SUV/TRUCK REVIEWS

The updated 2018 Volvo XC60 has been earning high praise this auto show season.

It takes a special vehicle and lots of effort to win top automotive awards like the North American International Auto Show’s top utility honor … and Volvo figured it out for 2018 with its XC60 reboot.

The stylish Swedish offering has drawn much acclaim in Detroit and beyond, but what’s all the hype about, and is it merited? I recently spent some time in a 2018 XC60, and I’m back with a full report.


LOOKS

Just like the larger XC90 on which it’s based, classy is the first word that comes to mind when you look at the XC60. Even sitting next to vehicles from BMW, Benz, Audi or Cadillac, the Volvo holds its own visually.

The exterior is distinctly Volvo -- somewhat bold yet still sleek and elegant. It’s a good mixed personality. 20-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires were featured on the vehicle I tested.

A panoramic moonroof with power sunshade is offered, and you will find very comfortable leather seating. The seats remain comfy on long rides, and the heated seats were very effective. The front seats can also use memory to save your settings.

Up front on the interior, you’ll find attractive and well-designed vertical slotted air vents. Another pretty touch is the subtle driftwood inlays up front. Rear seats are also roomy for the segment.

No need to fumble in your pockets, as the XC60 comes with keyless entry and drive. Four-zone climate control is featured, and you can fold down the rear seats for a good amount of storage space.

The 2018 Dodge Durango remains a bold-looking and powerful contender in the three-row SUV segment.

With some vehicles, you wonder what you’ll get with each model year, with tweaks coming on every version. And then there are vehicles like the Dodge Durango, which generally hold steady with what they offer yet continue to maintain the public’s interest -- because what they are doing is working.

I recently spent some time in a 2018 Dodge Durango, and I’m back with a full report on this SUV, which you could call the big friendly giant of the three-row SUV segment.

LOOKS

The short and simple way to describe the design of the Durango is that it’s perhaps the boldest looking of all three row SUVs.  It’s large, heavy and muscular in design, a visual meant to present it as a strong vehicle -- which it is.
Sharing a platform with FCA relative the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Durango is longer than the Jeep and adds a third row and features lots of leg and headroom.

The 2018 Jeep Compass features user-friendly tech options, and offers an off-road friendly trim level.

The Jeep brand, without a doubt, is one of the most recognizable brands in the auto world, and has its rabid fans across the globe. But when examining the lineup, highlighted by vehicles like the rough-and-tumble Wrangler and the plush Grand Cherokee, some tend to be more forgotten.

The Jeep Compass (which is larger than the subcompact Jeep Renegade, but slightly smaller than the Jeep Cherokee) is one of those more forgotten vehicles, so it has gotten a refresh in the past year in an effort to get it more up-to-date and boost its profile in the Jeep lineup.

I recently spent some time in a 2018 Compass and I’m back with a full report on what it has to offer.

The Alfa Romeo is a compact luxury SUV aimed at those who love driving.

Alfa Romeo SUV.

The fact that those words even exist tells you how much the automotive world has changed in the past several years.

An Italian company with a century of history built on curve-gripping sports cars and racecars wouldn’t have considered such a move before the SUV revolution took hold, but now they don’t really have a choice. With BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Jaguar, Maserati, Porsche and others in the mix already, they can’t risk losing luxury buyers who have migrated up to larger vehicles. Hence the Stelvio.

So what did Alfa do? Essentially they took a sports car and put it into the body of a small SUV. Here’s my thoughts on the finished product, which I recently got to spend some time in.

LOOKS

Built off the platform of the award-winning Alfa Romeo Giulia, and fittingly named after a curvy mountain pass in Italy in the Eastern Alps, the Stelvio hits a home run in the looks department.

Your attention is immediately drawn to Alfa’s unique design up front, which I dubbed the “tri-grille” look. It’s got sharp-looking lines and curves, and for the record I have to say that the century-old Alfa Romeo logo (featuring a red cross and what appears to be a snake eating a man) is perhaps the best logo in automobiles.

 

While not the prettiest or sportiest three-row SUV, the Toyota Highlander does offer families strong versatility and top-notch safety.

