MAMA Finalists for Family Vehicle of the Year Awards

The choices don’t get any tougher since they reflect the current automotive state of the art as Midwest Automotive Media Association members drove and debated and debunked family vehicle and luxury family vehicles at Road America in the spring and at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet this fall. AutoInformed was an active and vocal participant.

Voting MAMA members chose as Family Vehicle of the Year finalists: 2020 Ford Escape, 2020 Ford Explorer, 2020 Hyundai Palisade, and 2020 Subaru Outback. The Luxury Family Vehicle of the Year Award finalists: 2020 Cadillac XT6 and 2020 Lincoln Aviator. The above vehicles joined the list of finalists from the 2019 MAMA Spring Rally, and a final round of voting takes place online: 2020 Cadillac XT6, 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500, Toyota Supra.

Reporter’s  Notebook – Family Vehicle of the Year Finalists:

Ford Explorer – The new 2020 model year Explorer is a 4300-4700 lbs. 6-passenger unibody SUV, with stronger construction, the broadest model lineup ever, more powerful EcoBoost engines and increased towing capacity.

AutoInformed.com on MAMA Family Vehicle of the Year

Most sophisticated and expensive Explorer yet.

Powertrain offerings include a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 at 365 horsepower and 380 lb.-ft. of torque using 93-octane gas, making this the most powerful Explorer ever. It’s also the most expensive, most complex Explorer ever, even though the all-new rear-wheel-drive and AWD platform is shared by the Ford Police Interceptor Utility and the all-new 2020 Lincoln Aviator and upcoming revisions to the Mustang.

The 2020 Explorer price range is $33,860 – $59,345. Add some options and the era of the $65,000 Explorer is here. The Ford brand for 2020 not only has the Explorer, but a revised smaller Escape. The pricing begs the German question – at these levels is it time to look at Mercedes-Benz or BMW for a crossover or the traditionally higher-quality Japanese offerings from Lexus and Infiniti? General Motors has plenty of offerings too. Time and showroom traffic – and above all transaction and leasing prices – will tell. The sleeper in my view is Subaru with its many AWD choices, particularly the Outback.

Two days of driving the new Explorers on and off-road in Oregon show it to be capable, well-mannered via its electronic controls, and big, oh so big. This is apparent in the ‘performance’ ST model, which is the antithesis of a maxim from the man who designed the Ford Trimotor airplane: Simplicate and add lightness. This in the past has well served many an engineer or designer or racer.  A 2020 Ford Explorer RWD 2.3-liter, 4 cylinder, automatic (S10), turbo, using regular gasoline is EPA-rated at 18/24/20 mpg city/highway/combined for an annual fuel cost of $1650 – not exactly inspiring. The result of moving all that mass?

Honda Passport – The latest mid-size SUV from Honda is positioned between the compact CR-V and the larger three-row Pilot. There are the on- and off-road competence of the optional i-VTM torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system, as well as the power and towing capability of the 280-horsepower 3.5-liter i-VTEC V6 mated to a 9-speed automatic. (3500 lbs. for 2WD, 5000 lbs. AWD)

Priced between the Sport at $31,990; EX-L at $36,410; Touring at $39,280, Elite at$43,780 (MSRP excluding tax, license, registration, $1,120.00 destination charge and options. Dealers set own prices.) these cars are neither cheap nor particularly fuel efficient. (MPG Ratings 2WD city / highway / combined at 20/25/22 for Sport curb weights 3959 lbs. 2WD/ 4149 lbs. AWD; and 19/24/21 Elite curb weight AWD 4237 lbs.)

However, Passports are high quality, extremely reliable if the past indicates the future, rewarding to drive with good paddle shifters, and offer some best-in-class selling points. Generally speaking, they are mostly cheaper – sometimes by as much as $4000 from “competitive” Jeep, Chevrolet and Toyota offerings. They are worth serious consideration in my view.

The Passport has 20-inch wheels, a blackout grille, the Honda Sensing advanced safety and driver-assistive technologies, as well as higher ground clearance and wider track than the three-row Pilot. Along with Passport’s best-in-class interior passenger space and total interior volume, the SUV has a large “basement” cargo area for storing dirty gear or keeping valuables out of sight. Key premium technologies optional on Passport include in-vehicle 4G LTE Wi-Fi, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, a high-resolution 8-inch Display Audio system, heated and ventilated front seats, wireless phone charging, automatic tailgate release, among other must-have for some buyers.

