Cross Pollination

By Derek Price

It’s been more than a decade since BMW spearheaded a new kind of vehicle that some people love and others find maddeningly illogical: the X6 Sports Activity Coupe.
Combining the high ride and galumphing weight of an SUV with the sleek, fastback styling and crisp handling of a sporty coupe, the X6 was among the first vehicles to crossbreed these two seemingly incompatible styles.
Its biggest upside is the eye-catching, polarizing look, something BMW tweaked in the all-new X6 that debuted last year. The new version is slightly wider, longer and lower, with the brand’s trademark kidney grille puffed up even larger than before.
BMW is rightfully proud of its grilles, which are among the few truly iconic design flourishes on today’s lookalike cars. In fact, it’s so proud that it gave the X6 an optional illuminated grille that lights the kidneys up when you lock or unlock the vehicle and turn on the daytime running lights.
The new X6 does a spectacular job fulfilling its luxury mission. The base version is impressive enough with its high-tech, feature-rich cabin and standard Vernasca leather seats. But some of the options sound like they could have come from a Rolls-Royce brochure, including a full Merino leather interior, a leather dash, colorful Sky Lounge lighting on the panoramic glass roof, and even heated and cooled cup holders.

BMW’s X6 got an all-new design last year that is longer, wider and lower than before. Its sleek rear roof sets it apart from the more utilitarian, and less expensive, X5.

It still struggles with a serious problem with logic, though. Not only does the sloping rear roof dramatically cut into cargo capacity, but it also costs an extra $5,000 compared to the more traditional looking — and more cargo-friendly — X5. BMW is asking people to pay more money to haul less stuff, something that apparently makes perfect sense to Germans.
Interestingly, the X6 is an American car if you define that by where it’s assembled. It’s built in Spartanburg, S.C., along with the X3, X4, X5 and X7.
Its driving feel, though, remains as Teutonic as ever.
Everything about piloting the latest X6 can be described in one word: solid. It feels like it’s carved from stone, somehow extruded through a geologic process deep in the earth rather than stamped together in a factory. It’s heavy and purposeful.
At the same time, it somehow manages to feel athletic and light in corners. BMW’s engineers are experts in the black art of suspension design, and their magic skills seem especially noteworthy given the seeming impossibility of the X6’s mission: a weighty, high-riding, off-road-capable SUV that also dances through turns like a sports coupe.

The X6’s redesigned cabin has a contemporary look that matches the eye-catching body. Its abundance of screens put all its extensive digital features within easy reach.

I’ll never understand how they make that happen, but they do.
Power comes from a turbocharged, 3.0-liter, inline six-cylinder engine. It makes 335 horsepower, which would seem like overkill for most brands. For a BMW, it’s just about right.
If you want to go even faster and can afford its hefty, $20,000 price premium, you can opt for a 523-horsepower V8 engine in the X6 M50i. It can accelerate from a standstill to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds, BMW claims.
The new X6 also is available with an innovative feature I’ve never experienced before: Back-Up Assistant, part of the optional Parking Assistance Package on my tester.
Back-Up Assistant works by recording the vehicle’s path before you park, then playing it back in reverse when you activate it. It will automatically back out of the parking spot in the exact same way you pulled in, so all the driver has to do is look around and monitor the situation.
Pricing starts at $64,300, or $66,600 with all-wheel drive. The V8-powered M50i starts at $85,650.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 BMW X6 xDrive40i ($66,600). Options: Parking assistance package ($700), premium package ($2,300), Harman Kardon surround sound. Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $72,020
Wheelbase: 117.1 in.
Length: 194.8 in.
Width: 78.9 in.
Height: 66.3 in.
Engine: 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six cylinder (335 horsepower, 330 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy: 20 city, 26 highway

Style: 7
Performance: 8
Price: 4
Handling: 9
Ride: 8
Comfort: 8
Quality: 9
Overall: 7

Why buy it?
It blends the practicality of an SUV with the style and handling of a sports coupe. An all-new version offers spectacular performance and coddling luxury.

