A Budgetary No-Brainer

By Derek Price

It’s hard to imagine a better family vehicle than this one, the Chrysler Pacifica minivan.
While minivans have fallen out of fashion in recent years, largely replaced by rugged-looking CUVs and SUVs on America’s highways, there’s no denying the unrivaled practicality that vans offer with their sliding doors, gigantic cabins, huge road-trip storage capacity and reasonable gas mileage.
In fact, today’s van market is more competitive than ever thanks to strong products from Chrysler, Honda and Toyota. Every van offers a unique gimmick to give it a leg up — all-wheel drive on the Toyota Sienna, for example, or a built-in, subway-style PA system in the Honda Odyssey — but I think the Pacifica has an unbeatable ace up its sleeve.
It’s the only minivan with a hybrid variant.

The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid has a 33-mile electric range before its gasoline V6 engine is required to kick in. That means many daily family trips can be done entirely on battery power.

That’s important, because one of the key differentiators between minivans and SUVs is fuel economy. If I’m shopping for a van instead of a Chevy Suburban or Ford Expedition for my family, one of the big reasons is bound to be fuel economy. I’m trying to avoid the truck-like gas guzzlers. And in the minivan fuel wars, the Pacifica Hybrid puts its competitors to shame.
This product was designed from the outset with fuel misers in mind. Its body is both the lightest and stiffest in its class, Chrysler claims, and you can feel that both at the gas pump and from the driver’s seat.
Even if you don’t factor in the electric power, the Pacifica Hybrid is rated for 32 mpg in combined city and highway driving. That’s impressive, especially for people considering an SUV with similar passenger volume.
With the boost you get from batteries and two electric motors, it’s rated for the equivalent of 84 mpg combined, the government says. In the real world, if you’re mainly doing short trips every day, you may even be able to drive it without burning a drop of fuel.
On a full charge, the Pacifica Hybrid can drive up to 33 miles on electric power before its gasoline engine fires up. My real-world driving — including a lead foot at stoplights — dropped that number down to the high 20s, but it was still enough range that I was able to drive on battery power nearly every day for the week I tested this van.
Driving the Pacifica Hybrid is as impressive as the regular Pacifica, with plenty of power and the quietest, smoothest ride of any van for sale today. It’s a pleasure on the freeway.

Vibrant blue stitching sets the Pacifica Hybrid’s cabin apart. Its storage locations and seating arrangements make it ideal for family road trips.

There’s one key difference, though. You hear a very noticeable whine every time it brakes and accelerates, the result of its aggressive hybrid system that generates those miserly fuel numbers.
The only other downside is losing the brilliant Stow ’n Go seats that are among my favorite features on Chrysler vans. Unlike the gasoline-only Pacifica, where the seats can fold down into wells in the floor, the hybrid uses that space for its batteries.
The Pacifica Hybrid has a high base price around $40,000. With a $7,500 tax credit, though — plus the potential for state incentives, depending on where you live — it starts to look like a serious bargain around $32,500.
To me, that price usually brings to mind lackluster, mid-size crossovers with two or three rows of seats. If you’re looking at it from a strictly logical perspective, and not letting today’s truck-like styling trends cloud your judgement, I can’t imagine why anyone would drive a crossover over something like this.
It has a spacious, easily configurable cabin for hauling people and stuff. Its new platform drives with a silence and poise that approaches some luxury sedans. And the electric power and tax credits in the hybrid version make it feel like a budgetary no-brainer.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited ($44,995). Options: Customer Preferred Package 2EC ($1,595), 18-inch wheels ($895). Price as tested (including $1,095 destination charge): $48,580
Wheelbase: 121.6 in.
Length: 203.8 in.
Width: 79.6 in.
Height: 69.9 in.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6 eHybrid (260 total system horsepower)
Transmission: eFlite Si-EVT
Fuel economy: 84 MPGe combined

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

Why buy it? 
It may be the best family vehicle ever created, especially in this fuel-saving electric hybrid form. It drives with poise, has a long list of family-friendly features and can run on batteries for 33 miles.

