LTR’s SUV Sampler

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Dec 312020
 
Toyota Highlander

The Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) segment remains so viable that not even the COVID-19 pandemic could hurt its sales. According to the National Automobile Dealers Association: “Despite a decline for all car segments, sales of pickups, SUVs and crossovers all posted gains relative to this time last year. In the first three quarters or 2020, three out of every four vehicles sold were light trucks.”

Responding to the trend, domestic automakers killed off most of their car models, opting to focus on SUVs and trucks, while import brands just kept expanding their lineups further with more and more models, from crossover compacts to full-size SUVs. Here’s a sampling of the models Latino Traffic Report (LTR) got to drive in 2020. 

Toyota Highlander Platinum AWD

First introduced in 2001 the Toyota Highlander joined the lineup as the first midsize crossover SUV offered by the brand. Over time, the Highlander not only grew in size, it gained a third row and became the best-selling retail model in the segment since 2016.

Redesigned in 2020, the fourth-generation Highlander is still growing, which has translated into greater cargo volume, for a total of 84.3 cu. ft. with the second and third rows folded flat. It also gains more versatility with a second row that slides up an extra 1.2 inches, a handy shelf under the dash for extra storage, and maximum towing of 5,000-pounds.

While Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is standard on all models, more advanced safety technology, like the blind spot monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, comes standard on four of the five available grades. There is a recall on the 2020 Highlander due to a concern over seat trim covers.

LTR got to drive the top-of-the-line Platinum trim with all-wheel drive (AWD). Equipped with multiple drive modes, from Eco to Snow, maximized the performance from the AWD system.

A 3.5-liter V6 engine with 295 horsepower and 263 lb.–ft. of torque matched to a Direct Shift eight-speed automatic transmission powered the test model. It had an EPA estimated fuel economy of 20 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. It averaged 19.7 mpg on the test drive. The standard Stop and Start Engine System should have increase fuel economy although it fell short on the week-long test drive. Still, it engaged with minimal clunkiness.

All grades come standard with Apple Car Play, Android Auto, Alexa In-Car compatibility, Waze, SiriusXM, and WiFi connectivity.

Added features like the 12.3-inch touchscreen display rather than the standard eight-inch display helped the test model live up to its up level trim. The Platinum grade also comes with a Captain’s Chair second row with seating for seven.

The test model added heated and ventilated front seats and a heated second row, adaptive LED projector headlights, and a panoramic moonroof.

Pricing for the 2020 Highlander starts at $35,720. The as-tested price came to $51,112.

Hyundai Santa Fe Limited 2.0T FWD

Redesigned in 2019, the fourth-generation Hyundai Santa Fe became the brand’s best-selling SUV in America that year, with sales of more than 1.6 million units.

It will receive a freshened look for 2021, accentuated by a new grille more in line with Hyundai’s current DNA, but the 2020 model tested by LTR also included some refinements.

The Limited 2.0T front-wheel drive (FWD) test model was one away from the top-of-the-line trim, exceeded only by the AWD version of the Limited. That changes in 2021 when the Calligraphy trim will be top-of-the line.

While not standard on all trims, Smart Sense safety technologies like the blind spot monitor with a camera view displayed in the instrument cluster, forward-collision warning, and rear cross-traffic alert were included on the test model. It also had the optional Ultrasonic Rear Occupant Alert that reminds drivers to check the back seat for precious cargo before exiting.

Inside, the Santa Fe offers more cargo room behind the second-row seats and expands space behind the first row of seats with rear seats folded flat to 71.3 cubic feet. For added convenience, the second-row on the test model dropped down with the push of a button,

Hyundai offers two four-cylinder engine options on the Santa Fe. The test model came with the latter, producing 235 horses and 260 lb.–ft. of torque. It has an EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 20/27 mpg. It averaged 31.1 mpg on the test drive with a slight turbo lag. All engines are mated to a brand-new eight-speed automatic transmission. The test model also came with three drive modes, Normal, Sport, and Smart, for improved performance.

For owners of an Apple iPhone 8 and iPhone X as well as compatible Android devices, there’s an available Qi wireless charger.

During this test drive there was also a chance to test Hyundai’s 24-hour roadside assistance when the test model developed a flat. While the service was timely and did put on the spare, which was a temporary tire or donut.

