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2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XSE Drive: When Sporty Meets Efficiency

Tue, 05/04/2021 - 6:00am

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid delivers more power and better fuel economy than its gas-powered stablemate. It also drives better, is a bit quicker, and doesn’t compromise interior space. The hybrid-exclusive XSE displays more aggressive styling compared to the other trims, and it delivers decent value. We recently spent a week driving a 2021 RAV4 Hybrid XSE during a recent visit to Houston, and although there are points where it can improve, this particular RAV4 checks many of the boxes customers are looking for in a compact SUV, making it an attractive option in a competitive segment.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XSE: The Good

The most attractive aspect of the RAV4 Hybrid is its fuel economy: 41/38/40 mpg city/highway/combined. Those numbers are the best in the segment, which includes the Honda CR-V Hybrid (40/35/38 mpg) and the soon-to-arrive Hyundai Tucson Hybrid (37-38/36-38/37-38 mpg). As is the case with the Honda, the RAV4 Hybrid comes standard with all-wheel drive. During our stay in Houston, we averaged 39 mpg.

Another positive trait is its roomy interior. During one outing with three passengers in tow, all reported being comfortable and we had plenty of space for our gear. The RAV4 also proved versatile—on another jaunt we easily loaded an adult bike after folding the second-row seats. The wide tailgate opening made it easy to load and unload the bike, and we appreciated being able to fold the rear seat backs from either the cargo area or the second row.

The RAV4 Hybrid XSE also provides adequate thrust. Starting from a stop, you’ll feel a good push generated by the electric motors before the gas engine kicks in to provide more boost. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder produces 176 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque. The engine is mated to electric motors that send 118 hp and 149 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels while the rear motor generates 54 hp and 89 lb-ft, for a combined system output of 219 hp. That makes the RAV4 Hybrid an adequate cruiser, and the power is on par with other compact SUVs. The e-CVT transmission works well, responding quickly to throttle inputs. Press the accelerator all the way down, and the engine will roar in a stressful way, but it subsides as you gain speed.

Compared to other RAV4 trims, the XSE has been tuned to deliver a more connected experience behind the wheel. The engineers made the springs and shocks a bit stiffer, something that was evident during our driving in Texas. The  experience is more dynamic, and the suspension works to dispatch bumps in a single motion. On a few occasions, when rolling over railroad tracks or potholes, the stability control light would illuminate, and we could hear the system working. In the past, we’ve complained about the RAV4’s chassis issues, and this was a reminder that some persist.

In addition to its sportier driving dynamics, the XSE is probably the best-looking version of the RAV4. Its standard two-tone paint looks modern and sharp and gives the SUV more presence, particularly in the test example’s combination of Blizzard Pearl with a black roof, black 18-inch wheels, and black mirror caps. The more pronounced wheel arches, unique front and rear fascias, and special body side moldings also help give the XSE a muscular appearance.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XSE: Where It Can Improve

One of our biggest gripes about the RAV4 has been the narrow opening of the rear doors. We noted this when  loading the bike, and it’s something that parents with small children will likely complain about, as wider openings make it easier to load child seats in and out.

One of the things we wished the RAV4 Hybrid had is a button to close and lock the tailgate. Our tester only came with a close button, which means if you want to also lock the RAV4, you need to use the remote or walk to the exterior door handles and touch the lock sensor. A close-and-lock button saves that extra step, which would be particularly helpful when you have your hands full, such as when you’re unloading groceries.

Generally speaking, we like the RAV4’s interior design—the climate control knobs have a unique grippy material, and the 8.0-inch screen sits atop the dash where it’s close to the driver’s line of sight. But the quality of materials could be a bit better. The dash is covered in stitched rubber, which looks nice in photos but feels rough. The steering wheel’s leather doesn’t feel very soft, and although we like the SofTex seats, we’d prefer them without cloth inserts. And for an SUV that costs north of $35,000, the manually operated passenger’s seat seems odd.

Is the 2021 RAV4 Hybrid XSE Worth It?

After spending a week driving the RAV4 Hybrid XSE, we were pretty happy with its general performance, interior space, equipment, and overall experience. Gas prices are going up, and although mainstream SUVs and crossovers are more efficient than ever, the hybrid provides a nice opportunity to save more money at the pump. Plus, the RAV4 Hybrid doesn’t sacrifice any interior space and comes standard with AWD.

Although the Hybrid XSE is one of the most expensive trim levels in the RAV4 lineup, starting at $35,925, your money goes a long way. The XSE comes with a long list of standard equipment along with those unique styling elements and the hybrid powertrain. Our test vehicle checked in at $40,028 after we added a bunch of options such as the Technology, Premium Audio, and Weather packages. Although that’s still good bang for the buck, it’s worth considering stepping up to the Toyota Venza, which is a class above the RAV4 Hybrid and provides a much more luxurious experience, as we’ve documented with our long-termer. A well-equipped Venza can easily come in under the $40,000 mark.

This Toyota still has its flaws, but overall it’s a great performer. The plug-in-hybrid RAV4 Prime may be the best-driving RAV4, but if you don’t want to spend quite that much and you still want an efficient crossover, the RAV4 Hybrid is a great choice.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Pros
  • More power, less gas
  • XSE’s styling
  • Ample interior space
2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Cons
  • Narrow rear-door opening
  • Loud powertrain
  • Some subpar interior materials
2021 Toyota RAV4 XSE Hybrid AWD Specifications BASE PRICE $35,925 PRICE AS TESTED $40,028 VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV ENGINE 2.5L/176-hp/163-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4, plus 118-hp/149-lb-ft front and 54-hp/89-lb-ft rear elec motors; 219 hp (comb) TRANSMISSION Continuously variable automatic (CVT) CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,770 lb (56/44%) WHEELBASE 105.9 in LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 180.9 x 73.0 x 67.0 in 0-60 MPH 7.1 sec QUARTER MILE 15.4 sec @ 90.1 mph BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 120 ft LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.80 g (avg) MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.6 sec @ 0.63 g (avg) EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 41/38/40 mpg ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 82/89 kW-hrs/100 miles CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.49 lb/mile

The post 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XSE Drive: When Sporty Meets Efficiency appeared first on MotorTrend.

Off-Roading a Lifted Chevy Caprice: Only On Roadkill

Mon, 05/03/2021 - 8:47pm

Can you think of a better ride—a ’99 Chevy Caprice—to a bar in the middle of the desert?

Why are inappropriate cars the most fun? You’d think with a lifetime of off-road driving behind him, David Freiburger could come up with a better choice for a desert-bombing vehicle than a lifted Chevy Caprice on 26-inch wheels, but this is Roadkill, and Mike Finnegan has the same sensibilities. Let the Bubblicious Bunker Bar off-road adventure begin!

Related: Catch up on the Bubblicious odyssey only on the MotorTrend App! Relive the introduction of the Bubbled Caprice on Drift This, watch Lucky Costa literally drive the wheels off during the Holiday Hooptie Challenge, and follow along the continued adventures on Roadkill!

It might surprise you to learn that Bubblicious—as Finnegan named it for the Hillarious Car Shootout last season—hasn’t breathed nitrous since joining the Roadkill fleet. Mind-blowing, right? The two man-children that strap a bottle to every piece of junk they can haven’t gassed the V-8 in this Caprice yet? What’s even more confusing is this retired cop car and taxi cab already has nitrous plumbing; the Drift This crew likes tire-melting power just as much as Finnegan and Freiburger. That oversight is about to be corrected.

How to Define Your Hi-Riser

Unless you’re a Dirty South car culture aficionado, you’re probably wondering why this 1999 Chevrolet Caprice 9C1 (that’s the heavy-duty variant for police vehicles) is called a Bubble. You might even be thinking, “I thought builds like that were called Donks or Boxes?” The answer is, yes—but also, no. Finnegan and Freiburger weren’t sure, either, then Brian Scotto of Hoonigan came to the rescue, giving the guys a proper education in lifted road cars.

Bubbles, Donks, Boxes—they’re all “hi-risers” or “skyscrapers”: full-size, American, body-on-frame sedans that get lifted the same way you would a pickup truck or SUV, and they’re usually from the malaise era and later. A hi-riser isn’t just about the lift and the big wheels, though; the bodies and interiors are canvases of some of the most detailed and eye-catching automotive artwork on the scene today.

A G-Body Buick Regal could be made into a hi-riser, Cadillacs are very popular options, and even mid-size cars like the Chevy Monte Carlo get the skyscraper-treatment—but none of those are a Bubble, Box, or a Donk.

The funny nicknames refer to specific models of Impala and Caprice. The Donk is the 1971-1976 Chevrolet Impala with the big trunk (ahem, badonkadonk) and the Impala badge that looks like a donkey. A Box is the next generation of Impala/Caprice: 1977-1990 with those wonderfully malaise-y square bodies. And that leaves the Bubble, so named for the rounded contours popular in the early 1990s. 

