Thursday, May 18, 2017


One of the most appealing things about an SUV is its cargo hauling capability.

You’ll find it listed among the top 10 attributes potential buyers give as their reason for shopping in the segment. (The website lists cargo capacity as the No. 8 reason to buy an SUV right behind “dogs love SUVs” and “SUVs are better in a flood” and ahead of “SUVs have a commanding seating position.”

Which is why if you are considering an SUV or one of its crossover cousins you might want to include the Dodge Durango on your list. When it comes to providing passengers with nice room for themselves and their stuff, the Durango is among the best in its class. Even those riders relegated to third-row seats get decent space.

Launched 20 years ago as a midsize SUV built on the Dodge Dakota platform, the Durango grew a bit as it moved into its second generation as a 2003 model and after taking a year off from production, the 2011 model added a third row of seats in moving the Durango into its third generation.

The Durango was updated for 2014 and for 2017 a new trim level dubbed the GT is being introduced to replace the Limited model in the Durango lineup to go with the base SXT, SXT-Plus, Citadel, and R/T trims.

Late this year, the company also will have in showrooms an SRT version as a 2018 model packing a 6.4-liter HEMI V8 that pumps up performance to 475 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. The company says it will have a towing capacity of 8,600 pounds and a zero-to-60 time of under 4.5 seconds, which is borders on the unbelievable in a vehicle that offers three rows of seating.

But getting back to what I first was talking about, which was hauling stuff and not hauling you-know-what, the Durango provides passengers with good room in all three rows (38.6 inches of legroom for the second row, 31.5 inches for the third). With optional captains’ chairs ($995) in the second row instead of the usual 60/40 split bench seat, third-row occupants also pick up a little more knee room from the open space in the middle. It just seems less cramped.

And it doesn’t skimp on cargo space. With the two third-row seats in place, capacity in the far back is 17.2 cubic feet, good to handle a standard grocery run. Fold them flat and that opens up to 47.7 cubic feet. Maximum cargo space with the second row folded is 84.5 cubic feet, which is surpassed by only the biggest full-size SUVs on the market today.

Encompassing all that space is an interior that I would describe as “spartan sophisticated” that complements a bold, in-your-face exterior. By that I mean a cabin that doesn’t hit the level of luxury but with leather trimmed bucket seats (either Capri leather or Nappa leather is standard on all but the SXT trim, which gets mesh cloth), a leather-wrapped steering wheel that is pleasant to the touch, rear-park assist and backup camera and a version of the company’s UConnect telematics, including one that features navigation (again standard on the upper trims), the Durango is pleasing to the eye if not luxurious.

Such options as a Customer Preferred Package that included Beats premium audio, navigation, and power sunroof and power rear lift gate plus a rear entertainment center, trailer tow group, safety features like blind spot and cross path detection, and a power tilt-and-telescoping steer wheel nicely topped off the features of the Durango GT that served me for a week.

Mechanically, the Durango offers two different engines.

A 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine (295 horsepower, 260 pound-feet of torque) is standard for the SXT, GT, and Citadel trims and a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 (slightly smaller than what will be in the SRT and tuned to 360 hp and 390 lb.-ft. of torque) is standard on the R/T and available on the Citadel.

An 8-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for manual gear selection is standard on all trims, and all trim lines are available with all-wheel drive in addition to the standard rear-wheel configuration. Towing capacity is 6,200 pounds for V6 models with either RWD or AWD, 7,400 for RWD V8s and 7,200 for AWD V8s.

As for fuel mileage, the V6 is rated at 19 miles-per-gallon city, 26 highway, and 21 combined with RWD and 18/25/21 with AWD. Figures for the V8 are 14/22/17 with RWD, 14/22/17 with AWD. Considering the V6 provides adequate punch for everyday tasks, I’d go with that over the V8. And if you really want that extra power, just save up over the next few months while waiting for the SRT.

MSRP for the Durango starts at just under $30,000 for the SXT and runs to nearly $45,000 for the R/T V8 with AWD. The GT that I had featured AWD and started at $40,095 but with all the extras added, plus the destination and delivery charge of $1,095, it topped out at $49,065.