Posted in Chrysler

Stronger, Safer, Better

By Derek Price

Barreling down the highway in a vehicle as big as this — the new, palace-sized Ford Expedition — always gives drivers a sense of safety as they look down on the road from their invincible-feeling perch.
Now there’s some data to back it up.
After undergoing government crash tests, it was announced on June 8 that this new generation Expedition has earned the highest possible safety score. It gets an overall five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s New Car Assessment Program, the only vehicle in its class to do so.
It’s just another feather in the cap of a vehicle that’s gaining attention for leapfrogging its cross-Detroit competition at General Motors in many ways.
Before we get to those strong points, though, I’ve got one gripe: too much plastic in the interior. Tightly assembled as they may be, the materials around the center stack and console elicit flashbacks of the bad old days of Ford’s past.
Beyond that, though, there’s a lot to love about Ford’s clean-slate redesign of its spacious, capable family hauler.

The all-new Ford Expedition is lighter, stronger and more refined after getting an aluminum-intensive body for 2018.

At the top of that list is its solid feeling body, all the more remarkable because of the material it’s made from: aluminum alloy.
Like the F-150 and Super Duty pickups, the Expedition makes extensive use of aluminum to save weight and improve fuel economy. Surprisingly, the aluminum construction that manages to shave 325 pounds off its waistline also feels stronger than the outgoing Expedition, by a long shot.
Shut the doors, and you’re surrounded by bank-vault silence. It’s extremely well insulated, offering the kind of respite-from-the-road demeanor that I usually associate with premium brands and higher price points.
The Expedition isn’t cheap, starting around $52,000, but it drives like a vehicle that costs even more than that. In fact, I’d rather spend a long highway trip in the Expedition with its gloriously soft, supple seats than in, say, an $84,000 Toyota Land Cruiser.
A smartly designed cabin with 15 cup holders, two glove boxes, ample storage space and seating for eight passengers makes it ideal for big families, especially if you opt for the MAX version that’s almost a foot longer than the regular Expedition. With around 17 extra cubic feet of cargo capacity and a bigger gas tank, it’s the one you want for road-trip duty.
The new Superman-strong body and frame improve the driving dynamics, too. It has a lower center of gravity now, which makes it feel more stable, and tight steering that makes it seem like it shrinks in parking lots. It’s impressively easy to maneuver for something so gargantuan.
A long list of active safety features add to the family-centric appeal. You can get it with Cross-Traffic Alert, Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection, auto high beams and enhanced active park assist to help keep you out of trouble and, hopefully, never find out how accurate those crash test ratings really are.
Most people buy full-size SUVs for their functionality, not their look, but the new Expedition does a good job updating the well-worn box-on-wheels motif for a new generation. It’s simplified, cleaner and sleeker now, like someone from the Apple Store gave it a minimalistic makeover. I like the look.
Finally, if its fresh body and frame are a home run, the new powertrain is a grand slam. I haven’t been this impressed with an SUV’s engine and transmission combo in a long time.

A roomy cabin with 15 cup holders and impressively spacious second- and third-row seating make the Ford Expedition a great fit for families.

The Expedition is powered by a 3.5-liter, turbocharged V6. While in some ways my nostalgic side misses the grunt of a big, American V8 in SUVs like this, the turbo V6’s real-world performance and near-instant response win me over.
Coupled with a 10-speed automatic transmission, acceleration and braking feel as well sorted as some sports sedans, even if its hefty feel in corners will never be mistaken for one.
Pricing starts at $51,790 and $54,475 for the stretched Expedition MAX, both of which start with the well-equipped XLT trim as their base models.
For luxury shoppers, a Platinum MAX 4×4 is priced over $80,000.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Ford Expedition MAX XLT ($54,475). Options: Package 202A with Sync Connect, BLIS, Intelligent Access and heated and ventilated leather seats ($5,605). Price as tested (including $1,295 destination charge): $61,375
Wheelbase: 131.6 in.
Length: 221.9 in.
Width: 93.4 in.
Height: 76.2 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 (375 hp, 400 lb.-ft.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 17 city, 23 highway

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

Why buy it? 
An all-around redesign helps the new Expedition leapfrog the competition from General Motors. Its spacious, silent cabin provides a premium feel even on the base XLT trim, and its capability and safety make it great for family trips.

