Author

Nicole Wakelin

The First-Ever Canyon AT4

The 2021 GMC Canyon gets a new trim this year and it’s one that will make off-road enthusiasts quite happy. For the first time ever, the Canyon is available as an AT4, which is a badge reserved for only the most capable of GMC’s offerings.

This is a midsize truck, making it a great choice for those who want extra cargo capability, but who don’t necessarily need a full-size truck. While big trucks are great, they’re a challenge if you take them into a city. They can be difficult to navigate through narrow streets, tough to park, and impossible to drive into many a parking garage with a too-low ceiling. The GMC Canyon faces none of those issues.

The Canyon is available with either a 5-foot 2-inch bed with a maximum payload of 1,609 pounds or a 6-foot 2-inch bed that can manage up to 1,475 pounds. Again, the full-size trucks outdo those numbers, but a midsize truck still has impressive stats that easily manages large payloads.

It’s also no slouch when it comes to towing. The base 3.6-liter V6 with 308 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque, which was our test vehicle, can tow up to 7,000 pounds. Those who put a priority on towing may want to go with the optional 2.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel. It has 181 horsepower with 369 lb-ft of torque and can tow up to 7,600 pounds. Not only is it more capable towing, the extra torque helps it handle the load more easily getting up to speed and cresting hills.

Ready for the Dirt

It’s great in the city. It can handle a payload and tow a trailer. But what about off-roading?

This is where the AT4 shines. It rides on 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires with 17-inch aluminum wheels. There’s an off-road tuned suspension, advanced hill descent control, four-wheel drive with an automatic locking rear differential, and a transfer case skid plate. It has the features to let you head off-road with confidence. Want more? GMC has you covered.

There’s an optional AT4 Off Road Performance Edition package that adds extra goodies. It includes a suspension leveling kit and the removal of the front air dam to increase the approach angle by 35 percent. It also adds rocker panel protectors and performance front and mid skid plates.

That’s a lot of off-road goodness and while that’s great when you’re in the dirt, it can make a truck unwieldly on pavement. The GMC Canyon AT4 has a surprisingly smooth and quiet ride on the highway, even with those off-road tires. This is a GMC, after all, and that makes it a more upscale truck. It’s rugged, but it’s not utilitarian so passenger comfort is still a priority.

Plenty of Creature Comforts

The interior is quiet and roomy with attractive trims and comfortable seats. Standard automatic climate control, heated front seats, and available leather seating surfaces further enhance the appeal of the Canyon AT4. It also has plenty of tech with an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto all standard. On the options list are Qi wireless charging and a 7-speaker Bose audio system, so this truck deserves its reputation as an upscale choice.

Pricing for the Canyon range starts at $26,400 with the AT4 sitting higher up in the lineup. That means it also gets a higher price of $38,200. Considering the style, comfort, and features of the 2021 GMC Canyon AT4, it’s a good value for the off-road set.

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Three Rows of Luxury for Busy Families

The 2022 Acura MDX arrives at dealerships this winter giving families a compelling new three-row SUV to consider. There’s a lot of competition in the segment, so introducing an all-new anything, whether it’s a wholly new model or the latest generation of an existing favorite, comes with a lot of pressure. Get it right or risk losing customers to the legions of other options. Did Acura manage to get it right with the latest iteration of the MDX or will families look elsewhere?

The SUV that works for one family might not be the best choice for another, but the 2022 Acura MDX does an admirable job of delivering key features that give it wide appeal. Outside, a thorough redesign adds presence with a bold grille that’s striking without overwhelming the front of the vehicle.

This is a three-row SUV with seating for seven people, so it’s not going to look like a sleek sports car, but the MDX avoids looking like a boring metal box. It has a longer wheelbase and wider stance that give it a dose of sportiness without adding bulk. The MDX is attractive and eye-catching. Acura is a luxury brand and the MDX looks every bit the luxury SUV.

Seating to Suit Your Lifestyle

It’s even more important that a luxury car looks like one on the inside. Rich trims, plush leather seats, and an open and airy interior thanks to a standard panoramic roof all create a positive first impression the moment you open the doors. Front passengers get 12-way adjustable seats with three-way heating – something that came in handy during the single-digit weather we had during our loan – and the adjustability made it easy to find the perfect seating position.

