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The Hummer EV SUV will share key components with the Hummer EV pickup, from its Ultium powertrain platform to the open-air driving experience that comes from its removable Infinity Roof panels. Both the SUV and pickup are being touted as having significant off-roading chops, including the ability to ‘crab walk’ diagonally around trail obstacles thanks to four-wheel steering, and an Extract Mode that utilizes the Hummer’s Adaptive Air Ride suspension to raise the body some 6 inches out of harm’s way.  

Because the SUV is shorter than the pickup – overall by about 10 inches and with a wheelbase nearly 9 inches shorter – GMC is promoting it as having ‘best in class off-road proportions.’ Those proportions, combined with its four-wheel-steering capability, do give it a tight turning radius of 35.4 feet, equal to that of the Chevrolet Bolt.

The smaller platform, though, does have a cost: less room for batteries. The Hummer EV SUV’s double-stacked battery pack contains 20 modules, while the Hummer EV pickup has 24. That means, on paper, anyway, the SUV is less powerful. The Edition 1 version of the SUV that will be available at launch is rated at up to 830 horsepower compared to the pickup’s 1,000. Range is shorter, too, at 300 miles compared to the pickup’s 350. Torque remains rated at up to 11,500 lb-ft, a number GM arrived at by multiplying the twisting force through the gear ratios in the Ultium platform’s front and rear drive units.

How Hummer configures that platform will be a key differentiator between Hummer EV SUV models. Edition 1 and 3X models will have three drive units, one to power the front wheels and one each for the rear wheels. The 2X and 2 models will have two drive units, one up front and one at the rear. The 2 will also have 16 instead of 20 battery modules, lower power output, and shorter range, but will be priced accordingly – 79,995 compared to $105,595 for the Edition 1.

Adding the Extreme Off-Road Package to an Edition 1 raises its MSRP by $10,000, for which the Hummer buyer receives 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory tires on 18-inch wheels (22s are standard). Also provided are underbody armor and rock sliders, front and rear lockers, heavy-duty half-shafts, and the UltraVision camera system that provides up to 17 views around the vehicle to see the surrounding terrain, including under the body, in real time.

Those UltraVision images are among the infotainment channels broadcast on a 13.4-inch high-def touchscreen positioned between the driver and passenger. In front of the driver is another 12.3-inch information screen. GMC promises Hummer occupants a  ‘multisensory, immersive experience’ with customizable features that can tailor not just the sound through the Bose entertainment system and the feel through the haptic driver’s seat, but also the SUV’s steering, suspension, and acceleration response. The center screen can also be used with an updated version of the myGMC mobile phone app to show satellite-rendered trail maps for navigating off-road. The revised app also tracks real-time energy consumption and can find local charging stations.

On the subject of charging, an optional Power Station generator can be used not just to charge personal devices and power recreational gear, but has the power (240v/25A/6kW) to charge other electric vehicles.

The low-floor, skateboard-like Ultium drivetrain platform has one other advantage: It affords several gear storage options. Folding the SUV’s rear seat flat and opening the powered tailgate reveals nearly 82 cubic feet of cargo space, more than GMC’s Acadia SUV with its second and third row seats folded. There is additional storage space hidden beneath the load floor and more in the Hummer’s front trunk.

GMC expects to launch the Hummer EV SUV in Edition 1 form in early 2023. It will  be followed by 3X and 2X models in the spring of ’23, and the base 2 model in spring ’24.

Kia’s compact SUV entered its fourth generation in 2021 with a complete exterior makeover, increased legroom and cargo space, and a raft of driver-assistance systems that have been made standard equipment. Four engine choices are offered in the all-new Sorrento, including a new turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder hybrid. A plug-in hybrid version of the turbocharged four is being introduced in Europe but there’s no confirmation if this will be coming here to the U.S.

The 2021 Sorento is built on Kia’s third-generation N3 platform, which is lighter but also stronger than the outgoing version. This increases the SUV’s wheelbase by nearly 1.4 inches, improves noise/vibration/harshness characteristics, and driving dynamics. It’s also versatile enough to accommodate the Sorento’s electrified drivetrain. 

Conventional Sorento powertrains utilize Kia’s 2.5-liter GDI four-cylinder engines. In naturally aspirated form the 2.5 GDI produces 191 horsepower, while a new turbocharged 2.5 GDI makes 281 horsepower and 311 lb-ft torque. The hybrid pairs a 1.6-liter version of the GDI turbo with a 60 horsepower electric motor fed by a 1.5 kWh lithium-ion-polymer battery. The engine/motor combination produces a total of 227 horsepower and 258 lb-ft torque, which is routed through a six-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels. EPA fuel economy estimates rate the Sorento turbo hybrid’s efficiency at 39 city and 35 highway mpg, and 37 mpg combined.

Kia offers the 2021 Sorento in five trim levels, though the hybrid is available in the mid-range S and EX trims only. Many of the Sorento’s standard features are shared between the two, but the EX has a higher level of content, with equipment that includes LED fog lights, a panoramic sunroof, and wireless phone charger. Both the S and EX models are fitted with standard 17-inch alloy wheels and P235 tires.

There are a total of 16 standard and optional ‘Drive Wise’ advanced driver-assistance systems available for the Sorento. Standard ADAS systems on the hybrid model include blind-spot and rear-traffic collision avoidance, parking distance warning (rear-facing only on S, front and rear on EX), intelligent speed limit assist, forward collision-avoidance assist, driver attention warning, and lane-keep and lane-departure-warning systems.

The cost of entry for the new Sorrento is $29,390. Pricing starts at $33,590 for the Sorrento Hybrid S, with the uplevel Hybrid EX variant commanding three grand more at $36,590.

Somewhat smaller than Lincoln’s first plug-in SUV, the Aviator Grand Touring, the Corsair is a luxury-oriented, two-row crossover that injects comfort and class into a compact premium crossover segment dominated by European offerings. It's offered in both conventional gas- and plug-in hybrid-powered variants.

When one looks to Corsair, its distinguishing characteristics and luxury appointments mean there’s no mistaking it for anything other than a Lincoln. Its attractive design features creased and organic dynamic bodylines, a Lincoln-esque diamond patterned grille, and oversized alloy wheels. Inside is a premium leather-upholstered, wood-accented, and tech-rich cabin. The compact Lincoln Corsair Grand Touring lives large enough for four to five well-sized adults and a complement of weekend luggage.

