Mazda’s CX-9 is the carmaker’s top-tier, 3-row AWD midsize crossover that competes in a highly competitive class. Despite the competition, CX-9 excels in several categories, including government safety ratings.
CX-9 is offered in Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, Carbon Edition and top-shelf Signature that we were privileged to test.
CX-9’s exterior design features smooth, rounded lines for a pleasing aerodynamic look with splashes of chrome-like trim.
As for the interior, it too is exceptionally upscale with perforated Nappa leather seats with tufted side panels, rosewood trim, LED accent lighting and a large 10.25-inch display perched unobtrusively on the dash. The display offers Apple CarPlay, Android Auto integration, satellite radio, Travel Link with weather radar/forecasts, navigation, Bluetooth, rearview camera with frontal and wide-angle views along with Mazda Connect 4G LTE Wi-Fi infotainment system.
The semi-vertical stack features easy to view and use HVAC controls with selections displayable on the screen. Then there’s the hefty shifter for the 6-speed automatic transmission that’s flanked by operating controls including a Sport/Normal driving mode switch and a rotary dial for display selections. Add a wireless phone charger and sunroof as standard on the Signature model and you have an all-encompassing cockpit in this family friendly hauler.
Over on the gauge cluster, it offers a digital speedometer with embedded driver information display for operational alerts, features and functions.
Seating wise, CX-9 can be configured to seat seven with a split bench second row seat, or six with comfy heated captain’s chairs complete with a huge center console that was in the Signature. The third row, however, is mainly for youngsters as leg room is short and ingress/egress is tight as the second row slides fore/aft 17 inches. Step-in front and rear is a low 19-inches.
Back in the cargo area, that has a 30.5-inch lift-over, and with the third row upright, there’s 14.4 cubic feet of cargo space that measures 21 inches deep, 43 wide and 29 high. Enough for a few grocery bags. Flip the third row and capacity increases to 38.2 cubic feet for 53.5 inches of depth. Fold the second row as well and capacity goes to 71.2 cubic feet for 82 inches of storage depth. There’s also a 5-inch deep bin beneath the cargo floor for small item storage.
CX-9 gets its grunt from a 2.5-liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder that develops 227-hp and 310 lb/ft of torque at a low 2,000 rpm. Use premium 93 octane fuel and it grinds out 250-horses and a whopping 320 lb/ft of torque. Coupled to the 6-speed transmission, the little 2.5 turbo moves this 4,505-pound SUV with quickness and without hesitation both from a standing stop and for highway passing maneuvers. Go easy on the accelerator and EPA rates the combination at 20 city and 28-highway mpg. CX-9 also has an impressive tow rating of 3,500 pounds.
CX-9 rides smoothly and quietly on Bridgestone 20-inch tires. Its suspension nicely soaks up road imperfections, highway tar strips and railroad crossings.
With its G-Vectoring Control Plus system, CX-9 exhibited impressive cornering and stability control in sharp tight turns and quick maneuvers. It was absent of perceived body roll.
CX-9 Signature came with a substantially long standard list and in fact there were no extra cost items other than a delivery charge.
Most wanted safety features included blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert, tire pressure warning, smart brake support, advanced smart city brake support, radar cruise control and many more.
Convenience items included rain sensing wipers, windshield wiper de-icer, heated power mirrors, auto fold door mirrors, hands-free liftgate, rear privacy glass, adaptive headlamps and more.
For all that, CX-9 came in at $46,605 plus delivery of $495 that took the bottom line to a modest $48,200.
Additionally, CX-9 comes with top 5-star government safety ratings. It scored a full five for an overall score, four for driver/passenger frontal crash, five for front/rear seat side crash and four for rollover. All impressive scores for an impressive crossover.
It isn’t surprising Hyundai’s Santa Fe SUV earned Kelly Blue Books 2021 Best Buy Award and their Number #1 in Best 2-row Midsize SUV award as it’s a formidable competitor in the crowded crossover/SUV market.
Santa Fe boasts a new platform, eye-grabbing exterior design, upscale interior and top warranty, all at an affordable price.
The 2021 Santa Fe is offered in SE, SEL, Limited and new top-shelf Calligraphy that we tested.
As for appearances, Santa Fe with its bold grille, splashes of brushed aluminum trim and multiple t-shaped LED running lights, all strike an eye-grabbing design.
Santa Fe’s Calligraphy interior is equally as impressive. Its slanted vertical stack puts all controls plus a push button automatic transmission shifter, at an ergonomical position for ease of use. If coming off a console or column transmission shifter, it will only take a short time to acclimate to the convenient push buttons. Plus, there are paddle shifters for those who want some manual control.
A 10.25-inch display seated atop the dash is vivid and serves a host of functions and features including voice control. The display is joined by a 12.3-inch all digital instrument cluster that provides an equal number of operating features including a driver information display.
Santa Fe Calligraphy’s heated/cooled front seats are exceptionally comfy and supportive with tufted upper back rests plus extended under thigh support. All for an enjoyable and relaxing ride.
Ditto for the power folding rear seats that can accommodate two large adults or three youngsters. The rears offer ample leg and headroom with a mere 19.5-inch step-in for easy ingress/egress.
Back in the cockpit where the ceiling and pillars are sueded, one of many notable features is the left and right-side view cameras. They illuminate in the gauge cluster when activating the turn signals. This is a safety feature when attempting a turn as it shows if another vehicle, motorcycle or bicycle is sneaking up on those sides. A standard rearview camera includes an overhead view, front, side and trailer hitch area views.
Santa Fe’s HVAC controls are nicely arranged on the stack and are easy to view and use. Selections can be displayed on the large screen.