Hyundai Palisade – Hyundai’s three-row Palisade SUV has an all-new chassis with good second- and third-row roominess connected to a large cargo area. The Palisade is made in Ulsan, Korea and ranges in premium pricing from $33,000 to $48,000. There are also option packages – $2200 and $2400 for some on lower trim models. It faces tough competition from the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder and Ford Explorer.

Power comes from an Atkinson-cycle 3.8-liter V6, dual CVVT, direct-injected engine, for excellent power and efficiency. This 3.8-liter powerplant produces an estimated 291 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm and an estimated 262 lb.-ft. of torque @ 5,000 rpm. Like most larger SUVs. Palisade struggles with fuel economy – 19 mpg city and 21 (fwd) or 22 mpg (awd) combined. It rates only 4 on a 1-10 best on the EPA greenhouse gas scale.

Palisade delivers power to the wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission with a multi-plate torque converter and has as noted both front-wheel and HTRAC four-wheel-drive configurations. Attempts were made to reduce noise the old tech way with under-hood insulation, special sound-deadening carpets and powertrain tuning. In addition, Palisade offers drivers the ability to start the vehicle via remote key fob or via the Blue Link app.

Hyundai’s Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist (RCCA) is standard and helps driver awareness by using the Blind Spot Detection system’s radar sensors when backing up. The driver aid, typical of most others, can warn the driver if vehicles approach from the rear side and also applies the brakes automatically.

Optional safety items include Rear Occupant Alert (ROA). The system monitors the rear seats using an ultrasonic sensor that helps to detect the movements of children and pets. The system first reminds drivers to check the rear seats when exiting the vehicle with a message on the center instrument cluster display. If the system detects movement in the rear seats after the driver leaves the vehicle and locks the doors, it will honk the horn and send a Blue Link alert to the driver’s smartphone via Hyundai’s Blue Link connected car system. The system is designed to prevent children and pets from being forgotten in the car, but it can help children accidentally lock themselves in.

Palisade also has a standard Safe Exit Assist system. To enhance the safety of Hyundai’s passengers, Safe Exit Assist uses radar to detect cars approaching from the rear and cautions passengers looking to exit the vehicle. If the driver attempts to deactivate the Electronic Child Safety Lock, Safe Exit Assist will override the driver and ensure the rear doors remain locked.

Palisade has seven standard airbags, also typical: dual front, dual side, driver’s knee, and roll-over-sensing side-curtain airbags. Palisade uses a full-length side curtain airbag that includes third-row seating coverage for rear occupant protection in the event of a collision. Tire pressure monitoring with individual position display, anti-theft security, three LATCH anchors in the second row and two LATCH anchors in the third row and a rearview camera are also standard on Palisade.

AutoInformed.com on Jeep Gladiator Gravity

Jeep Gladiator Gravity from a long line of off-road Jeeps.

Jeep Gladiator – The 2020 Gladiator is the latest iteration of Jeep trucks that began back in 1947 when Willys Overland introduced a one-ton truck with four-wheel-drive based on the CJ-2A. Gladiator is a strong contender. Genuine not advertised Off-road prowess comes from Command-Trac and Rock-Trac 4×4 systems, third-generation Dana 44 axles, Tru-Lock electric front- and rear-axles, Trac-Lok limited-slip differential, a segment-exclusive sway-bar disconnect and, gulp, 33-inch off-road tires.

When compared to Jeep Wrangler 4-door, Gladiator’s frame is an additional 31 inches longer while the wheelbase is 19.4 inches longer. The longer wheelbase and the bed’s positioning center aft of the rear axle centerline enables for better weight distribution and a more comfortable and composed ride when carrying cargo. The prop shaft, brake, fuel lines and exhaust system were lengthened to accommodate the changes needed to make the proven body-on-frame design work with the most capable midsize truck ever.

A traditional steel bed utilizes four steel cross-members to reinforce the load floor while the aluminum tailgate is damped. Utility and versatility are maximized with strong integrated tie-downs, under-rail bed lighting and an optional covered external power source.

Under-rail bed lighting, an optional covered external power source (400W 115-volt, three-prong) and strong integrated tie-downs, provide versatility. The optional Trail Rail Cargo Management System provides additional storage to organize and secure cargo. The full-size spare tire and mount is located under the bed, behind the rear axle and capable of holding up to a 35-inch tire. An optional spray-in bed liner, bed divider and tonneau cover provide even more options to keep cargo secure while helping with durability. Gladiator Rubicon models are equipped with protective cab and cargo bed rock rails.

Lightweight, high-strength aluminum doors have Torx bit size stamped directly onto the hinge to eliminate guessing which size bit is needed to remove the doors. A tool kit with the necessary Torx bits to remove the doors and lower the windshield is provided as standard equipment.

