Toyota’s midsize Highlander is all new for 2020 and with three-rows, can seat seven or eight people depending on second row options. And its sculpted design that’s a real eye-catcher.
In this its fourth generation, Highlander sits on a new platform that has grown a bit to accommodate the third row seats while also increasing overall interior space. It’s offered in FWD and AWD and in L, LE, XLE, Limited and top-shelf Platinum that was tested.
After a mere 19-inch step-in into the cabin, you’re treated to a sumptuous interior with super soft, perforated leather heated/cooled front seats, a wide 12.3-inch tri-view touchscreen, easy to operate HVAC controls and an overall pleasing luxury car design wherein you’d think you were in a posh Lexus sedan.
Impressive is the 12.3-inch display that serves the gamut of satellite audio, Entune apps, navigation, HVAC control selections, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Alexa, Waze, Wi-Fi connectivity and a rearview camera with a really nifty 360-degree revolving view around the vehicle.
All Highlander models come standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense system that includes pre-collision warning w/pedestrian detection and automatic braking, full-speed radar cruise control, lane departure alert w/steering assist, automatic high beam, lane tracing assist (new), road sign assist (new), blind spot monitor w/rear cross traffic alert and more.
The console accommodates the 8-speed automatic transmission shifter with multiple operating controls and the console box hides a wireless phone charger.
There are three drive modes of Normal, Eco and Sport while a rotary activates the AWD modes of Mud/Sand, Rock/Dirt with a separate switch for Snow mode. With 8-inches of ground clearance and its AWD system, Highlander can handle moderately harsh off-road terrain.
Highlander’s gauge cluster incorporates a driver’s information display to show selected operating functions, alerts and more.
The top-line Platinum comes with heated second row captain’s chairs as well that offer seating for seven. Lesser models can be had with a second row bench seat that combined with the third row is rated at eight. But the third row is mainly for youngsters.
Back in the cargo area and with the third row seat upright, there’s 16 cubic feet of cargo space that measures 18 inches deep, 45 wide and 24 high. Flip them and capacity increases to 48.4 cubic feet for 44 inches of cargo depth. Fold down the second row seatbacks and capacity expands to 84.3 cubic feet.
Beneath the cargo floor is a 4-inch deep storage bin that houses car-jack tools with space for small item storage.
Highlander Platinum came with a 3.5L, V6 producing 295-hp and 263 lb/ft of torque. With the 8-speed auto trans, the combination earned EPA mileage ratings of 20 city, 27-highway mpg with start/stop engine technology. Not miserly, but consider it’s an AWD midsize with a curb weight of 4,450 pounds. This hunk has a payload of 1,485 pounds and can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Despite this heft, Highlander has exceptional power. In Sport mode and at 50 mph, punch the throttle and it blasts off while pushing the body into the seat as it quickly reaches its 7,000 rpm redline in three seconds. It offers robust acceleration from a standing stop and during highway passing maneuvers.
If you’d prefer better economy, Highlander is also offered with a hybrid powertrain. It’s powered by a 2.5L, inline 4-cylinder with 186-hp and 175 lb/ft of torque. Combined with the electric motor is develops a total of 243-hp and with AWD, it’s rated at 35/34 mpg.
With an overall length of 194.9 inches, Highlander is surprisingly easy to park in tight spots with its tight 37.4 foot turning radius.
As for the ride on tall 20-inch Bridgestone tires, it’s smooth and quiet. Highlander is an SUV that excels at providing a comfy ride. Tar strips and pock-marked roads are smoothed and go mostly unnoticed.
And for a somewhat tall vehicle, Highlander handles exceptionally well. There’s virtually negligible lean in sharp turns and it’s absent of any tippy feeling.
With a very long list of standard features, functions and safety items, Highlander carried a base price of $48,800. The only extra cost options were for special color paint ($425) and carpeted floor mats ($318) that took the bottom line to $50,663 including delivery.
For those with a large family who need a third row seat or need for occasional use, Highlander is a proven SUV that has been around a long time. Only this 2020 version is the best to date with loads of enhancements that maintains a high resale value. A win-win SUV all the way around.
As the seventh in their extensive line of fine crossover/SUVs, Hyundai has debuted their Venue, a newly designed from the ground up compact crossover (although Hyundai classifies it as a midsize).
Venue cannot be considered a true SUV since it’s only available with FWD not AWD. But that may come.
Venue is the smallest and least expensive crossover Hyundai offers, and likely the least expensive among its six main competitors.
Size wise, it’s about 5 inches shorter, 1.2 inches narrower and rides on a wheelbase that is 3.2 inches shorter than Hyundai’s Kona, a recent top seller.
What it lacks in size, it makes up for in interior space and fuel economy with near hybrid EPA mileage estimates. And it’s handsome to boot. In fact, when stopping at a friends’ house and he saw the Venue, he said the front end resembled a Mercedes crossover.
Offered in SE SEL and Denim trims, we tested the latter with its denim blue color with contrasting white roof and white accent strips over each wheel well.
Venue has a boxy look but that’s to its advantage as a cargo and people carrier. Its pronounced shoulders give it a macho, off-roader look even though it’s not intended as such. Merely very mild off-roads due to its low 6.69-inch ground clearance.
Venue’s interior, after a mere 17-inch step-in, is spacious and airy, the latter compliments of tall windows and expansive fore and aft visibility. The steering wheel is telescopic (few cars offer this) and tiltable.
Front seats are heated, sensibly supportive, semi-soft with cloth inserts and leatherette trim over outer high wear points.
An 8-inch iPad type touchscreen, serves the audio, navigation, rearview camera, Blue Link infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, XM radio, traffic alerts, weather, local fuel prices, eateries and some voice commands. And it can do so in split-screen mode.
The console mounted shifter controls what Hyundai coins, Intelligent Variable Transmission. It differs from a CVT as it shifts similarly to a traditional transmission with quick, smooth shifts. It’s flanked by a mode switch offering Normal, Sport and Snow modes. Sport alters shift points, steering effort and responsiveness of engine and transmission. When engaged, acceleration and passing maneuvers are spirited. In Snow mode, wheel spin on snowy roads is suppressed which is helpful when starting off from a dead stop on slick surfaces.
