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.
So you’re drawn to this new design – what Hyundai calls Parametric Dynamics – and now the all-new 2022 Tucson is on your shopping list. But which one do you choose? The gas model? Sporty N Line? How about a plug-in? Or perhaps this new Hybrid is right for you which even comes standard with all-wheel drive.
Hyundai sells more Tucsons than any other model and it’s not even close. So it’s no wonder they’re expanding its offerings with a variant for everyone. And this week I’m getting to know the gas-electric hybrid Tucson without the plug with a starting MSRP of $30,275 including destination. It’s available in 3 trim levels and as usual I’ve got the top-of-the-line model called the Limited. That gets you exclusive standard features such as premium exterior design details like these funky daytime running lights integrated into the grille, a panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated leather seats with driver’s side memory, an 8-way power passenger seat, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, the larger touchscreen with navigation, capacitive touch HVAC controls which can also be summoned with voice commands, smart park that allows you to use the key fob to pull the Tucson into and out of tight parking spots, wireless device charging, expanded ambient interior lighting and a host of driver assistance features including an around view monitor and blind view monitor a la Honda but better. That’s a lot of stuff to entice the Tucson Hybrid shopper into the Limited which stickers here for $38,854 with the only option being the floor mats. If you can embrace the polarizing design, the Tucson, in all of its various flavors, makes a compelling argument for purchase.
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.
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.
This is the nicest, most modern new Toyota cabin in a long time, but is it just a fancier RAV4 Hybrid? Fact is they do share the new Toyota platform like several other of their sedans and crossovers. This new Venza feels like a completely different vehicle; much more luxurious and upscale. And I’m really digging this Limited grade. With a starting price of $33,645 including delivery, the Venza slots in between the RAV4 and the Highlander occupying the space of a quasi-midsize 5-seater but in reality its interior dimensions are more compact. Going into my test week I can’t say I was really expecting too much – Toyota has been the target of my criticism of late – which is why I’m so surprised at how well they’ve executed the Venza’s return. It’s as smartly crafted and perfectly positioned as any model in their vast lineup.