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Low-priced, high-value rides: Kia Sportage, Nissan Rogue – Washington Blade

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Finally, car buyers are paying less than the sticker price for a new car
Hallelujah! For the first time in two years, car buyers are paying less than the sticker price on a new car. After a years-long economic rollercoaster — driven by the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and a gaping shortage of microchips needed to produce cars and trucks — vehicle inventory is finally up. And automaker incentives—those much-touted discounts and cash-back offers—are back, too. 
But lest you think we’ve returned to the days of pre-COVID pricing, here’s a reality check: The average price for a new vehicle in 2019 was just shy of $39,000, while this year it is expected to top—yikes!— $50,000. 
That’s why the two compact crossovers reviewed here are so appealing. Both look sassy, handle sharply and are chock-full of standard gear. Best of all, sticker prices on these rides start below $30,000. 
MPG: 25 city/32 highway
0 to 60 mph: 9.3 seconds
Think of the Kia Sportage as Dorian Gray: an alluring crossover that never gets old. The popular Sportage is the automaker’s longest-running nameplate in America, arriving here in the mid-1990s. But this fifth-gen version—completely redesigned for 2023—mirrors the edgy, come-hither look of a luxe-laden Lexus NX. There’s a slightly obnoxious, wraparound grille, which caused more than a few raised eyebrows each time I zipped around town. And don’t ask me why, but the design of the hiked-up rear-end reminded me of a buff Tom of Finland character wearing spikey heels—those would be Jimmy Choo or Christian Louboutin pumps, of course, not any of that clunky Naturalizer stuff. In other words, the Sportage could easily set tongues wagging at your next drag story-time event. Inside, the hedonism continues, with an obscenely wide digital monitor that stretches almost fully across the dashboard. This includes a 12.3-inch instrument panel and 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Even the base model gets heated seats, and the rear seats both slide and recline. Remote keyless entry, smartphone integration and Wi-Fi hotspot are standard. So are various safety features, such as forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist and a driver-attention system that can sense if you are getting drowsy. But trust me, with all the sybaritic delights—including heated steering wheel, premium stereo, panoramic sunroof, and satin chrome accents—there is plenty here to keep you awake. There are also a dozen trim levels, with three priced below $30,000. This includes a fuel-friendly hybrid, with up to 44 miles per gallon on the highway. My test vehicle was the X-Pro Prestige, which was fully decked out. My only complaint was the tepid engine, which is pokey compared with the hybrid and some other highly competitive crossovers. Luckily, I really enjoyed the capable handling and braking. And overall, it would be hard to resist the class-leading warranty and passenger room in the Sportage, as well as that tantalizing design.  
MPG: 30 city/37 highway
0 to 60 mph: 8.4 seconds
The iconic Nissan Rogue was completely redesigned in 2021. As with the Kia Sportage, this means snazzier styling—inside and out—as well as improved handling and a quieter interior. But there also are some key differences. The Sportage flaunts a more in-your-face exterior, has better towing capacity, and is available as a hybrid or plug-in hybrid. Kia also offers a better warranty, and its vehicles have higher reliability ratings. Yet while the Sportage has more rear-seat legroom, the Rogue boasts more front-seat legroom and headroom. The Rogue also has a larger fuel tank, so fewer stops at the gas station, as well as better horsepower and torque. And the Rogue is a bit narrower and has a smaller turning radius, which makes it somewhat easier to maneuver. I enjoyed testing the Sportage, as noted above. But the Rogue was just as delightful in its own way. While the exterior design may be more sedate on the Rogue, it is still beguiling. Yes, the interior is low-key, but it echoes the restrained cabin of a sporty BMW. This included a simple-yet-refined dashboard, upscale trim and pleasing soft-touch materials throughout. There is no ginormous, IMAX-like digital display as in the Sportage, but the sleek easy-to-use infotainment touchscreen does sit prominently atop the dash. Acceleration, cornering and braking were all sure and capable, and standard safety features included automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection as well as blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert. Choosing either the Sportage or the Rogue is like choosing between, say, the sparkly RuPaul or the spellbinding actress Daniela Vega. Personally, it would be a thrill to drive anywhere with either one. 
