The car: The Nissan Maxima is completely restyled for 2016 with all-new sheet metal as well as being 1.3 inches lower and 2.2 inches longer than the previous generation. The Maxima is available in five trim levels: S, SV, SL, SR and Platinum. These trim levels replace option packages. My test car was the nicely equipped SL, with full power accessories, heated seats, a Bose sound system, a touch-screen navigation display, active noise cancellation, dual-zone climate control, a rear-view monitor and intelligent cruise control. All trim levels get the same 3.5-liter, 300-horsepower V-6 engine, connected to a continually variable transmission. Nissan is trying to bring back the idea of the Maxima as a four-door sports car and this latest model brings them as close as they have ever been.
The road test: The 300-horsepower V-6 provides very strong performance, with 60 mph arriving in less than six seconds. I have never been a fan of the CVT transmission, but this is one of the best I have ever tested. The updated transmission allows for quicker performance and more responsiveness when accelerating. A drive-mode selector (Sport and Normal modes) adjusts throttle response, transmission tuning and steering. The ride is firm without feeling harsh. On most roads, the Maxima is a very comfortable car to drive, but on very poor roads, the ride can get a bit skittish. Under hard acceleration, there is what seems like more engine roar than actual performance. The overall handling was predictable, with very little body roll on quick turns. The brakes are firm and powerful. The interior of the Maxima is comfortable and roomy, with premium materials throughout. Maxima interiors never felt luxurious to me, but this latest model competes nicely with more expensive luxury cars. The seating is quite comfortable, with Nissan’s unique Zero Gravity with sport bolstering standard (eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and four-way power-adjustable front passenger’s seat) and increased softness from a new three-layer foam design. Seats are offered in premium cloth, leather-appointed or premium Ascot leather-appointed. Heated and climate-controlled front seats and steering wheel are available. The front seats are low, adding to the sports car feel. The rear seat, like many competitor’s models, features a 60/40 split fold-down design. Rear seat room is generally good although the lower roof line takes away some headroom. Safety is addressed with a full complement of airbags, antilock brakes and traction control. The top-of-the-line model also has the Driver Attention Alert system, which gives visual and audible alerts when drowsy or inattentive driving is detected.
The bottom line: The latest Maxima is certainly the best Maxima to date. With a luxurious and highly functional cabin, a strong engine, and a nice combination of ride and handling, the Maxima is starting to give the premium-class European competitors a run for their money.
AAA Auto Facts
Crash test: 5 stars
MPG: 22 city, 30 highway
Annual fuel costs: $1,650
Base price: $34,410
Shop against: Chrysler 300, Kia Cadenza, Buick LaCrosse
The car: The latest trends in SUVs are models that are built on subcompact platforms, and one of the newest is the HR-V from Honda. Only one engine is available for the HR-V – a 141-horsepower, 1.8-liter four cylinder that powers the front wheels or, in the case of my test car, all four wheels. The transmissions are a continually variable or a six-speed manual transmission. The six-speed manual transmission is available only in the front-wheel-drive version. The HR-V comes in three trim levels: LX, EX and EX-L with navigation, which was the test car model. The test car came with antilock brakes, backup camera, stability control, airbags for the driver and front passenger, and side-curtain airbags for seating positions near the doors. Included in the test car was Honda’s lane-watch system, which turns on a right-side camera that displays images on the navigation screen to help minimize blind spots. The leather interior of the upscale HR-V was comfortable and had a premium look and feel. Storage bins are tucked in every nook, and there are plenty of connections for your electronic devices. The rear seating is spacious enough for two adults to be comfortable even with the front seats pushed all the way back. The height of this vehicle is a couple of inches higher than a typical sedan, allowing for easy entry/exit and much better visibility on the road. This is one of the most versatile small vehicles for carrying cargo. The split rear seats fold flat, as does the front passenger seat, to accommodate very long items. The rear seat cushions can flip up to carry tall items. Most major controls are easy to use, but I still find the integrated radio navigation system distracting. Honda added some redundant controls on the steering wheel, which helped, but for simple functions, such as changing the radio band, I would prefer buttons or knobs.
The road test: The HR-V is fairly quiet – only some road noise entered the cabin. The handling and steering were quite good and the HR-V feels nimble during tight maneuvers such as parking. While some smaller cars/SUVs can have a choppy ride on less-than-perfect roads, the HR-V was quite comfortable. The engine had enough pep to easily get up to highway speed and, in general, the newest CVT transmission performed well. Only when passing at highway speeds did the HR-V feel somewhat overwhelmed. A push on the accelerator generated a fair bit of noise but not much acceleration. I suppose this is the tradeoff for an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 27 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. According to the built-in indicator, I averaged just over 30 mpg in combined city/highway driving.