At the heart of 2021 Corsair Grand Touring beats a 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder, Atkinson cycle gas engine and a twin electric motor planetary drive system. A constant variable transmission transfers torque to the front wheels. A third motor producing 110 lb-ft torque is dedicated to driving the rear wheels, bringing the confident traction of all-wheel drive. Combined, this powertrain delivers an estimated 266 horsepower.

EPA fuel efficiency is rated at 33 combined mpg and 78 MPGe when running on battery power. It will drive 28 miles on its lithium-ion batteries with a total range of 430 miles. Conventionally-powered Corsairs net an estimated 22 city and 29 highway mpg, and 25 mpg combined .

A driver-centric cockpit offers infinitely adjustable and heated leather seating surrounded by wood and burnished metal accents. A comprehensive dash and infotainment display, back-up dashcam, pushbutton drive commands, head-up display, parking assist, and smartphone keyless access are standard or available. Top-of-the-line Co-Pilot 360 driver assist, electronic safety, and personal connectivity features are offered. Corsair Grand Touring’s 14.4 kWh battery module is located beneath the model’s body pan, resulting in a lower center of gravity and unobstructed rear deck cargo space.

The Corsair Grand Touring has an MSRP of $50,390, about fourteen grand more than the conventionally-powered base model. It's expected to make its way to Lincoln showrooms sometime this spring.

Lincoln’s new Aviator comes in two versions, the conventionally-powered Aviator and the Aviator Grand Touring plug-in-hybrid. Both luxury SUVs feature a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 engine, which in the Aviator is rated at 400 horsepower and 415 lb-ft torque. The Grand Touring adds a 101 horsepower electric motor and a 13.6 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Adding the electric motor to the V-6 increases output to a combined 494 horsepower and 630 lb-ft torque.

That kind of power means the Aviator Grand Touring has V-8 big block-like performance, with acceleration coming on strong courtesy of an electric motor that deliver loads of torque from zero rpm. Hybrid power also means better fuel economy than a conventionally powered model, with the Grand Touring variant offering an EPA combined fuel economy rating of 23 mpg, compared to 20 mpg for the all-wheel-drive version of the conventional Aviator. The Aviator Grand Touring comes only with AWD while the conventional model has the option of rear-wheel drive.

The Aviator Grand Touring uses Ford's innovative new modular hybrid transmission that’s also used in the Ford Explorer Limited Hybrid and Ford Police Interceptor Utility Hybrid  It was created by essentially inserting an electric motor and disconnect clutch between the engine and torque converter on Ford's 10-speed SelectShift automatic transmission. The MHT shares about 90 percent of its components with Ford’s conventional 10-speed automatic.

Drivers are afforded 21 miles of all-electric driving in the plug-in hybrid for typical around-town needs. The Aviator Touring’s 13.6 kWh battery pack features under-floor packaging that does not infringe on interior space, so this 7 passenger SUV’s cargo-carrying capacity is not compromised when the third row seating is folded flat. Charging a depleted battery takes three-to-four hours using a 240-volt Level 2 charger.

All Aviators have five Lincoln Drive Modes that change the suspension settings, steering, shift points, and ride height with the optional Air Glide Suspension. The  Aviator Grand Touring has two additional modes – Pure EV for all-electric driving and Preserve EV to save stored electrical energy for later use. The Aviator can tow 6,700 pounds while the Aviator Grand Touring can tow 5,600 pounds.

Lincoln's all-new Aviator offers a point of entry at $51,100 for the base rear-drive model, with the Grand Touring plug-in hybrid variant coming in at $68,900.

We’ve been driving Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV for 6,000 miles now as part of an ongoing experience with this long-term test vehicle. Over the months, our plug-in hybrid crossover has served as a daily commuter as well as our go-to ride for quick weekend getaways and the occasional longer trip. This time, we decided to see what it’s like to be behind the wheel on a genuine road trip for a solid week, from our offices on California’s Central Coast to the southern reaches of Washington State.

First, let’s say this: The capabilities of the Outlander PHEV plug-in hybrid – Green Car Journal’s 2019 Green SUV of the Year™ – lend a sense of confidence. We knew that we could charge the Outlander’s batteries when desired and convenient to gain about 22 miles of all-electric range during our travels, a nice plus. But we were also aware that taking the time for charging wasn’t necessary. This crossover’s EPA-rated hybrid range of 310 miles would be plenty to get us where we wanted to go, without hesitation or delays. That’s an important thing when packing a few thousand miles of combined day and late-night driving into a seven day period.

Our trip began by heading northbound from San Luis Obispo, California on US-101, where we crested the Cuesta Grade and continued toward the busy San Francisco Bay corridor three hours ahead. We were hoping an early departure would allow avoiding the unpredictable traffic there. Success! It turns out that late morning near the Bay Area provides a decent travel window with reasonably free-flowing traffic. Then it was onward toward Oregon on US-101, transitioning to I-680 and I-505 and ultimately the long stretch of I-5 that would take us to Washington State.

Since this was a road trip, adventure is built into the journey. That means if something interesting presents itself along the way, we may just stop to check it out. Sure enough, this happened less than an hour north of Sacramento, where a series of highway billboards enticed travelers to stop at Granzella’s Restaurant in Williams, a sleepy, postage-stamp-size of a city that’s home to about 5,000 people. It was lunchtime, so why not?

We found plenty of cars in Granzella's parking lot but also no wait inside. Food choices here are plentiful, with options for ordering from a fully-stocked deli or sitting down for a home-style meal in their restaurant. Being traveler-oriented, Granzella’s encourages you to wander around inside, checking out their sports bar, wine room, coffee bar, and olive room, plus of course the array of gifts aimed toward travelers. There’s also a separate Granzella’s Gourmet & Gifts store across the street and Granzella’s Inn across the way if an overnight stop is needed. We were on a tight time schedule, so it was back on I-5 for another 550 miles of road time before our anticipated arrival in Vancouver.

