Atlas Gets Sleeker

By Derek Price

As part of the endless slicing and dicing that makes up the contemporary market for crossover vehicles, Volkswagen has birthed a new flavor of the Atlas this year.
Based closely on VW’s spacious, three-row SUV, the Atlas Cross Sport deletes the back seat and gets a sloping, sporty roofline and big cargo area in its place.
As a styling exercise, it works beautifully.
The sleek back roof changes the character of the vehicle from purely functional to somewhat sporty — at least as sporty as a galumphing SUV can be.
As a practical vehicle, though, the prettier look in back requires a major sacrifice in practicality. Even if you don’t use it all that often, having a third-row seat in a pinch is a great luxury when you need it. And as good as it looks, the Atlas Cross Sport’s tapering shape drastically cuts down on overall cargo volume.
With the seats folded flat in the original Atlas, there’s 98.6 cubic feet of cargo volume. Do the same thing in the Cross Sport, and you’ve only got 77.8 cubic feet to work with — still enough for many tasks, but 21% less than in the three-row version.
The Atlas Cross Sport is priced $1,000 less than the bigger Atlas, making the buying decision one about personal preferences more than money.

Volkswagen’s roomy Atlas SUV is now available in a sleeker, two-row Cross Sport version.

If you value practicality and need that third-row seating, the Atlas is hard to beat. If you value style and like the sleeker look, the Atlas Cross Sport fills that niche perfectly.
One of my favorite things about the Atlas is the way it handles, and that’s true of the Cross Sport version, too. This is one of the more car-like vehicles of its size, tuned for people who like crisp turning and the ability to feel what the car is doing over the road. In the long German tradition, it feels taut, not sloppy.
My tester was powered by a 3.6-liter V6 engine — the most powerful in the lineup with 276 horsepower. Even with the biggest engine, I could feel the vehicle’s weight every time I mashed the accelerator. This is such a large, nearly truck-size vehicle that it almost requires a truck-size V8 engine under the hood to feel sprightly.
The base engine is a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 235 horsepower. It delivers government-rated fuel economy of 21 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway. The V6 drops those numbers down to 17 and 23 (or 16 and 22 with all-wheel drive).

The Cross Sport shares the roomy, comfortable, wide seating of the Atlas, just without the third row.

Inside, like the Atlas, the Cross Sport’s top selling point is space. It really is roomy, clearly designed with American-size passengers and drivers in mind. The quality of materials and construction seems on par with this highly competitive class of vehicle.
One very bright spot: VW’s infotainment system is wonderfully easy to use. It responds quickly and is designed in a way that looks sleek and modern, something that feels ironic when I think about older Volkswagens. I remember some bizarre HVAC and radio controls, but today’s VWs are simpler to understand — and in some ways much better — than many American and Japanese competitors.
The Cross Sport aims to deliver a lot of content for the money. Standard features include 18-inch wheels, full LED lighting, blind spot monitors, rear traffic alert and a built-in WiFi hot spot.
If you want to upgrade it, VW’s Digital Cockpit is one of my favorite features. It gives you snazzy looking, customizable graphics behind the steering wheel that gives you lots of information about the vehicle and trip. You can also get your Atlas Cross Sport with leather seats, adaptive lighting, radar-based cruise control, remote start and an Easy Open back hatch for convenience.
Pricing starts at $30,545 for the base S trim and ranges all the way up to $49,795 for the fully loaded SEL Premium R-Line. The mid-grade SEL starts at $39,545.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport V6 SEL ($43,245). Options: Aurora Red metallic paint ($395), Monster Mats trunk liner ($235), privacy cover for cargo area ($200), roadside assistance kit ($85). Price as tested (including $1,020 destination charge): $45,180
Wheelbase: 117.3 in.
Length: 195.5 in.
Width: 78.4 in.
Height: 67.8 in.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6 (276 hp, 266 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 16 city, 22 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 6
Price: 7
Handling: 8
Ride: 6
Comfort: 7
Quality: 7
Overall: 7

Why buy it?
The two-row Cross Sport looks more modern and stylish than the purely utilitarian, three-row Atlas. Even with the sloping roof, the rear cargo area is still spacious with a long loading floor and the ability to fold down the back seat.