All Gladiators have body-color sport bars, which are welded to the body and feature integrated grab handles for front occupants. What’s called a Sunrider soft top provides a “segment-exclusive” easy open-air option, which helps to quiet wind noise and allows for access to partial and full open top positions. The soft top has retainers that slide into a track for easy rear window removal. So much for flapping canvass and popping snaps…

 The all-new Jeep Gladiator offers the “proven” or is that aging 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine at launch with a 3.0-liter V-6 engine being offered in 2020, clearly aimed at export markets.

The 3.6-liter engine is rated at 285 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. It is engineered to provide a broad torque band with a focus on low-end torque needed for extreme off-roading. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on all Gladiator models equipped with the 3.6-liter V-6, and an eight-speed automatic transmission is optional.

 The 3.0-liter diesel engine is rated at 260 horsepower and 442 lb.-ft. of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard and is designed to handle the increased torque output. FCA US engineers adapted the engine – designed and manufactured by FCA EMEA – to meet the NAFTA region’s regulatory requirements.

Gladiator models are equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission. This transmission has gear ratios for a bolstered crawl ratio performance and is cable-operated, eliminating shifter vibration.

Well suited to the Gladiator Rubicon model, the eight-speed automatic transmission delivers a 77.2:1 crawl ratio. The towing and 4×4 performance benefits from a 4.7:1 first gear ratio coupled with a 4.1:1 final drive delivers unmatched capability.

The Command-Trac 4×4 system, standard on Sport and Overland, has a two-speed transfer case with a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio, and heavy-duty third-generation Dana 44 front and rear axles with a 3.73 rear axle ratio.

Gladiator uses the traditional five-link coil suspension configuration with the front suspension using a lateral control arm and four longitudinal control arms. Full-width track bars made of forged steel control lateral movement of the axle with minimal angle change during suspension travel.

The rear five-link coil suspension design, exclusive to Gladiator, has two upper and two lower forged steel control arms for longitudinal control, and a track bar for lateral axle control. The control arms are located under the frame rails while the rear shocks are forward facing to provide consistent damping for ride comfort and load management.

The springs have been tuned for balance between on-road handling while providing a comfortable ride around town, with or without cargo in the bed, and legendary off-road capability. Ride comfort, body-roll control, handling, payload and towing capability is significantly enhanced – it’s claimed – with assistance from shock tuning, hard points and body mount strategy.

An approach angle of 43.6 degrees, break-over angle of 20.3 degrees, departure angle of 26 degrees and a ground clearance of 11.1 inches allows Gladiator a wide choice of non-roads. Gladiator also has up to 30 inches of water fording, up to 1,600 pounds of payload and up to 7,650 pounds of towing capacity with the available Max Towing Package.

The Jeep Gladiator, which offers more than 80 extra-cost active and passive safety and security items. Options include Blind-spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Path detection, forward-facing off-road camera, standard ParkView rear backup camera with dynamic grid lines, Adaptive Cruise Control and electronic stability control (ESC) with electronic roll mitigation.

Kia Telluride –  The biggest Kia thus far, this mid-size SUV has seating for up to eight passengers. It’s powered by a 3.8-liter GDI V6 with 291 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque with optional all-wheel-drive. Telluride has the typical in class technology to improve comfort, convenience, utility and – in marketing babble – “the driver and passenger experience.

Kia is exploring unknown territory here. Pricing ranging from $33,000 to $45,000 with option packages up to $2300 each is opportunistic, playing on current seemingly insatiable U.S. crossover demand. Lots of mid-size competition here – so shop and be wary of option packages, as dealers as always are free to set their own prices.

The Atkinson Cycle 3.8-liter V6 GDI engine as noted is rated at 291 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 262 lb.-ft. of torque at 5200 rpm. It’s coupled to  an 8-speed automatic transmission and works through a four-wheel independent suspension with a self-leveling rear. Ride height is automatically set depending on vehicle load to optimize control and stability (optional on EX and SX)

There are four driving modes – Smart, Eco, Sport and Comfort – each using different settings for powertrain, drivetrain, and steering effort mapping to provide different feels.  In vehicles equipped with AWD, drivers can select from two different modes, “Snow” and “AWD Lock.”

