Luxury SUVs Defined

August 1st, 2019

By Don Armstrong

Do you define a luxury SUV by price, brand, content or a combination of all three? This month, Bay Area Houston Magazine takes a look at one all-new crossover and one that’s been around awhile, but they may blur your definition of luxury.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport

Cadillac XT4
The XT4 is an all-new, entry-level crossover from Cadillac and pricing alone will surely drive a lot of first-time buyers to this traditional American luxury brand.

Exterior styling mimics Cadillac’s other SUV’s, an edgy front fascia with creative lighting, conservative body side-sculpting and unique rear lighting that begins in the c-pillar and curves inward toward the center license plate cove.

The interior is spacious when compared to other small, 2-row crossovers, leather is Cadillac grade and the dash nicely carved. Two rows of horizontal HVAC buttons under the infotainment screen are easy to read and convenient for both driver and front passenger. The reconfigurable instrument cluster lets you display multiple info screens.

There’s only one engine and it should be plenty for most. The 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder delivers 237-horsepower, 258-lb.ft. torque and is connected to a 9-speed automatic transmission. It’s rated at 24 mpg-city and 30-highway. 4-wheel drive is available and may come in handy on slick boat ramps.

We recommend the nicely equipped mid-level trim, Premium Luxury. Pricing starts at $35,695.

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Summit

Jeep Grand Cherokee
The current Jeep Grand Cherokee body style has been produced since 2011 and still remains the most awarded SUV ever. This is a rolling testament to the designers at Jeep that had a vision to create an SUV we love.

Starting at $31,945 – that can blossom to $54,955 – price alone will tell you that the Grand Cherokee is offered with so many options, you can have it built to fit your most detailed desire.

Around Bay Area streets, the V-6 with two-wheel drive may work just fine. A Hemi V-8 is also offered along with a diesel and the mind-warping SRT performance model along with 4-wheel drive.

Interiors range from cloth to high-end leather, heated and cooled seating, the nicely sorted Uconnect infotainment system, and the list goes on and on.

Jeep knows a thing or two about 4-wheel drive and the Cherokee ranks among the best at real off-roading capability, unlike many other manufacturer’s offerings.

Whether you’re shopping Land Rover, Lexus or Cadillac, the Jeep Grand Cherokee should be on your shopping list too.

Luxury Summer Tow

July 2nd, 2019

By Don Armstrong

Towing a boat and trailer is second nature to many in the Bay Area but the right vehicle can make all the difference on the easiness scale. We recently drove a couple of contenders that would be a welcome addition to any skipper’s fleet.

Lexus GX460
The body-on-frame Lexus GX 460 hits the right notes when conducting the luxury and towing symphony. This player touts a somewhat subdued interior that feels rich, without being over the top. Quality fit and finish, combined with high-end leather and real wood accents, remind us of Uncle Jimmy’s library.

As with most SUV’s with 3-rows of seating, the last row should be relegated to the kids as leg room and seat bottom height will cripple most adults on all but short jaunts.
Powering the full-time all-wheel drive system is a 301-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8. While some manufacturers offer 10-speed automatic transmissions, Lexus soldiers on with a 6-speed. That combination gets a 15 MPG-city and 18-highway rating from the EPA.

The GX460 is equipped with an air suspension that smooths most road bumps, but don’t expect car-like or crossover smoothness. Despite its heft, however, store parking lots that require tight maneuvering are easier than you’d think.

We recommend shopping the high-end Luxury trim level that is $11,500 more than the $53,505 entry model price.

Chevrolet Tahoe
When we think of luxury, Chevrolet doesn’t typically fall into that category, but we recently drove a loaded-up 4-wheel drive, top of the line, Premier Plus Edition that we’ll put up against almost any competitor in the luxo class.

First, let’s talk price. The entry-level Tahoe starts at $46,800. The Premier 4WD jumps up to $65,600, while our test Tahoe stickers for $78,565. You’re probably thinking, “wait, this is a Chevrolet?” Yes, and this one definitely separates the men from the boys.

As you might expect, everything but the kitchen sink is on board, including the new, optional 6.2-liter V-8 that hums out 420-horsepower, more than enough to haul 8 humans and tow up to 8,400 pounds. The 10-speed automatic transmission is smooth as silk, but fuel mileage is on par with most others in the body-on-frame class, 14-city and 22-highway.
The Tahoe Premier Plus also comes with Chevy’s Magnetic Ride Control that dampens bumps like no other suspension gizmo. Those auto-folding running boards make climbing into our football-brown leather interior a breeze.