Daily experience in a long-term test car lends a thorough sense of what it's like to live with a vehicle, offering an opportunity to fully experience its capabilities. Beyond that, longer drives like this allow uninterrupted hours behind the wheel to reflect on a vehicle's features, large and small, that either enhance the driving experience or fall short of expectations.

We can say it is hard to find fault with the Outlander PHEV. This crossover provides a spacious and well-appointed cabin offering very comfortable and supportive seating for long drives, plus plenty of room to store all the stuff needed for long trips. Our considerable time on the road was made all the more pleasant since the Outlander PHEV’s ride is smooth and handling confident, with plenty of power for any driving situation we encountered.

Along the way we made good use of this model’s Apple CarPlay capability. Of course, driver assist systems like adaptive cruise control, forward collision mitigation, blind spot warning with lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, and rear-view camera enhanced the driving experience and sense of safety. Its heated steering wheel is a real plus. While always handy, we really came to appreciate this crossover’s retractable cargo cover that kept things out of sight and more secure while parked at restaurants and hotels during our week on the road. We also made use of its convenient power lift gate multiple times every day.

The Outlander PHEV’s total driving range of 310 miles is well-suited to longer trips like this. Range is something we rarely think about on a daily basis since our everyday driving is typically less than 20 miles, so often enough we’re driving on battery power and there’s no need for gas at all. When we do drive farther to nearby cities, the Outlander PHEV seamlessly transitions from electric to hybrid power once the battery is depleted. There is no range anxiety because we can travel as far as needed on gasoline. Back in the garage, we charge again overnight and we’re once again driving on battery power.

It’s worth noting that the Outlander PHEV has a smaller gas tank than the conventionally-powered Outlander, 11.3 versus 16.6 gallons, resulting in less overall driving range than the conventional gas model. This is due to design changes for accommodating this PHEV’s 12 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and other PHEV drivetrain components. Packaging the vehicle’s electric componentry in this way means the battery and other necessary equipment do not infringe on passenger or cargo space, something that’s bothered us for years in some other electrified models. So, all things considered, we’re good with trading some hybrid range for additional roominess, especially since refueling at a gas station is quick and easy.

Speaking of ‘refueling,’ there was the potential for quickly charging at an array of public fast charge locations during our drive. A growing number of Level 3 charging opportunities are located along major routes in California and other states, and the Outlander PHEV is capable of CHAdeMO DC fast charging to 80 percent battery capacity in 20 minutes. We didn’t feel the need on this trip, though we have done this at other times.

That said, charging at the Level 2 charger at our hotel in Vancouver, the Heathman Lodge, was a real plus. Once we arrived in Washington, we plugged in several times to get an overnight charge and enjoyed our no-cost electric drives around town. During these drives the Outlander PHEV motors along on zero-emission battery power at an EPA estimated 74 MPGe.

Driving through Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, there’s no denying you’ll find some pretty incredible scenery ranging from mountain ranges, imposing dormant volcanoes, and awe-inspiring redwood forests to scenic coastlines, rivers, and lakes. You will also find an obsession with the mythical Bigfoot. Suffice it to say there will be plenty of places to stop with ‘Bigfoot’ included in their theme, and lots of opportunities to buy souvenirs. As a side note, we did an ‘On the Trail of Bigfoot’ road trip adventure and article several decades back, so this definitely brought a smile to our face.

Along our drive we had the opportunity to visit cities large and small, drive through a redwood tree, take in scenic coastal areas in Oregon like Newport and Lincoln City, and in general enjoy the benefits of a real road trip. Of course, there were stops at roadside fruit stands, interesting eateries, and places with character that simply called to us for a closer look. Photo ops were abundant.

During our trip we came to truly understand why Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV is the world's best-selling plug-in hybrid vehicle. Taking advantage of technology development and learnings from this automaker’s earlier i-MiEV electric vehicle program, the Outlander PHEV combines advanced parallel and series hybrid drive, along with Mitsubishi’s Super All-Wheel Control system technology developed through Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution. Plus, for those with the need, the Outlander PHEV can tow 1500 pounds.

This is one high-tech crossover, offered at a surprisingly affordable entry price point of $36,095, considering the cost of competitive crossover SUVs with similar capabilities at tens of thousands of dollars more. It features efficient hybrid power that integrates a 2.0-liter gasoline engine and generator along with a pair of high-performance electric motors, one up front and one at the rear.

The Outlander PHEV operates in three modes automatically chosen by the vehicle's control system to optimize efficiency and performance. In Series Hybrid mode the electric motors drive the vehicle with the engine augmenting battery power and generating electricity to power the motors. Electrical energy is also delivered to the battery pack. The 2.0-liter engine assists with mechanical power at times when quick acceleration or hill climbing are needed.

Parallel Hybrid mode finds the gasoline engine driving the front wheels with the two electric motors adding additional power as required. The engine also charges the battery pack in Parallel Hybrid mode under certain driving conditions.

Then there’s all-electric driving solely on batteries, selectable with an ‘EV’ control on the center console. We have found EV mode ideal for around-town travel or regional drives near our offices, and in fact we’ve noted no discernable difference when driving in all-electric or hybrid modes.

While regenerative braking in all modes is done automatically with the vehicle feeding electricity back to the battery pack during coast-down, there’s the added advantage of controlling how aggressively regen works. This capability is controlled through six levels of regenerative braking selectable by convenient steering wheel paddles, with one mode allowing coasting for blocks.

The Outlander PHEV proved to be an exceptional vehicle for our Pacific Northwest adventures, offering everything we could want in a long-distance cruiser. With our road trip adventure now a pleasant memory, we’re looking forward to our continuing daily drives and explorations in our long-term Outlander PHEV test vehicle over the coming months.


Audi e-tron
Audi's new 2019 e-tron electric SUV joins Jaguar and Porsche in giving Tesla some serious competition. The automaker’s first-ever all-electric vehicle looks much like the rest of the Audi lineup, foregoing the temptation to go too futuristic or quirky in an effort to stand out as an electric. Its iconic Audi grille reinforces the sense of normalcy even as it handles the distinctly-electric job of directing cooling air to pass under the battery pack. Some electrification cues are provided, though, as the e-tron features slats running across the rear bumper that highlight the lack of tailpipes. Lights in the front are also designed to look like the bars of a charge status indicator. A dark colored section along the sides show battery pack location.

