SUV Aspirations: 2015 GMC Yukon XL

Living large with GMC’s big SUV.

2015 GMC Yukon.
GMC’s Yukon is newly restyled for 2015.

Oversized sport utility vehicles seem like a throwback to a different era for some. For those who own them or aspire to acquire one, these models deliver the best amalgamation of passenger room and trailering capabilities in the business. Fuel costs can be exorbitant, but with the prevailing price of gasoline dropping below $2 per gallon in most states, the appeal for such vehicles has increased once again.

The GMC Yukon is a full-size, traditional rear-wheel drive SUV, available in four-wheel-drive, standard and stretched (XL) wheelbases as well as in Denali trim. Consequently, shoppers have much to scrutinize when considering the Yukon line, a model that competes with the Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia and Nissan Armada.

2015 GMC Yukon XL

2015 GMC Yukon

GMC prices the base 2015 Yukon from $46,990, the Yukon XL from $49,690, the Yukon Denali from $63,770 and the Yukon XL Denali from $66,470. Choose four-wheel drive and you will add $3,000 to your base price. Notably, a fully-equipped stretched wheelbase Denali model can cost you more than $75,000.

For test purposes GMC delivered a Yukon XL 2WD SLT edition priced from $54,735 and equipped with the standard 5.3-liter V-8 engine making 355 horsepower and 383 foot-pounds of torque. Alternatively, a 6.2-liter V-8 engine making 420 horsepower and 460 foot-pounds of torque is available and is also the standard engine found in the top-of-the-line Denali trim level. Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, but Denali models get GM’s new eight-speed automatic.

Fully redesigned for 2015, the current Yukon/Yukon Denali offers a familiar silhouette with a refreshed grille, new headlamps and LED lights, redesigned inlaid doors for improved aerodynamics, a modern family of wheels, laminated windshield and front door glass to boost quietness, and a standard rear spoiler. As always, the GMC Yukon is built on the same truck platform that underpins GM’s big pickup trucks, including the GMC Sierra.

2015 GMC Yukon XL

Quiet Cabin, Updated Interior

Inside, seating is for seven to nine people. The ideal arrangement may be two bucket seats up front, a pair of captain’s chairs in the second row and a third row bench seat. To offer room for nine, the second and third row seats are replaced with bench seats, but at a significant loss of storage space up front. The test model was a seven-seat SUV, what fully accentuates the cavernous interior.

The Yukon’s interior is dominated by an expansive dashboard, covered in soft touch materials and accented by French seam stitching. Excellent interior lighting, including ambient lighting, chases darkness away from every nook and crevice. All seats are firm and supportive, although third-row thigh support isn’t as good as you would find elsewhere.

GMC offers a long list of standard equipment with the Yukon. All models are equipped with a Bose audio system. An 8-inch color touch screen dominates the center console and provides voice commands, SiriusXM and HD radio, USB ports, auxiliary jacks, an SD card slot, Bluetooth streaming and hands-free calling. You also get tri-zone climate control, power accessories, cruise control, OnStar directions and connections, a 110-volt power outlet, a leather-wrapped tilt and telescope steering column and floor mats.

2015 GMC Yukon XL

2015 GMC Yukon XL

Move up to the SLT edition from the SLE and this model brings in improved interior lighting, heated and cooled front seats, heated outboard second row seats and a power folding 60-40 split bench seat. As for the Denali edition, this model brings in active noise cancellation technology, a customizable driver display and leather nearly everywhere. Available options include: an enhanced security package, an open road package with a power sunroof and navigation, a rear-seat Blu-Ray/DVD entertainment system, a head-up display and a number of dealer-installed accessories such as a reflective window shade.

The SLE edition provides premium cloth covered seats with leather seats found in SLE and Denali editions. Not surprisingly, the 10-way power driver’s seat places the emphasis on comfort, offering power recline, 2-way power lumbar control and even a 6-way power cushion. That seat plus the adjustable steering column provides scores of positioning permutations to rebuff driver fatigue. Similarly, the front passenger is also spoiled with a thoroughly comfortable seat.

Think hard before you consider swapping out the front bucket seats for a bench seat. Unless you know that you must have room for nine, the added seating space also means that the cavernous storage compartment and console between the front seats will be eliminated. Certainly, there are many other storage areas found in this model — the glove box, seat backs, the doors and behind the rear seat — but chances are you will find the bench arrangement wanting.

2015 GMC Yukon XL

2015 GMC Yukon

View manufacturer details and pricing

On the Road

With no boat, camper or trailer to pull, I cannot comment on the Yukon’s towing capabilities. What I can tell you is that this model is rated to pull from 7,900 pounds (Yukon XL Denali 4WD) to 8,500 pounds (Yukon 2WD) and has a payload capacity that starts around 1,500 pounds and tops out at 1,676 pounds.

To put it another way, you can bring with you a full contingent of people, load up the rear storage area and pull that big boat without much effort. I’m basing my perspective strictly on anecdotal evidence, observing the many SUVs in my area that carry a full load and seem none the worse for it.

Get behind the wheel of any Yukon and you’ll sense that you have full command of the road. In many ways you do as ground clearance, its large tires and the SUV’s overall height make for one imposing model.

2015 GMC Yukon XL

What I think will interest most shoppers is the difference between the two V-8 engines. Both provide generous amounts of power, but you will enjoy a near 20 percent boost in power by choosing the larger engine. I can see where that power would come in handy when pulling anything up a hill or even retrieving a large boat from the water.

