SUV/TRUCK REVIEWS

The Mazda CX-5 is a compact SUV that's worth a look due to its sporty drive and high-end interior.

Mazda was not the first brand to get into the compact SUV segment -- far from it in fact.

But when they did arrive in the segment, they brought a unique angle to the game: An enjoyable ride.

While other brands focused on the utility of the vehicle while often ignoring the need for  a strong performance, Mazda decided it could do both with its crossover, the CX-5.
And while its sales numbers are nowhere near segment leading, the CX-5 has still been a remarkable success due to the fact it’s been able to offer that driver satisfaction in a package where that’s normally not found.


After spending some time in a CX-5, i would say it’s easily one of the best handling and most fun to drive SUVs available.


The 2017 Toyota RAV4 competes in a tough segment, but has the loyal fan base to maintain high sales numbers.

Toyota’s got a good thing going in the U.S.A.

Not only do their sedans dominate the sales charts, but when we move up to the SUV/crossover ranks, they’re right up there too.

Case in point: The Toyota RAV4 compact SUV. When this vehicle’s first generation came around in the mid-1990s, it was among the first offerings to fit into this new segment, which is now among the most dominant in the overall sales numbers two decades later. By being an early bird, the vehicle drew many fans and its current sales success reflects that.

For those who aren’t aware, the RAV4 is neck and neck with the Honda CR-V for the best-selling SUV in America (RAV4 sold 352,154 in 2016, vs. 357,335 for the CR-V). Not too shabby, and it might explain why RAV4s are as common to see on the roadways as overly eager road-crossing squirrels.

Still, this is a really tough segment -- with not only the CR-V but a ton of other options available (Mazda CX-5, Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, Chevy Equinox, Kia Sportage, Nissan Rogue are just some of the other vehicles to consider). So does the experience in a RAV4 live up to the sales numbers? I recently spent some time in one and I’m back with a full report.

The 2017 Toyota Sienna is an unapologetic, old-school minivan; and still has its fans after two decades on sale.

Let’s be honest: The last time minivans were considered cool, the original “Ghostbusters” movie had just come out in the theater. Since then, their reputation has gone steadily downhill.

That’s why the death of the minivan has been trumpeted for years by naysayers, who claim SUVs are now the better alternative. And on one hand they are somewhat accurate, with minivan sales dwarfed more and more each year by the endless parade of compact, midsize and full-size SUVs flooding the market right now.

On the other hand, while some minivans are dying off (RIP Mazda5 and Nissan Quest), others are proudly continuing to bear the soccer mom-car badge -- including Honda’s Odyssey, Chrysler’s new Pacifica, the Kia Sedona and the vehicle I just tested -- the 2017 Toyota Sienna, which has proudly carried families for the past two decades.

The 2018 Audi Q5 features a classy design.

One thing about Audi that no one can deny: No matter what size or shape of luxury vehicle you are seeking, they probably have you covered with a solid option. That’s true not only for the sedans (where the A series runs from the A3 to A8, with multiple models in each number), but also in the SUV lineup, where you can opt for a compact Q3, a full-sized Q7, or the middle child, the Q5 -- which I recently had a chance to test.


In essence, the 2018 Audi Q5 can be described as the Q7 minus a bit of length and the third row, which is a good thing considering how well the Q7 does everything.

LOOKS

Inside, the key question in these midsize SUVs is whether the back seat is actually comfortable. Good news here is both rows of the Q5 are roomy, with impressive legroom for the class. Seating is high-end and comfortable, storage is adequate, and you get attractive wood trim designs up front.


The exterior of my test vehicle was the usual stunning Audi white (Ibis white to be exact), which is a sight to behold and a unique look that instantly identifies the brand. And the design -- while not overly bold -- is supremely classy and elegant. This is a juxtaposition when compared to the more bold and dramatic designs on competitors such as Lexus.

If I had to pick a word to describe the design of the Audi Q5, it would be clean. You can tell a lot of effort went into making sure this vehicle is one that people want to drive and want to have in their driveway.

The Lexus RX 350 F Sport won't be confused with your typical luxury SUV

Lexus’ lineup has become increasingly bold-looking in recent years, particularly up front in their grille designs. But does the drive offer that same bold feel?


If you’re talking about the F Sport models they offer, absolutely. I recently tested a 2017 Lexus RX 350 F Sport, which isn’t your typical grocery-getter luxury midsize SUV, and I’m back with a full report.

LOOKS

Inside, the looks are typical for Lexus -- lots of refined, comfy, high-end materials, plus the extra wide, multi-paneled infotainment system screen to greet you.

