Behind the Wheel

Tested to Brooklyn and back, the 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is road trip-ready but not perfect

People keep their personal distance as they enjoy a spring afternoon in Brooklyn Bridge Park on April 28, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The idea of driving to Brooklyn, New York, wasn't an appealing one. Even when there isn't a global pandemic with a hot zone in the heart of the Empire State, it's still a long drive from Ohio. Coming back the same day ensures that nearly 20 hours will be spent on the road.

Armed with some Lysol wipes, a paper face mask, and a document that says that I'm essential under the federal government's Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency's guidelines, I climb behind the wheel of a 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid to begin the journey.

2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid The RAV4's interior is filled with high-tech features, especially in its top-level trim.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

My destination was the Micro Center store in Brooklyn. The I.T. company that I work for has been running a coalition of 3D printers to make important Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for first responders, health care professionals, and anyone at risk of contracting the coronavirus. To keep over 40 printers running, they need to be supplied with a steady stream of filament.

Local stock is non-existent. Early that week I had visited three different stores in Ohio and Michigan and purchased whatever remaining stock they had left. It wasn't enough. After searching nationwide, the Brooklyn store seemed to have a decent amount in stock. So, we ordered it and I went there to get it.

When reaching out to automakers to provide a vehicle capable of bringing the stockpile back (it wouldn't fit in my daily driver), there were a few things I had on my punch list. I wanted something fuel efficient. It's 1,100 miles roundtrip and I was paying out-of-pocket for fill-ups. Additionally, I wanted to spend the least amount of time handling a grubby fuel filler as much as I could.

2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid The RAV4 Hybrid only gets 300 miles out of a tank of gas.Photo by Chad Kirchner

It needed to have safety technology. Every RAV4 comes with the company's advanced suite of safety technology, including full-stop adaptive cruise control, lane centering, and lane departure warning. I didn't plan on driving drowsy but having a good backup safety system in case I make a mistake is welcome.

It also needed to be comfortable. I hadn't spent a lot of hours at once behind the wheel of a RAV4 before, so I wasn't sure what to expect there. But the seats in my Limited trim level tester were leather, power adjustable, and were both heated and cooled.

The infotainment system also supported Apple CarPlay, so I could use Waze and have my music and podcasts in easy reach.

Driving during a pandemic is a bit different than driving normally. There's still a considerable amount of truck traffic on the roads, many with Amazon logos, but other traffic is extremely light. There are enough people sending traffic updates to Waze so I know where the local constabulary is hiding, but I don't run into heavy traffic either on the way there or back.

Pennsylvania felt like a ghost town. Rest areas were seemingly abandoned, with even the vending machines empty. New Jersey felt a bit more normal, aside from the increased mask usage. I was surprised to stop at a Wawa and see attendants still pumping gas for people.

As I inched closer to the Holland Tunnel, which is how Waze wanted me to enter the city, I started seeing more signs about how if you're coming in from New York you need to quarantine yourself. The weather was beautiful but that didn't stop the apprehension from rising about entering the city that has seen so many infections and so many deaths.

Also, it seemed odd to me to cross into Manhattan and then down to Brooklyn. I've only been on the island during normal times, and traffic is usually at a standstill at best. But as I entered the tunnel that takes traffic deep below the Hudson River, traffic continued to flow. Coming out on the other side I was shocked with how little traffic there was.

2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Micro center Brooklyn The streets o the way to Brooklyn were filled with mainly truck traffic.Photo by Chad Kirchner

My route took me right by the World Trade Center, and while there were traffic and people about, it was a mere fraction of what there normally is. It appeared to me that most of the area's 8 million people were taking the order to stay inside seriously.

Entering Brooklyn took me down some side streets, where cars of all types were parked with considerable amounts of dirt and grime on them. A newer Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 looked like an abandoned barn find, clearly not having been touched since the beginning of the pandemic. It exemplified the experience of being in New York – I didn't feel like I was in "Planet of the Apes" – but without everyone out and about it felt very different.