Posted in Ford

A Digital Wonderland

By Derek Price

If you suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, I may have found your perfect vehicle.
The new BMW X3 has enough settings that you can spend hours fidgeting with its endless choices to customize exactly how you want the car to behave.
Want different color mood lighting for the interior? You can change it. Want to make its lane departure warning more sensitive? Want it to warn you when you break the speed limit by a certain amount? Want the navigation screen or the gauges to look different?
All that is adjustable in the all-new 2018 X3, a vehicle that strikes me as the ultimate family car for the smartphone generation.
Granted, its myriad settings are often buried under several layers of digital sediment, requiring menus, sub-menus, sub-sub-menus and so forth before you find the right choice.
Still, the fact that it lets you customize so many facets of the driving experience in such granular detail make it perfect for picky people.

BMW’s popular and practical X3 gets a complete makeover for the 2018 model year. Its digital features and crisp, sports-sedan-like handling make it stand out in a jam-packed field of crossover vehicles.

Its feel over-the-road is likewise designed for perfectionists.
While its basic mission still raises questions in my puritanical mind — most pointedly why a family vehicle should feel “sporty” at all, rather than aiming solely for practicality and comfort — I’ll give BMW a pass for honing the contemporary sports sedan in an inspiring way. This is their gig, and they do it well.
If you’re OK with the idea of a sports crossover in the first place, this is the one to beat.
It rides higher than a sedan, true, but it’s still fun to fling in corners. With all-wheel-drive traction, my tester felt composed and exuded confidence in aggressive driving, whether braking firmly or tackling tight turns at speed. It seems to thrive under driving conditions that make lesser crossovers wilt.
All the sensations of driving are transmitted through very firm — some would say too firm — seats. In longstanding BMW fashion, the seating feels more like hard benches than cushy living room recliners, another odd but distinctive choice for a family crossover.
Power in my tester came from a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine that rumbles and pulls more like a V6. It generates 248 horsepower, a number that results in merely mediocre acceleration by BMW’s high standards, clearly geared to create smiles at the fuel pump more than at green lights.
And it does. Even with the all-wheel-drive system on my tester, it was rated for 29 mpg in highway driving. On a trip from Dallas to New Orleans, I was pleasantly surprised at the cheap fuel consumption getting close to those typically sketchy EPA numbers.

Standard sport seats with adjustable side bolsters and a firm, supportive fit add to the X3’s sporty character.

Other than its sparkling handling and predictably handsome BMW styling, the biggest reason to consider the new X3 is its brilliantly designed collection of digital toys. I’ve driven very few cars that come close to this combination of powerful smartphone integration, endless customization options and snazzy graphics with crisp lines, clear text and vivid colors.
If this new generation X3 was intended to appeal to people addicted to digital screens, BMW sure did the job right. It’s an unusually competent mixture of fun driving dynamics, a family-friendly cabin, and Silicon Valley polish.
Pricing starts at $41,000 and quickly climbs higher as you check the option boxes. The six-cylinder, 355-horsepower M40i version starts at $54,500.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 BMW X3 xDrive30i ($42,450). Options: Metallic paint ($550), leather interior ($1,700), convenience package ($2,850), driving assistance package ($900), dynamic handling package ($1,400), parking assistance package ($1,300), premium package ($3,300), Apple CarPlay compatibility ($300), wireless charging ($500), Harman Kardon surround sound ($875). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $57,470
Wheelbase: 112.8 in.
Length: 186.1 in.
Width: 74.7 in.
Height: 66 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder (248 hp, 258 lb.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 22 city, 29 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It’s a brilliant driving machine that keeps family-friendly practicality and contemporary digital life in mind.

Posted in BMW