Efficient aerodynamics and other efficiency-enhancing touches were important in designing the e-tron, which features a drag coefficient of just 0.30. Features include cooling ducts for the e-tron’s front brakes and its adaptive, speed-dependent air suspension. Standard ultra-low rolling resistance 20-inch wheels are aerodynamically optimized. Full underbody cladding incorporates an aluminum plate to help protect the battery and also lower drag.

Audi e-tronThe e-tron's electric quattro all-wheel drive uses two asynchronous motors, each driving one set of wheels. Single-stage transmissions transfer torque to the axles via differentials. At moderate cruising speeds, the e-tron is powered mainly by the rear motor. The battery pack's location between the axles plus the low positioning of other drive components results in low center of gravity. Weight distribution is approximately 50:50. A driver can select from seven different driving modes, from comfortable to sporty, that alter suspension stiffness, steering responsiveness, and how aggressively the SUV accelerates.

Two electric motors accelerate the e-tron from 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds with a top speed of 124 mph. It can tow up to 4000 pounds when equipped with the optional tow package. While EPA has yet to provide driving range numbers, testing in Europe resulted in 248 miles from the 95 kWh battery pack. EPA's testing here tends to yield somewhat lower range numbers.

2019-audi-etron-cabin-1Audi put heavy emphasis on recuperating as much energy as possible. Depending on driving conditions, terrain, and driving style, regenerative braking can provide as much as 30 percent of the e-tron’s range. The driver can select how aggressively the car uses this system, allowing for "one pedal" driving where taking the foot off the throttle will bring the car to a full stop using only regenerative braking.

The e-tron is available with a full range of standard or optional driver assistance packages including adaptive cruise assist, intersection assist, rear cross traffic assist, lane change and vehicle exit warning, and park steering assist. It comes in three trim levels - Premium Plus, Prestige, and First Edition. A panoramic glass sunroof is standard.

Audi e-tron

In today's all-cars-look- alike world, the Cadillac’s 2019 XT4 takes exception. This upscale compact crossover features distinct features like sharp angles, a wide mesh-textured grill with a floating wreath and crest, prominent standard LED daytime running lights, plus unique headlights and large vertical taillights that will not be mistaken for another brand. The XT4 comes in Luxury, Premium Luxury, and Sport trims. The Sport trim gets a black mesh grille, body-color door handles, and black window trim, features that are chrome on other trims.

The XT4 is the first Cadillac to be powered by the brand’s new 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, which uses what Cadillac calls a ‘tripower’ system featuring variable valve lift and cylinder deactivation. The smooth and refined engine produces 237 horsepower and 258 lb-ft torque, so this four-cylinder is quite capable of handling the two-ton XT4. A nine-speed automatic transmission is standard. It achieves an EPA estimated 30 highway mpg.

An available twin-clutch, all-wheel-drive system like that used on the XT5 is able to decouple the rear axle to improve fuel economy. This part-time all-wheel-drive system requires a double tap on a button to activate. Electro-hydraulically assisted brakes also help fuel efficiency by reducing parasitic losses from one crankshaft-driven belt. EPA numbers are 24 city and 30 highway with front-wheel-drive and 22 city, 29 highway mpg with all-wheel drive.

Optional Sport trim gets an Active Sport Suspension with adaptive dampers that react quickly to road conditions without being too stiff. The other models retain struts up front and a multilink setup at the rear.  Eighteen inch wheels are standard, with 20 inch wheels optional on Premium Luxury and Sport trims, each with their own design.

The 2019 XT4 was developed on an exclusive compact SUV architectStandard equipment includes blind-spot monitors, a rearview camera, and traction control systems. Optional are forward-collision warning with low- and high-speed automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic headlights, active lane control, and reverse automatic braking. A surround-view camera system, automatic parking assist, and a camera-based rearview mirror are also available. Cadillac’s highly advanced SuperCruise driver-assistance features are not offered on the XT4.

The XT4’s dash is dominated by an 8-inch touchscreen for infotainment and features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Cadillac’s CUE interface for its infotainment system adds a new dial-type controller. A near-field communication system simplifies the process of phone pairing, while wireless inductive charging pads boast faster charge times. The XT4 has 22.5 cubic feet of cargo room with both rows of seats in place. The back seat folds down for 48.9 cubic feet of storage.

2019 Cadillac XT4 SportThe cost of entry for the  base Luxury XT4 is $34,795, with the Luxury AWD trim level beginning at $37,295 and the Sport at $39.295.

mazda-cx-5-sideIntroduced as an all-new generation early last year, the popular and stylish Mazda CX-5 continues to impress with its overall functionality and notable efficiency achieved with its conventionally-powered SKYACTIV powertrain. The five-door compact crossover vehicle is available with either front-wheel or all-wheel-drive, both connecting to a six-speed automatic transmission. Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trim levels are available. In keeping with the Mazda brand’s sporting image, the CX-5 is aimed at the driving enthusiast a bit more than most of its competitors, at a starting price of $24,150.

The CX-5 design reflects Mazda’s second-generation KODO – Soul of Motion design philosophy that embraces curves and subtlety, creating a handsome crossover that conveys uniqueness without wild design cues. Its mission – being a Mazda – is also to deliver a great driving experience. This is enhanced with Mazda’s exclusive G-Vectoring Control, which influences chassis dynamics through instantaneous changes in engine timing to reduce torque as needed for more accurate steering inputs, front tire contact, and stability.

mazda-cx-5-front-cabin-1Power is provided by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder DOHC engine that delivers 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft torque. Unlike most of its competition, the engine is normally-aspirated and not turbocharged, with Mazda eking additional horsepower from this SKYATIV-G powerplant in other ways. One of those ways is the use of higher 14:1 compression, making this 2.5-liter Mazda engine the first mass-production four-cylinder to feature this high of a compression ratio.

At its introduction, this engine featured the first application of cylinder deactivation in a four-cylinder in the U.S., a move that enhances fuel efficiency by shutting down the outer cylinders under low load conditions while at cruising speed. Cylinder deactivation and an array of small improvements that reduce internal friction bring about a 1 to 2 mpg increase in fuel economy in this SKYACTIV engine, depending on driving conditions.

