Henry Payne Blog

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Payne: Cadillac goes big with CT5-V, its sexiest, fastest, techiest compact ever

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 2, 2020

The 2020 Cadillac CT5-V is a compact, performance sedan that competes against the BMW M340i and Audi S4.

The 2020 Cadillac CT5-V is a compact, performance sedan that competes against the BMW M340i and Audi S4. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

When I was a kid, I imagined a button on my bike’s handlebars that would transform my two-wheeler into an asphalt-scorching race car. You, too?

Say hello to V-Mode in the 2020 Cadillac CT5-V.

I took the alluring sedan to my favorite Hell, Michigan,playground to play (and practice social-distancing). I luffed along comfortably through Livingston County, but as I approached the twisted curves of Hell, my heavy right foot began to itch. There, right out of my childhood dreams, was the V-Mode button on the steering wheel.

With a single press, the steering tightened in my paws, the 10-speed transmission dropped a gear and fangs seem to grow from the Cadillac’s front grille.

I buried the throttle and the beast leapt forward. WAAAUUUGGHHHH! roared the 360 ponies under the hood. BRAP-BRAP! spat the quick-shifting tranny. WHOOOOSH! went the scenery past my window.

The CT5-V lives up to Caddy’s mantra to go big in the compact sedan class.

Kicking its small ATS (now renamed CT4) down market to compete in the subcompact class against the BMW 2-series, GM’s luxe brand has tagged ATS’ big brother, CTS, to do battle against the likes of BMW 3-series, Audi A4, Mercedes C-class, Alfa Romeo Giulia and Tesla Model 3.

Rebadged the Cadillac CT5 and re-sculpted with a handsome fastback, the 2020 Caddy brings the CTS’ mid-size proportions to the compact class. It even expands its wheelbase 1.5 inches to claim biggest class specs: biggest front seat, biggest back seat, biggest wheelbase.

Then CT5 goes bigger on value. Starting at just $37,900 with a turbo-4 under the hood, the CT5 not only undercuts the ol’ $45,000 CTS by a whopping 7 grand, it’s also 5 grand cheaper than the BMW 3-series. With those big headlines and Cadillac’s sculpted bod, CT5 should turn heads.

But proportions and price aside, the standard 237-horse CT5 is an average meal. I flogged it around Ann Arbor last fall as part of the North American Car of the Year competition where its average power and interior didn’t stand out.

Not so the four-star CT5-V. V for va-va-voom.

It’s aimed at the up-market BMW M340i, Audi S4 and Mercedes AMG C 43. Just as the 382-horse BMW M340i offers buyers a taste of its mouth-watering, full-Monty, 444-horse M3 performance steak — but without the eye-watering, $80,000 sticker price — so does the Cadillac split the difference between the standard CT5 and its M3-fighter.

I wish I could tell you the name of the CT5’s tippy-top performance model (replacing my old favorite ATS-V), but Cadillac is leaving that fine cut of beef for later.

Suffice to say that the CT5-V offers plenty to chew on for now. This is a sleek, roomy, high-tech machine that will quietly deliver your guests to the club, then raucously entertain your inner child on twisty country roads to the cabin up north.

Let’s talk tech. Unlike the standard CT5, the V throws everything and the kitchen sink at the competition. Consider the V-mode that set Hell’s roads on fire.

It’s made possible by GM’s Performance Traction Management system — PTM, for short — that CT5-V shares with its mid-engine Corvette stablemate. The ’Vette’s button is called Z-mode. Personalize Z and V modes in Settings in the infotainment screen. My choices: Track setting engine sound, Track or steering, Track for powertrain, Sport for suspension, Sport for brakes.

The option instantly transformed my steed. I barreled through Hell’s empty ess-curves, the weighted steering anchored to the road, the four-barrel exhaust howling. Over roller-coaster brows, the stiffened magnetic shocks kept the 3,975-pound missile flat to the road. Entering a 90-degree turn, I stomped 4-piston Brembo brakes, then … stopped.

Launch control time. This is where PTM really shines. The computer-managed slip in my rear-wheel drive Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires while the 10-speed tranny — exclusive in the segment — barked off rapid upshifts.