Venue’s gauge cluster features a large, bold speedometer and tachometer with a driver information display nestled between them for a host of alerts and operational functions.
With wide opening doors, ingress/egress into the seats, especially the back seats, is easy with comfy seating. They’re rated for three, but that’s mainly for youngsters. Provided the front seats aren’t racked well rearward, leg room is adequate for two average size adults with gobs of headroom.
Back in the cargo area, that has a low 29-inch liftover, and with the seatbacks upright, there’s 18.7 cubic feet of space that measures 25.5 inches deep, 28 high and 38 wide. Flip the seatbacks and capacity increases to 31.9 cubic feet for 56 inches of cargo loading depth.
Beneath the cargo floor is a space saver tire with space around it to stow small items out of sight.
Venue’s power comes from a 1.6-liter, inline 4-cylinder that generates 121-hp and 113 lb/ft of torque that earns impressive EPA mileage estimates of 30 city, 34-highway mpg. Now those are close to hybrid numbers. Despite its size, the little 1.6 displays a linear application of power until Sport mode is engaged wherein torque kicks in quicker. At idle the engine, like many 4-bangers, is a bit noisy but once underway it dissipates. The 1.6 moves Venue’s 2,735-pound curb weight with ease.
Venue rides on Nexen 17-inch tires and along with a torsion beam rear axle and twin tube shock absorbers, the ride is on the taut side which is understandable with its short 99.2-inch wheelbase. Major pock marks and tar strips ripple into the cabin, but they’re far from punishing.
Handling with electric assisted steering is noble with nary any lean in sharp turns. And Venue parks ever so easily with a tight turn diameter of 16.6 feet. It’s nimble and a real hoot to drive.
Venue Denim came with but one extra cost option – floor mats ($135). Otherwise, there’s a long list of standard safety and amenity items that include forward collision avoidance w/pedestrian alert, lane keeping assist w/driver attention warning, blind spot collision warning/rear cross traffic alert, infotainment system with streaming audio and more. For all this, Venue carried a base price of $22,050 and with the mats and delivery, it bottom-lined at an extremely affordable $23,305.
But that’s not all. As with all Hyundai’s, Venue comes with a very generous and unbeatable 5 year/60,000-mile new vehicle; 10/100K powertrain; 7/Unlimited anti-perforation (rust); and 5/Unlimited roadside assistance warranties.
Venue makes a perfect college student crossover where loads of belongings can be carried, or, an economical commuter, or secondary vehicle for those who may own a pickup truck. It’s destined to be another top seller for Hyundai.
Insofar as compact crossover SUVs go, Volkswagen’s Tiguan with 4Motion (AWD) offers quality German build, Euro handling and pleasing conservative styling. Added to that, it has the latest technological and safety features that todays car buyers desire.
Tiguan crossover is offered in S, SE, SEL, SEL Premium trim levels, in R-Line appearance package, and in FWD and 4Motion. The latter has a locking differential that can transfer power to the wheels from side to side and front to back.
We were privileged to test the top shelf SEL Premium 4Motion R-Line, the latter includes 20-inch wheels, special exterior badging, dual color leather interior, brushed aluminum pedals and racy flat-bottomed heated steering wheel.
With an easy 18-inch step-in, Tiguan’s R-Line interior in the test car was an eye-grabber with its orange and grey leather seating that is set-off with orange stiping. For sure, a contrast in color combination.
But that’s not all. Press the keyless ignition switch and not only does the 8-inch touchscreen come to life, but your eyes will quickly drift to the colorful all digital gauge cluster with embedded driver information display.
Tiguan’s heated and colorful front seats are sensibly supportive but on the firm side. It seems all Euro car seats including Benz and BMW have seats that could use more padding.
That aside, Tiguan’s vertical stack and its multi-functional touchscreen with voice control, serves Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Mirror Link connectivity, VW App-Connect, navigation, Fender audio, traffic reports, fuel prices, weather, rearview camera with birds-eye view and selectable mode display. Even a CD player – remember those?
Tiguan’s HVAC controls are easy to view, use and offers a Max A/C switch that quickly cools a hot interior. It’s a shame more cars don’t offer that mode.
At the base of the console, VW included a convenient wireless phone charger that will accommodate most smartphones.
The car’s console houses the standard 8-speed automatic transmission shifter and below it is a rotary mode switch for Snow, Normal, Off-road, and Custom Off-road modes. There are also sub modes within the latter that can be tailored to the driver’s needs. And that includes such off-road considerations like sandy terrain, inclines, steering angles and altimeter.
Rated for five passengers, with a third seat option for seven, the second row seat too is firm but offers ample leg and generous headroom. The middle passenger, however, does have to contend with a transaxle hump for a knees up sitting position. Tiguan’s liftgate opens/closes with a wave of the foot under the rear bumper that offers a mere 28-inch lift over.
The cargo area is spacious and with the 40/20/40 seatbacks upright, there’s 37.6 cubic feet of cargo space that measures 40 inches deep, 43 wide and 30 high. Flip the rear seatbacks and capacity expands to 73.5 cubic feet for a full six feet (72 inches) of cargo loading depth. There are also two 8-inch deep storage bins on each side of the area for small items storage.
Tiguan gets its grunt from a 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder producing 184-hp and 221 lb/ft of torque that earns EPA mileage ratings of 20 city, 27-highway mpg with start/stop engine technology. The powertrain moves Tiguan’s 3,847-pound curb in linear fashion while enabling it to tow up to 1,500 pounds. There’s certainly no want for power. Under hard throttle, engine noise is noticeable but dissipates at cruise.
As for ride, it’s somewhat firm but handling is precise. Turn the steering wheel an inch either way and the front end points 15 degree’s either way. It parks easily too with a compact 37.7 foot turning radius. Tiguan exudes fine Euro handling, a trait Japanese and American designed cars lack.
