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.

SUVs Rule the Bay

August 1st, 2018

By Don Armstrong

Ford Expedition MAX
Leaps and bounds better than the outgoing model, the all-new Ford Expedition MAX finally gives the GM brand some real competition in the standard SUV category.

When compared to the Chevrolet Suburban, the Expedition Max is only 2.5-inches shorter. But there is a laundry list of differences. First and foremost is technology and that includes engine, transmission, suspension and the new Sync 3 infotainment system.

This body-on-frame SUV, now with independent suspension, delivers a family friendly ride.

Gone is the gas-thirsty V-8 power plant. A new 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 delivers up to 400 hp and 480 lb.-ft. of torque, which should handle its 9,000-lb. towing capacity with ease.

There are three trim packages available, XLT, Limited and Platinum and there is a sizeable price difference between each, so we suggest doing your research and picking one that best suits your needs.

Three rows of seating hold up to 8 passengers with plenty of legroom, the dash is taken from the F-150 pickup, a popular design that is highly functional. After decades of real-world research, Ford has a handle on what works.

We encourage you to check out the new Ford Expedition MAX that starts at $51,790.

GMC Acadia
In the world of SUVs, the crossover is the most popular. Usually built on a car chassis, these pseudo high-riders offer most folks everything that a body on frame sport-ute does but without the weight. And they usually deliver much better fuel economy.

Fully redesigned last year, the 2018 GMC Acadia packages the things a true crossover shopper is looking for in one sharp-looking package. And it’s priced competitively.

Interiors, in-general, seem to be moving toward a more complex, artsy design level. Not the Acadia, and we feel it makes a good fit for those inclined to head for the simpler things in life.

We loved the cloth seats because they weren’t ugly and were very comfortable. We like the faux wood accents and dash layout. In fact, there wasn’t much we didn’t like about the passenger compartment. The infotainment system was intuitive and easy to use.

A 4-cylinder engine is standard, but we prefer the optional 310-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 that gets 18 mpg-city and 25-highway. While others are going to a 10-speed automatic transmission, the GMC Acadia retains a six-speed.

The 2018 starting price hits the sweet spot at $29,995.

Beauty and the Beast

July 1st, 2018

By Don Armstrong

Cadillac Escalade ESV
The Cadillac brand has exemplified American luxury for over a century. Today, the Escalade ESV is its largest canvas. Some say it’s nothing more than an overpriced Chevy Suburban. It is not. Although built with similar body components and on the same chassis, that’s pretty much where it stops.

This gorgeous behemoth has a 130-inch wheel base while its body stretches over 18 ½-feet and weighs nearly 3 tons. To move this mountain of steel, Cadillac chose a 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V-8 that delivers 420-horsepower and 460-pound-feet of torque to two or four-wheels through an all-new 10-speed automatic transmission. It’s a perfectly matched combination.

Ride quality is enhanced with GM’s Magnetic Ride Control suspension up front and we have to say, this is one easy-to-maneuver monster, even in the grocery store parking lot.

Inside is where you’ll truly appreciate Cadillac’s attention to design and detail, not to mention the quality of materials, fit and finish. CUE, Cadillac’s sometimes maligned infotainment system, was easy to use and understand.

Pricing is what you’d expect for this “lap of luxury,” starting at $85,395.

Dodge Durango SRT
The Dodge brand has owned the enthusiast market for the past few years with high-horsepower beasts like the Viper, Hellcat and Demon. Now comes the Durango SRT for 2018, a 475-horsepower “family” SUV that really hauls the mail.

This all-wheel-drive, track-worthy, 3-row crossover is every dad’s dream. The ability to take the kids to soccer practice, or a weekend family outing at the lake and then make a 12.9 second run at the quarter-mile drag strip on Friday night, make the Durango SRT the perfect choice, not to mention its 8,700-pound towing capability.

The Durango SRT gets the Dodge wide-body treatment along with special hood ducting to let cool air in and vent the hot stuff. At the rear is a lower body fascia and big, 4-inch dual exhaust. It looks mean sitting still.

Inside you’ll find quality leather seating surfaces with the SRT logo embroidered in just the right places. The dash and infotainment system contain controls and displays similar to those in the Hellcat and Demon, including the famous “Performance Pages.” No fewer than seven drive modes help you keep all four wheels planted for maximum traction.

To help master all that the Durango SRT offers, Dodge includes a one-day performance driving school with purchase. Pricing begins at $62,995.

2018 Dodge Durango SRT

SUVs Rule the Bay

March 1st, 2018

By Don Armstrong

VW Atlas
The all-new 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is just what VW and its followers needed, a mid/full-size SUV with 3-rows of seating that’s priced competitively. Designed and built in the good ol’ USA, the engineers knew exactly what to pen to get buyers back in the showroom; conservative styling that is distinctive and well-suited for the Bay Area family.

Its square-shouldered, big-bodied look is highlighted by a noticeable beltline crease that accentuates the wheel houses, a sharp detail that gives this big boy some VW character. The Atlas grille is pure VW, the tailgate is a Jeep piece.

One of VW’s admirable qualities can be found in its interior design. Some may call it stark, we like to think of it as an attractive alternative to some of its highly stylized competitors. The linear dash, straight-forward controls and industrial look are softened by solid coverings and handy, thoughtful placement.

We recommend the 276-horsepower V-6 powerplant mated to the 8-speed automatic transmission. The standard 4-cylinder may be fine for local excursions. The ride is firm, giving the Atlas a sport-like feel. 4-wheel drive and a ton of other options sweeten the pie

MSRP begins at $30,750.

Toyota Land Cruiser
Big, body-on-frame SUVs are the grandfathers of what has become the hot segment in showrooms, and the Toyota Land Cruiser ranks right up there in terms of capability. But, if off-roading or flaunting your deep pockets are not driving your purchase, this big boy may not be your cup of tea.

The Cruiser received an update a couple of years ago that brought it more inline with the competition. Most apparent is the new front fascia with its modern, luxurious tone; big chrome grille and state-of-the-art headlamps. At the rear is a split tailgate; the bottom half folds down while the upper portion is hinged at the top, a configuration that requires a long reach for far away cargo items.

The interior is stately, functional and fancy with big, comfortable buckets up front, a split bench second row and an outdated, storable affair for the third row. Once backs are folded down, the entire seat must then be lifted and locked to their respective sides. This arrangement takes up valuable cargo space and is cumbersome.

Under the hood is a thirsty 5.7-liter V-8 that delivers 381-horsepower and 401-lb.ft. of torque to the Land Cruiser’s full-time 4-wheel drive system.

Starts at $84,315.