The Yukon XL extends the standard wheelbase from 116 inches to 130 inches and overall length from 203.9 inches to 224 inches. That’s a different approach then, let’s say the Ford Expedition, where the extra space is consigned strictly behind the third row seat.

The XL’s extended proportions also means this model seems to float down the road. It handles well and makes U-turns without needing a third opposite flowing lane to make that maneuver. Involved driving? You won’t find it. Consume potholes with relative ease? The GMC Yukon does that. For the best suspension you’ll need to upgrade to the Denali as it comes outfitted with magnetic ride control, a suspension system used in the Corvette Stingray, Cadillac CTS and other premium GM vehicles.

The Yukon’s braking system is composed of power-assisted, four-wheel disc, four-wheel anti-lock brakes using “Duralife” rotors and vented front and back. Standard and available safety features include: a front center airbag, radar-controlled cruise control, side blind zone alert, lane departure warning and automatic crash response.

2015 GMC Yukon XL

Parting Thoughts

So how much does it cost to fill the tank of a GMC Yukon? Believe it or not, that’s a question that I often get from people that are considering a large SUV. Outfitted with a 31-gallon fuel tank, fill ups would have cost you well over $100 when the price of the regular grade gasoline it takes came in at $4 per gallon. Likewise, you will pay about $65 per fill up for a vehicle (as of this date) that averages 20 mpg under optimum driving conditions.

It is doubtful that gasoline prices will stay down for the long term, so keep that cost in mind when shopping for any large SUV. Moreover, you should expect to pay about $60,000 for a well-equipped standard wheelbase model outfitted with four-wheel drive and many of the amenities mentioned herein.

2015 GMC Yukon XL 2WD

  • Sticker price from $54,735
  • Price as tested: from $62,315
  • Seats 7 to 9 occupants
  • 5.3-liter 16-valve V-8 gasoline engine
  • 355 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm
  • 383 foot-pounds of torque @ 5,600 rpm
  • 3.78 inches bore by 3.62 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 11.0-to-1
  • 6-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 130 inches
  • Length: 224.3 inches
  • Width: 80.5 inches
  • Height: 74.4 inches
  • Passenger volume: 122.4 cubic feet
  • Storage volume: 39.3/76,7/121.1 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: 7,900 to 8,300
  • EPA: 16/17 mpg city, 29 mpg highway
  • Regular grade gasoline recommended
  • Fuel tank: 31 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 5,687 to 6,009 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: NR
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 5 years/100,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 6 years/100,000 miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Arlington, Texas

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2015 GMC Yukon XL photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine.

About the 2015 Jeep Renegade

2015 Jeep Renegade

The Jeep brand continues to set sales records and shows no signs of losing ground. New or updated models have propelled the brand as have new markets and consumers who are embracing America’s iconic 4×4 brand.

2015 Jeep Renegade

Jeep is not resting on its laurels. The Chrysler Group, indeed parent Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, N.V., is pinning much of its growth on Jeep. To that end a new model, the subcompact Renegade, goes on sale early this fall. It is the first Jeep model that benefits from the company’s cross-Atlantic alliance.

Indeed, the Jeep Renegade will share the same platform and major components with the Fiat 500X, itself similar to the 500L. Both models will be built at Fiat’s Melfi plant in Italy, representing the first Jeep model ever built abroad.

The 2015 Jeep Renegade will be sold as 4×2 or 4×4 models and will offer a naturally-aspirated 2.4 four-cylinder engine or an available 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The larger engine is paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission; the smaller engine with a six-speed manual transmission.

2015 Jeep Renegade

Room for Five

With room for five, the Renegade is fairly light, its curb weight ranging from 3,095 to 3,490 pounds. When fuel economy numbers are announced later this month, Jeep expects highway fuel mileage to easily top 30 mpg. That would put Jeep close to the top of the fuel mileage range among small SUVs. All models take regular grade gasoline.

Going small does not mean that the Renegade departs from Jeep’s core design of offering rugged, muscular and upright bodies that define the brand. The seven-slot vertical grille, a Jeep signature, is flanked by round head lamps. The lower part of the fascia advances a burly design and is matched with daytime running lights, available fog lamps and tow hooks.

Short overhangs, distinctive wheel arches and a raised belt line give this model a formidable look on a small footprint. A new “X” design crisscrosses the tail lamps what Jeep says is a “theme inspired by military equipment” to convey strength. Rear tow hooks are available too.

2015 Jeep Renegade

Modern, Updated Interior

Inside, the Renegade provides a unique steering wheel, marked by a beefy rim section. Secondary driver controls, including voice, vehicle and audio controls are located near the grip points. A heated steering wheel option is available.

Large analog speedometer and tachometer displays flank a digital driver information center. The 3.5-inch display provides vehicle information and can be upgraded to a 7-inch display. Across the lower section of the instrument panel USB, auxiliary input and 12-volt connectivity points align with the climate control switches and the glove box.

The center console, featuring a wrapped armrest, provides ample storage. Each door offers additional storage room, useful for holding beverages or gadgets. The ergonomically-shaped seats are draped in cloth or covered in leather. Standard 60-40 split second row seats can also be upgraded to 40-20-40 split seats with an available cargo area pass through.

The cargo area provides 18.5 cubic feet of standard storage area, expandable to 50.8 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down. The front passenger seat also folds forward, providing enough room to accommodate a five-foot ladder.