Pricing for the 2020 Santa Fe starts at $27,415. The as-tested price came to $38.730.

Lexus RX 450hL Luxury AWD

Lexus ventured into the luxury hybrid SUV market with its RX model more than a decade ago. Refreshed in 2020, the RX 450hL tested by LTR included three rows of seating, improved performance, an updated Lexus Multimedia System, additional standard safety features, and a refreshed exterior design.

As a hybrid, it’s not only the top-of-the-line RX, it’s also the most fuel-efficient. Lexus pairs the fuel injected 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine with two high-torque electric drive motor-generators for strong acceleration and passing performance. The standard AWD system, or “all-weather” according to Lexus, employs a second, independent electric motor to drive the rear wheels when needed for optimal traction.

It has an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 29/28 mpg. It averaged 25 mpg on the test drive. A stiffer suspension design helped enhance its performance by reducing the noise and vibration from the road while four drive modes, from Sport to EV, should enhance fuel economy at slow speeds though that wasn’t reflected in the test drive.

Updates to the Lexus Multimedia System now include Apple CarPlay integration for an iPhone accessed through the RX’s standard eight-inch touchscreen dashboard display. The RX is also the first Lexus model to offer Android Auto integration.

Other standard luxury features on the test model included heated and ventilated front seats, as well as heated seats in the rear while the third row folded flat electronically.

While it’s the top-of-the-line model as a hybrid, many features remain optional, like the 12.3 touchscreen that comes with the Navigation Package ($3,365). The display was bright and engaging, especially when the navigation system was on view. The instrument cluster, however, was less vivacious.

New safety technology added to the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 includes daytime bicyclist detection and low-light pedestrian detection along with Road Sign Assist and Lane Tracing Assist.

The standard blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert was also upgraded on the test model to include Intuitive Parking Assist.

Pricing for the 2020 RX 450h starts at $48,845. The as-tested price came to $65,340.

Favorite Family Vehicles, SUVs and CUVs Offer Versatility and Value

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Oct 242016
 

2016 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

2016 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

Sport and Crossover Utility Vehicles (SUVs and CUVs) claimed family vehicle status long ago, and sales reflect that. According to statistics published by The Wall Street Journal, while car sales dropped significantly in September, year-to-date (YTD), sales of CUVs and SUVs rose more than seven percent totaling nearly five million units. Compact or full size, these vehicles help families transport themselves and their cargo with varying ease. I test-drove several models for Latino Traffic Report this year. Here are snapshot reviews of seven of them.

Crossovers

Audi Q3 2.0T quattro Tiptronic

2015-10-20-audiq3Compact CUVs comprise one of the fastest growing segments. The smaller size may mean a sacrifice in cargo and people carrying but it’s replaced with better fuel economy and maneuverability in an urban landscape. Audi’s entry in this segment adds premium appeal, from seating to technology.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine and six-speed Tiptronic transmission should achieve 2015-10-20-audi-q3-dashan EPA estimated fuel economy of 20 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. I averaged 21.1 mpg.

The Audi Quattro signature all-wheel-drive (AWD) system was included on the test model, providing better grip on the road and improved handling.

All Q3s include standard heated leather front seating—on the test model, it was a delicious Chestnut Brown shade—a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, parking sensors, and a rearview camera. The test model added the Prestige package ($4,900) with navigation, Audi connect in-vehicle Wi-Fi, a power tailgate, and ventilated front seats.

2015-10-20-audi-q3The five-seater comes with a 60/40-split second row that folds flat automatically with the push of a button, no need to negotiate clunky levers. With the seats folded, cargo volume reaches 48.2 cubic feet (cu.ft.). Another striking touch was the interior lighting strips that changed color, from red to white to blue.

The digital instrument cluster can be configured to display different information and a seven-inch touch screen pops up from the center of the dashboard to reveal several functions, from audio to navigation. Audi’s combination of a dial and push buttons on the center stack for programming entertainment functions is a little labor intensive.

Pricing for the 2016 Q3 starts at $32,750. The as-tested pricing came to $41,975.

Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD

2016-03-29-santafefrontCrossovers are by far the most popular segment, selling more than three million YTD. Like Baby Bear’s porridge, the segment is just right for families.

