Nov 232022
 

While Toyota excels at reliability, some say that accomplishment comes at the expense of an appealing design, but there’s at least one model in the lineup that represents the exception to that rule, the 2022 GR Supra. Latino Traffic Report recently drove the GR Supra 2.0 and it rumbles and speeds with the aplomb of a sports car, plus it looks good too.

To truly compete in the segment, a sports car needs to be fast. The Supra achieves this with a zero to 60 of 4.1 seconds. While the test model was powered by a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder turbo engine with 255 horsepower and a 295 lb.-ft. of torque matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, a straight-six 3.0-litre engine with 335 hp/365 lb.-ft. of torque is available and new for 2023, so is a six-speed intelligent manual transmission, ramping up its sporty appeal.

Sports cars should also hug the road, especially on curves. The GR Supra did so on Austin’s famed FM 2222 assisted by a double joint type McPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension.

If at all possible, sports cars should sound like they mean it. The as-tested Supra’s 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder turbo engine had a very nice rumble. It also had an EPA estimated fuel economy of 25 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. It averaged 28.6 mpg on the test drive.

As a base model, the 2.0 is a bit challenged when it comes to standard safety features but it did include auto-leveling headlights and pre-collision and lane departure warning. More sophisticated technology like a blind spot monitor, adaptive cruise control, and parking sensors came with the Safety and Technology package ($3,485). That’s a pricey investment and these features remain optional throughout the line-up, even on the top-of-the-line A9-CF with the manual transmission.

The interior included Alcantara seats with leather trim, a digital gauge cluster and 8.8-inch touchscreen display with a three-month subscription to XM satellite radio. It had knobs to making engaging the infotainment system easier but when programming preset channels, it was less than intuitive.

Don’t expect roominess or much storage capacity, that’s not where sports cars excel. But on the test drive, it seems a hand can get caught by the trunk lid. While it didn’t break any bones, it did bring up a daunting idea—there’s no exterior latch to release it so without the key fob in your pocket or a friend to release the trunk from the inside, a person could remain caught until he or she can flag down help. So be careful and don’t let your hand linger near the trunk.

Pricing for the 2022 GR-Supra starts at $43,645. The as-tested price came to $47,845.

Sí: The GR Supra perform as a sports car should and the combination of speed, performance, and rumble will put a smile on your face.

No: Be care of that trunk lid and safety features like the blind spot monitor should not be stuck in such a pricey optional package.

Premium SUV Review: 2022 Buick Envision Avenir

 Buick, Reviews  Comments Off on Premium SUV Review: 2022 Buick Envision Avenir
Aug 082022
 

Like many General Motors brands, Buick got out of the car business (officially in 2020), and opted to fill its lineup exclusively with sport utility vehicles (SUVs). One of its premium nameplates, the Envision got a redesign in 2021 and Latino Traffic Report recently got to test drive the top-of-the-line 2022 Envision Avenir, an elegant and well-equipped option in its segment.

Each of the three available trims—Preferred, Essence, and Avenir—has specific design features. An exclusive mesh grille design with tinted chrome trim and 20-inch wheels with a Pearl Nickel finish distinguish the Avenir. All models have LED headlamps and taillamps and daytime running lights.

As a premium model, the Envision matches its streamlined exterior to a handsome interior design with quilted leather seating for five, and aluminum and wood accents. For added convenience, a 60/40-split second row folds flat to create 52.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the first-row seats. The Avenir includes Buick’s first available 10.2-inch-diagonal touchscreen with 30 easy to program XM and radio presets. A heated steering wheel and an air ionizer, a first for Buick in the United States, are standard on the Avenir and Essence trims.

Hoping to improve performance as well as fuel economy, the new Envision is powered by a 2.0-liter Turbo I-4 engine with 228 horsepower and 258 lb.–ft of torque with direct injection and Stop/Start technology. It’s matched to a nine-speed automatic transmission with electronic shift control. While all-wheel drive is available, the test model came with front-wheel-drive.

The EPA estimated fuel economy for the test model was 24 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 31 mpg. During the week-long test drive it averaged 25.6 mpg.