2015 Jeep Renegade

Trailed Rated Renegade Trailhawk

The Renegade, like other Jeep models, will also offer “trail rated” packages, representing the brand’s internal rating scheme. Applicable 44 models have been tested on some of world’s toughest trails and must successfully perform well in the following five off-road conditions: articulation, ground clearance, maneuverability, traction and water fording.

The Jeep Renegade Trailhawk is the best model for off-road adventuring as it is equipped with an active drive low 44 system with a 20:1 crawl ratio, a terrain selection system with five modes to include: auto, snow, sand, mud and rock modes, 17-inch off-road wheels, a 0.8-inch off-road lift, hill descent control and skid plates.

2015 Jeep Renegade

Aggressive Jeep Growth

With the Renegade filling the bottom end of the Jeep portfolio, it joins the Patriot, Compass, Wrangler, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee. The Patriot and Compass will be discontinued midway in 2016, replaced by a single new model according to Chrysler’s five-year plan as reported by Automotive News.

Chrysler expects Jeep sales to top 1 million units this year, a first, and continue to expand aggressively as the brand is introduced to new markets, particularly Asia. For now, Fiat Chrysler will be watching the Renegade’s progress closely, expecting sales to strengthen as production ramps up.

See AlsoCompact SUV Value: 2016 Jeep Renegade Sport

Photos courtesy of the Chrysler Group.

Wouldn’t You Really Rather Have a Buick (LaCrosse)?

Buick’s flagship sedan now delivers Wi-Fi and more.

2015 Buick LaCrosse

Buick calls its LaCrosse a luxury, midsize sedan. Though there is little to dispute the luxury label, calling this sedan “midsize” just doesn’t seem right. Instead, what you have here is a fairly large four-door model that comfortably seats five people and is available with standard front-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive.

I get the midsize label for this model. After all, the comparable Audi A6 measures 114.7 inches between the wheels, exactly three inches longer than the Buick. But with shorter overhangs the Audi comes in three inches shorter than the LaCrosse. For Audi, it is the A8 that carries the full-size mantle for this German luxury brand; Buick does not offer an equivalent model. So, midsize it is for the Buick Lacrosse, in spite of its roomy interior.

2015 Buick LaCrosse

For the second consecutive year I was given the opportunity to drive Buick’s flagship, a LaCrosse Premium I model outfitted with nearly every option available except for all-wheel drive. The 2015 Buick LaCrosse is priced from $34,560 and can be had in three more packages: Leather Group ($36,650), Premium I Group ($38,950) and Premium II Group ($40,895).

Special white frost tricoat paint ($995), a moonroof with a second row skylight ($1,195) and a pair of driver confidence packages ($2,125 and $1,245) brought the test model’s final price to $46,240. Add in all-wheel drive — available only with the Premium I group — and your sedan is priced from $41,425. Yes, a fully-loaded AWD LaCrosse will cost you nearly $50,000.

2015 Buick LaCrosse

WiFi Comes Standard

New for 2015 are several features, the most significant being OnStar with 4G LTE and a standard built-in Wi-Fi hotspot. Yes, this sedan is now a rolling Internet connection, one that makes it possible for multiple devices to connect to and surf the Internet concurrently. Buick notes that 4G comes in 10 times faster than 3G and is also 100 times faster than the previous generation OnStar system. As long as the vehicle is on, the connection is active. A trial subscription is included with your purchase with additional data purchases available thereafter.

Other changes for 2015 include three new exterior color choices, four-way adjustable front-seat headrests, infotainment system enhancements and a standard rear view camera system.

The 2015 Lacrosse offers a long list of standard equipment to include: remote start, remote keyless entry, power heated side mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an electric parking brake, an eight-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support and universal home remote. You also get a six-month OnStar trial subscription, a premium audio system with Buick Intellilink infotainment, eight air bags, stability control, traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist and dual automatic climate control.

2015 Buick LaCrosse

Various package upgrades bring in leather seating, front heated and ventilated seats, push button start, an adjustable front passenger seat, an upgraded suspension system, an electronic limited slip differential, and an 11-speaker Bose audio system. Also available is a 120-volt power outlet, a rear power sunshade, fog lamps, wheel upgrades and a variety of safety features.

On the safety front, Buick packages forward collision alert, rear cross traffic alert, a distance sensor indicator and head-up display along with fog lights and adaptive forward headlamps with its Driver Confidence Package #1. To get adaptive cruise control, you need to add in the Driver Confidence Package #2, what brings in front automatic braking. It is doubtful that many customers would stop at package #1 without adding package #2, what provides a measure of automated driving — yes, this sedan truly does come to a full stop when adaptive cruise control is activated, something you can do by pressing a switch on the left side of the steering wheel.

2015 Buick LaCrosse Premium

View manufacturer details and pricing

Two Engine Choices

Under the hood, you get a choice of a standard 2.4-liter four cylinder engine or a 3.6-liter V-6. Both are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

The smaller engine is also part of a “mild” hybrid system known as eAssist. With eAssist, a compact electric drive system is integrated with the powertrain “to provide an electric boost” for the sedan. A 15-kilowatt motor replaces the alternator and a 115-volt lithium-ion battery pack is integrated into the trunk. This system enables the LaCrosse to get 25 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway, but it comes at some cost: you get just 182 horsepower to move this sedan and the LaCrosse’s already small cargo space (13.3 cubic feet) is reduced to just 10.8 cubic feet.