The Hyundai Santa Fe offers various configurations so that it can meet its owner’s particular needs. It can be configured to seat five, seven, or six passengers like the test model that had the captains chairs rather than a second row bench. It also included Hyundai’s active on-demand AWD system.

Powered by a 3.3-liter V6 engine and a six-speed automatic Shiftronic transmission, it had an EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 17/22 mpg. It also had an Eco button to enhance fuel economy further. I took full advantage of it and averaged 19.2 mpg during the week-long test drive.

2016-03-29-santafe-rearAdvanced safety features, like a blind spot monitor, tend to be included in a package or more expensive trims and the Santa Fe is no exception. It was standard on the up-level Limited that I drove. All Santa Fes include remote keyless entry, a rearview camera, a roof rack with side rails, the Driver Selectable Steering Mode, and SiriusXM activation with a three-month trial subscription.

The test model added the Ultimate Package ($4,650) with a panoramic sunroof, ventilated/cooled front seats and heated rear seats, a rear parking sensor, and a heated steering wheel.

Pricing for the 2016 Santa Fe starts at $31,295. The as-tested pricing came to $42,385.

 

Highlander Limited Platinum AWD

2016-03-14-h-lander-fr-licIf the Highlander had sliding doors, it could be a minivan. But it’s not. It’s a crossover SUV and that only increases its appeal. Regarding capability, it doesn’t pretend to have an SUV’s off-road bravado but it does offer families the versatility and convenience they’re after.

Powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, the Highlander has a city/highway EPA estimated fuel economy of 18/24 mpg. I averaged 19 mpg on the test drive. A 2.7-liter four-cylinder is the base engine.2016-03-10-highl-camera

Offered in five trim levels, the Limited Platinum is the top-of-the-line model and as such, it includes a few striking features, like a panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade, heated and cooled leather front seats, heated second-row seats, the Driver Technology Package that includes a pre-collision system with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Entune cover art displays on the eight-inch entertainment touchscreen.2016-03-14-high-rear

Safety features carry particular clout on a family vehicle. The Highlander includes its signature Star Safety System with traction control, anti-lock braking, etc, plus a backup camera and Hill-start Assist Control. The Platinum test model also included a blind spot monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and rear parking sonar. It’s unfortunate that these features remain so exclusive.

The versatile SUV can seat up to eight or seven like the test vehicle, and the rear seats are split to fold flat for expanded cargo carrying space of 83.7 cu.ft.

Pricing for the 2016 Highlander starts at $31,390. The as-tested pricing came to $45,390.

Lexus RX 350 F Sport

2016-03-08-lex-rxsideWhen Lexus first introduced its RX premium CUV, some say the luxury CUV segment was born. Four generations later, Lexus redesigned the RX, now the RX 350, for 2016, in a big way. The new exterior adds style to what had been a fairly vanilla design.

Like its siblings, it bears the spindle grille, but the floating roof design is unique. On the inside, the attention to detail, enhanced further with the F Sport exclusive Rioja Red leather seats on the test model, an available 12.3”-display screen, a mouse control for selecting onboard functions like audio, navigation and others, set it apart.2016-03-08-lexusrxfrseats

It’s a five-seater but the seats are split 40/20/40 to fold flat for extra cargo room of 56.3 cu.ft.

Powered by a 3.5-liter V6 matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the test model had an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 19/26 mpg. I averaged 21.8 mpg on the test drive. Drive select modes also improve performance, allowing drivers to select among Sport, Eco, and Normal settings. The F Sport added the Sport+ mode and Adaptive Variable Suspension for better handling.

2016-03-08-lex-rxrear-licStandard safety features include a Smart Access Remote key, and Lexus Enform Safety Connect, the onboard emergency alert system. As we’ve seen, more advanced safety features tend to be grouped as a package but for a mere $500 extra, a blind spot monitor was included on the test model as a stand-alone option. Nice but at this price point, it should be standard.

Pricing for the 2016 RX 350 starts at $43,995. Equipped with AWD, the as-tested pricing came to $56,775.