Tiguan SEL Premium 4Motion came with an extremely long list of standard safety features and functions much too long to list. Because of that, there were no extra cost options as everything a car buyer could want in a crossover is included. But here is an abbreviated list: Anti-slip, engine brake assist; intelligent crash response, auto post collision braking; tire pressure monitoring; adaptive front lighting; rain sensing wipers w/heated washer nozzles; panoramic sunroof; adaptive cruise control; forward collision warning and auto braking w/pedestrian monitoring; blind spot monitoring/rear traffic alert; lane keeping assist; hill hold/descent control; remote engine start and many more.
With all those, Tiguan’s bottom line came in at $39,815 with a $1,020 delivery charge.
Added to this, Tiguan comes with a 4 year/50K new vehicle warranty; 7/100K corrosion protection; 2/20K carefree scheduled maintenance; and 3/36K 24-hour roadside assistance coverage.
Tiguan is situated in an extremely long list of competitors in its class. But comparing the aforementioned standard features with its price, this German import becomes a compelling choice.
With the return of Ford’s Ranger pickup, the midsize truck has been turning up some impressive sales number. From January through June, Ranger sold 45,988 trucks compared to Chevy’s top selling Colorado that came in at 41,273.
Before Ford ceased selling the Ranger of old, it was the top selling compact pickup at the time. When that happened, Toyota’s Tacoma took the lead and is still the top selling midsize pickup.
Ford made significant improvements to the Ranger as it now comes with a potent 2.3-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 270-hp and an impressive 310 lb/ft of torque that’s coupled to a new 10-speed automatic transmission. The combination boasts a 7,500 tow rating and a best-in-class payload of 1,860 pounds (on SuperCab 4X2) and EPA mileage estimates of 20 city, 24-highway mpg with start/stop engine technology. The previous Ranger’s were powered by a 4.0-liter V6 that wasn’t exactly thrifty. I know. I owned a 1999 Ford Explorer Sport with the same engine.
As for towing, Ford offers a Tow-Optimized Blind Spot Monitoring system that can see whatever is behind the truck and it can recall three varying trailer lengths.
So powered, Ranger had gobs of power even with four aboard. The 2.3L moved Ranger’s 4,441-pound weight with ease.
Ride quality was decent with leaf springs and HD shocks in the rear suspension and 8-inch wide, Hankook 18-inch tires. Load up the bed with mulch or small ATV and it rides even better.
It handles good as well with a planted feel although with wide tires, it had a tendency to wonder a bit. Wide, deep lugged tires have a tendency to do that.
The 2020 Ranger is offered in XL, XLT and Lariat and in SuperCab (with rear-hinged half door) and SuperCrew (with four full doors) and in 4X2 or 4X4. We tested the Lariat SuperCrew 4X4 that came exceptionally furnished and equipped with many of the latest safety features.
As standard, the Lariat had lane keeping assist, pre-collision assist, reverse sensing with a rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring, trailer sway control and more.
Ranger’s heated leather front seats were nicely padded with comfortable lateral support which means they’re not encumbering and can accommodate heavy winter clothing.
An 8-inch touchscreen serves the audio, rearview camera, climate selections and the optional ($2,005) Sync3 system consisting of navigation, technology package with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and with the FordPass Connect option you get 4G Wi-Fi Hotspot connectivity and satellite radio.
Ranger’s 4WD system consists of the traditional 2H, 4H and 4L gearing. Plus, Ranger’s Terrain Management system offers Normal, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts modes. With the FX4 Off-Road package ($1,295), it adds rear differential lock for extra traction when stuck or when the going gets really tough despite FX4’s 8.9-inch ground clearance.
HVAC controls are easy to use but could be a bit larger, like the type Ford uses in their Escape crossover. However, climate selections can also be made on the touchscreen.
Ranger’s 10-speed automatic transmission gets a hefty shifter with switches (Select Shift) on the side to down/up shift the trans wherein the shifts are quick and go mostly unnoticed.
The gauge cluster features a large single speedometer that’s flanked by a digital compass on one side and a driver information display on the other. The latter offers a host of operating functions, alerts and it displays the selected Terrain Management modes.
Step-in into the cabin, and in particular the back seat, is 14.5 inches to the narrow running boards or 23 to the cabin floor.
Once in, the back seat can hold three small stature adults with manageable leg room, provided the fronts aren’t racked well rearward. The seat bottom flips up against the bulkhead and beneath it are two sizable storage bins to stow gear or tools.
Ranger comes with a locking tailgate that locks via the keyfob (or manually) when locking the doors. The tailgate isn’t dampened like it is on Ford’s F-Series pickups, but it isn’t overly heavy. Load height is a low 34 inches.
Like the F-150, Ranger doesn’t have a nifty pull-out from the tailgate bed step, perhaps because the gate isn’t as thick as its big brothers to accommodate it. But we would have liked to see a swing out or pull down step of some sorts from underneath the rear bumper to ease stepping into the bed, which on the test truck had an optional ($995) hard, 3-piece folding tonneau cover.
With the keyfob in a pocket, the doors automatically unlock upon a slight touch on the door handle. We like that Ford maintained their traditional five button keyless keypad ($95) on the driver’s door. Comes in handy if forgetting the fob.
Carrying a base price of $38,675, this price escalated after adding the aforementioned options, a black appearance package ($1,995) that included blackened wheels, sprayed-in bedliner, running boards, tray style floor liner ($160); add to that trailer tow package ($495) and delivery ($1,195) which took the bottom line to $46,910.
To its credit, Ranger earned a four-star overall government safety rating; five for driver frontal crash/four for passenger; a full five stars for front/rear seat side crash; and three for rollover.
Ranger has a lot of competition from established brands, but so far it’s holding its own and selling well.
Ford’s compact AWD Escape is in its fourth generation, and for 2020, it underwent a complete makeover with added safety technology and a new, longer, wider, athletic look., all packaged in a hybrid model.