This Corvette-like performance bandwidth intrigued my pal Jamie, who just gave back his 2017 CTS-V off lease for an $85,000 mid-engine C8 with Z51 performance package.

The CT5-V packs many of the same elements — PTM plus e-diff and magnetic shocks — but with a $30,000 less sticker price and roomy rear seats.

“Boy, this thing is good!” exclaimed Jamie as he flung the V through some Oakland County curves. I’m betting his Vette will soon have a CT5-V garage-mate.

V is faithful to the standard CT5’s promise (which also comes as a Sport and Premium Luxury model) of being at least $5,000 cheaper than the German competition. My $56,875 tester was considerably less than comparable the $62,000 Audi S4 and BMW M340i I’ve tested.

The sexy V is more fun than the conservative Audi and holds its own against Bimmer’s terrific inline-6.

Like the standard CT5, the sacrifice the V-buyer will make to BMW — and Mercedes and Audi — is in the dash displays, where the Yankee lags a generation behind. Visit a BMW’s interior and you’ll walk away drooling over its graphics displays, remote-controller wizardry and intuitive voice control.

“Go to Uncle Joe’s Chicken in Southfield, Michigan” I commanded the Bimmer, and it obeyed beautifully. The Caddy? Not so much. The CT5-V’s door handles tantalize with their soft-squeeze entry, but old-school analog gauges and an antiquated rotary screen controller lag the German’s state of the art.

Still, even the Germans feel a step behind Tesla in the electronics game. The electric Model 3 remains a unique experience and its comparable Performance version is priced at $57,000 with the CT5-V while offering head-exploding 2.9-second zero-60 acceleration, standard all-wheel drive (a $2,600 option on the Caddy), and an optional, class-best, $7,000 Autopilot.

That uniqueness won’t last long.

Later this year, Cadillac will introduce its own Super Cruise autonomous system to the 2021 CT5 which is Tesla’s match (assuming Cadillac is serious about maintaining over-the-air updates). No one can match this pair in the self-driving field.

Super Cruise offers Cadillac another value-play if it can compete with Tesla’s $7,000 Autopilot price.

Cadillac has followed GM’s brand-wide policy of nickel-and-diming customers for safety features like adaptive cruise-control and blind-spot detection at a time when even compact cars like the Nissan Sentra make such systems standard for $25,000. Cadillac could go bigger by making those features standard on the V, too — a no-brainer for a badge that is doing so much right in this segment.

With its sexiest, fastest, techiest compact car player ever, Caddy’s gotta continue to go big.

2020 Cadillac CT5-V

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear- or all-wheel drive, 5-passenger performance sedan

Price: $48,690, including $995 destination charge ($56,875 RWD model as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6

Power: 360 horsepower, 405 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.8 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 168 mph

Weight: 3,975 lbs. as tested

Fuel economy: EPA 21 city/26 highway/21 combined

Report card

Highs: Roomy interior; brilliant drivetrain tech

Lows: Dated rotary controller; standard safety features, please

Overall: 4 stars

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Payne: Trusty Toyota 4Runner is 4Ever

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 30, 2020

2020 Toyota 4Runner

2020 Toyota 4Runner (Photo: Toyota)

Ford is about to enter the truck-based SUV market with the Ford Bronco and I get it. People are passionate about these things.

Yet, there are only two truck-based SUVs in the mid-size market — the Jeep Wrangler and the Toyota 4Runner. The Toyota what?

You can be forgiven for forgetting the Tacoma pickup-based ute doesn’t exist because Toyota hasn’t remade it since the Mesozoic Era (actually, 2009). It hasn’t had a wall-to-wall marketing campaign for some time, unlike the Jeep. You’d have to have been living on Mars not to have seen one of the Jeep ads (and I’m told there’s a Mars trim coming.). But 4Runner fans know the Toyota is there.

“What do you drive?” I recently asked a male acquaintance in Los Angeles.

“A 4Runner. Best car I’ve ever owned.”

“What do you have in the garage?” I asked a female shuttle driver in Texas.

“4Runner, I love it.”

We automotive journalists are guilty of pooh-poohing anything that hasn’t been remade in the last five years. We’re like children attracted to the latest shiny thing. But evidence is that you don’t have to be shiny to be relevant these days.

Take the Dodge Challenger and Charger muscle cars, two of the most-recognized nameplates in America thanks to savvy marketing, state-of-the-art infotainment and big horsepower. Make that ginormous horsepower.

Customers shrug at the fact that the Dodge brothers are based on an ancient 2006 chassis.

Ditto the 4Runner.

I climbed into my 4Runner tester with Mrs. Payne on a cold winter night at Detroit Metro airport after a long week away. The snow was blowing and the roads were covered with it. Detroit potholes were lurking. Boy, was I glad to see the 4Runner’s big bones and knobby, high-profile tires.

We threw our luggage in the cavernous boot, then cranked up the interior temps — heated seats, front rear-defroster, climate temps — with big, knobby dials to match the tires. After clearing the Toyota of crusted ice and snow, I tossed the snow brush into the back seat — rugged, mid-size trucks mean never having to worry about mussing the interior.

After a long day, we were in no mood to spend the next 45 minutes crawling along Detroit’s pocked cart paths worrying about a blowout in subfreezing temps. The opposite was true of 4Runner. The beast positively loved the conditions.

Like a salty sailor on rough seas, the 4Runner relies on old technology to chart its course. I eased the shifter into neutral, then yanked the truck’s second transfer-case shifter (familiar to Wrangler fans, too) back into four-wheel drive. With all four wheels churning, we set off into the gloom.

The 4Runner sits a ridiculous 10 inches off the ground with a Jeep-like 33-degree front approach angle for off-roading. Heck, we probably could have just cut through the woods to go home. The ute even includes a crawl mode for nature’s worst. This fearlessness has made Toyota’s ute a favorite of folks in rural communities where snowplows often take days to catch up to rutted roads. But this night, we decided to stick to paved roads.

The SUV bombed happily along, the 4.0-liter 270-horse V-6 mill roaring its approval. V-6s, of course, are frowned upon in this woke green age of turbocharged fuel-sipping 4-bangers. But with its guttural growl and instant torque, the six-holer matches 4Runner’s can-do character. Like the V-6s and V-8s under the hoods of Chargers and Challengers, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Customers sure don’t think the 4Runner is old-fashioned. Sales numbers in the last five years have seen a steady climb from 76,906 in 2014 to 131,888 last year. That’s a 70% jump, mirroring the 60% rise in Toyota Tacoma pickup sales to nearly 250,000 units over the same period.

As the U.S. has moved to SUVs, the idea of a Tacoma SUV with a hatch instead of a pickup bed has real appeal. Ford no doubt hopes for the same gains from a Ranger pickup-based Bronco.

Like Dodge, 4Runner mixes its old-fashioned with a taste of modern tech.

Once on M-39 headed north, I set adaptive cruise-control to 60 mph to avoid Melvindale and Dearborn speed traps. The localities are famous for using the 55-mph speed-limited Southfield Freeway to raise revenue, catching travelers who’ve been traveling the 70 mph common to the rest of the freeway.

Asian automakers have been aggressive about outfitting all their vehicles — right down to $20,000-something compacts — with safety systems like adaptive cruise and automatic emergency-braking. The 4Runner is no exception. In addition to saving my bacon from police radar, automatic cruise-control is a welcome trip companion.

Adaptive cruise is enabled by the big radar brick in the 4Runner’s gaping fish-mouth grille. After a while on M-59, ice and snow began to coat the brick like gnats in a Florida summer. Soon, the 4Runner’s brick was coated and the car’s brain told me adaptive cruise-control was no longer available. No problem, but a reminder of the many challenges self-driving systems have to overcome.

The 4Runner encountered no navigation challenges on the route thanks to another piece of updated software, Apple CarPlay. My wife simply plugged in her phone, and Google Maps routed us around stormy obstacles — traffic backups, road closures, accidents — for the quickest way home.