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Sure, German cars are uber exciting, but Asian brands are much more reliable. Right? Well, not exactly. 
This year, for the first time, BMW tops the list in what is considered the holy grail of product-quality resources: Consumer Reports. Along with improved reliability, BMW leads in the rankings for user-friendly options—including innovative infotainment systems. 
To be sure, seven of the top 10 most-reliable vehicles are still made by Asian automakers. 
But today’s BMW drivers can enjoy both style and substance, with rides that are fun, fast, furious—and now very dependable. 
MPG: 16 city/24 highway
0 to 60 mph: 3.9 seconds
Cargo room: 13.8 cu. ft.
PROS: lively acceleration, taut handling, sexy exhaust growl
CONS: rigid front seats, tight backseat, hard-to-access seatbelts
IN A NUTSHELL: I have a love-hate relationship with two-door cars. They fail the test when it comes to ferrying lots of people or more than a few suitcases. And forget about cross-country trips, especially if you want to pull over and catch 40 winks by stretching out in any sort of rear cargo area. But it’s hard to resist the convenience of a coupe or convertible when scooching into tight parking spaces or weaving through congested traffic. And these rides can be a blast to drive. That’s the case with the BMW M2 super-coupe, a pocket rocket that comes standard with a 435-hp engine and six-speed manual transmission. Expect automotive purists to forgo the optional eight-speed automatic, though it is a tad faster. 
The feisty styling boasts flared fenders, muscular side panels and an arousing rear spoiler.  As my husband Robert said, “This car is ‘sex on wheels.’ ” Yes, indeed. 
Of all the BMW high-performance M cars, the M2 is the smallest and least expensive. Yet it’s loaded with the latest bells and whistles: sport-tuned suspension, track-oriented tires, side-impact airbags, knee airbags, Harman Kardon surround-sound stereo, 12.3-inch digital gauge display and an even-larger 14.9-inch infotainment touchscreen. This second-generation M2 is also longer and wider than before, which adds more leg and elbow room inside. 
My test car came with the weight-saving carbon-fiber package. This included bucket seats with rigid thigh bolsters, as well as a quirky hard protrusion that stuck up awkwardly between my legs. Intended to keep you seated firmly in place when swooshing in and out of twisty curves, the intrusive seat design can sometimes smoosh your nether regions. In other words, there’s a reason these seats are called “ball busters.”
MPG: 25 city/33 highway
0 to 60 mph: 5.2 seconds
Cargo room: 9.9 cu. ft.
PROS: wicked fast, easy to drive, cushy cabin
CONS: low ground clearance, no second row, skimpy storage
IN A NUTSHELL: Built on the same platform as the less-expensive but also less-luxurious Toyota Supra coupe, the BMW Z4 convertible is more of a comfortable cruiser than cheeky racecar. Two fine engine choices are available, though neither propels the Z4 as fast as the Supra or BMW M2 coupes. Still, handling and braking are splendid. Most important, my tush appreciated the more traditional seating in the Z4 compared with those butt-blasting seats in the M2. 
As with all BMWs, styling on this two-seater is dramatically sculpted. My only complaint was with the doors, which are so darn long you need to lean over and reach into another county to close them. 
The high-quality cabin is surprisingly spacious, with plenty of headroom, even with the top up. But storage cubbies are few and far between. Luckily, the trunk offers decent stowage, thanks to the power-operated top that takes up no cargo space when lowered. And despite having a fabric top instead of a thick metal one, there’s very little road noise.
As with the M2, the Z4 is actually a lot of car for the money. Pricey competitors to the Z4 include the $101,000 Porsche Boxster S and $110,000 Mercedes SL-Class. 
