2021 NISSAN ARMADA TEST DRIVE

A significantly updated, body-on-frame, 3-ton SUV that prefers premium gas and nets 15mpg. Meet the new 2021 Armada. I really like what Nissan has done with the updated styling and the new badges and Armada lettering look great. And I watch enough Kids Baking Championship to actually understand this beautiful color’s name: Coulis Red Pear. This big touchscreen with its crisper graphics, wireless phone projection and over the air updates immediately adds some much needed modernity. Likewise, the driver display has been updated and this rear view camera mirror is best I’ve ever seen – so big and crystal clear.
It’s stout, refined and quiet – all traits you’d expect in a luxury SUV. It doesn’t feel trucky at all – the ride is smooth and the handling is more than competent despite the big weight it’s managing – all without any trick suspensions or drive modes which is both impressive and outdated at the same time. MSRP as-tested is $71,250 and that doesn’t get you LED interior lighting or a hands-free liftgate; the latter unavailable at any price. If you can live without some of the newness and unavailable features and aren’t scared off by the gas mileage it’ll save you thousands when compared to a comparable Chevy Tahoe.

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2021 BMW M3 COMPETITION TEST DRIVE

This is the next generation M3 Competition – a big bucks car that delivers the legendary M3 driving experience you covet just in a larger, more complete luxury sedan package. The drive is everything I thought it would be and more. I knew the ride would be firm, the power prodigious and the Steptronic transmission quicker than quick but the “more” part of this comes from the wide dynamic range. With all systems in comfort and the exhaust hushed, this is a compliant everyday cruiser. The wide performance tires make some noise otherwise the cabin is pretty quiet and at the other end the M3 is a handling machine with so much grip you’d think this was the upcoming all-wheel drive model. Speed builds so rapidly and the car is so tractable that it’s almost too good in the sense that driving it safely on public roads can feel a little mundane. It’s just crying out for a racetrack.

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2021 HONDA RIDGELINE TEST DRIVE

What the Ridgeline does better than any other truck is provide a car-like experience. It’s as quiet and as smooth in here as a Honda Pilot. It’s also wider with more space than other trucks in this segment and the bed is bigger with added cleverness. And despite its modest ground clearance the all-wheel drive system is top-notch and can take you farther than you’d think. The seats are comfy and the V6 is slightly more fuel efficient than a Tacoma’s. But the rest of it leaves me either wanting more stuff or a much lower sticker price. With a starting MSRP of $37,655 including destination Honda is using the Sport to goad shoppers into a higher trim level. A Ridgeline you’d actually want is, at the very least the RTL trim and most likely the RTL-E. So some quick shopping advice; take that $2,800 Honda charges for this uninspired HPD Package and put it towards a trim upgrade…going from the Sport to the RTL costs $2,980 so it’s practically a wash…and then you’d at least have something worth owning.

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2021 JEEP WRANGLER 4xe TEST DRIVE

Taking a drive out to nature should be a Zen-like experience. Now you can spec your Wrangler with a plug providing up to 25 miles of quiet 4X4 EV adventures. It’s kind of cool that the Wrangler would be the first Jeep offered in the states that can operate on electricity alone. The new 2021 4xe is exclusively available in the 4-door Unlimited bodystyle and comes in 3 trims with this Sahara being the entry-level model with a starting MSRP of $51,300 including destination but excluding the $7,500 federal income tax credit.
So here’s what I’ve gathered about the 4xe this week. When you’re on electric it’s really special but like all plug-ins, it’s appeal decreases once the 25 miles or so of electric is gone. After that it’s just another hybrid. Secondly, I don’t know if it’s just my test car but the air conditioning has trouble keeping up when in EV mode, kind of like some mild hybrids when you’re waiting at a stoplight And as always, remember that in the cold winter months your EV range may drop by over 40%. But all told I really like the 4xe. It drives well, it brakes and transitions power sources without any hybrid shortcomings. It’s a worthy precursor to an anticipated fully-electric Wrangler that could arrive in 2022.

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2021 HYUNDAI ELANTRA TEST DRIVE

Whether you want a traditional gas engine, a 54mpg hybrid or a turbo with a 6-speed, the new Elantra has got it covered.  With spacious passenger volume and a trunk that’s bigger than that of a Mercedes S-Class, this is an affordable, frugal, do it all kind of sedan that Hyundai decided needed edgier styling.  And boy did they deliver on that front.  Now, I’m not sure it’s going to age very gracefully because the body is so overly styled with crazy creases and a very prominent grille, but if you’re allergic to boring in the inexpensive, not-so compact car segment this is your cure.  Much like Hyundai did with the new Sonata, they’ve reversed course on reigning in the design and instead opted to make a visual splash and that it most certainly does. For $26,000, you are not going to beat what this Elantra Limited is offering.  It’s highly stylized, pleasing to drive and packed with high-end features and top notch infotainment.  And because this system is fed information from the cloud you’re navigation is always up to date and the Blue Link system can answer common questions through speech much like you would ask Siri.  When is Mother’s Day?  But for times when you’re using the Smart Card you have to place in down here on the wireless charger in order for it to start the car.  And this area down here is kind of congested already because you still have to use your Lightning Cable on this particular model so the ergonomics get a little muddy.
At night, the ambient light choices add a dash of Mercedes to your sub-$30,000 car – another reason you might want the Limited.  Loaded with advanced safety features and creature comforts – though no heated steering wheel, this is the kind of car that would have cost $40,000 not long ago.  Now, you can lease this exact car for $212 per month.  Pretty impressive but it has 2 things working against it: 1) it’s not an SUV and 2) it’s not electric so the Elantra’s relevance is waning.  

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