Also handy is the removable middle seat in the second row. If you don’t need it for seating, then you can fold the back down creating a wide center armrest with drink holders. This also makes for easy access when you need to reach back into the third row. If you don’t want that seat at all, then take it out entirely, which makes it much easier for the kids to hop in back and reduces the chances they’ll step on your fancy leather seats with muddy shoes.

2022 MDX

Ready for Any Weather

Power for the 2022 Acura MDX comes from a 3.5-liter V6 engine with 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission. It’s smooth, responsive, and powerful enough to easily get the MDX up to highway speeds.

There’s the option for all-wheel drive, which dealt with a bit of nasty winter weather with ease. It can direct up to 70-percent of torque to the rear axle and then further split that with up to 100-percent going to either of the rear wheels. That translates into superior handling when the roads are slick, so you get where you’re going rather than finding your way into a ditch.

Drive modes that include Snow, Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Individual let you adjust vehicle dynamics to suit the road and your preferences. These alter engine, transmission, and steering settings to enhance control. Acura designed this new generation of the MDX for better handling from suspension to steering to overall rigidity. You can’t see those engineering enhancements, but you can feel them behind the wheel.

The MDX is more responsive and controlled so it feels less like a seven-passenger SUV and more like something smaller and sportier. You don’t notice its weight, even during high-speed highway maneuvers, which makes it more relaxing to drive. The ride is equally smooth for passengers and it’s notably quiet with minimal road and wind noise finding its way into the cabin. The 2022 MDX is nicer to drive and nicer to ride in than the outgoing generation.

2022 MDX Advance

Infotainment that Keeps You Connected

There’s a unique instrument cluster that features a 12.3-inch customizable screen. It looks very futuristic and adds to the premium feel of the MDX. The same is true of the 12.3-inch infotainment screen that extends across the dashboard. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as Qi wireless charging are standard. It’s not a touchscreen however, which will frustrate some, and instead has a True Touchpad Interface.

This touchpad on the center console uses absolute positioning that makes it easier to move the cursor across the screen than other touchpad systems, but we’re not going to lie. It’s a challenge to use any touchpad in a moving vehicle. There is a learning curve, and it gets easier with time, but bumpy roads that make your hand bounce make navigating the system frustrating.

The 2022 Acura MDX is a luxury SUV with key features that make it ideal for family life. It has an attractive interior with an open, airy feel and a uniquely configurable second row that lets you customize seating in a way that works best for your family. It also has a fully-featured infotainment system to keep everyone connected and a responsive engine that makes it engaging to drive. Those who want a premium SUV well-suited to family life will find plenty to like.

Look for the 2022 Acura MDX to arrive at your local dealership this winter with pricing from $46,900 to $60,650.

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So. Many. Choices.

The 2021 Toyota Corolla sedan is a compact car with an affordable price. You can get behind the wheel of one for just $20,025 making it a good choice for those on a budget. It’s affordable, sure, but just because it’s not a luxury car with the matching luxury price doesn’t mean there’s not plenty to like about the Corolla.

Let’s start with the range of trims. There are nine different versions of the Corolla from which to choose. This includes a hybrid and special Apex and Nightshade editions of select trims in the basic five-trim lineup. There’s a Corolla for everyone and every budget. Even if you go all the way to the top of the trim ladder with the XSE Apex Edition, you’re still looking at only $28,310. It’s affordable in any guise.

Looks Good Inside and Out

The Corolla looks good with sporty almost aggressive styling. It has none of the too mild-mannered styling of old and attracts attention for all the right reasons. The story is the same when you open the door. We drove the XSE, which sits at the top of the lineup. Materials are appealing to the eye with plenty of soft touch surfaces and a minimal amount of plastic. It makes the Corolla look like pricier than its sticker.

Seating is comfortable with ample room up front for even taller riders, but the rear seats are another story. Although they’re comfortable they aren’t as spacious. Headroom and shoulder room are fine, but legroom is tight, especially if whoever is sitting up front has long legs and pushes the seats back.

