There are pros and cons to living in Ohio while attempting to convince people that I’m a motoring journalist. On the plus side, I don’t have to live with the horrendous roads or the stifling car insurance rates that come with living near Detroit.
Downside? I’m not in the heart of the action. Many times, a last-minute invite to an event will materialize – but I need to plan an entire day around it, as I’m 200 miles from Detroit. I need to take an entire day away from work – mind you, I really don’t mind missing work – but it takes more planning than my Detroit colleagues.
An unexpected win, however, comes with loaner cars. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the various press fleets have generally been sending me cars in a non-stop weekly rotation as they don’t want to have two drivers (one driving and one retrieving my loaner) in a car together for three-plus hours. Thus, I’ve had two (occasionally three) cars in my driveway nearly continuously for over a year.
The thing is – I don’t have time to review them all. So we’ll try a new monthly feature on for size. Since this fat-ass isn’t allowed to go to a REAL buffet anymore, I’m bringing you small, bite-sized samplers of the variety of cars I’m driving each month. It’s possible some of these might get the full review treatment at some point – or one of us here might have already done a full review. Still, I’m here to bring you a bit of everything.
Ed. note: We will still be doing the regular full reviews, as well, the ones that are mostly written by either Chris or myself. So stay tuned for those.
A note on the format of these reviews. Often in a full review, we aim to bring you a real-world calculation of the fuel economy. I just can’t put that many tanks of fuel through two cars a week while still holding down the nine-to-five. I aim to always drive enough to burn half a tank of fuel – that usually works out to a minimum of 150 miles on each car – but exceptions do happen.
2021 Mercedes-Maybach GLS600 4MATIC
MSRP: $190,700 incl. D&D. EPA Fuel Economy estimate: 15 city/19 hwy/16 combined
This is most certainly the least-TTAC-appropriate vehicle I’ve driven in my five-plus years here. For the price of a nice home in much of the country, you get a three-row SUV.
Wait. No. While this GLS600 from the Maybach nameplate looks like a pimped-out version of the relatively pedestrian GLS450 biggie-size family hauler, the GLS600 pitches the third row of seating to allow the pair of second-row buckets to recline. Between those two seats is an optional wine cooler (we tossed some cream cheese in there when we picked up bagels) for the ultimate in extravagance. That refrigerator unit eats into the cargo space significantly, meaning this is not the ride for a foursome and their golf bags. In this case, you are chauffeured – alone – to the club, where your freshly-shined Callaways, PXGs, and Scotty Cameron are readied for you.
Still – it’s a hell of a ride. The silver/blue two-tone finish is distinct without too much gaudiness. The ride is whisper-quiet, and your passengers will fall asleep leaving you alone with your choice of music. As a dad of teens, this is a good thing.
Oh, and if you’re silly enough to risk soiling the wheels in muddy areas, you can use the Recovery Mode to bounce yourself free. It’s great for Instagram, too. I do wish the Ram TRX had this feature.
2021 Hyundai Elantra Limited
MSRP: $26,600 incl. D&D. EPA Fuel Economy estimate: 31 city/41 hwy/35 combined
Chad flew to drive this first in the fall, and I can only echo his raves. Solid, comfortable long-range driver for a compact – I drove this home from Detroit, and it’s one of the best small cars I’ve ever taken on a long freeway cruise. The Elantra has plenty of room for people and cargo, with a chassis that is competent in the twisties. And it looks VERY good while doing so.
I can’t think of a compact I’d recommend more. If and when we get the 276-ish horsepower Elantra N, I can easily see myself doing something incredibly stupid with my finances to add it to the stable.
2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA45
MSRP: $70,150 incl. D&D. EPA Fuel Economy estimate: 20 city/29 hwy/23 combined
Here’s a compact sedan that has much in common – dimensionally at least – with the above Elantra. Yet the babiest of the baby Benzes is priced nearly triple that of the Hyundai.
And yet, it’s incredibly appealing. 382 horses, snorting and farting away with a simple toe prod, ready to shred the tread from four meaty tires. I know not everyone loves the MBUX infotainment system with the dual screens, but I’m a fan. It’s clear, easy to read, with wonderful nav displays and multiple intuitive control interfaces.
If you don’t choose the blinding yellow paint, it even looks somewhat reserved and respectable. The driving experience is that of a well-tuned Subaru WRX STi with a sheen of genteel road manners.
2021 Toyota Sienna Platinum AWD
MSRP: $54,553 incl. D&D. EPA Fuel Economy estimate: 35 city/36 hwy/35 combined
Minivans are great. Yes, I know that I just sold my last van, and wouldn’t you know I really could have used it this weekend to haul a bunch of trash across town to the dump after cleaning the garage.