Chock full of safety features, all Envisions come with GM’s signature Rear Seat Reminder that chimes when the vehicle is turned off to remind folks to check for valuable cargo in the back seat. A seat buzzer, another excellent GM feature, sends a physical sensation to the driver to warn of an impending collision. The standard Driver Confidence package offers nine standard active safety features, including Front Pedestrian Braking, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Alert, and Automatic Emergency Braking. For added safety, a light “welcome/walkaway” illuminates the ground by the door when drivers engage the key fob while approaching.

The test model also included connectivity features like wireless charging, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a remote vehicle starter, navigation, OnStar, and Bluetooth with voice recognition.

Semi-autonomous features like adaptive cruise control came at a high price on the test model as part of the Technology Package ($1,965) that also included enhanced auto parking assist. A driver seat massage function and blind spot monitor, however, were modestly priced additions as part of the Premium Seat ($350) and Safety ($200) packages, respectively. The test model also included the available panoramic moonroof ($1,450).

With a starting MSRP of $34,795 the as-tested pricing came to $45,010.

Sí: An elegant design and premium features plus decent fuel economy make the Envision a good value.

No: The Technology Package added good features but at a steep price point and the massage function in the seats was hard to find.

SUV Review: 2022 Acura RDX

 Acura, Reviews  Comments Off on SUV Review: 2022 Acura RDX
May 162022
 
2022 Acura RDX

By Andy Stonehouse

Properly equipped for the winter, which we have an abundance of in Colorado, even the fanciest import sports SUV or sedan makes sense. Smaller, stylish and still speedy, the five-passenger Acura RDX offers great looks and excellent performance.

That was the much happier experience I had with a 2022 edition of Acura’s RDX, a one-size-smaller rendition of the ever-popular MDX, which was delivered, in the winter, with a set of high-performance winter tires (amazingly, this is a rarity, even as my travels take me into a high-altitude climate where I have literally been on traction-challenged ski trips weekly between October and early May). I cannot stress how much that amplified the driving experience and the sense of security, especially as it was the fancier A-Spec Advance Package edition of the vehicle.

2022 Acura

After driving a reasonably similar 2022 Lexus NX and a larger RX sandwiched around the Acura, I feel confident in saying that it’s probably exactly the vehicle I might invest in, if my circumstances called for a flashy, rock-solid and speedy five-passenger SUV. It’s not so tall and gigantic that you can’t reach up to brush snow off the roof, it’s got tons of visual appeal and its 272-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo setup pretty much blew away the NX in every circumstance.

I also got to enjoy Acura’s “super-handling” all-wheel-drive system and its active torque vectoring during snowy outings and then again on a very busy trip to Loveland Ski Area, on the Continental Divide. Both circumstances showed the Ohio-assembled, $52,845 vehicle to be the right size and the right power for the job.

Your feelings on the Acura’s very quiet but hyperstyled cockpit and its overly busy center stack could be an issue, however. Things are still focused around a giant drive mode knob that either lightens the throttle for Snow or apparently throws you into hyperspace in Sport, plus still-curious vertical shift buttons and a broad display screen controlled by a wide, slightly weird touchpad. Unlike most other manufacturers, its traffic data was also 100 percent accurate between the tunnel and Idaho Springs.

2022 Acura RDX

The A-Spec rendition gets more dark trim around the starburst-styled grille, window frames and body panels, plus beautiful multi-spoke 20-inch wheels, and its seats are even sportier than the standard model, with suede inserts and pretty aggressive bolstering. In the back, slightly silly oversized chrome exhaust ports convey the RDX’s somewhat boisterous, sporty character; the seven-lens jewel eye LED headlamps are an equally pleasant (and bright) touch.

I mostly liked that fact that RDX’s mass was never overwhelming or made it feel cumbersome, either on icy surfaces or while running up that horsepower on dry roads. The 10-speed automatic transmission can be pretty actively engaged via paddle shifters, and steering feel and braking capabilities are both accurate and effective.

The 2022 model included the very tangible suspension and dynamics system upgrades, plus wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and built-in Amazon Alexa.

Sí: RDX offers a right-sized mix of power, sportiness and versatility, without the mass and mess of large SUVs.

No: That center stack design is a whole lot to take in, for limited real-world usefulness. But if you like knobs, Acura’s knobs are as ornate as they come.

Andy Stonehouse is a guest contributor to Latino Traffic Report and a freelance automotive journalist based in Lakewood, Colorado. All photos are stock, not as-tested.