It was for performance that I was glad a V-6 engine was provided. This 304-horsepower engine is used across a variety of GM applications, including the Cadillac CTS, Chevrolet Camaro and in the GMC Acadia. I am of the mind that a car this size needs a robust V-6 or a four cylinder engine with turbocharging included. That’s not to say that some won’t find the base model appealing, but its detractions seem to cancel the benefits.

2015 Buick LaCrosse

Seating and Driving

The driver’s seat is comfortable, supportive and all controls are sensibly placed. I appreciate how the window switches are angled toward the driver and pitch up and forward for easy access. The tilt and telescoping steering wheel, a brightly lit instrument panel and an understandable center stack with an easy to configure Intellilink infotainment system keeps the drama quotient to a minimum. A nicely sculpted cabin, refined materials and special touches such as a slide and lift front center storage compartment shows much attention to detail.

On the road, the V-6 delivered copious amounts of power with the transmission shifting seamlessly through each gear. There is some torque under steer present, what causes the sedan to move slightly to the left or to the right during hard acceleration before settling in. That’s a characteristic of larger front-wheel drive models, a problem usually rectified with torque vectoring control. In Buick’s case, they employed a “HiPer Strut” front suspension that limits the problem. Choose the optional Haldex all-wheel drive system and torque steer disappears.

Credit Buick with a quiet interior, for employing methods to keep sounds from entering the cabin, including stopping noises at the source and absorbing other sounds as detected. Buick does this by installing acoustical laminate on the windshield and front side glass, placing baffles in the roof pillars and installing sound deadening and sound absorbing materials throughout. The LaCrosse gets high marks in the all-important noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) classification, something best confirmed when taking to the open road.

(See AlsoSwift Sportback: 2018 Buick Regal GS)

2015 Buick LaCrosse

Buick LaCrosse Considerations

There are a few things about the LaCrosse I would like to see changed. First, add a docking port for a smartphone that goes beyond the tray found within the covered center storage compartment (the tray itself should be enlarged for smartphone purposes). It could be placed just fore of the concealed cup holder compartment, provided that the compartment is moved aft by one inch.

Second, the rear doors have the tiniest of storage compartments and no room to hold water bottles. Sure, there is a center seat folding arm rest that reveals a pair of cup holders as well as an eyeglasses holder, but that means taking space away that should go for seating a fifth passenger. The more drink holders in today’s vehicles that are not crossovers, the better.

A few of the smaller, yet important features of this car include: LED interior lighting, rear seat apparel hooks, trunk grocery netting and dual exhaust finishers. Not to be forgotten is the sheer moonroof cover, what raises interior brightness without direct sunlight penetrating the cabin.

2015 Buick LaCrosse

2015 Buick LaCrosse Premium

  • Sticker price from $39,755
  • Price as tested: from $46,240
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 3.6-liter 24-valve V-6 gasoline engine
  • 304 horsepower @ 6,800 rpm
  • 264 foot-pounds of torque @ 5,300 rpm
  • 3.7 inches bore by 3.37 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 11:5-to-1
  • 6-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 111.7 inches
  • Length: 197 inches
  • Width: 73.1 inches
  • Height: 59.2 inches
  • Passenger volume: 104.6 cubic feet
  • Storage volume: 13.3 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: 1,000 pounds
  • EPA: 18 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
  • Regular grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 18.5 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 3,895 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Good
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 6 years/70,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 6 years/Unlimited miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Kansas City, Kansas

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2015 Buick LaCrosse Premium photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved.

About the 2015 Lincoln Navigator

Now that the Ford Motor Company has turned its attention to Lincoln, new and updated products are debuting with more on the way. In 2013, the latest generation MKZ sedan made its appearance. This summer, the all-new MKC crossover utility vehicle rolled out. And this fall we have the latest iteration of the Lincoln Navigator, a full-bodied, traditional sport utility vehicle that is itself new.

2015 Lincoln Navigator

Perhaps the most significant change for the Lincoln Navigator is that it no longer offers a V-8 engine. A 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 is the sole power choice, a 380-horsepower beast with an output of 460 foot-pounds of twist. The engine is a familiar one with its dual overhead camshaft and twin variable independent variable camshaft timing, promoted as “EcoBoost” technology by the Ford Motor Company. The direct injection engine is paired with a select shift six-speed automatic transmission.

Despite its smaller footprint, the new Lincoln Navigator engine is more powerful than the 5.4-liter V-8 engine it replaces (310 horsepower, 365 foot-pounds of torque). It is also more efficient as fuel economy rises from 14 to 16 mpg city and from 20 mpg to 22 mpg highway, for best in class fuel efficiency.

The 2015 Navigator’s dimensions are nearly identical with the new vehicle as it sits on a 119-inch wheelbase and measures 207.4 inches long by 78.8 inches wide and 78.1 inches tall. It comes with 8.4 inches of ground clearance and a front track measuring 67 inches and a rear track measuring 67.2 inches.

Extended Wheelbase Edition

As before, an extended wheelbase Navigator L model returns, what adds a foot between the wheels and 15 inches overall. Both models offer three rows of seating with the biggest gains coming in third row shoulder room and cargo space. All models seat eight.

The 2015 Lincoln Navigator is priced from $62,745, including destination and delivery charges. The most noticeable exterior change is the split-wing grille, an adaptation of the brand’s current design language. That face is flanked by high-definition headlamps and jewel-like daytime running lights.