The low end is a bargain but, of course, lacks many of the features that give the Durango some advantages over its competitors. The high end is just that — high end.

What I liked about the 2017 Dodge Durango GT: It doesn’t have the feel of a vehicle of its size when it comes to handling, and the ride is comfortable and quiet. The real plus is the simplicity of operation of infotainment systems like audio and navigation. Very, very intuitive. Also, you can turn off the annoying start-stop system that shuts down the engine when you come to a complete stop.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Dodge Durango GT: The center console is on the small side, especially for an SUV, and doesn’t offer as much in the way of stowage as the optional second-row console ($300) that rests between the two captain’s chairs.

Would I buy the 2017 Dodge Durango GT: I don’t have the need personally for a three-row SUV, but yes, I would at least take a look if I were shopping in the segment.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


A full redesign of the Audi A8L sedan is in the works for 2018, and if the 2017 model is any indication, the new version should really be something.

Serving as Audi’s flagship vehicle for over 20 years, the A8 doesn’t garner the attention or plaudits of its Teutonic brethren in the full-size, luxury sedan segment, but it is every bit the equal of the Mercedes-Benz S Class or BMW 7-Series when it comes to sophistication, performance, comfort, and good looks.

That it may be underrated or under-appreciated lies more with the biases of reviewers than it is anything Audi has or hasn’t done with the A8. 

With the W12 and diesel versions on hold for at least a while, the Audi A8L comes with the choice of one of two engines for 2017.

A turbocharged, 3.0-liter V6 sends 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels via Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system, and a turbo, 4.0-liter V8 ups the numbers to 450 and 440, respectively. Both get an 8-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with paddle shifters for manual gear selection if desired.

The difference in performance is just over a second in zero-to-60 mph times with the V8 accomplishing it in 4.4 seconds and the V6 in 5.5, according to the company. Fuel economy is only slightly better with the V6. EPA figures are 19 miles-per-gallon city, an impressive 29 highway, and 22 combined for the V6 compared to 18/29/22 for the V8.

Essentially, then, the choice basically comes down to your willingness to pony up $9,000 more for the V8 over the starting MSRP of $82,500 for the V6. But you won’t be disappointed with the V6.

Operating mostly in Sport and dynamic modes, I found that the V6 offers all except what the most power-hungry would want out of a full-size luxury vehicle in the way of performance and without infringing on the comfort of more, um, sensitive passengers. The ride is extremely smooth as even in dynamic setting bumps are absorbed with alacrity.

The L, for long wheelbase, is standard on both the V6 and V8 models, which means backseat riders get up to 42.9 inches of legroom. Despite its length of 207.4 inches, however, the trunk space is kind of stingy for the segment, only 14.2 cubic feet. Both the S-Class sedan and BMW 7-Series sedan offer more.

The list of standard features is what you would expect from the class. Navigation, lots of leather, suede trim, Audi’s MMI interface for operation of infotainment features, full LED headlights (daytime running, high and low beam, turn signals), four-zone climate control, keyless entry and start-stop, Audi Parking System Plus with rearview camera, and Bluetooth hands-free communication are included.

My test vehicle came with extras like 20-inch, 10-spoke wheels over standard 18s, a panoramic sunroof, top-view camera system, head-up display, Valcona sport seats with diamond stitching, rear-seat comfort package with ventilation and massage functions on outboard rear seats, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist. Add the $950 destination and delivery charge the total price ran to $92,500, which included a $5,400 executive package credit.

Even that price makes the A8 one of the bargains in the segment.

With buyers apparently holding off until the 2018 comes out (sales for the 2017 A8 were only 291 vehicles in April compared to 330 for April 2016 and are down 17.6 percent for the year over the first four months of last year), some good offers could be forthcoming on the 2017 Audi A8.

Also, one of the major updates for the 2018 A8 is expected to be in the area of technological features. It will be interesting to see what that will include. What’s next in tech features? Are our cars going to do our taxes some day? Let’s hope that the Germans avoid their usual tendency of over-complicating these tech refinements.

Styling no doubt will get some attention, too, but a radical departure in overall appearance isn’t likely. So you’re not going to be all that much dated if you go with a 2017 A8.

