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2017 sedan models feature trim options galore

Industry staples mix four-door functionality with professional panache, especially when automakers add customized options

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sedans, gay news, Washington Blade

VW Passat SEL Premium

In this town of politicos and power brokers, sedans are a perfect match. They mix four-door functionality with professional panache, especially when automakers add special trim levels like “Executive,” “Premium” or as in the case of the new Lincoln Continental, “Black Label.” But such button-down monikers don’t prevent these rides from being lots of fun.

VW PASSAT SEL PREMIUM
$31,000
Mpg: 23 city/34 highway
0-to-60 mph: 7.7 seconds

While VW offers an Executive trim level for its CC flagship sedan, the high-end version of the midsize Passat is called the SEL Premium. The Passat’s styling is a bit dated (the latest design debuted in 2012) but it still holds its charms. That’s also true inside, where the layout is clean yet flaunts many Audi-chic elements.

The bolstered seats, especially, are a delight. There’s also plenty of headroom and legroom, even in the backseats. But the touchscreen is dinky, and the infotainment system isn’t very intuitive. Still, there’s a choice of two fine engines: a fairly quick four-cylinder turbo or a more spirited V6 that lets the Passat scoot from 0 to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds.

The German engineering also shines through on the road, with responsive steering and braking. Another plus: a long list of standard features, including heated seats, LED headlights/taillights, power-folding mirrors, automated parallel-parking system, hands-free trunk opener with foot sensor, high-end Fender stereo and more.

INFINITI Q50
$34,000
Mpg: 19 city/27 highway
0-to-60 mph: 6.9 seconds

If the old-school exterior on the VW Passat evokes a “dad jeans” sensibility, then the Infiniti Q50 is channeling a skinny-jeans vibe: its form fitting, with a tight and sassy rear.

This shapely sedan drives just as nice, too, with solid handling and superb body control. A four-cylinder engine comes standard. But it’s hard to resist choosing one of the two zippier V6 options, one of which comes with 400 hp to help rocket the Q50 from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds. There also are four trim levels — base, Premium, Signature and Sport — with various mix-and-match packages. But all trims come with push-button start, smartphone-app integration and an infotainment system with voice recognition.

The backup camera also offers a 360-degree, bird’s-eye view that really helps when parking. While there are other niceties, like an eight-inch upper touchscreen and seven-inch lower touchscreen, the interior hasn’t kept up with the times. And though there is a hybrid version, the Q50’s other engines aren’t as fuel-friendly as what many competitors offer. But this Infiniti still scores when it comes to the long warranty, affordable price, and top-notch ratings for safety and reliability.

Infiniti Q50

LINCOLN CONTINENTAL BLACK LABEL
$65,000
Mpg: 18 city/27 highway
0-to-60 mph: 5.5 seconds

Many millennials probably don’t understand the hoopla surrounding the rebirth of the Lincoln Continental. After all, it’s been 15 years since this sedan — basically an also-ran for rental-car companies — graced dealer showrooms. Yet the new Continental proves how silver foxes can reinvent themselves.

With a stunning grill and other styling borrowed from Bentley, the Continental is much more than a replacement for the MKS sedan. This is a full-size flagship, measuring 117.9 inches in length and weighing a hefty 4,555 lb. Luckily, any of the three available V6 engines have plenty of pep to power this land yacht. And traveling around town or cross-country is equally pleasant.

There is overwhelming opulence everywhere, with the much-ballyhooed 30-way power seats, rear-seat climate controls, panoramic sunroofs and all the latest safety gear. The four trim levels include a base-model Premier, Select, Reserve and high-end Black Label, which also comes with a concierge program for pickup and delivery, complimentary car washes (anytime/anywhere) and other services. Perhaps the only thing this car doesn’t do is pump your gas for you.

Lincoln Continental Black Label

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Autos

Cool compacts: Ford Maverick Lariat, Subaru Crosstrek Wildernes 

The summer fireworks continue with two bangin’ rides

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Ford Maverick Lariat

While the Fourth of July may be over, other fireworks continue with two bangin’ rides: the Ford Maverick pickup and Subaru Crosstrek SUV. Both are affordable compacts, though neither can be considered barebones and each vehicle offers some fresh surprises. 

FORD MAVERICK LARIAT

$35,000

MPG: 22 city/29 highway

0-to-60 mph: 5.9 seconds

Cargo capacity: 33.3 cu. ft.

PROS: Very low price. Peppy. Lotsa storage.

CONS: Spartan base model. Bumpy ride. Pricey options. 