A large rotary Drive Mode dial on the stack offers four modes of Smart, Comfort, Sport and Snow. There’s also an 4WD Lock mode that can be engaged up to 37 mph for increased traction on snow, muddy, sandy, off roads. Above that speed, the lock automatically disconnects and reverts to 4WD Auto mode that also distributes power to all four wheels. It’s mostly used on normal roads when added traction may be needed.
When selecting Sport mode, it shows up pictorially on the 10.25-inch infotainment display in red (for hot), and the speedometer trim also turns red. All four mode selections also display vertically within the Driver Information panel between the tachometer and speedometer.
As for the audio, if you tire of music choices and want something more soothing, Santa Fe offers the Sounds of Nature that includes Lively Forest, Calm Sea, Rainy Day, Open Air Café and Warm Fireplace. They’re all selections you have to hear and enjoy.
Another safety feature is a drivers’ seatbelt interlock wherein the SUV won’t move unless your seatbelt is fastened. This is better than the annoying chime many vehicles use as a reminder.
Back in the cargo area and with the rear seats upright there’s 36.4 cubic feet of loading space that measures 43 inches deep, 45 wide and 30 high. Flip the 60/40 rear seatbacks by pushing two buttons and cargo loading space increases to 74 inches. There’s also three, 7-inch deep bins beneath the cargo floor, and five forward bins for small item storage. Lift over into the cargo area is a low 31 inches for easy loading.
Santa Fe is offered with three powertrain choices that include a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 191-hp, a 1.6L hybrid and plug-in hybrid and in the Calligraphy we tested, a 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder producing 277-hp and 311 lb/ft of torque for EPA mileage estimates of 21 city, 28-highway mpg with a dual-clutch 8-speed automatic transmission. The combination offers loads of gusto especially when the turbo kicks in.
In Sport mode, that increases engine rpms by 500, acceleration is even more spirited. The powertrain combination offers a tow rating of 3,500 pounds.
As for ride and handling, shod with Hankook 19-inch tires with 8-inch widths, Santa Fe rides like a full-size SUV. It’s quiet and its coil spring front suspension nicely soaks up road imperfections for a smooth, controlled ride. In sharp, tight turns, there’s virtually no body lean as the SUV is planted.
The standard options list includes forward collision avoidance assist; safe exit assist; blind spot collision avoidance assist/high beam assist; rear cross traffic collision avoidance; lane keeping assist/driver attention warning, lane following assist/highway drive assist; satellites radio; remote smart park assist and many more.
Surprisingly, there was but one extra cost option and it was for floor mats ($155). All other safety features and amenities are included in the bottom line that reflects $43,440 with delivery.
But that’s not all. No one can beat Hyundai’s generous 5 year/60K new vehicle warranty; 10/100K powertrain; 7/Unlimited anti-perforation; 3/36K Complimentary Maintenance and 5/Unlimited roadside assistance.
Santa Fe is a most comprehensive and compelling 4WD midsize SUV.
Lincoln's top-selling AWD Corsair is a compelling choice in the highly competitive compact SUV market
It’s been a long time since we had the privilege of testing a Lincoln. And the 2021 Lincoln Corsair compact AWD SUV we spent a week with, proved to be impressive.
Corsair is offered in base, Reserve and Grand Touring PHEV plug-in hybrid models. We tested the Reserve that was exceptionally equipped with the latest technological and safety features.
One particular feature is that Corsair owners can use their smartphones to lock/unlock the car, start the engine, open the lifgate, re-set the driver’s seat if someone else used the SUV, and other niceties.
Aside from the PHEV model, Corsair offers a choice of two engines. A 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder with 250-hp and 275 lb/ft of torque, or the tested 2.3-liter, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder that generates 295-hp and 310 lb/ft of torque for EPA mileage estimates of 21 city, 28-highway mpg. Both engines couple to an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.
So powered, Corsair felt like it had a V6 under the hood and has a tow capacity of 3,000 pounds. It had good acceleration from a standing stop and during highway passing maneuvers. We might add here that while driving with an open drivers’ window, the auto folding outside mirrors create a whop-whop sound. This isn’t unique as other carmakers have had the same sound with their particular designs.
The transmission gear selector is a horizontal keyboard-type array of push buttons for P, R, N, D. They reside on the vertical stack that’s situated above the audio controls and below the park assist switch.
This brings us to the upscale interior that has a low 19-inch step-in. Heated/cooled front seats are exceptionally padded with extended under thigh support that helps relieve driving fatigue on long trips. Added to that, wood trim adds to the car’s warm ambience.
Corsair’s HVAC controls are set on a floating console within the vertical stack. They’re large, easy to operate with selections displayed on Corsair’s 8-inch split-screen touchscreen feature. It serves Lincoln’s Connect infotainment system, 4G Wi-Fi, rearview camera, audio and more.
Upon turning off the ignition, the display gives a notice to check the back seat. This is a safety effort - and a big concern particularly in summer - to insure small children are not left in the seats when leaving the car. Yes, I know. How could parents forget their children in the car? But it unfortunately happens.
Over on the 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, it includes a large driver information display that offers alerts, functions and drive modes such as Excite (for Sport), Normal, Slippery, Deep Conditions and Conserve, all of which are selected via a rotary dial on the console.
Corsair is also equipped with a smartphone charger that is uniquely placed inside the side of the console box. We presume Lincoln engineers ran out space elsewhere so the box provided the only available space.
Back seats are very comfy for two adults or three tweens. They slide fore/aft six inches to increase leg room, or for added cargo space. The rear of the console thoughtfully holds separate HVAC controls for rear seat passenger comfort.
Corsair’s cargo area has a low 28-inch loading lift-over and offers 27.5 cubic feet of space with the rear seatbacks upright. The area measures 34 inches deep, 43 wide and 28.5 high. Press two buttons and the seatbacks power down to extend cargo loading depth to 65 inches.