Road Trip SUVs: CHEVY BLAZER & FORD EDGE

June 1st, 2019

By Don Armstrong

Manufacturers just can’t seem to satisfy our appetite for SUV’s, and with summer vacations upon us, now may be the perfect time to shop for a new road trip ride.

Chevy Blazer
The name may be the familiar, but that’s all. The Chevrolet Blazer is all-new for 2019 and ready to hit the highway.

Slotted between the smaller Equinox and the larger, 3-row Traverse, the Blazer seats five and borrows some styling cues from the Camaro, believe it or not.

Mounted high on the front fascia are “squinty” headlights, with more vertical, ancillary lighting below. The grille, however, is so large, you may find it polarizing. Trendy, large wheels and accompanying openings give it the much sought-after off-road look. Tail light design is Camaro inspired.

Several interior design details come directly from the new Camaro also, including a standalone, center dash mounted touch screen, with multifunction air vents below. Seating is comfortable and stylish, especially with the optional leather.

The base engine is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that delivers 193-horsepower. We recommend the optional 3.6-liter V-6 with 300 horses. You’ll appreciate the extra passing power and it ensures a smoother shifting 9-speed automatic transmission.

We like the new Blazer enough that we think it should be on your shopping list.

Pricing starts at $28,800.

Ford Edge
This second-generation Edge was introduced in 2015 and has been nothing short of a true hit in the Ford SUV lineup.

For 2019, the Edge gets updated front and rear styling that really gives it a whole new, modern look.

Like the Blazer, the Edge comes standard with a 4-cylinder power plant. The optional 2.7-liter V-6 is what we recommend, but for the hot-rodder, Ford offers an ST version that ups the horsepower ante to 335. The kids will squeal with delight.

Taking the Edge for a test drive will reveal an unusually quiet cabin, especially at highway speeds. We appreciate the F-150 influence on the easy-to-use dash layout, it’s neat, clean and just makes sense. Seating is supportive and comfortable, especially on long trips. The recently reworked Sync infotainment system behaves a lot better that versions one and two.

The Edge’s wide body gives everyone a little more shoulder room and more storage behind the second row of seating.
Edge pricing begins at $29,995

Ford announces the return of a Ranger-based Bronco SUV in 2020. Stay tuned.

Truck Paradise

May 1st, 2019

By Don Armstrong

The midsize truck market is on fire and with two more manufacturers joining the segment, there’s going to be an all-out war. Bay Area Houston Magazine had the chance to drive a couple of contenders and it appears the gloves are coming off.

Toyota Tacoma
Dominating the midsize segment for more than a decade, the Toyota Tacoma is finally feeling the heat from competitors.

The 2020 Tacoma made its appearance at the recent Chicago Auto Show and at first glance, not many changes. But digging a little deeper, Toyota heard owner grumblings and is now offering a 10-way adjustable driver’s seat along with tech goodies that include Apple Car Play, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa voice.

There are no changes in the powertrain, you choose from a 4-cylinder – for the not too serious tucker – or the V-6, which we recommend. A 6-speed transmission, manual or automatic, is available, depending on the trim level you select, of which there are no fewer than 6.

The Toyota Tacoma has earned a great reputation so to pick the nits would be silly, and with a “Built in Texas” sticker on the window, what Bay Area Texan wouldn’t be proud to own one.

2019 pricing starts at $25,550. The 2020 won’t be available until the last quarter of this year.

Ford Ranger
It’s back and looking better than ever, albeit much larger than the old one, last built in 2011.

The 2019 Ford Ranger is all-new, kind of. Think of it as the Americanized version of the Australian Ranger, a very capable midsize built since 2015.

If you’re a Ford fanatic, the new Ranger might check all the boxes on your wish list including the ability to fit in the garage.

The Ranger’s shape is modern and attractive including its hexagonal grille. And, depending on the trim level you choose, a nice set of factory wheels that strike a chord with your design tastes are readily available.

There is only one engine assigned to it, the 2.3-liter turbocharged, inline 4-cylinder that delivers 270-horsepower. It’s mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission. We averaged almost 23-MPG during our 400-mile test week.

Who would have ever thought a little 4-banger would be up to towing 7,500-lbs and hauling 1,860-lbs.? That’s impressive.