Escapes’ front end boasts a sexy fascia adorned with eight, jeweled, shark-eye type lights and oval grille that gives it a Porsche look. Even its back end takes on a Porsche Cayenne resemblance as it meets a sloping roofline. Not a bad comparison I’d say.
Escape is offered in FWD and AWD in certain models, and in S, SE, SE Sport, SEL and Titanium trim levels, the latter of which was tested. It’s also offered with four powertrains of which we tested the 2.5-liter, inline-4, Hybrid that comes standard with AWD.
After a mere 18-inch step-in, you’re treated to a posh and pleasing interior that includes perforated leather seats that were cushy and supportive. The test car had heated front seats and steering wheel.
Three cabin features immediately grab the eyes. The first, an 8-inch iPad type touchscreen perched atop the dash, then a rotary transmission shifter for the CVT transmission, and a vivid 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster. For those who own an iPad, the touchscreen is easy to use, even for those who don’t have one. It serves the audio, rearview camera, apps, climate control selections, Travel Link with weather forecasts, local traffic reports and more. The transmission shifter may take some getting used to if coming from a console or column mounted shifter. But once acclimating to it, you’ll never go back to a conventional shifter.
HVAC controls are easy to view and use and there’s even a Max AC switch that in 90-degree weather, quickly cools a hot interior. It’s a great feature that disappointingly, is no longer offered on most competitive vehicles.
Escape Titanium came standard with Ford’s Co-Pilot360 and Assist that offers adaptive cruise with stop/go, lane centering, evasive steering assist, pedestrian alert, voice activated navigation with SiriusXM Traffic/Traffic Link plus Active Park Assist. The latter automatically parallel parks the vehicle. There’s also FordPass Connect that offers 4G LTE Wi-Fi connect for up to 10 mobile devices. Add Ford’s Sync 3 and you get Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Ford Alexa and Waze navigation. Add to this a panoramic sunroof.
Escape’s back seat is richly padded and comfy for two adults with 40.7 inches of leg room. The seats slide fore and aft so if more cargo space is needed, merely slide them forward which increases cargo area space.
As a hybrid, Ford smartly placed the liquid cooled lithium hybrid battery under the rear seats so as to not take space away from the cargo area.
Speaking of the cargo area, that has a hands-free liftgate, a mere 25 inch liftover enables easier loading of bulky, heavy items. With the rear seats upright, there’s 30.7 cubic feet with the seats fully rearward, or 34.4 with them slid full forward. Flip them and cargo capacity expands to 60.8 cubic feet that measures 65 inches deep, 42.5 wide and 29.5 high. Beneath the cargo floor is the spare tire wherein some small items can be hid in a section on one side of the tire.
Now for the powertrain. As said, there are four offered but we had the privilege of testing the 2.5-liter, Atkinson-cycle inline 4-cylinder that generated a total of 200-hp and 155 lb/ft of torque. Coupled to one of the better CVT automatic transmissions on the market, it gives the operational performance of a traditional transmission. So mated Escape AWD Hybrid had EPA mileage estimates of 43 city, 37-highway mpg.
Performance wise, power/torque came on in linear fashion and in electric battery mode it offered quick and quiet normal acceleration. Under hard acceleration, the engine was a bit noisy but dissipated when letting off the accelerator. And the transition from hybrid to engine power and reverse, goes unnoticed.
For those who prefer a plug-in hybrid version (PHEV), the same engine is rated for 100 MPG3 combined, or about 37 miles on electric only. Good for local commutes.
With electric power steering, the effort is light that makes parking in tight spots easy, even without the park assist feature. On highway driving, steering feel is a tad numb but overall handling remains planted during sharp turns with no tippy feeling.
Ride wise on Bridgestone 19-inch tires is smooth and quiet with only extremely harsh tar strips or road imperfections reverberating into the cabin. Otherwise, Escape is a pleasurable ride. Perhaps that’s why we’re seeing more and more of them on local roadways.
Since the test car was not for production, it contained a long list of standard safety and amenity items with the only option being the Equipment Group 400A Titanium Premium Package. That added $1,995 to the base price of $34,900 for a bottom line of $37,990 with delivery. And the National Highway Transportation Association awarded Escape an overall 5-star rating.
If looking for an economical crossover that you’re not looking to take off-road but want all weather capability, Escape Hybrid has deserves compelling consideration.
Ford’s F-150 has been the best selling half-ton pickup for years. But their three-quarter ton F-250 Super Duty is also a top seller.
Depending on your needs, be it for heavy trailer towing, snowplowing, hefty payloads or all three, the F-250 is offered with a choice of three powerplants to get the job done.
Available is a 6.2L V8 with 385-hp and 430 lb/ft of torque; a new 7.3L V8 with 430-hp and 475 lb/ft of torque; and tested, 6.7L, turbocharged diesel V8 with 450-hp and a whopping 1,050 lb/ft of torque that can pull a mobile home off its foundation. It transfers power to the wheels via a heavy duty 10-speed automatic transmission. The combined powertrain is rated to tow up to 20,000 pounds or up to 32,500 with a fifth-wheel – both best in class. Needless to say, it’s a power house of grunt.
For 2020, the Super Duty gets Ford’s Pro Trailer Backup Assist that makes backing a trailer into tight spaces easier. With hands-off the steering wheel, a dash mounted rotary knob steers the trailer using the reverse camera system. And with Ford’s Reverse Guidance System, it shows trailer angle and direction and provides steering directions to direct a trailer backward. The systems are designed to work with all trailers be it conventional , fifth-wheel or gooseneck design.
F-250 Super Duty is offered in XL XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum and luxurious Limited. We tested the mid-trim Lariat 4X4 Crew Cab model that had a comfy and spacious interior and as classy as any top-tier SUV.
Heated/cooled leather front seats are comfy and heavily padded to soften any nasty off-road terrain. Add to that an 8-inch touchscreen that serves Ford Connect and embedded 4G LTE Wi-Fi access for up to 10 devices, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, audio, apps, 7 camera system with 360-degree and trailer hitch views, Trav-Link with weather app, climate selections and you have comfort and technology that wasn’t offered a mere three years ago on a Super Duty pickup.
