Steve’s Top Picks
A recent trend in the luxury SUV segment is to offer a sexier, coupe-like styled variant for those willing to compromise a little utility in favor of a heavier dose of sport. And some of the designs being born are absolutely stunning; for example, the all-new Audi Q8.
It’s a head turner as long as you don’t mind Audi’s recent penchant for faux exhaust outlets. And if you can’t tell, I want one…I think it’s the best of this type currently on the market though I’ll be curious what the new BMW X6 has to say about that later this year.
There’s seemingly nothing the X7 can’t do and do extremely well including parking itself and adjusting the cruise control based on speed limit signs. But the Extended Traffic Jam assistant is as close as the X7 gets to autonomous driving permitting hands-off the wheel, slow, rush hour driving with no driver intervention needed…no Cadillac Super Cruise magic here. Heated and cooled cupholders, heated armrests, soft close doors, etc., etc. etc. I think you get the picture. Other than not having the aforementioned Luxury Seating Package, night vision and rear seat entertainment this X7 contains the full pantry of BMW convenience and safety features. I’ve been in the new Mercedes GLS but have yet to drive it…that being said it would take something beyond spectacular to beat what BMW has delivered here.
The tester BMW has provided is a dream machine replete with nearly every feature the X7 has to offer. So keep in mind that for about $75,000 there’s the X7 xDrive40i with 6-cylinder power. This one however is the 50i and has a fire-breathing twin-turbo V8 and nearly $20 grand in options to arrive at an as-tested price of $112,245. For that amount, every aspect of the X7 experience has been pushed to the limit.
As one of Kia’s best-selling models the Forte compact sedan and hatchback play a key role for the Korean brand. It’s situated in the highly competitive segment that includes the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, but that’s OK because this all-new 2019 model has evolved into a much more sophisticated car delivering a decidedly upscale experience.
This is one of the most impressive new cars I’ve driven in some time. It’s tastefully styled, brimming with features and a joy to drive. Just about everything about it belies its low sticker price. It plays with the compacts but it’s actually a midsize and its new powertrain delivers vastly improved efficiency. Engine output is the same as before, but with an over 20% increase in mpgs and a larger gas tank, the Forte’s driving range has added over 100 miles, to 476 in total. Rated at 30mpg city/40mpg highway, the Forte is neck-and-neck with the all-new Corolla as the segment’s mileage leader.
But this isn’t a story about a car that’s put fuel efficiency above all else. This range-topping EX trim, priced from just under $23,000, is a car you’ll be proud to own and enjoy driving.
How important is the RDX to Acura? Not only is it their best-selling vehicle but this 2019 redesign is being heralded as the beginning of a new era for Honda’s luxury division. Remember the Super-Handling All Wheel Drive system that was skipped in favor of a lighter, simpler setup for the 2013 redesign? It’s back. And the original’s turbocharged engine? That’s back, too.
MSRP as-tested: $50,495
This all-new Santa Fe showcases Hyundai’s bolder and bigger design language and really reignites the brand’s mojo which has been slipping in recent years. This 2019 model is the most complete, family-oriented SUV in its segment. It’s that good. Now, if you’re on a tight budget there’s the front-drive Santa Fe SE for under $25,000. But 6 trim levels up is this range-topping Ultimate 2.0T AWD for $39,970 before any available incentives. And that includes everything the Santa Fe offers as standard. It’s incredibly well-stocked, drives with a reassuring polish and pays special attention to cabin aesthetics and ergonomics. It recaptures the MO from Hyundai’s maturation process; providing a generous, modern package at a price that undercuts the competition.
At 235 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, the 2.0-liter turbo’s output doesn’t wow on paper but it never feels inadequate, producing strong low-end acceleration, mated to a new 8-speed automatic transmission that doesn’t interfere with the fluid driving experience. I also like having this Smart drive mode in addition to the Comfort and Sport settings that automatically selects the proper steering effort, engine and transmission control logic based on the driver’s habits. It works really well and helps save a little gas and that’s a good thing, because at 21mpg the Santa Fe trails the more powerful Ford Edge by 2mpg in mixed driving and 4mpg on the highway.
The interior dimensions of the Santa Fe have grown to give 2nd row passengers more space. And, there’s more cargo room behind these seats. All told it’s a great place to spend time with this beautiful panoramic sunroof, 2 USB ports, slide and recline heated seats, and window sunshades.