The XSE has a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with 169 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque paired to a continuously variable automatic transmission. It’s the more powerful of the two gas powertrains and it performed well. Not only did it get up to speed quickly, but there was no need to mash the gas to get extra power for passing. Our only complaint was the noise of the CVT, which is intrusive under hard acceleration.

Toyota Corolla

No Shortage of Standard Features

While many an affordable car makes key safety and tech features expensive extras, the Corolla makes many of them standard. Safety features including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, and full-speed dynamic radar cruise control are all standard. There’s also a standard 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and, new for this year, Android Auto. You don’t have to move up a trim and spend extra just to get these features.

All in all, the 2021 Toyota Corolla is a compact sedan with appeal for a wide range of buyers. Lots of trim choices, two gas and one hybrid powertrain, key standard features, and a low price make the Corolla a great option.

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The Cachet of Cadillac

The Cadillac name is synonymous with luxury. It doesn’t matter which model you’re talking about because the brand alone says it all. Or does it? While every Cadillac is a luxury car, the Escalade sits at the top of the lineup as something unique unto itself.

The Escalade is the epitome of Cadillacs. It really doesn’t even matter if you need a three-row SUV with seating for up to eight. That might be part of your reason for wanting an Escalade, but that’s not why you buy one.

You buy an Escalade because of the statement it makes whether it’s sitting in your driveway, pulling into the office parking lot, or being loaded up with the family’s groceries. Owning a Cadillac Escalade tells the world you have arrived.

There are legions of three-row SUVs from which to choose with a wide range of prices that fit every budget. The Escalade does not fit every budget. Our test vehicle came in with a price of $109,500. There is no such thing as a cheap Escalade.

Impressive in Every Way

Even people who don’t know or care much about cars have likely heard of this one. It’s the car professional athletes and wealthy Hollywood types drive. People notice you when you drive around in an Escalade.

That’s in part due to its impressive size. This thing is big. I’m not going to lie. I may have passed a tight parking spot or two for something with a bit more room further away from the door of my local grocery store. You’ll get the hang of it eventually, just spend some time getting comfortable with that bulk before you head out into a congested city.

The upside to the Escalade’s size is an expansive interior. There’s room for seven adults, eight with an optional second-row bench seat. As is the case in most every three-row SUV, the third row is best for two unless you’re putting the kids in back. There are 25.5 cubic feet behind that third row with up to 109.1 cubic feet if your fold both second and third rows flat.

Yes, you can load up the Escalade with cargo, but cargo doesn’t care about luxury. People, however, very much care about luxury and that’s what makes this SUV stand out from the rest. The front seats on our Platinum trim were plush with rich leathers, 16-way power adjustability, heat, ventilation, and massage. Leather accents were everywhere from the steering wheel to the center console to the doors and the dashboard.

Cadillac Escalade

It’s All About Luxury

Striking, highly varnished wood trims enhance the interior’s luxurious first impression along with a sueded headliner and illuminated door sills. At first glance, it looks like the dashboard is one giant screen, but it’s a series of three, curved OLED displays that cover the dash in front of the driver. There’s a 16.9-inch infotainment touchscreen, 14.2-inch digital instrument cluster, and 7.2-inch touchscreen control panel. It’s impressive.

An AKG 19-speaker audio system is standard, but we had the pleasure of listening to the upgraded 36-speaker system. It fills the cabin with rich, immersive sound. It impressed my teenager. That’s saying something. From the materials to the technology to the comfort to the audio, the Escalade delivers a consistent luxury experience.

Cadillac Escalade

Well-Mannered Performance

It also delivers a luxury ride. The potholes of New England roads can rattle your teeth this time of year, but they went unnoticed in the Escalade. Passengers sit at the top of the priority list in a luxury car. They need to be not just comfortable, but downright coddled. The Escalade delivers with a ride that is smooth, composed, and quiet, even at highway speeds. Despite its size, handling is responsive so passengers remain comfortable while the driver stays relaxed and in control.

Our Escalade was powered by a 6.2-liter V8 with 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission. It had no trouble managing this SUV’s bulk and it did so quietly. Remember, this is a luxury car. No one wants to hear the engine doing its work. It just does its thing unobtrusively in the background while you enjoy that fancy audio system and those supple leather seats.