When In Doubt, Add Nitrous

HOT ROD shop manager Calin Head was kind enough to repair the damage inflicted upon Bubblicious during the Holiday Hooptie Challenge, and now Finnegan and Freiburger are ready to return the 4.3L V-8 to NO2-gassed-glory. Yes, all the haters from the Holiday Hooptie Challenge were wrong about David Freiburger being wrong. Many a keyboard warrior tried to correct one of the fathers of modern hot rodding, saying Roadkill’s own car was equipped with the 5.7L LT1 V-8. They were wrong. Freiburger is the first to admit he doesn’t get everything right, but he knows an L99 4.3L V-8 when he sees one.

He’s also seeing an empty bottle cage, incomplete nitrous plumbing, and not nearly enough tire smoke behind a very pink and purple ’99 Chevy Caprice. And he and Finnegan are thirsty for adventure. Like, actually thirsty. Remember the trip to the desert bar, accessible only on dirt, that FInnegan and Freiburger drove to in a Jeep rat rod? Well, they want to do that again, but this time at a different bar: The Bunker Bar somewhere outside of Lake Havasu City, Arizona. You can’t drive to a bar in the middle of the American Southwest in just anything, and Roadkill continues to prove that the most inappropriate vehicle for a given situation is often the best choice.

That’s why Bubblicious is getting its nitrous back, making a few passes at the dragstrip for posterity, then hitting the dusty trail. Who says 26-inch alloy wheels and low-profile street tires can’t work off-road? Not David Freiburger. The way he looks at it, he’s riding on 30-inch tires with plenty of ground clearance. Freiburger used to work at Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Offroad, so he probably knows what he’s doing. If he’s lucky, Finnegan will get the color-matched Playstation 2 inside the car working, and the guys can enjoy some gaming on the way.

The post Off-Roading a Lifted Chevy Caprice: Only On Roadkill appeared first on MotorTrend.

Summer Road Trip Plans? They Could Be Impacted By These Looming Problems

Mon, 05/03/2021 - 7:05pm

The second summer of the pandemic is almost here, but the outlook is totally different this time around. With millions of Americans vaccinated and eager to get out of their immediate and unchanging surroundings, there’s a lot of anticipation of an almost-normal travel season ahead. And there will be frustration, too. There are still pandemic-related restrictions and precautions, but more to the point, pandemic-related shortages and supply chain issues are going to impact all of us. We’re talking about gasoline shortages, scarce rental cars, and vehicle production delays, among other things. It’s going to jam up our summer plans, to some degree, and managing expectations against pent-up travel demand is going to be important.

Let’s lay out what we know about these shortages and what to expect this summer before hitting the road.

Let the Chips Fall How They May

The semiconductor chip shortage crippling the industry today is only tangentially related to the pandemic—we’re not short of chips (and, thus, new-car inventory) because, say, workers got too sick to make them. It’s a supply-and-demand issue. At the beginning of the pandemic, demand was extremely high as people isolating at home geared up to work remotely, or spent money saved up on new devices to improve their in-home entertainment. And with chips working their way into ever more classes of consumer and business devices, supply constraint was already going to be an issue.

Automakers got walloped. Ford is one high-profile case, with the company cutting production of the best-selling F-150 pickup back in February. As Ford CEO Jim Farley told us recently in an earnings call, things are not going to get better for a while. And Ford faced some unique challenges—a fire at a key semiconductor supplier aggravated an already bad situation. But Ford isn’t the only company affected; Honda, Stellantis, Nissan, Volkswagen, and particularly GM have also faced production difficulties or stoppages for want of chips. That’s a lot of large players, which means it’s safe to say the semiconductor crunch is a big problem.

That said, at least one automaker predicted that a semiconductor shortage was a serious threat to business well ahead of the pandemic. The Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 revealed to Toyota that the supply chain for semiconductors was vulnerable to disruption, and the company decided to stockpile several months worth of chips. That’s left the company in a good position to weather the situation, although other supply chain issues have affected production. Even so, Toyota is arguably the best-situated large car company in the world right now to leverage the situation to move more units.

The bottom line is that the semiconductor shortage issues won’t be solved in time for summer—it could take until next year for supply to catch up with demand—despite interest from the Biden administration in bringing some of the industry to the U.S. And that will mean continuing delays and lost sales. Ford could suffer as many as 1.1 million unrealized sales before this is all over, just by itself. And that means that ultra-hot vehicles like the 2021 Ford Bronco won’t be cruising to summer destinations this year. Meanwhile, expect to keep paying sky-high prices for cars new and used this summer, as the inventory pinch lets dealers get away with charging sticker (or higher).

Could We Run Out of Gas?

There’s also some fear that gas stations may experience spot shortages of gasoline, as the National Tank Truck Carriers industry group warns that a nation-wide driver shortage means that up to 25 percent of the nation’s tanker trucks might be parked this summer. There are a few reasons for that, as CNN Business details: an aging workforce, additional certifications required to drive tankers, and a closure of driver training facilities. The additional stresses and safety protocols of the pandemic haven’t helped any. It’s a situation that wasn’t solely caused by the pandemic, but has certainly been exacerbated by it.

How many gas stations might see shortages, and what overall impact it’ll have on an average consumer, aren’t completely clear and maybe aren’t predictable. But as consumer demand for gas returns, and the nation starts to act on a pent-up desire to travel, it’s another worrying factor.

Rubber Supply Faces Dire Issues

By all accounts, there’s not a tire shortage—yet. But there are a number of headwinds facing the world’s supply of natural rubber, which is a critical component in many tire compounds even though synthetic rubber is available. Natural rubber has unique properties that gives tires the ability to better resist wear like tearing and cracking. The US Tire Manufacturer’s association says the average passenger tire is 19 percent natural rubber to 24 percent synthetic rubber. The rest of the tire’s composition is made up of preservatives, fillers, textiles, and steel.

That makes rubber a major tire component—and a critically important one. But there’s bad news on both the economic and environmental fronts. As the BBC reports, the prices that producers receive are low and not as related as you might think to market prices. But when prices spike, deforestation to grow more rubber does, too. There are issues on both side of the equation, but for now, low prices are hurting supply as producers shift to crops with better return on investment.

And there are other issues with natural rubber. The BBC also notes the risk from South American leaf blight, a devastating crop disease that wiped out that continent’s commercial rubber production. Were that disease to travel to rubber-producing areas in Asia, the effect could be catastrophic. Scientists are working on alternatives, like synthetics that better match the properties of natural rubber, but it’s yet another headache for the tire industry.

In the short term, disease isn’t a huge concern. But if natural rubber demand outstrips supply, we may see the same sort of crunch the industry is facing with semiconductors. Bloomberg reports that China is concerned enough to start stockpiling rubber, something the U.S. doesn’t maintain. Those concerns could cause a run on the material, as manufacturers rush to secure enough to continue production during lean times. For the meantime, these pressure are causing resource prices to rise, but not affecting the tire supply—yet.

Rental Car Blues

If you’re thinking of avoiding the issues with new car production and potential gas shortages along the route, and simply renting a vehicle at your destination … we have some more bad news. The pandemic hit a lot of industries hard, but at the beginning of the pandemic, with everything locked down and many stay-in-place orders across the country, rental car companies were stuck with thousands of cars and no customers. Companies scrambled to find places to store them all while they figured out their next move. Hertz went bankrupt.

In the face of this existential threat, rental car companies made some short-term moves to stay afloat. As The Washington Post details, the big companies offloaded more than 770,000 vehicles—more than a third of the pre-pandemic fleet. And they cut bait on future purchases, as well.

It was one of the few moves an industry backed into a corner had, but it worked out well for most. Demand for used cars is way up, especially with supply of new cars affected by various issues, and that means it’s a seller’s market. Now that rental car demand is coming back, and is likely to continue rising throughout the summer, the rental agencies’ inventory hasn’t kept up. Rental rates therefore are extremely high, and, for the moment, so are profits.

But given the scarcity of new cars, it also means that it’s hard for the companies to acquire new ones to rent. If the companies need to add rental capacity to maximize profit, they might not be able to do so quickly enough to capitalize on a summer rental boom. Moreover, as the Post notes, there’s a question as to what the right fleet size is, and if companies will over-expand. In the meantime, some rental companies are buying used cars as an expedient solution to the new car crunch.

In the meantime, all of this is academic to consumers hoping to get out in the world this summer, if those plans involve a rental car. In popular tourist destinations, rates are exorbitant. In March, Hawaii News Now reports, the least expensive rental car on the island of Maui was $772 a day, causing some vacationers to turn to U-Haul rental trucks as a cost-effective alternative. Long delays at rental counters are another real-world headache.

At some point, rental inventories will stabilize with demand and rates will return to more normal levels. But not this summer. Rental car bookings are often an afterthought to the travel process, so make sure to research before you book.

The post Summer Road Trip Plans? They Could Be Impacted By These Looming Problems appeared first on MotorTrend.

