It’s hard to think about cars at a time when our health, our city, and our country is under siege. But for me, writing a car column is a respite from so many gut-wrenching events, from the political to the pandemic. When I eventually do tap back into my newsfeed, I’m more energized and can focus on trying to move forward. I hope reading about cars does the same for you.
MIDSIZED CROSSOVER: KIA SORENTO
Mpg: 24 city/29 highway
0 to 60 mph: 6.5 seconds
A new year usually signals the start of auto show season. But the pandemic caused many 2020 shows to be cancelled, and now some of them—like the one in D.C. usually held in January—have been rescheduled for later in 2021.
While local gearheads will have to wait at least until spring for our show, there are already plenty of head-turning vehicles rolling onto dealer lots. This includes the radically redesigned Kia Sorento, a midsize crossover that blends the burly styling of a full-size Telluride with the cheeky curves of a compact Sportage. All three Kias are pleasant to drive, with decent gas mileage and sharp handling. But the Sorento works especially well in the city, offering ample cargo space and an ability to fit almost anywhere. Unlike most competitors, this mid-sizer comes with a third row and a surprising amount of legroom. There’s a choice of four engines, including a traditional hybrid and plug-in hybrid. Base models boast LED headlights, heated outside mirrors and smartphone compatibility.
Safety gear includes forward-collision braking, driver-attention sensors, lane-departure warning and 360-degree parking camera. When you change lanes, cameras also display live footage of the blind spot on the instrument panel—which has a large, digital-gauge cluster that looks like something from an Xbox game. Other niceties include push-button start, panoramic sunroof, 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen and 12-speaker Bose stereo. But sometimes the coolest features are the simplest ones: netted pockets on the sides of the seats that can hold your smartphones.
HAUTE HAULER: FORD BRONCO
Mpg: 21 city/26 highway
0 to 60 mph: 5.9 seconds
After a 24-year hiatus, the Ford Bronco is back. But forget the rounded edges and slanted rear windows from 1996 when production ceased. Instead, the boxy retro styling evokes the 1966 original: bold and brawny. This new Bronco targets the Jeep Wrangler, duking it out for off-road bragging rights. Ground clearance is higher on the Bronco, and it can make sharper turns. There’s also one-pedal driving, which automatically applies the brakes just by lifting your foot off the accelerator. Ford decided to attach the side-view mirrors to the vehicle frame, not the doors. This way the mirrors stay in place when you remove the doors. As if this wasn’t enough for off-road enthusiasts, a Sasquatch package offers 35-inch monster tires, stiff shocks, a suspension-lift kit and other goodies for trail seekers. The optional manual transmission is a nice touch, as are marine-grade vinyl seats that can be hosed off after a day of play. Choice of two removable hard-top roofs, or you can simply opt for a soft top that can be pulled back to let the sunshine in. Underneath the rough-and-tumble exterior is a spartan yet chic cabin. The 12-inch touchscreen is the largest in this class, and the hard-plastic surfaces and rubberized switch gear make things easy to clean. There’s even a clever slide-out tailgate you can use as a table.
GREEN MACHINE: BMW 530e
Range: 350 miles
0 to 60 mph: 5.7 seconds
Facelifts can do wonders. Just look at the latest BMW 530e, with its sleeker headlights, stretched grille, and spiffy nips and tucks to the sheet metal. Available in rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, this plug-in hybrid has a new electric motor to boost overall power. Slip behind the wheel and be prepared to be swathed in luxury. The cabin is whisper quiet, and the standard faux-leather trim is just as supple as the real thing. There’s also enough tech gear to rival a space shuttle, including a 12.3-inch digital driver’s display, 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, cloud-based maps and smartphone integration. Among all the safety features, there are a few shout-outs: front and rear cross-traffic alert, and a traffic-jam-assist option. Recharging takes seven hours using a standard outlet, and the 530e can travel 21 miles on battery power alone. The first 5-Series sedan rolled off the production line in 1972, just three years after Stonewall. We should all look so good as we approach 50.