While crossovers and other SUVs may rule most showrooms today, these two rousing, reliable and relatively affordable two-door rides offer plenty of temptation. 
These rides have the lowest lifetime maintenance costs
How cool are hybrids? Let us count the ways.
First, hybrids aren’t fully electric, so there’s no range anxiety about your battery conking out during a trip. Second, sticker prices are lower for hybrids than for electric vehicles. Third, hybrids—especially plug-in hybrids like those reviewed here—have the lowest lifetime maintenance costs. 
And, oh yes, hybrids also boast a hoity-toity lineage: The first hybrid, the Mixte, was built in 1902 by Ferdinand Porsche. 
MPG: 40 city/40 highway
Electric-only range: 37 miles
0 to 60 mph: 7.7 seconds
PROS: Refreshed design, good fuel economy, roomy.
CONS: Some cheap interior plastics, no ventilated seats, no all-wheel drive. 
IN A NUTSHELL: The Ford Escape plug-in hybrid is $13,000 less than its luxe sibling, the Lincoln Corsair. But cheaper doesn’t mean lackluster. Exterior styling on an Escape is snazzy, with tasteful LED accent lighting stretching across the top of the grille. Handling is highly responsive, as are the brakes. And there’s plenty of zip when driving in all-electric mode. Ford says this Escape can go 37 miles on battery power alone, but for me it was even better—up to 40 miles. Other nice surprises: a hushed cabin and crystal-clear stereo. There’s only one trim level, but it’s loaded: heated seats, heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, tinted rear windows, nav system and more. My test vehicle also came with many sweet options: head-up display, 360-degree split-screen camera, panoramic roof and active park assist. Overall, the Escape may not be as fully upscale as a Lincoln Corsair, but it’s pretty close. 
MPG: 35 city/33 highway
Electric-only range: 32 miles
0 to 60 mph: 7.9 seconds
PROS: Fuel efficient, easy to drive, third-row seating.
CONS: Not so sporty, low towing capacity, third row for kids only.
IN A NUTSHELL: Need a larger hauler? The Kia Sorento plug-in hybrid is the most affordable midsize crossovers with third-row seating. A tad slower and less sporty than various competitors, this Kia is still one smooth ride. It felt especially steady as I was weaving through stop-and-go Beltway congestion after some unexpectedly long days at work. In fact, not once did I swear like a New York City cab driver under my breath. What’s more, there’s plenty of bang for the buck: remote keyless entry, hands-free power liftgate, LED interior lighting, second-row sunshades, 12-speaker premium Bose stereo and other goodies. The seating features alone are impressive: heated/ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, 14-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, 10-way front passenger seat, second-row captain chairs, and 50/50-split folding third-row seat. There are so many safety systems that even Volvo—renowned for its safety innovations—would likely be impressed. I know I was. 
MPG: 34 city/32 highway
Electric-only range: 28 miles
0 to 60 mph: 7.0 seconds
PROS: Glitzy outside, cushy inside, creature comforts galore.
CONS: Pricey, some touchscreen anomalies, battery-only range not so far.
IN A NUTSHELL: As with various other hybrid crossovers, the Lincoln Corsair plug-in is only available in one high-end trim level. Built on the same platform as the less expensive Ford Escape, the Corsair is the better choice for drivers itching for a refined ride. Handling is comparable to a Lexus sedan versus a BMW speedster, though the Corsair is notably faster than an Escape. The Corsair also has a swanky cabin with primo materials. Two new interior colors say it all: Smoked Truffle and Eternal Red. The dash flaunts two large display monitors: 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and 13.2-inch infotainment touchscreen (note that a few navigation features were less-than-intuitive at first). Nifty amenities include massaging seats, hands-free liftgate, automated parking system and limited hands-free driving. While overall car sales were down last year, sales of EVs and plug-in hybrids were up. These three fuel-friendly rides help explain why. 
