The Big Discovery

Land Rover had to go and get stylish on us. The last time I reviewed their midsize hauler, it was called the LR4 and had the upright, utilitarian lines of a six-foot-tall shoebox. But that pragmatic plonker has been replaced this year by a new Discovery. It’s more than the latest “suburban assault vehicle.” It is, to my eyes, the happy medium in the company’s lineup.

To be sure, the Discovery’s cousins on the Range Rover side of the dealer’s lot have more luxurious trim, not to mention upper-crust snarl. And, while we’re cruising the inventory, the more compact Discovery Sport model has that rip-and-grin zippiness that is so popular today. But I figure if you have people and stuff to haul, just go all the way. And now the Discovery has the flowing lines and bodacious interior to make it a vehicle for which there will be no apologies.

The only folks who will be disappointed are those lion-trackers who like their Land Rovers to look like they just conquered the Serengeti. All gone now, alas. Like Jeep, the old soldier’s barracks were invaded with an air of creamy opulence.

The Discovery is now a very drivable cruiser and actually completely different from its LR4 forebear. The oldster’s truckish body-on-frame architecture has been replaced with a monocoque design fortified with aluminum. This brings the heft down 800 pounds and makes it a far more graceful dancer.

Indeed, 400 miles in the new Discovery told me that highway or mountain byway miles went by with plummy ease. Its wondrous air suspension had me feeling like I was riding, well, on air. I did not tow an 8,200-pound boat, but I could have. Its four-wheel-drive capabilities are justifiably famous.

The advantage held by the larger Discovery model is its height, which could make that optional third-row seat livable quarters for adults. A six-footer need not remove his pith helmet. For hauling, the second- and third-row seats can be flattened at the push of a button, resulting in enough boot space to park a dirigible. Or haul a whole lotta mulch. In generations past, the taller SUVs did make you pay with a top-heavy feeling when sailing around a big curve. That issue seems to have been engineered out of the equation.

The considerably less-expensive Sport model can also be optioned for three rows, but I don’t know whether I’d ask anything larger than a dachshund to sit in the hindmost seat. And that rakish roofline does take away space. Still, if real aggressive driving is your vehicle’s primary duty, then you’ll like the Sport.

Passengers will welcome time spent in the big Discovery. Nine USB ports and six 12-volt outlets will make the campers happy. The driver’s environment in my tester offered a blend of flat-black surfaces that looked elegant as well as strong. It was, actually, a fine place in which to go on all sorts of wild adventures. Even if not all the way to the Serengeti.


SPECIFICATIONS
Base Price: $63,950
Price as Tested: $82,500
Power: 340-hp, 3.0-liter V6. 4-wheel drive
Capacity: 7-passenger
EPA Mileage Ratings: 16 city/ 21 highway

 

 

Living Large

Please do not mock this big-shouldered cruiser until you’ve used it the way it’s intended. The hulking GMC Yukon XL Denali might seem a bit much at first sight. But then you take three college students back to campus with their tons of gear, and the miles roll by with posh serenity, and you reach this vehicle’s promised state of highway nirvana.

This GMC model is supposed to be positioned between the Chevy’s time-honored Suburban and Cadillac’s swag-mobile Escalade. But all three models have been subject to constant rejuvenations, and the new Yukon is now pretty much a large limousine. Go ahead, point out the Mastique ash wood trim.

New for 2018 is a grill out of Transformers and a new 10-speed automatic that raises mileage figures to a decent level.

That gang being driven to college will have lots of entertainment. The Bose Centerpoint audio system floods the zone with sound, which can be addressed with AppleCar Play or Android Auto. The 4G WiFi option can connect up to seven mobile devices at once.

The XL designation means the wheelbase has been stretched fourteen inches longer than a regular Yukon, with all attendant legroom and luggage-area benefits. The four-wheel-drive option makes it ready for anything. The upscale Denali trim adds the Magnetic Ride Control on the suspension, which assures you that the shocks are adjusting to road bumps in micro-seconds. I’ve always found this an impressive feat of engineering.