Sign and Drive: 2021 Infiniti Q50 Adds Special Signature Edition

Mon, 05/03/2021 - 2:18pm

Is the Infiniti Q50 the Lincoln Town Car of 2021? Hear us out for a second. Like the long-gone Town Car, the Q50 packs a rear-wheel-drive punch under sedan skin. It also now includes a “Signature” trim line. Sure, Infiniti technically calls its latest Q50 model the Signature Edition, but the point stands: both of these wildly different cars include (or in the case of the Lincoln, included) a variant that gives a nod to the ol’ John Hancock.

Unlike the boaty Town Car Signature trim line of yore, the Q50 Signature Edition is a “limited production model,” per Infiniti. Alas, the Japanese luxury brand failed to share just how many Q50 Signature Editions it plans to produce.

Regardless, every Signature Edition uses the $48,725 Q50 Sensory trim as a base, to which Infiniti then adds $1,195 worth of goods, including polished 19-inch wheels, a dark chrome grille, a brown leather interior, requisite Signature Edition badging, and $695 worth of paint. All in, the Q50 Signature Edition stickers for $49,920; that’s for the rear-drive version, which sends torque from the 300-hp twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 to the rear axle. Plan on dropping another $2,000 for all-wheel drive.

Sure, the 2021 Infiniti Q50 lacks the V-8 engine and live rear axle of the departed Lincoln Town Car. Nevertheless, if you want a rear-drive luxury sedan that honors individuals’ autographs, then you ought to stop by the local Infiniti dealership to take a peek at the Q50 Signature Edition—because it does not look like Lincoln plans to resurrect the Town Car or the Signature trim line anytime soon.

The post Sign and Drive: 2021 Infiniti Q50 Adds Special Signature Edition appeared first on MotorTrend.

Australia’s Ford Ranger Raptor Off-Road Pickup Taken to the Power of X

Mon, 05/03/2021 - 1:05pm

Australia’s car culture is cool, but you probably already knew that. While its homegrown cars—including rear-wheel drive utes and big-horsepower, V-8 sedans—have mostly died off, the pickup culture remains strong. To wit, Australia is one of the lucky recipients of the Ford Ranger Raptor, the jacked-up, widebody version of the global midsize pickup we get a version of here in non-Raptor form. The closest we get to the Raptor’s badassery currently is the (pretty cool, but narrow-body) Ranger Tremor Package. Meanwhile, in Australia, the Ranger Raptor is getting gussied up even further with the X package.

The X package is already well known in that country from doing duty on the Ranger Wildtrak trim. The 2021 Ranger Wildtrak X gets a number of upgrades, mainly cosmetic save the snorkel intake, “nudge bar” and LED lighting add-ons. But the overall effect befits the Wildtrak X’s place between the regular Wildtrak and the Raptor in the lineup.

So the Ranger Raptor X is an extension of this philosophy, adding a unique look and a few tasteful upgrades to the already burly truck. Most notable are upgraded 33-inch BFGoodrich tires mounted on black-painted wheels, which feature longer tread life and tougher sidewalls compared to the stock tires. The Ranger Raptor’s tow hooks get a red hue, and new extended sport bars set the truck apart from the regular sport bars which terminate about halfway down the bed sides. Inside, stock sport seats help secure occupants on the rough stuff, but now with red contrast stitching for a little extra visual excitement.

Americans can’t exactly replicate the Ranger Raptor X’s looks or capabilities, and definitely not its 210-hp, 369-lb-ft 2.0-liter I-4 twin-turbodiesel engine. But slap the optional decals on a Ranger Tremor, add Ford Performance’s chase rack, and source some fender flares (of which Ford sells several options as accessories, or scope the aftermarket) and you’ll get pretty close. After all, the Tremor package’s Fox 2.0 monotube shocks are no joke, adding 6.5 extra inches of suspension travel up front and 8.1 in the back, and a total of 9.7 inches of ground clearance. Or opt for any of Ford Performance’s off-road performance packs to take things to the next level. If only X marks the spot for you, well, tough luck—you’re going to need to move down under.

We think a Ranger Raptor will be sold in the U.S. eventually, although the diesel is not likely to make the jump. Until then, we’re jealous of Australia’s Ranger Raptor, and this X package.

The post Australia’s Ford Ranger Raptor Off-Road Pickup Taken to the Power of X appeared first on MotorTrend.

F-150 Lightning Strikes Again: Ford’s EV Pickup May Revive a Classic Name

Mon, 05/03/2021 - 11:55am

The upcoming all-electric Ford F-150 pickup truck will revive the “Lightning” name, per a source cited by Car and Driver. Ford hasn’t used the Lightning name on a production vehicle since the early 2000s when it was applied to the sportiest version of the F-150. A quick dive into the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database shows that the automaker recently applied for and was granted the Lightning word mark in 2018.

What’s In a Name?

Ford has been resurrecting classic names for new versions of its “icons” lineup: namely those related to the Mustang and the Bronco. On the former, Ford has leveraged the “Mach” name for its electric Mustang-branded Mach-E SUV and the gas-fed Mach 1 coupe; for the latter, Ford both revived the Bronco nameplate for its Jeep Wrangler-fighting 4×4 and slapped the “Bronco Sport” name on a smaller car-based compact crossover. The idea is to leverage these iconic names to sell more vehicles beyond the core Mustang and Bronco lineups by building each nameplate into compelling standalone sub-brands.

For the electric F-150, which has been widely publicized as going on sale in 2022, the Lightning name is almost too perfect. The Lightning logo incorporates a distinctive lightning bolt beneath the letters—a visual seemingly better suited to an EV than a high-output, gas-fed sport pickup truck. Folks also will recognize the Lightning name, ensuring Ford’s electric F-150 enters the arena with a tailwind of interest. This is similar to how General Motors brought back the Hummer name for its new GMC-branded electric pickup truck and SUV models.

Electric Pickup Trucks Crawling Out of the Woodwork

The Lightning name—or any recognizable name, really—will certainly help the F-150 electric’s chances as it elbows its way into the soon-to-explode electric pickup arena. In the next year, we expect challengers from not just Hummer but also Rivian (R1T), Tesla (Cybertruck), Chevrolet (Silverado), and perhaps a few upstarts, such as Lordstown Motors and Alpha.

Ford is expected to utilize a modified version of the gas-fed F-150’s frame for the electric Lightning model. Look for around 300 miles of range per charge, as well as gas-truck-rivaling capability (Ford showed a prototype pulling a train, so substantial towing should be on the menu). The EV will be the natural stepping stone beyond today’s F-15o PowerBoost hybrid.

We’ve reached out to Ford for comment on the F-150 electric pickup’s alleged use of the Lightning name and will update this space if and when we hear back.

The post F-150 Lightning Strikes Again: Ford’s EV Pickup May Revive a Classic Name appeared first on MotorTrend.

Will Future Mitsubishis Look as Good as the 2022 Outlander?

Mon, 05/03/2021 - 10:15am

The new 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander SUV has launched amid positive reviews, raising the prospect this is the start of a long but slow crawl back to relevancy for the Japanese automaker that’s lost much of its luster in North America.

In 2016, Nissan rescued beleaguered Mitsubishi, buying a controlling stake and bringing it into the Nissan-Renault Alliance. We were told at the time that Mitsubishi would find its place as an SUV-centric brand with all-wheel-drive expertise and plug-in hybrid technology to share with the family. Future Mitsubishi products would use shared Alliance architectures—starting now with the much-improved new 2022 Outlander, which shares underpinnings with the Nissan Rogue.

MotorTrend spent some time with Mitsubishi global design boss Seiji Watanabe. At the 2017 Tokyo auto show, Mitsubishi showed the e-Evolution concept, a crossover showcasing the company’s future design direction. It is still a vanguard for the new 2022 Outlander, which Watanabe says is the flagship, embodying a more confident design philosophy with a planted stance, sharper hexagonal lines, a raked windshield, and the “dynamic shield” for a grille.

2022 Mitsubishi Outlander Is First of a New Wave

The Outlander is just the “first of the next generation of authentic Mitsubishi [vehicles],” and the “frontrunner of our evolving design strategy,” Watanabe says. He started with the vehicle’s proportions and worked from there to create a bolder Outlander. The SUV’s more premium interior is also a sign of things to come and reflects the company’s desire to elevate Mitsubishi above its status as a value brand.

Still in the pipe is a new version of the Outlander Sport, built on the platform used by the Nissan Kicks, the Nissan Versa, and a new redo of Mitsubishi’s Eclipse Cross compact crossover. Previous plans to introduce the new Outlander Sport next year and add an electric SUV may have been pushed back, but Watanabe says we will see an “updated EV vehicle” next year. He could be referring to the next-generation Outlander PHEV coming to the U.S.; there is a plug-in hybrid version of the Eclipse Cross in Japan, but it is not coming to this market. Mitsubishi’s first pure electric car will be a micro or kei car for Japan. It has said Mitsubishi will expand its electrified lineup to half of its global sales by 2030.