Beneath the cargo floor is a space saver spare tire around which there are bins to stow small items out of sight.
As for ride, Corsair is especially quiet and smooth on 20-inch Continental tires that gets help from its adaptive suspension that soaks up roadway imperfections.
Handling is responsive with only a smidgen of body lean in sharp turns taken at speed. Overall, Corsair is a pleasure to drive and ride in.
Standard features are numerous. To name a few, a panoramic sunroof, lane keeping assist, auto high beams, blind spot detection, pre-collision assist, SOS post crash system and many more.
Extra cost options include Equipment Group 201A ($4,200) that adds heated front/rear seats, heated steering wheel, 360-degree camera, active park assist, adaptive cruise, Co-Pilot 360 and more.
Other extra’s include adaptive suspension ($700); spare tire ($150); 24-way leather front seats ($1,100); technology package ($3,000) that includes head-up display, phone as a key, wireless charging pad; and Sport Package ($2,500) that includes 20-inch bright aluminum wheels.
Add all that to the base price of $45,090 plus delivery and the nicely equipped Corsair test car bottom-lined at $58,430. Now that’s a far cry from the price of a Ford Escape on which it is based. But Corsair far and above exceeds Escape in class, comfort and size.
And to further its attractiveness, Corsair achieved the government’s top 5-star overall safety rating, plus five for driver/passenger frontal crash, five for front/rear seat side crash and four for rollover. All impressive safety scores.
If in the market for a compact AWD SUV (it also comes in FWD), Corsair deserves a serious look and comparison. You’ll find it’s a compelling choice that’s competitively priced.
Combine attractive exterior/interior styling with superb handling and impressive fuel economy and you get Mazda's 2021 CX-30 AWD CUV
When it comes to compact AWD CUV’s, Mazda’s fine fleet encompasses three of our favorites. Each one a bit larger than the other starting with the CX-3 (that will cease production for the 2022 model year), CX-30, CX-5 and top-line CX-9.
The CX-30 we tested is a bit longer (173 vs. 168 inches) and a little wider (70.7 vs. 68.1 inches) than the outgoing CX-3, and is essentially based on the CX-3.
Mazda’s 2021 CX-30 has more updated interior and technology and a higher ground clearance (8.0 inches vs. 6.1) than the CX-3 which helps when traversing deep snow and even some mild off-road conditions. The MX-30 is one impressive CUV and destined to be Mazda’s top seller since it debuted.
Beginning with MX-30’s interior, a mere 18-inch step-in brings you into a cockpit that is classy and sporty with heated front seats are nicely supportive and comfy.
Then there’s a 9-inch display that’s embedded low in the top of the dash and is not intrusive to forward vision. It allows easy, safe viewing and is controlled by a rotary dial and push button switches to select features and functions such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto plus Travel Link that provides local fuel prices, sports scores, weather alerts, weather radar and more. It also serves the audio system and rearview camera with 360-degree view. Beneath it are easy to view and use HVAC controls.
Over on the analog gauge cluster, it includes a driver information display that shows various functions and operating alerts. Missing though is a wireless phone charger, but there are receptacles for charging cell phones.
CX-30’s transmission gearshift controls the standard 6-speed automatic transmission and its flanked by the rotary dial for the display and a toggle switch for Normal and Sport modes with the latter increasing engine rpm’s by 1,000 for more spirited performance.
CX-30’s back seat is comfy for two adults with adequate leg room provided the fronts aren’t racked well rearward. Headroom can accommodate average height adults with ingress/egress easy thanks to wide opening doors.
Back in the cargo area, and with the rear seatbacks upright, there’s 17.8 cubic feet of space that measures 31.5 inches deep, 40.5 wide and 30 inches high. Flip the 60/40 seatbacks and capacity increases to 42.7 cubic feet.
The cargo area underfloor houses a space saver spare, jack and tools within a hard foam housing leaving little space to stow small items out of sight.
CX-30’s are offered in Base, Select, Preferred, Premium, 2.5 Turbo and top line 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus that we tested.
So configured, our test car’s 2.5-liter turbocharged inline four generates 227-hp and an impressive 310 lb/ft of torque for EPA mileage estimates of 22 city, 30-highway mpg when coupled to the 6-speed automatic trans with paddle shifters. There’s certainly no want for power either accelerating or when passing 18-wheelers on an interstate.
Handling too is impressive with Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control that allows you to toss the CX-30 in the turns and it stays planted. A superb handling CUV that has a tight 37.3-foot wall-wall turning radius making it a breeze to park in tight spots.
CX-30 also rides quietly and smoothly on 19-inch Bridgestone tires. Roadway pock marks and tar strips are nicely absorbed.
As the top-line trim model, the Premium Plus comes with automatic emergency braking and rear cross traffic braking in reverse. The latter shocked me a bit while I was backing up on a narrow road with standing corn to my rear. The brakes suddenly employed and I thought I hit a rock or something at the edge of the corn field. But it was just the auto reverse braking feature sensing the corn stalks. A grateful feature to have. The Plus also offers Traffic Jam Assist with steering inputs provided you keep the speed under 40 mph.
The only feature that was somewhat of a pain was that every time the engine is started and you attempt to drive off, you have to first release the electronic emergency brake, a feature many of us rarely engage.
With a long list of standard items and safety features such as lane departure warning, lane keep assist, radar cruise control, rear cross traffic alert, tire pressure monitoring and more, the only extra cost options were for the cargo cover ($150), floor mats ($125), Soul Red Crystal paint ($595), stainless rear bumper guard ($125) that took the base price of $33,900 to $35,995 with delivery.
For that, CX-30 buyers also get top government safety ratings of a full five stars for an overall vehicle score; five for driver/passenger frontal crash; five for front/rear seat side crash; and four for rollover. All impressive scores that make the Mazda CX-30 a top choice for an AWD CUV.