Optional active on-demand all-wheel routes torque between front and rear wheels depending on road conditions and driver input. The system has an electro-hydraulic AWD coupling to activate the multi-plate clutch plate, constantly redistributing the amount of power transferred to the front and rear wheels. During normal driving, power is distributed according to the drive mode selected. “Eco” and “Comfort” modes can deliver up to 20% to 35% of the power to the rear wheels, respectively. “Sport”, “Smart” and “Snow” modes can deliver up to 50% of the power to the rear wheels. “AWD Lock” mode delivers power evenly to all four wheels. Standard towing is rated up to 5,000 pounds.

 Technical bits include:

  • Blind Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist Rear (BCA-R)
  • Rear Cross-Traffic Collision – Avoidance Assist (RCCA)
  • Lane Following Assist (LFA)
  • Safe Exit Assist (SEA)
  • Highway Driving Assist (HDA) – standard on EX and SX)
  • HeadUp Display (HUD) – available on SX
  • Driver Talk – standard on EX and SX
  • Quiet Mode – standard on EX and SX
  • Rear Occupant Alert with Ultrasonic Sensors

Mazda3 – The 2020 Mazda3 hatchback and sedan models move upmarket in price and electronics while retaining the precise handling characteristics they are known for. Ranging in price from ~$22,500 – $30,000 – good value in a compact car. Mazda i-Activsense all-wheel-drive is now standard on the 2020 Mazda3 base trim to help it stay competitive with Toyota, Nissan and Honda. (This is a big jump from old marketing material that said “Next generation SkyActiv-Vehicle Architecture,” my vote for the worst name for good handling, clean engines and vehicles, “enables people to make the most of their natural sense of balance and the latest SkyActiv engines offer responsive control of vehicle speed in any driving situation.”)

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Standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto infotainment technologies among other trinkets.

The inanities aside, Mazda3 sedan is a slick front-wheel-drive compact car that has (here we go again) Driver Attention Alert (an instrument panel alert and a sound when it detects driver fatigue or decreased attentiveness), Mazda Radar Cruise Control with Stop and Go function, Smart Brake Support, Lane Departure Warning with Lane-Keep Assist and High Beam Control as standard. Automatic on/off headlights and rain-sensing windshield wipers join previously standard matte finished front grille, 16-inch alloy wheels, cloth seating surfaces and door trims, power-folding door mirrors and power windows with one-touch down/up feature.

Mazda3 hatchback is available with i-Activ all-wheel drive and comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto infotainment technologies, Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry, leatherette seating surfaces and door trims, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, automatic dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a black metallic front grille, rear roof spoiler, 18-inch alloy wheels, and power windows with one-touch driver down/up feature. Standard i-Activsense safety items in the 2020 hatchback includes Driver Attention Alert, Mazda Radar Cruise Control with Stop and Go function, Smart Brake Support, Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning with Lane-Keep Assist and High Beam Control.

Mazda3 Select, a sedan only trim level, is available with i-Activ all-wheel drive and incorporates premium items such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto infotainment technologies, Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry, leatherette seating surfaces and door trims, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, automatic dual-zone climate control, door mirrors with integrated turn signal indicators and 18-inch wheels.

The mid-trim Mazda3 Preferred has a Bose 12-speaker audio system with custom. Other upgrades to audio are an aluminum speaker grille (I couldn’t detect any aluminum sound waves), shark fin antenna and SiriusXM satellite radio with a three-month trial subscription. Optional with i-Activ all-wheel drive, are heated front seats, eight-way power driver’s seat, power lumbar support, two-position driver memory system and memory position door mirrors.

The top Mazda3 Premium builds on the other trim levels by adding windshield-projected Active Driving Display, leather seats, power moonroof, signature front and rear LED lighting, Adaptive Front-lighting System and paddle shifters when the Mazda3 is equipped with Skyactiv-Drive six-speed automatic transmission. Mazda’s predictive i-Activ all-wheel drive is available for this trim level. Mazda3 Premium sedan adds new 18-inch bright finish alloy wheels that matches its sophisticated styling. For a sportier design, the Mazda3 Premium hatchback has 18-inch black finish alloy wheels. Mazda will continue to offer its Skyactiv-MT six-speed manual transmission, available only on Mazda3 Premium hatchbacks equipped with front-wheel drive. (Endangered species alert.)

All 2020 Mazda3s come equipped with G-Vectoring Control Plus and a Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter engine that is rated to deliver 186 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 186 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. Cylinder-deactivation technology is standard on all Mazda3 hatchbacks, Mazda3 Premium sedans and Mazda3 sedans equipped with i-Activ all-wheel drive.

Subaru Outback – Subaru of America introduced the all-new 2020 Outback at the New York Auto Show last spring. It has without doubt the most advanced systems and capability in its history. This makes it a strong contender with MAMA voters, I think.