The bottom line: The Honda HR-V should prove very popular in the ever-expanding subcompact SUV or crossover vehicle category. Although the HR-V’s primary purchaser is likely to be 18 to 34 years old, I believe this will be a very popular vehicle with baby boomers. The HR-V is economical, easy to drive, offers good visibility, and, thanks to its ride height, is easy to get in and out of. Combine this with a flexible interior and the HR-V is a solid choice.
AAA Auto Facts
MPG: 27 city, 32 highway
Crash test: 5 stars
Annual fuel costs: $1,200
Base price: $19,115
Shop against: Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Mazda CX-3
The car: There was a time when an SUV was basically a truck with some comfortable appointments. Over the years that has changed, with many SUVs becoming as luxurious as any luxury car. As that has happened, however, some of these luxury SUVs have lost their ability to handle the rigors of driving off-road or battling winter weather. This is not the case with the Land Rover Range Rover Sport. The Range Rover Sport comes in four models: the SE, HSE, the top-of-the-line Autobiography, and Supercharged, which was the test-car model. The luxuriously equipped Range Rover Sport Supercharged is powered by a 510-horsepower supercharged V-8 that develops 461 foot-pounds of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can adjust engine performance in a variety of modes based on driving conditions.
The road test: The Range Rover Sport is a big vehicle without feeling huge – in fact, it drives a little smaller than its overall size. The ride is quite comfortable and the steering is smoother and has a bit more feel than some recent sports sedans that I have driven. The suspension system is quite interesting, with a normal height setting, a raised-height setting to allow for more aggressive off-road driving, and a lower setting for easy entry and exit as well as a slightly aerodynamic drag at highway speeds. Located in front of the shifter is a dial that adjusts the all-wheel-drive system to the terrain – there are settings for snow, loose gravel, rocks and just about any road condition that I would dare travel. A trip to 60 mph is accomplished in as little as five seconds. This is an impressive number for a car that weighs just over 5,000 pounds. As a comparison, this is just a couple of tenths of a second slower than the latest V-8-powered Mustang GT. The brakes are equally impressive, easily able to stop this heavy vehicle in short order and also easy to modulate when driving off-road. There is also a hill-descent setting that allows the vehicle’s computer to keep the Range Rover stable when driving down a steep incline. The Environmental Protection Agency rates fuel economy at 14 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. During my time with the Range Rover Sport, I averaged 22.8 mpg, according to the electronic display. The interior of the Range Rover is luxurious, with beautiful trim and leather everywhere you look. The controls have a substantial feel and are generally well-placed, but the window switch on the top of the door seems a bit odd and the seat controls are difficult to use with the doors closed. As with all Land Rovers, I found the combination navigation and sound-system display a little slow and clumsy. Although most operations can be controlled by voice, there is still too much distraction – which, in my opinion, could be fixed with an extra button or switch. The front seats are both comfortable and supportive and have enough adjustments for just about any size driver. The seats are both heated and cooled and the steering wheel also has a heater function. The rear seats can easily accommodate two adults comfortably and an occasional third occupant. There is a huge sunroof that allows in plenty of light and fresh air. The rear cargo area is typical of a vehicle of this size, with 28 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seat that expands to 62 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.
The bottom line: If you are looking for a luxury vehicle that just happens to be one of the most capable SUVs available, the Range Rover Sport is a great choice. If you want to add sports car performance, step up to the Supercharged model.
AAA Auto Facts
MPG: 14 city, 19 highway
Annual fuel costs: $2,600
Base price: $63,350
Shop against: BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes-Benz GLE
The car: The latest Ford Escape comes in three trim levels, front or all-wheel drive and with a choice of three four-cylinder engines. The standard engine is the 2.5 liter, there is a 1.6-liter turbocharged Ecoboost engine, and the engine in my test car, the 2.0-liter EcoBoost version, which develops a healthy 240 horsepower. My test model was the midgrade front-wheel-drive SE version. This nicely equipped vehicle comes with most every creature comfort, such as keyless entry, rearview camera and electronic message center, and a full complement of airbags. Optional on our car was a navigation system, reverse sensing system, power lift-gate and 18-inch wheels and tires.
The road test: The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is surprisingly powerful. The small engine develops 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. Many years ago, a similarly sized Ford engine was lucky to produce 80-100 horsepower. The Escape’s turbocharged engine translates into a vehicle that has no problems merging with fast-moving traffic or passing a slower vehicle. The six-speed automatic transmission is smooth and nicely matches the torque of the engine. The ride is smooth, and the handling – while it will never be confused with a sports sedan – has a precision that is missing in some small SUVs.