Outside though is where things get interesting on the RX. It’s a bold and aggressive design for a luxury SUV, by any measure -- even moreso on the F Sport version -- and puts out a strong attitude before you even step in the vehicle. It’s a bold contrast against more stodgy SUV designs you’ll see from German automakers like Audi, Benz and BMW. And sales of the RX  show that this type of bold design is a hit with the public.


Inside the RX is still cozy, with a heated leather steering wheel, but the seat itself was at times not comfortable due to its crunched sport setup.

The F Sport package is what stands out here too, including:
-- 20-inch F Sport aluminum alloy wheels
-- F Sport tuned suspension with front and rear performance dampers

-- F Sport exclusive aluminum pedals

-- F Sport unique exterior trim

-- Chrome dual exhaust

This package not only affects the looks, but makes for a more engaging drive.

The 500X, pictured, is part of Fiat's efforts to offer larger vehicles to U.S. consumers

Since coming back into the U.S. market in 2011, the FIAT brand has maintained a small niche presence here, maintaining roughly one-quarter of one percent of total market sales. That’s mainly due to the fact that the small, sporty cars that they sell more rapidly in Europe and elsewhere are less likely to be chosen in the land where bigger is usually better and SUVS are all the rage.

But that doesn’t mean that the brand is giving up; in fact, they’re hoping to nudge in on the U.S. tastes with a couple of larger models. I recently tested the 2017 Fiat 500X, a compact SUV, and the 2017 Fiat 500L, an extended wagon-like 500 comparable to a Kia Soul and some Mini models, and I’m back with a full report.

The 2018 Infiniti QX30 is best experienced on a wide open, curvy road.

Even within the overall movement of buyers from cars to SUVs, there are certain segments growing at a pace so fast it will make your head spin. One of those is compact SUVS (or CUVs in the popular vernacular) and nearly every automaker is working to expand their presence in this portion of the segment.

Luxury automakers are no exception, and for the 2017 model year Infiniti introduced its newest ute, the QX30, which is back unchanged for the 2018 model year. While this is a newer entry in an area where other automakers have been before, the uniqueness of the QX30 make it easily one of the best options in the segment.


I recently spent some time in a 2018 Infiniti QX30, and I’m here with all the details of what it has to offer in a competitive luxury segment.

The massive amount of storage space in the 2017 Chevy Suburban is hard to ignore.

SUVs may be all the rage now, but Chevrolet was well ahead of its time more than 80 years ago, when it introduced the 1935 “Carryall Suburban” vehicle, which must have felt tremendously out of place among the vehicles of its day with its longer wheelbase.


The nameplate is still going strong (the longest one in the business in fact) and I recently spent some time in much more recent version of the mark -- the 2017 Chevy Suburban.
With a limited number of full-size truck-based SUV competitors (Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator, Toyota Sequoia and Nissan Armada), plus a few that fall within the GM lineup (GMC Yukon and Yukon XL; Chevy Tahoe, Cadillac Escalade), the Suburban does quite well in this segment.

But the real question with this type of vehicle is -- who really needs it? I’m here to answer that question.

 

The Dodge Durango's design is unlike anything you'll see on its three-row competitors.

 

The Dodge Durango hasn’t undergone a major change in design for several years. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

 

It knows what it is (a boldly designed and powerful family hauler) and what it wants to do (provide a unique offering in a sea of three-row SUVs that can at times seem very generic), so there’s little reason to reinvent the wheel at this juncture.

Related in platform to Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Durango is a good mix of a powerful ride and a comfortable one -- a three-row SUV that you can be proud of. I recently spent some time in a Durango and here is a full report.

The Range Rover Evoque is smaller and more city-oriented than a traditional Land Rover vehicle.

All automakers evolve, and the Range Rover Evoque is proof of that.

While the heritage of the Land Rover brand is the Range Rover -- a large and fully off-road capable vehicle -- the automaker was keen to expand their reach, so the smaller and more city-focused Evoque was born several years back. I recently tested the latest iteration of of the Evoque model, a 2017 Range Rover Evoque HSE, and I’m back with a full report.


LOOKS

Plain or boring are words that will never be used to describe the Range Rover Evoque (or any Land Rover vehicle in fact). No other vehicle looks quite like it, though some do try to copy in various ways.

The simplest way to put it is that the Evoque is one of the best-looking rides you’ll see on the roadways, especially when compared to other vehicles of a similar size. I heard more positive comments toward this vehicle’s design than I had heard in a long time about any vehicle. There’s something about it that just stands out.


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