Test Drive: Top sport and luxury models

American drivers have engaged in a longtime love affair with big cars and trucks, and automakers have obliged. While the day of the block-long Buick or Lincoln may be over, sport-utility vehicles, pickup trucks and crossovers are keeping many an automaker’s books in the black. Last week, we focused on fuel-efficient cars and crossovers in reviewing the vehicles that made the biggest impression on us during the past model year. This week, we switch to the rugged, the sporty and the luxurious models we test-drove in 2017.

Minivan

Fiat Chrysler — then, just Chrysler Corp. — pretty much invented the minivan. During the mid-1980s, it seemed everyone was buying a Plymouth Voyager or Dodge Caravan, which could transport seven people in comfort, or serve as a cargo box. Once, they were the gold standard for minivans. But other automakers, notably Honda and Toyota, caught up and bypassed the Chrysler Corp. minivans in terms of quality and functionality. The last few Dodge and Chrysler minivans came up short of the promise they exhibited when they debuted in 1984.

The 2017 redesign added up to a quantum improvement over the previous model. Now called the Pacifica — the nameplate of a discontinued crossover model — it does everything its predecessor minivans did, and better. “The new version of the Pacifica leapfrogged over the inadequacies of the Town & Country,” we wrote. We were impressed by its fuel economy, which equalled that of the 1985 Caravan we owned years ago, despite the fact the Pacifica is bigger, heavier and about twice as powerful. Fiat Chrysler also offers a plug-in hybrid version of the Pacifica.

Our loaded test car had a sticker price of $43,765, but a less lavishly equipped model can be had for about $29,000.

Pickup truck

It’s hard not to rave about the Honda Ridgeline. While Honda offers only a 5-passenger crew-cab design, its pickup truck enjoys a significant edge over its competitors in terms of fuel economy, reliability, comfort and handling. “We found the Ridgeline unexpectedly quiet, smooth-riding and nimble in urban driving,” we wrote. “The engine-transmission combination delivered ample power and excellent fuel economy, in the 25-mpg range.” Meanwhile, the Ridgeline’s 7.9-inch ground clearance and all-wheel-drive system make it rugged enough for occasional off-road use, as well as towing and hauling.

Our well-equipped Ridgeline had a sticker price of $42,270. The base model starts at about $30,000.

Sport-utility vehicle

The Chevrolet Traverse, redesigned for 2018, improves on an already successful right-sized SUV. It’s about 400 pounds lighter, more powerful and more fuel-efficient – 17 mpg city, 25 highway. Yet it’s slightly bigger than the 2017 model. On top of that, its crisp, straightforward lines give it an attractive new look.

The front-wheel drive Traverse L starts at about $31,000. Our all-wheel-drive, 7-passenger Traverse High Country was a full-blown luxury SUV, with a sticker price to match: $54,030. While some Traverse shoppers might be inclined to drift toward the bigger, brawnier Tahoe, the new model has been selling exceptionally well – 11,627 in January, compared with 8,218 in January 2017.

Luxury sedan

Cadillac has preserved its reputation for unparalleled luxury despite the occasional marketing blunder — the 1982 Cimarron, a gussied-up Chevrolet Citation, comes readily to mind — but it’s hard to find much fault with the 2018 CT-6. Cadillac’s full-sized luxury sedan strikes a nearly perfect balance between the pillowy, quiet ride of past American luxury cars and those currently being built by Japanese automakers; and the sporty personality of the European models.

We didn’t expect the CT6 to be fun to drive, but fun it was – thanks mainly to its mighty 404-horsepower, twin-turbo V-6 engine linked to a predictable, smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters,” we observed in our review of the 5-passenger CT6. “The interior was quiet as a tomb.”

We noticed only two downsides of consequence. The 15.3-cubic-foot trunk isn’t much bigger than the trunks of midsize sedans like the Chevrolet Malibu. And the range of the telescopic steering column was unexpectedly short. Some drivers will find they have to compromise between sitting too close to the pedals and too far from the steering wheel.

Our test car’s sticker price was a somewhat daunting $91,685, but the base model comes in at $55,090. It’s powered by a 265-horsepower inline Four.

Sports car

Two often, sports-car aficionados find there are only two suitable models in the typical showroom: one too small, the other too expensive. Only the Chevrolet Corvette and Nissan 370Z come close to “big enough and priced right.” But we didn’t test-drive a Corvette or 370Z last year, so the obvious choice was the $110,263 Jaguar F-Type R.

It must be noted, of course, that Jaguar builds an F-Type roadster that compares with the Corvette. The base F-Type, equipped with a 296-horsepower inline Four, starts at about $60,000, compared with $55,495 for the base Corvette Stingray, and about $30,000 for the least pricey 370Z.

Styling is a matter of personal preference, but few Jaguars fall below first place where good looks are concerned.

The ride, moderate noise level and overall refinement made for reasonable comfort while running ordinary errands as well,” we wrote after spending a fun-filled week with the F-Type. While our convertible F-Type had room for only 7.3 cubic feet of luggage, the hardtop’s capacity is an impressive 11 cubic feet.

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

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