Pricing starts at $24,300, add a few extras and it will run you closer to $40,000.

Big as You Want

April 1st, 2019

By Don Armstrong

The difference between a sport utility vehicle, SUV, and crossover utility vehicle, CUV, is capability. The body-on-frame SUV typically shares most of its underpinnings with a modified truck chassis, giving it more towing and hauling capacity. The CUV is more car-like, with its unibody construction. Each, however, has its own attributes.

Ford Expedition
Expedition is Ford’s version of the Chevy Suburban, a big, hulking, monster of a machine capable of hauling sacks of concrete, people and equipment, all while towing a loaded trailer. However, if you’re more into hauling the ball team and its equipment to the game, it makes the trip effortless, and in the luxury you can afford.

Ford’s infotainment system, Sync 3, provides all the tech connections you could ever want, while seating up to eight people. Air vents, controls and displays are located at your finger tip and easy to use.

Under the hood is a 375-horsepower, 3.5-liter, turbocharged V-6. A new 10-speed automatic transmission helps this beast achieve 17 MPG-city and 22-highway.

Ford researchers know the options most of us like on a do-all, like Expedition, and they package them in trim levels titled XLT, Limited and Platinum.

Pricing starts at $52,130.

Unless you are a Ford fanatic, you’ll also want to shop the Chevy Suburban, Toyota Sequoia and Nissan Armada.

Mazda CX-5
With a sportiness that attracts those who enjoy the art of driving, the Mazda CX-5 brings with it ‘the look’ that enthusiasts appreciate. The leading edge of its hood is thin and evokes a marathon runner’s svelte physique. The door skins have a sharp belt-line transition, giving it cutting-edge swagger.

The CX-5 has an inviting interior. The infotainment screen is perched atop the middle dash. Touch features are limited while the vehicle is in motion, but most can be accessed through a knob on the center console.

The 2019 model addresses the need for more grunt with an optional turbo version of Mazda’s 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that delivers up to 250-horsepower through a 6-speed automatic transmission.

Its taut suspension fits the sporty nature of the brand. So, when there is an opportunity to carpet the throttle and zoom onto the freeway entry, you’ll do it with a smile.

The CX-5 starts at $24,350. You’ll have to get one of the top two trim levels to access the higher horsepower engine option.

Car Gifting for Grads

March 4th, 2019

By Don Armstrong

As parents or grandparents, we love all the hubbub graduation brings with it and the perfect gift may be at a nearby dealership right around the corner. In this edition of Bay Area Houston Magazine, we look at a couple of top “gifting” contenders.

Hyundai Elantra
Packaged in a nicely re-sculpted metal jacket, the 2019 Hyundai Elantra comes with a pretty good reputation for reliability. And let’s face it, we want our grads to get wherever they’re going without being stranded in the middle of nowhere in the old family hand-me-down.

Pricing, of course, plays a huge part in this selection process, so with a sticker starting at $17,200, we can already hear the bell ringing.

Even the base SE model has those the “must-have” features such as power mirrors, a rearview camera, height-adjustable front seats, Bluetooth, and a six-speaker sound system with a 5-inch display and USB port.

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter, 147-horsepower 4-cylinder engine that is rated at 29 MPG-city and 38-highway. I taught my 16-year old how to row the gears of a manual transmission so you may consider it too, it could come in handy someday. Add a few dollars to the base price and get the automatic transmission, if you must.

Another “persuader” is its warranty. The 2019 Elantra comes with a 5-year, 60,000-mile certificate.

2018 Mitsubishi Mirage G4

Mitsubishi Mirage G4
The new Mitsubishi Mirage compares nicely to the Elantra on many levels, including mileage, amenities and warranty, but in the affordability category, this Thailander wins hands-down. Starting at a mere $14,795, the G4 gets into pre-owned pricing territory. Do we have your attention?

The Mirage G4 – what Mitsubishians call the sedan – gets several upgrades in 2019, including a touchscreen interface, rear view camera and Bluetooth connectivity, all necessary items for our generation “Z”ers.

Powered by a tiny 1.2-liter 3-cylinder engine, the Mirage is rated at 35 MPG-city and 41-highway. A continuously variable transmission maximizes its lowly 78-horsepower output.
The interior is stark compared to what most of us are used to but think how it will be used and abused.

Safety should also be a major consideration and the Mirage passes in all 5 categories.