Standing in line to get my order from Micro Center is when everything felt truly normal. Yes, we were in masks and the parking lot was virtually empty, but folks in line were chatting and being friendly. I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was talking about how his son had been 3D printing some projects at home that had been wreaking havoc with his home appliances.

It ended up being a long day when I arrived back home, having left the house at 6am and returning just after midnight. But it was a successful trip. I wish I could've enjoyed New York longer, but the reason why everything is easy to get to is the same reason why I need to leave.

2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid cargo space The supply of filament easy fit in the SUV's rear cargo area.Photo by Chad Kirchner

The RAV4 was a capable companion. The driver assist systems help relieve some of the stress, but I do wish the lane centering was actually a bit more aggressive. It's not as good as Tesla's Autopilot or Nissan's ProPilot Assist, but it's a good backup to have on a long trip.

I averaged 32.9 mpg for the journey. While I was expecting and hoping for better, my speeds averaged higher than they normally would for this trip, so it's okay. The biggest disappointment is the size of the fuel tank. A full tank only registered a bit over 300 miles on the trip computer.

The seats ended up being surprisingly supportive and comfortable on the trip. I didn't want to immediately do the trip again, but I felt like I could have. So, for road trips the RAV4 is pretty solid.

More importantly, though, the team was restocked so we can continue printing. While the need isn't a great today as it was, places are still requesting more and we want to make sure we provide what they need, free of charge.

Editor's Note: Kirchner has returned home safely and soundly to Ohio and is not exhibiting any symptoms commonly attributed to COVID-19.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

GMC has a winner with its new Yukon Denali.

Photo courtesy of GMC

The 2021 GMC Yukon isn't just a new SUV. It's a maturation of the brand, continuing the growth ushered in by the Sierra truck redesign two years ago.

GMC, a division of General Motors, didn't just make the SUV more luxe than the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe, or a more rugged choice than the Cadillac Escalade. The Yukon is its own beast. And make no mistake, it is a beast in proportions though on the road it proves impressively maneuverable.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali Each Yukon Denali comes with the Denali trim level's new grl Photo courtesy of GMC

The three-row full-size SUV is solid and capable. It's also the most elegant model in the GMC lineup, especially as tested in the Denali trim level. From the unique grille with satin chrome surround to the dual exhaust system with dual steel tips, the Yukon Denali stands out.

Riding on 20-inch wheels and powered by GM's 6.2-liter V8 engine, the Yukon Denali makes a proficient 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. The engine is connected to a GM's 10-speed automatic transmission, which cannot be smoother in its operation.

The four-corner air suspension ensures that the ride is stable whether on smooth pavement or dirt, rounding corners at speed, or turning into a parking lot. It also raises and lowers the vehicle to an optimal height depending on the vehicle's current driving or resting function.

Pulling into that parking lot and getting properly into the space is easy thanks to accurate steering and the Yukon Denali's class-leading nine camera views.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali The rear of the Yukon Denali is a new look for the model. Photo courtesy of GMC

Shifting of the Yukon Denali is done via a new lever and button configuration that is placed on the dashboard near the steering wheel. In a world of stick, column, push-button, and rotary shifters, this new take is easy to use and intuitive. It's certainly head and shoulders ahead of the push-button shifter featured in the current generation Traverse's center stack when it debuted a few years ago.

GMC has equipped the Yukon Denali with a four-wheel drive system that allows proper traction in a variety of weather conditions. Only sunshine graced the SUV during its 36-hour test drive so there was no opportunity to truly put the system through its paces.

The Yukon Denali's cabin is more premium than ever before. It truly feels luxurious, even despite its parts bin center console controls, which are shared with the Sierra. Leather and soft-touch surfaces abound. The cabin is appointed in authentic materials in the areas where your eyes traditionally rest while being a passenger.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali Fine materials are on display throughout the cabin. Photo courtesy of GMC

It has a unique moving center console that allows front row passengers to have more space while making the center console more accessible to second-row occupants.