IN A NUTSHELL: When I wrote a few years ago about the Ford Maverick, which was replacing the long-time Ranger, it was a pleasant surprise to learn this new pickup came standard as a hybrid. Such fuel efficiency—42 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway—is still impressive. But this year Ford switched the Maverick’s powertrain availability, which means the hybrid is now a $1,500 option and the more powerful turbo engine comes standard. That’s a downer for fuel-conscious buyers, but a plus for anyone seeking more oomph under the hood. 

Hybrid or no, the starting price of a base-model Maverick is still low: less than $25,000. This makes it the least expensive compact pickup out there. Available only as a four-door crew cab, there’s plenty of passenger and cargo room.The low-slung truck bed—which can carry cargo up to 1,500 pounds—makes loading and unloading easy. And despite its small size, this tough hauler can tow up to 4,000 pounds. Built on the same platform as two popular Ford SUVs—the Escape and Bronco Sport—the Maverick boasts handling more like a sedate sedan than a stiff truck. Well, at least that’s the case on the freeway. In town, the ride is bumpier than expected over potholes and such. 

Three trim levels available: XL, XLT and high-end Lariat, which is what I test drove for a week. The XL is basic—with 17-inch steel wheels, cloth seats and a six-speaker stereo—while the XLT adds alloy wheels, power-locking tailgate and a rear armrest with cupholders. But the Lariat offers unexpected amenities, such as keyless entry, push-button start, synthetic leather upholstery, power-sliding rear window, heated seats, heated steering wheel, wireless charging pad and eight-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo. 

All Mavericks come with forward collision warning that automatically applies braking when necessary. But the Lariat adds adaptive cruise control, rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, and evasive steering that kicks in to help avoid collisions. 

For all you alphas, there’s a Tremor Off-Road package, which adds rough-and-rugged features like elevated ground clearance, advanced four-wheel drive, skid plates, off-road suspension, locking rear differential, all-terrain tires, full-size spare, and more aggressive styling and badging. 

Alas, such options add up and can bump the sticker price close to $45,000.

SUBARU CROSSTREK WILDERNESS

$34,000

MPG: 25 city/29 highway

0-to-60 mph: 8.5 seconds 

Cargo capacity: 20 cu. ft.

PROS: Off-road capability. Roomy. Comfy seats.

CONS: Plasticky interior. Bit noisy cabin. No speed demon.

IN A NUTSHELL: Subaru has its own maverick in the showroom: the tiny-but-mighty Crosstrek. Redesigned for 2024, the Crosstrek retains much of its quirky styling and adept handling. That’s a good thing, considering how hot this SUV has been the past few years.  

There’s also a brand-new trim level: the Wilderness. While I was already a big fan of the Crosstrek, the Wilderness ratchets things up a lot. 

Except for the BRZ sports car, all Subarus come standard with all-wheel drive. Yet the off-road prowess of the Crosstrek Wilderness is enhanced by front skid plate, extra drive modes, a tighter suspension and higher ground clearance (9.3 inches versus 8.6 inches on other Crosstreks). No, this is not a Jeep Wrangler or Toyota Land Cruiser, but the Wilderness is no slouch when tackling rutty roads or sandy terrain. 

As for looks, the rugged styling includes hexagonal fog lights, 17-inch black alloy wheels with thick treads, black front and rear bumpers, and black cladding on the wheel arches to protect against scrapes. Faux copper accents—especially on the roof rack and steering wheel—signal that this is not your average Crosstrek. 

With the back seats down, cargo space in all Crosstreks is 55 cubic feet (an impressive two-and-a-half times the area when the seats are up). As for towing, standard Crosstrek models can haul an impressive 1,500 pounds. But the Wilderness can tow even more—a whopping 3,500 pounds. 

Inside, the high roofline makes the cabin feel surprisingly large. The gauges and displays—functional but not glitzy—are the same across the Crosstrek lineup. Notable options include power moonroof, 10-way power driver’s seat and 10-speaker Harmon Kardon audio. 

The main difference between the Wilderness and other Crosstrek trims are the comfortable, water-resistant seats (made of synthetic leather upholstery) and the rubber floor mats emblazoned with the Wilderness logo. 

All in all, this Crosstrek turned out to be a practical urban ride that also brought out my inner Paul Bunyan on weekends. 

Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness
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Autos

All charged up: BMW i7 xDrive6

Fairy dust goes a long way in this all-electric luxe sedan

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BMW i7 xDrive60

Sometimes it’s good to be a fairy godmother. That’s how it was for me when organizing a surprise dinner party for my husband Robert, who was celebrating a milestone birthday. 

