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2021 Infiniti QX80 Review – Four-wheeled fratricide

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Sometimes buying smart involves hoops and hurdles, and other times it’s as easy as two dealerships probably occupying the same lot. So goes it for the 2021 Infiniti QX80, the automaker’s biggest and burliest SUV, making its pitch for seven or eight seat excellence but finding Nissan may have stolen its thunder along the way.

The QX80 has road presence, not least because of its scale. A full 17.5 feet long and over 6.5 feet wide, it’s unapologetically huge, draped in chrome and riding – in Premium Select 4WD trim – on 22-inch forged dark aluminum-alloy wheels. For the 2021 model year the line-up kicks off at $69,050 (plus $1,395 destination) for the QX80 Luxe; Premium Select adds all-wheel drive among other things, and starts at $76,450.

Under the vast hood is Infiniti’s familiar 5.6-liter V8 engine. It now produces a hefty 400 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque, funneled to all four wheels via a 7-speed automatic transmission and a two speed transfer case. It’ll tow up to 8,500 pounds, and do 0-60 mph in about six seconds.

You’ll want a straight road for that. Point the QX80 at the horizon and plant your right foot, and the beefy SUV hunkers down and surges forward. It doesn’t feel so much fast, as potent: I’ve never faced down a rhinoceros as it builds up to a gallop, but I suspect it’s a similar experience to the Infiniti’s acceleration.

At 5,706 pounds it weighs more than the average white rhino, however, and so corners are better taken at more sedate speeds. With the suspension dialed in at the soft end of the scale there’s no shortage of body roll if you try to hustle too rapidly, though the upshot is the sort of plush ride you used to have to drive a 70s Lincoln to achieve. Factor in “you only wanted to use one finger, right?” levels of power steering boost, and it’s clear this behemoth was made for cruising.

Within that niche, it does admirably. The V8 thrums in the background, but generally noise isolation keeps the irksome world outside at a long arm’s distance. Infiniti’s 7-speed slurs discreetly, but an eighth ratio for even quieter highway work wouldn’t go awry. Inside, meanwhile, there’s decent space for as many as eight, though usually Infiniti outfits the QX80 with seven seats. The second row is no compromise, with Premium Select spec getting captain’s chairs and a large center console between them.

The third row is a little smaller, but not so much that only the smallest kids need be slotted back there. Power adjustment helps balance their space with the trunk: there’s 16.6 cu-ft with all the seats up, 49.6 cu-ft with the third-row down, and a positively capacious 95.1 cu-ft with the third and second row down. The seats themselves are a little bulky, however, particularly the captain’s chairs.

Infiniti doesn’t stint on the leather, and there’s tri-zone climate control, heated – though not cooled – front seats, a power tailgate and power moonroof, remote start, and a heated steering wheel. A 360-degree camera, blind spot warnings and assistance, and lane departure warnings and detection are standard, too, as is Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and a Bose 13-speaker audio system. Adaptive cruise is standard, too.

That all looks good on a checklist, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. Infiniti’s InTouch Dual HD infotainment system looks dated and is frustrating to use. The graphics – particularly in the navigation system – are tired, even with a recent update, and the whole thing feels disjointed. Factor in the profusion of buttons on the steering wheel and center console, and it just doesn’t feel as modern and sophisticated as its rivals or, indeed, a SUV with a near-$80k sticker as tested.

Infiniti has a problem, then, and like in the best horror stories it’s coming from inside the house. Nissan’s Armada has always been the QX80’s more affordable sibling, and since the 2021 Armada revamp it’s no longer the value compromise but the sensible pick, period.

Exterior styling is subjective, but there’s no argument that Nissan’s upgrade to the Armada’s center console puts it leagues ahead of what the QX80 makes do with. A single 12.3-inch wide-aspect touchscreen handles the heavy-lifting, with a straightforward panel of knobs and buttons for the HVAC. It looks better, and feels faster and more intuitive than the Infiniti’s system, and the fact is that the rest of the cabin feels eight- or nine-tenths to what the QX80 offers in terms of materials and comfort.

A top-spec 2021 Armada Platinum 4×4 is $67,900 plus destination, however, or about $10k less than the starting price of this midrange 2021 QX80 Premium Select 4WD. Both share the same engine – and the same driving dynamics – and both are fairly thirsty, the Infiniti rated for 13 mpg in the city, 19 mpg on the highway, and 15 mpg combined. I got about that with my own mixed driving.

Perhaps there’s more cachet in putting a QX80 on your driveway than the Armada, but seldom has paying for a prestige badge resulted in such an obvious compromise. The new Armada has gone from nipping at Infiniti’s heels to overtaking it, and it’s tough to argue against the wise money getting spent on the Nissan.

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2021 BMW 540i xDrive Review: Benchmark in Balance

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It feels strange saying it about a $72,000 luxury car, but it’s oddly easy to overlook this 2021 BMW 540i xDrive. On the one hand, it’s not an M5, or even an almost-M5 like the M550i; at the same time, neither is it a clever plug-in hybrid like the 545e. Instead it’s about as close to a “standard” BMW 5 Series as you can get these days.