These SUVs are loaded with luxury
The Pointer Sisters. The Jonas Brothers. Gay throuples. Sometimes good things come in threes. 
Same for this trio of SUVs, all loaded with luxury. My husband Robert and I took each of these vehicles on weekend forays, encountering pleasant surprises along the way.
MPG: 21city/25 highway
0 to 60 mph: 5.8 seconds
PROS: Zippy, fresh facelift, flashy cabin
CONS: Tight third row, clunky HVAC controls, costly options
IN A NUTSHELL: Sassy on the outside, but comfy—almost overly so—inside. My test car, the base-model BMW X7 xDrive40i, boasted a strong six-cylinder engine and velvety transmission. The destination: Maryland orchards to score some fruit and veggies. Along the way, Robert and I traversed myriad freeways and backroads. We also spotted one fine ass: Jack, the donkey who roams the fields at one of our favorite roadside stops. As for our tushes, the seats in the X7 are supportive but not as fully bolstered as in other sport-tuned SUVs. Ditto the suspension, which can handle speed bumps at twice the posted speed limit. The new widescreen dashboard is stunning, but searching for infotainment functions while driving wasn’t easy. Better to use the steering-wheel controls—except, uh, the HVAC system can only be accessed via the touchscreen. Bummer. Still, it’s hard to overstate just how enjoyable this car actually is. Opening the panoramic sunroof was a blessing after last week’s wildfire smoke had us in lockdown. Another plus: The self-park feature, which meant we could people-watch instead of stressing out over trying to fit into parking spaces at Pride events. 
MPG: 22 city/27 highway
0 to 60 mph: 6.9 seconds
PROS: Sporty handling, suave looks, lots of storage
CONS: A bit noisy inside, pokey base-model, so-so reliability 
IN A NUTSHELL: Redesigned a few years ago, the F-Pace is Jaguar’s best-selling model. As with all Jags, there’s no shortage of sharp styling, with a Porsche-esque front and Lexus-like rear. Those sweptback seats, especially in the supercharged SVR trim level, would make a Formula 1 driver salivate. While the SVR ($90,000) is nice, my test car was one step down but still plenty fast: the R-Dynamic S ($67,000). I hit 60 mph in a mere 5.5 seconds, much quicker than the sluggish base model. All trims have minimalist but upscale interiors. Bucking the trend of a single widescreen dash, the F-Pace has two displays: One for the gauge cluster and the other for infotainment. Both are easy to read, but as with many high-end infotainment systems, you’ll need a crash course in how to use it. Luckily, there’s no learning curve when simply driving the F-Pace. This time, the Virginia mountains were calling, so Robert and I headed for the hills. It’s a testament to Jag engineering how fun and responsive this SUV was as we inched through congestion, barreled down I-66 and whipped along rural switchbacks. 
MPG: 18 city/26 highway
0 to 60 mph: 5.5 seconds
PROS: Sci-fi styling, silky-smooth ride, oozing luxury
CONS: Ginormous, some quirky electronics, pricey
IN A NUTSHELL: Fully redesigned last year, the latest Range Rover is from another world. The curved fascia and wraparound headlights remind me of RoboCop, or at least the dude’s space-age cyborg helmet. And the refined cabin, especially with the deluxe “executive” package, is a generation ahead of its time: reclining rear seats with power footrests, tray tables that electronically deploy to swivel into place, and a 1,600-watt Meridian stereo with—count ’em!—35 speakers. The mini-fridge in the second row is placed vertically instead of horizontally (to better hold a bottle of bubbly and two chilled glasses, of course). And for the first time, a third row is now available. Among the various trim levels is a new plug-in hybrid with 48 miles of electric range. As for overall handling, it’s beyond me how an almost 6,000-pound beast can dance through traffic like a lightweight roadster. And potholes and rumble strips? Pfft, they weren’t even noticeable when recently heading to the beach. But, alas, luxury comes at a price: A fully loaded Range Rover can top $220,000. 
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