Mitsubishi Is More Than SUVs

Watanabe says Mitsubishi will not be an SUV-only brand—it has a compact pickup truck for other parts of the world and still sells the 78-hp Mirage here, in addition to assorted sizes of SUVs. But don’t expect a return of the Eclipse, Evo, or a next-generation Mirage. And although dealers keep clamoring for a pickup, there are no immediate plans to give Mitsu a truck from the Nissan Frontier platform, built by Nissan in the U.S., which is the only way it would be feasible. (Watanabe wouldn’t close the book entirely on a pickup, saying Mitsubishi is still studying the possibility.) The Dodge Dakota–based Raider was the last pickup Mitsubishi offered in the U.S., but the company discontinued it in 2009.

The designer would not say if he is penning an SUV to revive the Montero name; his response to our inquiry: “You can imagine.” Executives in the past said the Montero will return, but today the prospects look bleak. Montero sales ceased in North America after the 2006 model year, and the global Pajero/Montero is being discontinued this year as part of downsizing thanks to the pandemic’s effects on overall sales.

Design Culture in the Nissan–Renault–Mitsubishi Alliance

Asked how design works within the Alliance, Watanabe says he talks with Nissan design chief Alfonso Albaisa, as well as the head of Renault design, about future products to ensure each brand keeps its unique image and strengths in terms of looks, technology, and performance. Information is only shared at the design-head level, he says, “to avoid a similar direction.” The Alliance wants commonality and sharing to reduce costs while ensuring each brand remains distinct. The 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander has different window angles, silhouette, body sides, and cabin from the Rogue. It is also wider and has changed the placement of its larger 20-inch wheels. Engineers tuned the suspension differently, as well. But as much the Outlander has taken a step in the right direction, Mitsubishi still has a big job ahead to prove it can deliver a compelling portfolio at whatever price point its next new products aim to slot into.

The post Will Future Mitsubishis Look as Good as the 2022 Outlander? appeared first on MotorTrend.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 First Test: Big, Bold, and Unrepentantly Quick

Mon, 05/03/2021 - 9:00am

The Mercedes-AMG GLS63 is the kind of vehicle nobody asked for, but Mercedes built it anyway because it can. The rationale for this thinking: Who needs another three-row luxury SUV from Mercedes when we already have the GLS450 and GLS580? Maybe the cool moms and dads who want sports car performance in a Clifford the Big Red Dog–size SUV. Or the millennial investor who is trying to impress his entourage by showing them what a nearly 3-ton sport utility can do on back roads.

In any case, we put a 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 through our battery of track testing, drove it on the intense streets of Los Angeles, and had some fun with it on scenic roads in Santa Clarita and Pasadena for a complete evaluation. We wanted to know if the sleeper of luxury SUVs merits a $153,125 price tag and lives up to the AMG nameplate. Does it? Read on to find out.

Presence, Power, and Class

Underneath the hood is the crown jewel, a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 with mild hybrid technology that generates 603 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque. That power gets sent to all four wheels through an AMG-tuned nine-speed automatic. The combination shocks with its stupid-fast acceleration, which belies the GLS63’s docile appearance. Those who are not familiar with the AMG line also will be impressed by the agility and precise handling of this woolly mammoth of a 5,900-pound SUV.

Mercedes says the AMG GLS63 is good for a 0–60-mph time of 4.1 seconds. In our track test, however, we pulled it off in 3.7 seconds. That’s quicker than the Dodge Charger Hellcat Redeye and in the ballpark of the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 PDK we recently tested. The big boss GLS63 also did the quarter-mile in 12.1 seconds at 115.7 mph.

The Mercedes-Benz Factor

Over the years, Mercedes-Benz has developed a successful formula to produce one of the most forward-thinking, luxurious, and stylish interiors. The result is an elegant design, advanced technology, premium materials, and the highest degree of comfort all rolled into one package that works well. The modern Mercedes-Benz cabin has become one aspect that defines the brand.

The GLS63 features we like include the Burmester sound system, ambient lighting, and seat massagers. The massive leather seats with diamond stitching are reminiscent of the reclining seats you’d find at a high-end movie theater. They are plush, provide plenty of support, and are fully power-adjustable. Someone of similar size to this 5-foot-1 author sinks right into them and feels safe and snug.

Tech and Safety

Mercedes offers an abundance of active safety systems as standard, including brake assist, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, parking assist with a 360-degree surround-view camera, and LED headlamps with adaptive high-beams. Added interior options on our test vehicle consisted of the following packages: MBUX Technology, Acoustic Comfort, Energizing Plus, and Warmth and Comfort. The MBUX Technology package includes the augmented video for navigation and a head-up display; Acoustic Comfort increases insulation for a quieter ride experience; Energizing Plus adds the air balance package featuring a unique fragrance; Warmth and Comfort adds heating throughout the interior, including on the door panels and center console.

One point of contention in the GLS63 is the polarizing Mercedes-Benz User Experience system (MBUX). People either think it’s intuitive or find it a pain in the ass. MBUX combines the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 12.3-inch touchscreen to form a skateboard-size display screen. Several of my colleagues detest it, but some, like myself, beg to differ. Having said that, I am sensitive to the idea that the in-your-face tech features could be a distraction while driving.

Chief among the complaints is the buried menus that seem more like an inconvenience than ingenuity. For example, you access the seat lumbar and side bolster adjustment controls via the seat comfort menu. Another grievance is the infotainment touchpad controller, which demands too much of the driver’s attention. One way to resolve this is by using the touchscreen directly. We also found the shortcut keys on the center console to be helpful for quick access.

Available passenger legroom in the second row should accommodate any person tall, short, or in between, but the same does not apply to the third row. Better to fold down the third row for additional cargo space or use it to put a rebellious teenager in timeout. In short, kids should be all right back there; adults will be cramped.

Performance and Handling

A word of caution about the Mercedes-AMG GLS63: Pay attention to your speed. It’s astonishing how little effort is required to reach 100 mph, and you will not notice until you look at the speedometer.

Considering its size and weight, the GLS63 has got to be the most exciting three-row SUV to drive fast. With the suspension set to Sport Plus, we gunned the throttle through turns on narrow roads, and the GLS63 did not flinch. The behemoth SUV lunges forward like a hungry cheetah and corners flat through every curve. A stiff suspension and active anti-roll bars powered by the EQ Boost system deliver potent stability even through corners that will have front passengers reaching for the grab handles on the center console. Transmission shifts are crisp, and the ride quality is largely smooth despite the 23-inch monoblock wheels.

The brakes are so responsive that you barely need to tap on the brake pedal to bring the GLS63 to a dead stop. At the dragstrip where we conduct our tests, it took 110 feet to brake from 60 to 0 mph. “Solid brake feel; 110 feet is impressive for this big brick,” road test editor Erick Ayapana said. The Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires, 285/40/ZR23 in the front and 325/35/ZR23 at the rear, provide a ludicrous amount of grip. On the skidpad, the GLS63 zipped through the figure-eight lap in 24.9 seconds at an average of 0.78 g.

In a class of its own, the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 starts at $133,150 and, provided a big, superfast SUV is on your wishlist, is worth every dollar. Drop off the kids at school, get your grocery shopping on, pick up the dry cleaning, and then reward yourself on your secret getaway road. The AMG GLS63 has your back. It lives up to its AMG lineage and delivers a unique driving experience, even if it’s a vehicle that nobody asked for.

SPECIFICATIONS 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 4Matic+ BASE PRICE $133,150 PRICE AS TESTED $153,125 VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV ENGINE 4.0L/603-hp/627-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8 TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 5,900 lb (52/48%) WHEELBASE 123.4 in LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 206.4 x 79.9 x 70.2 in 0-60 MPH 3.7 sec QUARTER MILE 12.1 sec @ 115.7 mph BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 110 ft LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.92 g (avg) MT FIGURE EIGHT 24.9 sec @ 0.78 g (avg) EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 14/18/16 mpg ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 241/187 kWh/100 miles CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.25 lb/mile


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2022 Volkswagen Taos Earns Best-In-Class Highway MPG

Fri, 04/30/2021 - 6:53pm

Volkswagen has announced official EPA fuel economy ratings for the 2022 Taos, its new entrant for the crowded subcompact SUV segment, and the numbers are good.

Due to go on sale this summer and starting at $24,190, the Taos comes with a single engine choice: A 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder developing 158 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, backed by an eight-speed automatic transmission. The small engine benefits from variable geometry turbocharging, which delivers improved performance and better fuel economy.

Case in point, the front-wheel-drive Volkswagen Taos is EPA-estimated at 28 mpg in the city, 36 mpg on the highway, and 31 mpg combined. These figures earn Taos FWD a tie for best-in-class highway fuel economy. For example, Nissan’s front-drive Kicks is EPA-estimated to deliver 31 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, and 33 mpg combined. The front-wheel-drive Hyundai Venue and Honda HR-V come close, at 34 mpg highway each, as does Kia’s Soul, which nabs a 35-mpg highway rating.