AutoInformed.com on Subaru 2020 Outback

The sixth-generation SUV comes standard with All-Wheel Drive and Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist Technology.

Outback has a pleasant blend of SUV capability and car-like ride and handling with standard Subaru Symmetrical all-wheel drive, Active Torque Vectoring, Vehicle Dynamics Control and X-Mode with Hill Descent Control. The 8.7 inches of ground clearance for all Outback models is greater than that in many SUVs, but the Outback maintains a comfortably low step-in height for both front and rear passenger entry.

 Complementing the powertrains is an all-new suspension that is lighter and in theory more responsive. The front suspension uses, bah, MacPherson struts with new internal rebound springs, aluminum lower L-arms and a new 23 mm hollow stabilizer bar. The rear suspension is a conventional double-wishbone layout with subframe, coil springs and new 19 mm hollow stabilizer bar.

Introduced for 2017, the Subaru Global Platform has been changed for the Outback, with structure that is 70% stiffer in both torsional and front-suspension rigidity and 100% stiffer in both front lateral flexural (sic) and rear sub-frame rigidity compared to the previous Outback’s, apparently Jell-O-made platform.

The sixth-generation SUV comes standard with All-Wheel Drive and Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist Technology. (Subaru Sells One-Millionth Eyesight Driver Assist) With data from two Subaru-developed color cameras mounted behind the windshield, Eyesight can identify vehicles traveling in front, traffic lanes, obstacles and pedestrians. The system has helped reduce the rate of pedestrian-related insurance claims by 41% according to the Highway Loss Data Institute.*

For the first time since 2009, the Outback offers a turbocharged engine. Standard on XT models. The 2.4-liter turbocharged BOXER engine delivers strong all-around performance with 260 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 277 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,000 rpm. It’s paired with a high-torque Lineartronic CVT with 8-speed manual control and steering wheel paddle shift control switches. The turbocharged engine comes standard with Auto Start-Stop for improved fuel efficiency and achieves – it’s claimed – up to 30 mpg.

All 2020 Outback models have a CVT with an 8-speed manual mode and steering wheel paddle shifters. The 2.4-liter turbo delivers a 3,500-lb. towing capacity, the most of any Outback in history, while the 2.5-liter provides more than a 600-mile range on a single tank it’s claimed. Manufacturer’s estimated fuel economy is 26/33 mpg city/highway for the 2.5-liter and 23/30 mpg city/highway for the turbo.

Pricing for the 2020 Outback starts at $26,645. Base trim comes equipped with a “Starlink” dual 7.0-inch Multimedia system that has an upper 7-inch touchscreen with audio controls, and lower 7-inch screen that accesses the climate control system and controls for EyeSight, X-MODE and other vehicle systems.

Priced from $28,895, Outback Premium adds the All-Weather Package (heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors and windshield wiper deicer), dual-zone automatic climate control system, LED fog lights, 10-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar support, leather-wrapped steering wheel and dash panel with silver or ivory stitching, auto-up/auto-down front windows, single-touch lifting cargo cover, 2.1A USB ports in rear center console (dual) and foldable body-color side mirrors with integrated turn signal.

The Outback Premium, Limited and Onyx Edition XT trims have the all-new Subaru STARLINK 11.6-inch Multimedia Plus system with an 11.6-inch high-resolution touchscreen with on-screen controls for audio, X-MODE, HVAC and other vehicle functions. The first of two option packages for Outback Premium includes Blind-Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Keyless Access with Push-Button Start and Hands-Free Power Rear Gate. A second package also includes Power Moonroof and the top-of-the-line STARLINK 11.6-inch Multimedia Navigation system.

The Outback Limited starting at $33,445 with leather-trimmed upholstery, gloss black with silver metallic finish interior trim and 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels in black with machine finish.  Limited trim comes standard with 10-way power driver seat with two-position memory, 8-way power passenger seat, Hands-Free Power Rear Gate, heated rear seats and rear-seat air conditioner outlets. The Limited trim also adds Keyless Access with Push-Button Start, Reverse Automatic Braking, and exterior side mirrors with two position memory and auto-tilt for passenger mirror while in reverse.

The new 2020 Onyx Edition XT
starts at $34,895 with 18-inch alloy wheels and badging in black-finish, as well as an exclusive gray two-tone interior. Further, the seats are wrapped in a new water-repellant material. Onyx Edition XT builds on the Premium trim and adds the new Hands-Free Power Rear Gate; Front View Monitor; full-size spare tire; and, for increased capability in a wider range of environmental conditions, exclusive Dual-Mode X-MODE. Onyx Edition has an option package with STARLINK 11.6-inch Multimedia Navigation system, Power Moonroof and Reverse Automatic Braking.

