Monday, February 21, 2022





If you’re looking for a way to get into electric vehicles (EVs) but are put off by range anxiety concerns that go along with all-electric power, Ford has an answer with its plugin version of its popular Escape SUV.

Well, perhaps that should be “sort of” an answer since all-electric range for the 2021 Ford Escape PHEV (plugin) is only about 38 miles or so, which is not all that impressive as many other EVs on today’s market. But once that limit is reached, a 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder gas engine kicks in to provide standard hybrid operation to ease the fear of being out of power.

In hybrid mode, the electric motor gets a boost from regenerative braking and supplements the operation depending on conditions and your driving style. A handy gauge informs you when electric mode is fully engaged, such as when pulling away from an intersection or slowing in traffic.

Interestingly, that works the other way as well with the gas engine sometimes starting up when you are set in electric mode.

Fuel economy in combined gas-electric hybrid mode is 40 miles-per-gallon of regular octane fuel, though the instrumental panel reading showed slightly less in my experience. The MPGe figure, a formula the government came up with to rate plugins, standard hybrids, and all-electric vehicles, is 105, a number that puts it among the 11 plugin hybrids that earn the three-digit MPGe ratings from the EPA .

So, yes, the Ford Escape PHEV is a safe way of getting an introduction to the electrified driving experience without fear of getting stranded when out on the road. The EPA’s figure for the Escape PHEV’s total range is 520 miles, assuming you have started with a full charge. It also estimates a savings of $5,500 in fuel costs in a five-year period over an average new vehicle that gets 27 MPG.

This review is based on the Titanium trim of the 2021 Ford Escape PHEV but with no major changes this year, the 2021 Escape is pretty much the same vehicle as the newer 2022 model. The big changes came for 2020 models that moved the two-plus decades old Escape into its fourth generation.

Titanium is the top trim. Standard hybrid and plugin power also is available in SE and SEL trims but not the base S Escape. Both the standard hybrid drivetrain and plugins come with a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) but if you want all-wheel drive, which is available on other Escapes, you are out of luck with the Titanium PHEV. It comes only in front-wheel drive configuration.

Among standard features on the 2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV are a hands-free lift gate, rear spoiler, roof rack with rails, LED tail lamps, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats  that are power adjustable l0 ways for the driver and six for the passenger, heated steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, active park assist, Ford’s Co-Pilot360 Assist, adaptable cruise control, push-button start, and voice-activated navigation.

My test vehicle had the Titanium package that includes a power moonroof, head-up display, and leather seating adding $2,500 to the starting MSRP of $38,885. (MSRP for the 2022 Escape Titanium PHEV is only $300 more). That plus $395 for the Rapid Red paint job and $1,245 for destination and delivery ran the total to $43,025.

What I liked about the 2021 For.d Escape Titanium PHEV:
No range anxiety here with a gas engine, and it packs a pretty good punch. Mileage in my week’s stay was at a steady 38-39 mpg, which is slightly under the advertised 40 mpg but still good. The cabin is roomy and the ride is comfortable. Infotainment features are user-friendly and as you might expect in the top-of-the-line trim plentiful.

What I didn’t like about the 2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV: The Titanium trim takes the starting price tag to over $40,000 when the destination and delivery charges are added, which is asking for quite a lot for an Escape. The difference between the plugin and standard hybrid version is around $5,000.

Would I buy the 2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV? I’m not a big fan of plugins since at my house it is difficult for me to plug in any electric vehicle to get it to the closest outlet. (I need to clean out my garage.) But if you don’t have that issue, the Escape offers a nice way to get introduced to electric power because it has the safety net a gasoline engine provides.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022




After a week late last year in the SX version of Kia’s new Carnival minivan, I recently has the opportunity for time in the top-of-the-line trim, the 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige.

The Carnival replaced the aging Kia Sedona in the South Korean automaker’s lineup and got such a refurbishing the company gave it a new name as well as labeling it a “multi-purpose vehicle” rather than the tradition “minivan” moniker. But really, if you can think anything but “minivan” from a glance at the pictures, you have a very fine eye.

It’s a bit sleeker than the ordinary minivan, but the sliding rear doors and overall boxy shape give it away. No offense to the creative thinkers at Kia, but the Carnival is a minivan.

For the economy minded, the base LX and upgraded EX trims offer the better bargain with a starting price tag of under $40,000, but both the SX and SX Prestige trims, which venture well into the  $40,000 range, offer more in the way of standard comfort and convenience features 

The SX I reviewed back in November included items like a navigation system with a 12.3-inch touchscreen display, USB chargers for all three rows of seating, wireless phone charging, heated and ventilated front seats, tri-zone climate control, and rear parking assist as well as blind-spot assist, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, and a rear-seat entertainment system.