The 2021 Cadillac Escalade offers the luxury, technology, and ride one expects from a luxury car. There might be other luxury SUVs that’ll do the job, but the Escalade makes a lasting impression that’s hard to duplicate.

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Turbocharged Fun

The 2021 Mazda3 sedan arrives with a major change – the addition of a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. It gives this sporty sedan 227 horsepower with 310- lb-ft of torque and makes what was already a fun car to drive even better.

The thing with Mazda is that it makes cars for people who like to drive. Any car can get you from one place to another, but not every car can make you look forward to the drive. That’s where Mazda comes into the picture. Its cars are sleek and stylish with surprisingly upscale interiors for the price and they have fantastic driving dynamics.

That means steering is crisp and controlled and the suspension system evens out the bumps and dips in the road, so the driver stays confidently in control. It means taking a tight corner at speed is fun and gets your heart racing in a good way rather than making you nervous. And now, with the addition of the turbocharged engine to the Mazda3 sedan, it means you have the power to make this car drive like a genuinely sporty sedan.

Two Well-Equipped Trims

Available in two trims with standard all-wheel drive, the Mazda3 2.5 Turbo starts at $30,050 and comes with a long list of standard features. These include an 8-way power driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, leatherette seating surfaces, and a leather-wrapped heated steering wheel. There’s an 8.8-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a 12-speaker Bose premium audio system. Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane departure warning are also standard on the turbo. You get a lot of car for the price.

We spent our drive time in the Premium Plus. It’s the higher of the two turbo trims with a price of $32,600. Mazda isn’t quite a luxury brand, but it’s darn close. Interiors are bright, comfortable, and elegant with quality materials that look and feel beautiful. Without fail, they look like they belong in more expensive cars.

The Appeal of a Sedan

Sedans don’t sell like they used to with crossovers and SUVs now the go-to choice for, well, everyone. Despite their waning popularity, there are still plenty of good reasons to get a sedan. Not everyone needs the cargo room of a larger vehicle and there’s a cost savings to be had with sedans, both in their sticker prices and fuel economy.

The Mazda3 2.5 turbo gives you one more reason – it’s fun. The extra power of the turbo makes this a joy to drive, whether you’re mashing the gas to get up to highway speed or taking it along a winding country road. If you’re considering a sedan, then the Mazda3 2.5 turbo is worthy of a test drive.

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Crossovers: The Perfect Porridge

Crossovers are everywhere these days, and with good reason. Remember the story of Goldilocks? There are full-size SUVs with lots of seating and lots of room like a too-hot bowl of porridge. Then there are sedans with less of everything making them the too-cold porridge. Crossovers are the just-right choice in the middle. The challenge is that there are so darn many it can be hard to choose.

The 2021 Nissan Rogue wants to be your just-right bowl of porridge, so Nissan added plenty of features to give it appeal. Did it manage to add enough milk and honey to make the Rogue the perfect porridge?

Well, perfection is a tall order, especially since what’s perfect for me isn’t perfect for you or perfect for your neighbor. Everyone has their own specific needs when it comes time to buy a car, so Nissan expanded the Rogue lineup, added new tech features, and improved the Rogue’s ride and powertrain to make it a better fit no matter your priorities.

The all-new 2021 Nissan Rogue shows off a fresh new look that makes it more modern. There’s a new headlight design alongside the signature Nissan V-motion grille and the Rogue shrinks a bit coming in 1.5-inches shorter than the outgoing model. It’s lower, too, which helps it handle better. You might not immediately see or feel these small changes, but together they create a better looking and better-handling crossover.

Zero Gravity for Maximum Comfort

The interior of the Rogue still features Nissan Zero Gravity seats, and this makes us happy. It sounds like marketing mumbo jumbo, but these seats are fantastic. Driving the Roque over the holidays, we had the opportunity to take it on a couple of longer trips that had us in the car for hours at a time. The seats never got stiff or uncomfortable, which makes the Rogue a great choice for families with road trips in their futures.

In addition to its comfortable and roomy interior, the Rogue has numerous safety features to set your mind at ease, including standard Nissan Safety Shield 360. This bundles a bunch of safety features together including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear automatic braking, which are all but sure to save you from a fender bender or two.