 

SUVs

Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro

2016-04-05-4runner-licMidsize SUVs are far and away the most popular SUV segment, more than 700,000 had sold in September YTD according to The Wall Street Journal. The 4Runner emphasizes the sporting side of an SUV and the TRD Pro is the sportiest model of all. It easily takes to off-road challenges as well as cruising on city streets.

The test model came in a unique TRD shade for 2016, Quicksand, that many seemed to find attractive, based on the comments I received.

2016-04-05-4-runner-dash3Powered by a 4.0-liter V6 matched to a five-speed automatic transmission, the TRD has a maximum tow rating of 5,000 pounds. Happily, a tow hitch is included as a standard feature. Don’t expect fuel efficiency, however. I earned 17 mpg on the test drive.

Built for off-roading, the TRD offers plenty of ground clearance, assisted by its 17-inch wheels—it did make climbing in and out of it a bid challenging for the short statured like me. Off-roading equipment on the TRD included a part-time four-wheel–drive (4WD) system with Active Trac, a locking rear differential, Multi-Terrain Select, Crawl Control, and Hill-Start Assist. Besides the TRD badging,, the package included special shocks and stamped aluminum front skid plates.2016-04-05-4-runnerrear-lic

The 4Runner offers seating for five or seven and split second and third-row seats that fold flat for a maximum cargo capacity of 89.7 cubic feet.

Pricing for the 4Runner starts at $34,750. The as-tested price came to $42,800.

 

Dodge Durango R/T

2016-09-20-durango-fr2The Dodge Durango brings a sporty option to the large SUV segment and the R/T trim level takes that sportiness to the next level. Add to that its rear-wheel-drive configuration and the Radar Red Nappa leather seating on the test model that I drove, and the Durango R/T carries unique appeal.

Improved for 2016, the Durango achieves better fuel economy with engine stop-start technology on models with a 3.6-liter V6. Powered by the available 5.7-liter HEMI V8 that delivers 360 horsepower and 390 lb.-ft. of torque, the R/T zoomed through traffic and on the highway. 2016-09-20-duranago-seatsMated to an eight-speed automatic transmission it had a maximum towing capacity of 7,400 lbs. With an EPA city/highway estimated economy of 14/22 mpg for the R/T, fuel economy does suffer a bit. I averaged better than expected, however, earning 20 mpg in the city and 24.9 on the highway.

The R/T does come with a parking sensor and backup camera but more advanced safety features like a blind spot monitor and Cross Path Detection are grouped in the Customer Preferred Package ($1,995).

2016-09-20-durangorear-lic Standard creature comforts on the top-of-the-line R/T included heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, tri-zone air conditioning, and the Beats premium audio system. Additional options on the test model included a rear DVD entertainment system ($1995), second-row captains chairs and a third row of seating ($995), and a power sunroof ($1,195).

Pricing for the Durango starts at $31,490. The as-tested pricing was $49,170.

 

GMC Yukon Denali XL

2016-07-19-yukonThe Denali name stands for luxury throughout the GMC lineup. The brand’s largest offering, the Yukon XL, also stands at the top of the lineup when it comes to capability, including seating, cargo room, and maximum towing.

The trade-off will be fuel economy. Powered by a choice of two V8 engines, I drove the 6.2-liter version with 420 hp and 460 lb.–ft. of torque and matched to an eight-speed transmission. Available with 4WD and two-wheel-drive configurations, I drove the former with a maximum towing capability of 8,100 pounds when properly equipped. It has an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 14/20 mpg. I averaged 19.2 mpg.

2016-07-19-yukon-seats2As the top-of-the-line model, the Denali includes a healthy list of standard features, including advanced safety technology like a blind-spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, and my favorite GM innovation, the safety alert seat. It buzzes on the right or left of the seat to warn of potential danger, from lane drifting to a potential collision. The test model added more than $9,000 in additional packages and options, including GM’s signature Head-Up display ($425).

2016-07-19-yukon-rear2-licOne of the roomiest SUVs on the market, the XL stretches the wheelbase even further. It has seating for nine and both the second and third row fold flat to create 121.1 cubic inches of cargo room.

Pricing for the Yukon starts at $49,510. The as-tested pricing came to $81,045.

Family vehicles need to be tough and versatile to make the grade. This list meets that criteria, and in some cases, surpasses them.

