a dozen seconds. It ends up looking like a roadster with a roll bar. There’s even a built-in transparent rear wind blocker.

The top’s bin doesn’t even intrude into the tiny trunk, which has less than five cubic feet of space, enough for some soft overnight luggage and a few small items. However, the top must be up or the trunk won’t open. 

Tested for this review was the midlevel Club model. The 2021 RF Club comes with a price tag of $34,635, including the destination charge. There’s also a lower-priced Sport and a top-line Grand Touring version. 

That’s for a fully equipped car. There were no extra-cost options on the tested Club. Equipment included automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning and tire-pressure monitoring. Also: Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, and SXM satellite and HD radio.

Under the hood and driving the rear wheels is a 181-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 151 lb-ft of torque. With a relatively light weight of 2,452 pounds, the zero-to-60-mph acceleration time is less than six seconds. Two transmissions are available: a six-speed manual and, on the tested RF, a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode operated by paddles on the steering wheel.

As might be expected of a balanced rear-drive sports car, the RF had exceptional handling on curving roads with good feedback through the electric power steering. The tradeoff, as usual, is a ride that can get unsettled on pockmarked surfaces, though the MX-5 has a supple, forgiving suspension system with front and rear stabilizer bars that subdues some of the choppiness.

Inside, the comfortable cloth sport seats have plenty of adjustments for different body types and seatbacks with substantial bolstering. The combination keeps the torso in place during spirited driving. The RF also cruises fairly quietly with the top up except for occasional blatting from the exhaust system.  

Top up or stowed, this affordable Miata is a first-class contender in sports motoring.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Mazda MX-5 Club RF two-door, two-seat retractable hard top roadster.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 181 hp, 151 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 12 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 48/5 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,452 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/35/30 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $34,635.
  • Price as tested: $34,635.

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

Photos (c) Mazda

2021 Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Spend some time in Volvo’s XC90, specifically the T8 E-AWD Inscription hybrid, and you will realize that the Swedish manufacturer deserves a pedestal in the pantheon of high-performance luxury brands.

It was not always so. Back in the day — mid 20th century — Volvo earned an enviable reputation as a middle-class brand that delivered reliable everyday transportation with industrial strength. It was said that the station wagons were built on truck chassis — believable because Volvo originally was a manufacturer of buses, trucks and other commercial vehicles as well as automobiles.

The company even had the chutzpah to embrace rear-wheel drive in a snow-ridden Scandinavian country. Its indigenous competitor, Saab, had front-wheel drive and early-on even used two-cycle engines, which were easier to start in subzero temperatures because the oil was mixed with the gasoline.

Sadly, Saab is no more but Volvo thrives, partly on the strength of its reputation for safety and quality engineering. The two most enduring innovations were the inventions of the three-point seat belt in 1959 and the rear-facing child seat in 1964. 

Volvo had financial troubles as well, first being taken over by the Ford Motor Co., which at the time also acquired Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover of Great Britain. 

In 2010, Ford sold its premium brands to concentrate on its core products, mainly pickup trucks, and Volvo wound up as part of China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group. Fortunately, the new owner elected to let Volvo be Volvo, so the designers and engineers concentrated on the future, including a pledge in the last decade to build increasing numbers of environmentally friendly electrified cars.

Cue the tested 2021 XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription four-door, three-row crossover sport utility vehicle, which epitomizes the definition of electrified. However, it is not pure electric. Those are available from various manufacturers, but the world and the industry are in transition and right now hybrids continue as the best choice.

That’s because they combine traditional gasoline- or diesel-fueled engines with electric motors to enhance fuel economy and suppress the production of greenhouse gases that threaten the environment.  

The 2021 Volvo XC90 E-AWD takes it a step farther. It is a plug-in hybrid, an expensive technology that provides only short ranges of electric-only motoring, in this case about 18 miles. But for someone in an urban area who takes few trips, it’s enough to minimize stops at the local service station.

Fuel economy in hybrid mode is 55 mpg in combined city/highway driving. Using only the gasoline engine, it drops to 27 mpg. Premium fuel is recommended.

The XC90 E-AWD’s front wheels are powered by a 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 313 horsepower. It is augmented by an 87-hp electric motor that drives the rear wheels. Combined, they deliver 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque, enough to slingshot the 2.5-ton XC90 to 60 mph in under five seconds.

For the most part, a standard hybrid like a Toyota Prius works as well as a plug-in hybrid like this Volvo. But it’s another mile marker on the way to widespread electrification and self-driving automobiles.

Likely because of the short electric-only range, any number of XC90 E-AWD owners will simply skip the plug-in part and treat their machines as if they were standard hybrids. However they do it, they will experience one of the finest crossover SUVs on the market. 

Exceptional performance tops the list. As noted, it’s fast, with communicative steering and good handling, as well as a quiet, fatigue-free ride over long distances, abetted by an optional air suspension system.

It’s also among the most luxurious passenger vehicles available anywhere, with a posh interior of blended high-quality natural materials and some of the most supportive leather-covered seats you’ll find anywhere. On the test car, there were six of them, with the front- and second-row chairs the most comfortable. The difficult-to-access third-row seats are cramped for all but smaller adults and children.

Of course, none of this comes cheap. The tested XC90 E-AWD had a base price of $68,495 and, with a load of options, the bottom-line sticker came to $86,990, including the destination charge.

Negatives include sun visors that do not adequately block sun from the sides and a flimsy perforated shade for the sunroof.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline, supercharged and turbocharged, 313 hp; electric motor, 87 hp; combined 400 hp, 472 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic (front-wheels); single-speed direct drive (rear wheels); all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 131/11 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,140 pounds.
  • EPA combined miles per gallon fuel consumption: gasoline/electric, 55 mpg; gasoline-only, 27 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Electric-only range: 18 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $68,495.

Price as tested: $86,990.

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

XC90 Plug-In Hybrid Inscription T8 in Birch Light Metallic

Photos (c) Volvo

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