Acura’s top selling MDX SUV just got better. In this its fourth generation, the three row, seven seat, 2022 MDX now sports an all-new, stronger chassis plus a double wishbone front suspension for a superb ride and improved handling.
MDX is offered in base MDX with optional AWD ($2,000), MDX Technology with optional AWD, MDX A-Spec AWD that was tested and MDX AWD Advance that’s loaded with goodies. There’s also a sporty and potent MDX Type S performance version with a 355-hp turbo V6 powerplant.
Our MDX three-row A-Spec came with standard AWD, sporty A-Spec interior/exterior packages, Milano leather seats with sueded inserts, racy flat-bottom steering wheel, all digital gauge cluster and display featuring built-in Amazon Alexa, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration, AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot, stainless steel pedals and a few more goodies.
Aside from its suave and sculpted exterior edges, MDX’s interior is equally as eclectic. The test cars Lunar Silver exterior contrasted nicely with the A-Spec’s striking black and red leather seating and console that looks like it came from a LearJet with the exception of transmission selector buttons where jet engine throttles would reside.
More carmakers are using these electronic transmission gear selectors instead of a gear shift handle. In the MDX, the transmission gear shift switches are push/pull type. For example, for reverse you pull on the switch whereas park, neutral and drive are push switches. The A-Spec also came with paddle shifters for down and up-shifting the 10-speed automatic transmission.
To operate the 12-inch digital display, a large 6x4-inch touchpad resides on the console. It’s very sensitive to the touch and not easy to use while driving as it takes the eyes off the road. It’s used to access apps, navigation, the infotainment system plus Wi-Fi connectivity and then some.
On the vertical stack, that shares a spot with easy to operate HVAC controls, is a Dynamic Mode rotary switch for MDX’s five driving modes of Snow, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Individual. Selections are displayed on the infotainment screen as does audio and the rearview camera with multi-views. And they change color for each mode. For example, Sport mode turns the gauges to red for hot performance and the tach displays more prominently. Sport mode alters rpm’s, shift points and throttle adjustments.
As said, MDX’s digital gauge cluster offers a driver information display between the gauges and shows driving modes, alerts, functions and much more.
Step-in into the sumptuous and eye-grabbing cockpit is a low 18-inches. The heated/cooled front seats are very supportive and comfy with the added touch of sueded inserts. The steering wheel has a switch to activate lane keep assist that keeps the MDX between the yellow/white lines and relieves turnpike/interstate driving fatigue. But you still need to keep at least one hand on the wheel.
Second row seats are equally as comfy with generous leg and headroom for two adults or three tweens. The second row seats tip and slide fore/aft for access to the third row seats which are mainly for small youngsters.
A low 31-inch liftover into the spacious cargo area makes loading heavy, bulky items easier. And with the third row seats upright, there’s 18.1 cubic feet of space that measures 22 inches deep, 44 wide and 29 high. Flip them and space increases to 48.4 cubic feet for 48.5 inches of depth. Flip the second row and capacity increases to 95.0 cubic feet for 81 inches of cargo loading depth. There’s also a 6-inch bin beneath the cargo floor to stow small items out of sight.
For 2022, MDX has a new powerplant. It’s 3.5-liter V6 generates 290-hp and 267 lb/ft of torque to move this luxury SUV’s 4,529 pound curb weight with ease. With auto start/stop engine technology, the 3.5L is EPA rated at 19 city, 25-highway mpg when coupled to the standard and smooth shifting 10-speed automatic transmission that comes with a 5,000-pound tow rating. There’s no want for power and acceleration from a standing stop or when passing 18 wheelers on the interstate.
MDX rides smoothly and quietly with its new suspension that absorbs pock marked roads and tar strips with merely a ripple inside the cabin. It also parks easily with a relatively tight 40.5 foot turning radius.
With a lengthy list of standard safety features and amenities such as adaptive cruise, collision mitigation braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation, traffic jam assist, panoramic sunroof, satellite radio and much more, MDX A-Spec had no extra cost options. Only a delivery charge of $1,025 took the base price of $57,100 to a bottom line of $58,125.
Along with that price comes a 6 year/70K powertrain warranty; 4/50K limited vehicle warranty and MDX needs no scheduled maintenance for 100,000 miles with the exception of state inspections or filling the windshield washer fluid.
There’s a reason MDX is Acura’s top seller. And it’s because it’s one compelling AWD, three row SUV with parent company (Honda) quality build. And for what it's worth, our son and daughter both own MDX's.
As the best-selling pickup for 43 years, Ford has delivered two knock-out punches for the competition with the debut of their F-150 Hybrid (Ram also sells their 1500 eTorque hybrid pickup and Chevy also had one at one time) and F-150 Lightning, the latter an all-electric half-ton pickup. While the Lightning is not yet available at dealers, the F-150 PowerBoost All Hybrid is, and the one we had the privilege of testing.
The F-150 is offered with six engine choices and in three cab sizes, three bed lengths and six trim levels of XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum and Limited. We tested the Hybrid SuperCrew 4WD in Lariat trim version that was equipped with Ford’s FX4 Off-Road package and of course the hybrid system.
The F-150 Hybrid comes with a few “firsts” that we’ll cover.
For starters, the F-150 Hybrid had a console housed transmission selector that can be powered down so the console box lid can be flipped out and over the folded shifter for a 21x13.5-inch flat work surface were a laptop, iPad or clipboard can be used. A novel Ford idea.
The next great Ford idea is their PowerBoost onboard generator which includes three 110v electrical outlets for powering electrical tools and equipment, appliances, to charge phones, computers and more. Or, as a power failure that crippled Texas’ power grid this past winter, some F-150 Hybrid owners used their trucks’ PowerBoost generator to provide up to 7.2kW of power for their home appliances and other electrical essentials.