ProPilot Gets an Upgrade

Nissan’s ProPilot Assist technology, which isn’t technically self-driving but instead gives the driver an assist with steering and adaptive cruise control, gets a series of improvements. It brakes more smoothly and adjusts steering more consistently, especially if a car cuts you off in congested traffic. The big news, however, is the availability of ProPilot Assist with Navi-link on select trims. Using navigation data, this adjusts your speed in advance of highway off-ramps or tight curves for a smoother ride.

And of course, there’s plenty of connected tech, too. An 8-inch touchscreen is standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto along with both USB and USB-C ports up front. As you move through the trim lineup, you get goodies including a 10-speaker Bose audio system, two rear USB chargers, wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless charging, and Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity.

Choose from four trims, including the new upscale Platinum, with a choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive. All are powered by a 181-horsepower 4-cylinder engine with a continuously variable automatic transmission that is noticeably quieter than the outgoing Rogue. Even under hard acceleration, you won’t be bothered by the sounds under the hood intruding into the passenger compartment.

Room for Cargo, Room for People

And of course, the new Rogue still has the same flexibility as the prior Rogue for managing people or cargo depending on your priorities of the moment. Seating for five easily reconfigures with a 60/40 split-folding rear bench seat. There’s up to 36.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats or 74.1 cubic feet behind the front seats and the Rogue can even tow up to 1,350 pounds should your needs be greater.

The 2021 Nissan Rogue gets the updates it needs to stay relevant in a crowded segment. Advanced safety technologies, a comfortable and attractive interior, and good cargo capacity give it the versatility and functionality crossover buyers crave. Pricing from $25,650 to $36,830 makes sure it’s also a crossover that families can afford.

The 2021 Nissan Rogue lets you have your crossover porridge and eat it, too.

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The Defender is Back

The Land Rover Defender is back after a too-long absence from the U.S. market. This boxy off-roader combines the luxury of a Land Rover with the off-road chops of, well, a Land Rover. Available with two-doors or four-doors, if you’re looking for a luxury SUV equally suited to city streets and muddy fields with stand-out styling, then you should take a closer look at the 2020 Land Rover Defender.

Let’s start with the look of the Defender. You’re either going to love this SUV or think it’s odd. We rather like its style because it doesn’t look like every other SUV on the road. It’s boxier than the rest, tall, and imposing. It looks like it should be capable and because this is a Land Rover, it lives up to that expectation.

There’s a tailgate-mounted spare tire that gives it an old-school vibe, but that tire is flanked by rounded square lights that are thoroughly modern. There are inset panels on the hood that look a bit like tire tracks and give what would otherwise be an expanse of sheet metal some visual punch. It’s modern and vintage all at once and it attracts attention.

Tough Luxury

Inside, there’s seating for up to seven with an airy, open interior. Those in back get a bit of extra light thanks to what Land Rover calls Alpine lights. These narrow, rectangular windows sit at the roofline and not only brighten the interior but add to the Defender’s unique presence.

Nothing in this SUV is delicate or timid. While some luxury SUVs have a level of refinement that make them feel fragile, not so with the Defender. It’s comfortable, with quality materials throughout and feels every bit the luxury vehicle, but it’s not one you’ll be afraid to get dirty. There’s a toughness to the Defender’s interior that won’t have you panicked the first time the family dog runs through it with muddy paws.

And there will be mud if you’re doing it right because the Defender has ample off-road capability. All-wheel drive is standard along with hill descent control, and a range of drive modes to suit most every terrain. The Terrain Response system allows for normal, rock crawl, grass/gravel/snow, mud/ruts, or sand modes. The Defender can also wade through nearly three feet of water. If you have serious off-road plans, then the Defender is ready.

Plenty of Power

Power for the Defender 110 SE we drove comes from a 3.0-liter 6-cylinder engine with 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission. It’s a responsive powertrain that has no trouble getting the Defender’s bulk up to highway speeds. Much like the interior of the Defender is rugged without the delicacy of other luxury SUVs, the engine in the Defender isn’t a mild-mannered thing.

