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2021 Kia Sorento First Test: All of the Above

Kia Sorento Full Overview

So you want a five-seat SUV. Well, actually, something that seats seven would be helpful. But it shouldn’t be too big. And it must be comfortable, with amenities for everyone. Quick enough, too—who likes going slow? Plus, sometimes you take that dirt shortcut, so it needs off-road capability. Just make sure it’s also practical, safe, and a good value. Is that too much to ask for? The 2021 Kia Sorento has been redesigned this year, and seeks to do all that and do it better than before. We brought in a Sorento SX X-Line AWD—at $43,765 to start, the most upscale, powerful, and off-road(ish) model in the lineup—for track testing and real-world evaluation to find out if this everything-for-everyone strategy works.

First Impressions

Take a moment to check out the new styling. It’s a far cry from previous models; just look at it next to the puffy, anonymous last-generation car. Opinions may be divided on the design, but it’s safe to say that now more than ever, style is a Sorento selling point.

That notion continues inside. Unlike before, it seems as if Kia’s design team actually tried to bring visual interest to the Sorento’s cabin. Details such as the geometric air vents, the chunky door handles, and the binnacle housing the gauges and infotainment all stand out. And the elements appear to be exceptionally well-assembled.

Although it’s a midsize SUV, the Sorento seats seven as standard, or six with the available second-row captain’s chairs. This in-between packaging mostly works. The big rear doors make climbing in easy. There’s good headroom in each row, enough for adults in the rearmost seat. The third row’s low seat cushion and high floor force a knees-up seating position, however, and legroom is limited. Also, the cargo area is small when the third row is in use.

Ultimately, Kia’s larger and award-winning Telluride functions better as a three-row SUV. And it’s not much more expensive than the Sorento tested here. Yet even if the Sorento isn’t as outright practical, it has another calling card: lively performance.

Pretty Quick—And a Little Clumsy

Gone is the previous range-topping V-6. It’s been replaced by a 2.5-liter turbocharged I-4 producing 281 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque, paired to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard, but, as we found in our 2021 Sorento First Drive, insufficient to contain that bountiful torque—all-wheel drive, as fitted to this test car, is essential.

At the track, 0-60 mph acceleration took 6.3 seconds, making the Sorento about as quick as V-6-equipped competitors such as the Honda Passport or Ford Edge. It’s much quicker than the Telluride AWD, which, with 10 more horsepower but 49 fewer lb-ft from its V-6, needs 7.2 seconds to hit 60 mph.

Associate road test editor Erick Ayapana noted that the engine “pulls strongly once it’s going, but seems to roll into the power—turbo lag?” There’s some of that, or it could’ve been slow clutch engagement, one of the dual-clutch transmission’s foibles. Although we felt none of the shuddering that early production vehicles exhibited in our first drive, the dual-clutch automatic again made low-speed maneuvers tricky. When combined with the engine’s start/stop system, there was a delay between letting off the brake and moving forward. Transitions from braking to acceleration could catch it between gears, too. The transmission’s quick shifts can’t excuse its clumsiness. Note that the base Sorento engine and the hybrids use conventional planetary-type automatics that should behave more normally.

The Sorento 2.5T X-Line’s EPA fuel economy rating of 21/28/24 mpg city/highway/combined is respectable, if not outstanding. Greater efficiency can be had with the Sorento hybrid—with EPA estimates of 37/39/35 mpg—and the upcoming plug-in hybrid.

Stopping from 60 mph took 115 feet, tying the 2021 Mitsubishi Outlander and inspiring more confidence than the Volkswagen Tiguan, , which needed 124 feet. Ayapana commented on the amount of dive under braking, which could be due in part to this X-Line model’s higher ground clearance compared to other versions. Yet throughout testing it stopped straight and faded little.

On the street, the Sorento isn’t particularly sporty, becoming a bit floaty over undulating pavement and not offering much in the way of steering feel. But the fundamentals are strong. “There’s amazing balance on the skidpad,” said road test editor Chris Walton after measuring an 0.85-g average result. Walton appreciated how the AWD system helps the car “come off a corner very well,” part of what let the Sorento hit a 26.5-second, 0.67-g average figure-eight lap—just behind Kia’s K5 GT sedan.

Lots of Features

What does the Sorento have besides three rows and solid performance? Features—lots of features. Every Sorento includes cupholders, storage spaces, and air vents in each row. Both front seatbacks have pockets, and the second row folds with one-touch functionality.