Speaking of plugs, 4Runner also has a three-prong outlet in the boot — perfect for charging laptop or other devices, because who carries those round cigarette lighter chargers with them anymore?

In a week of frosty, snowy weather, the Toyota was a welcome addition to the driveway. The big lug’s not much to look at, but my $48,000 Venture Edition tester served its purpose as a proper utility vehicle with heated front thrones, fold-flat second-row seats for extended cargo room, slide-out rear floor and updated 8-inch screen that keeps pace with the Wrangler’s modern U-Connect system.

Toyota prices comparably favorably to the Wrangler, too, while offering more cargo space and better interior quiet — if less overall character than the Jeep.

Both the Wrangler and the 4Runner are ol’ St. Bernards that will run the extra mile to save you from the elements. That’s how owners like them and sales numbers prove the point. Which sets up an interesting opportunity for the coming Bronco, which will surely bring lots of cutting-edge Ford tech to the ladder-frame segment.

The 4Runner is a loyal old friend. And customers are loyal back.

2020 Toyota 4Runner

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear- and all-wheel drive, 5-passenger SUV

Price: $37,240, including $1,120 destination charge ($48,877 AWD Venture Special Edition as tested)

Powerplant: 4.0-liter 6-cylinder

Power: 270 horsepower, 278 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 5-speed automatic with second transfer-case shifter for AWD

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.7 seconds (Car and Driver); towing, 5,000 pounds

Weight: 4,750 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 17 city/20 highway/18 combined

Report card

Highs: Rugged beast; nice modern touches like Apple CarPlay and 3-prong electric plug

Lows: Dated interior; gotta muscle that transfer-case shifter

Overall: 3 stars

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Payne: Honda CR-V Hybrid makes geek great

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 26, 2020

New for 2020, the Honda CR-V Hybrid is the best performing CR-V with 212 horsepower and excellent torque.

New for 2020, the Honda CR-V Hybrid is the best performing CR-V with 212 horsepower and excellent torque. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

Honda hybrids used to be soooo nerdy.

The Japanese automaker’s first hybrid debuted 20 years ago. Costing $28,932 in today’s dollars ($18,800 in 2000), the wee front-wheel drive, three-door hatchback looked like a college science project.

Shaped like a doorstop, it was optimized for 647-mile range — assuming a semi-truck didn’t run over it first as its 72 horses struggled to get up to interstate speeds. It came standard with a manual transmission. Its bicycle-thin rear tires were covered by fender slats to increase aerodynamics. It sold like granola in a candy shop. Not well.

How far hybrids have come.

For the same price, Honda’s all-new $28,870 CR-V SUV comes standard with all-wheel drive, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and 212 horsepower. That’s 12 more ponies than the standard 1.5-liter turbo CR-V.

Heck, it’s more horsepower than the Honda Civic Si pocket rocket. The five-door hatchback merges up the interstate on-ramp like a tiger while maintaining maximum 560-mile range and best-in-class interior space.

Unlike the Insight, Honda may have a winner on its hands.

Customers had been more than happy with the CR-V’s two gas-powered options, gobbling up over 384,000 CR-Vs last year. But, this being the Age of the Nanny State, there is a regulatory advantage to Honda offering a hybrid option for its best-selling vehicle. So Honda ditched the second, 2.4-liter gas engine for the hybrid.

It helps make government electrification goals, not to mention Honda’s own internal goals. The idea of the Japanese automaker electrifying two-thirds of its product by 2030 seems absurd, until you realize its best-selling model will have batteries under the rear seat.

Unlike hybrids of the past, this greenie isn’t just for the faithful. Like similar offerings from Ford (Escape) and Toyota (RAV4), this nerd is superior to its gas-powered peer in almost every way.

As regular readers of this space know, I am a particular fan of the 2020 Escape ute, which Ford introduces in Sport trim at just $28,000. The Ford’s battery-assisted geekiness is buried under layers of hot black mascara makeup and cool tech displays. High mpgs never looked so good.