You feel and hear its power when you step on the gas, but it’s not intrusive or annoying. This capable SUV is still a luxury vehicle, so there’s nothing harsh about the engine or the ride. It’s power with a dose of refinement. As capable as it is off-road, on-road it’s well-mannered and composed making it a relaxing ride for driver and passenger alike.

While there are other vehicles that can handle off-road adventures, there aren’t many that also boast a luxury pedigree. That sets the Defender apart from the rest, as does its price. As tested, with extras including a sliding panoramic roof, heated third row, 14-way heated and cooled front seats, and three-zone climate control with rear cooling assist, our Defender came in at $75,440.

It’s not the most affordable off-road choice, but those looking for an off-road luxury SUV will find it’s well worth the investment.

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Embracing the Minivan Life

The 2021 Honda Odyssey gets styling and feature updates this year that increase its appeal for families. Minivans, once the top choice for families, now face stiff competition from a growing roster of crossovers and SUVs. Those cars are seen as cooler, more stylish, and more modern. That makes it more important than ever for today’s crop of minivans to deliver exactly what a family needs at a price they can afford.

Let’s face it – it’s hard look cool when you’re balancing a squirming toddler with one arm and fumbling for your keys with the other and minivans don’t really help the cause. Somewhere along the way they became uncool. They went from being a godsend with their sliding doors, roomy interiors, rear seat entertainment systems, and endless cupholders, to being the car you got because you didn’t really have another choice.

Well, today there are lots of choices and they’re just as well equipped. Whether you need to accommodate a small family or a large one, there’s an SUV or crossover that will do the job quite nicely without the minivan stigma. There are plenty of options, but the reality is nothing handles a family quite so well as a minivan.

2021 Honda Odyssey

 

People? Cargo? No Problem.

The Honda Odyssey has long been the cream of the minivan crop. It’s nicely styled, has an attractive interior with quality materials, and offers a variety of trims to fit most any budget. There’s seating for up to eight passengers with plenty of room to spread out and plenty of room for all your stuff.

It’s easy to reconfigure it so you can carry the kids and their friends one minute and a load of groceries the next. On weekends, take it for a family getaway or to the local home improvement store where its cavernous interior easily handles all the supplies for your latest project. A minivan is a truly versatile family car.

The Honda Odyssey is available in a range of five trims with the base LX priced at $31,790. The Elite we drove came in at $47, 820 and has a long list of standard features. On the comfort side, there’s tri-zone automatic climate control, integrated sunshades for the second and third row, a heated steering wheel, and heated and ventilated front seats with leather trims.

It’s incredibly comfortable. There’s the possibility it’s so comfortable I fell asleep in the cell phone lot waiting for my daughter’s plane to land and she had to call to wake me up because I didn’t notice her texts. Hey, it was late, it was a long day, and did I mention this thing is comfy?

Family-Friendly Features

The Elite trim has an 8-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay, Android Audio, and Sirius XM while the kids get a 10.2-inch rear entertainment system with wireless headphones. As a bonus, when they have those headphones on, they can’t say they didn’t hear you because the CabinTalk in-car speaker system sends your voice through both the Odyssey’s speakers and the headphones.

No matter which trim you get, safety features are plentiful. Collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and traffic sign recognition are all standard. Honda gets a gold star for making so much standard, even on the base trim, so you don’t have to spend big bucks to keep your family safe.

The Odyssey is available with a single powertrain that includes a 3.5-liter V6 engine with 280-horsepower paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission. It’s smooth and powerful and has no trouble getting this minivan up to highway speeds. The ride is smooth and quiet with nice handling, which is just what you want in a car focused on passengers.

The Competition

On the downside, the Odyssey is front-wheel drive only. There are other minivans that offer all-wheel drive, which holds lots of appeal if you live where it snows. There’s also no hybrid option, which is again something that’s available on other minivans. The competition is tough in this segment and while the Odyssey is well-equipped, it is missing these key available features.

But what it’s not missing is the versatility to handle family life. Sure, you might look cooler in an SUV, or maybe you just think you look cooler in one. The bigger question is, who cares?

The 2021 Honda Odyssey proves minivans are still a fantastic choice for families. It has safety features to set your mind at ease, comfort that ensures even long trips aren’t a chore, and the versatility to reconfigure for cargo or people at a moment’s notice. If you have a family and you think the minivan life isn’t for you, the Honda Odyssey just might change your mind.