(Since this feature is only available and in concert with the hybrid model, it would be nice to also have this on their workhorse F-250 three-quarter ton truck we recently reviewed.)
While it’s not brand new, the test truck was equipped with Ford’s Pro Trailer Backup Assist that eases backing/parking a trailer by merely turning a knob on the dash in the direction you want trailer to go.
As for the PowerBoost Hybrid powertrain, it consists of a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 engine, a 35 KW (47-hp) electric motor and a 1.5 kWh lithium-ion battery that’s mounted beneath the rear seat. Boasting 430-hp and a whopping 570 lb/ft of torque, the combination, when coupled to a 10-speed automatic transmission, has a tow rating of 12,700 pounds and carries EPA mileage estimates of 24 city, 24-highway mpg with auto start/stop engine technology.
Another Ford idea are active grille shutters and auto air dam which contribute to increased fuel economy.
The F-150 Hybrid can also run on electric power only, however for only short distances. But in combo, it produces gobs of power from a standing start to highway passing.
For added towing needs, Ford offers their Smart Hitch option that can notify the driver when the trailer tongue weight is either too high or too low.
Upon a low 13-inch step-in via the powered running boards (or 23 without them), F-150s heavily padded, heated, perforated leather front seats have contrasting stiping and stitching and are nicely supportive and fold almost flat if you decide to take a snooze. Powered pedals are nice too and cater to drivers with short legs.
The vertical stack is adorned with a large 12-inch touchscreen that serves the audio, navigation, Ford’s Sync4 infotainment system, rearview camera, apps, battery charge indicator, Pro Power Onboard display that shows the remaining wattage, and more. HVAC controls below the display are large and easy to view and use even with gloves hands.
The gauge cluster in the F-150 Hybrid is all digital and includes a driver information display between the speedometer and tach.
Ford’s proven 4WD system offers 2High, 4High, Auto and 4Low gearing. For added traction when the going gets really tough, there’s a rear axle lock plus wide, deep cleated Wrangler 18-inch tires.
F-150 Hybrid’s heated rear seats can seat three adults in complete comfort with gobs of leg and headroom. They flip up against the bulkhead where a full-length, 8-inch deep, lockable, folding bin can hold a myriad of small items.
Back in the cargo bed that has a 35-inch lift-over, Ford’s pull out from the top of the tailgate bed assist step with a pull-out assist bar, is the best and simplest on the market. The bed is complete with moveable tie-down hooks and had a sprayed in bedliner.
With the FX4 Off-Road package, you get dual shocks and skid plates plus a ground clearance of 9.4 inches. As equipped, the F-150 Hybrid can handle extremely tough terrain and modestly deep water.
So robustly endowed, F-150 Hybrid offers a comfortably smooth and quiet ride. It handles like a large truck and as such strong cross winds buffet it a bit although it remains stable despite this.
With an extremely long list of safety features and functions like Ford CoPilot360 with lane keeping assist, post collision braking, pre-collision assist, reverse brake assist and sensing, post-crash alert and many more, the F-150 Hybrid was base priced at $50,980. But after adding Equipment Group 502A ($6,920); Rapid Red paint job ($395); 3.5L EcoBoost Full Hybrid engine ($3,300); power running boards ($1,220); Ford CoPilot360 ($995); panoramic moonroof ($1,495); Pro Power OnBoard ($750); Interior Work Surface ($165); trailer tow package ($1,090); FX4 Off-Road Package ($1,005); partitioned lockable storage under the rear seat ($215); power down tailgate ($695); Lariat Sport Package ($300); wheel well liner ($180); sprayed-in bedliner ($595) plus delivery ($1,695), they took the bottom line to $71,995.
If this is too steep for your budget, Ford recently announced their new Maverick compact hybrid pickup that’s 10 inches shorter and 13 inches narrower than Ford’s Ranger pickup. And get this. It’s base priced at $21,490 and is reported to attain a city fuel economy rating of 40 mpg. They’ll be coming to Blue Oval dealers in fall.
Ford's new Bronco Sport is a rugged, compact SUV that can ford 17.7 inches of water yet rides very car-like
The last time I drove a Ford Bronco it was a subcompact Bronco II SUV, and it was over some white-knuckle terrain of the Red Rocks of Utah that Ford had invited automotive journalists to for a long-lead introduction of their newest SUV.
Although that was several years ago, I remember when Playboy’s automotive columnist at the time, almost lost one of several Bronco II test vehicles, and possibly himself during a ride-and-drive demo which was intended to be a true test of Bronco IIs off-road ability.
Each journalist drove a Bronco II down an almost 90-degree downslope of a smooth, slippery red rock. I was fortunate to have an automatic transmission Bronco II so the hairy trek down this three-car length rock was easy since I could ride the brakes all the way down. But the Playboy magazine journalist had a manual shift Bronco II and when he released the clutch the vehicle sped way too fast down the rock as it appeared he lost control and was heading for a crash. Somehow, he managed to lay heavily on the brakes and maintained steering control to stop safely down the flatter part of the rock as we all scattered out of the way.
After driving Ford’s all newly designed 2021 Bronco Sport SUV, only the name has stayed the same as this resurrected Bronco has even better off-road chops than its predecessor of yesteryear.
For one, it’s larger in size which makes for a better ride and handling. It parks easily, is fun to drive and during my weeklong test, it grabbed a lot of eyes.
Bronco is offered in two versions. There’s the robust off-road Bronco with two or four doors and the Bronco Sport 4-door. We tested the Bronco Sport Outer Banks version although Bronco can also be had in Base, Big Bend, Badlands and First Edition models.