Standard 20-inch ultra-bright machined aluminum wheels give way to 22-inch wheels with the Reserve package. The package also brings in stainless steel or Tuxedo Black running boards.

Lincoln says that the 2015 Navigator is its best handling one yet. The electric-power assisted steering adjusts vehicle speed to provide improved control. An available Lincoln Drive Control option brings in continuously controlled damping, what adjusts the suspension system automatically. You can also choose from three driving modes: normal, comfort and sport.

Nivomat Load-Leveling System

Choose the 44 package and your Navigator is outfitted with hill descent control and hill start assist. The Select package brings in a load-leveling system called “Nivomat,” what raises the rear end of the SUV for improved handling. Lincoln says the system also improves aerodynamics while reducing tire wear.

Inside, the interior has been redone and features a Wollsdorf leather-wrapped, wood-trimmed steering wheel with a better grip. Choose the Reserve package and the cabin receives upgraded leather seating across all three rows, a hand-wrapped leather instrument panel and premium Ziricote wood trim — found in many yachts.

Speaking of maritime pursuits, this SUV can pull up to 9,000 pounds when properly equipped. Its standard 42 system can be upgraded to 44, the latter offering a near-perfect 50-50 weight distribution.

Infotainment and Safety Systems

Other Lincoln Navigator features include: Illuminated welcome mats, a passive entry system, keyless engine ignition and SYNC with MyLincoln Touch. Lincoln’s infotainment system permits the driver to use voice-activated or touch screen controls to make phone calls, play music, manage the navigation system or set cabin temperature. The system includes an 8-inch touch screen in the center stack and a 4.2-inch LCD screen in the instrument cluster. You will also find traditional knob controls to bypass the screen.

Several safety features are standard with the new Navigator, including a Blind Spot Information System. BLIS automatically signals when another vehicle is detected in an adjacent lane behind either rear wheel. A rearview camera is also standard as are six airbags, roll stability control and a post-crash alert system that automatically calls for help following an accident when you are not able to do so.

The Competition

“The new Lincoln Navigator has more of what our customers want delivering both power and beauty,” said Elaine Bannon, chief engineer. “It’s got the new Lincoln design DNA on the exterior, a redesigned instrument panel and a new Reserve option with 22-inch wheels along with the 3.5L EcoBoost engine. Once we were able to include all of those elements, I knew we had a vehicle people will love.”

Those attributes keep Lincoln competitive in a segment with only a handful of large-scale luxury SUVs available. You can name the Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes-Benz GL Class, Lexus LX, Infiniti QX80 and the Range Rover Land Rover among the Navigator’s top competing models.

Photos courtesy of the Lincoln Motor Company.

See AlsoChicago Auto Show Debut: 2015 Lincoln Navigator

Top-of-the-Range Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited Delivers

2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited

Subaru continues to ride on a crest of month-over-month sales increases, based largely on its mix of utility vehicles. Not to be overlooked is the midsize Subaru Legacy sedan, the only standard all-wheel drive model in the segment. For 2015, the Legacy is all-new and Auto Trends had one 3.6R Limited edition model for a week’s worth of drive time in central North Carolina.

2015 Subaru Legacy

The 2015 Subaru Legacy is priced from $21,695 or $1,400 more than the base 2014 model. Don’t be alarmed by the increase: the base six-speed manual transmission is gone, replaced by an automatic.

The latest edition is sold in four trim levels: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium ($23,495), 2.5i Limited ($26,495) and 3.6R Limited ($29,595). As equipped, the test model cost $32,585 or toward the higher end of the segment’s price point, but keeping in line with the all-wheel drive Chrysler 200 and the Ford Fusion. Incidentally, only the Subaru and the Chrysler have six cylinder engines; the Ford Fusion is powered by an inline-four.

The standard engine for the Subaru Legacy is a 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed (boxer) four cylinder engine making 175 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 174 foot-pounds of twist at 4,000 rpm. The 3.6R is powered by a horizontally-opposed six cylinder engine making 256 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 247 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm. Both engines are paired with a continuously variable transmission with manual mode, the latter mimicking six forward-gear “steps” as you move down the road.

Both engines return unchanged from last year, but the 3.6R swaps out a five-speed automatic for the CVT. Fuel mileage for both models has risen too from 24 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway to 26 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway for the four cylinder. For the flat six, fuel mileage has increased from 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway to 20 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. Both models take regular grade gasoline.

2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited

Sixth Generation Legacy

The latest Subaru Legacy brings this model to its sixth generation. As is common to sedans in this class, the current iteration is larger and more refined than its predecessor. Today’s midsize sedans rival the size of large sedans from the turn of the millennium and are increasingly outfitted with amenities that once appeared only in luxury cars.

Once again, the current generation sits on a 108.3 inch wheelbase, but measures 0.7 inches wider and 1.6 inches longer than the previous model. Subaru shaved 0.3 inches from its height to give the sedan a sportier look. Minor dimensional differences aside, cabin and trunk storage are slightly larger. Importantly, this model seats five comfortably despite the moderately pronounced drivetrain hump in the rear passenger compartment.