Posted in Volkswagen

A Hybrid Performer

By Derek Price

Honda took an unusual approach when planning the hybrid-powered version of the CR-V, the most popular crossover vehicle in America over the past 22 years.
Instead of focusing solely on fuel economy, the new-for-2020 CR-V Hybrid is the most powerful and capable version in the lineup. Its 212 total system horsepower makes it the quickest CR-V you can buy, and it comes standard with all-wheel drive.
Honda could have goosed the gas mileage by giving it a smaller engine and only powering the front wheels, but even with this new design’s focus on performance it still manages to be the most efficient CR-V ever.
It’s rated for 40 mpg in city driving and 35 on the highway. That’s not enough to best the hybrid version of its arch nemesis, the Toyota RAV4, but it’s impressive nonetheless because of how responsive the CR-V Hybrid feels from the driver’s seat.
Everything about the Honda feels more taut than on its Toyota counterpart — or most other crossover vehicles, for that matter — thanks to engaging steering and firm, communicative suspension tuning. It feels hefty, though, in no small part because the hybrid components add more than 200 pounds of weight.

New for 2020, the Honda CR-V Hybrid is rated for 40 mpg in city driving and comes standard with all-wheel drive.

Every new CR-V Hybrid comes standard with Honda Sensing, a suite of driver assistance and active safety features that make new cars feel smart. It includes adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist, along with sensors and programming to avoid and mitigate collisions.
Outside, the CR-V Hybrid shows its Earth-friendly colors through a range of visual cues. It proudly wears special badges on the grille, tailgate and front fenders, and it comes with a unique design for the rear bumpers and fog lights made from five LEDs.
Other than that, the hybrid closely mirrors the gasoline CR-V’s styling that I call “handsomely inoffensive” when I want to be polite, or “dull and derivative” when I want to be honest. Most of today’s crossovers have the same cookie-cutter, predictable shape, and this one falls comfortably in that same lookalike category.
Inside, the CR-V Hybrid lives up to Honda’s excellent reputation. Quality materials feel tightly assembled, and the cabin is designed in a way that makes it comfortable, beautiful and highly functional. Honda designers do a terrific job avoiding sacrifices in those three important areas.
The CR-V is built with roomy seating for five, plus a generous cargo area in back. The cargo space is big enough for a couple of dogs or luggage for a road trip, but not so big that the vehicle feels bulky or truck like over the road.
Its overall driving feel is nimble and car-like, with a sporty ride that lets you feel the road better than in most crossovers. If you want the zippiest feeling from the driver’s seat, though, it still doesn’t beat a Mazda.

The CR-V’s cabin is a great example of Honda’s reputation for solid interior design. Construction feels tight, and storage spaces are flexible and logical.

You have to look hard to find weaknesses in any freshly designed Honda, but there’s a glaring one in the CR-V: its infotainment system looks and feels hopelessly outdated.
If you frequently use Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, as I do, it won’t matter so much. Your digital interface will come from the phone designers. But the digital design provided by Honda looks blocky and clunky, as if it was created a decade ago, and already feels outdated for a newly built vehicle.
On the upside, this has been a common complaint with Hondas for many years, and it doesn’t seem to hurt their desirability and resale value in the slightest. They’re still hot commodities on the used-car market, which makes pricing on new CR-Vs seem very reasonable.
Speaking of which, pricing starts at $27,750 for the LX trim or $30,260 for the more well-equipped EX. The EX-L with leather seats is priced at $32,750, while the fully loaded Touring trim costs $35,950.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid Touring ($35,950). Options: None. Price as tested (including $1,120 destination charge): $37,070
Wheelbase: 104.7 in.
Length: 182.1 in.
Width: 73 in.
Height: 66.5 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder, plus electric motors (212 total system horsepower)
Transmission: Direct drive, 3.89 ratio
Fuel economy: 40 city, 35 highway

Style: 8
Performance: 6
Price: 8
Handling: 7
Ride: 7
Comfort: 7
Quality: 9
Overall: 8

Why buy it?
It’s an all-around solid choice, with the addition of impressive fuel economy from its hybrid powertrain.