Within the Outer Banks model, it came standard with a 1.5-liter three-cylinder. Yes, you read right. A three-cylinder that generates 181-hp and 190 lb/ft of torque for EPA mileage estimates of 26 city, 25-highway mpg with engine start/stop technology. It couples to a standard 8-speed automatic transmission with rotary gear selector.
There’s an optional 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that puts out 245-hp and 275 lb/ft of torque, also with an 8-speed auto transmission and start/stop feature.
So configured, the Outer Banks carries a maximum tow capacity of 2,000 pounds. With a ground clearance of 7.9 inches, Ford says Bronco Sport can ford up to 17.7 inches of water.
Off-road wise, it has an approach angle of 21.7 degrees and departure angle of 30.7 degrees, allowing it to tackle some modestly tough terrain.
Need more capability? The Bronco has even better specs for serious off-roaders, of course at a larger price.
Bronco Sports’ 4WD system is called G.O.A.T. (Goes Over Any Terrain) that adjusts throttle input and transmission shift points depending on the mode selected. In the Bronco Sport it’s Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand. In Sport mode it increased engine rpms by 500 although performance wise, the difference between it and Normal weren’t that noticeable.
Speaking of performance, the little 3-banger had a linear application of power and torque. It was independently timed at 8.2 seconds for a 0-60 sprint. Not bad for a heavy (3,593 pound) SUV.
After a comfortable 18-inch step-in into the Sports’ interior, you’re treated to comfy and nicely supportive heated perforated leatherette and cloth front seats and sufficiently padded rear seats. Thanks to its boxy design, Bronco Sport had gobs of head, leg and should room fore and aft.
An 8-inch touchscreen serves the audio, rearview camera, apps like Travel Link and more. A front view camera view would be nice since Bronco Sport’s hood line is high and squared which the camera would allow checking the terrain or objects in front of the vehicle.
Then there’s Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 suite that provides a host of safety features including blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, forward collision warning, auto high beams and pre-collision alert with automatic emergency braking along with pedestrian detection. Ford engineers included it all.
HVAC controls are large and easy to view and use. And below them is a wireless phone charger.
A G.O.A.T mode switch on the console offers Eco, Sport, Normal, Sand and Slippery selections. In Sport mode, rpm’s increase by 500 for more spirited performance.
Bronco’s spacious cargo area has a rubberized cargo floor and a MOLLE system of straps for easy retrieval of baggage or gear. There’s also deep, zippered pockets behind the front seat backs.
With the rear seats upright, the cargo area measured 34.5 inches deep, 42.5 wide and 34 high. Flip the 60/40 seatbacks and cargo loading depth increases to 64 inches. Ford says Sport can accommodate a pair of upright mountain bikes (with the front wheels off and stowed). The cargo underfloor holds the spare and around it small items can be stowed in dense foam bins.
Equally impressive is that Ford designers included a separate opening rear hatch window. I had that on my ’98 Ford Explorer Sport and it was especially handy when carrying lengthy items through the open window.
Lift-over into the cargo area is a comfortable 29.5 inches which makes loading heavy, bulky items easier.
Shod with 18-inch Michelin tires, Bronco Sport has a compliant and supple ride with its High-Performance Off-Road Stability Suspension (H.O.S.S.) that employs coil springs and hydraulic gas pressurized shocks front and rear. It’s planted in sharp turns and parks easily with a tight turning radius.
Bronco Sport came with a myriad of standard features like active grille shutters, LED headlamps and taillamps, wireless phone charger, Sync3 infotainment system, tire pressure monitoring system, perimeter alarm, Ford CoPilot360 and much more. Actually, there were no extra cost options only a delivery charge of $1,495 that took the base price of $26,660 to $28,155. And that comes with perfect Insurance Institute for highway Safety crash test score.
Now Ford just announced a price increase on several models which included the Bronco that adds $540 to the bottom line. After a recent chip shortage, Bronco’s are now coming off the production line to a waiting list of 125,000 in-hand orders in the U.S. alone. So if you want one, better see your Blue Oval dealer now. Bronco is an exciting new vehicle for Ford, plus they also look cool and macho.
As Ford’s F-150 pickup has been the best-selling half-ton truck for numerous years, their F-250 Super Duty three-quarter ton is also a popular seller and the more serious workhorse.
If you have a construction business, need towing and payload capacities greater than what the F-150 provides, or will also use the truck for snowplowing, the F-250 can handle all those jobs, and then some. And to top it off, the F-250 SD can still provide civilized daily transportation.
F-250 is offered in XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, Limited trim levels and in Regular Cab, Super Cab and 4-door Crew Cab, the latter of which was tested.
And within those choices, F-250 can be powered by a choice of three engines: 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 (tested); and a 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.
Our test truck’s 7.3-liter V8 is a power house of grunt. Coupled to a 10-speed automatic transmission, the F-250 is tow rated for up to 15,000 pounds and 18,600 with a fifth wheel.
And if you do have towing needs, the Super Duty gets Ford’s Pro Trailer Backup Assist that makes backing a trailer into tight spaces a lot 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.
Super Duty’s interior offers luxury car accommodations. It had heated/cooled leather front seats that 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 systems 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 plus 11.5-inch deep console box that can accommodate a compact laptop or iPad. Even the headliner is done in 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.
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 heated 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.
F-250’s tailgate step with remote release, is one of the best as a step pulls out of the top of the tailgate and an assist handle also pulls out and locks upright for easy ingress/egress into the bed.
The Tremor version of the Platinum model we tested came with robust 35-inch wide Goodyear Wrangler LT-285/75R18 tires. Paired with a ground clearance of 8.7 inches and a 17.4-degree approach angle, 19.6 departure and 19.3 breakover angle plus skid plates, the Tremor version is off-road capable for treks into the outback, muddy construction sites and deep snow.