Taos models equipped with the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system and a unique seven-speed dual-clutch automatic get an EPA-estimated 25/32/28 mpg city/highway/combined; still good, but more in the thick of things with the competitive set.

It may be worth noting that these EPA ratings are based on the use of regular unleaded fuel. As stated by the EPA, compared to the national average for new vehicles, consumers who buy the front-wheel-drive Taos could save up to $750 in fuel costs over five years compared to the average new vehicle. Those buyers who opt for the Taos in all-wheel drive could expect to save $250.

Arriving this June, the 2022 Volkswagen Taos is entering a dog-eat-dog arena. Among its competitors are the Kia Seltos, Honda HR-V, Subaru Crosstrek, and Hyundai Kona. We’ll find out where the Taos stands (beyond fuel economy) in the highly competitive segment in our first test review. Stay tuned.

2022 Volkswagen Taos Fuel Economy (city/hwy/combined)
  • Taos FWD: 28/36/31 mpg
  • Taos AWD: 25/32/28 mpg

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2022 Kia Stinger’s I-4 Packs 300 HP, Tops 30 MPG

Fri, 04/30/2021 - 4:25pm

We know that when it comes to sports cars—or, more specifically, in this case, sport sedans—fuel economy isn’t exactly front of mind for most buyers. They typically want something a bit more rowdy and a bit less mundane than the Toyota Corollas and the Camrys of the world. But isn’t it nice to know that sometimes you can have the best of both worlds? The folks who worked on the 2022 Kia Stinger seem to think so.

Despite swapping its old and less powerful turbo 2.0-liter I-4 for a newer and bigger turbocharged 2.5-liter four-pot with 300 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque, the updated rear-drive 2022 Stinger four-cylinder now returns 22 mpg in the city, 35 on the highway, and 25 combined, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The outgoing I-4, meanwhile, couldn’t crack 30 mpg on the highway, plus it only packed 255 horses in its stable—45 less than the 2022’s 2.5-liter unit.

Opt for all-wheel drive, and the 2022 Stinger 2.5T’s fuel economy numbers fall to 21/29/24. Predictably, the 368-hp twin-turbo V-6 of the Kia Stinger GT models still sips fuel at a far faster rate than its four-cylinder counterpart, with the EPA rating the rear-drive Stinger GT at 18/25/20 mpg and the AWD model at 17/24/20 mpg.

If outright power is what you’re after, then nab the six-cylinder Stinger GT. However, if you’re looking for a fine combination of speed and efficiency, then you might be better served by the cheaper four-cylinder Stinger.

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2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Willys Review: The Ideal Jeep?

Fri, 04/30/2021 - 2:56pm

The Jeep Wrangler is one of our all-time favorite vehicles, though certainly not because it drives well. It never has, and, Iacocca willing, it never will. No, we love this stalwart 4×4 because of its single-minded focus on its rough-and-tumble mission, which imbues it with a rich character rare in today’s marketplace.

Of course, for all its boulder-taming capability, there are legions of Wrangler buyers who rarely use their Jeeps on much more than a two-track road, never mind Moab’s red rocks. For those folks, the ones who use their Wranglers every day, something like the Willys model you see here is close to ideal. With plenty of features and a nice package of baked-in off-road equipment, it’s perhaps the best balance of daily driver and factory trail machine in the lineup.

Our test Jeep started as a $33,570 Unlimited Sport, which was then slathered in $245 utilitarian-cool Sarge Green paint over black cloth upholstery. The Willys comes in both bare-bones and feature-laden models; this was the latter, with LED head- and fog lamps, rock rails, power windows and heated mirrors, all-weather floor mats, upgraded brakes, remote entry, a locking rear differential, gloss black exterior accents, leather on the steering wheel, and a few other bits at a reasonable initial buy-in of $39,565.

Even stopping there, such a Jeep Willys provides good all-weather and all-terrain ability while also taking the bite off its ragged edges. It gets special off-road shocks but doesn’t have the Rubicon’s disconnecting anti-roll bars or burly Rock-Trac four-wheel-drive system. The standard-issue Command-Trac setup is plenty capable, though, being able to lock into a 50/50 front/rear split and offering a low range with a 2.72:1 ratio (compared to the Rubicon’s 4.00:1). It also allows shifting from rear-drive to 4Hi mode at speeds of up to 55 mph.

But this Willys also stirred in a large can of comfort and convenience features, including the $995 Technology bundle, $4,190 Sun and Sound package (bigger central screen, navigation, the Sky sliding roof, premium audio, automatic climate control, removable rear quarter windows, and a ton more), $1,500 automatic transmission, the $995 Cold Weather Group, a couple of safety packages, a towing bundle, and a bunch of additional goodies.

The total price was $50,965, which seems like a lot—heck, it is a lot—but damned if this wasn’t the most livable Wrangler we’ve been in for some time. And given that Jeep Wranglers are among the very best new vehicles at holding their value, we say check all the boxes you want or can afford. You’re going to get a decent chunk of your money back when it’s time to move on.

We loved the Sky cloth top, the most versatile of the Wrangler’s many roof options, as it combines the finished look and most of the weatherproofing of a hardtop with a convertible-like experience. And even though we drove this Jeep during the last of Michigan’s wintry weather, we stayed plenty warm despite some single-digit temperatures. Quick-warming heated cloth seats and a heated steering wheel helped, too.

The smooth-shifting automatic was a forced upgrade with the no-charge 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder under the hood; the engine might be the only thing we’d change. With 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft, the four-cylinder has enough gusto to move a four-door Wrangler just fine. But the engine never lets you forget it’s working, with plenty of grumbling noise and turbo whooshing and the like, all of which only gets worse in 4Hi mode, when it has two more wheels to drive. And there’s a demonstrable difference in how much pedal input you need in order to maintain the same speed between rear- and four-wheel-drive modes. We’d likely stick with the standard V-6, which also allows you to select a six-speed manual—thus saving $1,500—if you’d like.

Of course, neither its options nor its engine much affect the Jeep Wrangler Willys’ on-road handling, which is like most any other Wrangler’s: ponderous, somewhat sloppy, and absolutely unathletic. But no one buys a Wrangler for the way it moves on pavement; they buy one because of the way it makes them feel and its potential to explore great expanses of terrain.

The Wrangler for that reason has long dominated a segment of one, and its vast customization options from the factory and via the aftermarket plays a huge role in its continued success. The Wrangler is about to face perhaps its most formidable challenge yet in the form of the new Ford Bronco, but with a broad, well-established lineup that includes models like the 2022 Wrangler Willys, the V-8powered 392, the plug-in 4xe hybrid, and more, Jeep appears well prepared for the fight to come.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Willys   Specifications PRICE $33,570/ $50,865 (base/as tested) LAYOUT Front-engine, rear-/4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV ENGINE 2.0L/270-hp/295-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4 TRANSMISSION 8-speed auto CURB WEIGHT 4,196 lb (mfr) WHEELBASE 118.4 in L x W x H 188.4 x 73.8 x 73.6 in 0-60 MPH 7.5 sec (MT est) EPA FUEL ECON 21/24/22 mpg (city/hwy/comb) (est) ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 160/140 kWh/100 miles CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.87 lb/mile ON SALE Now

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Can the Ram 1500 TRX Still Be Cool Without 702 HP? We Think So

Fri, 04/30/2021 - 1:24pm

The 2021 Ram 150 TRX is an awesome truck—full stop. And we don’t mean that in the colloquial sense of awesome, we mean that in the literal sense—its astounding acceleration, cross-country abilities, and relative civility inside inspire awe—and earned it our Truck of the Year award. It’s a supertruck, the first of its kind, and a no-brainer for the title. No question that the TRX does more than any other truck in history effortlessly, and with few flaws.

But you know why we love it. You also know about our only major quibble: with great performance comes great thirst. The TRX delivers atrocious fuel economy, and no one should be surprised by that when you’ve got a 702-horsepower supercharged V-8 accelerating 6,350 pounds’ worth of off-road full-size pickup truck to 60 MPH in 4.1 seconds—making the Ram the quickest truck we’ve ever tested. It chugs gas, and the window sticker carries EPA estimates of 10 mpg in the city and just 14 on the highway.

Prodigious Thrust, Prodigious Thirst

That’s … not good. Maybe there is no getting around it; the Hellcat derivatives are the Crown Jewels of the Ram/Jeep/Dodge lineup. Had Ram downsized, hybridized, or dieselized the TRX at launch, it would’ve run the risk of the sharing newest Ford F-150 Raptor’s fate: showing up a few days late and a couple cylinders short. For better or worse, one-upmanship is a truck’s game, and Ram went all in.