The front-wheel-drive version of the Escape uses a variety of sensors to help keep the vehicle stable in poor weather. Although stability control, traction control and antilock brakes will never replace all-wheel drive, the front-wheel-drive Escape with winter tires should be able to handle winter roads with ease. Fuel economy was quite good during my time with the Escape. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the vehicle at 22 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. About 70 percent of my driving was on the highway during my time with the Escape, and the electronic display showed a surprising 32.5 mpg.
The cabin of the Escape was comfortable and roomy. The materials had a premium feel and look throughout. The test car had cloth-covered seats, which I prefer to the leatherette/vinyl base seats found in some other vehicles. The seats were generally comfortable, with plenty of lower back support. With the combination of 10-way adjustable seats and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, drivers of all sizes should be able to find a comfortable seating position. There is a decent-sized glove compartment, large door pockets and a small center console for storage. The major controls are generally easy to find and use. This Escape had the latest version of the Ford Sync voice-control system. This latest version – Sync 3 – gives drivers a new interface that uses touch-screen technology, similar to tablets. The new One Box Search feature, with the available navigation system, allows users to look up points of interest or enter addresses in much the same way as an Internet search engine.
Although this new system works better than previous models, there are, in my opinion, too many opportunities to take your eyes off the road. The rear seat can fit two adults in reasonable comfort and three in a pinch. Like most small SUVs, the rear seat is a split-folding arrangement that allows for extra storage. Overall cargo capacity is comparable to its rivals.
The bottom line: The Ford Escape is a solid choice in a very crowded category of vehicles. The Escape’s strengths are its high-tech turbocharged engines, which deliver both power and fuel economy. Add in a stylish exterior, a high-quality interior and no shortage of electronics technology, and the Escape stands out from the crowd.
AAA Auto Facts
MPG: 22 city, 28 highway
Crash test: 4 stars
Annual fuel costs: $1,500
Base price: $23,450
Shop against: Toyota RAV4, Kia Tucson, GMC Terrain, Mazda CX-5
The car: The latest Honda Pilot has traded its boxy appearance for a stylish rounded design. The interior has also benefited from this update, with a more sophisticated look and higher quality materials throughout. The Pilot is powered by a V-6 engine that runs on regular unleaded fuel and has either a six-speed automatic transmission or, in the Elite and Touring models, a new nine-speed automatic transmission. The Pilot can be ordered in all-wheel drive or, as in the case of my test vehicle, front-wheel drive.
The road test: The Pilot’s new 3.5-liter V-6 engine develops 280 horsepower, 30 more than previously, and slightly more torque. The combination of higher horsepower and less weight allows the Pilot to sprint to 60 mph in just a little over seven seconds. While the upscale Elite and Touring models come with the new nine-speed automatic transmission, the LX, EX and EX-L have the six-speed automatic with a column-mounted shifter. My Touring edition had a somewhat complicated push-button arrangement, but once it was mastered it was actually pretty simple. The V-6 engine will shut off three cylinders under a light load and, in the case of the test model, will shut off the engine when stopped. These fuel-savings measures translate into better fuel economy than in previous models. The models with the newest transmission and the front-wheel-drive models are rated at 20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the models with the six-speed transmission at 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. It was not too long ago that a three-row SUV that could carry eight people was lucky to get 15 mpg. During my time with the Pilot, I averaged 22 mpg in an even mix of city and highway driving. Handling is good for an SUV and the ride is very car-like and quiet. The steering is fairly responsive, although in general the Pilot feels a little bigger than its actual size. Honda says its new all-wheel-drive system is the most sophisticated and technologically advanced one in a mainstream, three-row SUV. The system, which I only had limited exposure to, can distribute torque between the front and rear axles and, for the first time in a Honda vehicle, can distribute torque between the left and right rear wheels. Although not designed for severe off-road use, this all-wheel-drive system can handle more than most drivers will throw at it. Honda has done away with some of the plastic bits and pieces in the interior of the Pilot, so it looks more stylish and of higher quality. The front seats are some of the most comfortable in recent memory and have plenty of adjustments to accommodate just about any size occupant. The steering wheel in the test model incorporated the most commonly used controls, allowing drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road. The controls for the radio and navigation system are touch-screen style, but as good as they are, I prefer actual buttons and knobs. The cargo area and the passenger seating are typical of Honda: versatile and flexible. The cargo area features a two-position lid that lets you hide items in a lower compartment. It can also be repositioned at the bottom of the cargo compartment to make room for taller items. The cargo lid is also reversible – carpeted on one side and with a durable and water-resistant plastic surface on the other that is perfect for holding wet or dirty items. A side compartment is designed to hold smaller items, like groceries or a gallon of milk.