Fusion TIFF FileBeyond driving enjoyment, the CX-5 exemplifies what this automaker defines as ‘Mazda Premium,’ a concept the automaker has used to describe its recent new models. This focus is devoted to delivering an extra level of details, from unexpected design elements to high levels of craftsmanship or engineering unexpected in a vehicle’s class. These elements are appreciated in the CX-5, from a center console that’s been raised to lend a cocoon feel for the driver to heated rear seats and fast-charging USB ports for rear passengers.

Driver assistance systems include blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Depending on trim level, Mazda’s i-Activsense package is standard or optional. This active-safety package features adaptive cruise control, automated emergency braking, and lane-keeping assist. There are also rain-sensing windshield wipers and automatic headlights. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are still in the future, although a CarPlay retrofit will reportedly be offered by Mazda soon for those who need this feature.

mazda-cx-5-rear

kia-niro-frontThe Kia Niro, Green Car Journal's 2018 Green SUV of the Year™,  joins an increasingly crowded compact crossover SUV market but does so with some significant accomplishments in its corner. To begin with, the Niro is comfortable, nimble, and fun to drive, all important considerations even to drivers looking for ‘green’ and efficiency. It's also offered in hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and soon-to-come battery electric versions, so drivers have some pretty compelling options within the Niro family of vehicles. The Niro is a handsome model, and while we could quibble that many might view the Niro more a highly functional five-door, five-seat wagon than an SUV, there’s enough blurring of the lines between crossovers, hatchbacks, and wagons these days to enable classifying this in the crossover SUV category.

And what about efficiency, you ask? Well, prepare to be impressed. This crossover excels in that department with the Niro FE hybrid delivering an EPA estimated 52 mpg in the city and 49 mpg on the highway. Other variants in the line also offer very impressive fuel efficiency, with the LX/EX Niro rated at 51/46 mpg and the Niro Touring achieving 45/40 mpg. The Niro Plug-In Hybrid nets a combined 46 mpg.

kia-niro-engineThe automaker’s first dedicated hybrid crossover is powered by a 1.6-liter, direct-injected 16-valve DOHC engine producing 104 horsepower and 109 lb-ft torque. An aluminum block is used for lightweighting and thus additional efficiency. A 43 horsepower, permanent-magnet synchronous AC electric motor/generator is integrated between the engine and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transaxle. Maximum power output of the combined system is 139 horsepower with a total torque rating of 195 lb-ft. The engine uses the highly-efficient Atkinson combustion cycle, and with its exhaust-heat recovery system can achieve an impressive 40 percent thermal efficiency under certain circumstances. The new engine has dual cooling circuits for quickly warming up its aluminum cylinder head.

Energy for the electric motor is provided by a 1.6-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack located beneath the rear seat. Beyond the Niro’s highly efficient hybrid mode, this battery allows the vehicle to travel short distances under all-electric power at gentle speeds. Efficiency is enhanced by a Coasting Guide that helps direct a driver when to coast and when to brake.

kia-niro-rearNiro offers confident ride and handling with independent MacPherson struts and a stabilizer up front, and independent multi-link suspension at the rear. Vented solid disc brakes are used front and rear along with regenerative braking to generate electricity for the battery during braking and coast down. The Niro uses electric power-assist steering.

The Kia Niro is offered in four trim levels –base FE, mid-level LX and EX, and high-end Touring. Compared with the LX, the EX model has more interior comforts, adding standard heated front seats, rear A/C vents, upgraded trim, and an available sunroof. Touring models come with an eight-speaker Harman/Kardon system and also get power front seats and leather upholstery.

2017 NiroA rearview camera and 7-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are provided. Loads of safety technologies are standard or optional including blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and autonomous emergency braking. Although this is a compact crossover, plenty of gear can be hauled along with 54.5 cubic feet of space available with the rear seats folded down.

The Niro PHEV has a much larger 8.9 kWh battery pack with a portion of this pack located in the spare tire well beneath the load floor. The plug-in’s electric motor is more powerful and delivers an EPA estimated 26 miles of all-electric range before reverting back to hybrid power, for a total driving range of 560 miles. Enhancing this range is a Predictive Energy Control function that evaluates the route chosen by the optional navigation system to maximize energy conservation, picking when to recharge the battery and when to use stored energy based on the speeds and topology ahead. It can also direct the powertrain to shunt electricity to pre-charging the battery in anticipation of long uphill grades. Rounding out the line will be a Niro battery electric variant coming next year, which was unveiled as a concept at this year’s CES Show in early January.

kia-niro-instruments-1Kia continues to impress with the sophisticated styling of its new models and an eye for what American consumers are looking for, at affordable prices. The Kia Niro continues this tradition in a very big way by delivering style, functionality, and connectivity in a handsome and compelling compact crossover package.

tesla-model-x-driving-1Crossover SUV buyers looking to drive exclusively on electric power have a single choice today, and that’s Tesla’s Model X. Following in the footsteps of the Tesla Roadster and Tesla Model S, and ahead of the just-debuted Model 3, the Model X provides a unique driving experience for high-end buyers with its attractive design, advanced tech features, and zero-emission operation. While the model’s price tag means it’s not for everyone, Tesla fans will appreciate that the price of entry for the base Model X 75D has recently dropped by $3,000, to an MSRP of $79,500.

Beyond this full-size luxury crossover’s all-electric range of 238 to 289 miles, the model’s most distinctive features are its ‘falcon wing‘ doors and the largest panoramic windshield in production today. Model X doors articulate upward to enable easy access to second and third row seats, with the third row seats folding flush for more cargo capacity. The interior is designed to accommodate seven passengers with luggage carried in a front trunk or behind the seats. A recent $3,000 option enables both second and third row seats to fold flat to provide an expansive load floor.

tesla-model-x-doors-up-1Powering the Model X is an all-wheel drive system using two electric motors, one up front and another at the rear. The three models offered include the 75D, 100D, and P100D, with the number referring to their battery capacity in kilowatt-hours. The P in P100D stands for ‘Performance,’ with the $145,000 top version’s Ludicrous mode enabling acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph.