Another neat feature is a tire-pressure monitor that can also check trailer tire pressures.
There’s a wireless phone charger at the base of the vertical stack and a huge console tray and 11.5-inch deep console box that can accommodate a compact laptop or iPad. Even the headliner is done in Mikos suede for a classy look that adds to sound deadening. We especially liked the power adjustable pedals that are helpful for short statured drivers.
The dash held the 4WD controls of 2H, 4H and 4L, and when pulling out the rotary gear selection dial, it engages the rear differential lock for when added traction is needed. There’s also Auto and Locking hubs.
Step-in into the cabin is an easy 15.5 inches onto 6-inch wide running boards, or 27 inches to the cabin itself. The 60/40 back seats offer very spacious leg and headroom for three adults. The seat bottoms fold up against the bulkhead and beneath them is a full-length, 8-inch deep, flip-up equipment bin. Under the passenger side rear seat is a power inverter to power AC devices and tools.
Lariat Super Duty came with a 6.75-foot cargo bed (an 8 footer is also offered) with courtesy lights at its aft end. The bed was factory punched-out and capped for fifth wheel or gooseneck trailers. A dampened tailgate can be dropped and locked remotely with the keyfob, but the most significant feature is Ford’s nifty tailgate step. With the gate open the step pulls out from within the gates’ top, and an assist handle also pulls out from it to offer easy and secure ingress/egress into the bed that has a 36-inch load height.
Lariat Super Duty rode admirably and smoothly for a big (250-inch length), heavy (7,099 curb weight) truck that boasts a GCWR of 10,800 pounds. It was shod with 8-inch wide, deep lugged, Continental LT25/65R18-inch tires for good off-road traction. Some diesel knock can be heard, but mostly when starting off from a dead stop.
With the Adaptive Steering option, it offers low-speed driving and parking effort. It’s a desirable feature for handling and maintaining road stability especially when towing and heavy hauling.
If your needs are more for off-road, the F-250 SD offers the Tremor Off-Road package. It’s outfitted with a front-end lift, special springs and shocks for 10.4 inches of ground clearance (normal SD has 8.7 inches) and is capable of fording 33 inches of water together with oversize 35-inch Goodyear tires. Included too is Trail Control that has a rock-crawl mode within its selectable drive modes.
The F-250 came exceptionally outfitted with a long list of standard features such as trailer brake controller and sway control, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, pre-collision assist, auto emergency braking, satellite radio, power folding heated outside tow mirrors (they fold/unfold when locking/unlocking doors), sprayed bed liner, remote start and many more.
So equipped, the Super Duty diesel powered Lariat carried a base price of $52,115. To that was added Equipment Group 608A ($10,495), 6.7L Power Stroke V8 diesel option ($10,495), 3.31 ratio locking rear axle, all weather floor mats ($135), high cap trailer tow package PTBA ($1,130), 5th wheel hitch prep package ($500), Quad Beam headlamps ($1,180), Adaptive Steering ($1,000), front/back wheel well liners ($325), sprayed bed liner ($595), Lariat Ultimate Package ($3,495) and delivery ($1,595) that took the bottom line to $72,955.
Yes, that’s a lot of money for a lot of heavy duty truck. If owning a business, you’ll have a tax deduction. If you need all the F-250’s ability and capability, Super Duty will surely fill the bill.
But if this is beyond your means, be patient because this fall Ford starts producing their 2021 F-150 pickup that debuts with a hybrid powertrain combining a 3.5L twin-turbo V6 and a 47-hp electric motor for a 700-mile driving range and a towing capacity of up to an impressive 12,000 pounds. That’s not all. How about hands-free driving, a console mounted gearshift that folds to create a flat work surface, lay-flat driver/passenger seats, 12-inch touchscreen and 12-inch digital gauge display, a built-in generator, active grille shutters and much more. It appears the F-150 will surely maintain its half-ton dominance.
F-250 Super Duty comes with a 3-year/36K bumper-bumper; 5/60K powertrain; 5/60K roadside assistance; and 5/100K diesel engine warranties.
Ford’s Expedition FX4 is a full-size SUV for those who want to venture off the beaten path to enjoy the great outdoors. It’s aimed at those needing a spacious interior and cargo space with off-road prowess and trailer towing ability.
Ford developed this off-road version as their research shows that 20 percent of Expedition owners take their vehicles for off-road adventures, with 45 percent using theirs for hunting, fishing, or camping.
As for the latter pursuit, FX4 is rated for a best-in-class 9,200 pounds with a Heavy Duty Towing Package (6,500 without) and that includes a HD radiator.
Expedition is also the carmaker’s answer to Chevy’s Tahoe/GMC’s Yukon SUVs.
Expedition is an 8-seater, but Ford also offers their Expedition Max version that is longer with more cargo and passenger space and is comparable to Chevy’s Suburban and GMC’s Yukon XL SUVs, size wise.
Expedition is offered in 2WD and 4WD and in XLT, Limited, King Ranch and top-tier Platinum. We tested the Limited with the new FX4 off-road package that includes off-road tuned shocks, new electronic limited-slip rear differential, seven underbody skid plates to protect Expedition’s vitals, side steps, 9.8 inches of undercarriage clearance and FX4 badging. It boasts an approach angle of 23.3 degrees and a departure of 21.9 to allow traversing some precarious off-road terrain.
The FX4 test vehicle came equipped with Ford’s Terrain Management System that consisted of Normal, Sport, Eco, Tow-Haul, Mud/Ruts, Sand, and Grass/Gravel/Snow modes. Its 4WD system offers 2H, 4H, 4L and Rear Differential Lock gearing.
Based on Ford’s F-150 pickup, Expedition has a look all its own that closely resembles Ford’s Explorer, it’s smaller brother.
With standard chromed (5-inch wide) running boards, step-in into Expedition’s cabin is an easy 15 inches versus 25 inches directly onto the cabin floor. Heated/cooled front seats are sumptuously padded with good lateral support.