The bottom line: Honda’s newest Pilot may be its best yet. With its improved fuel economy and performance, along with flexible seating, it may be the best three-row SUV to date.
AAA Auto Facts
MPG: 19 city, 26 highway
Crash test: 5 stars
Annual fuel costs: $1,650
Base price: $29,995
Shop against: Toyota Highlander, Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Murano
The car: Jaguar is building some very stylish cars these days and one of the best is the F-Type. The Jaguar F-Type is a two-seat rear-drive or all-wheel-drive lightweight aluminum sports car available as a coupe or convertible. The F-Type is powered by a choice of a supercharged V-6 engine or a supercharged V-8 engine connected to a quick shifting eight-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual shift. This Jaguar is available in six models. My road test version, the F-Type R, leads the pack. The F-Type R is powered by a 550-horsepower V-8 engine and is capable of reaching 60 mph in four seconds and has a top speed of nearly 190 mph.
The road test: This Jaguar performs wonderfully – the supercharged V-8 has what feels like unlimited power that builds very quickly. As good as it performs, in my opinion it sounds even better. The exhaust system produces a proper sports car sound as the engine’s rpms reach the shift point, and there is a button that takes the exhaust from sporty to raucous. The eight-speed automatic transmission nicely matches the performance characteristics of the engine and can be shifted manually with the shift lever or paddles on the steering wheel. There is a driver-controlled setting that allows for sportier handling and slightly quicker steering and revised shifting. The steering is precise, with just the right amount of assist at both low speeds and on the highway. The handling is very good, on par with the best German sports cars. High-speed handling is helped by a retractable rear spoiler that deploys at speeds over 60 mph. Considering the huge tires and superior handling, the Jaguar F-Type still rides comfortably, even at highway speeds over significant cracks in the pavement. The brakes are strong and powerful, easily able to bring this sports car to a stop in short order. Higher-performance models of this car can have the brakes upgraded to a carbon ceramic matrix brake system, with larger brake rotors to provide even more impressive stopping power. Fuel economy wasn’t too bad for a sports car: the Environmental Protection Agency rates the F-Type at 16 mpg in the city, 23 on the highway. I averaged an indicated 26 mpg on a long highway drive. The cabin of the F-Type coupe is delightful. The seats are comfortable and supportive and all of the materials and surfaces have a premium look and feel. At 6-feet tall, I had just enough leg and headroom, but taller drivers might find the space a bit tight. During my time with this F-Type, I found every possible excuse to drive with the top down. Even on the highway, the open cabin stayed reasonably quiet, making it easy to have a conversation. The cargo area of the convertible model is pretty tight at 7 cubic feet and packing larger items is a bit of a challenge. The coupe, by comparison, has 11 cubic feet of cargo space. Visibility to the front and sides is very good but visibility in the rear is a bit challenging with the roof up. The test car had all of the safety options, which include a rear-view camera that comes with adaptive headlights, front and rear parking sensors, a blind-spot monitor and a rear cross-traffic detection system. The controls are generally quite good and had a nice premium feel. Jaguar’s touch-screen infotainment system is in the center of the dash, which is a bit clumsy, but then again I’m a fan of buttons and knobs rather than touch screens.
The bottom line: The Jaguar F-Type might be one of the best Jaguars ever made and is certainly one of the best sports cars available today. With it stylish design, powerful engines and dynamic handling, the F-Type is a winner.
AAA Auto Facts
MPG: 16 city, 23 highway
Annual fuel costs: $4,250
Base price: $65,000-$106,450
Shop against: Porsche 911, Chevrolet Corvette
The car: The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE is a midsize five-passenger luxury SUV that replaces the ML, which was introduced 18 years ago. The GLE comes in six versions: a standard six cylinder and turbocharged six cylinder, a turbocharged hybrid/electric version, a diesel, and two high-performance AMG models. All models except the GLE 350 come standard with Mercedes-Benz’s all-wheel-drive system called 4Matic. My road test was in the GLE 400, which is powered by a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged engine that develops 329 horsepower. All models except the hybrid use a seven-speed automatic transmission. The GLE cabin is all luxury, from its soft leather seating to hand-finished wood trim with subtle metal accents. The front seats can be adjusted 10 ways with three memory settings, and the tilt and telescoping wheel allows for a comfortable seating position for drivers of any size. Our model also had the optional multi-contour seats with massage function, which added a bit more support even though the massage function seems more of a novelty. The gauges are clear, crisp and easy to see. Mounted high up in the middle of the dash is an 8-inch screen that displays sound-system, vehicle and navigation functions. Like many luxury vehicles, the GLE has a voice command system. The version in this Mercedes is better than some, but still isn’t perfect; it got somewhat frustrating when it didn’t understand my commands. The standard Harman Kardon sound system produces well-balanced audio, delivering 830 watts of power through 13 speakers. The GLE has push-button keyless start and rain-sensing windshield wipers – features that once you have them you’ll wonder how you ever got by without them. The rear seats are comfortable and offer decent head- and legroom. Optional on the GLE is a rear-seat entertainment system, zoned climate control and reclining seats. The cargo area – one of the largest in its class – expands to 80 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.