When it comes to style, the Subaru Legacy doesn’t push the design envelope. Like the Toyota Camry, the Legacy has a certain blandness that is still evident. Even so, the fascia is sportier with a slightly larger grille and a correspondingly smaller lower air intake to show for it. The headlamps seem better proportioned and the body sculpting is more refined. Like many of its competitors the Legacy employs a coupe-like roofline for a more sophisticated look. The 3.6R is finished with dual exhaust tips, a notched trunk and wraparound tail lamps.

2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited

Standard Equipment, Trim Levels

Choose the base model and your sedan comes equipped with 17-inch wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, electric power-assist steering, an active grille shutter system and electronic parking with hill holder assist. All models now have active torque vectoring — what applies braking pressure to the front inside wheel when handling a curve. The overall effect provides better steering and more confident handling.

Inside, the base edition is outfitted with an infotainment system managed by a 6.2-inch touchscreen. This system provides smartphone integration, hands-free calling and audio streaming. Cloth bucket seats up front and a split folding 60-40 seat is to the rear. Cruise control, air conditioning, front and rear center cup holders, in-door bottle holders, front seatback pockets, a concealed illuminated storage tray for your smartphone, a second smartphone holder and map lights are included. You also get power windows, power door locks, an overhead console for your sunglasses, sun visor extenders, front door courtesy lights, a trunk light and trunk grocery bag hooks.

Move up to the 2.5i Premium and your Subaru Legacy is outfitted with 17-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats and heated side mirrors, a 10-way power driver’s seat, dual climate control, an upgraded audio system, an updated instrument panel, illuminated door handles and fancier trim.

2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited

Choose the 2.5i Limited and you get a number of upgrades including 18-inch wheels wrapped within all-season tires, a 12-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio system, heated rear seats, a 4-way power front passenger seat, foldable side mirrors with integrated turn signals, fog lights, a rear center console and perforated leather-trimmed seats.

The changes for the 3.6R Limited package over the 2.5i Limited include the larger engine, steering wheel paddle shifters, dual exhaust tips, high definition headlamps and larger front brake rotors. What pushed the test model’s price up was a moonroof package that also brought in keyless access and push button start, a $2,195 add on. A $795 destination and delivery charge brought this model to its final price.

One option not included with the 3.6R is a rear cross traffic alert/blind spot detection feature, part of an EyeSight driver assist technology package. It requires the moonroof package, adding $795 to your final price.

2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited

View manufacturer details and pricing

Subaru 3.6R Limited

With its leather dressing, aluminum trim and wood inlays, the Legacy 3.6R Limited puts the polish on the model line. The driver’s seat is very comfortable and the rear seat offers very good head, shoulder, thigh and leg room. This model comes with a two-analog display flanking a digital driver’s information center, steering wheel-mounted controls and more than enough power to get you going and keep you moving down the road.

Some people are put off by CVTs, but in this case I found that the Subaru transmission didn’t hit me with the hesitant shifting or rubber-band effect found in some models. The overall power was more than enough, perhaps more than what you need. For many shoppers, staying with the four cylinder should be sufficient and an especially good choice if you put a premium on fuel economy.

2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited

Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH)

Handling was quite good with no issues present. What does need work is the wind noise that become noticeably detectable at highway speeds. There is no escaping the fact that you will hear constant airflow seeping in through the windows. In the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) category, the Subaru Legacy gets two out of three right. Turn on the audio system and you’ll manually “cancel” out the noise.

Will the Subaru Legacy pull in more shoppers? That seems likely based on the sales trajectory for the brand alone. That it is also the only model in the segment with standard all-wheel drive is a bonus too. Even so, a refreshed Toyota Camry, a new Hyundai Sonata and recently introduced or updated models from Honda, Nissan, Ford, Chevrolet, Mazda and Chrysler will be ready to battle. Subaru can also tout the model’s safety features, once again ranked a Top Safety Pick+ by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited

2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited

  • Sticker price from $29,595
  • Price as tested: from $32,585
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 3.6-liter 24-valve flat (boxer) six cylinder gasoline engine
  • 256 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
  • 247 foot-pounds of torque @ 4,400 rpm
  • 3.62 inches bore by 3.58 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 10:5-to-1
  • 6-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 108.3 inches
  • Length: 188.8 inches
  • Width: 72.4 inches
  • Height: 59 inches
  • Passenger volume: 104.6 cubic feet
  • Storage volume: 15 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: N/R
  • EPA: 20 mpg city, 29 mpg highway
  • Regular grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 18.5 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 3,662 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Top Safety Pick+
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 5 years/Unlimited miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Lafayette, Indiana

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2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved.

Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Breaks Cover

Chrysler lays claim to the world’s fastest sedan.

2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat
The hottest sedan is set to scorch the earth in 2015.

Just weeks after introducing the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, the Chrysler Group has unveiled a 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. The new model shares the same supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI V-8 engine found in the Challenger SRT Hellcat, making 707 horsepower and 650 foot-pounds of torque.

2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

The latest SRT inspired model is also the “quickest, fastest and most powerful sedan in the world,” according to Chrysler. It has a top speed of 204 mph and an 11-second elapsed time for the quarter mile. The juiced sedan can hit its top speed within 13 seconds according to the NHRA. The new model will go into production after the first of the year at the Brampton, Ontario, assembly plant.

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT HellcatThe powerful engine is paired with a TorqueFlite 8HP90 eight-speed automatic transmission. Chrysler says that that the transmission is “capable of delivering fuel-efficient street driving and maximum performance track driving with 160 millisecond shifts with rev-matching.”

