SMALL AND SMALLER SUVs

February 1st, 2020

By Don Armstrong

SUVs are all the rage and with manufacturers building every size and shape, choosing one that fits your style can be difficult. This month we look at a popular small one, and an even smaller one, that may be just what you were looking for to zip around our beautiful – and crowded – Bay Area.

Toyota RAV4
The Toyota RAV4 – Recreational Activity Vehicle: 4-wheel drive – was an instant hit when it originally went on sale in the U.S. in 1996. Even though today’s 5th generation RAV4 has come a long way, competition in this segment is everywhere you turn.

The 2020 grille gives the new RAV a more muscular, truck-like face, like the Tacoma pickup. The edgy rear hatch and accompanying lighting has a more modern touch.
The interior is a clean, straight forward design.

The infotainment screen sits high atop the dash, but within arm’s reach to facilitate touch control. Android and iPhone integration is finally included.

The 2020 RAV is available in both 2 and 4-wheel drive. The only power plant, a 2.5-liter I-4, produces 203 horsepower and 184-lb. ft. of torque and is connected to an 8-speed automatic transmission. It’s enough but the hybrid variant gets better mileage and has more grunt.

An all-new off-road RAV4 is just now hitting showrooms.

Pricing starts at $25,950.

Mazda 3 Hatch
Have small hatchbacks lost appeal? No, not at all. Cars in general have given way to crossovers and SUVs, but the versatility of a small hatchback bridges the gap between car and cross and we think that is a winner.

A complete redesign last year brings the Mazda 3 Hatch to the head of the class. Its smooth, sculpted sides, big, open-mouth grille and quick-back roofline give it an extra goose in design competition.

The interior is sporty, sleek and not your everyday run-of-the-mill rent car. Its clean lines, attention to detail, quality materials, fit and finish really got our attention. The Premium trim package, that includes leather and all the accoutrements, is the way to go.

On the road, the 3 Hatch has sportscar-like maneuverability that reminds us of the Mazda Miata sportscar.

Under the hood is a 2.5-liter I-4 engine that whirs out 186-horsepower. It’s connected to a 6-speed automatic transmission.

The Mazda 3 Hatch is priced right too, starting at $23,700.

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.