At $37,745, the Outback Limited XT builds on the 2.5-liter Limited with standard bits including STARLINK 11.6-inch Multimedia Navigation system, Power Moonroof, Heated Steering Wheel, insulated front door glass and DriverFocus Distraction Mitigation System. Outback Touring XT is priced – gulp – at $39,695 and builds on the Touring by adding insulated front door glass and dual/single outlet tailpipes.

*Based on Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reporting data as of November 2016 from MY 2013–2015 Subaru models equipped with Eyesight through 2014.

Luxury FVOTY Finalists:

BMW X7 – The new for 2019 BMW X7 is now the fifth model to be produced in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The X7 joined the X3, X4, X5 and X6 – that are produced every day at BMW Group’s largest global production plant at 1400 vehicles a day. X7 is the largest of the BMW X-series with standard three row seating for 7, and optional second-row Captain’s Chairs offering seating for 6. Standard two-axle air suspension, 21-inch alloy wheels and advanced driver assistance systems help passenger comfort and all-weather and all-terrain capability. It’s slick, and like most of the large SUVs in this class somewhat awkward looking since it strains to improve on a boxy – well actually two-box – configuration.

AutoInformed.com on 2019 BMW X7 Crossover

You will see yourself coming/going on the road with the same look at many brands.

X7 uses revised powertrain options and chassis technology. It’s gigantic at 203.3 inches in length, 78.7 inches wide and 71.1 inches tall, with a wheelbase of 122.2 inches., A different use of forms at BMW is laughably claimed, dominated by “structured surfaces and precise lines.” In keeping with a brand management cliché’ X7 has the largest kidney grill ever designed for a BMW model.

Power and Performance:  There are two updated gasoline engines. At the top is X7 xDrive50i, with a revised 4.4-liter V8 engine. A 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine found under the hood of the X7 xDrive40i is also available. Both engines route power through an eight-speed Steptronic transmission, while xDrive all-wheel drive helps ensure that power is transferred into progress – on or off road. The TwinPower Turbo technology in both gasoline engines has, what else, turbocharging, “High Precision” Injection, Valvetronic fully variable valve timing and variable camshaft timing.

The V8 Engine in the X7 xDrive50i has two turbochargers in the “V” between the banks of cylinders. Newly designed heat plates ensure effective thermal shielding for the crankcase and cylinder head, it’s claimed. A new ignition system allows the engine to be restarted more smoothly and swiftly when the Auto Start Stop function is activated.

V8 peak torque is  479 lb.-ft., available over a broad rev range from 1,500 to 4,750 rpm. Maximum output of 456 hp is on tap between 5,250 and 6,000 rpm. Yes, it’s high strung. This pulling power is available early and doesn’t tail off, resulting in a 0 to 60 mph time of 5.2 seconds.

The inline six-cylinder xDrive40i has the free-revving ability innate in all BMW.  The 3.0-liter uses a single twin-scroll turbocharger and direct injection technology whose maximum pressure of 5,076 psi ensures the fuel is delivered in precise doses. The straight-six generates its maximum output of 335 hp between 5,500 and 6,500 rpm, while the peak torque 330 lb.-ft. is available from 1,500 – 5,200 rpm. The new BMW X7 xDrive40i accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds.

Both engine variants of the new are linked to an “improved version” of the eight-speed Steptronic transmission – a wider ratio spread, and new control electronics help to increase the powertrain’s overall efficiency, it’s claimed. New torsion dampers reduce rotational forces and converter slip for improved shift comfort.

Computer controls also allow the automatic transmission to adapt its shift strategy according to the route and driving situation. By working with the navigation system, the 8-speed Steptronic transmission sees the road ahead and combines this data with information from the Active Cruise Control system’s (optional on the X7 xDrive40i) radar sensor. This makes it possible for the transmission to shift proactively instead of reactively, so shifts are more seamless but that the X7 is always in the “correct gear” for the upcoming road conditions. When approaching a vehicle ahead or approaching a downhill section for example, the 8-speed Steptronic transmission will shift down early to use engine braking to maintain speed or decelerate.

The Auto Start Stop function and the coasting function available in conjunction with the 8-speed Steptronic transmission in X7 also benefit from data supplied by the navigation system and by data supplied by the standard Active Guard driving assistance systems’ front camera. In this way, inefficient engine shutdown – for example when stopping briefly at junctions or roundabouts – can in theory be prevented. Movement of vehicles ahead is recorded to determine the ideal moment for the Auto Start Stop function to stop and start the engine.