Posted in BMW

Popular Odyssey Gets Refresh

By Derek Price

Honda likes to brag that its Odyssey has been the top-selling minivan for retail buyers over the past decade.
If you ignore the fleet sales of Dodge and Chrysler vans — a big omission, to be sure — the Odyssey is, indeed, the most popular van for families these days, commanding 40 percent of a shrinking market.
It’s easy to see why. It has a sporty driving feel, smart features in the cabin, extraordinary cargo and passenger space, and a reputation for durability that keeps its resale prices sky-high for years.
Honda didn’t mess with that proven formula for 2021, but it did make some key changes to make the Odyssey more appealing.
While I don’t know anyone who buys a van for fashion reasons, the body gets fresher and cleaner this year with a new grille, updated lighting and a black bar under the back window that seems as if it was stolen from an expensive domestic pickup truck. It looks a bit more upscale overall.
The same applies to the cabin, which is what matters a lot more to minivan shoppers.

The Honda Odyssey gets a number of upgrades for 2021, including a fresh look, improved MagicSlide seats on the second row and more features.

The upper trim levels get a new piano black material on the dash and doors that looks snazzy. And the top Elite trim — the version I tested with a price heart-stoppingly close to $50,000 — is outfitted more like a luxury sedan with perforated leather and beautifully textured metal, in addition to its family-friendly luxe content.
Its practicality meets your needs, and its feature set is a Bacchanalia for parents and grandparents.
The MagicSlide seats in the second row have been redesigned to fold flatter and be easier to remove. You can get it with a built-in vacuum cleaner, and the Honda Sensing driver-assist is both standard equipment on all trim levels and noticeably better this year. Upgrades to its sensors and software mean it can read traffic signs, crawl at low speed in city traffic and do emergency stops before hitting pedestrians.
Again, that’s on every Odyssey trim now, including the base LX.
Another useful upgrade this year is that the Odyssey’s Rear Seat Reminder and CabinWatch camera systems work in conjunction. If the van senses there may be a person or pet in the back seat, it will alert you and turn the cameras on to show you as a reminder.

Changes for the Odyssey in 2021 include the ability to see and talk to passengers in the back of the van through the optional CabinWatch cameras and CabinTalk intercom system.

Also for the first time, you can use the CabinWatch cameras and the CabinTalk intercom system at the same time, making it easy for Mom and Dad to see and talk with children in back.
“If you don’t behave, I’m going to stop this car” never felt so high-tech.
As a whole, there’s not much to complain about in the refreshed Odyssey. It has a drawback for that small sliver of buyers who need an AWD minivan, as it’s only available in front-wheel drive.
Drivers who want a softer, quieter ride may also prefer the feel of a Chrysler Pacifica or Toyota Sienna on the highway, but that’s not a knock on the Odyssey as much as it is a matter of taste.
It’s intelligently designed, comfortable, engaging to drive and incredibly spacious, all while getting good fuel economy. It’s no wonder families continue to buy it, even in the era of crossover mania.
Pricing starts at $31,790 for the LX and peaks at $47,820 for the decked-out Elite.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2021 Honda Odyssey Elite ($47,820). Options: Premium paint ($395). Price as tested (including $1,120 destination charge): $49,335
Wheelbase: 118.1 in.
Length: 205.2 in.
Width: 78.5 in.
Height: 69.6 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (280 horsepower, 262 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy: 19 city, 28 highway

Style: 6
Performance: 8
Price: 9
Handling: 8
Ride: 7
Comfort: 8
Quality: 10
Overall: 8

Why buy it?
The Odyssey gets a thorough refresh for 2021, including more standard safety features, upgrades to the cabin and a revised look in front and back.