From someone with experience in “gifting” autos, don’t get anything other than the base model. Your grad won’t know the difference and you can spend the money you saved on a nice, little presentation party.

SUV Choices – Infiniti QX50 and Chevy Traverse

February 1st, 2019

By Don Armstrong

Given the popularity of SUVs, there are lots of decisions to make when you buy; price, brand, size, trim level, to name a few. In this edition of Bay Area Houston Magazine, we compare a luxury brand to an American standard that might bring some shopper clarity.

Infiniti QX50

Nissan’s luxury label, Infiniti, has made its own mark among Japanese entries in the SUV market by winning over millions of buyers looking for style and quality.

The completely redesigned 2019 QX50 checks all the boxes in a world becoming crowded with SUVS. At first glance, you’re greeted with a large, open-mouth grille. Two, large ridges adorn the hood, adding to its forward aero design. A short sun shade spoiler overhangs the rear glass.

The QX50’s interior gets high marks too starting with a sophisticated dash layout, high zoot stitching and quality workmanship throughout. The infotainment screen is tilted back, away from the driver and tucked under the dash pad, requiring a mouse-like control knob on the center console. Front seats are comfortable and supportive. The second row slides, reclines and folds flat, with enough leg room for 3 full sized adults.

An all-new, 268 horsepower 4-cylinder engine powers this QX through a continuously variable transmission. That’s more power than the outgoing V-6. We were impressed.

Pricing starts at $36,550. Nicely equipped, about $55,000.

Chevrolet Traverse

Redesigned last year, the 2019 Traverse is Chevy’s largest 3-row crossover and compares nicely with the Suburban SUV, albeit lighter, more agile and easier on gas consumption.

The Traverse is packaged in an attractive, sleek, nicely balanced, yet conservative, design, unlike the boxy Suburban.

Its interior is very GM. That’s not a bad thing, just very utilitarian. Chevy does, however, offer contrasting trim options on the upper end badges that helps customize it to your taste. The infotainment touchscreen is easy to use and understand. It seats up to 8.

Under the hood is nestled the venerable 3.6-liter V-6 that delivers 310 horsepower through a 9-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels. A 4-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive are optional.

If you are looking for performance handling, ride, braking or performance, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Chevrolet’s Traverse however hits the sweet spot in price and utility and doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t.

Pricing starts at just a tic under $30,000 but fully loaded swells the price to $53,000.

Size Matters

January 2nd, 2019

2019 Jeep® Renegade Limited

By Don Armstrong

Full-size, body-on-frame SUV’s were once all the rage. Even today, they sell well. But for many in the Bay Area, the frameless, car-like, unibody construction of a crossover, or CUV, offers what most are looking for, including better fuel mileage.

Jeep Renegade
When we think of Jeep, most tend to see themselves off-roading in the Hill Country, or at least the sandy dunes down the coast. If you fall into that category, then the Renegade Trailhawk may be a perfect fit.

There’s no mistaking its boxy shape and seven-slot grille for anything other than a Jeep.

The Trailhawk edition is equipped with the larger 2.4-liter engine, that we prefer, delivering its 180-horsepower through a nine-speed automatic transmission.

The interior is just plain fun, and the optional, larger 8.4-inch infotainment screen connects you to the world of Jeeping with ease. Seating is rugged yet comfortable. Second-row legroom may be a little tight for those over six feet but expect plenty of space in the cargo area. Removable MySky sunroof panels are a must option.

With the Renegade’s off-road suspension and bigger tires, the ride is a bit stiffer than the entry-level model. But isn’t this why you joined the posse?

Starting price for the Jeep Renegade is $18,445. The Trailhawk trim level, with a few options, is around $30,000.

2019 Buick Encore

Buick Encore
Playing on the near-luxury field puts the Buick Encore in a different class than the Renegade but is similar in size.

This GM brand is known for a quiet cabin and Encore delivers, thanks to Buick’s QuietTuning technology. Specially laminated glass along with sound deadening materials are among many items acoustical engineers employ to keep outside noise, outside.

The interior in our top-of-the-line trim, Essence, is very nice and comfortable, not over-the-top, but true quality throughout the cabin. Its infotainment system is well thought out and easy to use.

Powering our Encore is an optional 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that boasts a wee bit more horses than the base motor, 153 to be exact. We would like to see something closer to the Renegade’s output.

The ride quality is reassuring without being jittery at highway speeds. And that says a lot, considering Encore’s short wheelbase.

Pricing begins at $23,200.

No one manufacturer has an edge over another these days, so select the price range and type of sport ute that fits your needs and start exploring.

2019 Ram 1500 Awarded Truck of Texas Title

December 1st, 2018

By Don Armstrong

Each October, dozens of automotive journalists from across the U.S. gather in the hills of central Texas to determine the best trucks and SUVs the industry has to offer. After two soggy days of evaluation, the prestigious 2019 Truck of Texas award was presented to FCA, builder of the all-new Ram 1500.

It is a sexy new grille that separates the Ram from all the rest, and this “new look” really sets the bar to an all new height. New badging ads to the hood décor just above the front wheel openings, while just the right amount of chrome lends to the overall appeal.

The trim level you choose will help determine the amount of bling that adorns your big rig, but we’ll use the highly popular Longhorn trim for this review.

Open the door and you’ll see one of the best interiors in the world. Ram’s dash design is modern and well thought-out with functionality you’d expect. An optional 12-inch infotainment display is breath-taking. The updated, fourth generation Uconnect system now includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Coupled with the rotary transmission control, and various other options, including 4-wheel drive, it won’t take long to learn where the controls are located. Did we mention dual glove boxes?

Our tester had cloth seat inserts. Now before you turn your nose up at the thought, think about the Bay Area’s extended summer season with blistering hot leather. The Ram interior design team selected fabric material that crosses the boundary between a night at the concert and weekday work duties.

The half-ton Ram can be equipped with the new eTorque system, a mild hybrid option that helps performance and fuel mileage. We got almost 20-MPG from the V-8 Hemi.
Ride quality is also a best in this half-ton category because of its coil suspension. If you want an even more car-like experience, air-ride is another option.

Towing and hauling capabilities have been increased on this new design too, utilizing lighter weight, higher strength steel and composites, reducing weight.

In a market where more trucks and SUVs are being sold than ever before, December is the perfect time to add one more item to your shopping list. Imagine a Christmas gift like this.

MSRP on our 2019 Ram Lone Star Crew Cab 4X4, with a few options, is $53,835.

Where do we sign?

LUXE

November 1st, 2018

By Don Armstrong

Cadillac CT6

Cadillac CT6
Think American luxury sedans and chances are good that Cadillac comes to mind.

More than just another full-size luxury machine, the 2018 CT6 can now be equipped with Cadillac’s Super Cruise semi-autonomous driver control, that can take you down a road not experienced by many.

Cadillac’s Super Cruise uses multiple cameras and sensors that work in tandem to help keep the car traveling in the highway lane you put it in, alerting the driver and releasing control when it “sees” something that can get you in trouble. No, it’s not completely autonomous, yet, but it’s easy to see where Cadillac is heading.

The body of the CT6 is ultra-modern up front with sharp-cornered lighting that bookend’s the large Caddy emblem center grille. The rear fascia is ultra conservative. Somehow, it works.

Motivating this beauty is an optional 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 that delivers 404-horsepower to all four wheels. A turbo-4 is standard.

The conservatively designed interior is cutting edge with a large, easy-to-use infotainment screen. All of Cadillac’s latest and greatest techno is there too. Materials and workmanship are top notch.

Pricing starts $54,095. Our loaded CT6 with Premium trim was a touch over $100,000.

Lexus LS 500h
You are either a lover or hater of the Lexus “spindle” grills. Either way, it certainly makes a statement, and so goes the LS grille.

The Lexus LS is the brand’s full-size model and we think it’s a beauty, particularly the interior. And really, isn’t that what matters most?

This Lexus comes with sumptuous, perforated leather seating with reclining and massaging functions in back along with real wood trim and the optional 23-speaker Mark Levinson sound system.

The dash is very different with many shapes and forms coming together in a museum quality work of art. There’s even a backlit piece of eye candy for the front passenger to enjoy. If there is a drawback it would be the finger touch control pad for the infotainment screen. We could make-do though.

Lexus no longer offers a V-8 engine in the LS. Instead, you’ll get the naturally aspirated V-6 or the hybrid that whispers 354 horsepower through a continuously variable transmission to the rear wheels. All-wheel drive is available.

The ride is what you’d expect, like a cloud and worthy of at least 10-hours behind the wheel or as a lucky passenger.

Pricing begins at $79,510.