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What is the Rebelle Rally?

The Rebelle Rally is the first women’s off-road navigation rally in the United States. This 8-day competition allows nothing but topographical maps, compasses, and roadbooks to navigate a 1,200-mile route from Nevada to California. That’s the official description of the rally that you’ll find on the Rebelle Rally website along with all the details about what you need to do to participate.

What you won’t find there is an idea of what it really means to drive this thing, to navigate it, and to cross the finish line. Having just completed the 2020 Rebelle Rally, here’s what it was like to be a rookie Rebelle.

The Work Starts Well Before the Rally

There is a serious amount of planning required to be ready for the rally. This includes everything from securing a vehicle and a teammate to making sure you pack all the required and non-required stuff you’ll need anyway. Tents, sleeping bags, snacks, water bottles, duct tape, zip ties, spare tires, recovery tracks, and an ever-growing list that makes you think, “We’re going to need a bigger car.”

Training, Training, Training

Do you know how to drive off-road? Do you know how to tackle everything from mud to silt to rocks to sand dunes? Even veteran off-road drivers will want to brush up on the skills they don’t use as often. For me, that was sand dunes. I live in the northeast where sand dunes are wee little things and you can’t drive on them, so there was a lot to learn. Several days out on the west coast with an expert gave me the skills I needed to compete.

If you’re the navigator, then you have a whole new world of skills to learn. As I driver, I at least knew how to drive before the Rebelle. But how many people know how to use a compass, read a topographical map, plot latitude and longitude, and then plan a route using scale rulers to track the distance? You in the back raising your hand, good for you, and thank you for your service.
Everyone else, yeah, that’s what I thought.

The Third Teammate

Every team is comprised of two women. The driver drives. The navigator navigates. But it’s really a team of three. The third teammate is your vehicle. In my case as the driver for Team #142, that third teammate was an Infiniti QX80 that was graciously provided by Infiniti.

While you might think about going off-road in more traditional off-road vehicles (Insert Jeep Wave here,) you can do the Rebelle in all sorts of vehicles from 4x4s to crossovers. As the driver, getting behind the wheel of a luxury SUV and taking it into the dirt was especially appealing.

Infiniti gave our trusty steed steel bumpers, a 3-inch lift, new shocks, and rock rails, but underneath it was still a beautiful luxury SUV. It was phenomenal. I thrashed that thing through whoops in the sand dunes in Glamis, gave it a nice bit of desert pinstriping driving through open OHV areas, and maybe put one small dent in the rear bumper in a particularly rocky bit of terrain. (Sorry, Infiniti, my bad.) That thing didn’t even flinch.

There was something especially sweet about sleeping in a tent for a week, showering less than I will admit, and eating nothing but protein bars for lunch every day, but still having a ridiculously comfortable ride to hop into every morning. How comfortable?

There was one self-camp day where we all sleep in our tents clustered together in the dunes. All of us, that is, except for Team #142. We just reclined the seats and slept in the QX0. It was glorious.

The Rally is Hard

No. Really. It’s hard like you wouldn’t believe. This is no lightweight, easy rally that’s toned down for women. This thing is hardcore. Through the entire race it’s just you and your teammate making sure your car is ready, you’re ready, and your stuff is ready.

There’s no hotel at the end of the day. Instead, you have your tent at a base camp that moves every couple of days. One night you don’t even have a base camp. You set up your tent and haul your stuff back and forth to your car. Some nights it’s cold and you’ll find yourself sleeping in your clothes. And jacket. And hat and gloves. Some nights it’s hot. You have to be ready for any kind of weather.

The Days Are Long

Part of what makes the rally hard are the long days. You’re up at around 4am to get the day’s maps so the navigator can start plotting checkpoints – the key to gaining points and winning the rally. Once you cross the start line, you have around 10 hours of driving and navigating to those checkpoints until you return to camp. That’s a long day for a traditional road trip on paved roads. It’s grueling off-road, but you will push through, chug another cup of coffee, and do it again the next day.