Posted in Honda

Smooth and Capable

By Derek Price

According to the sale numbers, people who shop for full-size SUVs most often end up with Fords and Chevrolets.
Nissan’s Armada makes a strong case, though, for people who need the capability and sheer size of a traditional SUV but want a more refined cabin and silky ride than the American brands currently offer.
The Armada delivers the smoothness and head-turning style of a luxury vehicle, despite coming from a mainstream brand. It’s one of the most sumptuous-riding full-size SUVs for sale today, with a beautifully designed, leather-covered, amenity-filled cabin to match.
There’s one glaring exception, though: you can’t get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in it because the Armada’s dated infotainment system doesn’t support them.
Aside from that, the Armada gets the basic SUV formula very right.
It offers plenty of power from a huge V8 under the hood. The 5.6-liter Endurance powerplant makes 390 horsepower and 394 pound-feet of torque, enough to tow up to 8,500 pounds with the right equipment.
As expected in a powerful, heavy, body-on-frame SUV, the Armada’s gas mileage isn’t impressive. My four-wheel-drive tester was rated at 13 mpg in city driving and 18 on the highway, numbers I found accurate — if not optimistic — in my lead-footed week behind the wheel.

The 2020 Nissan Armada has one of the smoothest rides of any full-size SUV. It has the look, feel and capability that often come from luxury brands.

The rear-wheel-drive version improves both those numbers by a slim margin: just 1 mpg.
What you experience from it, though, is equal parts comfortable and capable.
The Armada has a sophisticated four-wheel-drive system with an electronic transfer case. Decent ground clearance and a smart traction control system make it a legitimate off-road machine.
Most of the time, the four-wheel-drive Armada sends all its power to the rear wheels to help with fuel economy. When it needs extra traction, though, it can route half its torque to the front wheels to help in challenging conditions.
Its real strong point, though, is the cabin.
Not only does it look and feel expensive, but it’s supremely quiet at highway speeds. It’s remarkably close to the otherworldly silence and smoothness you get in more expensive SUVs such as the Land Rover Range Rover and Toyota Land Cruiser.

The Armada’s upscale, spacious cabin makes it a pleasure on road trips. The optional power-folding rear seat can easily be lowered to make a flat loading surface for cargo.

In the first and second rows, the seats are fantastically roomy, even for big adults. The third-row seats, as are typical in this class, feel a bit more cramped but will work for adults in a pinch.
The cabin is easily configurable, especially in higher trims with the power-folding back seats. At the press of a button, the back seats fold completely flat with the loading floor to create a massive space for bulky cargo, a feature that’s standard on the SL, Platinum and Platinum Reserve grades You can press the button again to watch them motor back up into place.
The loading height seems fairly tall, though. Getting cargo up into may take some heavy lifting.
One thoughtful feature I love on new Nissans is the Rear Door Alert, which comes standard on every Armada. It can honk and flash lights to remind the driver if they may have accidentally left a child, pet or something valuable in the back seat.
Pricing starts at $47,500 for the base SV trim and ranges up to $63,930 for the 4×4 Platinum.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Nissan Armada Platinum 4WD Auto ($63,530). Options: Platinum Reserve package ($2,250), carpeted floor mats ($320), illuminated kick plates ($390), carpeted cargo mat ($355), welcome lighting ($395), 22-inch wheel package ($2,250), captain’s chair package ($450). Price as tested (including $1,395 destination charge): $71,335
Wheelbase: 121.1 in.
Length: 208.9 in.
Width: 79.9 in.
Height: 75.8 in.
Engine: 5.6-liter Endurance V8  (390 hp, 394 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 13 city, 18 highway

Style: 6
Performance: 8
Price: 8
Handling: 5
Ride: 9
Comfort: 9
Quality: 8
Overall: 7

Why buy it?
It’s a silkier, smoother-riding twist on the classic SUV formula. Its V8 power and four-wheel-drive system make it highly capable at towing and off-roading.

Posted in Nissan