If you like the value of the Corolla but favor an SUV body-style, the Corolla Cross is calling. Already offered as a sedan, hatchback and hybrid model with a high-performance variant joining soon, a Corolla crossover SUV just seemed inevitable. Priced from $23,410 including destination it’s a welcome alternative to the slightly more expensive CH-R which favors style over practicality and can’t be had with all-wheel drive. Thought it’s not much to look at this well-appointed XLE grade packs a lot of usefulness and features into its elevated body which clears an impressive 8+”. For those who are intimidated by the size and fuel economy of a traditional SUV but crave its commanding view and 5-door versatility, the Corolla Cross slots in nicely. Rated at 30mpg with a nearly 400 mile driving range it’s a value proposition that asks few sacrifices of its owner. With adequate sizing in the front, middle and rear, a roof rack and the ability to tow 1,500 pounds, the Corolla Cross presents as a do-it-all for the car shopper on a budget. Its least desirable trait comes from the powertrain – a CVT mated to the modestly powered 2.0-liter engine with its 150 pound-feet of torque which can at times cast a pall on the driving experience but I’m guessing it would hardly bother the typical Corolla Cross owner. The Corolla Cross is more than just another utility vehicle – it’s one that strikes a compelling balance in every aspect of its offering.
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 new Kona N – a performance SUV within financial reach. $35,445; that’s the modest price of the Kona N – one of the most unique enthusiast cars on the market today…or shall I say SUV. However you describe the Kona N, this is Hyundai at its nuttiest and I mean that in a good way. The high-performance N story began with the Veloster and has since spread to the Elantra and now the Kona with more to come later this year. Available in white, black, blue or red with a 2.0-liter turbo, 8-speed dual-clutch transmission, a limited slip, electronically controlled shocks and summer-use Pirelli rubber, the Kona N is a front-wheel drive hooligan. With 276 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque delivered more linearly via what Hyundai dubs “Flat Power” technology, this is a torque-steering, exhaust-popping, rigid ride with fun technology built-in. Names like Grin Shift, Grin Control and Corner Carving Differential intertwine with N Mode infotainment creating a video-game-like atmosphere. There’s launch control, all sorts of ways to measure and monitor your performance and even built-in racetrack layouts with lap timers. This Kona is a hoot. It’s super stiff and gives you the feeling that you’re driving a rally car. Short for N Grin Shift, when you press this button it’s like inserting a sugar IV needle into a kid’s arm; 20 seconds of over-boosted turbo and the most aggressive shifting available when rapid acceleration is required. Kudos to Hyundai for producing something this crazy that isn’t so over the top that it’s completely impractical. This one’s for the driver who craves automotive personality.
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.