First Use: Supercharger Technology

In the SRT Hellcats, this will be the first time that Chrysler has made use of V-8 supercharger technology. The engine features a forged-steel crankshaft with induction-hardened bearing surfaces. The engine also makes use of high-strength, forged-alloy pistons, heat-treated aluminum-alloy cylinder heads and die-cast aluminum rockers. Its specially tuned crank damper has been tested to 13,000 rpm.

Other enhancements for the Charger Hellcat include 15.4-inch Brembo two-piece rotors with six-piston calipers. It represents the largest front-brake package ever offered in a Chrysler Group vehicle.

2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

Multiple Driving Modes

Drivers will also benefit from all-new drive modes that can help them actualize their driving experience. Three pre-configured drive modes — sport, track and default — can be found with a custom mode available to permit drivers to tailor-make their own experience. An eco mode is also available, one that will allow drivers to maximize fuel economy. The drive modes are controlled through the sedan’s UConnect system by choosing the applicable apps.

The Charger SRT Hellcat will also feature a novel two key fob arrangement. One key fob is red and the other is black, but it is the red key fob that unleashes the sedan’s full potential. The black fob reduces engine output, so which one do you think you will hand over to your teen?

Ideally, you will set your SRT Hellcat to valet mode whenever you are not behind the wheel. Set by your four-digit personal identification number, the valet mode limits horsepower and twist, locks out access to the first gear and upshifts earlier than normal, changes the traction, steering and suspension to a street setting, and disables the paddle shifters. It also disables drive mode functions, fully activates electronic stability control and disables launch control.

2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

Second-Generation Styling Cues

In the Charger SRT Hellcat its design points to the second-generation Chargers that came off the assembly line in the late 1960s, with its design cues derived from the 1969 model. Hellcat has a larger and more pronounced aluminum hood, a redesigned front fascia with a menacing look and an integrated front splitter.

The sedan’s 20-inch split-seven, lightweight forged-aluminum wheels are set within Pirelli P Zero tires, designed to handle extreme speeds. Bringing up the rear is a body-colored deck spoiler, 4-inch round exhaust tips and racetrack LED tail lamps as found in the 2014 Dodge Durango.

Inside, the sedan features an all-new 7-inch customizable digital instrument cluster, the latest generation UConnect media center and an electronic shifter with a T-handle. An SRT-branded steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and an 18-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system are among the Hellcat’s top amenities.

2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

Surging Muscle Cars

The Chrysler Group has sold more than 1 million Chargers and Challengers since these models rolled out in 2006 and 2009, respectively. Chrysler calls the Charger the “world’s only four-door muscle car” a fact that its competitors are not disputing.

2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

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Living Large With a 2015 Cadillac Escalade Premium 4WD

2015 Cadillac Escalade Premium

The 2015 Cadillac Escalade marks the start of this luxury SUV’s fourth generation and remains the largest and most expensive model in the brand’s lineup. As always, the Escalade rests on the platform that underpins GM’s pickup trucks and other large SUVs, and is sold in rear- and four-wheel drive configurations. Standard and stretched (ESV) wheelbase versions are available, the latter adding 14 inches to the wheelbase and nearly two feet overall.

2015 Cadillac Escalade Premium 4WD

My test vehicle was an Escalade Premium 4WD with a base price of $82,795. This model is also sold in Standard ($71,695) and Luxury ($75,695) editions. An all-new Platinum ($90,270) edition will be introduced this fall.

As equipped, my weekly driver came with a few options including: power retractable assist steps ($1,695), 22-inch, 7-spoke aluminum wheels ($500) and majestic plum metallic paint ($495). With options and destination charge, this model cost $86,480. Add upwards of $3,000 for a stretched version.

For 2015, you get one engine and transmission combination: a 6.2-liter V-8 engine making 420 horsepower and 460 foot-pounds of torque and paired with a six-speed automatic transmission (an eight-speed automatic will arrive later in the model year).

The engine is a third generation EcoTec3, what comes with direct injection, variable valve timing and Active Fuel Management (AFM). AFM is technology that shuts down half the cylinders at highway cruising speed in a bid to save gasoline. This model is EPA-rated at 14 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway. It takes regular grade gasoline — I averaged 16.4 mpg for the week.

2015 Cadillac Escalade Premium

The Cadillac Escalade has always been massive in its proportions and the current iteration upholds that theme. The new design complements Cadillac’s current design language, the latest version of its art & science look. Flanking the oversized grille is full LED lighting, including stacked daytime running lights. To the rear, massive LED tail lamps span from the top of the roof to the bumper for a design that is (literally) punctuated by a pair of exclamation points.

The slab profile of the Escalade is a familiar look and is enhanced with chrome touches, but you will not find as much “bling” as on some of the previous models. With a key fob present, the door handles light up and any door will open when pressing the proximity button located on the respective handle. The optional retractable side steps are familiar to Escalade fans and come in handy for ease of access and egress.

2015 Cadillac Escalade Premium 4WD

View manufacturer details and pricing

2015 Cadillac Escalade Premium

Luxurious Interior, Generous Amenities

Inside, the Cadillac Escalade is cavernous, bright and outfitted with generous amounts of leather. Cut and sewn leather is on the seats and is also found across the dashboard, wrapping the steering wheel and on the doors. Wood accents are on the doors, across the lower dashboard and cover the front center console. Aluminum door handles and accents complete the refined look.