Event planning isn’t my thing, yet somehow the stars aligned. It seemed like all I had to do was wave a wand and — voila! — the magic began.

Make reservations at a fave intimate restaurant, which often gets booked months in advance? Zing! Ensure that family and childhood friends from across the country could all attend the same weekend? Zing! Find a handsome pianist to serenade us with Broadway show tunes. Zing again!

The only thing missing: a stunning chariot. But then, at the last minute, my test car for the week turned out to be—zing!—the all-electric BMW i7 xDrive60 glam sedan. 

BMW i7 xDrive60

$121,000

MPGe: 87 city/95 highway

Range: 291 to 321 miles 

Fastest charging time: 212 miles in 34 minutes (80% charged) 

PROS: Hyper fast. Sublime cabin. Dazzling tech.

CONS: Pricey. So-so cargo area. A sedan in a world of SUVs.

IN A NUTSHELL: To drive or not to drive, that’s the question with the BMW i7. Rarely is it more exciting to be the passenger than the driver in a sports sedan, especially a Bimmer. But as I chauffeured my husband to the restaurant on his birthday, he seemed to be having way too much fun enjoying the dizzying array of creature comforts.

Spa treatment. The futuristic seats, made of quilted Merino leather, are as plush and comfortable as anything from Roche Bobois. But the optional cashmere/wool fabric looks and feels even better. All seats—both front and rear—come with ventilation and heating that activates much quicker than in most cars. The superb massage function does bodywork like a real masseur—but without the need to tip 20% when your session ends. 

Concert-hall acoustics. Other high-priced rides offer premium audio, but the standard Bowers & Wilkens stereo in the i7 is bravo: 18 speakers and 655 watts. Better yet, my test car had the much-ballyhooed Diamond Surround Sound System, with 36 speakers powered by a 1965-watt amplifier. Yes, two of those speakers use actual diamonds to increase clarity. The result is perhaps the best-sounding vehicle acoustics ever.

IMAX-like screen. The Rear Executive Lounge Seating package adds a reclining right rear seat with footrest and a center console with foldable table that serves as a floating desk. Think first-class seating on an airplane. Most impressive is the huge, 31-inch 8K theater screen that drops down from the ceiling and comes with Amazon Fire capability. All rear window shades lower and the panoramic-glass roof shade closes when in theater mode. Built tastefully into the armrest on each rear door is what looks like an Apple iPhone to control the rear lighting, movie screen and other functions. Any home theater system should be so good.

Racecar features. Up front, the driver is spoiled with many other goodies. A curved digital screen, the same as in the cutting-edge BMW iX SUV, houses a 12.3-inch instrument cluster and 14.9-inch infotainment monitor. Two motors—one for each axle—creates an impressive 536-horsepower. Press the accelerator and—whoosh!—the i7 sprints from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds. The amazing auto-leveling suspension absorbs potholes and speed bumps as if this 6,000-pound sedan were floating on air. 

Rolls-Royce aura. BMW, which also owns Rolls-Royce, has sprinkled the i7 with stately design cues. This includes softer, more graceful styling and none of the severe, chiseled angles of previous BMWs. Other plusses: Swarovski crystals in the headlights and 22 precision-focused LEDs in the high beams. But the illuminated grille, while impressive, has a more ominous vibe. (Stephen King’s Christine, anyone?) 

Full-size comfort. The i7 is a full-figured ride, more than 17-feet long and 6.4-feet wide. Here’s where the automatic parking comes in handy, allowing this BMW to parallel or perpendicular park itself. Trunk capacity is 18 cubic feet, which is decent but less than some competitors. Inside, though, there are plenty of clever storage compartments. 

A pretty penny. Full of options, my test car was a wallet-busting $152,000. But that’s a bargain—well, sort of—compared with the high-performance i7 M70. With 650 horsepower and a 0-to-60 time of 3.5 seconds, the M70 is the fastest all-electric M car ever made. It also costs $169,000. 

Alas, such sticker prices are too rich for my blood. Sorry Robert, maybe if we win the lottery.

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Autos

Seductive sport-utes: Buick Evista, Subaru Outback

Two vehicles that punch way above their weight

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Buick Envista

Two recent sport-utes are surprise hits this year. Well, at least they are for me. That’s because the all-new Buick Envista and tried-and-true Subaru Outback both deliver more than expected—a lot more. Call it bait and switch, but in a good way. 