Like Tesla’s Model S, the Model X uses AT&T to provide 3G and LTE Internet access to its onboard navigation and music services via Slacker. It also provides connectivity to the vehicle through Tesla’s iOS and the Android app, allowing remote adjustment of climate control settings along with other control features. Regular over-the-air updates add safety and navigation features, enhance performance, and improve the driving experience. Like other Teslas, the Model X can also be quick-charged at several hundred Supercharger locations along key transportation corridors in the U.S., which allows capturing an 80 percent charge in about 30 minutes.

tesla-model-x-cabinDriver information is presented in a digital display in front of the steering wheel and a center-mounted, 17-inch touchscreen. Active safety technologies include side collision avoidance, parking sensors, and blind spot warning. Model X camera, radar, and sonar systems continually scan the surrounding roadway, providing the driver with real-time feedback to help avoid collisions. Model X is designed to automatically apply brakes in an emergency.

A sophisticated Autopilot system allows the Model X to match its speed to traffic conditions, stay within its lane, and steer around curves within a lane. It also enables automatically changing lanes with a tap of the turn signal. Our time behind the wheel of a Model X has shown Autopilot to provide a seamless, near-autonomous driving experience. For safety reasons and because this system is still 'learning,' Autopilot requires a driver's attention and hands are required on the steering wheel at set intervals. A ‘Summon’ feature allows the Model X to automatically park and unpark itself, plus open and close a garage door automatically. It can scan for parking spaces, alert a driver when one is available, and parallel park on command.

tesla-model-x-interior-night-1An available towing package with a high strength tow bar and two-inch hitch receiver allows the Model X to tow up to 5,000 pounds, although driving range will be diminished with the additional load. Software actively monitors trailer sway and applies braking as needed.

Tesla’s plug-in crossover aspirations don’t end with the Model X. In fact, the company has announced plans to produce the Model Y – a compact crossover – by 2020. The new model is expected to make use of much of the technology and architecture of the Model 3 and come at a more approachable price point than the Model X.

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2017-honda-hrv-front-1The advantage of a year-long test vehicle is that we’re better able to sample how it performs under all types of road and weather conditions, plus the sometimes challenging situations that life throws at everyone. In hilly Southeastern Ohio on the edge of the Appalachian range, our long term Honda HR-V conquered snow and ice covered roads with sure-footed traction, with its all-wheel drive system and traction control finding grip when grip was hard to find. Honda’s excellent anti-lock brake system delivered above average stopping power when the road surface was slippery. Combined with linear and positive steering response, those qualities provide for a very confidence inspiring winter driving experience.

Winter conditions can take a toll on fuel economy. The worst winter mpg we achieved was around 28 mpg and we were able to push efficiency into the mid to upper 30s with relative ease. Honda’s intuitive ECO Coaching system helps the process along with visual cues that change color with throttle position and speed.

2016 Honda HR-VThe HR-V’s interior makes longer road trips quite comfortable. With the front seats all the way aft to accommodate my 6 foot, 2 inch frame, rear seat leg room is a bit compromised, but that’s to be expected in any compact SUV. In addition to its 60/40 split seat folding design and ability to deliver a flat cargo floor, the Honda’s Magic Seat configuration allows the bottom seat cushions to fold up out of the way to handle taller cargo.

Driving any compact SUV can be an education since not all competitive models achieve the high standards SUV drivers expect in comfort, performance, functionality, and convenience. Our 10,000 mile experience with Honda’s HR-V has scored high marks in all subjects and has definitely made our Dean’s List at the end of its freshman year.

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2016-honda-hrv-34-frontWe’ve been driving our 2016 Honda HR-V long-term test car for just over six months now and have enjoyed our daily experiences with this ‘right-size’ crossover vehicle. Based on the Honda Fit platform, the HR-V won top honors in last year’s 2016 Green SUV of the Year™ program. It impresses for a wide variety of important reasons, not the least of which is its ability to do its job extremely well – and might we add very efficiently – without the need for exotic powertrain technology.

The HR-V is propelled by a 1.8-liter, 140 horsepower four-cylinder that provides an admirable balance of performance and economy, as we’ve come to expect from Honda over the years. This i-VTEC 16-valve engine delivers power through a CVT automatic transmission that’s standard on all-wheel drive model like our HR-V EX-L Navi AWD tester. Unlike many constant velocity transmissions, the CVT in the HR-V has a pleasingly positive feel under both acceleration and braking. To further enhance the driving experience, the HR-V can be switched to Sport Mode, with dual paddle shifters providing more control over the CVT. A six-speed manual transmission is standard fare on front-drive variants with the CVT optional.

2016-honda-hrv-engine-1When introduced, the two-wheel drive CVT model scored an EPA fuel economy rating of 28 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway, with the AWD version netting a slightly lower EPA mpg rating of 27 city and 32 highway mpg. With our typical efficient driving style we’ve found that we can regularly achieve average fuel economy of 32 mpg. During economical cruising on the highway, the HRV can easily be coaxed into the mid- to upper-30 mpg range.

For those who would like a little help with efficient driving, Honda has incorporated its Eco-Assist technology into the HR-V. Pushing the green ECON button on the dash programs the engine and transmission computer controls to operate at peak efficiency. A visual aide around the speedometer changes color to serve as an alert to indicate when the HR-V is being driven economically. Green is very efficient, light green is good, and white not so good, the latter typically displayed under conditions like hard acceleration.

2016-honda-hrv-cabin-1Considering the HR-V’s compact exterior dimensions, interior space is impressive, particularly in the rear cargo area. With the rear seats folded flat it can swallow up nearly 59 cubic feet of gear, while offering the versatility of Honda’s fold-up rear bottom seat cushions for carrying taller items.

It’s common for most vehicles to offer a split folding rear seat these days, but Honda has taken rear seat versatility a step further with its innovative Magic Seat in the HR-V. In its basic form it functions as a 60/40 split bench that can be folded flat for longer cargo. The Magic Seat, however, can also accommodate taller cargo upright by folding the seat bottom up against the seat back for maximum vertical room. Beyond interior innovations like this, we are also impressed with the overall fit and finish found throughout the HR-V.