Even then, this is “standard” by degrees. A sprinkling of M-badged parts from BMW’s tuning division suggest whoever spec’d out this particular car couldn’t quite resist the lure of some customization, though the Alpine White result is still on the sober side.

It’s a handsome sedan, and fairly restrained by BMW standards. No vast grille, or exaggerated creases; it’s about as understated as the automaker’s line-up gets. Park it next to some of the luxury upstarts aiming to take a bite out of BMW’s market share and you’d be forgiven for having your head turned by the Genesis G80 or Cadillac CT5.

The 540i is, in contrast, quietly confident in its own prestige, and you can’t really begrudge it that. BMW’s recipe here is straightforward, though like the best cooking it relies on premium ingredients for a pleasing end-result. A 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 gas engine taps a little 48v mild-hybrid action for some sparkle, with 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque proving to be ample if not eyebrow-razing.

An eight-speed transmission is standard too, and BMW says you’ll see 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds. That’s properly quick, and really it’s only the even-quicker existence of the M550i and raucous M5 that make the 540i seem a little more mainstream.

The same goes for driving dynamics. In Comfort or Adaptive mode, the 540i wafts and glides like German royalty. The standard AWD car starts at $61,750 (plus destination) but $3,200 gets you adaptive dampers and active roll bars, and the result is a supple ride that luxe newbies could still learn from. There’s no wallow or marshmallow squishiness to it, just a compliance that reminds you how adept the 5 Series always has been as a long-distance cruiser.

Where Sport mode on an M5 then threatens to immolate your underwear, though, on the 540i it’s a little more tempered. What sensibly dialed-in roll remained in the corners is squashed; the suspension stiffens, though still not to teeth-shaking levels. Focused but not frenetic, even if you notch the shifter over to S mode and have the gearbox hold its ratios a little longer.

It all suits the 5 Series nicely, even if we all know that the sedan can handle plenty more if your wallet is so accommodating. The mild hybrid system lends its 11 horses to fill in any lingering gaps during gearshifts or while the turbo is spooling up, and then allows the 540i to shut off the gas engine preemptively as you slow. Usually I’m no fan of start/stop systems, but then usually they’re jerky, agricultural things; BMW’s, in contrast, is beautifully surreptitious.

The same could be said for the cabin. Saved, by price and positioning, from the typical lashings of carbon fiber and spangles, the 540i plays it safe with more mainstream luxury. The leather seats are fulsome thrones, you get a 12.3-inch digital cluster and a matching 12.3-inch center touchscreen, and BMW doesn’t stint on buttons for whose who prefer to reach out and toggle their settings that way.

The infotainment system is crisp, swift, and generally pleasing; it’s only when you need to dip into the deeper menus for things like mobile device setup that it starts to get a little confusing. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, along with a 4G LTE modem with WiFi hotspot. The $1,850 Premium Package adds a head-up display and wireless phone charging.

Somewhere the 540i doesn’t deviate from every other BMW is in the array of options – and the way they help inflate your sticker price. With nicer Nappa leather, the M Sport design package, and all the various other extras, my review car was sliding past $72k.

For safety, forward collision warnings, blind spot alerts, automatic emergency braking, and auto high-beams are standard. Throw in the $1,700 Driving Assistance Plus package, meanwhile, and you get adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assistance along with Extended Traffic Jam Assist. That lets the 540i handle low-speed congestion without your hands on the wheel, using a driver-attention monitor built into the gauges to make sure you’re still watching the road. It’s neat, but since it only works when you’re crawling along in traffic it’s not as useful as, say, GM’s Super Cruise.

As for those in the back, there’s decent space there for adults, while the 14 cu-ft trunk is also practical. The EPA says you’ll see 23 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 26 mpg combined, and they’re easily achieved.

2021 BMW 540i xDrive Verdict

The cynic might suggest that BMW has, if not forgotten about the 5 Series – and, more specifically, the 540i – then been distracted recently with SUVs and its upcoming all-electric models. Certainly, whether it’s from a styling perspective or a matter of dynamics, the 2021 540i xDrive feels a little more “old school” BMW than the automaker’s other recent cars.

I can’t say that’s a bad thing. Indeed if I had to sum the 540i up in a word, it’d have to be “ample”: enough power, enough design, enough comfort, and enough tech. Sure, you can chase BMW up through the echelons of the wilder 5 Series variants if you so desire, but just recognize that comes from a desire for excess.

The 2021 BMW 540i xDrive is, in contrast, an adequate sufficiency of luxury car. Not too sporty, not too plush, and not too ostentatious. That there are some compelling alternatives in the category is undeniable, but somehow all they do is highlight just how nicely dialed-in this “standard” 5 Series actually is.

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Mercedes-Benz unveils T-Class and EQT all-electric concept based on new Renault Kangoo

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We weren’t expecting Mercedes-Benz to unveil an MPV or small van, much less an all-electric microvan, but here it is. First off, the Mercedes EQT concept looks fantastic. It mends the styling attributes of a practical people carrier and a small luxury conveyance. Mercedes-Benz will debut two versions of the T-Class: Internal combustion (gasoline and diesel) and the EQT all-electric version.