There’s technology galore. With up to eight USB ports, two 12-volt outlets, and a wireless charger, there’s no excuse to run out of juice. Our Sorento SX Prestige trim test car’s snazzy 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster was joined by a 10.3-inch touchscreen running Kia’s intuitive user interface. Curbing the 20-inch wheels wasn’t a concern thanks to a sharp, 360-degree-view camera system. A voice amplifier helps rear passengers hear those in the front seats.

Niceties on the SX Prestige trim include heated and ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel. Its quilted and perforated upholstery looks great, and there’s a huge panoramic sunroof above. Details such as brake auto-hold, three-level automatic climate control, and LED cabin lighting seem minor but help the Sorento experience feel premium.

Every Sorento has driver-assist and active-safety features including automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, a rear-seat occupant reminder, and speed limit adaptation. High-end models have video blind-spot monitoring, rear and side cross traffic alert, and rear automatic braking. Adaptive cruise control is part of the available highway driving assist system, which delivers on its name by making open-road cruising as simple as keeping a light grip on the wheel.

Everything For Everyone?

Amidst the dozens of SUVs available for 2021, it’s easy to find options that have most of what you’re looking for. Finding one that has everything is tough. The Sorento’s all-of-the above approach comes with some compromises. It’s not as roomy for passengers as a larger three-row, and midsizers that don’t squeeze in extra seats have more cargo space. Its awkward transmission detracts from the turbo engine’s solid performance numbers. Still, the Sorento’s styling and abundant features help it stand out. That it’s able to do so nestled between two crowded segments is commendable.

Looks good! More details?

BASE PRICE $43,765
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 6-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.5L/281-hp/311-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 8-speed twin-clutch auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,123 lb (57/43%)
WHEELBASE 110.8 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 189.0 x 74.8 x 70.3 in
0-60 MPH 6.3 sec
QUARTER MILE 14.8 sec @ 97.0 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 115 ft
MT FIGURE EIGHT 26.5 sec @ 0.67 g (avg)
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 160/120 kWh/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.82 lb/mile

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Tesla Model S Plaid and Dodge Charger Hellcat Redeye: More Alike Than You Think


Initially it sounds ridiculous to compare the Model S Plaid and Charger—and maybe it’s the g forces talking—but they have a lot more in common than you probably think (aside from the fact we’ve actually compared them before). For starters, both are full-size American four-door sedans. The Charger went into production in 2011, the Model S in 2012. Both were only offered out of the gate with rear-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available today. Both were also relatively pedestrian compared to their 2022 counterparts when they first hit the market: The Tesla made 416 horsepower in its most potent trim, and the Dodge Charger produced just 375 hp. New powertrains have been their only substantive updates since launch.

Stupid Amounts of Horsepower

While Dodge has long sold a Charger SRT performance variant, it really took things to the next level when it launched the first Hellcat-powered Dodge Charger in 2015. Supplanting the 470-hp Charger SRT8 as the new top dog (cat?) in the Charger lineup, the then-new Charger SRT Hellcat made an unheard =0of 707 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque. The power came courtesy of a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 that drove the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic. Since 2015, the Charger Hellcat has grown wider and more powerful: Thanks to lessons learned on the Dodge Challenger Demon, the new 2021 Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye gains 90 hp and 57 lb-ft, now producing 797 hp and 707 lb-ft.

Tesla wasn’t far behind in the horsepower race. Following on the Model S P85’s heels was the first-ever dual-motor all-wheel-drive performance Tesla, the 2015 Model S P85D. Using front and rear motors, the Insane Mode-equipped P85D made 691 hp and 687 lb-ft of torque combined. After successive steps up the horsepower ladder with various Ludicrous models, Tesla recently released the 2022 Model S Plaid. It’s Tesla’s first-ever tri-motor vehicle, and the Model S Plaid makes a Hellcat-smashing 1,020 hp and 1,080 lb-ft of torque.

With its horsepower and torque advantage over the Dodge, plus an all-important traction advantage, the 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid is quicker than not just the Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye, but literally every other car we’ve tested. The Model S Plaid sprints to 60 mph in 2.07 seconds and on through the quarter mile in 9.34 seconds at 152.2 mph. The Charger Hellcat Redeye is no slouch, but its best 0-60-mph run is a respectable (and traction limited) 4.0 seconds, with a quarter-mile time of 11.9 seconds at 126.6 mph.

Nips and Tucks

Similarly, while both the 2021 Dodge Charger Hellcat Redeye and the 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid have received a lot of attention to their powertrains, neither Dodge nor Tesla has devoted a lot of time to the cars’ exterior sheetmetal.

The Dodge’s changes have been more extensive, however. The second-gen Charger sedan launched in 2011 featuring angular body work inspired by the Charger coupes of the late 1960s, but Dodge face-lifted it in 2015 to give it a more aerodynamic and athletic Coke-bottle shape. The softer, rounder Charger survives to this day with little change.