Expect More Trucks and Green Vehicles in 2016

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Feb 232016
 

CHICAGO (Feb. 11, 2016) – Nissan TITAN will be available in 4x2 or 4x4 drive configurations with three cabin configurations – Crew Cab, King Cab and Single cab – and three bed lengths – 5.5, 6.5 and 8 feet. Similar to TITAN XD, TITAN will be available in five trim levels – S, SV, PRO-4X, SL and Platinum Reserve. The TITAN will be powered by Nissan’s 5.6-liter Endurance® V8 gasoline engine capable of 390 horsepower and 401 lb.-ft. of torque. This engine will be mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission. A V6 gasoline engine will also be available (details to be announced at a later date).

What brings journalists en masse to Chicago in the middle of winter? The largest auto show in the country, the Chicago Auto Show, that’s what, and this year’s reveals reflected a truck and big SUV resurgence, while at the same time, new green car initiatives.

Gasoline prices remain at an all-time low and that’s good news for truck and SUV buyers. Nissan brought forth two big bruisers, the all-new Titan half-ton and the 2017 Armada.

Last year Nissan introduced the award-winning 2016 Titan XD, powered by an all-new 5.0-liter V8 Cummins turbo diesel engine. This year the gasoline-powered version of the Titan (above) took center stage in Chicago. Powered by a 5.6-liter V8 engine and built on a separate chassis from the TITAN XD, it’s also 14.7 inches shorter.

2017 Nissan Armada

2017 Nissan Armada

Similarly, the all-new Armada will be powered by the new 5.6-liter V8 engine and matched to a seven-speed automatic transmission for better fuel economy.

The handsome full-size SUV will come with an extensive list of available safety and convenience features, like Predictive Forward Collision Warning, Backup Collision Intervention, Blind Spot Intervention and Blind Spot Warning, among other features. An eight-inch display, navigation, and heated front seats will be standard. Both the Titan half-ton and Armada will go on sale this summer.

The 2017 Ram Power Wagon.

The 2017 Ram Power Wagon.

Ram followed suit with its off-road monster, the Power Wagon. Based on the Ram 2500 Heavy Duty 4×4 Crew Cab, the 2017 Power Wagon receives all-new exterior and interior design elements. Seeking its own design statement, Ram abandons the crosshatch grille on the new Power Wagon for the one featured on its half-ton off-road sibling, the Ram Rebel.

2016-02-11 14.37.38

Pacifica Hybrid.

FCA also showed the hybrid version of its all-new Chrysler Pacifica minivan. Revealed last month in Detroit, the Pacifica replaces the Town & Country. A segment first, the hybrid will deliver an estimated range of 30 miles solely on zero-emissions electric power. New available technology will also include a Stow ‘n Vac integrated vacuum cleaner.

While the Pacifica goes on sale this spring, the hybrid version should go on sale in the second half of 2016.

Available in dealerships now, the 2017 Hyundai Tucson receives a fresh exterior design and LED lighting signatures, plus additional infotainment, convenience and safety technologies, including Drive Mode selection with Sport, Eco and Normal settings. Brandon Ramirez, senior product manager, unveiled the refreshed versions of the 2017 Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport.

Kia Niro.

Kia Niro.

Expanding its green vehicle line-up, Kia introduced the 2017 Niro Hybrid Utility Vehicle. The all-new Niro hopes to find a niche between the hybrid-electric vehicle and CUV segments, achieving a combined fuel efficiency rating of 50 mpg. It joins Kia’s green car line-up that includes the Soul EV, Optima Hybrid and 2017 Optima Plug-in Hybrid that also made its global debut in Chicago.

2016-02-11 15.32.57

Volvo XC90.

Finally, Volvo’s all-new XC90 continues to collect accolades winning MotorWeek’s 2016 Drivers’ Choice Best of the Year award. It’s the first utility vehicle to win the top honor in the 34-year history of the awards. To date, the XC90 has been named the 2016 North American Truck of the Year, the CUV of Texas by the Texas Auto Writers Association, and the Family Car of the Year by the Midwest Automotive Media Association.

“The XC90 brings Volvo firmly into the luxury space and fully represents the company’s new direction,” said Dean Shaw, vice president, Corporate Communications, Volvo Car USA.