SUV Review: 2021 Kia Seltos

 Kia, Reviews  Comments Off on SUV Review: 2021 Kia Seltos
Dec 312021
 

Like the ever-expanding small sport utility vehicle (SUV) segment, Kia’s SUV lineup grew a bit larger in 2021 with the introduction of the Seltos, the middle sibling between the Soul and Sportage models. Latino Traffic Report recently test drove the 2021 Seltos EX with all-wheel drive (AWD) and found that it’s much more than a triplet, it’s a true individual.

Available in five trims, the as-tested EX also sits in the middle of the Seltos lineup. The all-new model bears a distinct exterior, holding onto the tiger nose grille, but its headlamp design could get it mistaken for a Ford, at first glance. Although the test model did not include it, the optional two-tone roof would have individualized the Seltos a bit more.

The advantage of a smaller SUV is improved fuel economy and the Seltos does have an impressive EPA estimated fuel economy of 27 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.  

It’s achieved with a powertrain that includes a 2.0-liter four-cylinder MPI engine producing 146 horsepower and 132 lb.–ft. of torque, matched to an Intelligent Variable Transmission. It averaged 32.2 mpg on the week-long test drive.  A 1.6-liter Turbo GDI engine is available on other trims. Three drive modes, Normal, Eco, Sport, also help maximize the fuel economy and performance.

Inside, the Seltos fluctuates between plain and flashy. The 3.5-inch gauge cluster displays information in an understated black and white, but the stereo includes molded speaker covers in an interesting fractal pattern, heated front seats in a black Sofino leatherette and cloth combination, an eight-inch touchscreen compatible to Apple Car Play or Android Auto, and steering wheel-mounted controls. XM satellite radio, however, was missing. The SX trim adds mood lighting that changes color and intensity based on volume level.

As the name implies, utility is required for an SUV and the Seltos offers 60/40

split rear seats that fold flat as well as recline. Enhanced by a dual-level cargo floor, cargo room reaches 62.8 cubic feet.

The EX trim not only brings AWD for enhanced on-road confidence, it also includes a larger list of standard features, especially on the safety side, like the blind spot collision warning and avoidance assist, rear cross traffic alert (a nice complement to the standard forward collision warning), and a rear seat reminder that alerts owners to check for valuables in the rear seat before exiting the car. Other options included on the test model were a power sunroof, a smart key with remote start, a wireless phone charger, and 17-inch alloy wheels with a striking machine finish.

Starting price on the 2021 Seltos is $23,110. The as-tested price came to $26,885.

Sí: The Seltos offers good fuel efficiency and utility.

No: The display is plain and a blind spot monitor is not standard equipment on all trim levels.

Hybrid Review: 2021 Volvo XC90 and XC60

 Reviews, Volvo  Comments Off on Hybrid Review: 2021 Volvo XC90 and XC60
Nov 302021
 
Volvo Cars XC90 Recharge
Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 AWD.

By Andy Stonehouse

After an exciting time in the sizeable Volvo V90 Wagon last fall, I had expected the real, actual SUV version of Volvo’s full-size automobile category to seem impossibly huge, ponderous, and disconnected—kind of like a Swedish Chevy Tahoe. This was not the case with the XC90, except it also was. It’s smaller sibling, the XC60, was more fun to drive.

Volvo’s Flagship SUV, the XC90

XC90 Recharge Plug-In Hybrid

XC90 Plug-In Hybrid Inscription T8 – Seat Configuration

The XC90 is indeed a long and impressively styled and sculpted vehicle, with marvelous details and a very striking set of optional 21-inch glossy wheels to tie it all together. From the outside, it’s a little more obvious that it contains three comfortable rows of six or seven seats where the passengers at the very back get leg room, cargo bins and full amenities.

The newer XC90 T8 Recharge, the 400-horsepower plug-in electric hybrid version of the SUV, belies its moderately grand scale when planted in the driver’s seat. The ride height is more equivalent to a small SUV from other brands, while the cabin does feel broader and more open thanks to the extra head space.

As for that ultra-fancy Recharge hybrid system—my Inscription-level T8 started at $69,750 but was rounded up to a slightly gasp-inducing $81,690 with a gigantic list of options including a $3,200 Bowers and Wilkins premium sound system—well, you get what you pay for, for the most part, though impressive mileage you do not and will not get.

