2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR Review

All claws, fangs, and growl in a velvet coat, the Jaguar F-Pace SVR is the 550-hp black cat of the brand’s SUV family

An exterior view of the F-Pace SVR

Everything about the 550-hp, Jaguar F-Pace SVR has been pumped up or widened. The tester was $89,900. (Photography by Mark Maynard)

Table of Contents

The SVR Package
Performance Upgrades
Ride and Handling
Back seats and cargo
Why buy the F-Pace SVR?


In the right place at the right time, the versatile 2019 Jaguar F-Pace is rich in the brand’s “beautiful” design directive. But three years ago, Jaguar had no SUV in its lineup. Today, however, the British manufacturer of road-going beauty is making tea while the pot is hot. It now has three SUV crossovers, including the electric iPace. The lineup has evolved the face and perception of the brand, the company says.

The driver's space in the F-Pace

The driver area is functional with a variety of small storage areas.

Jaguar F-Pace Overview

It might surprise that the F-Pace is not a clone from the SUV stable of corporate partner Land Rover. The closest it gets is the architecture of the carlike Range Rover Velar, which just doesn’t have the visceral appeal of the F-Pace.

The five-seat Jaguar F-Pace SUV is sold in a dozen, all-wheel-drive trim levels with five powertrain choices: two turbocharged four-cylinders, a turbocharged diesel four-cylinder, a supercharged V-6 and the SVR-exclusive 550-hp supercharged V-8.

Today’s tester, the F-Pace SVR, is a new model for 2019. On a scale of one to 10, the SVR is an 11, without going over the top, said Rob Filipovic, Jaguar’s director of customer experience, who was interviewed on a recent media drive.

Looking into the F-Pace driver area.

Filipovic called the SVR the “ultimate Jaguar experience, and it’s probably going to be better than you think it will be.”

There are several F-Pace competitors, including the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Cadillac XT5, Infiniti QX60 and Mercedes-Benz GLC. But there are few to compare with the F-Pace SVR. Among them are the Porsche Macan S (348-hp, turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6; $60,000), BMW X4 M40i (355-hp, inline 6-cylinder; $62,000) and Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 (496-hp or 503-hp 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8; $71,000).

Filipovic, 39, isn’t just blowing tire smoke at his admiration for the SVR. After spending almost 1,000 miles in highway and city driving (but no track time), I found it to be a bi-modal sports car. It has the attitude of the Jaguar F-Type SVR coupe but with added back seat room and luggage space.

The steering wheel in the F-Pace

Despite all the advanced tech, the F-Pace SVR is a hands-on experience.

Jaguar F-Pace Pricing

Pricing for the 2019 F-Pace lineup starts at $46,225 for the entry 25t and ranges to $80,925 for the high-performance F-Pace SVR, today’s tester; pricing includes the $1,025 freight charge from Solihull, England.

At $89,900 as tested, the F-Pace SVR pricing is competitive with the others in the segment. And there is the added owner perk of improved warranty coverage: five years or 60,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper protection with 24-hour roadside assistance and free scheduled maintenance.

Look here for current F-Pace pricing and incentives.

The SVR Package

Because the F-Pace does not have to be a superior off-roading SUV, its drivability is balanced: A nonenthusiast can drive it without getting into trouble. And a car enthusiast can drive it hard and, with common sense, not get into trouble. The SVR is one of the few performance SUVs with an ideal 50/50 weight balance.

Everything about it has been pumped up or widened, from the brake-cooling vents in the front fenders to the 15.6-inch vented Brembo disc brakes all around. The forged wheels are lightweight and the sport seats front and rear are track ready.

Slimline front sport seats in the F-Pace

The slimline seats look racing-harness ready, but they are actually quite livable.

Jaguar F-Pace SVR Upgrades

  • Aerodynamic body kit with unique front and rear bumpers. The wide-mouth grille, lower body sides and a rear spoiler enhance cooling, reduce lift and drag and add to high-speed stability.
  • SVR-tuned chassis with upgraded shocks front and rear spring rates increased by 30 percent and 10 percent.
  • Lightweight wheels. 21- or optional 22-inch forged wheels with staggered widths front to rear. The forged wheels saved 5 pounds at the front and 3 pounds rear.
  • Rear electronic active differential, to balance power delivery
  • Specially tuned variable valve active exhaust for a more vocal soundtrack. But the system is also 14.5 pounds lighter and reduces back pressure for more airflow exiting the engine.
  • Slimline performance seats in the front and rear feature Jaguar signature “lozenge” quilting and embossed SVR logo. The seats saved 5 pounds each.
  • SportShift Gear Selector (from the F-Type) replaces the rotary gear selector.
  • SVR steering wheel with aluminum paddle shifters.
The Jaguar F-Pace V-8

The 550-hp, supercharged and direct-injection 5.0-liter V-8 with 8-speed automatic is capable of 0-60 mph in 4.1 seconds, Jaguar says.

Jaguar F-Pace Powertrain

The second showpiece of this SVR package is the 550-hp, supercharged and direct-injection 5.0-liter V-8 (the basic architecture is still built by Ford) and an eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters.

Hit the red ignition button and the engine fires with a deep growl and then settles into a nasty purrr. There are several performance modes to sharpen acceleration and suspension, but the standard setting brings raucous pleasure without having the ride quality of a buckboard paint-shaker.

Fuel-economy ratings are challenged at 16 mpg city, 21 highway and 18 mpg combined, on the recommended premium fuel. I worked up to 23.4 mpg combined in seven hours of highway driving. In addition, the 21.7-gallon tank of premium fuel went the 440 miles with 74 remaining when I pulled into my driveway.

The high-performance tires on the F-Pace SVR

22-inch wheels have room for big Brembo brakes.

Jaguar F-Pace Ride and Handling

The Jaguar F-Pace SVR has such easy drivability. There is eager pull from the engine and the transmission was always ready to keep the power in the rpm band. With such catlike finesse, the 16 mpg will be forgiven.

Some sport-tuned SUVs can have a tortuous ride quality, with suspensions more intended for racing than street driving. But the F-Pace SVR is masterfully engineered for compliance without disruption. The 113.1-inch wheelbase and steel-spring suspension — double-wishbone front and integral link rear — work to settle the F-Pace SVR’s 4,395-pound curb weight.

The cabin is very well sound-proofed and the 38-foot turning circle seemed smaller and is no-stress when negotiating the parking garage.

Among the tester’s options was the Driver Assist package, $3,600, which adds Adaptive Cruise Control. Activating the semi-autonomous system requires at least one hand on the wheel for the system to steer, brake and maintain speed. And it works well in stop-and-go commuting traffic.

I valued the system’s attentiveness when going through highway work zones with five lanes crammed into four. Commercial trucks and passenger cars are seemingly just inches away. In those close quarters, all it takes is a sneeze or a long glance at a roadside caution and the driver could be making new friends while exchanging insurance information. But not on this trip.

A look into the front passenger side of the F-Pace

Standard features include “lozenge” quilted Windsor leather seat upholstery.

Jaguar F-Pace Interior

The slimline seats look racing-harness ready, but they are actually quite livable. The seats will feel quite firm (hard) on initial seating — so much so that I almost removed my wallet from the back pocket. But after 7.5 hours on the road, I stepped out with no stiffness. However, the lumbar inflation bladder must have had a leak because I had to refill it every hour or two. Even the seat-cushion bolsters are low enough to not give an annoying wedgie on entry or exit.

The back-seat console with temp controls

Back-seat hookups.

The cabin is immaculately detailed with much leather and white stitching. It is a masculine space with handsome charcoal black microfiber headliner, enhanced by the (optional) aluminum-weave carbon-fiber trim.

Front headroom of 38.5 inches will fit most, and two inches more than in the F-Type coupe. However, a 6-foot-4 auto journalist on the drive commented that the tall seatback with head restraint pushed his head farther forward than he normally preferred. To compensate, he had to recline the seatback a little farther.

The driver area is functional with a variety of small-storage areas and two charging USBs in the center armrest box and a convenient place to lay a phone on the shifter console.

Cornering views are slightly compromised at the large side mirrors, but not so much that an owner will not adapt. And the 360-degree camera gives wide views for narrow parking.

The back seat in the Jag F-Pace

Back seat legroom is adult class at 37.2 inches.

F-Pace Back Seat and Cargo

The rear slimline seats are also quite firm with integrated head restraints, but legroom has adult comfort at 37.2 inches. There is no seatback recline, but the window seats are heated and passengers have access to two 5-amp charging USBs and a 12-volt plug. The center position is kid class.

Accommodations include a wide pull-down center armrest with can-cup holders, bottle storage in the doors, reading lights and grab handles with coat hooks.