Speaking of the second row, its captains chairs are made for comfort. In front of the passengers are twin 12.6-inch entertainment screens. The screen system no longer supports DVDs. The shift is in favor of USB- and Bluetooth-connected devices as well as streaming content. It can now accommodate Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Playstation, Apple TV, Roku, and Sling devices.

Access to the third row is easy through the center of the second row and adults can more comfortably sit back there thanks to the Yukon's elongated body style for the 2021 model year.

In front of the driver is a 15-inch head-up display that offers music information from the 14-speaker Bose sound system, navigation, and speedometer in an unobtrusive way.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali A new push button and lever shifting system is employed in the model. Photo courtesy of GMC

At the center of the dashboard is a sizable 10.2-inch infotainment screen that utilizes GM's standard operating system and graphics. Unlike what's in Genesis and Lincoln models, GMC's parent company hasn't refined the system with different styling for the premium model line. The Yukon Denali has up to eight USB ports, wireless charging, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

GMC has equipped the Yukon Denali with a host of standard safety features - most everything you'd expect. GM's Super Cruise hands-free driving technology hasn't yet made it over to the model, which is a shame.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali The Yukon Denali utilizes switchgear from the Sierra. Photo courtesy of GMC

Despite the complete redesign and impressive enhancements to the Yukon Denali for 2021, GMC has upped the price just $600 from the cost of the 2020 model. Including the destination charge the SUV comes in at just over $75,000. While $75,000 might sound steep to many buyers out there, compared to what you get from luxury automakers and truck sellers for that price, the Yukon Denali's cost is impressively low. That includes three rows of seating, high-end appointments, comfort, style, and a towing capacity of up to 7,900 pounds. The Yukon Denali could be priced at $90,000 and it would hardly elicit a second thought.

2021 GMC Yukon Denali Dual entertainment screens are available in the Yukon Denali. Photo courtesy of GMC

From the interior to the exterior it's easy to see that GMC has gotten this one right. Twenty-five percent of GMCs sold are Denali badged and it wouldn't be surprising to see that number creeping up with the freshly enhanced model.

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Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor Group

Hyundai Motor Group, the parent company of Hyundai, has announced the formation of a new unit - New Horizons Studio. The new venture is focused on the development of what Hyundai calls Ultimate Mobility Vehicles (UMVs).

New Horizons Studio is part of Hyundai's larger focus on the future of mobility. Unit workers will work to envision vehicles that wander with "unprecedented mobility". These products will focus on target customers that have unconventional travel needs whether it be to access places they have never been or adapt their mobility limitations to their surroundings.

Hyundai 'Elevate' Walking Car Concept

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor Group

New Horizons Studio is led by Vice President Dr. John Suh, who has held several leadership roles at Hyundai Motor Group since 2011. He served as founding director of Hyundai Ventures, and then led Hyundai CRADLE (Center for Robotic-Augmented Design in Living Experiences) as its founding director based in Silicon Valley. He brings over 35 years of expertise in the automotive and emerging technology sectors, including roles at Stanford University, Palo Alto Research Center (PARC; formerly, Xerox PARC), and General Motors Company.

"We aim to create the world's first transformer-class vehicle, also known as the Ultimate Mobility Vehicle," said Dr. Suh.

Dr. Ernestine Fu will move to New Horizons Studio as Director of Product Management. She has led research on human operator and autonomous vehicle interactions at Stanford University's Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab, as well as scaled emerging technology companies for over nine years as a venture capital partner at Alsop Louie Partners.

The Hyundai Elevate is the first vehicle being developed by the Studio. It debuted at CES 2019 and does not rely solely on wheels to makes it way across urban, suburban, and rural landscapes. The unit sees the Elevate as being able to respond in emergency situations like natural disasters or assist with persons who do not have access to an ADA ramp.

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