Driving wise, yes, the Crew Cab’s 250-inch overall length is long but manageable even in city driving. And the F-250 just hugs the road with its 6,568-pound curb weight. As said, the heavy-duty truck is a daily driver and when loaded rides even smoother. It’s also quiet riding as Ford adorned it with extra sound deadening material.
Now all this power and capability comes at a heavy-duty price. With a long list of standard features like lane keeping assist, Adaptive Steering, tilt telescoping heated steering wheel, 10,000 GVWR package, adjustable pedals, locking rear, adaptive cruise and many more, the Tremor carried a base price of $66,225. But the options add up and included Rapid Red paint ($395); the 7.3L V8 engine ($2,045); all weather floor mats ($135); Tremor Off-Road package that includes the A/T tires and skid plates ($3,975); power moonroof ($1,495); Fifth-wheel prep package with the bed factory drilled ($500); roof clearance lights ($95); front/rear wheel liners ($325); sprayed-in bedliner ($595); and delivery ($1,695) took the bottom line to $77,480. If you own a business wherein this price can be amortized for taxes, the bite isn’t as bad.
As the government’s 5-star safety rating was only evaluated for driver/passenger frontal crash, the F-250 scored a full five stars.
The F-250 also comes with a 3 year/36K bumper-bumper warranty, a 5/60K powertrain and 5/60K roadside assistance.
Leave it to Dodge to create the world’s most powerful, three-row, family oriented AWD SUV.
Dodge’s Durango SRT SUV powered by their potent 6.2-liter HEMI Hellcat supercharged V8 engine, generates a thundering 710-hp and 645 lb/ft of torque that can propel this 5,710-pound American muscle car to an exceptionally quick 3.5 seconds for a 0-60 sprint with launch control. Performance is exhilarating. To activate this, merely press the launch control button on the dash, hold down the power-adjustable brake pedal, press the accelerator to the floor, then release the brake and the Hellcat launches ahead while pushing you back in the seat, quickening your pulse and forcing a wide smile on the face. The first time doing this, is scary as it has so much G-force grunt. So equipped, Durango should do good at the drag strip, despite its heft of a wagon.
Don’t laugh at that. Back in the late 60s there was a 1962 white Pontiac Bonneville (supposedly stock) V8 powered station wagon with automatic transmission called “The Milkwagon,” so named because its owner had Rietz’s ice cream stand in Schnecksville. Reitz ran local drag races and cleaned-up in the cars’ C/SA class. And that was because of the great traction he got with the added weight of the cargo area over the rear posi-traction rear wheels. He always beat me in my mothers’ 1968 Pontiac Bonneville sedan (she never knew I raced it). Even with a spot, he blew off more powerful high-classed cars who spun their tires at the starting line.
In this day when many car makers, on up to our federal government, are pushing electric vehicles (actually that’s a misnomer as they’re really battery powered vehicles just like flashlights aren’t called electric flashlights) on us, Dodge gets kudo’s, accolades and thousands of way-to-go’s for debuting an exciting SUV like this.
Push the keyless ignition to light-up the HEMI engine and you get goose bumps from the delicious sounds of supercharger whine emanating from under the hood, and at the opposite end, exhaust tips that put out a rumble that’s music to a gear-heads’ ears. And despite all this quick grunt, Durango SRT Hellcat can tow up to an impressive 8,700 pounds. The only drawback is it’s not kind at the gasoline pumps as it carries EPA fuel economy ratings of 12 city, 17-highway mpg. But hey, the exciting driving experience is well worth it.
After a mere 20-inch step-in, Durango’s interior is adorned with a burly flat-bottom steering wheel with paddle shifters, power adjustable pedals, supportive Nappa leather seats with suede inserts, a suede covered dash and a large 10.1-inch touchscreen. The screen serves a multitude of functions and features. It includes Uconnect 5 infotainment system that offers Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity, Alexa, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, launch control, Performance Pages that allow setting gearbox, suspension, steering, engine performance with speed and 0-60/track time timers, G-Force readouts, climate controls, rearview camera, drive modes of Track, Sport, Auto, Snow, Tow, Custom and much more. Even the lightning quick Torqueflite 8-speed automatic transmission t-shifter is racy.
The spacious second row captain’s chairs are separated by a huge console and they slide forward to ease ingress/egress into the third-row seats that are mainly for youngsters. All totaled, Durango is rated for seven passengers. And the backs of the second row had optional video screens to keep the kids occupied during long trips.
After a low 30-inch liftover into the cargo area and with the third row seats upright, there’s 17.2 cubic feet of space that measures 18.5 inches deep, 45 wide and 32 high. Fold the third row and capacity increases to 43.3 cubic feet for 48 inches of cargo loading depth. With the second row folded, there’s 85.1 cubic feet for 80 inches of loading depth. And beneath the aft cargo floor is a 6-inch deep bin for small item storage.
As for Durango’s AWD system with a limited-slip rear differential, it assists in keeping the tall Pirelli 20-inch tires on the pavement, and in snow. The torque split in Auto mode is 40/60, Snow-Tow is 50/50 and Sport is set up for maximum rear-wheel acceleration at 35/65.
This brings up ride and handling for this family hauler. It’s suspension with Bilstein shocks firms up body roll allowing it to take sharp turns and cloverleafs with virtually no lean while keeping a planted stance. And all four wheels are shod with famed Brembo brakes to insure short stops. Despite the added firmness, ride quality is smooth and with seven aboard, even softer.
Now for the good part. The Durango SRT Hellcat AWD can be yours for a mere $92,746 after a base of $80,995. This includes a host of standard equipment such as heated/cooled front seats and steering wheel, heated second row seats, performance hood with functional air scoops, ParkSense front/rear park assist with auto stop and much more.