BUICK ENVISTA 

$24,000

MPG: 28 city/32 highway

0 to 60 mph: 9.3 seconds

Maximum cargo room: 42.0 cu. ft. 

PROS: Yowza design, yowza cabin, yowza price

CONS: Modest power, no all-wheel drive, so-so stereo

IN A NUTSHELL: If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Buick Envista is practically a Teutonic clone. Just a few months ago, I wrote about the BMW X6—a riveting ride with glam looks, oodles of high-tech gizmos and an uber-comfy interior. But all that awesomeness comes at a price: $75,000—and that’s just the base model. Choose a higher trim level or load up on chichi extras and this bad-ass Bimmer easily tops $100,000. 

Not so the Buick Envista, an all-new compact that starts at just $24,000. I test drove the high-end Avenir version, which was—wait for it—only $5,000 extra. And the Avenir comes standard with 19-inch nickel-finish wheels, upgraded suspension, power liftgate, keyless entry, remote start, heated seats, heated steering wheel and other goodies. 

After doing a double take on the Envista’s exquisite exterior, I did the same when slipping behind the wheel. Yep, there definitely is a Buick logo inside. But everything else could come from the kicky cabin of a BMW X6. This includes a fully digital dashboard stretched wide beneath the windshield, as well as stylish trapezoidal air vents, tasteful aluminum trim, armrests sculpted seamlessly into the doors and well-bolstered sport seats.

Turn on the stellar stereo in a BMW X6 and you could be in the front row at a Queen and Adam Lambert concert. In the Envista, the audio may not be quite as impressive, but those six speakers and nicely calibrated noise-cancellation function still provide a pleasant experience. 

This bantamweight Buick also has a surprising amount of space for passengers and cargo. Headroom is more than adequate, even for tallish backseat passengers. And folding those rear seats more than doubles the overall stowage.

All Envistas boast a bevy of safety gear, including lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, automatic braking, forward collision warning with pedestrian protection, and a “following-distance” indicator to monitor vehicles ahead of you. Oh yes, there’s a superb backup camera—high definition, no less. As with the BMW X6, this camera helps offset limited visibility from the small rear window in the sharply sloped roofline. 

For less than $1,000, you can add a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, rear-park assist and heated side mirrors. Such options are much pricier on other vehicles.

No, this Buick is not a NASCAR rival. There’s no raw power or intimidating exhaust rumble. But the Envista’s acceleration, handling and braking are all solid, especially in commuter traffic. 

 Affordable. Economical. Thrifty. Call it what you will, the Buick Envista is half the price of an average vehicle today. That’s impressive for this “Mini-Me” of a BMW X6. 

SUBARU OUTBACK

$29,000

MPG: 26 city/32 highway

0 to 60 mph: 8.8 seconds

Maximum cargo room: 75.6 cu. ft. 

PROS: Relaxed ride, spacious interior, off-road maven 

CONS: Slow base engine, dated touchscreen, less fuel-friendly

IN A NUTSHELL: Station wagon? Sport-ute? All-activity vehicle? The Subaru Outback is all three, mixing the agility of all-wheel drive with sedan-like handling. The result: A composed ride equally at home on highways or trailways. 

The overall look is sleeker than a Ford Bronco but less luxe than a Lexus RX. While the Outback was last redesigned in 2020, each year Subaru makes at least a few improvements. For 2024, this mid-sizer receives minor styling updates, as well as more standard features on many of its nine trim levels. 

I test drove the top-of-the-line Touring XT for a week. At $41,000, the price is a whopping 40% higher than the base model. But the amenities rival what many competitors offer on vehicles costing twice as much. Along with heated/ventilated seats, heated steering wheel and heated power-folding side mirrors, there are plenty of other creature comforts: hands-free liftgate, water-repellant faux-leather upholstery, windshield wiper de-icer, tinted rear windows and premium 12-speaker Harman Kardon stereo. 

Curiously, the dual 7.0-inch touchscreen seems stuck in the 1990s. But you can choose a vertical, iPad-like 11.6-inch monitor instead. 

A front-view camera with 180-degree viewing angle makes it easy to peak around corners, while a digital rearview mirror allows you to see behind the vehicle even if the cargo area is fully loaded. Other safety items include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, pre-collision braking, lane-departure warning and drowsy-driver alert. 

Perhaps the only downside is the pokey 182-horsepower base engine. Skip it, and go for the quicker, more satisfying turbo.

Feature-laden but frugally priced, the Outback is similar to the Buick Envista — two vehicles that punch way above their weight. 

Subaru Outback
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