Posted in Honda

World’s Fastest Sedan

By Derek Price

Apparently 707 horsepower wasn’t enough.
Dodge is pushing the limits of performance, and perhaps sanity, with its newest, high-speed version of the four-door Charger family car.
The Hellcat, priced at roughly $70,000, adds an additional 10 horses this year to reach 717 horsepower.
But the bigger news is that Dodge is offering a high-output version of its 6.2-liter, supercharged V8 in the Hellcat Redeye, priced closer to $80,000. It makes 797 horsepower, enough to make it the “fastest mass-produced sedan in the world,” according to Dodge honcho Tim Kuniskis.
It’s not bluster. The Hellcat Redeye feels like a force of nature from the driver’s seat, where its ability to easily smoke tires and make thunderous noises serves as an ever-present temptation to punch the throttle.
This car raises some legitimate questions about whether it’s responsible to drive one, both from a safety and environmental standpoint. Turning over the keys to a 797-horsepower car to anyone with $80,000 to spend — the sticker price of a nice pickup truck these days — seems to taunt death.

The Dodge Charger Hellcat Redeye is the fastest mass-produced sedan on the planet. It makes 797 horsepower from a 6.2-liter, supercharged V8

“Come get me, Grim Reaper” is what this car says at full throttle.
Its 12-mpg city fuel-economy rating — and corresponding $2,100 gas-guzzler tax — make it a car that wouldn’t be viewed kindly by the Biden administration.
That’s part of its appeal, too. The Charger Hellcat is an outlier, intentionally swimming against the flow of today’s eco-friendly, electric-powered, self-driving river.
Of course, the Hellcat doesn’t exist solely to sell Hellcats. It’s also a way to draw attention to the less powerful, more affordable versions of the Charger, something that shows in this car’s impressive sales numbers. Most four-door sedans have been dropping dramatically in sales, but the Charger has bucked that trend in recent years — a reminder that it can pay to be a contrarian.
The base charger starts under $30,000 with a 292-horsepower V6 engine and 30-mpg highway rating, a combination that makes it the most popular large sedan in America.
You can get it with a 370-horsepower, 5.7-liter HEMI V8 for $36,995 in the R/T, or a bigger, 485-horsepower V8 in the Scat Pack for $41,095. That makes the Scat Pack the best new-sedan bargain on the planet if you think in terms of horsepower per dollar.

The Charger has a retro design theme inside and out that draws on its muscle-car heritage that dates back to the mid-1960s.

It’s the Hellcat Redeye, though, at the top of the heap.
This is a terrifying car to drive, especially on slick roads, when its electronic traction control system works up a sweat trying to keep the car pointed in the right direction. And when the pavement is dry, you almost have to gently feather the throttle to keep from reaching criminal speeds.
Both the cabin and body styling feel dated in 2021, but I can forgive it for one reason: it’s a retro-styled car to begin with. This drawback doesn’t feel as egregious as if the Charger was trying to look contemporary.
Its Uconnect infotainment system, though, is impressively modern. Dodge, Chrysler and Ram products, even those with aging bones, have done an exceptional job keeping the look, design and functionality of their digital interface up to date. I’ve driven a lot of pricey luxury cars that don’t execute the basics of speed and simplicity as well as the Uconnect system does.
As an excitement generator, the Charger Hellcat Redeye absolutely unmatched at this price.
It demands respect from the driver, and it rewards that respect by offering performance rarely encountered in a street-legal car — especially one with four doors and a trunk.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2021 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody ($69,995). Options: Customer preferred package 2BZ ($8,600), carbon/suede interior package ($1,595), navigational and travel group ($995), power sunroof ($1,995), three-season tires ($695), black brake calipers ($595), gas guzzler tax ($2,100). Price as tested (including $1,495 destination charge): $88,065
Wheelbase: 120 in.
Length: 201 in.
Width: 82.7 in.
Height: 57.6 in.
Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged V8 (797 horsepower, 707 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy: 12 city, 21 highway

Style: 7
Performance: 10
Price: 10
Handling: 6
Ride: 8
Comfort: 9
Quality: 7
Overall: 9

Why buy it?
It’s a practical, four-door family car that happens to offer mind-bending speed in its high-performance Hellcat versions. At every price point in the lineup, it’s a muscular bargain.

Posted in Dodge