The only thing you might find intimidating is a crowded parking lot. This baby is big. The recent interest in sporty crossovers led GMC to actually reduce the size of the Yukon’s kid brother, the Acadia, which is presently selling like hotcakes. For a three-row vehicle, the Acadia’s a nifty driver. And as the Yukon XL Denali has expanded in price, the Acadia is ever more attractive. But once you glide the highway in the big Yukon’s jumbo-jet serenity, you’ll see why the big fellow is so loved.


SPECIFICATIONS

Base Price: $71,665
As Tested: $80,890
Power: 420-hp, 6.2-liter V8 w/4-wheel drive
EPA Mileage Ratings: 15 city/22 highway

 

 

The Suave Continental

When the new Lincoln Continental sat in our driveway, it seemed to radiate power, money and stylish aggression. It might not have been, as Frank Lloyd Wright once said of his 1940 Continental, “the most beautiful car ever designed.” But it is a long step forward for the brand and proof of the company’s intentions to put some grandeur back in Lincoln’s wheelhouse.

The revival started a few years ago with some fun crossovers, the MKC and MKX. Lincoln’s princely SUV, the Navigator, has just been given a magnificent remake. Lincoln sales are rising, too, especially in China’s booming market, which led the manufacturer to dust off the Continental nameplate, last used fifteen years ago, and create a four-seater in a style motif that echoes the sleek authority of Jaguar and Bentley. The robust front end is far friendlier than the snowplow look seen on some of its high-priced rivals.

Lincoln’s Program Engineer Mike Celentino told me he wanted a “serene interior.” The command cabin is damned handsome with a cool blend of surfaces, and the dashboard can be configured to personal preferences. It’s as hushed as a cathedral—until you crank up the sound system’s Revel Ultima audio speakers.

Primarily a luxury hunk, this Continental will still respond to energetic driving without any wallowing or complaint. Its two tons of steel regality, however, is not really the ideal piece for any extreme, teenage friskiness. Our tester was the optioned-up Reserve model with a meaty 400-horsepower engine, all-wheel-drive, a host of glistening technology packages and a $74,000 price tag. For considerably less—closer to $50,000—is the Standard package with a strong-enough, 305-horsepower V-6 and front-wheel-drive (AWD optional). It might be missing the million-way adjustable seats, twin moonroofs and the like, but it most assuredly still looks like the king’s own chariot in your driveway.

Contributed

SPECIFICATIONS

Base Price: $56,075
As Tested: $74,095
Power: 400-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 w/all-wheel-drive
EPA Mileage Ratings: 16 city/24 highway; 19 combined

 

 

Power Play

Everything about the Cadillac CT6 says “drive me for a million miles.” It’s that good. With this new model, the brand has come up with an adroit combination of power, refinement and elan. It scores on the high-tech filigrees demanded on the upper end, and succeeds as a driver’s car.

Cadillac has been searching for the same success in its sedans that it has long enjoyed with its princely Escalades. Accordingly, they hired Audi CEO Johan de Nysschen and moved Cadillac headquarters to Manhattan. Vying for customers of German cars, Cadillac opted not to give the new CT6 the sheer length of the rival gunboats. It would be positioned, for comparison, between the Mercedes S- and E-class sedans. But thanks to a brilliant use of aluminum, the CT6 is 700 pounds lighter than the bigger Mercedes and still offers real elbow room, particularly in the back where guests will love the limo-like spaciousness. There are luxury SUVs that give nowhere near this sort of passenger comfort.

That relative lightness lets it leap forward on a twisty road. The premium version delivers Magnetic Ride Control shocks that adapt to road imperfections in microseconds (a Cadillac innovation now being borrowed by Ferrari) and active rear-wheel steering to boost swift maneuverability. Sporty drivers might prefer its slightly smaller brother, the CTS. But as someone who loves driving a big, fast sedan, I’d choose the CT6 in a rapid heartbeat.

All-wheel-drive models equipped with a 335-hp V6 can be had in the $60,000 and $70,000 range. Our premium-edition tester with the twin-turbo 404-hp V6 came in at $81,840, providing considerable savings in a market sector where, perhaps, penny-pinching is not first priority. But, still.