So, too, the CR-V Hybrid. The homely Honda can’t match class sexpots like the Escape and Mazda CX-5, but a remade lower facia and snazzy wheels are welcome upgrades. And the 2020 model gets attractive wardrobe colors like Radiant Red Metallic and a battleship gray called Sonic Gray Metallic.

The CR-V Hybrid’s real beauty is in the price.

Escape and RAV4 sticker prices balloon to over $30,000 with all-wheel drive, but that must-have feature for Michigan winters comes standard — along with everything else — on the Honda for under $29,000. That’s about $1,500 below its class competitors, and just $1,200 more than a comparable gas-fired CR-V.

Standard also is the CR-V hybrid’s 38 mpg fuel economy, 30% better than the 1.5-liter turbo-4 model. That means fewer stops at the gas pump — but it also means you’ll pay for that $1,200 premium in under five years.

Given the hybrid’s 50% better fuel economy in urban areas — I averaged 40 mpg carving Tucson, Arizona’s urban roads — you might make it up quicker than that.

This is one cocky nerd.

Not only does it go farther on a gallon of gas than its gas-only brother, but it has more fun getting there. Honda had the audacity to set up a sand course for the hybrid that showed off its low-end torque.

With its direct-drive to the wheels (no transmission), the Honda provides instant torque without the groan of a continuously variable transmission that accompanies its Ford and RAV4 competitors. The Honda boasts 212 horsepower at the top end, though it’s shoutier getting there thanks to its 2.0-liter engine versus Ford’s bigger 2.5.

Honda has deep racing roots, and that DNA is felt even in the CR-V.

As I’ve noted, Ford has sewn a Sport badge on the Escape to suggest its lively personality. Don’t expect a Civic-like Type R model for the CR-V anytime soon (man, would that be a hoot) but I still enjoyed pushing the compact ute around town. Honda obsesses over the details and the hybrid’s bod is taut with a suspension to match.

Like a nerd with thick glasses and thicker teeth braces, hybrids used to mean geeky outside and inside. But the CR-V Hybrid is thoroughly mainstream.

Open the door and you get Honda’s typical interior wonderfulness. In fact, pause and admire the CR-V’s rear doors: They are thoughtfully hinged to open almost 90 degrees to the B-pillar for easier ingress and egress.

The SUV’s console is nearly as clever with a roomy center console, thanks in part to its raised shifter island. There’s storage for cups and phone, and USB ports are forward-located so you can easily plug in your phone for turn-by-turn screen navigation. Exclusive to the hybrid is Acura’s nifty “trigger ignition” located high within easy reach.

That raised console was my only interior regret, as it sometimes bounced my knee. You’ll forgive them because Honda fussiness over passenger comfort is especially notable inside the console.

CR-V’s three-row Pilot cousin has the best-in-class console with a pullback shade that allows purses to be stowed on top of the console spine — or entirely inside it. The CR-V, too, allows multiple configurations depending on what you’re hauling.

Speaking of best-in-class, the hybrid obsesses over grades like a good nerd should. Best-in-class torque, best-in-class passenger space, best rear-seat legroom, lowest cargo floor for loading.

Poke around under the cargo floor and you’ll see the only sign of hybrid sacrifice. To accommodate its lithium-ion battery, the CR-V’s standard spare tire has been replaced by a tire repair kit. Got a flat? The kit will fill the tire with air while also coating the interior with a puncture sealer. Hopefully, ahem, that sealer will last as far as the nearest service station.

Other oddities include steering-wheel paddles so that you can play with regenerative braking. And at low speeds the hybrid will emit an eerie, alien spacecraft sound to alert other earthlings that a quiet electric car is headed their way — as required by federal law.