What I liked about the 2017 Audi A8L: This is a good size sedan that rides and handles like a smaller vehicle. As noted earlier, operating in Sport and Dynamic modes provides a fun driving experience.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Audi A8L: The dial for operating the MMI interface for audio and navigation features is placed at an odd spot just in front of the gear shifter. The driver has to reach forward to turn the knob. It needs to moved back a bit so that your hand falls naturally at the right spot. More irritating, however, is responses to voice commands. It was the most frustrating I’ve ever dealt with. No, dammit, I want Channel 55, not 50s on 5!

Would I buy the 2017 Audi A8L? Yes. Even with a redesign coming up, you’re not going to have buyer’s remorse if you opt for the 2017 A8L.

Thursday, May 4, 2017


Chances are if you look for info on BMW’s X4 you’re going to find it listed with SUVs or maybe crossovers. For example, U.S. News & World Report in its compilation of reviews includes it in luxury compact SUVs along with its sibling the X3.

But that’s really not quite right.

The 2017 BMW X4 is what you might call a “tweener.” When it comes to hauling your stuff, the X4 comes up short of its competitors. It can handle a grocery run but a trip to Home Depot or Lowe’s could be another matter depending on how big your home improvement project is. Luggage for a family vacation also could be an issue.

At the same time, it is a bit too big to be considered a mere hatchback or luxury sedan/coupe.

So how does one classify the X4?

BMW solves the issue by calling it a SAC, or Sports Activity Coupe. (Which brings up the entirely different issue of having four doors while being called as a coupe, a debate we’ll save for another day).

The X4 followed the somewhat controversial X6 when it was shown at the 2014 New York Auto Show and marketed as a 2015 model. The X6 had been unveiled at the same show five years earlier and its radical styling, particularly when viewed from the back, made it a rather polarizing vehicle. You either liked the look, which had vestiges of Pontiac Aztec when viewed from the rear, or you hated it.

Because it is a bit smaller, however, the X4 gets away with that same general profile.

The first X4 came in two trims, the xDrive28i and the xDrive35i. The former featured a 4-cylinder power plant, the latter a 6-cylinder. Both were turbocharged, and the xDrive designated both trims as all-wheel drive.

The xDrive28i version is still offered for 2017, but the top-of-the-line model has since grown into X4 M40i with a Twin-Power Turbo, 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine that produces 355 horsepower between 5800 and 6000 rpm with a maximum 343 pound-feet of torque between 1350 and 5250. It is mated to an 8-speed Sportronic transmission with sport and manual modes (steering wheel-mounted addle shifters). That combination results in fuel mileage numbers of 19 miles-per-gallon city, 26 highway, and 21 combined drinking using recommended premium fuel.

BMW says it will zip from zero-to-60 mph in 4.7 seconds, which puts it near the top of its segment.

Slip the transmission into sport mode and the damping control from comfort to sport or sport-plus gives you the kind of responses and handling you might expect from a top-of-the-line sports car.

And therein lies its strength. This so-called Sports Activity Vehicle is more about performance than it is anything else when it comes to SUV functionality — with the possible exception of its good looks and wealth of niceties.

The latter include Nevada leather upholstery (look it up), power glass moonroof, M design touches such as the leather-wrapped M-Sport steering wheel, Harmon Kardon premium sound system, power sport seats, and automatic dual zone climate control as standard or no-charge options included in the base MSRP of $58,100.

Add in some extras like a Technology Package that includes navigation, a head-up display for your speed (which is useless if you are wearing sunglasses with polarized lenses), and BMW Online and BMW Apps, and other options like 20-inch wheels instead of the standard 19s, a surround view camera, adaptive LED headlights, heated front and rear seats, and rear-view camera and the MSRP goes up to $67,495 (including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

That makes for a pretty well-equipped vehicle, but when it comes to things you expect in an SUV like hauling capacity, forget it. The 17.7 cubic feet of storage space behind the backseat is barely more than what you get in a full-size sedan, and it is further compromised by the slanting roofline that limits the height of your cargo. Fold the backseats and capacity is increased to 49.4 cubic feet, still short of several of its competitors, which include its sibling BMW X3.

