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.

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.