The dashboard has all the latest stuff, including the luscious Bose Panaray sound system. If you don’t feel like navigating the dashboard screen, you can just speak up and tell the thing to set your favorite satellite-radio station and then guide you to Starbucks. But you won’t dawdle there. At the helm of this swift-running clipper, you will want to drive many a mile farther down
the road.


CADILLAC CT6

Base Price: $67,657
Price as Tested: $81,840
Drivetrain: 404-hp, 3.0-liter turbo V6 w/all-wheel drive
EPA Mileage Ratings: 18/26 mpg

 

 

Crossover to Bliss

If you like to drive— or at least feel that the driving experience should have a touch of exhilaration—you have already considered an Audi. No matter the model, you know an Audi is going to make you feel like the captain of a fabulous ship. Take the new Q7, which dealers can’t keep in stock. (Danbury Audi came through and loaned me one for the test drive.) I thought the old Q7 was a glamorous gunboat, but the redesign is something to behold.

It all became clear when I was sailing around the back roads north of the Merritt. The drive select had been set to Comfort mode and everything was as creamy as a giant éclair. Then I snapped it to Dynamic, and it was like a sleeping cat instantly springing up on its haunches. The revs held longer for instant power, the suspension firmed up, and the Q7’s whole attitude turned a little snarlier. It was suddenly a wholly different vehicle. In Dynamic mode, the car tracked beautifully through turns. What was completely missing was that top-heavy yaw still cursing some of the larger SUVs. With a heft-reducing aluminum body, this Audi feels light on its feet and retains a car-like composure. Not bad for a crossover with three rows of seats.

When heavy traffic reappears, flick it back to Comfort mode and everything is instantly luxurious again.

In the parking lot, the air suspension will lower the rear end to ease loading the luggage. The all-wheel-drive Quattro system sees you through the slush. Oh, and the high-tech goodies abound. With its internet connection, the dashboard’s optional Virtual Cockpit will actually show the Google Earth photograph of your surrounding terrain in sharp 3-D imagery. Don’t plan on getting lost with this. Audiophiles will surely upgrade to the Bang & Olufsen sound system. (Can one be an Audiphile audiophile?)

Craig Falgiano of Danbury Audi noted the high volume of repeat business the brand gets. “People might start with the sporty A4 and then move up, or they want two. Once you get going with Audi, you want to stay.”

I get it. Every time I’ve given back a test Audi, it’s been with a steaming reluctance.


AUDI Q7
Price (as tested): $61,945
Drivetrain: 333-hp 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 w/AWD
EPA Mileage Rating: 18 city/27 highway

 

 

Stay Fierce

Mercedes-Benz might once have had a staid reputation, but in the last decade the company has issued a steady stream of hot rods that are all about rakish style and pugnacious fun. Customers can choose between sober and raucous. The respectable E-series sedan, for instance, can also be had in the form of the immortally swoopy CLS, a much-imitated, Italian-looking four-door coupe.

Now we have the new GLE Coupe, a breathtaking brawler of a sport-ute. Its streamlined roof demands that you duck your head while entering, but once you’re behind the wheel, it’s all leathery refinement from the tech-world school of interior design. The four-seat GLE might seem to be all about aggressive good looks, but it does ply the roads with savoir-faire. Handling and braking are quick and sharp for such a hulk. The GLE450 AMG version that I drove put 362 horses to the ground, and that seemed plenty good. (The “S” version throws down 577 hp.) A snarly exhaust adds one more note of exhilaration.

The base price is $65,000, but before you secure financing on that amount, have a look at the extensive options list. Nothing would be appreciated more than the Blind Spot Assist, which puts a wonderful bird’s-eye view of the car on your dash screen, thereby easing otherwise ominous parking-lot situations. It is part of a great array of electronic guardian angels hovering over the vehicle.