The Tesla’s visual changes have been more subtle. The most obvious change occurred in 2016, when the Model S got a small nose job, losing its black “grille” in favor of a grille-less nose that brought the Model S’ design in line with the then-new Model X and upcoming Model 3. The 2021.5 Model S represents another subtle change, with a larger radiator opening on the nose, a revised hood, and a new rear diffuser.

While Dodge has done more to the Charger’s exterior than Tesla has to the Model S’, the opposite is true when we’re talking interiors.

The new Model S Plaid represents a fairly major interior redesign for Tesla’s flagship sedan. In fact, the automaker says the front-seat-riser covers are the only carryover pieces. For the 2021.5 model year, the Model S Plaid replaces a traditional steering wheel with a less useful steering yoke, trades its signature portrait-oriented infotainment screen for a landscape-oriented one, and the car’s cabin materials are all more luxurious and upscale than before.

The Charger’s changes have been comparably minor. While it too has a newer steering wheel, it thankfully remains circular in shape. It also has a better infotainment system and interior in 2021 than it did in 2011, but the “spot-the-differences” game is much more difficult in the Dodge than it is in the Tesla.

Why Haven’t the Charger or Model S Been Updated Extensively?

Dodge’s rationale for not thoroughly updating the Charger is pretty obvious: Aside from the fact the car completes in a shrinking segment and still sells relatively well, the brand has had three different parent companies during the current model’s production run.

Tesla’s case is a bit more curious. Although the new 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid is the latest and greatest Model S, we found it a bit odd Tesla spent its money on an extensive midcycle update instead of a true second-generation Model S to compete with a new generation of electric car challengers from Audi, Mercedes-EQ, Porsche, and (eventually) Cadillac. A high-ranking Tesla source told us simply, “We didn’t feel like we needed to go into a whole new program to make the ‘best car. ‘”

We’re not sure Tesla made the right call, but it’s pretty easy to forget about that for now; we’re just enjoying these new horsepower wars.

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2022 Mercedes-Maybach S680 4Matic First Drive: Big Luxury in Every Sense

Mercedes-Benz S-Class Full Overview

The 2022 Mercedes-Maybach S-Class S680 4Matic is a glittery thing. The grille and the front intakes, the trim down the middle of the hood and across its broad rump, the frame around the greenhouse, the exhaust pipes, and the wheels all sparkle as brightly as a diamond-encrusted Rolex in a Miami nightclub. Subtle it ain’t. But, as Mercedes-Benz has learned, when it comes to Maybach, all that glitters is gold.

It didn’t start that way. Panicked by Volkswagen’s purchase of Bentley and BMW’s audacious acquisition of Rolls-Royce in the 1990s, Mercedes-Benz decided that it, too, needed an über-luxury limousine. The car it built on the W140 S-Class platform and launched to much fanfare in 2003 was as technically competent and lavishly finished as its rivals, but management decided the Mercedes-Benz name didn’t have the gravitas needed to compete with the gilded British brands. Instead of being badged Mercedes-Benz Maybach, it became, simply, Maybach.

Wilhelm Maybach was an engineer who worked with Gottlieb Daimler at the dawn of the automotive age and built his own luxury cars in the years leading up to World War II. It was a revered name among some prewar car buffs, but it meant nothing to anyone else. Before Maybach was quietly taken off life support in 2013, barely 3,000 examples had been sold worldwide. One well-placed industry source suggests Mercedes lost more than $350,000 on every car it built.

In 2015, the company did what it should have done in the first place: It overtly linked the Maybach name with the three-pointed star. The largest and most lavishly equipped versions of the W222 S-Class were badged Mercedes-Maybach, the three-pointed star standing proud on the hood, and although the decision was made so late in the car’s development there was no time to design and engineer any unique parts, it proved a runaway success. Mercedes has since sold more than 60,000 of these blinged-up S-Class models, many in China, where in 2019 demand was running at 700 cars a month.

Now That You’re Up to Speed…

The new Mercedes-Maybach is based on the redesigned W223 S-Class launched late last year. Unlike the outgoing car, though, it does have unique sheetmetal, including a new hood that sits three-quarters of an inch higher than the S-Class hood and runs back from a large, more upright grille with bright vertical bars. It also features a redesigned greenhouse that includes a slightly higher roofline, fixed rear quarter windows, and a more formal C-pillar. And more chrome. Because that’s what the customers like.