As the list of entries into the category grows, three-row SUVs must continue to keep their name relevant, even if they’ve been successful for some time.

Such is the case of the Toyota Highlander, a longtime entry in this category full of upstarts, which seeks to maintain its position as one of the top-selling three-row SUVs.

I recently spent some time in a Highlander, and I’m back with a full report. (Note: I tested a 2017 Highlander, but the 2018 model is identical to the 2017 version.)

The 2018 RAM 1500 is a powerful truck with a surprisingly upscale and family-friendly interior.

Pickup trucks are the lifeblood of the auto industry -- with the three top selling trucks topping the charts annually with massive sales numbers, and those three trucks (Ram, Silverado, F-150) always looking to better their position.


The 2018 RAM 1500 marks the end of its current cycle, with the 2019 model launching a whole new look. But fear not, as that doesn’t mean the 2018 model is anything to sneeze at.

I recently spent some time in a 2018 RAM, and I’m back with a full report on what it offers and how it compares in a very competitive truck market.

The inside of the VW Atlas is spacious, and even the back row is capable of housing adults.

You know the demand for SUVs is exploding when basically every brand is trying to expand their lineup of large family vehicles as quickly as possible.

VW is no exception to this rule, having finally come around to launching a three-row SUV, dubbed the Volkswagen Atlas. Watching everyone else in the industry cash in on these larger SUVs wasn’t something they wanted to continue doing (it took roughly five years for the Atlas to come into existence, as it started from a concept vehicle in 2013).

This behemoth will never be confused with a Beetle (A Beetle could almost fit inside it, actually), but it’s the latest and best attempt yet by Volkswagen to figure out how to break more forcefully into the SUV sales charts in the U.S.

The 2018 Mazda3 is a small car that's truly responsive and fun to drive.

Every brand has its calling card.

For some in the auto world, the focus is all about safety (i.e. Volvo); For others, it’s power (see: Dodge); For some it’s about reliability (Toyota, for one).


And then there’s Mazda, a smaller brand but one with many diehard fans -- and for a very good reason. They have perhaps the best calling card of all -- their vehicles are a blast to drive. Period.


They’re not the most powerful brand, wouldn’t win a drag race, and are far from the fanciest or most high-tech. But the overall experience of driving the Mazda lineup ranks well against any of the competition in the non-luxury segment of modern vehicles.


While their lineup comes in many sizes -- from Miata sports car up to CX-9 three-row SUV, in this review I’m going to focus on a couple vehicles on the smaller side of their lineup that I recently got to spend some time in -- the 2018 Mazda compact sedan, and the 2018 Mazda CX-3 subcompact SUV, which is essentially a raised-up version of a Mazda2 sedan.

The Chevy Traverse has undergone a redesign for 2018, losing weight, gaining power and updating its tech features

It’s been nearly a decade, but the Chevy Traverse is at long last getting an overhaul.


Lower in annual sales that most of its three-row SUV competition, it’s made some needed changes (slimmer weight, boosted power, tech upgrades) to help catch up to the many vehicles in a class that only continues to grow (Its competitors include the new Volkswagen Atlas; Ford Explorer; Dodge Durango; GMC Acadia; Honda Pilot; Toyota Highlander and Mazda CX-9).

I recently spent some time in a 2018 Traverse and I’m back with a full report on how it holds up.

The 2018 Buick Enclave Avenir is a roomy SUV that seats seven comfortably.

With some auto brands, there’s often debate about how to classify them. With Buick, the debate centers on whether it’s truly a luxury brand (like fellow GM stablemate Cadillac) or something less -- perhaps more of a premium brand that’s more plush than Chevy but not quite at a Cadillac level.

Either way, it’s really all semantics. Because in the end, what matters is that a vehicle is well-built, performs well and looks great. And with the vehicles Buick has been putting out in recent years, they are certainly meeting that expectation.

I recently spent some time in Buick’s largest SUV -- the three-row Buick Enclave, which can be considered the crown jewel of the Buick lineup -- and I’m back with a full report.

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