Running boards are not needed to reach the roof to secure a bike or board. And fold the back seats for about six feet of length through the cargo area. The 33.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seat is wide but with a tall liftover (30 inches).

The open cargo space in the F-Pace

The 33.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seat is wide but with a tall liftover.

Why buy the Jaguar F-Pace SVR?

Jaguar’s engineering of the F-Pace SVR is all claws, fangs and growl in a velvet coat. It will almost drive itself and it will park itself, but it is still a hands-on experience that transcends technology.

A rear view of the F-Pace

The SVR’s aerodynamic body kit adds unique front and rear bumpers,  lower body sides, and a rear spoiler


Jaguar F-Pace Specifications

Body style: 5-seat, midsize AWD SUV crossover

Engine: 550-hp, supercharged and direct-injection V-8 engine; 502 lb.-ft. torque from 2,500-5,000 rpm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters

Fuel economy: 16/21/18 mpg city/hwy/combined; premium fuel


Fuel tank: 21.7 gal.

Cargo space: 33.5 cu. ft. *behind second row

Front head/leg room: 38.5/40.3 in.

Rear head/leg room: 37.5/37.2 in.

Length/wheelbase: 186.5/113.1 in.

Curb weight: 4,395 lbs.

Turning circle: 38 ft.

0-60 mph: 4.1 seconds


Standard equipment includes: smart key locking and push-button ignition, multiview rearview camera, “lozenge” quilted Windsor leather seat upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, heated and leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, ambient interior lighting, 10-inch touch screen with navigation, 380-watt Meridian sound system, electronic multi-mode gauge display, 360 parking aid, adaptive LED headlights, power tailgate, panoramic roof with opening front section, heated and power-folding side mirrors (auto-dimming),

Safety features include: 6 air bags, dynamic stability and traction controls, emergency braking, brake assist, lane-keep assist, driver-condition (drowsiness) alert, traffic-sign recognition


Base price: $80,925, including $1,025 freight charge; price as tested $89,900

Options on test vehicle: Driver-assist package, $3,600, includes blind-spot assist, 360-degree surround camera, adaptive cruise control with steering assist, high-speed emergency braking, park assist, rear traffic monitor; 22-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels $1,530; aluminum weave carbon fiber trim finisher $1,300; head-up display $1,010; 17-speaker Meridian surround-sound 825-watt audio system $450; Activity key $410; heated windshield $385; cargo area back-seat release levers $200

Where assembled: Solihull, England

Warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles bumper to bumper with 24-hour roadside assistance and free scheduled maintenance

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Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 Review

There are roomier 3-row SUVS, but $4 a gallon gasoline will keep the Volvo XC90 plug-in hybrid a sustainable choice

An exterior view of Volvo's XC90 plug-in hybrid

The Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge eAWD has starting prices of $64,545 to $71,345. (Volvo)

Table of Contents

2021 XC90 Updates
Future Volvo
Safety Features
Fuel Economy
Ride and Handling
Hybrid modes
Pilot Assist System
Room to improve
Back seats and cargo space
Why buy the Volvo XC 90 Recharge?


There is something special about tooling along in a 5,300-pound Volvo XC90 SUV on battery power. Of course, it would be more special if the driving range was farther than just 17 to 21 miles, but that still leaves a lot of daily driving that can be done without gasoline or exhaust. The energy assets of the plug-in Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 will be even more relevant as the price of gas in California crests $4 a gallon.

Volvo packs a lot into this large-midsize SUV. The two-box body has three rows of seats for six or seven occupants. The vehicle feels solid, and the tester had no squeaks or itchy vibration noises.

The refined interior of the Inscription trim level.

The Swedish design ethos is upscale and manicured. (Volvo)

Volvo XC90 Overview

The second-generation Volvo XC90 was introduced in 2016 and had a major refresh in 2020. The update restyled the front and rear fascias and added a new waterfall grille design. The six-seat configuration was also added, along with a slightly larger hybrid battery and other tech updates.

The body shell seems fairly generic “SUV” (like a Ford Explorer), but with well-applied Volvo features. Luxury competitors include the Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring, Range Rover P400e, BMW X5 xDrive45e.

Volvo's 9-inch Sensus Connect touch screen

The 9-inch Sensus Connect touch screen. (Mark Maynard)

2021 XC90 updates

Volvo added minor updates for 2021, including two USB-C ports in the back seat, wireless phone charging on the shift console, and front parking assist. And the Digital Care Key was added, which can be used to set a speed limit, such as for young drivers in the family.

The crowded shifter console

Updates for 2021 included the addition of wireless phone charging on the shift console. (Mark Maynard)

Future Volvo

Volvo is on the threshold of delivering a wave of emissions-free models. The company hopes to have battery-powered vehicles account for half of its global sales by 2025.

In the second half of this year, Volvo has plans to launch a small coupe-style crossover. In addition, Automotive News reports that the XC90 will be redesigned sometime in 2022 for the 2023 model year. And other industry rumors talk of a longer XC100 SUV on the way.

Volvo XC90 Pricing

The XC90 is available in many trim levels with seats for six or seven, in front- or all-wheel-drive models. The powertrains for gasoline or gas-electric plug-in hybrid models are “charged” direct-injected, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines. Depending on the model, the engines are either turbocharged or turbocharged and supercharged. All powertrains are paired with an eight-speed Geartronic transmission.

The entry XC90 T5, with a 250-horsepower turbocharged engine, has starting prices that range from $50,095 to $52,595. All MSRP pricing includes the $1,095 freight charge from Gothenburg, Sweden.

The midrange XC90 T6 AWD has a 316-hp turbocharged and supercharged engine and a starting price of $58,045.

And the XC90 T8 Recharge eAWD plug-in models have a 400-hp turbo and supercharged engine with an 87-hp electric motor. Starting prices range from $64,545 to $71,345.

Today’s tester, an XC90 Recharge T8 Inscription, had a starting price of $70,845 and was $79,560, as tested.

Check on current XC90 pricing here.

Volvo's panoramic roof in the XC90

The front headroom is tall with the panoramic roof. (Mark Maynard)

Volvo XC90 Safety Features

Volvo has long been a safety innovator. It is well known for inventing the three-point seat belt in 1959. The carmaker also was among the first to add rear-facing child seats and side-impact air bags. Today, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has designated every Volvo model a Top Safety Pick Plus.

The XC90’s safety features and advanced technologies are extensive. Among them:

Volvo’s City Safety System focuses cameras and sensors on accident avoidance or mitigation. The system integrates intersection autobrake, blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert with autobrake, and cyclist and large animal detection with automatic braking.

Forward Collision Warning. Drivers are alerted by a pulse of the brakes, an audible tone, and an illuminated warning in the driver display and head-up display.

See the Specifications chart below for more features.

A hood-up view of Volvo's T8 hybrid powertrain

The T8 Twin Engine Plug-In Hybrid powertrain. (Mark Maynard)

Volvo XC 90 Recharge Performance

The Volvo XC90 Recharge T8 applies a sophisticated handoff of supercharging and turbocharging. The supercharger engages first for immediate off-the-line power and then shuts down as the engine revs increase. Then the turbo takes over for power in the higher rpm range. There is some engine noise on hard acceleration, but the force feels brisk and the gear changes are fluid.

Total system power defies the concept of a four-cylinder with power ratings of 400-hp and 427 foot-pounds of torque for near-instant pulling

The 21-inch tires on the Volvo XC90

The Inscription tester came with 21-inch Pirelli Scorpion Verde all-season tires and alloy wheels. (Mark Maynard)


The powertrain integrates an 87-hp electric motor at the rear axle (for all-wheel drive) and a smallish 11.6 kWh battery pack. Packaging of the hybrid battery does not compromise interior space, Volvo says. And cargo cubic footage is the same as other XC90s.

Volvo XC 90 Recharge Fuel Economy

Fuel economy ratings on premium fuel — with all-wheel drive — are 27 mpg combined city and highway driving; premium fuel is recommended. Those ratings translate to a combined 55 mpg-e with electric and engine power.

The 18.5-gallon take should provide nearly 600 miles of range. My driving returned 25-26 mpg around town and up to 30.8 with highway driving, which might have gone higher on longer commutes.

A hold-and-charge function allows the driver to bank the current battery charge for later use. The charge function uses the gas engine to charge the battery to a certain level.

Back seats in the 2021 XC90

This is a spacious five-seat SUV, but there is a crunch of space when trying to put passengers in the second and third rows. (Mark Maynard)

Volvo XC 90 Flex Charging

Volvo works with ChargePoint to offer the Home Flex charging system. The 240-volt Level 2 home charger can provide up to 50 amps of power, depending on the capacity of the home’s electrical panel. Pricing for the unit starts at about $700, not including installation or other electrical work.

  • Volvo includes a Level 2 120- or 240-volt cable (22.9 feet long) for charging at home.
  • Plugging into a 110-volt household connection will take 6 to 8 hours.;
  • Using the 3.6kW AC fast charger (240-volt) will take 3 to 4 hours;
  • Plugging into a public DC fast charger (50-150kW) will take about 40 minutes to 2 hours.

Volvo XC 90 Recharge Ride and Handling

The ride is carpet-quiet around town, but there was more ambient noise on the highway than I expected. The air suspension provided a comfortable ride around town, but it felt less confident and a little busy at 70 mph and in sporty maneuvers.

The all-wheel-drive system launches with traction to all four tires and then adjusts to mostly front-drive until more pull is needed.

Shift points from the eight-speed Geartronic transmission are well-timed for power on demand. There are drive modes of Comfort, Dynamic, Eco, Individual and Off-Road, but the power was strong enough that I drove in Comfort most of the time.

According to Volvo, the 5,100-pound XC90 Recharge T8 can hustle to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds.

Braking has refined stopping force and is free of an on-off action when engaging the brake pedal; that gap in grip is a common side effect of some regenerative brake systems. The disc brakes are up to the 5,000-pound towing task and above-average stopping distance. With the XC90’s 14.4-inch discs front and 13.4 inches rear, Volvo cites a stopping distance from 62 mph to zero in 36 meters or 118.1 feet. According to a recent Consumer Reports analysis, that distance puts it well below the average of 134 feet for comparable midsize luxury SUVs.

Cargo space in the XC90

The third-row seats fold flat into the cargo floor. (Mark Maynard)

Volvo XC 90 Recharge Hybrid Modes

There are layers of usability to the hybrid system. I like that when the battery runs out, there is no difference in the driving attitude as the system switches to the gas engine. It functions as a standard gasoline-electric powertrain.

In the default Hybrid mode, the system uses the electric motor and gas engine individually or in parallel, depending on the need for power.

The Pure mode maximizes driving on the hybrid battery and is functional to 78 mph. But performance is reduced and the air conditioning is partly disengaged, though it can be activated manually.

In Power mode, the gas engine and electric motor work together to drive the front and rear wheels. Steering and braking are set to Dynamic performance, and the gauge display changes to a red Sport mode.

The off-Road mode can be used at speeds below 12 mph and not above 25 mph. The split of power front to rear is locked at 50/50.

Volvo XC 90 Pilot Assist System

Pilot Assist is a hands-on-the-wheel driving assistance system to assist with steering, acceleration, and braking. It is designed for use on highways and at speeds up to 80 mph. I find the system is most helpful in stop-and-go commuter traffic.

It is a trustworthy system that has been improved since I first tested it in 2016. Pilot Assist will keep the vehicle centered in the lane and, in my experience, did not let it drift across the white highway lines or Botts dots.

But do not become complacent. A variety of situations can cause random but brief shutdowns. For example, I experienced system shutoff in such conditions as direct sunlight into the sensors, faded and light-colored or faded concrete highways, and white semi-trucks and trailers alongside the XC90 in traffic.

Volvo XC90 Recharge Interior

There is a Swedish design ethos to the interior that is upscale and manicured. But it is not too precious for children to scuff up. The cabin is broad enough to provide a range of storage areas and logical placement of controls and switches, what few of them there are.

There are many technologies layered into the electronics, but I struggled with the 9-inch touch screen. Volvo uses a vertical screen for less scrolling, but it still takes eyes from the road. Also, finding the touchpoints takes time to master, and the camera screen is narrower than a horizontal format.

Touch screens might be sexy to designers — and to product planners for their reduced hardware costs. But a few more buttons would be helpful to make simple adjustments without having to reach over and tap twice to make one change.

The front headroom is tall at 38.9 inches with the panoramic roof (standard on the Recharge). Driver sightlines are completely open across the hood, over the shoulder, and out the rear glass. The steering weight is light for tooling the mall parking lot or it can be adjusted to be made firmer. The turning circle of 38.7 feet is tighter than some midsize sedans.

The seats are power-adjustable with lumbar and thigh extension of the cushion. In addition, the XC90 Recharge T8 offers an attractive wool blend upholstery as a no-cost option to Nappa leather.

Volvo does excellent leather — it’s the full leather treatment, not “leather-trimmed.” But the fabric upholstery is a refreshing choice and seems somewhat “sustainable” for those who care. Fabric is not sweaty in hot weather or chilling in the cold; however, front-seat ventilation is not available with cloth. The T8 Inscription includes heated front seats, and the Climate package, $750, adds heated wiper blades, heated rear seats and heated steering wheel.

Room to improve

The sun visors give inadequate coverage at the windshield pillars and do not slide or have extension panels, but they have covered and lighted mirrors.

The shift console is crowded with the crystal gearshift handle, ignition stub, brake release, cup holders, and the newly added wireless charging pad. There also is a 12-volt plug for a cigarette lighter and a nearby tiny ashtray.

Back Seat and Cargo

The XC90 is a spacious five-seat SUV. Three rows with seven seats is the standard configuration, but for $500, it can be configured as a six-seater. Add an integrated center seat booster cushion for $300.

By the numbers, second-row legroom is generous at 37 inches, but there is a crunch of legroom with passengers in the second and third rows, no matter their sizes. Scooting the second-row forward to accommodate those in the third row (with a short 31.9 inches of legroom) feels claustrophobic with the seat is so close to the front seatbacks.

But the space has good foot room and the seatbacks recline a few inches, but the bench is short for adult thigh support.

Folding the tip-and-slide second row to gain access to the way-back takes manual muscle that will not be easy for some.

Cargo space is wide at 46 inches and tall at 32 inches. With the optional four-corner air suspension ($1,800), the loading height can be lowered several inches to a comfortable 29 ½ inches.

The second row folds and drops the head restraints in one easy maneuver, but there is no power folding option, nor is there a strap or leverage device to raise the third-row seats from the cargo area.

A rear view of the 2021 model.

The XC90 was completely refreshed for the 2020 model year when a six-seater variant was added. (Volvo)

Why buy the Volvo XC90 Recharge?

Volvo expects and extracts much from its plug-in XC90. It has compelling luxury features and engaging Swedish influences, but there isn’t much that hasn’t already been applied to most evolved SUVs.

Young, upward evolving families will value its safety reputation and the many around-town trips in complete electric mode.

Volvo has evolved this generation XC90 Recharge T8 as far as possible, and a redesign will be welcome. But the ever-rising price of gasoline will keep this plug-in a sustainable choice.

Volvo XC90 Recharge Specifications

Body style: full-size, 6- or 7-seat AWD SUV

Engine: 313-hp, 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged, direct-injected 4-cylinder

Motor: 87-hp

Battery pack: 11.6 kWh

Total system power: 400-hp and 427 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 8-speed Geartronic with drive modes

Fuel economy: 27 mpg combined gasoline-engine only; 55 MPGe with electricity and gas engine


Fuel tank: 18.5 gal.

Cargo space: 11.2-34.1 cu. ft. (loaded to the ceiling)

Front head/leg room: 38.9*/40.9 in. *w/moonroof

2nd-row head/leg room: 38.5/37 in.

3rd-row head/leg room: 36.3/31.9 in.

Length/wheelbase: 195/117.5 in.

Width/height: 79.1*/69.6 *84.2 mirrors not folded

Tow capacity: 5,000 lbs.

Curb weight: 5,355 lbs.

Turning circle: 38.7 ft.


Standard Inscription equipment includes: keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, panoramic moonroof with power sunshade, wood-blend seat upholstery, wireless charging, power front seats with lumbar and cushion extension, hands-free power tailgate, 2 USB ports front, 2 USB-C ports rear, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Harman Kardon audio system, 12.3-inch driver gauge display, 9-inch Sensus Connect infotainment touch screen, Wi-Fi hot spot, 20-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires

Safety features include: 8 air bags, Pilot Assist system; roll stability and electronic stability controls; lane-keeping assist; drowsy or distracted driver alert control; oncoming lane mitigation; automatic braking after collision; run-off road mitigation and run-off road protection


Base price: $64,545, including $1,095 freight charge; price as tested $79,560

Options on test vehicle: Inscription package $6,300; Air quality package with advanced air cleaner $250; Denim Blue Metallic paint $695; Climate package, $750 (heated wiper blades, heated rear seats and heated steering wheel); Advanced package, $1,700, adds head-up windshield display, high-level interior ambient lighting, and 360-degree surround-view camera; Integrated center seat booster cushion, $300

Where assembled: Gothenburg, Sweden

Warranty: 4-years/50,000-miles with roadside service and free scheduled maintenance for first three services (10,000 miles, 20,000 miles and 30,000 miles) for 3 years or up to 36,000 miles

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2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy Review

Stylized Penmanship Promotes Range-Topping Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy SUV to the Luxury Class

A front view of the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy starts at $43,285, including AWD. (Photos courtesy of Hyundai)

Table of Contents

New features
What was redesigned?
Safety features
Ride and handling
Interior function
Back seat and cargo space
Why buy the Santa Fe Calligraphy?



Hyundai has tended well to its midsize Santa Fe SUV moneymaker. This unibody SUV was introduced in 2001 and it would become the top-selling SUV in the brand’s 32-year history in America.

Over its lifecycle, the five-seat Santa Fe has been updated at least every two years. And major redesigns were applied every four years. And for a time, it was offered as a seven-seat Unlimited trim level.

Hyundai says it is aggressive in its updates for all vehicle lines. However, the company puts its updated models on sale sooner than most people update their smartphones.

“For mainstream high-volume priority vehicles, we never let these rest,” a spokesman said.  “The second we put out a vehicle, the engineers are working on the next generation or upcoming adjustments.”

The interior of the Santa Fe Calligraphy

Calligraphy details include Nappa leather and a 10.25-inch touch-screen.

Santa Fe Overview

Today, Hyundai has six SUV models, including electrified choices. The Santa Fe ranks No. 2 in sales, behind the compact Tucson.

The fourth-gen Santa Fe SUV debuted in 2018 and there was yet another significant refresh in 2020 for the 2021 model year.

Hyundai means “modern,” as translated, and the current Santa Fe is thoroughly equipped with advanced technologies for safety and driver assistance. And there appears to have been special care taken to create a calming and intuitive human-machine interface to access all of those electronically sophisticated systems.

While Hyundai has maintained the value choice in the entry models, it also has pushed a more “luxurious character.” The top-line models have more premium materials such as quilted Nappa leather and unique wheel designs.

Ambient lighting along the Calligraphy shift console

LED ambient lighting.

What’s New for 2021

The Hyundai Santa Fe had freshened exterior and interior designs for 2021. The updated added LED front and rear lighting, a new hybrid powertrain with all-wheel drive, and new driver safety and convenience features.

The new range-topping Calligraphy model builds upon the Santa Fe Limited. Its features include the more powerful 2.5-liter turbocharged engine with HTRAC AWD ($1,700) and exclusive-design 20-inch alloy wheels.

The Calligraphy treatment includes quilted Nappa leather, premium door and seat accent trim, eco-suede headliner, ambient lighting themes, and auto up-down rear windows. Power-folding side mirrors have puddle lamps and turn signals. Driver technologies include downhill brake control and a full-color heads-up display.

There will be no changes for the 2022 model year. But a more rugged appearance Santa Fe XRT trim was just added. Pricing starts at $32,300 for front-drive and $34,000f with AWD; pricing does not include the freight charge.

Floating center console in the Santa Fe Calligraphy

The high-position “floating” center console.

What Was Redesigned

The freshened styling has subtle exterior changes. There is a broader, three-dimensional grille and T-shaped LED lighting and daytime running lights.

The silhouette has a more horizontal cabin profile with scalloped lower door panels and a long hood with character lines. Sharp shoulder lines connect front and rear LED lights. Rear reflector accents visually link the LED rear taillights.

The interior was reworked for a more “luxurious character.” The interior space feels more open and with more natural light. In addition, a high-position “floating” center console has stealth lower shelf storage.

A multi-layered, three-dimensional instrument panel and contrasting seat stitching lend a premium presence, Hyundai says.

Santa Fe Pricing

Sold in four trim levels, starting prices for the entry SE and SEL gas-powered models range from $28,185 to $29,985 for the SEL, both with front-drive. Add $1,700 for AWD.

Moving up to the Limited, with the turbocharged engine packaged with AWD, starts at $41,635. And the new top-line Calligraphy with the turbo engine, AWD and 19-inch wheels starts at $43,435. All MSRPs include the $1,185 freight charge from Montgomery, Ala.

Today’s Calligraphy tester was $43,590, including one option for carpeted floor mats, $155.

Look for Hyundai pricing incentives and special programs here.

A door panel in the Santa Fe Calligraphy

Calligraphy details are seen and felt throughout the cabin.

Santa Fe Safety Features

The Santa Fe Calligraphy SUV has the full suite of Hyundai safety technologies. The list will compare with those features offered by top luxury brands.

I especially value Hyundai’s blind-spot view monitor. Cameras in the side mirrors switch on when using the turn signal. The image gives a clear view of what might be alongside the vehicle. On the right side, it might be a bicyclist. On the left, it could be a motorcyclist.

Hyundai’s SmartSense advanced driver assistance systems provide Level 2 semi-autonomous driving. When activated, the network of multiple radar sensors, ultrasonic sensors, and cameras do a good job of keeping the Santa Fe centered between the white lines.

But all Level 2 assist systems require two hands on the wheel and driver vigilance. The system sensors can be confused by certain daylight and road conditions that can trigger a random shutoff and then a restart. I’ve also experienced system shutoff when driving alongside white- or light-colored semitruck trailers.

Even with those few variables, the system provides guardianship protection in the event of driver distraction.

Standard Safety Features Include:

  • Blind-spot collision-avoidance assist,
  • Rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist,
  • Forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian-cyclist-junction turning detection,
  • Lane-keeping assist, highway driving assist, and lane following assist.
Santa Fe driver seat

There is easy functionality to the driver area.

Santa Fe Powertrains

The 2021 Santa Fe SUV is sold in gasoline and gasoline-electric hybrid models. All in front- or all-wheel-drive.

The gas models of Santa Fe have a choice of two Smartstream 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines, one of which is turbocharged. Both have direct- and multi-point fuel injection, idle stop and go, and eight-speed automatic transmissions. The base engine replaces the former 2.4-liter direct-injected engine.

The uplevel turbocharged engine replaces a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and brings an 18 percent boost in power, now at 281-hp. This engine is paired with the more technologically advanced eight-speed “wet” dual-clutch automated manual transmission.

The 4,017-pound Calligraphy AWD has fuel economy ratings of 21/28/24 mpg city/hwy/combined; 87 octane recommended. In highway driving, I easily hit the 28-32 mpg range and about 27 mpg overall. The 18.8-gallon tank will provide a wide cruising radius.

Hybrid Models

Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid SUV models are sold in three trim levels with starting prices ranging from $34,835 to $41,135. (Hybrid models are built in Ulsan, Korea.)

The gasoline-electric hybrid models have a new Smartstream 226-hp 1.6-liter turbocharged hybrid electric powertrain with six-speed automatic transmission and HTRAC all-wheel drive.

The base Blue fuel economy ratings are 36/31/34 mpg city/highway/combined on 87 octane. The Hybrid SEL Premium and Limited have mileage ratings of 33/30/32.

A Santa Fe plug-in hybrid is expected to be in dealerships later this summer. It has 260-hp and an electric driving range of around 30 miles. Pricing has not yet been announced but watch for updates here. https://www.hyundaiusa.com/us/en

The Calligraphy back seat

The back-seat legroom is adult class at 41.7 inches.

Santa Fe Ride and Handling

Acceleration from a start can seem hesitant as the turbo spools and the dual-clutch engages, but once rolling, the force is fluid and easily maintained. However, after a week of driving, the new owner will have adapted to the correct amount of pedal pressure to get past the initial hesitance.

The ride quality is very smooth-rolling, a testament to Hyundai engineering to eliminate friction and boost fuel economy. Much attention was given to cabin soundproofing, but the interior noise was more than I expected for a near-luxury vehicle despite the laminated windshield and side glass.

There was noticeable road noise at highway speeds that can be felt from the floor into the seat bottoms. The 19-inch Hankook Dynapro HP2 tires (235/55) might be contributors. These are all-season, low-rolling-resistance touring tires that felt hard, especially on concrete.

Braking is confident without grab from four-wheel discs. The front vented rotors are 13.6 inches and the solid rear rotors are 12 inches. Downhill brake control is included on AWD models.

Interior Function

There is an easy familiarity with just getting in and driving. The Calligraphy interior is handsome with a black microsuede headliner. Even in the tester’s basic black, the varying textures, contrast stitching, and matte-sheen of lower plastics looked more luxurious than basic. And there are no old-school wooden “accents.”

Mastering the swipe, tap, and turn of the touch-screen features does not require advanced training. Most users should be able to figure it out on the fly. The raised and angled center console is functional for knobs and switches that are just a glance away from the road.

There are numerous small-item storage areas, including the deep box in the center armrest console. The large sun visors slide and have large, covered mirrors. The wireless charging pad is cleverly positioned in a vertical slot adjacent to the cup holders. Door storage is generous and includes space for tall bottles. The front passenger has a slim shelf along the instrument panel to lay a phone and it is within reach of a charging USB.

There is a rather tall step-in height (ground clearance grew by about an inch to 8.2 inches) to the front and back seats. The front headroom is tall at 39.5 inches with the panoramic sunroof or 44.1 inches without.

The front seats are full-figured with eight-way power adjustment for the driver that includes lumbar and seat-bottom tilt for ideal positioning. Sightlines are unobstructed across the front fenders and over the shoulder. The 360-view camera gives birds-eye perspective when parking and the 37.5-foot turning circle is more compact than midsize.

Hyundai’s Smart Park Assist is a handy perk. Using the key fob, the Santa Fe driver can park and back out the vehicle from the tightest of spaces from outside the vehicle.

The cargo area in the Santa Fe.

The cargo area has generous space of 36.4 cubic feet behind the second row.

Back Seat and Cargo

The back seat area rides high but also benefits from a low hump to the transmission-exhaust tunnel. The commonly compromised legroom at the center seat should comfortably fit a growing teenager. Legroom is adult class at 41.7 inches, but the raised “theater” seating, with 37.8 inches of headroom, might be a tad short for taller adults.

The area is well equipped with a broad fold-down armrest, nicely padded, with cup holders and bottle storage in the door panels. Overhead grab handles include coat hooks, and there are two charging USBs and a 115-volt, 150-watt household plug.

The cargo area has a generous space of 36.4 cubic feet behind the second row, and there is usable “basement” storage.

The cargo space is wide at 45 inches and deep at 43 inches. But there is a tall lift-up to the floor of 33 inches. Fold the 60/40 back seat for 6 ½ feet in length. The seats fold flat for 5 ¾ feet of sleeping space.

A rear view of the Calligraphy

Hyundai means “modern,” as translated.

Why buy the Santa Fe Calligraphy?

The Santa Fe Calligraphy SUV has luxurious appeal and layers of attention to its design and engineering detail.

Among the Tier 1 luxury competitors, the Calligraphy is a bargain with the longest warranty for long-term ownership.

Santa Fe owners or lessors will have an attractive new choice when it’s time to renew.


2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy

  • Body style: midsize, 5-seat, 5-door AWD unibody SUV
  • Engine: Smartstream 281-hp, turbocharged and direct- and multi-port injection 2.5-liter 4-cylinder; 311 lb.-ft. torque at 3,500 rpm
  • Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch (wet-type) automated manual
  • Fuel economy: 21/28/24 mpg city/hwy/combined; 87 octane recommended

By The Numbers

  • Fuel tank: 18.8 gal.
  • Cargo space: 36.4 cu. ft.
  • Front head/leg room: 39.5*/44.1 in. *41.2 w/o sunroof
  • Rear head/leg room: 37.8*/41.7 in. *39 w/o sunroof
  • Length/wheelbase: 188.4/108.9 in.
  • Curb weight: 4,017 lbs.
  • Turning circle: 37.5 ft.
  • Tow capacity: 3,500 lbs.
  • Coefficient of drag: 0.34


Standard equipment includes: digital key and push-button ignition, panoramic sunroof, 10.25-inch touch-screen navigation with traffic routing, smart cruise control with stop-and-go remote, 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio with Clari-Fi music restoration, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, wireless device charging,  8-way power driver seat with 4-way lumbar, 6-way power front passenger seat, heated and ventilated front seats, blind-spot view monitor, surround-view camera with overhead and guidance lines, automatic LED headlights with LED accents and high-beam assist, LED running lights, power-folding side mirrors with puddle lights, LED cabin lights, 60/40 folding back seats with recline, heated back seats, power-folding 2nd row, and 7 air bags


Base price: $43,435, including $1,185 freight charge; price as tested $43,590

Options on test vehicle: carpeted floor mats $155

Where assembled: Montgomery, Ala.

Warranty: 5-years/60,000-miles bumper to bumper with 24/7 roadside assistance; 10-years/100,000-miles powertrain

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470-hp Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 — Oh hell yes!

Jeep’s Hemi-powered Wrangler Rubicon 392 is a shaggy commando of power and presence

A front view of the The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Launch Edition

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Launch Edition has a starting price of $74,995, including the $1,495 freight charge from Toledo, Ohio. (All photos courtesy of Jeep)

Table of Contents

Why buy the Rubicon 392?


The 470-horsepower Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 is a shaggy commando of tire-frying, trail-crawling confidence. It roams the wilds and street as the lone wolf or the bull buffalo keeping watch over the herd. Its rumbling 6.4-liter V-8 engine is the call of the wild.

Jeepers have been shoehorning V-8s into Wranglers for years. But this Hemi honcho will get drivers out of trouble faster than they can get into it. The 392-cubic-inch pushrod V-8 can accelerate to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, Jeep says, and pass the quarter-mile in 13 seconds. That’s a thundering accomplishment for it 5,103-pound curb weight.

With the eight-speed automatic transmission, the 6.4-liter has fuel-economy ratings of 13 mpg city, 17 highway and 14 mpg combined on the required premium fuel. The 21.6-gallon fuel tank should allow around 300 miles of driving.

The driver area of the 2021 Jeep® Wrangler Rubicon 392 interior

Interior features include heated leather seats with bronze Rubicon 392 stitching, an Alpine audio system, and a GPS navigation system.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Overview

The Rubicon 392 is plenty potent, but it’s not the torque monster of the Wrangler lineup. Instead, that honor goes to the new 4xe hybrid Wranglers with a combined engine and motor peak torque of 470 foot-pounds at 3,000 rpm.

There are a dizzying 14 trim levels of Jeep Wrangler in two- and four-door body styles with five choices for a powertrain.

Engine choices include a 270-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The 285-hp 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 has mild-hybrid e-Torque technology. And the 260-hp 3.0-liter EcoDiesel churns up peak torque of 442 lb.-ft. from 1,400-2,800 rpm.

Cutting new trails are the 4xe hybrid Wranglers (and Grand Cherokee 4xe).

The Jeep Wrangler Sahara 4xe and the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe Launch Editions have starting prices of $49,490 and $53,190, including the freight charge. Pricing does not include the available $7,500 federal tax credit or other eligible state and local credits.

The Wrangler 4xe powertrain is a 375-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a combined torque rating of 470 lb.-ft. at 3,000 rpm. That’s a lot of launch power, and it’s still capable of an estimated 50 MPGe, Jeep claims, with an electric driving range of 25 miles.

The hemi v-8 in the Rubicon 392.

The 470-hp 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 can launch the Rubicon 392 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds.

Rubicon 392 Pricing

The production version of the Wrangler Rubicon 392 Launch Edition went on sale this spring. Pricing starts at $74,995, including the $1,495 freight charge from Toledo, Ohio. But finding one can be disheartening. Pricing for those typically starts at around $90,000.

My Firecracker Red tester had a sticker of $78,545 with such extras as the tow package ($350) and trail-rail system ($195). The biggest add-on was the $2,000 Sky One-Touch Power-Top. The clear-coat paint is $245.

The Rubicon 392 is the most capable Wrangler ever, Jeep says. It is off-road ready with the Selec-Trac two-speed transfer case, full-time four-wheel drive, and 10.3 inches of ground clearance. Its heavy-duty wide track Dana 44 axles have Tru-Lock electronic locking differentials and electronic front sway-bar disconnect.

Shop all Jeep models here.

The underside of the Rubicon 392

Chassis upgrades include a 2-inch lift and FOX high-performance shocks.


  • The functional hood scoop connects to a tri-level Hydro-Guide air intake. The system feeds the V-8 with cooler outside air, and a one-way drain in the air-box separates up to 15 gallons of water a minute. The Rubicon 392 can ford water up to 32.5 inches deep — even if a bow wake washes over the hood.
  • Active dual-mode exhaust engages automatically to open valves in the exhaust system. Under higher engine loads, the open exhaust reduces back pressure. The driver can also activate the system manually.
  • Chassis changes include heavy-duty brakes, a 2-inch factory lift, upgraded frame rails, and specially calibrated suspension geometry with FOX high-performance shocks.
  • Low-speed descents use engine braking, a revised torque converter lockup control, and a 48:1 crawl ratio. The system allows the driver to manage vehicle speed without using the brake pedal.
  • Four-wheel-disc braking has 12.9-inch vented front rotors with two twin-piston floating calipers. Rear brakes have 14-inch vented rotors with two single-piston floating calipers.
The off-road tires on the Jeep Rubicon 392

Standard 33-inch tires on 17-inch beadlock-capable wheelsRubicon 392


Inside the Rubicon 392, the interior includes leather-trimmed upholstery with bronze Rubicon 392 stitching. The leather-wrapped, performance steering wheel includes paddle shifters, a first for the Jeep Wrangler.

The Uconnect system projects on a standard 8.4-inch screen. The system includes Jeep Off-road Pages that allow owners to monitor such elements as pitch, roll, altitude, GPS coordinates, and drivetrain power distribution.

Other features include:

  • Body-color hardtop and fender flares;
  • HD electrical switch bank;
  • Steel bumper package;
  • Cold weather package;
  • LED lighting package;
  • Remote proximity entry
  • Safety Group and Advanced Safety Group
The hood of the Rubicon 392

The 392-cubic-inch pushrod V-8 has peak torque of 470 lb.-ft. at 4,300 rpm.

Rubicon 392 Options

Dual Door Group $4,395

Dual Top Group $1,300

Integrated Off-road Camera $595

Tire upgrades $195: 285/70R17C BF Goodrich KO2 All-Terrain Outline White Letter or 285/70R17C Falken Wildpeak M/T tires

Why buy the Rubicon 392?

A big Hemi V-8 might not be necessary in an off-roading Wrangler. But the more relevant question from Jeep and Mopar disciples might be why not? The V-6 can feel underpowered on the daily commute. The EcoDiesel engine can level mountains off-road, but it can be snoozy for quick power around town.

The Hemi bloodline runs deep among the Stellantis brand’s loyal owners. And placing this engine in a Wrangler teases the question of when will the Gladiator pickup get one.

For every hybrid Jeep 4xe sold, there will be one more gallon of gas for the Rubicon 392.

Pricing is the great separator. How many $90K Jeeps can be sold? Be prepared if you take a test drive. The Rubicon 392 is a charmer, and the devil on your right shoulder will want you to bring it home. The handwringing angel on your left will remind of your social responsibility and how much more rational it would be to own a Wrangler 4xe.

If you listen to that angel, you will spend the rest of your driving days remembering what you could have been.

Just wait, Jeep will make more and you won’t have to pay a hefty price premium.

A rear-end view of the Rubicon 392

The Rubicon 392 is the most capable Wrangler ever, Jeep says.2

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Specifications

Body style: 5-seat, 4-door sport-utility vehicle with full-time 4WD, ladder frame and steel and aluminum body

Engine: 470-hp, 392-cubic-inch, 16-valve 6.4-liter pushrod V-8; 470 lb.-ft. torque at 4,300 rpm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic; full-time 4WD with 4WD Auto, 4WD High, Neutral and 4WD Low

Axles: Dana 44 front and rear with 3.73 ratios with Tru-Lock electronic locking

Fuel economy: 13/17/14 mpg city/hwy/combined; premium fuel required

Max tow capacity: 3,500 lbs.


Suspension: Solid axle, coil springs, stabilizer bar front and rear; electronic sway-bar disconnect system; high-pressure gas-charged FOX monotube shock absorbers with hydraulic rebound stop front; rear high-pressure gas-charged FOX aluminum monotube shock

Brakes: 4-wheel ventilated discs; 12.9-inch rotors front with twin-piston floating calipers; 13.6-inch rotors rear with single-piston floating calipers

Water fording: 32.5 inches

Fuel tank: 21.5 gallons

Length/wheelbase: 188.4*/118.4 in. *including spare tire

Curb weight: 5,103 lbs.

Turning circle: 39.4 ft.

Tires and wheels: 17-inch BF Goodrich KO2 All-Terrain tires (LT285/70R17C, on/off-road); bead-lock capable, high-gloss painted cast-aluminum wheels


Base price: $74,994, including $1,495 freight charge; price as tested $78,545
Options on test vehicle: Firecracker Red clear coat paint $245; Preferred package 27X, $350, includes trailer-tow package and class II hitch with 7- and 4-pin wiring harness; Cargo group with trail-rail system, $195, includes cargo area floor mat; Mopar all-weather floor mats $165; Sky one-touch power top $2,000; integrated off-road camera $595

Where assembled: Toledo, Ohio

Warranty: 3-years/36,000-miles basic bumper to bumper; 5-years/60,000-miles powertrain

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2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport

The 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport has gone all-in to turn heads with the slash of its swept-back body lines

The Lexus IS 350 F Sport in bold blue.

With its 2021 mild redesign, Lexus appears to have positioned the compact-midsize IS sedan as a style-conscious choice. (Lexus)



Don’t expect to drive anywhere incognito in an Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0  2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport. The mild refresh of this sport sedan has gone all-in to turn heads with coupe-charisma styling.

Maybe it was the searing blue paint or the slashing, swept back body lines, but young men along street corners turned to give it an approving jaw-jut nod.

It’s a tough design job these days to lure drivers from their SUVs. Many of those high-riding vehicles have credible performance attributes concealed in a glorified family vehicle.

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport driver area

The driver area is hands-on, compact but orderly.

With its 2021 redesign, Lexus has positioned the compact-midsize IS sedan as a style-conscious choice. It’s a born sport sedan. If the Lexus loyalist want a more traditional sedan, there is the midsize ES and it is one of the top-selling sedans in the luxury segment and the brand’s top-selling four-door.

The midsize luxury segment is dominated by the Audi A4, BMW 3-series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, with which the IS is most commonly compared. Those slightly larger competitors have taken the more formal styling direction for family function. And while those competitors also have fearsome performance models they also have fearsome pricing to create the badass family car.

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport infotainment screen.

An expansive new 10.3-inch touch screen is part of the Mark Levinson with navigation package.

The IS is more of an alternate ego sedan — right-sized and contemporary.

For 2021, the lineup doesn’t rise to the peak performance levels of some competitors, but neither does its pricing. However, a more wicked variant is set to debut a new line of performance models this fall. The upcoming the IS 500 F Performance will be gratuitously powered by a naturally aspirated 472-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8 engine. With peak torque of 395 foot-pounds at 4,800 rpm, Lexus claims 0-60 acceleration in 4.5 seconds.

Lexus IS pricing

A side view of the Lexus IS 350 F Sport

Seemingly insignificant design elements for the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport reinforce long-term ownership.

The current IS has three model choices, in rear- or all-wheel drive, with three power choices.

The entry rear-wheel-drive IS 300 has a 241-hp, 2.0-liter, turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. Its pricing starts at $41,525, including the $1,025 freight charge from Kyushu, Japan. The 2.0-liter engine was updated for 2021 with an adaptive transmission control that helps determine the most appropriate gear for each driving situation based on driver input.

The IS 300 AWD, powered by a 260-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission, starts at $42,500.

The IS 350 F Sport is powered by a 311-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 and eight-speed automatic. Pricing starts at $43,975 for rear-drive or $45,974 for AWD.

Today’s tester, the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport, was $55,220. Among its options was the Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0 paint ($595) and Dynamic Handling Package ($4,200).

Other options added up quickly, such as the power moonroof ($1,100), triple beam LED headlights with automatic dimming ($1,250) and  navigation system with Mark Levinson audio ($2,750). And intuitive parking assist with auto braking, rear pedestrian detection and panoramic view monitor added $1,400.

How does the F Sport drive?

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport engine

The 311-hp, 3.5-liter V-6.

The force of the V-6 just feels right in this car. The engine is not rabid in its bite, but it digs in with satisfying force. With 280 foot-pounds of peak torque at 4,800 rpm, there is quick uptake of launch power. Lexus cites acceleration to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, which is competitive with the standard-model competitors.

The eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters provides timely shift points, but punch up Sport-plus and let the V-6 do the talking. There is a satisfying sense of tightness between steering input, braking and absolute roll-on of throttle.

Close quarters 

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport red interior

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport red interior Circuit Red Nuluxe interior is only available with the F Sport dynamic handling package, $4,200.

The IS cabin has the close-quarters feel of a performance coupe. The front seat area is accommodating for the tall driver with 38.2 inches of headroom and a very long 44.8 inches of legroom.

It’s a hands-on experience for accessing switches and other controls — meaning that the area is compact and orderly. But there is not a lot of storage space for small items. The shift console, for example, is packed with the shifter, a touch pad to access the upper touch screen and a controller dial for performance modes and a pair of cup holders. Oddly, there is no wireless phone charging.

Sightlines are open across the fenders at the front windshield corners and side mirrors, which are offset from the body. Over-the-shoulder views are more complicated with the fastback wrap of the rear glass, but it’s workable for lane changes.

The rearview camera, with its 360-degree view, is an asset in tight parking situations. And the turning circle of 34.2 feet is unbelievably tight for any four-door car.

With a trim curb weight of 3,748 pounds, the fuel economy ratings are competitive at 20/28/23 mpg city, highway and combined, using the required premium fuel. In a week of driving, my average fuel economy ranged from 23.4 to 25.7 mpg, with more highway driving. Its large, 17.4-gallon fuel tank helps extend the cruising range.

Performance of the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport

2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport tire and wheel.

The rear-drive F Sport has 19-inch staggered-width alloy wheels with summer tires; AWD models get all-season rubber.

As a sport sedan, the cabin is well soundproofed but the staggered-size,19-inch Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tires (235/40 front, 265/35 rear) are ultra-high performance. At highway speeds, the tires will spin up noise and even wander a bit on rain-grooved concrete interstate highways. The super-sticky treadwear rating (UTQG) of 140 is among the lowest I’ve tested on any performance car. Do not expect high mileage — and as Bridgestone advises, these tires are not intended to be driven in near-freezing temperatures, through snow or on ice.

The electronic adaptive variable suspension can get very busy on some stretches of concrete highway that feels like bobbling. But on blacktop and most other non-concrete roads, the F-Sport-tuned ride is a honed carving knife.


The stars shine brightly for the IS in NHTSA’s crash-test ratings. It earned the government agency’s top five-star overall rating with four stars for driver and front passenger; five stars in the side barrier and pole test for front and rear seats; and five stars for low rollover risk.


The Lexus Safety System+ 2.5 allows Level 2 semi-autonomous driving, while keeping both hands on the wheel. The system integrates enhanced all-speed dynamic radar cruise control and lane change assist, front cross-traffic alert and pedestrian alert.

The taillights in the 2021 IS 350 F Sport

The F Sport styling treatment includes unique front and rear bumpers, grille surround, rear spoiler and exhaust tips.

The driver-assist system capably keeps the car centered in the lane, but like most systems it will randomly shut off. Sometimes the system gets confused by light-colored road-surface conditions and highway lines that are broken up and uneven. The safety system will be beneficial for those drivers who have daily commutes in heavy traffic. It is an extra six eyes on the road to watch for less-attentive drivers.

The safety system includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane tracing assist, lane departure alert with steering assist, road sign assist and all-speed dynamic radar cruise control.

Back seat

The back seats in the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport

As a five-seater, the back-seat legroom is tight at 32.2 inches, with a tall exhaust-AWD tunnel that compromises center-position footroom.

The smaller size of the IS is felt in the back seat. The area is quite compact with just 32.2 inches of a knees-up and butt-down legroom, divided by a tall exhaust-AWD tunnel.

At 10.8 cubic feet, trunk space is a couple of cubic feet smaller than the competition. But space is still very usable for travel getaways, and the back seat folds 60/40.

Why buy the Lexus IS 350 F Sport?

For those not needing to wedge a family into the back seats, the IS 350 F Sport is a flag of don’t-tread-on-me independent thinking.

And here is my review of the Lexus LS 500 F Sport


2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport RWD

Body style: compact, 5-seat, 4-door sedan with rear- or AWD

Engine: 311 hp, direct-injected 24-valve 3.5-liter V-6; 280 lb.-ft. torque at 4,800 rpm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters

0-60 mph: 5.6 seconds

Fuel economy: 20/28/23 mpg city/hwy/combined; premium fuel required


Fuel tank: 17.4 gal.

Trunk space: 10.8 cu. ft.

Front head/leg room: 38.2/44.8 in.

Rear head/leg room: 36.9/32.2 in.

Length/wheelbase: 185.4/110.2 in.

Curb weight: 3,748 lbs.

Turning circle: 34.2 ft.

Safety features include: 10 air bags, traction and stability controls, brake-force distribution, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert

Lexus Safety System+ 2.5 includes pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane tracing assist, lane departure alert with steering assist, road sign assist, all-speed dynamic radar cruise control  and intelligent high beams

Base price: $43,925, including $1,025 freight charge; price as tested $55,220

Options on test vehicle: Power moonroof $1,100; triple beam LED headlight with automatic dimming $1,250; navigation with Mark Levinson audio $2,750; intuitive parking assist with auto braking, rear pedestrian detection and panoramic view monitor $1,400; Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0 paint $595; Dynamic Handling Package, $4,200

Where assembled: Kyushu, Japan

Warranty: 4-years/50,000-miles basic with roadside assistance with free 1st and 2nd scheduled maintenance services and lodging for emergency breakdowns 100 miles from home; and 6-years/70,000-miles powertrain

Mark Maynard

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2021 Toyota Venza Hybrid Crossover

The Toyota Venza Hybrid is a new urban crossover that focuses on technology, intuitive performance, and design

An exterior view of the 2021 Toyota Venza

The all-wheel-drive Toyota Venza has starting prices of $33,745 to $41,075. (Toyota)

Table of Contents

Safety Features
Ride and Handling
Why buy the Toyota Venza?


On several levels, the new Toyota Venza hybrid is next-level transportation. Its advanced technologies are formidable but presented as a buffet to pick and choose, not to force-feed the user. It has user functionality for the electronically sophisticated or a first-time user.

Venza is a very targeted vehicle in the popular sweet spot of midsize, five-seat crossover SUVs. Venza is more of an urban crossover that focuses on technology, intuitive performance and sophisticated design, Toyota says. The two-row Venza is positioned between the RAV4 and Highlander, which are considered more adventurous crossovers.

The Toyota Venza has an electrochromic

The electrochromic glass roof can switch views from transparent to frosted. (Toyota)

Brought-back nameplate

The nameplate was brought back from a prior Toyota Venza that was sold in the U.S. from 2008-2015. The new 2021 Venza for North America shares a foundation with the Japanese-market Harrier crossover SUV. But the Venza is most comparable to the RAV4 Hybrid, with which it shares the majority of hybrid hardware.

Projector LED headlights on the Venza Limited.

Projector LED headlights on the Venza Limited. (Toyota)

2021 Toyota Venza Overview

For the U.S. the Venza is a hybrid-only model with standard on-demand all-wheel drive. The electronically smart system uses a separate rear-mounted electric motor to power the rear wheels when needed. The driver does nothing to engage the system, it’s all done through a multitude of sensors.

The gasoline-electric powertrain is comprised of a 2.5-liter direct-injection four-cylinder gas engine, three electric motors, and a lithium-ion battery pack.

Venza might be compared to such five-seat competition as the Ford Edge or Nissan Murano. But as an all-wheel-drive hybrid, it is in a class of its own. And with its high-quality interior materials, it is more of a premium choice than the Ford or Nissan.

Compared to the RAV4 hybrid, the Venza is 5.7 inches longer with a 1.3-inch lower roofline. And it is heavier by 133 pounds, which cuts about 1 mpg from fuel-economy ratings.

2021 Toyota Venza Pricing

Venza is sold in three all-wheel-drive trim levels. Starting prices range from $33,745 for the entry LE to $37,275 for the XLE and $41,075 for the Limited. Pricing includes the $1,175 freight charge from Aichi, Japan.

Today’s Limited tester was $43,200 with the Star Gaze panoramic roof ($1,400) and Advance Technology package ($725). The tech package includes a head-up windshield display with speed and hybrid-system indicators.

The expansive electrochromic Star Gaze roof is a unique luxury feature in this mainstream segment. The driver can switch the glass from a transparent view to frosted. Back seat passengers will appreciate the softer light and reduced glare of direct sunlight. But is a pricey courtesy that I’d like better for $400.

The Limited is well equipped with such features as smart-key locking and push-button ignition, Softex-trimmed upholstery, a rearview camera with guidance lines, and a bird’s-eye view with perimeter scan. There’s even a rear camera lens washer.

Interior features include heated and ventilated front seats and heated steering wheel, digital rearview camera mirror, nine-speaker JBL premium audio, and a 12.3-inch touch screen and touch-capacitive controls. The dynamic navigation system features an enhanced 2D landmark display that shows lane guidance and freeway exit displays.

Connectivity features include Bluetooth phone and music, Apple CarPlay (with Siri), Android Auto (with Google Assistant), and Amazon Alexa.

Find lease and purchase pricing incentives here.

The capacitive touch screen in the Venza

The capacitive-touch controls for heat-fan-temp are logically grouped,  but it takes eyes from the road to make adjustments. (Toyota)

2021 Toyota Venza Warranties

Standard warranty coverage for Venza is 3 years or 36,000 miles bumper to bumper. It includes 2 years or 25,000 miles of factory scheduled maintenance with 24-hour roadside assistance. The powertrain is covered for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

Hybrid warranty coverage includes 10 years or 150,000 miles for the battery and 8 years or 100,000 miles for the hybrid system.

2021 Toyota Venza Performance

Venza’s gasoline-electric powertrain combines a 2.5-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine with three electric motors. Two motors are at the front wheels and one at the rear for AWD.