The coasting function is now available when either ECO Pro or COMFORT mode is selected using the Driving Experience Control switch between 9 and 99 mph. The efficiency-enhancing decoupling of the powertrain only takes place – it’s claimed in driving situations where performance and comfort would not be compromised. If you suddenly lift off the accelerator, the powertrain stays connected so that engine braking can be used to support deceleration. Powertrain disconnection is also prevented when approaching a junction or a vehicle ahead.

xDrive All-Wheel-Drive: The task of maximizing traction, agility and directional stability comes from the latest generation of the BMW xDrive all-wheel-drive system. It now can split drive-torque between the front and rear wheels with “greater precision” and speed as the situation demands. For added efficiency, full power can be directed completely to the rear wheels in situations where all-wheel drive is not required.

The new xDrive system offers a rear-biased set-up for those occasions when the driver adopts a more aggressive style of driving. The optional electronically controlled rear M Sport differential (available for the X7 xDrive50i in both the Dynamic Handling Package and in the Off-Road Package) helps support these times of more dynamic driving. By limiting equalization of the rotational speeds of the inside and outside wheels through corners, the M Sport differential can optimize the transfer of power to the road in all driving situations. As a result, the new BMW X7 can power out of bends with “exceptional momentum.”

Managed by the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system, the locking function for the rear differential also improves traction and power delivery when driving over road surfaces with differing levels of grip for the left-rear and right-rear wheels. It does so by preventing a wheel from spinning when it is struggling for traction. The locking effect is produced by means of an electric motor and allows as much as 1,106 lb.-ft .of drive torque to be redirected from the wheel with less grip to the wheel with more grip.

The revised chassis has a double-wishbone front suspension and a five-link rear suspension, which based on a cursory drive, made for good traction on rough terrain and decent dynamic response and ride comfort on pavement. The BMW X7 SAV comes standard with the Dynamic Damper Control system with two-axle air suspension. The electronically-controlled dampers help the SAV’s handling while increasing ride comfort. The driver can select from two performance settings for a more comfort-oriented or sportier driving style.

Chassis options available make it possible to boost the off-road performance, sportiness or comfort of the new BMW X7 more intensely and effectively than ever before, it’s claimed. The Dynamic Handling Package (marketing babble alert), available for both the X7 xDrive40i and X7 xDrive50i, includes Active Comfort Drive with road preview, Integral Active Steering, M Sport Brakes and on the xDrive50i, the M Sport rear Differential. This package claims to provide agility and dynamic driving qualities.

Active Comfort Drive with road preview works with the two-axle air suspension and an active roll-stabilization system to improve agility and directional stability when turning into corners and optimize traction when accelerating out of them. The system uses camera sensors to preview the road ahead of the vehicle and proactively make suspension adjustments to not only tighten up suspension settings for upcoming turns but to also increase straight-line comfort by actively countering oscillations triggered by road surface imperfections.

Speed-dependent Integral Active Steering turns the rear wheels either the same direction as the front, to enhance stability in high-speed maneuvers such as lane changes, or in the opposite direction to the front wheels, to help low-speed maneuvering by decreasing the turning radius.

The standard two-axle air suspension system with automatic self-levelling also allows electronic adjustment of vehicle ride height. The suspension’s air supply is controlled individually for each wheel using an electrically driven compressor with pressure reservoir, enabling it to balance out an unevenly loaded vehicle.

Since the air suspension works in tandem with the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system, the vehicle load registered by its sensors can be factored into braking calculations. When the SPORT driving mode is engaged, or the vehicle’s speed exceeds 85 mph, its ride height is automatically lowered by 0.8 inches. The driver can also adjust the body’s ground clearance – for off-road driving, for example – by pushing a button in the cockpit.

The up to a maximum of 1.6 inches above the standard setting. Another button in the luggage compartment activates a loading mode that lowers the vehicle by 1.6 inches. The next time the engine is started, the system will automatically revert to the last mode selected. The desired vehicle ride height can be set with the engine switched off by using the optional BMW Display Key.

Cadillac XT6 – As GM’s self-proclaimed technology leader (again), and after years of neglect followed by years of investment with lukewarm results, Cadillac will be the first brand to launch GM’s new battery electric vehicle architecture with an electric crossover aimed at the global luxury market. While its development is underway and needed for its most important market – China – the Japanese and Germans own this space. (see Cadillac EV Teased in Detroit. First of BEV 3 Platform Variants)

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The three-row XT6 has standard power-folding third-row seat and remote fold-down for the second-row seat. Tip, pitch-and-slide on the second-row seat allows easy access to the third row.

