C-HR Spunky, Surprising

By Derek Price

There was a time when buying a Toyota — especially a small, affordable Toyota like this — meant you had no sense of automotive adventure.
This quintessential Japanese brand is making a dramatic shift, though, from cars that were dull and predictable to ones that are spunky and surprising, at least to the eye.
And no Toyota model illustrates that change better than this one, the new C-HR.
With a starting price of $22,500, this all-new compact crossover would seem to compete with Toyota’s traditional bread-and-butter sedans, the Corolla and Camry. Its base price falls smack dab between the two.
Nothing about the C-HR looks traditional, though.
Toyota says the acronym stands for “Coupe – High Rider,” which is an odd choice for a vehicle that is neither a coupe nor rides very high. It has four doors and drives like a zippy compact car, reasonably close to the ground.
It does look a bit coupe-like, though, with a sloping roofline and sleek silhouette that masks its practicality. Huge fender flares, dramatic sculptural lines and rear door handles mounted unusually high, near the top back corners where they’re barely visible, add up to a whimsical and outgoing sense of style.

The Toyota C-HR has an unusual design that mixes the layout of a crossover vehicle with the style of a coupe.

I love the color palette Toyota offers on this car. My tester came in mint green with a white roof, a combination that reminded my kids of toothpaste. I thought it looked more like classic 1950s American cars.
Step inside, and you’ll find a cabin that looks modern but nowhere near as unusual as the body. It’s a showplace for what most compact cars look like in 2018: a very horizontal dash, big touchscreen that dominates the center stack, eye-catching air vents and a steering wheel with lots of buttons. There’s also a sprinkling of soft-touch material and enough hard plastics to remind you it’s not a luxury car.
This cabin is more about content than design. Every trim level, including the base version, comes with a suite of active safety features called Toyota Safety Sense-P. That means it comes with adaptive cruise control, sensors that can detect pedestrians and brake automatically, and lane departure warning with steering assist that helps to keep the car centered in the lane.
An acoustic glass windshield and decent sound insulation make it quieter than many cars this size.
If I could change one thing about the C-HR, it would be to make its performance match the spunky looks. With a small, four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission, the reality of driving it just doesn’t fit the body’s boisterous hype. It’s begging for a turbocharger and manual transmission, but instead its only powertrain offering — a 144-horsepower engine paired to a CVT — is adequate but uninspiring.

The C-HR’s interior looks more conventional than its body. It comes standard with radar cruise control that changes the vehicle’s speed to flow with traffic.

The steering, brakes and suspension all feel nicely tuned for a compromise between sportiness and comfort.
While the base XLE model comes very well equipped for the price, Toyota also offers an XLE Premium trim that adds more features. A blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, heated front seats and a Smart Key system with push-button start are all included on this higher trim, priced from $24,350.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Toyota C-HR XLE ($22,500). Options: Color-keyed body with white roof and mirrors ($500). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $23,995
Wheelbase: 103.9 in.
Length: 171.2 in.
Width: 70.7 in.
Height: 61.6 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder (144 hp, 139 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 27 city, 31 highway

Style: 10
Performance: 4
Price: 7
Handling: 6
Ride: 6
Comfort: 6
Quality: 8
Overall: 7

Why buy it?
It’s priced like a compact car but has a much more creative, inventive sense of design. Its crossover layout offers practical cargo and passenger space with a coupe-like profile.

Posted in Uncategorized

Enclave Steps Up

By Derek Price

There used to be a word for cars that were a bit nicer than a Buick. That word was “Cadillac.”
This year, though, Buick is launching a new sub-brand, Avenir, that represents a higher rung up the luxury ladder than regular ol’ Buicks.
It’s an interesting strategy, one that parent company General Motors has used elsewhere in its portfolio, the most successful example of which is the upmarket Denali trim that has grown into a popular and lucrative part of GMC’s truck and SUV strategy.
Before we discuss auto sales gameplay, though, let’s look into the first Avenir I’ve driven, the latest iteration of the Buick Enclave.
The Enclave has long been one of my favorites because it drives exactly like a mid-size crossover should, at least in my mind. My persnickety side gets annoyed with CUVs that try to be sporty or pretend to be performance oriented, popular as they may be in the marketplace.
I want a crossover that’s smooth and comfy riding for highway trips with my family, and I want a separate sports car sitting beside it in my garage. Those are two distinct roles that don’t have any business being mixed.

A distinctive grille and special badging sets the exterior of the Avenir luxury line apart on the all-new 2018 Buick Enclave.

The Enclave understands that. From the beginning, it’s been one of the most pleasant vehicles for quiet, relaxing driving, and the all-new version for 2018 continues in that vein.
Style wise, it looks like it went on a strict diet. It has a sleeker roofline now, giving the vehicle a more trim, fit appearance overall. And that’s deceiving, because this new generation has around 10 percent more interior volume than before, including storage spaces hidden under the floor for extra road-trip bliss.
What I like even more is how it cranks up the serenity.
New this year, electronic noise cancellation combines with outstanding sound insulation and attention to detail — something Buick calls QuietTuning in its marketing speak — to make the Enclave astoundingly silent over the road. It comes close to matching the surreal feeling you get in pricey, full-size luxury cars from Mercedes-Benz and Lexus.
The base Enclave is priced under $40,000, while the fancy Avenir version starts at $53,500.
For that extra money, the Avenir offers more premium content such as wireless device charging, a built-in navigation system and a huge dual moonroof.
More importantly, the materials and design in the cabin go a step beyond anything I’ve seen from Buick before. It has a real mahogany wood steering wheel, beautifully stitched leather and carefully coordinated colors that make it feel like an oh-so-trendy fashion accessory.
A unique, eye-catching Avenir grille, gorgeous 20-inch wheels and exclusive badges dress up the exterior.