It’s Worth It

Long days. Rough conditions. Mental and physical challenges. Why would anyone do this thing?! Because at the end of it all, you did it. The driver drove 1,200 miles of rugged, challenging terrain. The navigator navigated 1,200 miles of checkpoints. You. Did. It.

And through it all, not only did you have your teammate, you had the women of the rally there as support. Everyone is competing against each other, but everyone wants success for each other, too. Whether that means a win, a top ten finish, beating last year’s ranking, or simply getting to the finish. The rally’s biggest cheerleaders are the other teams.

There’s nothing quite like being a part of the Rebelle Rally, crossing that finish line, and being able to call yourself a Rebelle.

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2020 Lincoln Aviator

A luxury SUV with plug-in hybrid efficiency

The 2020 Lincoln Aviator is an all-new SUV with seating for up to seven passengers in a lush and elegant cabin. This is a true luxury car and it feels like one. It also looks like one with a bold exterior design that includes a massive grille that demands your attention. This helps the Lincoln Aviator stand out amid the growing number of large SUVs on the road.

It’s available in a range of four trims, including the exclusive Black Label and the plug-in hybrid Grand Touring. We spent our drive time with the Grand Touring Black Label, which combines the efficiency of the plug-in hybrid with the luxury of the Black Label at a price of $87,800.

Hybrids are nothing new and you’ll find plenty of them in the grocery store parking lot. They’re a part of the automotive landscape in such a way that they no longer stand out or draw attention as something unique. Plug-in hybrids, however, are a different story.

2020 Lincoln Aviator

Embrace the plug-in life

These aren’t as popular as their non-plug counterparts. That doesn’t mean they’re lesser, just that the public hasn’t been as willing to buy into the idea of plugging in a car at night. The same is true for pure electrics. It’s still a little weird to plug in your car when you get home.

If you can shake off that weirdness, then you get the benefit of paying less to fuel your car. The overall cost of charging a plug-in hybrid or electric is less than relying on a gas-only engine. There are also tax breaks for buying one depending on where you live. Finally, there’s the added benefit of reducing your impact on the environment especially in areas where power is generated by more environmentally friendly methods.

Unlike an electric which must be plugged in to charge because it only has battery power, this is optional on a plug-in hybrid. You can run it on gas if that’s what you prefer of if plugging in isn’t convenient.

Running it purely on that gas engine, the Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring gets an EPA-estimated 23 mpg combined. Plug in to charge and that number jumps to 56 MPGe. It’s your call, but embracing the plug-in life will save you some cash.

A powerful and responsive engine

Honestly, though, if you’re looking at a vehicle like this, then you’re probably not on a tight budget. This is a luxury SUV so there are far cheaper options you can choose. The whole reason to pay extra for the Aviator is for that distinctive luxury-car vibe that can’t be had at bargain basement prices.

Power comes from a direct injection twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 and an electric motor for 494 system horsepower and 630 lb-ft of torque. This is paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission. The Aviator is a big vehicle, but those numbers make it surprisingly peppy. Press the accelerator and you won’t find power lacking.

While it has plenty of power, handling is a little soft. It’s more luxury family hauler than sports car. You will feel the bulk of the Aviator as you change lanes and it’s not exactly the kind of thing you want to push hard through the corners, but that’s okay. The Aviator is all about a luxury experience for passengers and on that front it delivers.

2020 Lincoln Aviator

Luxury car comfort at its peak

The Grand Touring Black Label includes leather seats that are 30-way adjustable, heated, and ventilated for the driver and front passenger, leather-wrapped steering wheel, quad-zone climate control, and ambient lighting. The second-row captain’s chairs are just as roomy and comfortable, so families won’t be fighting to see who gets to sit up front.

The Aviator looks like a luxury car and it feels like one. It has the elegant design, high-quality materials, and spacious, comfortable interior you’d expect in a luxury SUV. The Aviator also offers the opportunity to be different.

It’s not the same as every other three-row out there. It’s not the most popular choice and you probably won’t pass a heck of a lot of them on the highway. It’s a luxury SUV that gives you the chance to stand out from the crowd in the most elegant way possible. And as a plug-in hybrid, it lets you be environmentally conscious and save a few bucks at the same time.

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