Elemental SUVs

December 1st, 2019

By Don Armstrong

SUVs now outsell cars and it’s no wonder, the versatility and size availability run the gamut. Could one of these make the perfect Christmas surprise? Pricing sure seems right.

2020 Soul GT-Line

Kia Soul
Kia has a new Soul, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t include the popular hamster commercials.

Larger and more refined, this 3rd generation Soul is all new from the ground up. Fitting for a tiny SUV that changed the way we look at small do-all’s.

The Soul’s new front facia could easily fit on a sports car, but Kia didn’t lose track of what made the hamster-mobile so popular; it’s boxy shape with a sloping roof. Taillights hug the rear hatch glass and make a 90-degree turn toward the license plate box.

The interior is attractive and comfortable with an easy-to-use infotainment system. Control functions are straight forward, and with the second row seats folded, you’d be surprised at the hauling capacity.

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter, 147 horsepower engine. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard, but we prefer the CVT automatic that accomplishes an average of 31.9 MPG.
Since the first Soul came to U.S. shores 10-years ago, we’ve always liked its sporty handling, and the 2020 model continues that fuzzy feeling. The all-new Kia Soul starts at $17,490.

VW Tiguan
Since its debut in 2007 the VW Tiguan has undergone only one makeover. That happened two years ago, and since then sales continue to grow. Size, options and VW dependability play a big part in its popularity but being in the right place at the right time certainly has its benefits too.

Like almost all makeovers, the Tiguan has grown, allowing for an optional third row of seating, even though it’s mostly a “kids-only zone.”

VW’s conservative styling plays well on the Tiguan and translates nicely to the interior with form and function throughout the dash. Seating is comfortable with plenty of adjustability and materials seem to be of the long-term type.

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine connected to an 8-speed automatic transmission. This combination plays well together and drives the front wheels with ease. 4-wheel drive is optional. Mileage is a respectable 21 MPG-city and 29-highway.

Even in small SUV form, the Tiguan retains that German feel no matter what the terrain, including pot-holed city streets, undulating toll roads and hill country climbs .
The Volkswagen Tiguan starts at $24,295.

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.

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.

Not Grampa’s Station Wagon

September 1st, 2018

By Don Armstrong

Toyota RAV4

The 2018 RAV4 has become America’s go-to SUV. Dependable, maneuverable and sized for a growing family, the RAV4 makes driving in rush hour traffic a little more bearable.

The RAV4’s 2.5-liter I-4 engine may lack the zippiness of some of its competitors but who’s complaining about fuel efficiency? Getting 34 MPG-city and 30-highway, the little engine that could, does. It’s matched to a 6-speed automatic transmission.

Front wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is optional.

The shape of the RAV4 is familiar to most and is not one that says, “Hey, look at me!” Conservative, sellable styling have contributed to making it a fast mover at Bay Area dealerships.

Like most models that have been around awhile, the interior looks a little dated, as is the technology. It has more of a utilitarian feel to it and that make work well for you, but if you are the “tech” type person, you may want to opt for the 2019 model. A completely redesigned RAV4 will be arriving in showrooms this winter. The 2018 will be priced to move and may be snapped up before you get a chance to get one of your own.

Current pricing starts at $24,660.

Lexus RX350
The 4th generation of the RX continues a tradition that started in 1999, a luxury SUV that strikes a chord with many fans of the Lexus brand.

Chances are that you or someone you know has owned an RX. This writer bought one of the first generation RXs and I still have fond memories of it. A small, luxurious runabout that fits our family of four perfectly.

Like most manufacturers, Lexus grew the RX in size to what you see today, a mid-size SUV, but owners still love it.

The polarizing spindle grille may be off-putting to some, but the overall design seems cutting edge. Coupled with the high-zoot lighting, this RX makes a statement.

A 3.5-liter V-6 delivers its 295-horsepower to the front wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is available.

The interior has plenty of luxury that you must check out, but a joy stick controller for the infotainment system may be a deal-breaker for you. Quality is a hallmark of the Lexus brand and if you a willing to pay a little more for your ride, chances are, you won’t regret it.

Starts at $43,470.

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.

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.

Fun Fall Rides

October 1st, 2017

By Don Armstrong

Despite growing sales of SUVs and coupes, sport cars continue to intrigue aficionados and car lovers alike. This month, we look at America’s sport car and a 4-place coupe that will whet your appetite for fall weekend road trips in search of autumn leaves, crooked roads and cooler weather.

Chevrolet Corvette GS
Readers of this column always ask us, “what is your favorite car?” Raising kids dulled sport car thoughts for the past two decades but a recent drive of a 2018 Corvette GS awakened sleeping desires.

For 65 years, the Corvette has been the dream of every red-blooded, American kid, including me. I’ve owned many in my lifetime and enjoyed each one.

The new 2018 GS is a notch above the base level Corvette and gives the driving enthusiast all the attributes of the ultra-powerful, Porsche-killer, Z06, but without its mega-horsepower.

Let’s face it, the base 455-horspower, 6.2-liter V-8 that resides under the hood of the GS is enough to get even the most skilled pilot into some serious trouble.

Equipped with a 7-speed manual or 8-speed automatic transmission, this Chevy makes it easy to compete on the track and get you to the office in style. Add the carbon fiber package and ceramic brakes and you’ll announce to the world that you mean business.

The entry-level Corvette begins at $56,490, add another 10-grand to get the GS package.

Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400
As the name implies, this is not your mama’s every day, run-of-the-mill, luxury coupe.

New for 2017, the Q60 Red Sport 400 is Infiniti’s way of getting to the fast lane in style.

What differentiates the Red Sport from the lower Q60 trim levels is the 400-horsepower, twin turbo V-6 that powers the rear wheels through a 7-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is available. Just by touching the paddles on the steering wheel, the Q60 comes alive with a whoosh of power.

The 2-door sport coupe seats 4 in ultra-plush leather. Even the dash has supercar flair with its dual screens located in the laidback center stack. The instrument pod sits under a notable sunshade that rises in front of the driver.

With adaptive steering and ride adjustability, road trip destinations will become the number one searched item on your new, expensive smart phone.

The Infinti Q60 Red Sport 400 starts at $51,300. Add another 10-grand for a loaded up one, like our tester.