Is this Mercedes right for you? Well, if you’re more about hauling, or if the rear passengers need more space, the more wagon-like GLE SUV is the way to go. For similarly striking lines but in an agile, compact body, check out the Mercedes GLA class. But somebody’s going to like the GLE Coupe just as it is. Take one look at the powerful, bad-ass SUVs now patrolling the Post Road and it’s clear Mercedes has aimed this ferocious thing right at the heart of Fairfield County. Folks will surely know when you’ve arrived.

GM-TN-StayFierce-2

Mercedes-Benz GLE450 AMG Coupe

Base Price: $65,000
Price as Tested: $89,605
Drivetrain: 3.0-liter, turbocharged, 362-hp all-wheel drive
EPA Mileage: 17 city/23 highway

 

 

 

Beauty & Beast

The Range Rover Sport SVR reminds me of one of those freakish football players; you know, the hulking 300-pounder who has the swift, spinning grace of a gymnast. Somehow, Range Rover has engineered this mighty fortress to cruise the road with ease and dispatch.

Beauty & BEAST

The five-seater Sport model is situated in the center of Range Rover’s lineup. It’s larger than the compact Discovery Sport model, but nowhere near the size of, say, the Autobiography LWB, which once struck me as the grandest of limousines. The SVR version is more about stylish aggression. Slapped awake by a 550-hp supercharged V-8, it hustles down the road with astonishing propulsion. But it’s civilized, too, as surprisingly quick steering allows it to go around town with grace. Leather bucket seats embrace your deserving posterior.

Step pugnaciously on the loud pedal and the Range Rover really snarls. The power is deep and endless. Take it up the swervy roads north of the Merritt, and it just sails. The Sport SVR is very easy to keep on track. You won’t forget, of course, that you’re sitting up pretty high. Yet, it stays grandly composed.

Our tester had all the trimmings, including the Meridian Signature Audio with its 1,700 watts of surround sound power that provided outstanding separation and fidelity, although the touch-screen controls require some adapting. The trimmings do come at a price, though. The tester retails for $121,525, but there are less flashy versions of this model starting at $65,000, beginning with the Sport SE, which includes a thrifty diesel option. Being Range Rovers, all models come with enough traction control choices to sail over mountains of mud and snow, although personally, I couldn’t bear crashing through the brambles in this car and scratching the paint.

 

RANGE ROVER SPORT SVR
Price (as tested): $121,525
Drivetrain: 550-hp,

EPA Mileage Ratings: 14 city/19 highway


 

 

 

Curves Ahead

The stylists at Ford finally woke up and smelled the espresso, and are maximizing the possibilities lurking within its luxury wing, Lincoln. With the new compact, runabout Lincoln MKC, the brand has a model one can recommend without reservations.

You might snicker over the TV ads featuring Matthew McConaughey, but they’ve led to a 25 percent sales jump. The handsome MKC, the first shot at what will be a complete redesign of the marque, provides a lot of help. It’s solid, luxurious and ready to rock.

Gripping the leather-wrapped steering wheel from the cushiony cloud of “Bridge of Weir” leather in the front seat, the driver gets the full, sumptuous treatment. The rear seats are more spare, and the cargo area is not designed for hauling the hockey team, but if more space is needed, go up a size to the MKX. You may want to wait for the redesign, though, which is scheduled to launch in late summer.

With its 106-inch wheelbase, the MKC puts down a much shorter footprint than many of its big-lug rivals, and that translates into an authentically sporty SUV that’s just fun for jumping into and tearing off someplace. Richard Spelling at Stamford Ford Lincoln credits the torque-vectoring controls for giving such decisive steering control to the driver. “It’s a game-changer,” he says. “Here you have got something that people love to drive.”

The basic front-wheel-drive version is priced in the mid-$30,000 range, but I would recommend our tester’s specs with the bigger, Mustang-derived turbo four and all-wheel-drive. Several weeks after I gave the test car back to Lincoln, I found myself missing it. Then I saw a couple sitting in an MKC and asked their opinion. “We go through a lot of cars,” they sighed. Then they brightened. “But this thing makes us feel like teenagers!”