It’s weird. But, hey, sometimes hybrids have to let out their inner nerd.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Vehicle type: Front-engine, hybrid all-wheel drive, 5-passenger SUV

Price: $28,870, including $1,120 destination charge ($37,070 Touring as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder mated to AC motor with 1.4-kWh lithium-ion battery

Power: 212 total system horsepower, 232 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Single-speed direct drive

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.6 seconds (Car and Driver); towing: NA

Weight: 3,763 lbs. as tested

Fuel economy: EPA 40 city/35 highway/38 combined

Report card

Highs: 38 mpg for a family SUV; standard features galore

Lows: Homely face; no spare tire

Overall: 4 stars

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Payne: Ute smackdown! VW Atlas Cross Sport vs. Chevy Blazer

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 19, 2020

Henry Payne compares the VW Atlas Cross Sport and the Chevy Blazer

In the movie “Freaky Friday,” Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis played a mother and daughter who — via a magical fortune cookie — switched bodies. Confusion ensued.

Kind of like the shapely, athletic Chevrolet Blazer and bold, hulking Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport.

These mid-size SUVs play against national stereotype. It’s as if Chevy and VW switched bodies (no fortune cookie involved). I recently tested the all-wheel drive equipped pair in the northern latitudes of Michigan (Blazer) and the Pacific Northwest (Atlas Cross Sport).

With its toned, tightly engineered bod, the Blazer felt like a German sprinter begging me to exit the city and find some country curves. On the other hand, I might have mistaken the big, square Atlas as a GMC product were it not for the oval VW logo planted on its kisser. This American-built German is less interested in carving apexes than packing all your belongings in back for a weekend Up North.

But before we get deeper into “Freaky Ute-day,” a primer on the mid-size sport-utility market is in order. Exhibit A of the SUV revolution — which now make up 53% of vehicle sales — is the explosion of its mid-size class.

Middie SUVs were once a boutique segment. Long dominated by the Jeep Grand Cherokee, it offered a stylish refuge for empty-nesters who still coveted the size of a three-row family ute but with more design appeal. Want something else? The high-tech Ford Edge, Subaru Outback and funky Nissan Murano were also available.

Other SUV segments grew like wildfire — three-rows, compacts, subcompacts, even a subcompact tweener segment squeezed between subcompacts and compacts. So it seemed inevitable the midsize ute segment would grow. In the last couple years we’ve gotten the Honda Passport, Chevy Trailblazer, remade Hyundai Santa Fe and now the VW Atlas Cross Sport.

As our Chevy and VW testers suggest, the entries are surprisingly diverse in their approach.

Cross Sport gambles that shoppers want more room than zoom. And so, like the Pilot-derived Honda Passport, it has taken its gigantic three-row architecture and simply lopped off the third row. The Blazer, meanwhile, has no three-row variant and aims for style like the Edge and Murano. The Santa Fe/Outback are comparative wallflowers but do their thing with the best value-plays in class.

If the Outback shops at Dunham’s Sports, then the Blazer dresses at Lululemon.

You know Blazer’s intentions from its ubiquitous TV ad in which a hip mom takes one look at the RS model and exclaims: “This is my sexy-mom car.”

Blazer looks the part. It’s fashionably dressed in swoopy lines, floating roof and intimidating grille. European it may appear, but in truth it’s homegrown — an attempt to bring Camaro style to SUV. I like the effort — though it can all be a little too much (an issue with Camaro as well).

The ginormous Cross Sport, meanwhile, is quite conservative — though its fastback allows a sleeker look than its three-row Atlas sibling.

The real contrast is inside.

Blazer imports Camaro cues to make the best-looking interior in class: aviator climate controls (ooooh, turn their rims to adjust the temp), tablet-like infotainment screen, sporty gauges. All this, and console cubby space, too.

The Cross Sport looks like a Chevy Silverado with acres of blocky, black space. I pined for the two-tone brown-and-black interior just to break up the yards of black plastic. There’s little imagination here, but loads of truck-like storage space — top of dash, behind the shifter, in the deep console box.

Both Blazer and Cross Sport offer backseat living rooms. Your 6-foot-5 reviewer was comfortable fore and aft. Need more cargo room? Flatten the second rows. It’s the cargo hold where you really feel the VW’s 4.5-inch wheelbase advantage — translating into near-class-best 40 cubic feet of storage space vs. the Blazer’s 30.

The Tennessee-born VW speaks with more of an American accent these days, and it understands our craving for standard features. Blindspot-assist and remote app come standard, and my $42,000 tester was loaded with adaptive cruise-control, heated steering wheel and panoramic roof.