Volvo has emphasized pure power here and the 400 horsepower and 472 lb.–ft. of torque are more Porsche-like, at least on paper, especially with just a 2.0-liter as the main gasoline power source—turbocharged and supercharged to make 313 horses on its own, before the electric boost kicks in.

What I did notice more than anything, besides a pretty mediocre 24.2 overall MPG (it’s rated at 27 combined highway and city MPG by the EPA), was a lot of odd noises, gurgles, inconsistent power delivery and an operating experience that clearly was going to take some getting used to. Even the Orefors crystal gear shifter knob required multiple taps forward or backward to officially get into gear; the learning curve there was a little steep.

Cruising along in the XC90 was no problem, though the gas/electric power handoffs were a little jagged. Properly charged, in warm weather, with the wind blowing the right direction, you are said to have a full … 18 miles of all-electric range?

That’s disappointing, to say the least, especially since it’s such a classy and dignified vehicle, with razor-sharp suspension. It’s stunningly outfitted in leather seating, a fantastic stereo and hand-stitched console, and dash and door inserts that are even more beautiful than in the V90.

The vertically-oriented Sensus navigation/touchscreen system used to seem enormous before Ram started putting full flatscreen TVs aboard their trucks. Volvo’s is easy to use, with a purist simplicity embodied by one knob.

The XC90’s Spritely Sibling, the XC60

Volvo XC60 Recharge

If you’d like a hybrid experience that actually delivers, the one-size smaller XC60 Recharge, base priced at $61,000 and tested at $71,340, channels that very same powertrain into a more sprightly, responsive and semi-decent mileage kind of situation.

Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 IP display.

Besides the slightly hovercraft-styled reality of the vehicle’s four-corner air suspension system, which set itself down on top of curbs when I parked a couple of times, the 60 seems like a more practical use of the electrified platform. That air system is also helpful if you do want to go lightly off-roading, as it will give you significant lift when you want it.

It’s still 400 horsepower, it’s still got just about 19 miles of full-electric range, but I found it easier to push the mileage into the 30-MPG range, depending on how hard you drive it.

All that electric boost shows up more tangibly here and adds extra oomph to what I believe is one of the most pleasant crossovers of its size category— like the 90, it’s super stylish, comfortable and still utilitarian, with a little less of the pure mass.

It’s also more devoid of the shudder, the ambiguity and the disconnected feeling as the hybrid shifts and blends between electric kick and regular gas-engine wallop.

Design is fantastic, from its ultra-anatomical, perforated leather seats and the cream-colored cabin. The dash is low and flat and the A-pillars thin, though the boxy, oversized side mirrors can get in the way of some visibility, and rear headrests can be automatically dropped to provide clearer rear vision.

Rear seating will still accommodate most passengers, though the cabin is a bit more plain back there, with B-pillar mounted air conditioning and heating vents. You’ll also find reasonable storage space (63.3 cubic feet, total), though the under-deck space is largely used up by batteries and the air bottles for the optional lift system.    

Sí: One of the classiest, most attractive and least gawd-awful-gigantic full-size SUVs around, loaded with technology, and simply wonderful to just sit aboard. The kind of car you wish you would get when you grow up.

No: Volvo’s ambitious and aggressive move to an all-electric fleet might start with hybrids, but an almost $82,000 hybrid that gets 24 MPG isn’t impressing anyone.

Andy Stonehouse is a guest contributor to Latino Traffic Report and a freelance automotive journalist based in Golden, Colorado. All photos are stock, not as-tested.

SUV Review: 2021 Land Rover Defender

 Land Rover, Reviews  Comments Off on SUV Review: 2021 Land Rover Defender
Oct 072021
 

By Andy Stonehouse

The highly-anticipated 2020 (now 2021) Land Rover Defender, the uber-stylized, virtually unstoppable, retro-futuristic reinvention of Land Rover’s classic-looking off-roader, is quite the vehicle, in many ways. There hasn’t been a Defender in North America since 1997, owing to domestic safety rules, so this is indeed a big reintroduction.

While I had a joyous experience in the $71,025 Defender 110 SE model, the legion of hardcore, old-school Land Rover fanatics will either love or recoil in horror from the new, Slovakian-built Defender’s very striking mix of futuristic design and super-classic elements.

Like the very first Land Rovers going back to the late 1940s, this new model has decided that boxy is better and the rear cabin of the extended-wheelbase (119-inch) 110 model integrates that retro, safari-proven style with functional side skylights and an optional, ultra-classic white contrast roof. There’s also a peculiar, body-colored panel inserted in the otherwise black-on-black windows in the rear (which serves as the mounting plate for roof racks and such); side mirrors are tiny boxes, and the rear brake lamps look like they come out of a 12-year-old kid’s Minecraft session.

The 110 model can be ordered in five- or seven-passenger seating arrangements—mine subbed in a dedicated cargo area with the most rugged plastic floor and seatback plating I’ve ever seen (an effect repeated on its hood panels). Later this year, you will also be able to order the shorter Defender 90 model; all Defenders can be customized with a gajillion accessories, e.g.  roof racks, gear carriers, spare wheel covers, portable rinse systems and scuff plates.

I literally beat the hell out the Defender 110 during the test drive, engaging all of its ultra-sophisticated electronic off-road controls and easing up and down steep, rocky, sandy and snow-covered slopes, without a single problem. They’re all controlled by a new, fantastic center console (featuring an upright gear lever kind of like a joystick) that is entirely dark with the power off, but lights up to allow you access to easily control everything from terrain and throttle/braking response to the vehicle’s self-guided crawl mode. A broad video screen offers feedback on 4×4 settings, with innovative around-view cameras to help with safer navigation in sketchy spots. It’s also got a new wading mode to safely glide through up to 34 inches of water.

There are two choices of power for those various models, including a 296-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder and the very impressive 395-horsepower, mild hybrid electric vehicle inline-six cylinder engine. Mine had the latter and its 48-volt integrated supercharger turns what is a lot of metal into a box that will hit 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, and absolutely gallop up mountain passes. A very slow cruise got me mileage in the mid-20s, but I would expect the 19 combined MPG the EPA sticker suggests.

Si: Undoubtedly one of the most capable off-road vehicles in the world, it will offer assistance to other brands with extra, semi-hybrid power that helps it boogie, uphill.

No: It’s weird as hell, in a lot of ways, and the looks and design are definitely polarizing. The interior also looks more like a science experiment than a passenger vehicle.

Andy Stonehouse is a guest contributor to Latino Traffic Report and a freelance automotive journalist based in Golden, Colorado. All photos are stock, not as-tested.

SUV Review: Ford Expedition

 Ford, Reviews  Comments Off on SUV Review: Ford Expedition
Sep 222021
 
Expedition Premium
Expedition Max King Ranch

As sport utility vehicles (SUVs) grow, so do their price tags so that even the base model of a full-size SUV can produce a bit of sticker shock.  With a starting price above $50,000, the Ford Expedition is no exception.

Redesigned in 2018 (it’ll be refreshed for 2022), the Expedition continues to serve buyers with the need for transporting multiple passengers, lots of cargo, and towing. Latino Traffic Report recently tested the two highest end models of this fancy workaholic, the Expedition Platinum and extended length Max.

The Expedition

Regardless of trim level, all Expeditions benefitted from a new exterior design that gave them a more refined look in 2018. Three years later, the fourth generation Expedition still showcases a 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine and ten-speed automatic transmission that produce up to 375 horsepower and 470 ft.–lbs. of torque with best-in-class maximum towing capability of 9,300 pounds.

It has an EPA estimated fuel economy of 17 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 23 on the highway. The aluminum-alloy body, redesigned high-strength steel frame, and stop-start technology help stretch fuel further. The extended version adds 11.9 inches in length but loses a couple mpgs with a city/highway EPA estimated fuel economy of 16/21 mpg.

Flexible seating and storage solutions include second-row tip-and-slide seating, standard on all models, that provide easy access to the third row.

Improved utility on the all-new Expedition comes with the class-exclusive Pro Trailer Backup Assist camera that helps drivers maneuver with confidence when backing up to a trailer.

Standard safety features include a perimeter alarm, the SOS post-crash alert, traction control, and a blind spot monitor with cross-traffic alert, lane keeping assist, pre-collision warning, and automatic high beams as part of Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 technology suite.