An 8-inch touchscreen offers the usual gamut of audio, rearview camera with 360-degree frontal camera plus close-up views, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration, Travel-Link that gives updates on weather, fuel prices, parking locations, traffic even ski conditions.
As for FX4’s HVAC controls, they’re easy to view and use and below them is a thoughtful wireless phone charger.
Instead of a console or column mounted automatic transmission shifter, Expedition uses a rotary dial, a feature showing up on more new vehicles. It does take some getting used to.
While captain’s chairs are optionally available for the second row, limiting seating to seven, the test truck came with a full 40/20/40 heated bench seat for eight passengers. The seats were comfy with an abundance of padding that can easily seat three large adults with ample leg and head room. The seats tip and slide forward for easy ingress/egress into the third row seats that are mainly for youngsters as legroom is limited.
FX4’s cargo area is spacious and sports a hands-free liftgate. With the third row seats upright, there’s 19.3 cubic feet of cargo space that measures 19 inches deep, 51 wide and 32 high. Flip them by pressing two buttons and space expands to 57 .5 cubic feet for 48 inches of loading depth. Flip the second row and it opens up 104.6 cubic feet for 82 inches of depth or almost a full seven feet.
Beneath the aft cargo floor is a 5-inch deep twin storage bin wherein one side houses the jack and jack tools, while the other side is available for small item storage.
Expedition FX4 gets its grunt from a 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 that generates 375-hp and 470 lb/ft of torque for EPA mileage estimates of 17 city, 22-highway mpg. Not miserly, but consider FX4s hefty 5,623-pound curb weight and size. To its credit, it has a GCWR of 12,500 pounds or 15,200 with the HD towing package.
Coupled to the standard 10-speed automatic transmission, and when flooring the accelerator to merge onto a busy interstate, Expedition exudes good muscle with a linear explosion of power.
FX4 also exhibits a smooth and quiet ride on 8-inch wide, 18-inch Continental OWL tires that’s paired with an independent suspension with the fronts being handled by coil over gas shocks and stabilizer bar while the rear uses almost the same set-up. The big SUV handles nicely with some body lean in sharp turns and parking is aided via electric power-assisted rack and pinion steering.
FX4 comes standard with a host of safety features that includes trailer sway control, power pedals and much more.
Option wise, Ford’s Co-Pilot ($2,555) adds forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep alert/assist, pedestrian detection, dynamic brake support, adaptive cruise w/stop&go, and automatic high beams, voice activated touchscreen, panoramic sunroof and more. The FX4 Off-Road package ($2,035) includes the 360-degree camera, 18-inch magnetic painted alloy wheels, skid plates, chromed running boards, 3.73 rear axle ratio and floor liners. With delivery ($1,395), FX4s base price of $66,470 escalated to $72,455.
With that price comes outstanding safety ratings of a full five stars for the governments overall rating; five for driver/passenger frontal crash; five for front/rear seat side crash and four for rollover.
To this incentive can be added Ford’s 3 year/36K bumper-bumper, 5/60K powertrain and 5/60K roadside assistance warranty coverage.
Again, Expedition may not be for everyone, but for those who need FX4s off-road prowess, abilities and space, Expedition warrants consideration.
As crossovers and SUVs have become the top sellers here in the Snowbelt, there are only a few that are seriously off-road capable. One of the very few is Toyota’s 4Runner, a rock-crawler in its fifth generation.
Offered in SR5, SR5 Venture, TRD Off-Road, TRD Off-Road Premium, TRD Pro Limited and Limited Nightshade, we were privileged to test the TRD Pro.
Built on a body-on-frame platform, 4Runner TRD Pro is a rugged and true SUV. While some others claim to be an SUV, most are merely crossovers with AWD traction. Not so for the 4Runner TRD Pro. As its name implies, it’s pro grade with a locking rear axle, 9.6 inches of ground clearance, Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control, raised suspension with TRD tuned FOX shocks and springs, aluminum front skidplate, and a part-time Activ-Trac mechanically-linked 2High, 4High, 4Low 4WD system that serious off-roaders prefer.
For added stability, TRD Pro has a track width of 64.1 inches with 8-inch wide, 17-inch Grappler, deep lugged tires. But that’s not all. 4Runner has an acute 33-degree approach angle and a 26-degree departure angle to handle rocky terrain and a variety of nasty off-road obstacles where others fear to tread. The major competition for the 4Runner is Jeep’s Wrangler Rubicon that goes a step beyond with front and rear locking differentials, plus a disconnecting sway bar although the latter is an option with 4Runner’s Dynamic Suspension System that wasn’t on the test truck.
The TRD Pro has a rugged look with flared fenders, a sporty but non-functional hood scoop, a high stance and heavy duty tubular roof rack basket for strapping on a kayak, pair of mountain bikes, camping/hunting/fishing gear or additional spare tire.
4Runner’s exterior exudes toughness and off-road prowess. The test truck was painted in Army Green. The OD color brought back memories of my Army days and riding in a military truck and CJ Jeep.
Its interior boasts similar rugged amenities with heavily padded seats to absorb off-road jostling and included Softex heated front seats.
Equipped with a 5-speed automatic transmission, its shifter is burly as is the stubby 4WD shifter. HVAC controls too are large and easy to use even with gloved hands.
An 8-inch touchscreen came with Toyota’s Entune Infotainment Suite complete with Siri Eyes Free, Wi-Fi hotspot, XM radio, Bluetooth music streaming, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, Amazon Alexa, navigation and JBL audio system.
On the headliner above the rearview mirror is the Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl control switches. The Multi-Terrain/Crawl has four selectable modes of Sand/Dirt, Mud/Sand, Loose Rock and Mogul. The Downhill Assist mode helps prevent excessive speed on steep downhill’s/slopes when the transfer case is in 4Low gear. For extra traction, the rear differential lock switch is located atop these controls.
4Runner’s gauge cluster offers a 4-inch vertical Driver Information Display that shows a host of notices, modes, alerts and warnings.
