Denali is to the city as AT4 is to the wilderness. It’s another GMC sub brand that is being spread throughout their entire lineup and here on the Yukon includes all-terrain tires, skid plates, a more off-road friendly front fascia, an off-road driving mode, hill decent control and of course 4-wheel drive with an auto setting and low range. Couple those attributes with the optional air suspension with an extra 2” of lift and a limited slip differential and the Yukon cuts through deep snow like a hot knife through butter. Pricing starts at around $66,000 and when you load it to the roof with all kinds of goodies – including the optional panoramic – you end up here at $75,960. With the Traction Select System and wheel-specific 4-wheel drive, the Yukon AT4 feels like the beast you expect it to be but with the polish of a luxury SUV on-road. AT4 is a cool idea and will no doubt continue to bear fruit for GMC throughout their entire lineup.
The Mazda3 has the hot hatch look but until now it was all for show. Introducing the 2021 2.5 Turbo with standard all-wheel drive providing the oomph this car desperately needs. A car I’ve previously been ambivalent about has been given renewed life with a turbocharged engine. Feed it premium gas and it’ll reward you with 250 horsepower. That’s a huge 72% gain compared with the non-turbo 3 and it peaks much sooner. The top trim Premium Plus model which adds real leather, navigation, a 360 degree camera with real button, traffic sign recognition, and myriad other driver assistance features. Plus, you get the front air dam, gloss black roof spoiler and larger tail pipes. As tested, you’re looking at $34,820. The cost of the turbo and all-wheel drive adds about $3,000. Mix in all-wheel drive and big torque output and suddenly the 3 is a very entertaining drive with plenty of hot hatch spunk and a loveably safe toassability. Where Mazda comes in strong is in the driver assist arena where auto high beams, Traffic Jam Assist, driver attention monitor and rear cross traffic alert. The new turbo 3 hatch is the most fun I’ve had behind the wheel of a Mazda in some time and with this engine in the new CX-30 Mazda will really be making hay.
TOYOTA CAMRY SE NIGHTSIDE EDITION. Freshened styling, all-wheel drive and a Dynamic Force engine pumping out 203 horsepower, the Camry SE Nightshade Edition, with its honest to goodness key and no side blind zone alert, could be the $30,000 car of your darker dreams. So, what is it you want out of your Camry? There are 17 different choices in the Camry family. The car you’re looking at here blends 4-wheel traction, the sport-tuned suspension of the SE trim and the sinister looks of the Nightshade Edition and with the Carpet Mat Package, MSRP is $29,839. Fact of the matter is that this chassis is stellar and despite its lack of oomph I really enjoy driving this Camry; the ride is as smooth as Taylor Swift’s airbrushed face and this car legitimately handles – Toyota has nailed the suspension tuning. The engine is a smooth character as well but, man, it often feels really slow and the disconnecting all-wheel drive system can be clunky. The SE Nightshade Edition; a Camry that I like but one that leaves me wanting a little more.
Genesis is practically daring you to trade in your German badge. Formerly known as the Hyundai Genesis the 2017 G80 was one of 2 cars that launched the Genesis brand. And now 4 years later it’s been completely redesigned into a sexier sedan with new engine options and a thoroughly reworked interior. This one is the G80 2.5T RWD Advanced Package priced at $53,725. The full-sized G90 was thoroughly updated for 2020, the compact-sized G70 will be freshened this year, and then there’s this all-new G80; the car that started it all. This Tasman Blue example is the ultimate expression of the brand’s aptly named Athletic Elegance design philosophy because it exudes equal amounts of both traits. The Quad Lamps, the Crest Grille, the mesmerizing 19” alloys; this is one fine looking automobile. Like the entire Genesis lineup, it’s underpinned by a rear-wheel-drive architecture with optional all-wheel drive.
Think of the Bronco Sport as the Escape’s country cousin. Built South of the Border upon a unibody, front-wheel drive platform that’s significantly shorter than the Escape’s but about 3” taller, the Bronco Sport is equipped with standard 4-wheel drive and carries a starting MSRP of just over $28,000. Ford has given the trim levels cool names like Big Bend and Outer Banks but it’s this Badlands model that they deem the pinnacle of off-road performance. So if you want the more powerful engine, the better 4-wheel drive system, the differential lock, more drive modes, all-terrain tires, off-road tuned suspension, an extra inch of lift and more aggressive off-road geometry, then this is the only model for you. $34,315 is where the pricing starts and this one with the amenity-laden Badlands Package and Co-Pilot360 Assist + driver tech checks in at $37,705; slightly less than a loaded Jeep Compass Trailhawk which serves a similar purpose in life and about $12,000 less than a comparable Bronco Badlands.
The best part of the Badlands is that it kicks butt off-road while providing a really, sophisticated, softly-sprung ride on-road. And the cabin’s quietness adds to the sense of it being more substantial than the price would indicate. The turbo’s strong too and Ford has made it sound good from in here. I’m less impressed with the heavy dose of Escape interior bits which felt old and less-than right out of the gate when it was last redesigned. But all told the Sport makes for an excellent, more affordable companion to its bigger brother. And those who choose this Badlands model are getting one tough little SUV.