Platinum 4X2

Fully loaded with technology and otherwise optional features, the Platinum trim level also improves on aesthetics with satin chrome scuff plates, ivory leather seats, and body color door handles.

As a 4×2 configuration, the test model was meant to stay on the road and as such, provided a comfy, quiet ride ensconced in a plush interior. Ford sets the bar regarding seating comfort, in LTR’s experience.

Not only were the front seats heated but so were the second row. The front seats, however, were also cooled or ventilated. The rear seats deployed easily with the push of a button as did the hands free liftgate. Both test models offered seating for seven with captain’s chairs in the second row rather than a bench.

Maneuvering such a large vehicle requires extra technology like a 360-degree camera when in reverse with sensors to make sure to avoid people and objects. For the smaller statured, power running boards make getting in and out of the vehicle much smoother and adjustable pedals improved driver confidence and safety.

A panoramic sunroof on the test model and a hotspot with wireless phone charging included on both, added luxury and convenience.

The Premium averaged 20.4 mpg on the weeklong test drive.

Built at Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, Kentucky, pricing on the 2021 Expedition starts at $52,290 with destination fees. The as-tested price came to $75,925 with 22-inch wheels and second-row buckets seats adding $595.

King Ranch 4×4

Not only is the Expedition Max longer than other Expeditions, the test model came in one of the most successful and plush trims that Ford offers, the King Ranch. Named for the famed ranch in Kingsville, Texas, purchasing this trim rewards the buyer with Del Rio leather seating and accents that bear the King Ranch logo.

The test model swapped a panoramic roof for the roof rack found on the Premium and added a ten-way driver and passenger memory seat.

While max towing on the King Ranch can reach 9,000 lbs., a little less than its shorter sibling, its added length expanded cargo room for a maximum of 121.5 cubic feet.

The test modal also lost a bit of fuel efficiency due to its size, it averaging 17.9 mpg.

The main feature on the King Ranch that sets apart, however, really boils down to its interior. There’s more plastic included than in the past but the leather seating, with saddlebags on the seat backs for added storage, achieves quite a high standard in the segment.

The as-tested price for the King Ranch came to $81,680 with an added $1,570 for its 22-inch wheels and heavy-duty trailer tow package.

Sí: Both test models offered what buyers would expect in a large SUV, particularly at this price point, lots of luxury, comfort, and convenience.

No: The infotainment system didn’t offer enough presets and the start-stop fuel saving system was abrupt.

Midsize Sedan Reviews: Mazda6 and Lexus IS 350

 Lexus, Mazda, Reviews  Comments Off on Midsize Sedan Reviews: Mazda6 and Lexus IS 350
Jul 312021
 
Mazda6 Signature
Lexus IS 350 F Sport

Believe it or not, fans of the sedan do still exist and at a time when computer chip shortages have made most sport utility vehicles hard to find, overlooked sedans may lurking on the lot. Packed with standard features and new technology, the modern sedan has gotten sleeker inside and out. Latino Traffic Report recently drove the Mazda6, specifically the top-of-the-line Signature trim as well as the Lexus IS 350 F Sport, two viable sedan options with more in common than expected.

Mazda6

UltraSuede dash.

Mazda’s flagship midsize sedan, the Mazda6, pushes style and refinement but the Signature trim is considered the most aspirational in the lineup.

Regarding its design, the test model Mazda6 set itself apart on the outside with unique features like a gunmetal front grille and on the inside, with Nappa leather seating enhanced by heated and cooled seats, Japanese Sen wood and gilded UltraSuede (right), accents that most carmakers save for their luxury nameplates.

Convenience features on the Mazda6 also hit a high mark with a 360-degree View Monitor (backup camera) with front and rear parking sensors, a seven-inch reconfigurable digital gauge cluster, and Mazda’s navigation system with Traffic Sign Recognition, an essential feature for speed traps. On the test model, a black headliner, frameless rearview mirror, LED ambient lights and unique stitching on the leather-wrapped steering wheel completed the heightened look and feel. Plus, the rear seat was split 60/40 for added utility and access to the trunk.

For 2021, Mazda enhances the standard safety suite of features by adding radar cruise control with stop-and-go function, pedestrian detection, collision and lane departure warning with Lane-Keep Assist, and a blind spot monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.