Standard seating is for seven with bucket seats up front, captain’s chairs in the second row and a power flip 60-40 split bench seat for three in the third row. The second row seats fold down and flip forward, making access to the third row a snap. Individual power buttons drop each seat and flip them forward. You can also opt for a middle bench seat to gain an eighth seating position.

The driver’s seat offered no surprises: it is as comfortable and supportive as you would expect. Cadillac puts the emphasis on “cushy” and that’s the way that you will feel as you glide your way down the highway.

The Escalade was the second Cadillac model that I have tested that also came outfitted with a LCD instrument gauge display. When the vehicle is off, you see a blank screen. When it is on, a 12.3-inch configurable display with 3D images provides the usual vehicle data you want: speedometer, tachometer, fuel information and more. You can also adjust it to place navigation information or entertainment information front and center, changes that can be made by way of the steering wheel-mounted controls. I may be a traditional two- or three-analog driver, but this Cadillac panel is beautiful. The head-up display is another welcome feature.

2015 Cadillac Escalade Premium

CUE: Cadillac User Experience

As with the earlier Cadillac XTS, the Escalade come outfitted with CUE — Cadillac User Experience — an infotainment system with its own bright, colorful display located at the top of the center stack. The system “knows” when you want to do something: the very moment it senses your hand in front of the screen, a menu panel emerges at the top and bottom of the screen. Control the audio, your connected phone, set up navigation and adjust the climate control with each app.

Other apps allow you to access Pandora, pull up weather reports, control the Blu-Ray DVD system or contact OnStar, the latter giving you live support for directions and a host of other services. Cue is one of the easiest systems to use. However, the voice commands failed more often than they were understood — one area in need of improvement.

The center console features sliding and folding compartments for holding your smartphone and two drinks. Another smartphone compartment is located on top of the covered storage compartment, which holds a pair of headphones and is large enough to house your purse. A “secret” storage panel is located directly behind the audio and climate controls. I had no idea that is was there until I accidentally pressed a button and the door flipped up. The compartment has a USB port and is also large enough to hold your wallet.

2015 Cadillac Escalade Premium

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All four doors come with two drink holders apiece along with other storage trays. Three additional drink holders are found in the third row — two on the left side and one on the right side of the vehicle.

The 2015 Cadillac Escalade Premium comes with more standard equipment than can possibly be mentioned or at least given the justice necessary to describe the benefit of each one. A tilt and slide moonroof, the drop-down Blu-Ray video screen, ventilated front seats, heated front and second-row seats, second-row climate controls, a 110-volt outlet, and a 16-speaker Bose audio system were included. Not available with the test model, but rolling out during the model year is an OnStar 4G LTE system with available Wi-Fi hotspot.

On the Road

The Escalade’s big V-8 engine is up to the task. It moves this nearly three-ton road yacht from 0 to 60 mph in just under six seconds. The engine is quiet — or at least the sound deadening materials effectively muffle the noise — and the transmission shifts smoothly up and down through each gear.

Electric power steering helps this SUV take each turn with ease. It is a no-drama system that makes it easy to handle the Escalade. Four-wheel disc brakes bring this SUV to a smooth stop.

For 2015, Cadillac made some changes in the safety department. A front center airbag is new, the first time one has been included in this segment. This model also comes with a safety alert seat, forward collision alert, and lane departure warning. Also available across the Escalade line — standard with the test vehicle — is a driver assist package that brings in adaptive cruise control, automatic collision preparation, front and rear automatic braking and automatic seat belt-tightening.

2015 Cadillac Escalade

Pop open the lift-gate and you have a generous amount of storage room along with a concealed storage compartment. The spare tire resides underneath the vehicle. On the right side of the compartment are four switches that control the second and third-row seats. If desired, you can have everything folded flat inside of 10 seconds.

The Cadillac Escalade sells itself — you either like this type of vehicle or you do not. In the past, a sedan would have served as this marque’s flagship vehicle, but that honor now resides with the Escalade. This model still has its fans and the 2015 edition will meet their expectations with several current and pending improvements offering further enticements.

2015 Cadillac Escalade Premium

EDITOR’S NOTE — While this vehicle was being tested by Auto Trends, we received a notice by Cadillac for the new Platinum edition or collection. Cadillac also announced that all Escalade models built from the fourth quarter 2014 on would receive technology upgrades that would add $1,275 to the base sticker price. Those upgrades will include a standard eight-speed automatic transmission, a Surround View camera system and OnStar with 4G LTE connectivity and WiFi hotspot capability. Those changes were announced here.

2015 Cadillac Escalade Premium 4WD

  • Sticker price from $82,795
  • Price as tested: from $86,480
  • Seats 7 occupants
  • 6.2-liter 16-valve V-8 gasoline engine
  • 420 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm
  • 460 foot-pounds of torque @ 4,100 rpm
  • 4.06 inches bore by 3.62 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 11.5-to-1
  • 6-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 116 inches
  • Length: 203.9 inches
  • Width: 80.5 inches
  • Height: 74.4 inches
  • Passenger volume: 120.8/li>
  • Storage volume: 39.3/94.2/120.9 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: 8,100 pounds
  • EPA: 14 mpg city, 21 mpg highway
  • Regular grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 26 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 5,840 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Good; NR
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 6 years/70,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 6 years/Unlimited miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Arlington, Texas

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2015 Cadillac Escalade Premium 4WD photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved.