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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.

Sedans still have what it takes

October 1st, 2018

By Don Armstrong

Toyota Corolla
Perhaps not as popular as it once was, the Toyota Corolla still outsells most others in its segment. The 2019 however may be a little harder to move since the competition has elbowed its way into Corolla territory.

Toyota has decided that an oversized grille sets the Corolla apart from competitors, so that is the front-end treatment it receives. Other stylish but conservative sculpting falls by the wayside in comparison.

The interior is adequate for an entry-level sedan, but true satisfaction will be determined by the trim level you choose, and there are plenty of them. Even the base trim, L, comes with LED headlights, emergency braking and a touchscreen.

Power is derived from a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine that whirs out 132-horsepower through a CVT transmission. However, we’d recommend the higher output eco motor. Fuel mileage is 28 MPG-city and 36-highway.

Don’t expect the Corolla to perform like a sport car but If you are looking for something to get you from point A to point B in relative comfort and reliability, then you may have chosen the right sedan.

Pricing starts at $18,700.

Volkswagen GTI
If you are looking to bump up the fun factor, then the VW GTI may be your car.

This 4-door sedan, or hot hatch as some call it, is a low-to-the-ground road rocket that has room in the back seat for up to 3 passengers and a smallish cargo area behind it. Flop the rear seat-backs down and a significant cargo area awaits gobs of groceries or camping equipment for 2.

Dash layout smacks of German engineering at it’s best; not over-thought but controls placed at just the right spot with intuitive functionality.

Under the hood is a turbocharged, 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine that delivers 220-horsepower to the front wheels. We had the manual transmission that multiplied the fun by six! An automatic is available too. Fuel mileage is a respectable 25-city and 33-highway.

The GTI’s revised suspension – tuned for going around corners fast – will have everyone squealing with delight. Oh, the ride quality is a little stiffer, but not to so much as to kill the deal. Our bet is you will love this thing.

Pricing begins at $26,415.

Listen to Don Armstrong’s In Wheel Time radio show LIVE each Saturday 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on the Sportsmap 94.1 FM mobile app.