The 40/20/40 back seats offer space for three tweens or two large adults. They offer generous leg room and ample head room after a 23-inch stretch into the cabin.
4Runner’s lifgate is still old school as it’s manual that has some heft to it. Liftover to load gear or packages is an easy 29 inches with a 10.5-inch protruding rear bumper that has to be negotiated. But Toyota offers an optional slide-out cargo deck that could be a handy feature.
With the rear seatbacks upright, there’s 47.2 cubic feet of cargo space that measures 39 inches deep, 48 wide and 35 high. Flip them and space increases to 89.7 cubic feet for 65.5 inches of cargo loading depth. To fold the seatbacks, the seat bottom must be lifted forward then the seat back tucked down behind it after releasing a latch so the headrests flip down so it all fits together. As such, the arrangement sacrifices six inches of cargo depth.
To move its 4,750-pound curb weight, 4Runner gets its grunt from a proven 4.0-liter V6 engine that puts out 270-hp and 278 lb/ft of torque. Coupled to the 5-speed auto trans, it earns EPA mileage estimates of 16 city, 19-highway mpg with start/stop technology. So equipped, 4Runner has a tow rating of 5,000 pounds.
Acceleration is robust. The engine roars and it gets underway in linear fashion. But punch the acceleration at 40 mph and the 4.0L V6 takes off.
This hefty off-roader rides smoothly and smoother than the Wrangler Unlimited. 4Runner stays planted even in sharp turns. It parks relatively easily with a 37.4 foot turning radius.
With a long list of standard functions and features like Toyota’s Safety Sense that includes pre-collision system w/pedestrian detection, dynamic cruise control, lane departure alert, automatic high beams, vehicle stability control, ABS with brake assist and more. The only extra cost options were for a hitch ball mount ($60) and dashcam ($499) that took the base price of $49,765 to $51,444 with a delivery of $1,100.
Along with this, the governments’ 5-star safety rating awarded it four overall safety stars; four for driver frontal crash, three for passenger; five for front and rear seat side crash; and three for rollover.
If you’re looking for a rugged off-roader that doubles as a daily driver, you need to check out Toyota’s exceptionally capable 2020 4Runner.
Hyundai's Santa Fe FWD crossover is loaded with safety features, a generous warranty at a reasonable price
Hyundai’s crossover/SUVs have come on strong for several reasons. Prime example is their top selling Santa Fe that offers numerous safety and amenity features as standard, a spacious interior for a family of four, good resale value, is stylish, reasonably priced and it’s tough to beat their industry best warranties.
Santa Fe is offered in FWD and AWD and in SE, SEL and Limited trim models. We tested the Limited with FWD although here in the Snowbelt, AWD would be preferred.
As for safety features, the Limited model was loaded with a host of standard features and functions. Impressive was their Blind View Monitor that compliments their Blind Spot Collision Avoidance Assist system that displays on the instrument clusters’ Driver Information Display both right and left lane views when when the turn signal is activated. This helps avoid a collision with a vehicle or cyclist that’s hid in the Santa Fe’s blind spot. This should be standard on all vehicles and it’s a valuable aid in preventing accidents as is rear cross traffic alert that’s helpful when backing out of a shopping center parking spot, especially when there’s large vehicles on either side and blocking your view.
Santa Fe’s safety list includes Forward Collision Avoidance; Safe Exit Assist, Blind Spot Alert, High Beam Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Driver Attention Warning, Blind View Monitor, Smart Cruise Control w/Stop & Go, Surround View Monitor, Ultrasonic Rear Occupant Alert, Parking Distance Warning – Reverse. You must ask yourself, does the competition offer all these as standard?
Hyundai also provides three-years of free Blue Link Connect wherein you can get remote diagnostics, remote voice guidance, remote start w/climate control, door lock/unlock, car finder, roadside assistance, stolen vehicle recovery and with a smartphone app, some features can be controlled via Android Wear and Apple Watch apps. Included too are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
Aside from Santa Fe’s exterior sleek, bold design with its high-mounted LED running lights and goldish tint on door handles and trim, its interior is exceptionally classy and comfortable.
Within the cockpit you’re treated to perforated leather and heated/cooled front seats that offer extended under thigh support to ease long haul fatigue. An 8-inch touchscreen melds nicely into the dash and offers the gamut of audio, navigation, apps and rearview camera with four different views.
The gauge cluster has a large single digital speedometer with embedded driver information display to show functions, modes, alerts and the right/left turn signal views.
Santa Fe’s burly 8-speed automatic transmission shifter is surrounded by a wireless phone charger in front of it and drive mode switches to its rear. The latter offers Sport, Smart and Comfort driving modes with Sport enhancing performance when needed.
With wide opening rear doors and a low 18.5-inch step-in, the rear seats offer gobs of leg and head room for tall adults.
Wave your foot beneath the rear bumper and the hatch automatically opens and does so at a choice of two speeds (4.5 or 6.0 seconds).
With the rear 60/40 seatbacks upright, there’s 35.9 cubic feet of cargo space that measures 43 inches deep, 46 wide and 30 high. Flip the seatbacks and space expands to 71.3 cubic feet that increases cargo depth to 77 inches.
Beneath the cargo floor are two nifty hidden storage bins. Lift the rear cargo floor and there’s a full-length, 7.75-inch deep two partition bin. One is for small item storage while the other holds the jack and tools. Close that portion and open the rearmost portion of the floor and there’s a three partition foam bin for additional small item storage. Very innovative and good use of dead space.
Santa Fe is offered with two engine choices. The base engine is a 2.4-liter inline-4 that produces 185-hp and 178 lb/ft of torque for EPA mileage estimates of 22/29 mpg for FWD, and 21/27 for AWD.
The tested 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 produces 235-hp and 260 lb/ft of torque for EPA mileage estimates of 20 city, 27-highway mpg with start/stop engine technology. This powertrain has a tow rating of 3,500 pounds with trailer brakes and 1,650 without them.