But the “M” design tweeks are nice.

What I liked about the BMW X4 M40i: Besides the impressive driving performance, a little feature caught my fancy. It’s not new, in fact it’s been around for at least a decade on even non-luxury vehicles, but the auto hold function is a very nice addition. I don’t know why more manufacturers don’t pick it up. You press a button on the console and then every time you come to a complete stop, the parking brake is automatically set. This keeps the car from creeping forward and tapping the rear of a vehicle in front of you and also keeps you from rolling backward if you are on an incline. Yes, you can keep your foot on the brake and accomplish the same thing, but auto hold allows you to scramble to pick up anything that may have fallen on the floor. Please note: This is not the annoying start-stop system that shuts off the engine (though the X4 M40i has that feature as well) but simply a braking system. Responses to voice commands also are quick and sure.

What I didn’t like about the BMW X4 M40i: I tested the navigation system just once, and it took me on a rather round-about route to my destination, routing me to parallel streets for seemingly no particular reason. Turn directions kept referring to streets as State Route X instead of their more common name or street number. I don’t know what it may be like in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the final assembly point for the X4, but in South Florida, not many drivers are going to recognize many roads by their State Route number. 

Would I buy the BMW X4 M40i: No. The biggest thing in its favor is its driving dynamics, and it does have the advantage of giving you a high seating position over the usual sports sedan or coupe. But that’s not what I’m looking for in a Sports Utility, er Sports Activity, Vehicle.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017



Back a few years ago, I knew a guy who owned a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and whenever I would show up driving one of the Jeeps at the other end of the food chain, like say the Patriot or Liberty, he would kind of scoff and say, “That’s not even a Jeep!”

There was a tad of snobbishness in the way he said it, as if anything less than a Grand Cherokee wasn’t really up to Jeep’s traditional standards. (I’m assuming he didn’t include the Wrangler in his castigation of the smaller models.)

But in a way, he did have kind of a point. If still very much a part of the Jeep family, these models were kind of mired in the awkward adolescent stage. A couple of them were around for five years or less before the company gave up and took another crack at the compact/midsize SUV/Crossover segment with another product.

The Liberty, introduced as a 2002 model, almost made it to its teen years before giving way to the revived Cherokee about three years ago.

At one time, the Jeep Compass, introduced along with the Jeep Patriot at the 2006 New York Auto Show, seemed headed for a similar fate as the Liberty. Reviews knocked it for its sluggish performance, its fuel appetite, its poor handling, its small cargo area, and its general lack of features and overall quality. The best thing it had going for it was its relatively cheap price.

Even that couldn’t prevent a serious sales dip recently for the Compass, however. The numbers for March 2017 were off a whopping 66 percent from the same month the year before with a drop of 63 percent for year-to-date sales over the same period for 2016.

But the new Compass has taken the model in a new direction. (Couldn’t resist!)

Its engine packs more punch, it’s a bit more economical, and passenger and cargo room as been increased so as to make it at least competitive in a class that includes such notables as the Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, and Chevy Equinox, the sales leaders in the segment. The Compass also has the advantage of more off-road capability than others in the class.

The 2.4-cylinder Tigershark engine in the new Compass boosts horsepower and torque figures to 180/175, respectively, over the 158/141 of the 2016 base models as well as the 172/165 of the top-of-the-line offerings of last year. Fuel mileage increased slightly over 2016’s numbers, and both front legroom and rear cargo stowage area have been increased.

Jeep says cargo capacity behind the second row is up to 27.2 cubic feet from 22.7 and with the second row folded is up to 59.8 cubic feet from 53.6. Considering that hauling capability is one of the features you’re usually looking at when it comes to an SUV/Crossover, that’s a significant improvement.

My test vehicle for the week was the Compass Limited trim with four-wheel drive. The Compass also is offered in base Sport, Laramie, and Trailhawk trims, the latter for more serious off-roading enthusiasts, and with both 2WD and 4WD. The Compass Limited comes with a 9-speed automatic transmission as standard over the six-speed automatic or six-speed manual offered on other trims.