To that the 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige includes many other items in his base price of $46,100. That list includes a dual power tilt-and-sliding moonroof, LED projection headlamps and fog lights, LED rear lights,  Kia’s turn-signal activated Blind Spot View Monitor, leather seat trim, second-row lounge “VIP” seats that are heated and ventilated and feature leg rests for reclining, a heated steering wheel, and auto-dimming day/night rearview mirror.

All 2022 Kia Carnivals come with a 3.5-liter V6 engine that is mated to an 8-speed manual transmission. It is rated at a hefty 290 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque that makes driving very pleasurable. You might even forget you are behind the wheel of a minivan, a notion I’m sure the folks at Kia would appreciate.

Gas mileage is pretty good for a minivan with EPA figures of 18 miles-per-gallon city, 26 highway, and 22 combined. All-wheel drive is not available nor is a hybrid version offered, at least for now. Front-wheel drive is standard in al trims. Kia pegs towing capacity at 3,500 pounds and cargo capacity with all seats in place is a generous 40.2 cubic feet.

The good news is that with all those extras there are no added expenses for optional equipment unless you desire a special color. The Astra Blue paint for my test Carnival SX Prestige, for example, added $495 which made the final bottom line $47,770  including the destination fee of $1,175.

What I liked about the 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige:
The Carnival is well-equipped with lots of safety features (very important for a family hauler), and the extra features you get with the SX Prestige as opposed to the SX are nice additions. The interior is roomy and cargo space behind the third row is generous. The navigation screen is large and clear. The Carnival handles well, especially for a minivan, and the engine has good punch. There is a handy knob to surf the radio dial!

What I didn't like about the 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige: Places to put odds and ends in general are somewhat limited throughout the cabin. Even the console box could be bigger. Access to the third row can be tricky.

Would I buy the 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige? Minivans are not on my shopping list, but if they were, the Kia Carnival definitely would be near the top. You might find happiness with a lower trim, but if the extra $5,000-plus for the SX Prestige is in your budget, go for it!

Wednesday, February 9, 2022



Hyundai has expanded its performance portfolio this year with the debut of the “N” trim to its Elantra lineup. But if a $30,000-plus price tag for the N version of the compact economy sedan is a bit beyond your taste, there is another option that ups the Elantra’s fun-to-drive quotient at a much more affordable price.

The 2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line — not to be confused with the N — was included in the 2021 redesign that moved the Elantra into its seventh generation.

It gets a 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that jumps horsepower to 201 and torque to 195 pound-feet over the 147/132, respectively, that the SE/SEL/and Limited trims offer and — here is more good stuff — the N Line is mated to a 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission instead of the CVT in the other trims.

If you are a determined shopper, you may even find one with a 6-speed manual though the company ended production of at the end of last year.

If that’s not enough to draw you to the Elantra N Line over the N, its price tag starts at $25,450 before options and freight charges are added on, which is slightly less than the top-of-the-line Limited trim ($25,700) and not outrageously more than the starting MSRP for the SE ($19,950) and SEL ($21,200).

Consider, too, that the Elantra N Line isn’t all that much thirstier than the other non-hybrid trims. EPA figures are 25 miles-per-gallon city, 36 highway, and 31 combined with the dual clutch transmission for the N Line to 33/43/37 for the SE and 31/41/35 for the SEL and Limited.

The computer readout put fuel efficiency numbers comfortably in the 30s in my week-long stint in the N-Line with most of the time in urban environs that included expressway jaunts.

Hyundai reports numbers of 20/30/23 for the new, 260-horsepower N when an 8-speed automatic tranny is mated to the 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder engine.

The South Korean automaker didn’t skimp when it came to loading up the 2021 Elantra N Line with standard features either. It is similarly equipped to the mid-portfolio SEL model (reviewed a year ago) when it comes to comfort and convenience.

Among them are an 8-inch touchscreen to handle infotainment functions, a proximity key with push-button start, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual automatic climate control, dynamic guidelines for the rearview camera, Bluetooth hands-free communications, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, projector headlights and LED daytime running lights.

In addition to special N Line oriented design touches to the front grille and bumper and other exterior spots, N Line models also get a dual exhaust with chrome tips, 18-inch wheels in place of 16s, a sport-tuned suspension, and combination leather/cloth sport seats to distinguish the N Line  from the SEL trim.

As with all Elantras, safety systems like forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, blind-spot and lane-keeping assist, and safe-exit warning standard are included in the N Line.

The only extra to my test Elantra N Line was carpeted floor mats for $155, bringing the final MSRP to $26,350 including the $995 for delivery.