LINCOLN MKC
Price (as tested): $49,865
Drivetrain: 2.3-liter, turbocharged, 285-hp, all-wheel drive
EPA Mileage Ratings: 18 city/26 highway

 

 

Looks to Thrill

The Italians understand three things very well: beautiful lines, voracious handling and very willing motors. Maserati is one of the great attention-getting names in automotive history, even as its ownership has veered through operatic changes over the years. For the past two decades, however, the manufacturer has enjoyed the stability of a partnership with Fiat and Ferrari, companies that have modernized the Maserati factory. As a result, the new Ghibli might be considered something of an accessible, affordable Ferrari, as it’s priced like an Audi S7. It’s doing so well here that Miller Motorcars, the exotic-car specialists in Greenwich, has opened a Maserati of Westport at 1026 Post Road East.

The “S Q4” designation of the car we tested means this version has a bigger engine and all-wheel drive; thus, it can be on the road year-round. We even took it out in a vicious winter storm, yet it felt totally serene and capable. The V-6 was designed by Paolo Martinelli, Ferrari’s Formula 1 maestro, who orchestrated the engine to produce some startling sounds. Accelerate hard and you’ll hear a raucous braaap. The auto pros at Miller Motorcars who loaned us this curvaceous howler suggested we keep it in Sport mode most of the time, but during the storm it was easy to access the gentler dynamics of the Ice mode. Altogether, the car has five driving modes and each one affects the behavior of the eight-speed automatic transmission.

While the Ghibli is “smaller” than Maserati’s Quattroporte gunship, it’s still a full-sized luxury car with four seats upholstered in beautiful leather. Even so, it can be tossed around with aplomb. Power around a backcountry curve at 50 mph, and the ride feels as composed as if you were doing 25. The car doesn’t furnish neck-snapping acceleration, but it does offer a stimulating rush that makes a driver suddenly question how everything got going this fast.

It’s no wonder Maserati sales have risen so dramatically in recent years. This model works like a normal car, yet it has startling good looks and goes like hell. It’s Italian, you know. Passionate. For information go to millermotorcars.com.

Totally Wired

Forget about the electric-car pedigree for a moment. Consider owning a Tesla simply for the driving experience. After some spirited gallivanting in the first premium sedan built from the ground up as an electric vehicle, I wanted one. If this is the future of the automobile, bring it on, please.

There are about twenty electric car models on the market today and, aside from the Chevy Volt and its sister the Cadillac ELR, the range on a charge is usually in the neighborhood of eighty miles. That’s a tight neighborhood. By comparison, the Tesla Model S I drove had a max range of 280 miles. Heavy use of the throttle or the heater diminishes the range a bit, although a fifty-mph commute barely dents the power supply.

If you were to fix an absolutely drained Tesla to your home charger­—on a 240-watt outlet like the one your clothes dryer uses—it would take nine hours to top up, and add just $10 to the electric bill. A fifty-mile commute would require just a few hours of charging and cost about $1.50. Or you can get a free plug-in at one of the high-powered “supercharger” stations Tesla is building along major arteries. I visited one at the Darien rest stop along I-95 and got 100 miles worth of juice in twenty minutes. Other Tesla stations are in Greenwich, Milford, Westchester and Manhattan.

The whereabouts of the stations can be tracked on the big screen that occupies the center console of the Model S. (The car being a WiFi hot spot, you can also check your email or stock prices from the screen.) The dashboard has a handsome, flowing Swedish Moderne refinement. It’s hard to believe this is an American car built in Fremont, California, at an old GM plant.

Cruising range like this requires enormous batteries. That’s why the two-ton Tesla feels as solid as a bank vault, but it does not feel remotely cumbersome. Go up a twisty wet road and the ride is accomplished. You can tool around town in serene silence, too. But step on the gas pedal—oops, I mean, the accelerator—and it instantly whooshes you to a heart-stopping speed. The Tesla will go up to 130 mph. No raucous shakes or snarls accompany this rush; there’s no building up steam.
While my Tesla Model S tester is the current performance version (the basic car is priced near $75,000), the factory has Ferrari-fighter levels of performance in the wings. An all-wheel-drive version is also coming, so look for it in Tesla showrooms in Mt. Kisko and the Westchester.