That combination results in fuel economy numbers of 22 miles-per-gallon city, 30 highway, and 25 combined, which I found fairly accurate after about 10 days of mostly highway driving. The computer showed me hovering around 25 mpg after approaching 30 earlier in my 240-mile stint.

FWD and manual transmission models vary by about a mile or two per gallon with the most efficient being 2WD models with manuals (23/32/26). Many of its competitors offer better numbers, but to be fair, some are worse as well.

The Limited 4WD has a base MSRP of $28,995, but adding such optional equipment as the UConnect 8.4 NAV system, Sirius satellite radio, a power liftgate, 19-inch black pocket aluminum wheels, Beats premium audio, and safety features such as blind spot warning, rear park assist, HID headlights, lane departure warning ran the total cost to $34,955, including the $1,095 destination charge.

We should offer up an alert here. Jeep is selling the 2016 Compass as a 2017 model under what FC Authority (an enthusiasts’ website) labels a “budget alternative” to the “all-new” 2017 Compass. It seems a little confusing, but Jeep attributes the reason to plans to market the new Compass later as a 2018 model while the old one (the 2016) will continue to be sold globally as a 2017. FC Authority notes some “wicked” deals are being made on the “old” 2017 models in the interim. Just make sure you know what you are getting.

What I liked about the 2017 Jeep Compass: All the technological functions in the Limited are extremely user-friendly. The 8.4-inch screen in the optional UConnect system is well worth the $895 cost. We also made good use of the extra cargo space!

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Jeep Compass: Though there is decent legroom in the front, the seats could offer more in the way of comfort. I’d like a bit more in the way of throttle response as well.

Would I buy the 2017 Jeep Compass: Unless I really wanted that off-road capability, which I don’t get to test much in South Florida environs, I probably would go for one of its many competitors first. But the Compass is worthy of a look.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


Three years ago or so Jaguar paid homage to its illustrious past when it brought the F-Type to the market.

It was the first roadster from the company in 40 years and stirred memories of the legendary Jaguar E-Type, which was based on the British marque’s D-Type racing car and manufactured from 1961-75.

Such was the admiration for the E-Type that Enzo Ferrari, who had some great looking machines coming out of his own shop, flatly declared it “the most beautiful car ever made.” High praise indeed.

So the F-Type had a lot to live up to when it came out as a soft-top convertible for 2014 and coupe the following year.

I’d say it has done a pretty good job of meeting that standard. If not the “most beautiful car in the world” — a subjective observation if there ever was one — it certainly ranks among the top five or so in today’s vehicles, though frankly I’m not sure why I picked five because I can’t think of four others I would rank ahead of it.

It’s that eye-pleasing and draws admiring glances whether it is sitting in the driveway or cruising the streets.

But to attain potential legendary status as a sports car a vehicle has to deliver in performance, and there the F-Type lives up to its promise as well.

Originally offered with both supercharged V6s and V8s that ranged from 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque to 495/460, respectively, Jaguar upped the ante for the F-Type in succeeding years with S and R trims that boosted those numbers up to 550/502.

For 2017, the Jaguar F-Type SVR — my drive for the week — even blows away those numbers with 575 hp and 516 lb.-ft. of torque. It leaps from zero-to-60 mph in 3.5 seconds and from 50 to 75 in 2.3, which helps not only when passing a slower vehicle but finding an open spot when changing lanes in traffic. 

With five trim levels overall, F-Types with the V6 engine are available with rear-wheel drive and manual transmissions, but V8 models like the SVR come only with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission. It has a sport mode and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for manual gear selection if desired.

That combination results in fuel mileage figures of 15 miles-per-gallon city, 23 highway and 18 combined with premium fuel recommended. Numbers for the V6 are 20/28/23 with an automatic and 16/24/19 with the six-speed manual. In the works for 2018 is a turbocharged 2.0-turbo 4-cylinder engine with 295 lb.-ft. of torque that claims a zero-to-60 time of 5.4 seconds.

In addition to appearance and performance, the F-Type also rates highly when it comes to the comfort and conveniences associated with the luxury class. The company didn’t skip when it came to quality materials. The power adjustable seats don’t recline all that far, this being a two-seater, but are power adjustable 14 ways and have adjustable side bolsters for support when pushing it around corners. The seats essentially envelop you when you get in.