The road test: The GLE offers an impressive and comfortable ride. The handling is closer to a sedan than an SUV. This may be due to the optional adaptive dampening system, which changes its priorities from comfort to sporty with the turn of a knob. Unlike some other systems, this one really seems to work. When set on the sport mode the handling is quite good without being too harsh. Set the control to comfort and all but the worst pavement breaks disappear. The performance from the 329 horsepower engine is quite good, with a surplus of power to merge with fast-moving traffic or passing a slow-moving truck. Fuel economy is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 18 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway; I averaged about 20 mpg overall. The brakes are powerful and easy to modulate. The GLE has numerous safety features, such as a 360 degree view camera that comes in handy in a crowded parking lot. It also has a pedestrian detection system, a blind-spot monitoring system, and lane departure and correction systems. The adaptive cruise control may be one of the best I’ve ever tested; it’s very accurate and works down to a full stop, a handy feature in stop-and-go commuter traffic. If everyone had this feature it could very well eliminate low-speed collisions.
The bottom line: The latest midsize SUV from Mercedes is a superior replacement for the aging ML. Overall, the design is more contemporary, the interior is just a little nicer and the features better sorted out than the model it replaces. I would put the GLE 400 with 4Matic mid-pack in the competitive midsize luxury SUV segment.
AAA Auto Facts
MPG: 18 city, 22 highway
Annual fuel costs: $2,000
Base price: $64,000
Shop against: BMW X5, Lexus RX 350, Acura MDX
The car: The Toyota Tacoma is a midsize truck that has been completely redesigned for 2016, with a new suspension system and V-6 engine to go along with a carryover four cylinder. Both engines are paired with a new six-speed automatic transmission with electronic shift, delivering quick and easy shifting. The V-6 also comes with a new six-speed manual transmission, and the four-cylinder comes with a five-speed manual. The new powertrain gives the Tacoma better fuel efficiency and performance. The new Tacoma will be available in two cab types: the extended access cab and four-door double cab. Each cab will be available in both two-wheel and four-wheel-drive configurations. Tacoma comes in five model grades: a basic SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, and the subject of our road test, the top-of-the line Limited. The cabin of the Tacoma is as nice as any luxury car. The seats are wide, comfortable and supportive, though there is no height adjustment. The dash is laid out nicely and the combination sound-system/navigation screen uses knobs for easier and less distracting control. The climate control system and seat heaters are also easily controlled with buttons and knobs rather than a touch screen.
There are several cup holders, USB and 12-volt power points and bins to hold all the extras we seem to carry with us. This truck even has wireless charging for cellphones with that capability. The rear seat of the four-door truck was comfortable for two adults and can accommodate three if needed. The truck also had an optional sunroof, which added extra light and ventilation to the cabin. The access cab models ride on a 127.8-inch wheelbase and have a 73.7-inch-long bed. The double cab is offered in two versions: the 127.4-inch wheelbase with a 60.5-inch bed and 141-inch wheelbase with the 73.7-inch bed. The inner part of the cargo bed is made from a lightweight composite to resist dents and features tie-down cleats and an integrated deck rail utility system. This makes it easy to add a bike rack and other accessories. The truck also had a 120V/400W outlet that could be used to run small tools or for that ultimate tailgate party. The test vehicle also had the factory-installed tonneau cover to keep the bed dry and secure.
The road test: The new 3.5-liter V-6 engine delivers very good performance. The new engine is a high-tech Atkinson cycle design with variable valve timing, featuring both direct and port fuel injection. This translates into an engine that generates 278 horsepower and 265 foot-pounds of torque, while still delivering up to 23 mpg on the highway. When properly equipped, the Tacoma can also tow up to 6,800 pounds. I drove the Tacoma off-road and found that even the Limited model could handle just about any challenge.
I climbed deep ruts, steep hills and even large rocks with ease. For those drivers who want to head far off the beaten path with little fear of getting stuck, the TRD Off-Road grade adds a multi-terrain select system. The system allows the driver to choose between different types of terrain and the computer regulates wheel spin by adjusting throttle and brake pressure to provide maximum traction. Think of it as cruise control for off-road travel.
The gas pedal also had longer than average travel, allowing for easy modulation in slippery conditions to prevent wheel spin. On the road, this is a quiet truck with little road or wind noise due to the careful use of sound-deadening materials. Safety is addressed with a backup camera, standard airbags, driver and front passenger knee airbags, and front and rear side curtain airbags.
The bottom line: The latest Toyota Tacoma may be the best Tacoma, but unfortunately, it is also one of the most expensive. The two-wheel-drive SR model starts at $23,300 and our test model came in at just over $40,000. If you’re looking for a midsize truck that can handle just about anything, the Tacoma is the only choice.
AAA Auto Facts
MPG: 18 city, 23 highway
Annual fuel costs: $1,850
Base price: $23,300
Shop against: Chevrolet Colorado, Nissan Frontier
The car: There was a time when an SUV was basically a truck with some comfortable appointments. Over the years that has changed, with many SUVs becoming as luxurious as any luxury car. As that has happened, however, some of these luxury SUVs have lost their ability to handle the rigors of driving off-road or battling winter weather. This is not the case with the Land Rover Range Rover Sport. The Range Rover Sport comes in four models: SE, HSE, the top-of-the-line Autobiography, and Supercharged, which was the test-car model. The luxuriously equipped Range Rover Sport Supercharged is powered by a 510-horsepower supercharged V-8 that develops 461 foot-pounds of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can vary engine performance in a variety of modes based on driving conditions.
The road test: The Range Rover Sport is a big vehicle without feeling huge – in fact, it drives a little smaller than its overall size. The ride is quite comfortable and the steering is smoother and has a bit more “feel” than some recent sports sedans that I have driven. The suspension system is quite interesting, with a normal height setting, a raised height setting to allow for more aggressive off-road driving, and a lower setting for easy entry and exit as well as a slightly aerodynamic drag at highway speeds. Located in front of the shifter is a dial that adjusts the all-wheel-drive system to the terrain – there are settings for snow, loose gravel, rocks and just about any road condition that I would dare travel. A trip to 60 mph is accomplished in as little as five seconds. This is a very impressive number for a car that weighs just over 5,000 pounds. As a comparison, this is just a couple of tenths of a second slower than the latest V-8-powered Mustang GT. The brakes are equally impressive, easily able to stop this heavy vehicle in short order and also easy to modulate when driving off-road. There is also a hill-descent setting that allows the vehicle’s computer to keep the Range Rover stable when driving down a steep incline.
The Environmental Protection Agency rates fuel economy at 14 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. During my time with the Range Rover Sport, I averaged 22.8 mpg, according to the electronic display. The interior of the Range Rover is luxurious, with beautiful trim and leather everywhere you look. The controls have a substantial feel and are generally well-placed, but the window switch on the top of the door seems a bit odd, and the seat controls are difficult to use with the doors closed. As with all Land Rovers, I found the combination navigation and sound-system display a little slow and clumsy. Although most operations can be controlled by voice, there is still too much distraction – which could be fixed with an extra button or switch. The front seats are comfortable and supportive and have enough adjustments for just about any size driver. The seats are heated and cooled and the steering wheel has a heater function. The rear seats can easily accommodate two adults in comfort and an occasional third occupant. There is a huge sunroof that allows in plenty of light and fresh air. The rear cargo area is typical of a vehicle of this size, with 28 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seat that expands to 62 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.
The bottom line: If you are looking for a luxury vehicle that just happens to be one of the most capable SUVs available, the Range Rover Sport is a great choice. If you want to add sports car performance, then step up to the Supercharged model.
AAA Auto Facts
MPG: 14 city, 19 highway
Annual fuel costs: $2,600
Base price: $63,350
Shop against: BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes-Benz GLE
The car: The latest Volvo XC90 T6 is a complete redesign from previous models – in fact, it’s the first Volvo to be fully developed since its separation from Ford Motor Co. in 2010. The XC90 is a three-row SUV powered by a four-cylinder supercharged and turbocharged engine. This combination of turbo/supercharging allows the 2.0-liter engine to develop 316 horsepower. It is my understanding that there will be a hybrid or plug-in hybrid version in the near future.
There are three trim levels: Momentum, Inscription and R- Design. Power is directed to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. The interior of this latest Volvo may be the most luxurious of any Volvo to date. The fit, finish and overall look are stunning. The nappa leather seats are wide and comfortable and have plenty of adjustments, including side bolstering, lumbar and lower cushion length. The front seating area is roomy, but for a large vehicle it feels a bit cozy – not cramped, just smaller than I would have thought. The second-row seating is comfortable for adults. Adults can fit in the third row in a pinch but it is best suited for kids. Volvo has been offering built-in child booster seats for years and this latest Volvo has a flip open center-mounted adjustable booster seat.
Volvo claims there are 32 seating combinations and hidden storage compartments in this vehicle, as well as 85 cubic feet of cargo space. Volvo, like many manufacturers, equips its vehicles with a touch-screen system supplemented by voice controls. The iPad-type touch screen is vertically oriented and looks sharp sitting in the dash. The touch screen acts just like a tablet, responding to taps, swipes and pinches.
Volvo is trying to limit driver distraction with a strategy that puts the information where the driver wants it. This could be on the center display touch screen, the gauge cluster, or on the windshield with the heads-up display. There are also steering wheel controls for some functions as well as voice command, all designed to limit driver distraction. I still found the entire combination a bit too distracting. It was too easy to miss when touching the touch screen and the voice command system never fully understood what I was saying. As good as this system tries to be, it still can be distracting. However, Volvo did add a rotary knob for radio volume and buttons for the rear window defroster, which I appreciated.
The road test: The 2.0 engine is quite powerful, reaching 60 mph in a little over six seconds. The ride is slightly firm, very smooth and extremely quiet. The transmission shifts smoothly and can be adjusted for performance or economy. There is a drive-mode switch that allows the driver to custom calibrate the suspension, steering and engine performance. But even with all of these adjustments, the steering feels a bit artificial. There is also an off-road mode, which raises the car 1.6 inches, limits speeds to 25 mph, and optimizes the transmission for traction. The Environmental Protection Agency rates fuel economy at 25 mpg on the highway and 20 in the city. I averaged about 23 mpg overall, according to the trip computer. Premium fuel is recommended for maximum performance. Volvo has always been known for its safe cars and the XC90 is no exception. This Volvo has an intersection braking system, which activates the brakes if the driver inadvertently turns in front of traffic. There is also a parking assistance feature, which spots a parking space and helps the driver pilot the car into it.
The bottom line: This newest Volvo has a luxurious, comfortable cabin that can compete with the best cars of Europe. Combine the premium cabin with the capable engine, an all-wheel-drive system and plenty of safety systems, and this might be one of the best Volvos to date.
AAA Auto Facts
MPG: 20 city, 25 highway
Crash test: Not rated
Annual fuel costs: $1,900
Base price: $48,900
Shop against: Infiniti QX70, Acura MDX, Lexus RX 350
The Car: The 2016 Chrysler 300 is a large four-door sedan that comes in four trim levels, rear wheel or all-wheel drive and can be powered by a choice of a 3.6 liter v-six engine or a 5.7 liter V-eight cylinder engine. Both engines are mated to a eight-speed automatic transmission.
The road test: Our road test was in the all-wheel-drive Chrysler 300 powered by the 3.6 liter V-6 engine.The 300 is a large car with plenty of room for five adults. There is a generous amount of head and legroom in the front seat. The rear seat can get a bit tight if the front seats are pushed all the way back. In addition very tall passengers may find the head room a bit tight. The seats are comfortable and supportive, with slightly sporty firm bolstering. The controls are nicely laid out with a very intuitive design. Climate control, sound system and other major systems are very easy to navigate through. There is a decent sized glove compartment, large center console, decent cup holders, and a couple of small bins. The interior materials in our test car had a nice upscale feel and look. The heated steering wheel and seats was a nice feature on cold mornings as was the remote start. The trunk was roomy at a little over 16 cubic feet, good sized but about average for a car of this size. Safety is addressed with all of the latest features: antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag, a rearview camera and active front head restraints.
On the road this Chrysler 300 with the V-6 engine performs well developing 292 horsepower. This translates into plenty of muscle to merge on a busy highway or pass slow moving traffic. The engine is quiet with just enough rumble to let you know there are almost 300 horsepower under the hood. To reach 60 miles per hour takes just about 7 seconds. If 292 horsepower is not enough you can move up to the hemi V-8 engine that pumps out nearly 400 horsepower. The eight speed transmission is just about a perfect match for the six-cylinder engine, always in the right gear. The handling is quite good for a large four-door sedan. On quick turns the 300 stays flat and hugs the road. The steering is light at low speeds and firms up nicely at highway speeds. The brakes are excellent with good feedback that can bring this big car to a stop in about 120 feet. The cabin is also quiet with little road or wind noise disturbing the driving experience.
The bottom line: The Chrysler 300 has a commanding presence; it looks the way an American car should. Maybe I’m buying into the advertising but it has attitude that seems to be missing from many cars these days. It has a squared off look with an elegant design and an upscale interior. Add in a powerful choice of engines and New England weather taming all-wheel drive the Chrysler 300 is a winner.