So Ram launched a full-bore TRX, and regardless of how long it endures, the point has been made. Maybe there’s room to address the gap—more like a chasm, actually—between, say, a Ram 1500 Rebel and the formidable TRX.

Lose the Blower

It’s a chasm that, we think, Ram is going to bridge. And the cool way, too. Not just making the Rebel more capable, but instead offering a full-throated TRX chassis sporting one of the company’s non-supercharged engines. And on that front, it has a lot of choices. As we speculated previously, the Hemi 392 V-8 is the obvious choice—tons of power, great sound, a small but meaningful fuel economy increase (in the heavier Ram 2500 Power Wagon, for example), at a more affordable price point. And while we’ll generally steer anyone with the money and inclination towards the Hellcat variant of a model, the 392 is really good. (Especially in the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392.)

The TRX packs the firepower and the long-travel suspension articulation to eats up the open desert like a methamphetamine-addled roadrunner, but not everyone lives near such a wide-open space. For slower or more technical work, say on either rocks or dirt roads, the TRX’s suspension would provide a benefit—but any of Ram’s V-8 options would provide the sort of torque you need to venture off-road.

It’s not like Ram 1500s with the even less-potent 5.7-liter V-8 are slouches, even. We’ve clocked the 395-hp versions of the 5.7 to the low sixes in the run to 60 mph, and that’s a four-wheel-drive crew cab, too. The question of whether, say, a 5.7 eTorque’s 410 lb-ft of torque would be “enough” for a TRX-Lite is more of a marketing question than a capability question.

The TRX Has Charms Beyond Its Power

But more importantly, while the Ram’s off-road chops and tough wide-body stance are wildly appealing, the thirst is not for everyone. We haven’t spent enough time in a TRX for the thrill of the outright thrust to wear off, but there are only so many on-ramps and backroads you can dig into that massive well of power for. After just a week, we wished the TRX came with an auxiliary fuel tank, or we owned a refinery. The lightest foot barely got us out of single-digit fuel economy, and what fun is that? Romp on it as you should, and you’ll watch the fuel needle swing.

This is a comfortable, capable truck, too. Full up with family and mall-crawling in the sprawl, there’s a pleasant compliance without nausea-inducing boatiness. It’s something owners are going to want to drive, and not just at an ORV area with a few gas stops along the way, but maybe all the way across the country to some legendary off-road playground like Moab. A trip like that in a TRX is going to be painful compared to, say, a Jeep Gladiator EcoDiesel, which manages 28 mph highway—and can be had in rock-bashing Rubicon trim (although not in desert-running Mojave flavor). Some owners wouldn’t mind, but after a few days (and a few fill-ups) behind the wheel the fuel economy started to grate on us. This is something we’ll need to address when our long-term Ram TRX test truck arrives soon for a yearlong stay.

An EcoDiesel EcoFantasy

While we don’t think a TRX with the Ram 1500’s available EcoDiesel V-6 is likely due to its horsepower deficit (just 260 ponies makes for bad messaging) and cylinder count, the thought crossed our mind on every fill-up. After all, the turbo six is a torquey motor, offering up to 480 lb-ft for the 2020 model. In a regular 1500 4WD, the EcoDiesel manages 21/29/24 in EPA testing—and even more in its HFE fuel-economy special variant. Even given the penalty the TRX’s wider body, taller ride height, and knobby tires would exact, we don’t think it’d be impossible for an EcoDiesel to roughly double a TRX’s fuel economy.

Re-tuning the motor to, say, 300 horsepower and 500 lb-ft—if that’s possible, and we’re not saying it is—could give the marketing team enough ammunition to make it work. We love torque, and we love the EcoDiesel’s off-road performance and fuel economy in the regular 1500—and almost as much in the off-road-oriented Rebel as the diesel GMC Sierra AT4. Since Ram’s already decided the Rebel is finally a match for the torquey, efficient EcoDiesel, it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

But an EcoDiesel TRX would probably be slow. As in, extremely slow—sort of the antithesis of what the TRX is all about. As much as torque and economy appeals to us, we can’t ignore that the fact that the Rebel EcoDiesel took 8.1 seconds to reach 60 mph in our testing. Even without a porky Hellcat motor aboard, the TRX is a heavier truck all around, with a beefier chassis. The heft wouldn’t do the EcoDiesel any favors, even if it made additional power. We can dream about an oil-burning TRX’s advantages, but the reality is the EcoDiesel, in its current iteration, almost certainly wouldn’t cut it—a 392 would be a better fit, if not as efficient.

Thinking About the Year Ahead

We love the TRX. For certain enthusiasts to whom compromise is a dirty word, the TRX’s supercar-like fuel economy goes with the territory. It’s a supertruck and you’ll never forget it. For the rest of us—those without supercar resources or a strict need for the excesses the TRX celebrates—the ownership proposition gives us pause, and makes us daydream about all that capability paired with a less extreme powerplant. We’re excited to spend a year with our long-term TRX and see if its performance makes up for its dismal fuel economy.

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Meet the Hypothetical 2022 Honda Civic Coupe

Fri, 04/30/2021 - 12:15pm

Honda’s 11th-generation Civic will only be sold as a four-door sedan or hatchback. The two-door coupe model, which was available on the outgoing Civic up until the 2020 model year, isn’t returning. This marks the first time ever that the U.S.-market Civic isn’t offered with a two-door body style.

So, what if the Honda Civic coupe had survived for 2022? We answered this hypothetical by having some fun with an image of the 2022 Civic sedan and Photoshop. Whereas prior Civic two-door models have sat on stubbier wheelbases than that of its four-door counterpart, we opted to keep our imagined 2022 Civic coupe on the same 107.7-inch wheelbase as the 2022 Civic sedan. We figured doing so might give our theoretical 11th-gen Civic coupe a slightly more rakish roofline.

Instead, we inadvertently made a smaller version of the previous-generation Honda Accord coupe (pictured below). With its squared-off headlights, snub nose, and cleaned-up flanks, the latest Civic takes on a mature, almost Accord-like appearance. No surprise, then, that shaving off the rear doors and cutting the roofline results in our would-be Civic coupe looking like a scaled-down 2013–2016 Accord coupe.

Our hypothetical Civic coupe is an impossibility for reasons beyond Honda’s clear decision to cancel the two-door model for its compact cars’ 11th generation. In a fit of Honda nostalgia, we made the roof pillars entirely too thin for a modern two-door car. No doubt, the B-pillar would surely need to be quite a bit thicker to pass muster with modern side-impact crash standards, while the C-pillar is all ate up with glass and precious little structural metal—hey, we can dream, right? The windshield surround, however, is untouched. Yes, Honda really managed to make it that thin on the production 2022 Civic sedan.

Without a two-door in its lineup, the 2022 Civic will offer up sportiness by way of the forthcoming four-door hatchback model, as well as the upcoming Si and Type R variants. Honda has all but confirmed that all three of those Civic iterations will offer a manual transmission (the sedan comes only with a continuously variable automatic transmission or CVT), ensuring that sportiness and practicality will continue to go hand in hand. We’ll miss the two-door, but hey, maybe this gives Honda an opening to bring back an edgier two-door Civic model such as the CRX or—now we’re really off our rockers—the Del Sol convertible.

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Volkswagen Turns Up the Golf GTI Clubsport to 45

Fri, 04/30/2021 - 11:15am

Volkswagen is at it again, and this time with a special edition of the Golf GTI Clubsport to commemorate 45 years of the iconic hatchback. The quickest GTI variant that we folks Stateside can only gawk at from afar, the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport 45 is the latest in a storied line.

Essentially a spiffed-up version of the already hardcore GTI Clubsport, the Golf GTI Clubsport 45 adds a package of upgrades that reduce weight and elevate status. First up is an Akrapovič titanium sports exhaust system that improves flow and amplifies the exhaust note. The hot hatch gains 19-inch “Scottsdale” alloy wheels featuring a Tornado Red pinstripe around the rim and finished in high-gloss black paint. Other exterior updates include “45th Anniversary” badges on the side sill panels and a metallic black finish on the door mirror caps and rear spoiler.

On the inside, the sport seats feature GTI lettering on the backrests, and the steering wheel sports a “45” badge. Moreover, the interior also gets ArtVelours fabric on the door panels and a leatherette arm support. Based on the GTI, the Clubsport 45 carries over the same turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, but it generates 296 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque—not-insignificant bump over the already excellent regular GTI.

The Clubsport 45 is the latest GTI anniversary model, which began with the MkIII 20th Anniversary Edition in 1996. Since then, Volkswagen made it a tradition to introduce special-edition Golfs every five years. For theMkVII GTI , the Clubsport and Clubsport S variants celebrated the 40th anniversary of the legendary hot hatch.

Touted as the pinnacle of the GTI range, the Golf GTI Clubsport 45 is available to order now in Europe, and sadly not to American consumers. As many of you know, this year, Volkswagen pulled the plug on the non-GTI Golf after nearly fifty years in the U.S., and while we are not getting the Clubsport 45 we will happily relish all the greatness of the Volkswagen GTI until the arrival of the 315-horsepower Golf R.