Standard equipment on the F-Type SVR convertible includes a fully electric power top, premium Meridian sound system, touch-screen operation for the navigation system and other functions, automatic climate control, rearview camera, keyless entry and push-button start, blind-spot monitor (much appreciated with the restricted view you get with the top up), quilted leather seats, and suede dash trim.

Standard exterior features included HID headlights, a switchable active exhaust system, adaptive dynamic suspension, and a carbon fiber aerodynamic spoiler.

All that is included in the MSRP of $128,800 for the F-Type SVR — which approaches double the MSRP for the base F-Type convertible. Throw in the $995 destination and delivery fee and options like an extended leather package, carbon-fiber center console, illuminated treadplates, wheel locks, and a car care kit and the total for my test ride came to $132,283. 

One of the few shortcomings I found is in the technology. Jaguar always seems to be behind the curve when it comes to the operation of the gadgets and gizmos that fill modern luxury cars today, whether it be in the graphics or the steps needed to operate the functions. There was not a voice command system for audio or nav functions in the SVR, which doesn’t bother me but might some in the younger generation.

Here’s one of the mysteries in auto life. Why is it that the more expensive a car is, the more complicated operating the technological features becomes? At least the phone connects easily enough.

The shortfalls in technology, however, are trivialities compared to what the F-Type SVR offers in the way of performance, appearance, and luxury. Get behind the wheel and you’ll likely agree.

What I liked about the 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR: The performance is exhilarating. Flipping the switch on the console to “Dynamic” even adds to the auditory experience with a staccato cadence coming from the dual-quad exhausts.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR: In addition to the techno quirks, the convertible trunk is small (only 7.3 cubic feet) and oddly shaped to accommodate the rear wheel wells. Not that you’re going to do a lot of hauling in it, but I’m not sure you could fit two average-size suitcases in there, especially if they were hard cases.

Would I buy the 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR? Yes. Yes. Yes. it’s a great choice in the segment.

Sunday, April 9, 2017


If you do a Google search for the word “inexpensive,”  the first synonym that comes up is “cheap.”

I’m here to say they don’t mean the same thing.

For instance, the 2017 QX60, a luxury midsize SUV from Infiniti, is inexpensive when compared to some of its competitors. But it’s not cheap by any means. Far from it.

Cheap would indicate the luxury arm of Japanese automaker Nissan had cut corners, used lower grade materials, and did just enough to get by when it introduced the vehicle under the JX35 nameplate as a 2013 model. It did not.

Rebadged the QX60 for 2014 under the company’s new naming policy, it offers all the amenities shoppers expect — no, demand — from the segment, with all the comfort and eye-pleasing design touches like maple interior trim and a console that has two levers to allow access to a shallow compartment for keys and door openers and another deeper one for larger objects like a camera.

And it comes with a base MSRP of $43,100 plus the destination and delivery charge of $995, leaving well under the $45,000 threshold. It’s slso a chunk of change well under that of all but a handful of its competitors in the class.

Standard equipment included in that price are a 3.5-liter, V6 engine that has been juiced up to 295 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque from the 265/248 of the 2016 model, a continuously variable transmission (CVT), leather appointed seats, 8-way power driver’s seat with manual lumbar adjustment, leather-wrapped shift nob and steering wheel, tri-zone (left, right, rear) climate control, HID headlights and LED fog lights, 8-inch color information display, rearview monitor, voice recognition for audio and Bluetooth, push-button start, a power moonroof, and a raft of safety features that results in an overall five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

To get more of the good stuff, yes, you’re going to have to delve into options and packages that are going to run the price up. In fact, a Premium Package (two-way power lumbar, heated steering wheel, remote engine start, etc.), Premium Plus Package (Infiniti InTouch with navigation, etc.), Theater Package (dual 8-inch rear-monitors for video playback, etc.), and Deluxe Technology Package (20-inch aluminum alloy wheels, Bose cabin-surround sound system, Intelligent cruise control, motion-activated rear liftgate, etc.) ran the total MSRP for my test QX60 to $58,245, which still is below base price for others in its class.