The gas engine has 176 horsepower, which rises to an overall total of 219-hp with the 88-kW (118-hp) permanent-magnet synchronous motors. A rear 40 kW (54 hp) motor powers the AWD. The lithium-ion battery pack totals 252 volts among 70 cells at 3.6-volts per cell for 650 volts maximum.

The continuously variable transmission (eCVT) has a sequential shift mode and selectable driving modes of normal, eco, and sport. An EV mode allows electric-only driving at low speeds for short distances. There’s also a “downshift” feature to boost regenerative braking.

The regen-braking and EV modes will be engaging to some, but I did not feel the need.

The fuel economy ratings seem achievable at 40 mpg city, 37 highway, and 39 mpg combined, on 87 octane fuel. (That compares to the RAV’s 41/38/40 mpg.)

Setting cruise control at 68 mph, I quickly worked up to 38.4 mpg combined on highway runs. My around-town mileage was consistent at 32-35 mpg in my test week of 232 miles. When finished, the computer indicated 312 miles to empty. With the 14.5-gallon tank, a long-distance commuter could expect well over 500 miles to a fill-up.

The hybrid engine system in the Venza

Total system power is 219-hp with the gas engine and electric motors. (Toyota) 

Reading the road

Among Venza’s advanced technologies is the driver-selectable Predictive Efficient Drive. It uses the navigation system to analyze driving habits and memorize road and traffic conditions to help optimize hybrid battery charging. The PED system learns repeating routes and can predict when and where the vehicle is likely to slow down or stop. Through so-called “optimum accelerator pedal release timing guidance” the system can help reduce fuel and battery consumption.

PED can also help optimize battery charging and discharge ahead of hills or traffic congestion. When approaching a downhill section, for example, the system is designed to apply more engine braking to boost the charge going to the hybrid battery.

Venza’s driver-assist systems

The standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 allows Level 2 semi-autonomous driving. The system integrates all-speed dynamic radar cruise control and lane change assist, front cross-traffic alert, and pedestrian alert.

Always keep both hands on the wheel while using the semi-autonomous features.

The system capably keeps the car centered in the lane, but like most systems, it will randomly shut off. That might be due to variable light and road-surface conditions. This type of safety system will be beneficial for those drivers who have daily commutes in heavy traffic. The sensors are an extra six eyes on the road to watch for less-attentive drivers.

The safety system includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane tracing assist, lane departure alert with steering assist, road sign assist, full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, and intelligent high beams.

2021 Toyota Venza Safety features

Venza’s safety designs earn top stars from two testing agencies. The National Highway Safety Administration ranked it five stars overall, with five as the top rating. In frontal collisions, the Venza earned four stars for driver-side protection and five stars for the front passenger. It aced the overall side crash category with five stars each in side barrier and pole tests, front and rear seats. And four stars for rollover risk.

The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety gave it a Top Safety Pick for the XLE and Limited models with the LED projector headlights and high-beam assist.

Contributing to its high rankings is Toyota Safety Sense (TSS 2.0) active safety systems. Other standard safety features on all trim levels are eight air bags, stability and traction controls, brake-force distribution, brake assist, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert.

Ride and Handling

The Venza might be considered a citified version of the RAV4 Hybrid, but I found it to be very different. The exterior styling is urban-attractive with the look of an electrified vehicle.

It is very quiet rolling over most highway surfaces even with the 19-inch Bridgestone Ecopia tires. These “green” tires have a fairly hard treadwear rating of 600, but that also translates to warranty coverage of 70,000 miles.

Braking is absolute with vented 12-inch front discs and 11.1-inch solid rear. It will take time for the driver to adjust to brake-pedal pressure. Stepping on the pedal can feel like an on-off switch as it passes through the inch or so of regen-gap to the actual grip of braking.

At 3,913 pounds, the Limited can feel weighty on lumpy road surfaces as the independent suspension works to control the heaves of imbalance. The ride quality is robust and secure, yet soft and comfortable. It’s more about easy driving than getting happy on a twisty road, but I’m sure that’s OK for this buyer.

2021 Toyota Venza Interior

Because Venza is an “electrified” platform, it needs some underfloor capacity for battery storage. The result is a high-riding vehicle but without tall interior space, which feels low and wide.

Aerodynamics are maximized by its sleek exterior design and sloping roof. Front headroom for some might be a bit low at 38.1 inches with the Star Gaze roof, or 38.6 inches without. The front legroom of 40.9 inches is competitive but potentially limiting to the big-and-tall set.

The Limited’s interior is well dressed in soft-touch materials. There is neat stitching and the plastics throughout have a quality appearance top to bottom.

A door panel in the Venza shows quality materials and assembly

The Limited’s interior is well dressed. (Toyota)

All models have an eight-way power driver seat (with seat cushion tilt). The front passenger has just four-way adjustment, but it should really be six-way, with height adjustment.

The power driver’s seat smartly includes an auto slide-away function, which automatically moves to the rearmost position. It will be a valued asset to drivers of all sizes. The rake of the windshield and roofline creates the potential for a duck-and-enter sequence.

There is a command-center design to the driver area, but it’s not all that efficient for small-item storage. The shift console is largely consumed by the shifter, but a row of shift buttons would allow more space for a place to lay a phone.

There is a charging e-bin just ahead of the shifter with a pair of USBs, an audio aux-in, and a wireless charging pad. But space might be slim for those with big hands.

The capacitive-touch controls for heat-fan-temp are logically grouped on a tier just above the shifter, but it takes eyes from the road to stab at raising the temp or adjusting the fan speed. Lower-trim models have a simpler pair of large dials for temp control and a tier of hard buttons for fan speed and vent flow.

Digital mirror

The Limited also has a digital rearview mirror, which is intended to improve visibility behind the vehicle. It can be handy when passengers’ heads or stacked cargo gets in the way of rearward views. But because I wear glasses, my eyes struggle to focus quickly enough when I glance at the mirror, so I just flip it to manual mode.

Driver sightlines are generally open. There is a small corner glass at the windshield pillars for a snip of cornering view. Over-the-shoulder views are slightly crimped by the tapering rear side glass and the front seat’s broad upper shoulder bolsters also complicate peripheral views. But the wide bird’s-eye view camera system gives an around-view and a perimeter scan for fully functional parking.

The turning circle is tighter than many midsize sedans, at 37.4 feet with 19-inch tires or 36.1 ft. with 18s.

Back seats and cargo area

The rear headroom isn’t bad at 36.9 inches or 38.1 without the pano roof. But it would help rear entry if the doors were engineered to open a few degrees wider or for easier access when buckling a child into a car seat.

Legroom of 37.8 inches is more than generous, but with long-legs in front the space seems almost cramped. A lowish exhaust tunnel benefits (occasional) three-across seating. But all passengers will enjoy the big pano roof and its light-switching mode.

The lithium-ion battery pack is small enough to be installed under the rear seats, so it does not take up any cargo or passenger space.

Cargo space is tight for a midsize SUV at 28.7 cubic feet behind the back seat. The roofline is low at 28 inches from floor to ceiling and the lift-up to the floor is tall at 32 ½ inches. The entry opening is wide at 39 inches. Fold the 60/40 back seat for 6 feet of long-item length.

There is some deep basement storage (where the standard tonneau cover can be stored) and there is an actual alloy wheel for the temporary spare.

The back seat in the Toyota Venza

Back seat legroom of 38.3 inches is generous unless someone tall is seated ahead.

Why buy the Toyota Venza?

Carmakers can lead the public to fuel-saving vehicles, but the purchase rate is wildly variable. Toyota has been masterful at giving that cup of cold water rather than dumping a bucket of technology over the heads of buyers.

The Venza brings the number of 2021 Toyota hybrids to 10 – and the fuel-cell-powered Mirai makes it 11 electrified vehicles.

There is remarkable simplicity for the highly electrified Venza. Use as much or as little as you wish, while enjoying its forefront styling and upscale interior. It can be driven as “just a car” and still earn more than 35 mpg.

2021 Toyota Venza Hybrid Limited  Specifications

Body style: midsize, 5-seat crossover SUV with on-demand all-wheel drive

Engine: 189-hp, direct-injection 2.5-liter 4-cylinder; 163 lb.-ft. torque at 5,200 rpm

Electric motors: 2 88-kW 118-hp, permanent-magnet synchronous front; 40 kW rear

Hybrid battery pack: Lithium ion; 252 volts; 70 cells; 3.6-volts per cell; 650 volts maximum

Combined net power: 219-hp

Transmission: eCVT with sequential shift mode

Fuel economy: 40/37/39 mpg city/hwy/combined; 87 octane

Base price: $41,075, including $1,175 freight charge; price as tested $43,200

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