The Car: The latest version of the Hyundai Tucson has matured nicely. Still a compact five passenger SUV that can be ordered in front wheel drive or all-wheel-drive. There are four trim levels and two engine choices. The base model comes with a 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine that powers the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. The all-wheel-drive and higher trim levels come with a 1.6 liter turbo-charged engine connected to a seven speed “dual-clutch” style transmission. This petite engine develops 175 horsepower and 195 pound feet of torque. As a comparison this is about the same horsepower rating of a V-6 engine in some older Hyundai models. Our road test was in the top of the line Tucson Limited model with all-wheel drive.
The road test: On the road the 1.6 liter engine is competent enough; during my time with the Tucson there were times I would have liked a bit more power. Although in day to day driving the 1.6 liter four-cylinder engine was able to handle everything I asked it to do with only a little complaining The shifts were generally smooth, although from time to time like many dual-clutch transmission there could be a slight delay as the transmission sorts out what gear it needs to be in.
The handling is surprisingly responsive, on quick turns, avoiding potholes and other road hazards the Tucson was pretty nimble with a secure feel that seemed more like a sedan than SUV. The ride is quiet and comfortable with the suspension soaking up bumps and cracks in the road.
The brakes were generally excellent although occasionally when cold they felt just a bit grabby. The EPA rates the fuel economy at 24 miles per gallon in the city and 28 miles per gallon on the highway. I averaged just over 28 miles per gallon overall after 500 miles of driving according to the on board computer system. I didn’t have much of an opportunity to drive the Tucson in challenging weather but it should perform well since it has an all-wheel-drive locking a feature not found in every compact SUVs.
The interior of this Hyundai has a decidedly upscale feel and look with accessories that were once only found in luxury cars. The front seats in our Limited model were both heated and cooled. There is a large touchscreen navigation system, automatic duel zone climate control, automatic LED headlights, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert systems. The controls are simple, straight forward and easy to use. Most of the surfaces have a soft touch feel generally found in more expensive vehicles. The cabin is roomy for a compact SUV feeling more like a mid-sized model. The seats are supportive but in my opinion could use a bit more padding if you plan to spend hours behind the wheel. The rear seating area is also roomy with a fairly generous amount of head and legroom. Cargo storage is quite good with 31 cubic feet behind the rear seat and with the rear seats folded cargo capacity nearly doubles to 62 cubic feet. Our Tucson Limited also had the hands-free power lift-gate that senses when you are standing behind the vehicle with the key and automatically opens the tailgate.
The bottom line: The Hyundai Tuscon Limited is not the most exciting vehicle in the world but it does offer a upscale, modern and well thought out interior with family friendly seating and plenty of cargo space.
AAA Auto Facts
MPG: 24 city, 28 highway
Crash Tests: TBD
Base Price: $22,700 as tested $32,320
Shop against: Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-3, Ford Escape
The car: Today's test drive is in the Mitsubishi Mirage. This small economy car is powered by a 1.2 liter 3 cylinder engine that produces 74 horsepower and 74 foot pounds of torque. The overall performance is, well not much performance. But this car is not about performance but cost and fuel economy. A little research shows 0-60 MPH in about 12 seconds. The EPA rates the Mirage at 37 MPG in the city and 44 MPG on the highway. I have been averaging about 42 MPG overall. This translates into hybrid or diesel like mileage making the Mirage the most fuel efficient gasoline car sold today.
The road test: The handling is okay; this is an economy car and doesn’t try to pretend to be anything else. The ride is a bit jittery around town and this little car requires a little concentration out on the highway. Where this car does well is around town, the turning radius is small and the car easily maneuvers around crowded city streets.
At this price don’t expect a luxury interior, the plastic surfaces are hard to the touch and the seats have an inexpensive firm feel. The controls are pretty straightforward and simple.
Our test car had the optional navigation system and somewhat unexpected pushbutton keyless start (on the left like a Porsche). In the rear seat the headroom and shoulder room are limited and with the front seat pushed back the rear seat legroom is tight. In addition, the rear bench style seat is flat and lacks padding. Overall the rear seat is not a place you want to spend a lot of time.
Storage is actually pretty good with about 17 feet of space with the rear seat up and a very respectable 47 cubic feet: with the rear seats folded. Safety is addressed with 7 airbags four-wheel antilock brakes (front discs, rear drums), traction and stability control. Front and rear parking sensors and a rear view camera came on our ES model. Our test car also had automatic climate control and full power accessories, again unexpected on a bargain priced car.
The bottom line is the Mirage had some unexpected extras and returned great fuel economy, but I’m not sure Mitsubishi hit the mark on this one. I would have preferred to have seen less at a lower price. Our test car came in at $17,105 which approaches the Honda FIT a very nice economy car. I would have to give Mitsubishi an A for effort and a C for execution.