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Road Trip! Our 2020 Subaru Outback Heads to Utah for a Top Gear America Shoot

Fri, 04/30/2021 - 7:00am

When you’re heading to Park City, Utah, and a hotel set amongst mountains and ski lifts, you need all-weather traction, ground clearance, and a sense of invincibility. So my own BMW X7 xDrive40i should be perfect. Well, it should be… but getting winter tires in the 22-inch X7 fitment at the end of the winter season proved impossible. However, thanks to our good friends at Tire Rack, MotorTrend’s long-term Subaru Outback test car was quickly outfitted with a new set of Michelin X-Ice Snows and I was heading northeast toward Park City.

The Outback is very definitely meant for a different audience than the X7 in size, in status, in price, and in luxury. And yet almost immediately I got along with Subaru’s SUV-like wagon perfectly. The ride is a little noisy on the extreme winter tires but could scarcely be more comfortable. The CVT automatic is as objectionable as all CVT gearboxes are (i.e., very) but the turbocharged flat-four delivers plenty of power and just enough character to remind you of its unusual configuration, and more than anything the Outback feels comfortable in its own skin. In a world where heavyweight SUVs are always desperately trying to fool you into thinking they’re sporty, the Outback’s utility, ease of use, and easygoing dynamics are refreshing and compelling. It’s certainly a more immediately intuitive car to gently ease along the highway than the X7.

In the snow it’s even better. In fact, it’s hard to believe quite how much grip and traction the Michelins and the Subaru’s AWD system grant the driver. For normal driving in teeming snow on heavily trafficked routes, that means a real sense of confidence. Later, on some remote tracks and access roads, I had loads of fun with the traction control off and the flat-four working at maximum effort to swing the tail around like an old Impreza WRC car. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the Outback really does thrive in the snow. Hardly the last word in precision and sharpness, it nevertheless remains consistent and lovely and adjustable under power.

As the Outback was my workhorse for a Top Gear America shoot it had to handle quite a few disciplines. The day after the fun in the deep snow it served as the pool car for familiarization laps of Utah Motorsports Campus, near Salt Lake City. The tires—wildly unsuitable for track driving—howled in protest, the engine was pinned at peak power by the CVT, and the stability control would not fully disengage to allow the car to slide fluently, and yet the Outback was a hoot.

I won’t pretend it’s a track car by any means, but the brakes survived and it gamely ate up corner curbing and resisted understeer pretty heroically for a car that probably never saw a racetrack in its entire development cycle. In short, the Subaru Outback did everything I asked of it, no matter how extreme, and felt like it might run for 1,000 years.

More on Our Long-Term 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx XT:

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2020 Kia Soul Yearlong Review: The Verdict

Thu, 04/29/2021 - 6:30pm

Lost in the hoopla of awarding the Chevrolet Corvette MotorTrend‘s 2020 Car of the Year was that one of the other podium finishers was the Kia Soul. Although the Soul’s status might come as a surprise to some, those who have been paying attention to the vehicle’s progress through each generation know Kia has been hard at work refining it into a best-in-class vehicle.

This studious effort by Kia became even more apparent after spending over a year with a Soul in our test fleet. It’s more apparent than ever that the Soul is a well-built, spacious, comfortable hatchback that cleverly walks the fence between car and SUV, all the while providing an engaging driving experience. In fact, the Soul sits at No. 2 on our vehicle ranking list of best subcompact SUVs, just below the Subaru Crosstrek. (The Soul straddles the dividing line between hatchback and SUV, and we’ve wavered on where to put it based on EPA classifications, Kia’s own labels, and common sense.)

Our long-term Kia Soul EX served the majority of its time with us during pandemic lockdowns, yet we still managed to clock more than 17,000 miles on its odometer. The Soul proved a trusty errand runner through the notoriously frustrating traffic and pock-marked streets of Los Angeles, and it served as a weekend family runabout to the beach and mountains. It even did some long-distance highway hauling in the hands of Top Gear America executive producer, Levi Rugg, as he visited filming sets in various far-off places. After his trips to remote filming locations in Arizona and Nevada, he said the Soul was perfectly suitable for 400-plus-mile drives and never hesitated to blow icy A/C even when Arizona’s temperatures exceeded 110 degrees Fahrenheit. He also enjoyed interacting with the 10.3-inch infotainment screen but wished he could dim it separately from the rest of the dash lighting.

Soul Full of Style

The Soul has always been known for its upright, boxy sheetmetal, but this latest version features more mature, refined styling that, when viewed from the side profile, is reminiscent of the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque. The thin, wraparound headlights and tapered all-black daylight opening seen in the profile have helped the Soul evolve into a more handsome vehicle—distancing itself from its nerdy, cute-ute origins. This current Soul is a far cry from the econobox first generation that made its debut in 2010.

Practicality is a Soul strong point, and one need not dig deep to discover the many cleverly designed parts that make the Soul so easy to operate. The key fob features a lock button that sits at a different angle than the other buttons, making it easy to lock the car by feel alone. The non-power-assisted liftgate is light and easy to open or shut with just one hand. The boosted steering makes parallel parking maneuvers and low-speed parking lot drills easy to execute, and at super-slow speeds, you can turn the steering wheel with just the palm of your hand. The manual parking brake lever, found between the front seats, is rare among new cars, and unlike electric parking brakes, you never have to wonder whether it’s set. Lastly, two struts keep the hood open, negating the need for a wiggly prop when you need to access the engine bay.

The Soul visited the dealership twice during its time in our fleet. Both visits were for manufacturer-recommended maintenance, which included the familiar oil and filter change, tire rotation, and multipoint inspection. During the second visit at 15,000 miles, the cabin air filter was also replaced for a charge of $60.

Soul Mate

Despite its quirky, utilitarian appearance, the Soul consistently proved fun to drive and handled better than expected. Capable steering complements a competent chassis and encourages precise lane changes, zippy on-ramp speeds, and the occasional detour to a local curvy road for kicks and giggles. Suffice to say the Soul doesn’t need to handle as well as it does, yet its overall composure and agility are a welcome addition that adds an endearing level of enjoyment to the driving experience.

2020 Soul EX models—like our long-term car—come standard with 17-inch wheels, but we opted instead for 18-inch wheels with low-ish-profile tires. The short sidewalls have an adverse effect on ride comfort and cabin noise and we often wondered whether the available smaller wheel/tire combination would make for a better, more livable choice in terms of ride quality. We even contemplated how much better the ride could be by swapping on a set of 16-inch wheels and tires from the lower-spec Soul S. L.A.’s freeways are smooth and flat, but many of its potholed residential roads appear carpet-bombed, and the low-profile tires showed no forgiveness on those. Of course, downsizing the wheels and tires would likely diminish the aforementioned handling, but it might be a trade worth taking. The good news is that those 16-inch wheels are also offered with attractively styled wheels.

Overall, the Soul’s 147 hp 2.0-liter I-4, a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that rarely reminds you it’s a CVT, helpful sightlines for parking, and great ingress and egress all contribute to a vehicle that eases the tasks of everyday life. This third-generation Soul proved its appeal via practicality, personality, and surprising driving dynamics. Combine all that with unique sheetmetal, and the Soul is evidence one need not spend a fortune to drive something distinctive.