In another “Freaky Friday” moment, the Blazer feels Old Europe by skimping on standard features — most notably adaptive cruise-control (which comes standard on a $28,000 Outback). My $41,000 Blazer went begging, however — and you’d have to buy premium trims starting at $48,000 to get it standard.

The Blazer’s sex appeal doesn’t stop at the drafting board. This is one gym-toned ute.

Chevy has made handling a priority in its lineup from the hot-rod Silverado pickup to the Equinox SUV. The Blazer is no different. Like its siblings, Blazer boasts a nimble chassis that’s genuinely fun to drive.

The only thing sporty about the Cross Sport is its name. VW fans hoping the hot-hatch Golf R’s handling translates to brother ute will be disappointed. If you want a fun, all-wheel-drive VW for $42,000, buy the sensational Golf R — or, better yet, the stunning, hatchback Arteon sedan, which you’ve never heard of because we Yanks are so star-struck with SUVs. But I digress.

Through Oakland County’s twisties, the Blazer felt a class smaller thanks to its tuned suspension and smooth tranny. I took the Cross Sport on writhing mountain passes north of Vancouver, British Columbia, and … aw, fuhgeddaboudit.

Just lock in cruise-control and admire the scenery. Which brings me to the question of which to buy.

Both the Cross Sport and Blazer are optioned with V-6s, but the added oomph is lost on the porky Atlas. Stick with the peppy 235-horse turbo-4 (shared with the Golf GTI). Despite similar specs as Chevy’s four-cylinder, the VW’s four is better with a tidy eight-speed transmission (now, that’s European!), which smoothly propelled the big ute through the rev range.

The Blazer’s V-6 option, meanwhile, comes with a whopping 32 more ponies than the Cross Sport, complementing its athletic intentions. Sure, the V-6 option is a big step up in price to the $45,000 RS model. But the sexy-mom RS is hot. Cross Sport’s similar R-Design trim was barely noticeable on the $52,000 SEL Premium trim I drove.

 “What’s different about America is all the choices you have,” said VW North American product chief Serban Boldea as we lounged in a Cross Sport’s huge lobby — er, seats.

That choice now extends to mid-size utes. Check out your local dealer for “Freaky Friday” deals.

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- and all-wheel drive, 5-passenger SUV

Price: $31,565, including $1,020 destination charge ($42,700 AWD SEL turbo-4 and $51,445 AWD SEL Premium R-Line V-6 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbo-4; 3.6-liter V-6

Power: 235 horsepower, 258 pound-feet torque (turbo-4); 276 horsepower, 266 pound-feet torque (V-6)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, NA; 2,000-5,000 lbs.

Weight: 4,288-4,411 lbs.

Fuel economy: EPA 18 city/23 highway/20 combined (AWD turbo-4); 16 city/22 highway/19 combined (AWD V-6)

Report card

Highs: Bold looks; roomy interior/cargo

Lows: Uninspired interior; no VW hot-hatch DNA

Overall: 3 stars

2020 Chevrolet Blazer

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- and all-wheel drive, 5-passenger SUV

Price: $29,995, including $1,195 destination charge ($41,595 AWD 3LT turbo-4 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder; 2.0-liter turbo-4; 3.6-liter V-6

Power: 193 horsepower, 188 pound-feet torque (2.5L 4-cyl); 230 horsepower, 258 pound-feet torque (2.0-liter turbo-4); 308 horsepower, 270 pound-feet torque (V-6)

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, NA for turbo-4; 6.3 sec. for V-6 (Car and Driver); towing NA for turbo-4, 4,500 lbs. (V-6)

Weight: 3,810-4,246 lbs.

Fuel economy: EPA 22 city/27 highway/24 combined (2.5L 4-cyl); 21 city/28 highway/24 combined (AWD 2.0-liter turbo-4); 18 city/25 highway/21 combined (V-6)

Report card

Highs: Stylish, roomy interior; tight handling

Lows: Skimpy on some standard features; can get pricey

Overall: 3 stars

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