Remember, inexpensive, but not cheap!

Among other attributes, the QX60 seats seven with remarkable space for those relegated to the third row. With 30.8 inches of legroom, a couple of adults can easily fit back there, and second-row occupants have enough room (a maximum 41.7 inches of legroom) to move their seats forward to make life easier for those in the third row. Access to the far back also is quite good. You simply pull a knob on the back of the second row seats and they slide forward and you step in. The seats flip back into position easily as well.

The downside is that cargo space behind that third row is a somewhat meager. With all seats in place, stowage is listed at 15.8 cubic feet, hardly the size of a good-sized sedan trunk. Flip those third-row seats forward and the space increases to 40.8 cubic feet.

The infotainment systems is remarkably user friendly. Don’t like to use a touchscreen or the rotary knob for various selections? No worry. Duplicate buttons, including knobs to adjust audio sound levels and surf the dial, are there as well. There are plenty of USB ports, one in the console and three in the back, for charging your devices.

Though I’m not a big fan of CVTs, I found the QX60s performance adequate for the class. No, it’s not a Porsche Cayenne, but it’s not a slug either. You can adjust the transmission for Standard, Sport, Eco, or Snow mode, and I found leaving it in Sport resulted in somewhat livelier responses.

The website clocked an all-wheel-drive version of the QX60 from zero to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds. That won’t give you whiplash, but it’s not going to have you banging the steering wheel for more speed.

The upside comes with fuel mileage ratings of 20 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway, and 22 combined, among the best of the non-hybrids in the segment. Premium fuel is recommended for top performance, so why go chintzy?

The ride itself is quiet and smooth. I found the QX60 to handle normal road bumps quite well, and it was particularly at home for highway cruising. At the same time, it’s not overly big to cause you any concerns when it comes to navigation shopping mall parking lots.

What I liked about the 2017 Infiniti QX60: Technological functions are plentiful and very user friendly. You can use a rotary knob to adjust the cursor, use the hard-wired buttons on the center stack, or the touchscreen. (Touchscreen is not the best choice.) Response to voice commands also was good.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Infiniti QX60: Storage is limited when all seats are in place. That’s the curse of three-row SUVs.

Would I buy the 2017 Infiniti QX60? I don’t have a need for a three-row SUV, but if I did, I would have this one on my shopping list. I’d had to overcome my antipathy toward CVTs, but this one has more the feel of an automatic than any I have encountered. The test model didn’t come with paddle shifters, but you can select corresponding gear ratios via the console shifter.

Thursday, April 6, 2017


A new SUV is coming to Volkswagen showrooms in May.

And yes, the VW folks say, its an SUV, not one of the growing numbers of “crossovers” that basically put an SUV body over a sedan chassis. (Though Mark Gillies, Senior Manager for Product Communications, sees them as “interchangeable terms.”)

The 2018 VW Atlas will be a second model to come out of the German automaker’s assembly plant in Chattanooga and will be distributed throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico on this side of the Atlantic and Russia and Middle Eastern countries on the other. It also will be manufactured and sold in China under the name Teramont.

VW chose the San Antonio suburb of Boerne (pronounced “Bernie”) in the heart of Texas Hill Country as the site to preview the new model to automotive media members from around the country and the world, really, with representatives from the Mideast, Russia, Canada, and Mexico included in one of the sessions as well.

Why Texas?

“If you look at it,” Gillies said, “the Atlas is a really big midsize SUV and it looks right at home here on the roads in Texas alongside all the trucks and SUVs here.”

A second reason, he added, is that the company tagline is “Life is as big as you make it,” and there’s no place bigger in the Lower 48 states than Texas. At 198.3 inches long, 78.3 inches wide and 70 inches high, the Atlas is larger than any other VW model on sale in the U.S.

Texas Hill Country also offered the opportunity for journalists to stretch the legs of the new vehicle over a series of curvy Texas roads, including one stretch of two-lane highway that featured a 70 mph speed limit! Yes, a road with driveways coming in at the edges and lots of yellow paint lines down the middle actually legally lets you hit what are usually interstate limits only with no fear of being introduced personally to a Texas lawman.

And the Atlas was easily up to the challenge.

My drive was spent in a top-of-the-line SEL Premium trim which features a 3.5-liter V6 engine (VR6 in VW vernacular) hooked up to an eight-speed automatic transmission and rated at 276 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque.

With all-wheel drive, this setup allows for up to 5,000 pounds of towing capacity when equipped with a factory-installed trailer hitch (only 2,000 with an aftermarket hitch). It seats up to seven passengers and gives those in the third row a decent amount of legroom for adults and fairly easy access thanks to second-row seats that slide forward even with baby carseats in place.

The Atlas has off-road capability as well — though you wouldn’t want to go challenge the Rubicon Trail with it —  and as evidenced by the number bicycles they loaded up on one of the display vehicles seems targeted not just for families but for active ones as well.  There are numerous driver assistance and safety features, many of them — like the Automatic Post-Collision Braking System that is designed to prevent a secondary collision, a segment first — coming as standard in all Atlas versions.

It comes in five trim levels, starting with the base S, which carries a base MSRP of $34,625 (including $925 destination and delivery) and will be available later. The SE starts at $37,715, the SE w/Tec $39,815, and the SEL $43,615. The SEL Premium tops the lists at $49,405 and that includes the V6 engine and VW’s 4Motion AWD system over the standard FWD.

A 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine (235 hp, 258 lb.-ft. of torque) also is offered but wasn’t available at the preview. VW expects the V6 to be the far more popular choice among buyers. If you want AWD, it is available only on the V6. Mileage numbers for the V6 are 18 miles-per-gallon city, 25 highway, and 20 combined with FWD and 17/23/19 for AWD using regular fuel.

The SEL Premium model handled the bumpy Texas roads with assurance, and aside from the slightest bit of wind noise noticeable on the passenger side, was quiet as well. When pushed up grades or when revved up on a short stretch of interstate, the engine did not seem overly strained.

VW also seems to have hit the sweet spot as far as size — big enough to provide up to 96.8 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats folded (and 20.6 with all upright) but not so big it hogs the road. It was at home in both the tighter two-lane stretches for Hill Country roads and stretches of four-lane as well.

It has a nice exterior appearance about it as well with a nicely designed beltline that flows over the wheel wells and hits home at just the right level to keep the side from taking on a flat, bland appearance. The front grille is distinctive as well. Take away the VW logo in the center, however, and it has somewhat the look of a Land Rover Range Rover Sport. That’s not a knock. It’s just the impression I got. Not sure anybody else did, though.

How the Atlas fares in the very competitive midsize SUV market is going to be interesting to keep an eye on. Volkswagen has been working to regain the trust and confidence of the public since the diesel emissions scandal hit the company less than two years ago, and it seems to be succeeding.

Mike Lovati, Vice President of the Midsize/Full-size Product line, said VW sales for the first quarter of this year were at about 76,000 units, compared to less than 70,000 for the same period a year ago, and March numbers were up to 27,635 units, an increase of 2.68 percent over March 2016.

The Tiguan is enjoying its best sales ever, and the Golf sport wagon sales, including the new Alltrack, also are up significantly, Lovatti said.

The 10.3 percent increase in overall sales ranks VW fifth among carmakers in percentage growth, though you have to remember that with smaller overall numbers small increment increases result in bigger percentage jumps.

“Volkswagen becomes a full-line, family-focused auto manufacturer with the vehicles we are now bringing to the market,” Lovati said. “With the addition of the Atlas and the 2018 Tiguan we’ll be competitive in four of the five biggest segments of the U.S. market — compact sedan, midsize sedan, compact SUV, and, of course, the midsize SUV.

“So we’re really going at the core of the market at the sweet spot. The Atlas is helping us and the new Tiguan at the middle of this year is helping us as well.

“So our Atlas — built in America and designed for the American family. It’s built alongside the Passat at our Volkswagen assembly plan in Chattanooga, and it’s the result of an additional $900 million investment by Volkswagen over the past few years.

“We’re very proud about this.”

It will surprising if the Atlas doesn’t figure prominently in continuing that momentum.