“We are expanding our portfolio in the small van segment with the forthcoming T-Class,” said Marcus Breitschwerdt, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans. “It will appeal to families and all those private customers, whatever their age, who enjoy leisure activities and need a lot of space and maximum variability without forgoing comfort and style.”

Let’s start with the Mercedes T-Class, the one arriving with a slew of gasoline and diesel engines in Europe. Based on the all-new, third-gen Renault Kangoo, the T-Class is riding on Renault’s CMF-B platform, capable of supporting internal combustion and all-electric powertrains.

Measuring 4,945 mm in length, 1,863 mm wide, and 1,866 mm high, the T-Class has seven seats, two sliding doors, and second-row seats that can accommodate up to three child seats. The concept is wearing premium white Nappa leather upholstery, but we’re expecting the production version to get wear-resistant nylon materials in lower-trim models.

Of course, MBUX infotainment will come standard, and Mercedes promises the dashboard and control layouts of the concept will make it to production. It will arrive with a slew of advanced safety features and driving aids like automatic emergency braking, lane assist, adaptive cruise control, trailer stability control, and crosswind assist, to name a few.

Meanwhile, the EQT all-electric version is a hardware clone of the Renault Kangoo E-Tech Electric model, and it’s the ninth member of Mercedes-Benz’s all-electric EQ family. The concept bears tasty exterior bits like a black panel grille with 3D star-effect lighting, futuristic LED taillights, and a full-width LED light bar in the rear. It also has 21-inch aero wheels wrapped in low-profile tires and a unique bottle-shaped panoramic glass roof.

Admittedly, the production EQT will be a toned-down version of the concept seen here. Then again, Mercedes-Benz claims the packaging, body style, and practical features will remain unchanged, and that’s good news. Powertrain options for the EQT remain unannounced, but we have an idea.

Most likely, the EQT will have a single electric motor pumping out 101 horsepower, drawing juice from a 45 kWh battery pack as the Renault Kangoo E-Tech Electric. The driving range is around 165 miles using the WLTP cycle.

The Mercedes-Benz T-Class and EQT will make their official debut later this year. Production is at Renault’s MCA factory in Maubeuge, France, where both the T-Class and EQT are built alongside the Renault Kangoo and Kangoo E-Tech Electric.

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Porsche makes a huge promise for its most important EV

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The Porsche Taycan showed the German sports car company was taking EVs seriously, but it’ll be the arrival of the new Macan EV which really tips the scales toward electrification. Porsche isn’t quite ready to unveil the all-electric Macan quite yet, but it’s already making some big promises about the EV version of its best-seller.

It’s fair to say the Macan has been a huge deal for Porsche. Though the automaker may be best known for its 911 sports car, available as a coupe, a convertible, and a Targa, it’s crossovers and SUVs which have padded the bottom line for some time now.

In Q1 2021, for example, Macan led Porsche sales in North America, closely followed by its bigger Cayenne sibling. Indeed, Porsche sold more examples of the Macan in those three quarters than it did 911 and 718 models combined. In short, if you’re going to make an all-electric version of your most popular nameplate, you need to get it absolutely right.

Porsche’s answer to that challenge is built on the Premium Platform Electric (PPE), an electric-only architecture the automaker co-developed with VW Group stablemate Audi. Indeed, the Macan EV will be the first Porsche product to use PPE. Focused on luxury performance electric vehicles – rather than mainstream EVs as VW Group’s MEB is focused on – there’s plenty of flexibility in how PPE can be configured.

For example, Porsche and Audi have already talked about the capability of rear-wheel drive single motor setups, and all-wheel drive dual motor versions. Body styles, too, can be configured in multiple ways, with up to a 100 kW battery pack nestled into the wheelbase. In the case of the Audi A6 e-tron – a barely-disguised nod to the upcoming luxury electric car the automaker has planned for a few years out – that means a sedan, but PPE can just as easily be adapted for crossovers, SUVs, and other designs. Audi, for example, will use the platform for its Q6 all-electric SUV that’s expected to be unveiled at the end of 2022.

The all-electric Porsche Macan, meanwhile, is being planned for 2023, the automaker says. It’ll use 800-volt architecture – like the Taycan and Taycan Cross Turismo – for faster charging times along with greater performance. Indeed, Porsche isn’t holding back on its speed commitment, promising “the all-electric Macan will be the sportiest model in its segment.”

For the moment, physical prototype Macan EV models are just headed out to the road. Porsche’s development so far has been virtual, using simulations to model the design of the crossover EV more effectively. That includes the aerodynamic work which is so important for electric vehicles, to cut drag and improve range.

In parallel, however, there’ll also be another conventionally-powered version of the Macan – using gas engines still – that will be on sale alongside the Macan EV.

“Demand for electric vehicles continues to rise, but the pace of change varies considerably across the world,” Michael Steiner, Member of the Executive Board at Porsche, explains. “That’s why we’re going to launch another conventionally powered evolution of the current Macan in the course of 2021.”

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