What I liked about the 2021 Hyundai Elantra N Line:  The cabin is roomy and packed with lots of standard features. Fuel economy is outstanding and the N Line delivers in the performance department. The dual clutch automatic transmission is a big step up over the CVT in other trims. Exterior styling is very eye-catching. Pricing is comfortably in the affordable range by today’s standards.

What I didn’t like  about the 2021 Hyundai Elant1a N Line: Some of the cabin materials are not of the highest quality, but overall ambiance does not come across as cheap.

Would I buy the 2021 Hyundai Elantra N line? Yes. The extra boost in performance you get from the N Line upgrades is well worth the extra cost over base SE and SEL trims, and it is not as expensive as the Elantra Hybrid or Limited. It’s not quite the beast that the new Elantra N is, but then the N starts at over $31,900 for manual models and $33,400 for double-clutch automatics.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022




Having first experienced the”Essential” edition of Infiniti’s new QX55 SUV in the latter part of last year (see archives for December to the right), I recently had the opportunity for time in the top-of-the-line “Sensory” trim of the 2022 Infiniti QX55.

There is a lot to like about both, though, of course, the Sensory offers a bit more in the way of standard equipment. Not a lot more, but more on that later.

With their eye-catching fastback design and premium-packed interior, either would be a good choice if you are looking for a luxury crossover, and I might even say the same for the base Luxe model.

All three trims have identical power with the 286-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter engine paired with a continuously variable transmission that comes with paddle shifters for simulating manual gear selection. Unless looking closely, you get the feel of a smooth-shifting 10-speed transmission. Torque is rated at 280 pound-feet for responsive performance.

All-wheel drive is standard, making fuel mileage about average for its class.  EPA numbers are 22 miles-per-gallon city, 28 highway, and 25 combined using premium fuel.

Basics like cargo space (26.9 cubic feet with the second row seats in place, max of 54.1 with them folded), legroom (39.6 inches for front row, 38.7 for the second), length (186.3 inches), and wheelbase (110.2 inches) are the same on all three trims.
Both the Essential and Sensory trims build on standard features found on the base Luxe trim, like LED headlights, power rear lift gate, heated front seats, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Sensory’s lights get a unique cube headlight design that is optional on the Essential.

Safety features like forward and rear collision alert, lane-departure warning, and blind-spot monitor are included in all trims. 

Essential and Sensory models get real leather seats over the Luxe’s faux-leather, and the tilt-and-telescoping steering column is power-operated on the upper two trims.

The main issue here is what the Sensory offers over the Essential in the way of standard equipment, and, frankly, the answer may not be enough to justify the increase in price.

All the good stuff on the Essential is also included on the Sensory, including a power moonroof, driver seat memory settings, ventilated front seats, Infiniti’s InTouch infotainment systems with navigation, 16-speaker Bose premium sound system, and a surround-view camera to aid in tight parking situations.

What the Sensory has over the Essential in the way of standard features are  all the suite of features in the Pro-PILOT Assist  program (full-speed range adaptive cruise control and steering assist), LED daytime running lights, upgraded Semi-Aniline leather for the seats, black maple interior trim, advanced tri-zone climate control (in place of dual zone), and adaptive steering.

Also, the lift gate in the Sensory is hands-free, which can make loading packages easier. Carpeted floor mats are included in both models.

The thing is, the Essential carries a starting price of $51,600 and you can add the Pro-PILOT Assist as an option for $895 for a total of $53,520 (including freight charges). That is well under the $58,975 the Sensory will start you at.

Both the Essential and Sensory models that served for my reviews had $695 added for premium paint. The Sensory also included a special package for welcome and kick-plate lighting and a cargo package that included a reversible cargo mat, console net, cargo net, cargo blocks, and a rear bumper protector for a final bottom line of $60,045.

The extras on the Essential ran its total to $54,120. You shouldn’t need a calculator see the savings.

What I liked about the 2022 Infiniti QX55 Sensory: Love the fastback styling, and the interior is very classy as well as roomy. I like the two-screen setup to separate functions like the radio and navigation even though it has been the target of some reviewers’ derision. The ride is smooth and quiet. Intelligent (adaptive) cruise control is standard as well as other ProPILOT Assist features.

What I didn’t like about the 2022 Infiniti QX55 Sensory: I would like a knob to surf the radio dial or adjust volume rather than having to push a button. Also, I’m not a big fan of CVTs, though this one does simulate manual shifts and has a Sport mode that ups performance. The sloping roof line does infringe of headroom and rear stowage, but not much and I’m not back there so what do I care?

Would I buy the 2022 Infiniti QX55 Sensory: I love the QX55 and think Infiniti did a great job with it, but the higher MSRP for the top-of-the-line Sensory trim makes the Essential a financially wiser choice!