2017 Honda HR-VMost surprising is the way the HR-V adapts to everyday life. It is unassuming and friendly for those days when you just require transportation, yet fun to drive when you want to really take control and enjoy the driving experience. When driving gets a little more spirited, the HR-V’s solid feel, steering response, and braking performance instills confidence on the road. It accomplishes this without compromising comfort and ride characteristics. This is a vehicle you can drive cross-country with minimal fatigue.

With just over 7,000 enjoyable miles now on the odometer, we’ve found our long-term HR-V compact crossover fulfilling so many missions well, we just can’t imagine life without this in our test fleet. We’re looking forward to many more miles behind the wheel of Honda’s award-winning Honda HR-V. We’ll follow up a bit down the road with some Midwest cold and winter weather performance with the HR-V’s all-wheel-drive system.

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2016-mazda-cx-3-sideMazda's CX-3, this automaker’s entry in the hot compact crossover SUV segment, aims to provide the style and functionality of a crossover SUV at a price approachable to a great many buyers, beginning at just $19,960. Sporting the unique front grill and fascia that speak the brand’s latest design language, the CX-3 shares its platform and much of its cabin with the 2016 Mazda 2 subcompact hatchback. While both ride on a 101.2 inch wheelbase, the CX-3 is slightly larger in all dimensions than the 2 in keeping with its small SUV mission of optimizing versatility and carrying five people plus cargo.

The CX-3 is comfortable, capable, and responsive, getting its power from a 146 horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Its SKYACTIV-G engine uses direct injection, variable valve timing, and a high 13:1 compression ratio to eke the most power out of its engine displacement, along the way producing satisfying low-to-mid-range torque and lower emissions while consuming less fuel. The engine connects to a six-speed automatic transmission.

2016-mazda-cx-3-cabinSport, Touring, and Grand Touring trim levels are available, each with standard front-wheel-drive or optional i-ACTIV all-wheel-drive. Mazda's predictive all-wheel drive system optimizes performance and stability by taking many real-time factors into account like road conditions, steering-angle, temperature, and weather as it intelligently routes power to specific wheels in response to these conditions.

The Mazda CX-3 is available with an array of electronics features including a rearview camera, Smart Brake Support with Collision Warning, adaptive headlights, and headlight control. Mazda Connect comes standard, offering a seven-inch color touchscreen infotainment suite with Bluetooth audio streaming, phone controls, and internet radio like Pandora and Aha by Harmon, all integrated with a commander control knob. Pushbutton start is also standard.

2016-mazda-cx-3-consoleAvailable as options or with the Touring and Grand Touring trim levels are navigation, Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, head-up display, Bose premium audio with SiriusXM satellite and HD radio, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, and LED headlights. When equipped with the Grand Touring i-ACTIVSENSE package, CX-3 packs features unavailable in rival vehicles like Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Smart City Brake Support, High Beam Control System, Lane Departure Warning System, rain-sensing wipers, and auto on/off headlights.

As one would expect with Mazda’s efficient and sprightly SKYACTIV-equipped new models, the CX-3 achieves a welcome 29 city mpg and 35 mpg in the front-wheel drive version, with the AWD model sacrificing just a bit of efficiency with 27/32 mpg numbers. Importantly, unlike most engines with high compression that require high octane fuel, the 2.0-liter SKYACTIV powerplant is designed to run on less expensive regular gas, offering fuel savings that adds up over time.

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2016-hyundai-tucson-drivingHyundai has shown its willingness to push the envelope with its affordable Tucson SUV in some pretty high-profile ways. The automaker has notably offered a hydrogen fuel cell variant to consumers in limited numbers and both hybrid and plug-in hybrid concepts were shown at the most recent Geneva Motor Show.

For the here-and-now, conventionally powered models offer consumers plenty of goodness at approachable cost. Hyundai’s third-generation 2016 Tucson crossover SUV is distinguished with an edgier design that carries through the Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 design theme that debuted on the 2015 Genesis, aiming at a bolder and more athletic appearance. The Tucson is also a bit bigger this year with a one inch longer wheelbase and exterior dimensions an inch wider and three inches longer, adding to a noticeably roomier interior. Driving dynamics are improved with an enhanced suspension and a more rigid chassis using more than 50 percent advanced high-strength steel.

2016-hyundai-tucson-engine-1The 2016 Tucson features a pair of powertrains that emphasize power and fuel efficiency. Base models are equipped with a carryover 164 horsepower, 2.0-liter direct-injected four-cylinder with a six-speed automatic transmission. This SHIFTRONIC automatic offers a manual shifting mode and integrates an overdrive lock-up torque converter to boost fuel efficiency. Eco, Sport, and Limited models get a new 175 horsepower, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder coupled to a seven-speed EcoShift dual-clutch automatic transmission.

Most notable for those seeking higher fuel economy is the Eco model, which delivers one additional mile per gallon in the city and three more on the highway, achieving 26/33 city/highway mpg. The Eco uses 17 inch wheels and low rolling resistance tires to help achieve this. Sport and Limited models ride on 19 inch wheels.

2016-hyundai-tucson-rearAll versions are available with front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. The AWD system uses an electronically controlled clutch at the rear axle. The system’s Active Cornering Control All Wheel Drive provides improved all-weather traction and greater cornering capability. It does this by transferring engine torque to the rear wheels while applying braking force to the inside rear wheel and transmitting extra power to the opposite wheel, thus providing a torque-vectoring effect.

For driving off-road and in slippery conditions, there is also a driver-selectable AWD lock that allows for a 50/50 split of available torque between the front and rear wheels. A Drive Mode Select feature allows a driver to customize the Tucson’s dynamic response to alter steering effort, throttle mapping, and transmission shift points according to personal preference or changing driving conditions.

2016-hyundai-tucson-display-1New-for-2016 are available LED headlights, LED Daytime Running Lights, and HID headlights with Dynamic Bending Light that turn-in with the direction of the steering wheel. Also new is a color LCD cluster display, individual tire monitoring, and heated rear seats. The new Tucson features a host of standard and available advanced technology safety features. These include forward-collision warning with automatic braking and pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive headlights. A backup camera is now standard on all trim levels.