Power wise, the 2.0L is quietly potent with good acceleration from a standing stop and when merging onto high speed highway lanes. The 2.0L turbo is preferred over the 2.4L, especially if any trailering is planned.
Equipped with electric power steering, Santa Fe exhibited good road feel with a relatively tight turning circle of 37.5 feet to make parking easier.
Shod with Hankook 19-inch tires, ride and handling were impressive. The 3,942-pound crossover handled sharp turns with nary any body lean and remained planted. Santa Fe is also a quiet, smooth rider.
Now here’s the surprising point. With an extremely long list of standard features, many of which previously listed plus a panoramic sunroof, the only extra cost option was $135 for carpeted floor mats. That took the base price of $37,500 to $38,730 with a delivery charge of $1,095. It’s difficult to find a crossover with all these safety and amenity features for less.
And here’s the bonus.
Santa Fe comes with Hyundai’s generous and unbeatable 5 year/60K new vehicle warranty; 10/100K powertrain; 7/Unlimited anti-perforation; 5/Unlimited roadside assistance warranties.
Considering all this, how can you not consider Hyundai’s Santa Fe, Tucson, Kona or three-row Palisade for your new crossover/SUV?
As the Lexus RX350 has been the carmaker’s best selling SUV, their RX450h (hybrid) AWD combines all the superb attributes of the RX series, with hybrid technology for greater fuel economy. And the hybrid now includes a RX450hl (longer) version with third row seats.
In this its fourth generation, the 2020 450h comes with a new suspension, a 12.3-inch display, added safety technology and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto with Alexa connectivity through Lexus’ Enform infotainment system.
The RX450h combines a 3.5-liter V6 engine with three electric motors, two in the front and one to drive the rear wheels. The combination provides 308-hp and carries EPA mileage estimates of 31 city, 28-highway mpg with a CVT automatic transmission (complete with paddle shifters) and start/stop technology. The 450h can operate in electric-only (EV mode for short distances), or gas-engine only modes.
Coupled to the CVT, the RX450h offers four driving modes of Eco that favors fuel economy, Normal for a balance between power and energy conservation, and Sport that increases performance and does so in linear fashion. And, as said, EV pure electric mode.
Performance is quick in electric mode. Gas only, Toyota claims a 0-60 of 7.9 seconds. Passing power is adequate although the vehicles’ 4,740-pound curb weight can be felt. With four adults aboard, the 450h can hold its own among SUV hybrids.
RX450h’s distinctive front end cannot be mistaken for any other carmakers vehicle. Its sculpted, striking concept car design with its large protruding large grille and shark eyes headlamps, grabs the eyes. However, the olive green paint job on the test car did this fine SUV no service. The 450h deserves a more brilliant color.
What the 450h lacked exterior color wise, made up for it with a striking interior. Sumptuously padded, heated/cooled front seats with perforated inserts added to the 450h’s posh, overall design scheme. A large 12-inch display serves a host of apps plus rearview camera with 360-degree surround view that melds nicely into the vertical stack that even includes a CD player. Add a console with CVT shifter, a thoughtful wireless cell phone charger, drive mode selector and an ultra-sensitive trackpad for screen selections, and it gives the impression of a Gulfstream jet cockpit.
The console mounted trackpad, incidentally, is not easy to use while driving and takes a lot of getting use to as some features require multiple selections and clicks. Until you become intimately familiar and experienced with it, it’s wise and safer to make some selections while stopped. I’d prefer a touchscreen as the pad is a bit too distracting and techie for me.
Primary HVAC controls reside on the vertical stack and are easy to use with most selections appearing on the display.
The RX’s gauge cluster replaces a tachometer with a power gauge showing Charge, Eco and Power settings. The gauge attempts to help the driver maintain economical accelerator pressure. Included here is a 4.2-inch driver information display that signals operating functions, features and alerts along with a digital compass.
Back doors open wide for easy ingress/egress. A low 20-inch step-in treats passengers to comfy and soft back seats that offer a good amount of leg room and ample headroom.
Back in the cargo area, that has an easy 30.5-inch liftover, the area with the rear seats upright is rated at 18.4 cubic feet that measures 39 inches deep, 45 wide and 29 high. Pull two handles in the cargo area and rear seatbacks automatically flip forward to increase cargo capacity to 56.3 cubic feet for 72 inches of cargo loading depth (a full 6-feet).
Beneath the cargo floor is a spare tire and nickel metal hydride battery pack. Some small items can be stowed within the middle of the tire.
Shod with Michelin 20-inch tires, RX450h rides ever so smoothly and quietly. There’s very little road feel as the RX favors a comfortable, stable ride over sportiness.
Handling wise, a modified suspension offers a planted ride especially in sharp turns when taken at too great a speed. It’s controlled and assuring.
Now all this luxury, comfort and economy comes at a price, but not an exorbitant price. RX450h began life at $46,750 exceptionally equipped. Included as standard is lane departure alert with steering assist (will automatically steer the SUV back between the lines), lane tracing assist, road sign assist, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, intelligent high beam headlamps and more. Options such as blind spot monitor with parking assist, panoramic view monitor, rear cross traffic braking ($1,865); cold weather package windshield wiper deicer, headlamp auto leveling/headlamp cleaners ($315); 20-inch alloy wheels ($1,130); color heads-up-display ($600); heated/ventilated front seats ($640); panoramic sunroof ($1,850); 12.3-inch navigation system/Mark Levinson audio ($3,365); touch free power rear liftgate with kick sensor ($150); Premium Package ($800) for memory driver seat, auto-dim outer mirror plus delivery ($1,025), all took the bottom line to $58,490. This price can be shaved somewhat by foregoing some of the niceties like sunroof, head-up display etc.
Also to be considered for this price, the RX450h garnered top government safety ratings. It received a full five stars for an overall vehicle score; four for driver/passenger frontal crash; five for front and rear seat side crash and four for rollover.
RX450h comes from a heritage of being a smooth, quiet riding and reliable luxury SUV. Its hybrid technology merely increases its attractiveness.