The new Buick Enclave shows great attention to detail, especially with the silence of its cabin. It’s a serene space for racking up highway miles.

Back to Buick’s strategy, though.
As nice as this upscale Enclave is to drive, I’m skeptical about whether it’s going to end up a Denali-like sales hit. To me, one of the biggest selling points of driving a Buick — and the Enclave in particular — is its sumptuous driving experience without the higher price or snobbishness of a full-blown luxury brand like Cadillac, Lexus or Mercedes.
Buick does a great job of low-key luxury. I love that.
Add in all the showy bling, though, plus a considerably higher price — close to $60,000 for my heavily optioned Avenir tester — and there’s nothing low-key about it anymore. It’s suddenly all about flash, and a battle over flamboyance isn’t one I’d expect a Buick to win. Those buyers should politely be directed to the Cadillac lot.
For traditional Buick fans who want a bit more luxury, though, this new Avenir sub-brand could be a perfect fit.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Buick Enclave Avenir FWD 1SP ($53,415). Options: Avenir technology package ($2,095), heavy duty cooling system ($650). Price as tested (including $975 destination charge): $57,135
Wheelbase: 120.9 in.
Length: 204.3 in.
Width: 78.8 in.
Height: 69.9 in.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6 (310 hp, 266 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 18 city, 26 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 9
Price: 8
Handling: 5
Ride: 10
Comfort: 10
Quality: 8
Overall: 9

Why buy it?
If you want a silent, smooth-riding, family friendly vehicle, this is one of the best. A complete redesign for 2018 makes it roomier and more refined, while the Avenir sub-brand offers a new level of luxury.

Posted in Buick, Uncategorized

Escalade Gets an Upgrade

By Derek Price
In the world of full-size luxury SUVs, where it’s assumed that bigger is better, this year’s upgrade to the Cadillac Escalade makes perfect sense.
Cadillac has stuffed a whopping 10 forward gears into the Escalade’s automatic transmission for 2018, something that helps it in two key areas.
One is gas mileage, admittedly a tertiary concern of Escalade shoppers. The government-rated highway economy improves from 22 all the way to 23 mpg on rear-wheel-drive models.
Much more noticeable, though, is the way it separates the latest Escalade from its truck-like ancestors. Shifts are not only smoother and more precise than before, making it accelerate more like a car, but they’re also quicker.
I was pleasantly surprised at how this new transmission seems to instantly find the right gear and hold it, something a lot of nine- and 10-speeds struggle to do. Stomp the gas from a standstill, and it’s 6.2-liter V8 engine rumbles its way to 60 mph in less than six seconds, Cadillac claims.
Other than its fresh transmission, the Escalade offers the same gigantic, over-the-top luxury experience as before.

The Cadillac Escalade gets a new 10-speed automatic transmission for 2018. In addition to offering a slight improvement in gas mileage, it has faster, smoother shifts that make the big luxury SUV drive more like a car.

By design, it overwhelms the senses. Its massive 22-inch wheels, angular body panels, bold LED lighting and acres of soft, perforated leather combine to define lavish American luxury for families.
This is one of the all-time great vehicles for road trips, especially in its elongated ESV form that’s the size of a Chevrolet Suburban but outfitted more extravagantly. Three rows of roomy seats and every imaginable entertainment amenity make it feel like a private jet for the interstate highway system, a roadgoing Gulfstream.
My Platinum-trim tester came with dual DVD screens in the headrests, a 16-speaker Bose sound system with active noise cancellation to silence the cabin, an 8-inch touchscreen on the center stack, a 12-inch customizable digital gauge cluster, 18-way adjustable massaging front seats, and even a refrigerated drink cooler in the center console.

The front seats in the Escalade can be adjusted in 18 ways and have a power massing function available.

All those high-end upgrades resulted in an equally high-end price. My tester carried a sticker over $100,000, or around $25 grand more than the entry model.
For that kind of money, you’re justified in being picky. And my picky complaint about the current generation Escalade remains firmly in place: its ride isn’t as soft as I’d like.
Even with the optional magnetic ride control, I wish it were a bit more supple and compliant, whereas the current suspension seems tuned more for sportiness and quick response — something that makes sense in the CTS but is an odd choice in this type of vehicle.
Pricing starts at $74,695 for the base Escalade and $77,695 for the longer Escalade ESV.

At A Glance      

What was tested?
2018 Cadillac Escalade ESV 4×4 Platinum ($99,095). Options: Performance brake kit ($2,795), . Price as tested (including $1,295 destination charge): $103,185
Wheelbase: 130 in.
Length: 224.3 in.
Width: 80.5 in.
Height: 74 in.
Engine: 6.2-liter V8 (420 hp, 460 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 14 city, 21 highway

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

Why buy it?
It’s spacious, powerful and packed with luxury, making it one of the all-time great vehicles for family road trips — if you can afford it.

Posted in Cadillac