The test model added a rear spoiler, ambient cabin lighting, and XM Travel and Traffic Link.

While it offers more luxury than most in its segment, the Mazda6 doesn’t ignore performance. A more powerful turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with Mazda’s signature Skyactiv fuel saving technology with 227 horses and 310 lb.–ft. of torque powered the test model. The engine was matched to a six-speed automatic transmission with a Sport mode for a more aggressive performance.

The EPA estimated fuel economy on the Mazda was 23 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. It averaged 26 mpg on the weeklong test drive.

The starting price for the base model 2021 Mazda6 is $25,270. The as-tested price came to $36,620. For fans of Mazda’s signature Soul Red Crystal Metallic exterior paint color, that’ll cost an extra $595.

Lexus IS 350

The IS represents the entry level Lexus sedan model for car buyers who aspire to move into the luxury segment.

As such, the IS reflects the brand’s distinctive design DNA, namely the spindle grille, while pushing its sportier side.

One would assume luxury nameplates always include a bigger list of standard features but that’s not always true, for instance, leather seating is not offered on the IS, including on the test model, IS 350 F Sport considered near the top-of-the-line IS—replacing rear-wheel drive with all-wheel drive on the test model would have made it top of line. NuLuxe, a man-made leather upholstery, is standard on the IS but also convincing as a leather alternative. Lexus’s dramatic color palate for the seating also helps. The test model came with black seats with gray accents and blue stitching. The shift knob and steering wheel, however, were leather trimmed.

As expected, the Lexus included a healthy list of safety features, like pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, Lexus Enform Safety Connect and Service Connect, a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, and Smart Watch and Alexa Skill integration, among other features. The parking sensor, however, didn’t always engage.

Lexus is one of the few automakers to stick with a six-cylinder engine and that’s what powers the IS, specifically a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 311 hp and 280 lb.­–ft. of torque. Matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the test model also came with drive modes and paddle shifters on the steering wheel for better performance. It had an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 20/28 mpg and averaged 23.3 mpg on the test drive.

As mentioned, the test model came equipped with the F Sport package ($3,735) that put badging wherever possible and with a sportier look inside, like metal pedals and bolstered front seats, but more importantly, a sport tuned and adaptive variable suspension, limited slip rear differential, and 19-inch alloy wheels. It also added fancy features like a power rear sunshade and illuminated door sills. For 2021, only the IS 350 comes in an F Sport model.

Starting price on the 2021 Lexus IS is $39,050 without destination fees. The as-tested price came to $52,484.

Sí: The Mazda6 may seem pricey but it effectively combines luxury amenities with a sporty performance.

The Lexus IS 350 F Sport offers a sporty performance in a snazzy package.

No: The lack of leather seating on any Lexus seemed odd and the level of road noise was surprising.

The infotainment system on the Mazda6 was a bit clunky and hard to program.

Crossover Review: Hyundai Venue

 Hyundai, Reviews  Comments Off on Crossover Review: Hyundai Venue
Jun 152021
 

Competition may not be the mother of invention, but it’s certainly related. In the escalating crossover sport utility vehicle (SUV) market, carmakers have had to get creative when trying to compete. Hyundai opted to approach the challenge from a value perspective when introducing yet another crossover, the Venue, to its lineup. Latino Traffic Report recently got to drive the thrifty little SUV, specifically, the Venue SEL, and while it may be cheapest SUV offered, Hyundai’s certainly not giving it away.

To hold their own, crossovers need to offer what car buyers want, utility combined with the performance of a sedan. Introduced in 2020, the Venue certainly checks this box offering a 60/40 split second-row seat that deploys easily to expose 31.9 cu. ft. of cargo room. Despite being Hyundai’s smallest SUV, its interior as a whole felt roomy, the seats were a striking black and white two-tone and there were creative cubbies for storage like the one pictured (right) under the dash. The ride, however, was a bit bumpy.

For added convenience, a rearview camera, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel with cruise and cruise control, cruise control though not adaptive, remote keyless entry and forward collision avoidance are standard. Initially, getting more comforting technology, like a blind spot monitor, required the Convenience Package but for 2021, it’s now standard on SEL and Denim trim levels. The test model also added a sunroof and leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, as well as the Premium package ($1,750 ) that brought heated fronts seats, LED headlights and taillights, and an eight-inch navigation touchscreen, among other features.

