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Nice Drives Spring 2018 - Crossovers

Infiniti, Chevy and Volvo take the crossover concept to new heights.

By Isaac Bouchard

CROSSOVERS ARE LIKE a viral meme that has spread across the globe. Carried by visitors to the USA, where once we called these practical ma-chines station wagons, hatchbacks or utility vehicles, they’ve mutated into every possible variant, gobbling up market share until two-thirds of all vehicles sold here are categorized as trucks. Herein three of the best new representatives.


2018 INFINITI QX80 (pictured above)

0-60mph: 6.2sec.
Price as tested: $82,695
EPA ratings: 13/19mpg; 15mpg combined

One of the best large SUVs since its inception—as well as an excellent value compared to the archrival Cadillac Escalade and Lexus LX570—the QX80 now has styling to match the hardware.

No longer suffering a face that only a mother could love, Infiniti has raised the hood and re-engineered the headlamp placement, giving its lines real cohesion. The reprofiled grill expresses a re-fined aggression and the reprofiled bumper skin, tailgate and rear-lighting changes work to surprisingly good effect keep the QX80 looking fresh.

Inside, enhancements to the already lovely cockpit include more Frenched stitching, new wood trims and—at last—the deletion of off-white carpets. Special coatings on the upholstery go hand-in-hand to ensure the Infiniti will still look fresh a few years into life, never mind the depredations of kids, or unwashed denim clothing, which tends to transfer its dye to seat bolsters.

Minor demerits go to an eminently functional InTouch interface that’s placed a little far away for easy use, and a lane assist system that reprimands the pilot with shrill beeps instead of vibrating the steering wheel.

The QX80 wants for nothing in the power-train department. Its luscious-sounding 5.6-liter, 400hp V8 still shoves with real muscle, and its 413lb-ft of torque enables the Infiniti to run with most anything and tow up to 8,500 pounds.

Along these lines, it is important to note that normally aspirated engines like this usually proffer much better fuel economy while hauling heavy loads than turbocharged motors like the one in the new Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator.

QX80 chassis changes are minor: tire side-wall composition and adjustments to damping rates and the optional Hydraulic Body Motion Control improve ride quality and make the handling a little less nautical.

The Infiniti still suffers from a bit more wind noise than expected, but this could simply be a side effect of the reduction in road noise, made possible by the extra insulation placed strategically throughout the structure.

The Infiniti is built on the same solid platorm that undergirds the Third World-rated Nissan Patrol. Its incredible toughness and reliability stand testament to the strengths of this engineer-ing heritage. The QX80 is an exemplar of the benefits of classic body-on-frame construction in a world of car-based crossovers.


2018 CHEVROLET TRAVERSE

Spring 2018 Nice Drives - Crossovers - Chevy Traverse

0-60mph: 6.7 sec.
Price as tested: From $48,040
EPA ratings: 17/25mpg; 20mpg combined

Chevy has a home run on its hands here; the Traverse is the first really large crossover of the modern era that is nicely built, pleasing to drive and really roomy. Beefy and trucklike enough to overcome “soccer mom” objections, its interior is crafted of higher quality materials than those in the Honda Pilot or new VW Atlas, and the two back rows fit humans sized most anywhere on the bell curve.

Traverse tech is easy to fathom and the ride Chevrolet has been able to coax out of such a large box borders on the extraordinary. It rides smoothly like the Honda and VW, but without the float that afflicts them. It steers and handles al-most as well as Mazda’s CX-9, the 7-passenger crossover with the best ride/handling balance.

Despite its massive dimensions, the Traverse is two humans lighter than the vehicle it re-places. Combine its modest curbweight with the 310hp/266lb-ft outputs of an updated 3.6-liter V6, and it can hustle. The Chevy has excellent surge from low down and zings to redline.

Credit the 9-speed automatic, which doesn’t suffer from GM’s prior policy of putting EPA ratings ahead of actual on-road performance. It shifts intuitively and always in the ratio that best suits the engine.

The Traverse shares a platform with the roughly 10-inch shorter GMC Acadia—which is also superb to drive—but gives growing families the kind of capacity they need for comfort. Unless one needs the extra grunt of a V8 for towing, it is hard to see what any fullsize, body-on-frame SUV offers that the Traverse doesn’t.


2018 VOLVO T6 AWD INSCRIPTION

Spring 2018 Nice Drives - Crossovers - Volvo

0-60mph: 6.6 sec.
Price as tested: $63,290
EPA ratings: 21/27mpg; 23mpg combined

Volvo was once among the best-selling “foreign” car companies in the U.S., but multiple product fumbles, along with shifting market trends, left the Swedes a bit player. This serves to make their resurgence all the more exciting. Intact in their latest XC90, S90, V90 and this XC60 are brand hallmarks such as top-tier active and passive safety and pragmatic packaging. The seats are the most supportive in the business.

What has been added is incredibly tasteful design and really intriguing technology.

Outside, Volvo’s new form language is more athletic than almost any competitor, with chiseled features and terrific stance. Inside, Volvo reigns as the purveyor of the finest interiors for the price. Material quality is superb and the use of timber, metal and hide unrivaled in the segment.

Another area where the Swedes have really defined themselves is in technology, whether it’s the swipetastic, iPad-like Sensus interface, the best (optional) audio in the class, cutting-edge autonomous systems and even hybridized drive in the 400hp, plugin T8 models.

The XC60 test vehicle was the middle child, called T6, whose 2-liter engine huffs and puffs through both belt-drive supercharger (at low RPMs) and exhaust-driven turbo. Outputs of 316hp and 295lb-ft of torque make for decent performance but also exposes Volvo’s need to refine its powertrain.

In the default, Comfort mode, there’s a lack of linearity to the way a driver’s throttle input mates up to ultimate output. Switching to Dynamic masks these to large extent, but unduly stiffens the ride. The trick is to deepdive the submenus to the customizable Individual setting, and program it to default to the softer ride and more responsive engine/transmission settings.

The result is a midsize, premium crossover with unrivaled design inside and out, competitive performance and decent ride and handling. That the XC60 is more desirable than the offerings from its German archrivals is a remarkable turnaround and a boon to those who have had their fill of German, Japanese and American offerings.


Automotive Editor Isaac Bouchard is the owner of Englewood-based Bespoke Autos (303-475-1462).

This article appears in the Spring 2018 issue of Colorado AvidGolfer— the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it, publishing eight issues annually and proudly delivering daily content via coloradoavidgolfer.com.

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