The new Mercedes-Maybach rolls on the longest of the three platforms developed for the new S-Class. Codenamed Z223, it boasts 7 inches more between the axles than the long-wheelbase platform (codenamed V223) that underpins all S-Class models sold in the U.S., and 11.5 inches more than the standard-wheelbase S-Class that’s common in Europe. All that extra length is dedicated to the rear passenger compartment, not the least because that’s where many of the cars’ owners in its three largest markets—China, Russia, and South Korea—spend most of their time, their chauffeurs handling the driving chores.

The rear seats can be reclined from a 19-degree rake to 43 degrees, while the leg rests extend 2 inches further than before and will give you a calf massage should you so desire. Neck and shoulder heating is standard, and the seat belts are presented to you like those in the front seats of Mercedes coupes so you don’t have to twist and find them. The standard infotainment screens on the backs of the front seats can be controlled via a smaller, removable touchscreen device mounted in the rear center console so you don’t have to stretch forward, either.

Among the few options to be offered to American buyers is a package that adds heated and cooled cupholders to the rear-seat center console, along with tables that fold out from it like those in a first-class airline seat. Other options include a fridge—complete with a pair of metal champagne flutes—that’s accessed via a panel between the seats, and an electric opening and closing system for the rear doors actuated by switches mounted in the roof, just above the rear windows.

The Back Is Where It’s At

Given the car’s intended function, the Mercedes-Maybach’s rear seat is where we started our test. You’re very well accommodated, though it’s not quite as plush as the pew in a Rolls-Royce Phantom. Two reasons: The seat squab feels as if it could use a little more padding, especially when the seat is reclined a little, and the ride, despite an air suspension that uses stereo cameras to scan the road to prepare for upcoming bumps, is still not quite as relaxed as that of the Rolls, mainly because of the discernible reaction of the low-profile 255/35 R21 Pirelli P Zero tires to small, sharp imperfections in the tarmac.

From behind the wheel, the Maybach feels pretty much like the new S-Class to drive. At 215.3 inches long and 75.6 inches wide, the Maybach takes up a lot of real estate on the road, but all its sophisticated systems shrink it around you, making it feel smaller and more maneuverable than you expect. The standard rear-steering system—the rear wheels pivot 10 degrees on the standard tires, or 4.5 degrees if you order the optional wider rear tires—endows this big limousine with remarkable low-speed agility, right-angle corners requiring little more than a quarter turn of the steering wheel. And so you know exactly what’s going on around you, there’s visual feedback from the driver-assist screen on the 3-D instrument panel, which graphically shows the road ahead and the movements of traffic around you, as well as traffic-proximity signals from the superb augmented-reality head-up display.

The air suspension and 133.7-inch wheelbase all but eliminate fore-aft pitching, and the electronics help keep the car on an even keel even when pushed through corners. You can’t argue with the laws of physics, but there’s a serenity to the way the Maybach devours any road that will have you wondering at times. With the bass speakers of the 1,750-watt, 30-speaker Burmester 4D audio system emitting low frequencies to counter road noise, you easily find yourself wafting along much faster than you think.

Price, On Sale, and More

Two versions of the car will be offered in the U.S. The Maybach S580 4Matic shares its drivetrain with the top-spec S-Class. Codenamed M176, the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 under the hood makes 496 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 516 lb-ft of torque from 2,000 to 4,500 rpm, with an additional 20 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque provided on demand from the 48-volt integrated starter-generator mounted between the engine and the nine-speed automatic transmission. The S580 goes on sale shortly as a 2021 model, priced at $185,950.

The Maybach S680 4Matic arrives in the first half of next year as a 2022 model, and although no official pricing has been announced, don’t expect much change from $215,000. The Maybach S680 combines for the first time the tried-and-true 6.0-liter V-12, codenamed M279, with Mercedes-Benz’s slick nine-speed automatic transmission and versatile all-wheel-drive system. Yes, the V-12 lives! No longer available in the regular S-Class, it’s now reserved solely for the Maybach. And it feels right at home.

The 9G-Tronic automatic transmission can only handle a maximum of 664 lb-ft, so the twin-turbo V-12’s torque output has been dialed back from the 738 lb-ft it made in the outgoing Maybach S650. You don’t miss it. With more ratios to work with and 603 horses available, the engine hustles this 5,200-pound limousine to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds without breaking a sweat, 0.2 second quicker than the S650. In Europe, the Maybach S680 will hit 155 mph, Mozart tinkling through the Burmester speakers and champagne cooling in the fridge. Here in the U.S., our love of all-season tires means it’s limited to a mere 130 mph.

