The 3-row CX-9 is Mazda’s largest vehicle with seating for up to 7. But this generation is now in its 7th model year and though there’s much here that I still like Father Time is taking its toll.
If you’re like me you generally stray from popular trends instead preferring individuality and exclusivity in your purchases. And that doesn’t mean having to spend lavishly; it simply reflects your desire to not follow the herd. Case in point; the CX-9. 265,000 Americans decided to buy a Toyota Highlander last year and rightfully so…it’s an excellent, family-friendly 3-row SUV. But you like stuff not everyone else has and Mazda sold only 35,000 of these in 2021 and it’s not because it can’t compete with the top-sellers it’s just an underdog story from a small Japanese automaker. Now, I’m not here to tell you it’s better than the competition – it has some interior packaging and feature faults for sure – plus it doesn’t offer and powertrain choices – but if you have to check the license plate before getting into your SUV in the store parking lot just to make sure it’s actually yours, the CX-9 is an intriguing alternative. The styling and the drive are my favorite parts of the CX-9. It still looks amazingly sharp and this Soul Red paint is incredible.
The cabin is gorgeous. Absolutely top-notch for $53,000…very reminiscent of what you’d find in a Lexus SUV. And hey, Toyota listened…there’s now a height-adjustable passenger seat on XLE grades and above. And though there’s still no wireless CarPlay or Android Auto this JBL Audio System is astonishingly good. And the quietness of this cabin lets you take in every note. When I first tested this new Highlander a couple of years ago I discovered Lexus-level luxuriousness to this new Platinum trim. Toyota had taken their popular 3-row SUV and refined it to the point where it blurred company lines. Replacing the powerful and smooth V6 is Toyota’s latest gas-electric hybrid design starring a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and 2 electric motors producing 243 total horsepower…52 fewer than in the non-hybrid models. And with the all-wheel drive option there’s a 3rd electric motor back here powering the rear wheels, doing its own thing without the need for a mechanical connection to the transmission. Storing the energy for the motors are old school nickel-metal hydride rechargeable batteries situated under the rear seats. Al of this results in the heaviest, least powerful, lowest towing rated Highlander you can buy BUT – and this is of course the Hybrid’s trump card –mileage which is 52% higher than the gas-only model with the secondary benefit being extended driving range. This one will take you 600 miles on a single tank! And in times like these 35mpg city/ 34mpg highway sounds great for a midsize SUV – though I’ve averaged a tad less than 30mpg in the winter cold.
It’s a Jeep so above anything the brand has ever produced that it doesn’t even use the Jeep name. It simply goes by Grand Wagoneer and it’s the big, highly capable, opulent 3-row affluent Jeep owners have been waiting for. So watch out Escalade and Navigator; there’s a new 4X4 in town and it isn’t pulling any punches.
They’re both the same size – huge – but if you prefer your Wagoneer to be grand you’re going to need an extra $30,000 and an even more fervent desire for fossil fuels. Each premium fill up of its 26 gallon tank costs more than $100 in order to feed the 6.4-liter V8. Even with engineering tricks such as cylinder deactivation and a front-axle disconnect, consider yourself lucky if you get 15mpg. But the Grand Wagoneer’s story isn’t about fuel economy. It’s about oversized American opulence; a new choice for fat-cat families in the gigantic SUV segment. GM and Ford now have a new competitor to wrangle with and Jeep is coming in hot. But you can barely find the Jeep name on the Grand Wagoneer and if you go to Jeep’s retail site the Wagoneers receive their own special tab, so consider this a Jeep subbrand if you will.
This here is the penultimate Obsidian trim in the only monotone color choice; Diamond Black with a starting MSRP of just over $100,000. But despite the name, the Obsidian is also available in white, silver, red and blue. But even those colors receive 22” black wheels, black grille and badging, black interior accents and as a bonus a 23-speaker McIntosh audio system with a cool amp app to make you feel like you’re in a home theater. The sticker price of this one is $109,025 with the optional Rear-Seat Entertainment Group, Heavy Duty Trailer Tow Package and Convenience Group. But if the blacked-out treatment just isn’t for you, the Grand Wagoneer Series III is basically the Obsidian with more shiny metal and standard equipment starting at $4,000 more.
Unlike Isuzu and Suzuki who pulled out of the US market years ago, Mitsubishi has somehow been able to hang on as a small Japanese automaker with vacillating interest in selling cars here. But now that they are part of the Renault Nissan alliance we should expect to see more competitive products in Mitsu showrooms starting with this Nissan Rogue-based, all-new 2022 Outlander. The 10-year old compact-sized Outlander Sport is still far and away Mitsu’s best-seller but it’s this bigger Outlander – which has nothing in common with the Sport – that wears the flagship mantle, even available as plug-in hybrid way before that sort of thing was fashionable. It’s done very well for Mitsubishi and for its next act it leans on Alliance partner Nissan for its bones and just about everything else. For all intents and purposes, this is the Nissan Rogue with cooler styling and a minuscule 3rd row. This fully loaded SEL Touring trim with all-wheel drive is priced about $1,500 less than the Rogue Platinum I tested and comes with a better warranty. And while the Rogue did away with its Slid-N-Recline 2nd row seat, the Outlander does both of those things. There’s more people space in here than before as this Outlander is 2” wider than the previous model. Though the engine is slightly larger than the 2020 model’s standard 4-cylinder motor, gas mileage remains the same at 26mpg though with a smaller driving range of 377 miles. But this Outlander’s story is really about improved quality, greater breadth of features and its newfound appeal. The design is a grand slam for Mitsu, here in the upcharge Diamond White paint looking tough yet elegant, sporty yet functional.
Not long ago, before every manufacturer offered one, if your family drove an SUV it was likely either a Ford Explorer or a Jeep Grand Cherokee. And over the past 3 decades the Grand Cherokee has advanced to the position of the flagship Jeep, with some trim levels so powerful and opulent that their price tags can rise above $100,000. But never has there been a Grand Cherokee big enough for a 3rd row. Enter the all-new 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L with 7-passenger seating. This Overland model is slotted below the more bougie Summit and Summit Reserve trims. It’s very well-appointed with softer leather seating, massage programs, the upsized 10” infotainment screen, a 19-speaker audio system, night vision, head-up display, power-folding seats and quad-zone climate control. So this one won’t leave you wanting and comes in fully optioned at $63,915. About $40,000 gets you into the Grand Cherokee L with 6 trims available, all with optional 4-wheel drive except Summit Reserve where that is standard. Another option is a V8, but only on Overland and higher. A little more polish and a tweak here and there could make it great or perhaps that’s where the upcoming Grand Wagoner picks up the slack.