The extra cost options list includes the Technology Group ($2,395) that adds lane departure warning, advanced brake assist, full-speed forward collision warning and adaptive cruise with auto stop; rear DVD entertainment video ($1,995) w/Blu-Ray; trailer tow group ($1,195); Premium Interior group ($2,495) featuring suede trim plus carbon fiber accents; 2nd row console ($595); Harmon-Kardon audio ($1,085); blind spot and cross path detection ($495), plus delivery ($1,495) will fulfill any of you SUV/sports car desires.
One major problem though. The initial build of 2,000 Durango’s were sold out within a week of debut. Because of a huge demand, Dodge has reconsidered and will build a few more. But don’t wait. They won’t last long. It’s a one of a kind, exciting family SUV that you’ll keep for a long time – maybe it’ll even be a collectable. I hated to give it back.
Subaru's midsize Outback crossover has been enhanced for 2021 with upgraded safety and operational technology
Subaru’s Outback has to be the most popular midsize SUV on local roads. Its popularity comes from its excellent traction abilities, its conservative styling, reasonable price, and a host of high-tech and safety features.
Outback’s are offered in base, Premium, Limited, Touring, Onyx Edition XT, Limited XT (tested) and Touring XT. An Outback for every budget and pleasure.
The 2021 Limited XT came with comfy two-tone leather seats and an 11.6-inch touchscreen with a host of features, functions and apps.
The heated front seats, in particular, are exceptionally supportive. Subaru interior designers did a great job designing the overall interior.
Then there’s the new large touchscreen with its Starlink infotainment system serving the audio, rearview camera, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, Bluetooth, driving statistics, navigation, HVAC systems and more. The only feature missing is a wireless phone charger on the Premium trim, perhaps because there’s no room. But there are front and rear receptacles to charge a phone or iPad.
As for the HVAC system, most functions operate primarily from the touchscreen as do the heated seat controls. It takes some getting used to and momentarily takes the eyes off the road for certain selections. It’s an extremely busy screen that requires several touches for certain selections. It’s also controversial for some. In one Kelly Blue Book site customer review, the Outback owner wrote, “To access X-Mode for better traction, you need to navigate from the home screen to the second level screen and then find the X-Mode option.” Operationally, the owner should read the owner’s manual as this should primarily be done when parked as the system has a speed limitation for engagement and it will disengage above 25 mph.
We found that when accessing “Climate” to adjust settings, the screen only stays up for six seconds. And to bring up the heated seat touch controls, it’s necessary to first touch the seat/heat icon, then “heater,” which appears for which you then select one of three intensity bars for the amount of heat required. Seems simple hard switches, as most vehicles have, are better, quicker and safer.
Outback came with an array of the latest safety features including lane departure/sway warning, blind spot detection w/rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise w/lane centering, reverse auto braking (very helpful when backing out of a parking place especially when parked between two large, view blocking SUVs), Eye-Sight Driver Assist System w/auto emergency braking and Driver Focus (Distraction Mitigation System). The latter employs facial-recognition that can spot driver drowsiness, fatigue, distraction and will also adjust the drivers’ seat for the particular driver it recognizes. When the system detects one of the aforementioned conditions, a beep sounds off and a notice displays on the driver information screen on the gauge cluster. It doesn’t detect, however, in direct bright sunlight or when wearing sunglasses.
Outback’s comfy rear seat has generous leg and headroom for two adults or three youngsters. It offers easy ingress/egress thanks to wide opening doors and a low 19-inch step-in. And unlike many four-door’s, there’s thoughtful assist handles above each door.
With a wave of a foot beneath the back bumper, the rear hatch automatically opens up to a spacious cargo area. With the back seats upright, there’s 32.5 cubic feet of cargo space that measures 42.5 inches deep, 45 wide and 29.5 wide. Flip the rear seatbacks by pulling two handles in the sidewall and it opens up 75.7 cubic feet of storage that offers 74 inches of cargo loading depth. And for small item storage, the underfloor has a foam bin into which small items can be stowed. And lift-over into the cargo area, is a mere 27.5 inches.
Subaru’s have always been known as great cars in snow, especially with Outback’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Their newly announced Outback Wilderness model becomes more off-road capable with its all-terrain tires, larger shocks and springs and a generous 9.5 inches of ground clearance.
With Subaru’s Active Torque-Split AWD system, it continuously adjusts to driving conditions by sending power from the wheels that slip to the wheels that don’t. In essence providing power to all four wheels simultaneously. Outback’s X-Mode system can be activated (via the touchscreen) for tough traction conditions such as deep snow, mud and dirt. It also operates Hill Descent Control.
While the 2020 Outback handles nicely with its suspension taming road imperfections and maintaining good stability in sharp turns and twisty roads, it also parks easily with a relatively tight turning radius of 36.1 feet. Shod with 18-inch Yokohama tires, Outback is a smooth, quiet rider.
Our test model was powered by a 2.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that generates 260-hp and 277 lb/ft of torque. With auto start/stop engine technology and a standard CVT transmission, the combination garnered EPA mileage ratings of 23 city, 30 highway mpg. So powered, Outback produces lively acceleration from a standing stop and during passing maneuvers. Especially so when the turbo kicks in.
With an extremely long list of impressive standard features and amenities like a sunroof, Harmon/Kardon premium audio, 8 months free Subaru Starlink Security Plus system, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity and more, the only extra cost was delivery ($1,010) that took the base price of $37,745 to $38,775.
If you want one, better hurry because we understand a comparable 2022 Limited XT will cost an added $4,440 when they go on sale in late summer. Despite this, Outback will continue to be a top seller in its class.
In government testing, Outback received very impressive safety scores of a full five stars for overall safety; five each for driver/passenger frontal crash; five each for front/rear seat side crash and four for rollover.
Outback also comes with a 3 year, 36K basic warranty; 5/60K powertrain; 5/Unlimited rust protection and 3/36K roadside assistance.