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.

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.