A 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine with 121 horsepower and 113 ft.-lbs. of torque powers the Venue, matched to a continuously variable transmission. Compact SUVs should also try to be fuel-efficient. The Venue has an EPA estimated fuel economy of 30 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 33 on the highway. It averaged 33.8 on the test drive. The test model included Snow, and Drive modes to improve performance but oddly, not an Eco mode to improve fuel efficiency.

Available in three trim levels, S, SEL, and Denim, pricing for the 2021 Venue starts at $19,870. The as-tested price came to $23,405.

Si: As advertised, the Venue offers utility and value in the compact crossover segment.

No: While adding a blind spot monitor as standard equipment on SEL and Denim was a good move, the base model is excluded. Consumers should at least have the chance to purchase this technology.

Full-Size SUV Review: 2021 Nissan Armada

 Nissan, Reviews  Comments Off on Full-Size SUV Review: 2021 Nissan Armada
Jun 102021
 

By Andy Stonehouse

What might be considered the “regular” version of its luxurious, mechanically-similar cousin, the Infiniti QX80, the all-new 2021 Nissan Armada is anything but. In many ways, it’s a more practical and more enjoyable rendition of the shared, 400-horsepower, eight-passenger package.

Admittedly, the 4×4 Platinum trim level of the Armada I drove did check in at a total price of $71,250—considerably higher than the $48,600 base model that’s out there—making it a little more Infiniti-esque than initially planned.

But I still liked it more than a QX80 I drove just a few months earlier. Maybe that’s because with just a little less gloss—or, maybe just a whole lot of its own kind of gloss—the Armada Platinum was a lot more fun and stable to drive, even with gargantuan 22-inch wheels as its standard issue.

Redesigned for 2021, the Armada now features a moderately overwhelming central stack of infotainment and other controls, but it’s still more manageable and user-friendly than Infiniti. I even had a pair of behind-the-front-headrests video screens as part of this model’s seven-passenger layout: two large captain’s chairs with a massive console between them, each of them flipping and flopping out of the way to gain access to what was a reasonably sizeable third row that slides up and out of the floor when needed. Those third-row seats actually move back quite a bit in the process, revealing decent foot room.

The biggest news is a largely redesigned exterior. The new ultra-bright LED headlamps and tail lights and a standard 12.3-inch color infotainment display way up on top of that center stack were most impressive. The vehicle’s hood still came up to my neck, i.e. small it is not, in any way. The Armada is 208.9 inches overall, 79.9 inches wide and 75.8 inches high, maybe even taller on those big 22s.

The 5.6-liter V-8 and a seven-speed transmission help cart around the 6,037 pounds of metal my top-end model weighed; that power, plus 413 lb.–ft. of torque, means it’s good to haul up to 8,500 pounds of trailer, with trailer brake controls built into the bottom of the console.

You will not find that power insufficient, or the engine particularly meek in its exhaust note. This is old-school muscle at work, and I got a passable 16.9 combined MPG during high-altitude drives in the mountains. It’s rated at 14 MPG city and 19 highway, which is about as old-school as they come, nowadays.

Armada’s raw bigness certainly presents itself when parking and maneuvering, like a piece of industrial equipment. I had to remember to turn the wheel an extra crank to center myself in lane when taking corners in town. But parking was actually better than in other fuller-than-full-sized SUVs, with backing cameras and some very noisy proximity alarms that made it pretty simple.

Armada’s rendition of an Infiniti-worthy leathery, glossy interior is quite tasteful, with large, quilted leather seating, draped leather on the doors and some nice glossy wood highlights, including bits that curve from the doors into the dash.

Sí: With the exception of its glossiest models, the Armada represents an affordable option to the tony Infiniti QX80, with all of the size, power and stance. Think Yukon Denali vs. Escalade.

No: The bigness is just plain old big, making parking an issue and resulting in 1990s-styled gas mileage. Get a stepladder if you want to load anything onto the roof.

Andy Stonehouse is a guest contributor to Latino Traffic Report and a freelance automotive journalist based in Golden, Colorado. All photos are stock, not as-tested.