XT6 is – what else – a crossover SUV at ~$54,000 and up. The interesting stuff – Adaptive Cruise Control Advanced; Night Vision; NFC phone pairing and wireless charging for compatible phones; HD Surround Vision Camera, Illuminated Cadillac Crest hands-free liftgate; and Keyless Open and Adaptive Remote Start are bundled in option packages.

The XT6’s driving dynamics are ok in either two- or four-wheel-drive versions. Customer-selectable drive modes allow the XT6 to adapt to driver preferences and changing road conditions. The modes are calibrated to support the characteristics of the Premium Luxury (flabby) or Sport (driver’s car) models.

It’s powered by a 3.6L DOHC V6 engine estimated at 310, well, adequate horsepower (231 kW) mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission with thoroughly mainstream electronic shifting. To help fuel efficiency, Active Fuel Management technology permits V-4 operation when V-6 power is not required to move the 4400- to 4700-pound vehicle (curb weights). The stop/start system is annoying.

Nonetheless, XT6 is worth a test drive or two if you are willing to take a chance on resale value  – leasing is a great hedge – and the atmosphere, competence and incentives offered by the dealer. Be wary of potential new model quality issues, especially with the electronics. GM has thus far sold fewer than 12,000 XT6s.

Lincoln Aviator – I’d look at the Explorer instead.

Lincoln Nautilus – Dead brand walking.

Mercedes-Benz AMG CLS 53 Coupe – Fast, sleek and oh so German, this is a well-built, well-engineered  masterpiece. It’s also German priced (all exclude $995 destination and delivery charge). CLS is worth a serious look in the segment.

Models & MSRP:

  • Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 (RWD) Coupe $69,950
  • Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 4MATIC Coupe $72,450
  • Mercedes-AMG CLS 53 Coupe $81,200

This is Gen 3 CLS, a 4-door coupe with  style, power, performance and luxury. The CLS seats five passengers for the first time. The CLS is also among the first vehicles in the Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-AMG lineup with 48-volt technology that offers increased efficiency and comfort.

The 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine is in the CLS 450 and CLS 450 4MATIC, as well as the “AMG-enhanced” 3.0-Liter inline 6-cylinder engine found in the CLS 53 are supplemented with a powerful integrated starter generator. This integrated electric motor system is dubbed EQ boost. It aids the gasoline engine by adding up to 21 horsepower for short periods. EQ boost also assists when accelerating, makes driving without the combustion engine possible (“sailing” and also a potential regulatory aid to get in restricted lanes or for possible tax breaks) and supplies the battery with power by means of high-efficiency regeneration. A powerful auxiliary compressor further supplements the CLS 53.

There are state of the art “Driver Assistance Systems.”  Enhanced intelligent hands-off detection includes sensing via finger pads and is sensitive to specific conditions:

  • Active Distance Assist Distronic is able to follow a vehicle in front at a pre-selected distance at wider range of speeds
  • Active Steering Assist functions at a wider range of speeds and can now actively intervene even if road lines are unclear or non-existent at certain speeds; can now function in curves with a tighter radius
  • Active Emergency Stop Assist brakes the vehicle to a standstill in its lane if it detects that the driver is no longer actively driving the vehicle while it is on the move with Active Distance Assist Distronic and Active Steering Assist Can now unlock the doors when the vehicle is stationary to allow first aid responders immediate access to the vehicle’s interior. With available (marketing babble alert) mbrace Secure, the system simultaneously makes an emergency call. (Cadillac OnStar does this.)
  • Active Lane Change Assist is a radar-and-camera-based system that aids the driver when changing lanes. When a turn is indicated, this feature will aid with steering into the adjacent lane if it detects the lane is empty.
  • Active Speed Limit Assist can adapt vehicle speed to identified speed limits and can now adjust preventively when speed limits are going to change.
  • Route-Based Speed Adaptation – the vehicle is now able to reduce the speed in anticipatory mode by referencing the COMAND map data ahead of bends, junctions, roundabouts, toll booths and exit roads.

When’s the Celebration?

Both the MAMA Family Vehicle of the Year Award and Luxury Family Vehicle of the Year Award winners will be announced at the MAMA opening breakfast during the 2020 Chicago Auto Show on Feb. 6. Stay tuned for almost live coverage.

About Kenneth Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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