It’s taken more than 20 years, but Mercedes-Benz has finally figured out a unique niche for the Maybach brand. The 12-cylinder Maybach S680 may not have the extraordinary presence of a Rolls-Royce Phantom, but it comes with much more high-tech amenities for less than half the price. Meanwhile, the V-8-powered S580 is bigger, roomier, and more ostentatiously opulent than a similarly priced Bentley Flying Spur. Those who want understated luxury will be perfectly happy with a loaded S-Class. But as the 60,000 customers who bought the just superseded Mercedes-Maybach will attest, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that bling.

Looks good! More details?

2022 Mercedes-Maybach S680 4Matic Specifications
PRICE $215,000 (est)
LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, four-door, four-pass sedan
ENGINE 6.0L/603-hp/664-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC V-12
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 5180 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 133.7 in
L x W x H 215.3 in x 75.6 in x 59.4 in
0-60 MPH 4.4 sec (mfr)
ON SALE Fall 2022

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2020 Ram 2500 Laramie 4×4 Yearlong Test: How It Spent Winter

Ram 2500 Full Overview

Yes, it’s summer, but we only recently found this winter report tucked between the seat cushions of Guffman, our long-term 2020 Ram 2500 Laramie 4×4. So, we figured we might as well share how the truck spent the colder months in Michigan, where the truck is based with our Detroit staff.

When we ordered Guffman, we didn’t check the box for the Ram 2500 HD‘s $145 Cold Weather Group’s grille cover and block heater. That’s because the truck would live in Detroit, not Yellow Knife, and our oil never turns to Jell-O. But because diesels throw off less waste heat than gas engines (that’s part of their efficiency secret), and because the owner’s manual recommends covering the grille at temperatures below freezing—and also because we happened to sample a Chevrolet Silverado 2500 Duramax that came standard with such a cover—we rang up Mopar and ordered a $120 grille cover.

By comparison with that Silverado’s cover, this one seemed easier to install, using hooks on elastic loops to hold the top and bottom, and rigid felt-covered tabs that squeeze between the central grille and the trim or headlamps to secure the sides. Another point of differentiation: Ram’s cover includes four flaps that you’re supposed to leave open (by folding them under) until the temperature drops below 0 degrees F.

When temperatures were in the teens, we typically waited 45-60 seconds for the glow plug to warm up sufficiently on an outdoor cold start, and then felt noticeable heat from the vent registers by the time the Ram had traveled the 1.2 miles to our nearest freeway entrance. Without the cover, a bit of freeway driving was typically necessary to get the heat flowing.

No sooner was its radiator covered than did Detroit editor Alisa Priddle spirit away Guffman to her family homestead near Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, where winter temps routinely dip to single digits. She appreciated the swift warmup of the climate-control system, adding “The heated steering wheel and seats are also so good at their job, we’ve had to turn them off shortly after they make everything toasty.” She also praised the power-folding mirrors that ease entry to her garage and the running boards that are vital for assisting shorter-legged occupants. But she noted that her long-torsoed husband’s head brushes the sunroof trim even with the seat powered fully down. Tall folks should delete that $1,095 option.

One advantage the aforementioned Silverado had over this Ram (and the Ford F-250 Power Stroke) is a full-time 4WD function that lets you engage all four wheels without binding on dry pavement. The Ram’s 4H mode causes noticeable binding in turns whenever the snow and ice thins, and with our truck’s Firestone Transforce HT tires, which call for inflation pressures of 70/80 psi front/rear, don’t grip very well in snow and ice (Tire Rack customers rank them 5.2 out of 10 for winter/snow performance), all drivers reported needing to engage 4WD even to climb snowy driveway aprons. If Guffman made northern Ontario his permanent home, a set of Blizzaks would be a good idea, and for Detroit when these tires wear out, we’d replace them with a set of Michelin Agilis CrossClimate tires, Tire Rack’s highest-rated replacement respondents for winter/snow performance, at 8.9.

In other news, the Ram’s owner’s manual calls for the first oil change/tire rotation/inspection service at 15,000 miles, which coincided with a visit to Memphis, where the service was performed quickly for $144.77. Our only complaint: The various inspections failed to notice that our fuel filter had only a few miles left, as the onboard computer called for its replacement during our drive back to Michigan. Our local dealer charged an hour’s labor to replace this $85 filter, for a total charge of $252.26. Aghast at that charge and having swapped plenty of fuel filters on gas-burning vehicles, we looked online for the procedure and swapped it. Trust us—that’s not an hour you want to spend.

And now that the snow has well and truly melted, the flowers have bloomed, and we’re in the thick of summer weather, Guffman has returned to working for a living. There are trees that need to be chipped for mulch and lots of scrap to haul to the dump, after all.

Looks good! More details?

Read More About Our Long-Term 2020 Ram 2500 Laramie 4×4 Cummins:

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