This hybrid, all-wheel-drive Sienna from Toyota makes all the sense in the world – fuel economy you’d expect from a Camry in something that can take seven or eight people anywhere with something resembling pavement (I’m looking squarely north at the Michigan DOT) in total comfort. I’m in love with the green paint – scroll back to the top and revel in the glory of a color that ISN’T BEIGE.
Loaded up like this one? It really should be a Lexus if you’re asking $55k, but then you feel guilty when you have to take a load of garage detritus to the dump. With their versatility, minivans are meant to be thrashed without thinking – and I’d be a bit scared of ruining the lovely leather-like we did with the pairing of a new couch and a new kitten a few years back.
2021 Cadillac XT6 Sport Platinum AWD
MSRP: $72,165 incl. D&D. EPA Fuel Economy estimate: 18 city/25 hwy/21 combined
I’m searching and searching..and I can’t find any photos I’ve taken of this. Well, here’s one from Cadillac’s media site – just imagine it in white. I drove it a year ago, too. It was (and is) fine. It’s NOT, however, worth $72k. At $45k, perhaps, I can get behind it – but I’d have to mosey on down the street (or across the parking lot) to the building with a bowtie.
There’s simply not enough to differentiate between a well-equipped Traverse and this XT6. I’ll grant the handsome Cadillac styling is a bit less anonymous than the styled-by-Dial-soap Traverse, but I’m not able to see the value add here between the brands.
2021 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
MSRP: $48,200 incl. D&D. EPA Fuel Economy estimate: 20 city/26 hwy/23 combined
Another one I drove last year – a three-row that is just a bit too tight in the way back for anyone but kids, but Mazda’s fun-to-drive heritage shines here. Good fuel economy for the class and marvelous road manners make this a family conveyance that doesn’t punish anyone.
Maybe Mazda is pushing the “same sausage, different lengths” motto that long was associated with German automakers, but the handsome styling here is starting to feel a bit anonymous to me. It’s lovely when alone, but in a parking lot it resembles the CX-5 and Mazda3 a bit too closely for me to distinguish it. It might be time for a styling refresh – it’s been about 5 years since the last redesign.
2021 Mercedes-AMG GLB35
MSRP: $61,485 incl. D&D. EPA Fuel Economy estimate: 21 city/26 hwy/23 combined
I’m a fan of the small, front-drive-biased Mercedes crossovers it seems. Last year I drove both the GLA250 and GLB250, both of which are mechanically quite similar. I preferred the GLB’s more upright, traditional-SUV look to the more truncated tail and short overhang of the GLA.
So naturally, the hot version of the GLB, this AMG-festooned GLB35, came to me for a week. Three-hundred and two turbocharged horses and a lowered suspension make this a hoot to haul up to seven.
Not kidding, this wee crossover is fitted with an optional third row of seating that is perfect for…well, humans without legs, or small to mid-sized dogs. Folded down, cargo space is identical to that of the excellent two-row GLB, but I guess the third row gives some flexibility if you ever start working in an office again and have to drive to a long lunch while hauling coworkers you hate.
2021 Hyundai Sonata SEL Plus
MSRP: $32,064 incl. D&D. EPA Fuel Economy estimate: 27 city/37 hwy/30 combined
Has Hyundai had anything but hits over the last five years or so? From styling to driving dynamics to interior comfort, it’s hard to pick something from this other big H brand that doesn’t stand up to the best selling models in each market segment in which they compete.
The Sonata continues to win. I drove it a couple of times last summer, as did Tim. It’s a stunningly styled family sedan (though I’d argue the stablemate Kia K5 is a bit sexier in the sheetmetal) that feels like it’s punching above the weight class and intruding into entry-luxury territory.
I’m a sucker for the DRL light signature that fades into the chrome strip that separates the fender and the hood, I’ll grant – that is just such a cool little detail that I can’t help but stare.
2022 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL 2.5 S-AWC
MSRP: $38,590 incl. D&D. EPA Fuel Economy estimate: 24 city/30 hwy/36 combined
Yes, I just did the first drive of this a few weeks ago. Fleet schedules can be weird. Anyhow, I was happy to see how well the Outlander managed my daily routines, rather than the truncated drive “experience” of a launch event.
I’m still impressed. As it turns out, so are others.
I’ll occasionally be stopped by onlookers asking about a certain car – but nearly always it’s while I’m fueling up some exotic or a sports car. This time – as I was cleaning out my garage on Saturday – a couple drove by my house, turned around, and came back up the street to take a look at the Outlander. They asked me if it was the new one, even.
Mitsubishi has a winner here, I’m thinking.
So, what are your thoughts? I’ll admit I haven’t been the best at following up on comments here on my reviews, but I’m committing to you – the Best and Brightest – that I’ll be here to answer any questions that I can about the cars I’m driving. I should have a full review of something each month as well, but this way we can talk about a broader spectrum of new cars.
[Images: © 2021 Chris Tonn, Cadillac]