Read more about our long-term 2020 Kia Soul EX test vehicle: POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS 2020 Kia Soul EX DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD ENGINE TYPE I-4, alum block/head VALVETRAIN DOHC, 4 valves/cyl DISPLACEMENT 122.0 cu in/1,999 cc COMPRESSION RATIO 12.5:1 POWER (SAE NET) 147 hp @ 6,200 rpm TORQUE (SAE NET) 132 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm REDLINE 6,750 rpm WEIGHT TO POWER 20.3 lb/hp TRANSMISSION Cont variable auto AXLE/FINAL-DRIVE RATIO 5.72:1/2.20:1 SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; torsion beam, coil springs STEERING RATIO 13.3:1 TURNS LOCK-TO-LOCK 2.4 BRAKES, F; R 11.0-in vented disc; 10.3-in disc, ABS WHEELS 7.5 x 18-in cast aluminum TIRES 235/45R18 94Y M+S Hankook Ventus S1 Noble2 DIMENSIONS WHEELBASE 102.4 in TRACK, F/R 62.0/62.4 in LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 165.2 x 70.9 x 63.0 in TURNING CIRCLE 34.8 ft CURB WEIGHT 2,981 lb WEIGHT DIST, F/R 61/39% SEATING CAPACITY 5 HEADROOM, F/R 39.4/39.5 in LEGROOM, F/R 41.1/38.8 in SHOULDER ROOM, F/R 55.5/54.7 in CARGO VOLUME BEH F/R 62.1/23.4 cu ft TEST DATA ACCELERATION TO MPH 0-30 3.2 sec 0-40 4.6 0-50 6.4 0-60 8.6 0-70 11.5 0-80 15.2 0-90 19.8 0-100  — PASSING, 45-65 MPH 4.5 QUARTER MILE 16.7 sec @ 83.8 mph BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 116 ft LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.85 g (avg) MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.4 sec @ 0.61 g (avg) TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH 1,750 rpm CONSUMER INFO BASE PRICE $23,685 PRICE AS TESTED $25,755 STABILITY/TRACTION CONTROL Yes/Yes AIRBAGS 6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain BASIC WARRANTY 5 yrs/60,000 miles POWERTRAIN WARRANTY 10 yrs/100,000 miles ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE 5 yrs/60,000 miles FUEL CAPACITY 14.3 gal REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB 23.5/36.2/27.9 mpg EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON 27/33/30 mpg ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 125/102 kW-hrs/100 miles CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.66 lb/mile RECOMMENDED FUEL Unleaded regular Our Car SERVICE LIFE 14 mo / 17,485 mi BASE PRICE $23,685 OPTIONS EX Designer Collection ($1,500: 18-inch wheels, LED headlights and taillights, leatherette seats), Platinum Gold paint ($345), carpeted floor mats ($130), cargo tray ($95) PRICE AS TESTED $25,755 AVG ECON/CO2 26.4 mpg / 0.73 lb/mi PROBLEM AREAS None MAINTENANCE COST $198.19 (2- oil change, inspection, tire rotation; 1- in-cabin air filter) NORMAL-WEAR COST $0 3-YEAR RESIDUAL VALUE* $17,700 (69%) RECALLS None *IntelliChoice data; assumes 42,000 miles at the end of 3-years

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2022 Honda Civic Sedan Fuel Economy Inches Up, Tops 40 MPG

Thu, 04/29/2021 - 5:30pm

Honda has released early estimates on fuel economy for its all-new Civic sedan lineup. The mild increase in the four-door Civic‘s miles per gallon (mpg) will likely not have a substantial impact on customers’ savings at the fuel pump, but improved fuel efficiency is an improvement nonetheless.

2022 Civic 2.0L Fuel Economy

The 2022 Civic sedan is available with two engines. Beginning with the base model Honda Civic LX, which is powered by a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder rated at 158 hp and 138 lb-ft of torque, the city, highway, and combined mpg figures rise by 1, 2, and 2 mpg to 31/40/35 mpg.

Opt for the Civic Sport trim equipped with the same 2.0-liter engine, and those figures drop slightly to  30/37/33 mpg. The Sport’s efficiency only rises by 1 mpg in the city and on the combined rating relative to its direct predecessor.

2022 Civic 1.5L Turbo Fuel Economy

Move up the Civic ladder to the Civic EX nabs the 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine generating 174 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. As with the 2.0-liter engine, this turbo carries over from the previous-generation model, albeit with some extra oomph. Even so, Honda estimates the turbo’s fuel economy at 33 city, 42 highway, and 36 mpg combined, an increase of  1 mpg in the city. The top-of-the-line Civic Touring also is fitted with the 1.5-liter turbo, but its ratings drop to 31/38/34 mpg, though it enjoys the exact same mpg improvement over its predecessor as the Sport model does.

Based on these early estimates, the 2022 Honda Civic LX promises to deliver the best fuel economy. The LX, Sport, EX, and Touring all come equipped with a continuously variable transmission, which Honda revised to improve fuel efficiency for the 2022 model year, and all enjoy small bumps in their mpg figures as a result. Want a stick-shift 2022 Civic? You’ll need to wait for the upcoming hatchback model, as well as the sportier Si and Type R variants.

2022 Honda Civic Sedan Fuel Economy (city/hwy/comb.)
  • Civic LX 2.0L: 31/40/35 mpg
  • Civic Sport 2.0L: 30/37/33 mpg
  • Civic EX 1.5L Turbo: 33/42/36 mpg
  • Civic Touring 1.5L Turbo: 31/38/34 mpg

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Stick It Out: 11th-Gen Civic Si, Type R, and Hatch Set to Get Manual Gearbox

Thu, 04/29/2021 - 3:15pm

Believe it or not, a new Honda Civic is a very big deal. Over the last 50 years, Honda has sold millions of Civics and the 10th-generation was arguably the best of the lot. Efficient, great to drive, and offered with a number of trims (some of which came with a manual box), it was a truly driver-focused compact car. Luckily for those of us who enjoy driving, it looks like the 11th-generation is simply picking up where its predecessor left off.

The Civic sedan will no longer be offered with a manual—regardless of trim or engine option. A revised version of the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) found in the outgoing Civic will serve as the only transmission option if you want a Civic in this traditional three-box body style. However, if you decide to spring for the forthcoming Civic hatch, you’ll likely also get the option of a six-speed manual gearbox.

Like the Civic hatch that came before it, the 11th-generation model will likely offer a stick shift with the Sport trim, which will likely continue to include the compact car’s available 180-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter I-4. This might not seem like a lot of grunt, but consider the last Civic hatch we tested weighed in at a svelte 2,937 pounds—that’s a solid power-to-weight ratio, and we suspect the new hatch won’t weigh much more than the old one.

If you need even more spunk, then you might want to hold out for the 11th-gen Civic Si sedan and Type R trims. With those high-performance compacts lurking ever closer, and the eventual Civic hatch with a manual surely just a few corners away, we’re more than pleased to report that Honda is still serving enthusiasts. Now, Honda, give us those manuals.

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Jeep Wrangler 4xe PHEV Gets 2.0-Inch Lift Kit and More From JPP

Thu, 04/29/2021 - 2:10pm

What’s a Jeep Wrangler without plentiful accessories? While Jeep Performance Parts (JPP)—created in 2012 and offered through Mopar—has hundreds of heavily tested factory-backed parts, accessories, and products for the entire Wrangler model line, it recently announced two new products specific to the plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid Wrangler 4xe, which offers an electric driving range of up to 21 miles before its turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4 needs to come into play.

The first 4xe-specific addition is a Jeep Performance Parts 2.0-inch lift kit. Why does the 4xe necessitate its own 2.0-inch lift when JPP already has such a kit for the Wrangler? We figure it’s because of the added weight of the 4xe’s electric bits (battery pack, motors, wiring) that add at least 500 pounds to the SUV’s curb weight. The JPP lift kit—technically an industry-first for a plug-in hybrid—includes four springs, four Fox shocks, front lower control arms, front and rear stabilizer links, front and rear bump stops, and all the necessary hardware to fit it to your Wrangler 4xe. It all comes bundled neatly in a neat JPP wooden crate that can hang around the homestead for years to come. The kit runs about $1,495.

The second 4xe-specific product is a 240-volt electric charger for at-home use. This Level 2 home charger, available in hardwired or plug-in versions, will charge the Wrangler 4xe’s battery pack more than five times faster (about 2 hours instead of 12 hours) than the 120-volt cord that comes with the plug-in hybrid SUV. This means 4xe owners will have more time for adventuring and less time spent waiting for their SUV’s battery to charge. The 25-foot charging cable nestles nicely inside the wall unit. Since the important parts are sealed, it’s safe for outdoor installation, too. It’s made in America and backed by a three-year warranty. Customers can choose from Mopar or Jeep branding, depending on preference. The hardwired charger costs $621.50, and the plug-in version runs $647.90.

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The Volkswagen ID6 Is the VW Atlas of EVs

Thu, 04/29/2021 - 1:10pm

The ID4 is Volkswagen’s first crack at a battery-electric SUV. It’s reasonably spacious, comfortable, easy to live with, and packs a decent driving range, too. But some families need an SUV that can seat more than just five. Meet the ID6, the ID4’s bigger sibling.

VW recently revealed the ID6 for the Chinese market. Alas, the brand’s keeping mum on whether it’s going to sell the ID6 in the United States. Nevertheless, we think it makes a lot of sense for VW to bring the ID6 to our shores. For starters, Americans love SUVs. Plus, there’s the fact that VW wants to expand its market share in the U.S. In other words, the ID6 seems made for our market.

The ID6 is built on the now-familiar MEB platform. In China, the three-row EV will be sold in two different variants: the ID6 and the ID6 Crozz. Casting a shadow 11.6 inches longer than that of the ID4, the ID6 features seating for seven—two more than the ID4. It also features the larger 12.0-inch infotainment setup that’s optional on the compact ID4. As you’d expect, the ID6 also comes with VW’s suite of driver assist technology (IQ Drive in Volkswagen speak).

VW will offer two battery pack options for both ID6 models: a smaller 58-kWh unit and an available 77-kWh pack, the latter of which afford the ID6 a claimed NEDC-rated driving range of up to 365 miles. The NEDC cycle is typically more liberal than that of the EPA’s. As such, we’d guess a U.S.-spec ID6 might sport an EPA-rated driving range closer to 300 miles.

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