Whatever Hyundai’s advanced technology vehicle plans may be for its lineup in the future, given the popularity of the SUV segment and the current Tucson’s appealing entry-level MSRP of $22,700, it certainly appears that the Tucson will be a high-profile torch-bearer in the company’s expanding ‘green’ offerings.

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2015-chevy-trax-frontChevy’s 2015 Trax subcompact SUV offers a new choice for those who want the functionality of an urban-friendly crossover with higher fuel efficiency. With an overall length of 168.4 inches and a smaller physical footprint than many crossovers, it also features a tight 36.7-foot turning diameter that makes for great maneuverability in city traffic

The Trax is based on the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic hatchback but is actually quite a bit larger, allowing it to carry 48.4 cubic feet of cargo and up to five people. It’s built in Korea like the Sonic, and while new to the U.S. market the Trax is already available in over 60 global markets. Along with the Sonic, its platform, mechanics, and cabin layout are shared with the Buick Encore.

2015-chevy-trax-enginePower comes from a 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder Ecotec engine featuring dual overhead cams and variable valve timing. The engine, also made in Korea, produces 138 horsepower at 4900 rpm and 148 pound-feet of torque at 1850 rpm. Around-town driving is spirited with good acceleration and snappy shifts courtesy of a Hydra-Matic 6T40 six speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is a $1500 option.

Like many downsized crossover SUVs in recent years, the Trax aims at highway fuel efficiency in the 30-plus mpg range, a goal met with its EPA-estimated 34 mpg highway fuel economy and 26 mpg in the city.  The AWD version is rated at 31 highway and 24 city mpg. The fuel tank holds 14 gallons.

2015 Chevrolet TraxThough on the smallish side, the Trax offers an interior that’s quite versatile. The 60/40 folding rear seats and a fold-flat front passenger seat allow carrying items up to 8 foot long as needed. The Trax is quite narrow so accommodating three in the rear is a bit tight, although we found rear seat headroom and legroom to be just fine.

The Trax comes with full power equipment including electric power steering, air-conditioning, and a rearview camera. Front wheel drive variants get front disc and rear drum brakes with the AWD featuring four wheel discs. An LT Plus package adds a six-way power driver’s seat, leather-wrap steering wheel, and rear parking sensors. The uplevel LTZ comes with leather upholstery, 18 inch wheels, heated front seats, an auto-dimming mirror, and a Bose sound system. Other versions use cloth seat materials and 16 inch wheels.

2015-chevy-trax-cabinSafety is a notable feature of the Trax, which received five stars from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration for overall, frontal, and side crash protection and a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. There are 10 airbags including front and rear side airbags, full-length side curtains, and front knee airbags.

Buyers will appreciate this crossover’s approachable $20,995 base price and two year/24,000 miles of free scheduled maintenance. Also appealing is the model’s high level of electronics technology that comes as standard or optional equipment. This includes a 7-inch MyLink touchscreen, On-Star 4G LTE with built-in WiFi hotspot, Siri Eyes Free for iPhone, a USB port, an iPod interface, OnStar emergency telematics, and a BringGo navigation app.

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mazda-cx-5-frontConsidering the sheer number of SUVs and crossover vehicles seen in any given parking lot these days, there’s no doubt this is a crowded field with many relevant players. The key is finding the one amid the crowd that best promises to meet your needs and speak to your sensibilities. If ‘green’ takes a top spot in your playbook along with sportiness, functionality, and value, then you’re a candidate for Mazda’s CX-5.

Our initial experience with the all-new 2013 Mazda CX-5 last year was enlightening, and really, eye-opening. We’ve driven crossover SUVs for many years and can attest that for the most part, high fuel efficiency is not their game. Rather, it’s all about style, functionality, safety, and comfort. The ability to haul people and gear is important. That usually comes at the cost of fuel economy because these vehicles are typically larger and heavier than passenger vehicles by nature, which means greater power is required to move them.

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But that changes with crossovers like the Mazda CX-5 SKYACTIV. A bit more compact in stature, the CX-5 is right-sized for most buyers wishing all the attributes of a crossover SUV but don’t want to wince at the pump. This model’s eye-catching style is a good opener for drawing potential buyers, as is its surprisingly accommodating interior, comfortable five-place seating, and approachable price.

Cinching the deal is this vehicle’s fun-to-drive nature and admirable fuel efficiency. Two fuel-efficient engines are available. The base Sport model comes standard with Mazda’s 2.0-liter, 155 horsepower SKYACTIV-G four-cylinder powerplant. Uplevel Touring and Grand Touring models are motivated by a new-for-2014 2.5-liter, 184 horsepower SKYACTIV-G engine.

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While perfectly fine with 2.0-liter CX-5 variants driven before, we do enjoy the extra 29 horsepower provided by this model’s 184 hp 2.5-liter SKYACTIV-G engine. Acceleration and gear transitions are crisp, as expected of the Mazda marque.

Cars of Change editors have been living with a 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring long-term test car for some months now to get an in-depth sense of the model. During our time with the car to date, editors have come to appreciate the CX-5’s stylish design and its notable functionality. Over the first 8,000 miles of our year-long test, we have experienced the CX-5 under conditions familiar to most of our readers – daily commuting, running errands around town, and road trips that allow long-distance evaluation – with the latter often finding us folding the rear seats down and stuffing the cargo area with an amazing array of gear for our travels.

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We’ve found the CX-5 to be nimble and fun as a daily driver under all these conditions, blending efficient motoring with the sophistication we like in an SUV. The cabin is comfortable and the controls intuitive. We’re sold on the optional blind spot monitoring system and especially the rear-view camera, an indispensable feature in our parallel parking-focused town. While lightweight high-tensile steel is used prolifically to help lessen curb weight and contribute toward the CX-5 Grand Touring’s EPA estimated 32 highway mpg (35 mpg in the Sport variant with the smaller 2.0-liter engine), this model doesn’t feel like a lightweight with its satisfying and quiet ride.

Mazda’s CX-5 delivers big time for its very reasonable $21,195 to $28,870 price tag, offering an array of desirable features with the benefit of class-leading fuel economy. The real bottom line for most is how all this comes together in the daily driving experience, and in that regard we’ve found the CX-5 delivering as promised, consistently.

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