Now that I took a summer drive to the Midwest Automotive Media Association Summer Drive in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, let’s talk about what I drove at the Summer Drive.
Considering that another storm system put a damper on our morning drives, we managed to get as much done after our early lunch and presentation. However, I was able to sample the two vehicles we had presentations for that day – the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz and the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder.
First, the Pathfinder. It is part of Nissan Next – a program to refresh and improve the entire lineup. As with the smaller Rogue, the 2022 Pathfinder took a massive leap from the previous generation model. To me, this is very welcomed.
In the presentation, one of the points made was that Nissan wanted to steer the Pathfinder backs towards its roots from the 1980s. That first-generation model was based on the 720 platform the underpinned the Hardbody pickup truck. Therefore, you had a Hardbody front with a boxier SUV shell.
To accomplish melding the past with the present, the 2022 Pathfinder had its rear overhang shortened, was given a taller stance with more cabin space height-wise, plus the rugged elements that were missing in the last-generation model. The result is a boxier SUV with a purpose.
While they retained the 284-horsepower 3.5-liter VQ V6 engine, they swapped the Xtronic CVT with a ZF nine-speed automatic transmission. This driveline made a world of difference. There is a spring in the Pathfinder’s step and a swagger to boot. The driving package is much more enjoyable than before.
Inside, the Pathfinder’s cabin is massively improved, following the same design language as in the Rogue, with its 12.3-inch digital dashboard, 10.8-inch head-up display, and nine-inch infotainment screen. The seats were very comfortable and supportive for journeys beyond our hotel venue – we’re talking a road trip warrior here!
Nissan provided two 2022 Pathfinders for us at the MAMA Summer Drive. I drove a two-wheel-drive SL with a two-tone gray/black exterior finish. This one was stickered at $45,795.
I am going to save the Santa Cruz for last. In the meantime, another new mid-size three-row SUV awaited a brief drive for me – the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.
While the Pathfinder had its overall length shortened, the Grand Cherokee L came out longer than the outgoing two-row model. Jeep customers wanted a three-row model because, well, each one its competitors had one.
Jeep cannot simply make a three-row SUV for please their customers. It had to be a Jeep. Mission accomplished? In a way, perhaps.
The Grand Cherokee L exudes luxury. You can see it on the outside, with its upright theme from the seven-slotted grille to the floating roofline. The silhouette is handsome overall, even as it appears to be somewhat slab-sided.
The Overland trim level exemplifies the luxurious side of this three-row Jeep. Seating was comfortable, swathed in soft leather. With the expanded space, you do have plenty of room and access to the second- and third-row of seats. There is a clean 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster and a new 10.1-inch infotainment screen.
The silver Overland model I drove had the 357-horsepower 5.7-liter HEMI V8 connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission actuated by a nice rotary shifter. It also had the Quadra-Trac II four-wheel drive system, which should be of use to Jeep lovers who still want their capability with their luxury.
If you want a real hot take, then turn on the infotainment system. This Overland example came with the upgraded 19-speaker McIntosh audio system. This system emitted the cleanest sound I have ever listened to. I know there will some audiophiles that will argue for the Bowers & Wilkins systems found on Audis, Volvos, and Maseratis. I’ll tell you what…I’m leaning towards the McIntosh that will also be found on the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, along with the Grand Cherokee L and future variants of this new generation model.
For us, there were two Grand Cherokee L models provided to us by Stellantis. The silver Overland tester came with a sticker price of $67,210. Like I said, this Grand Cherokee L exuded luxury.
You probably have already detected a theme with my experience at the MAMA Summer Drive. This is because it is referencing the ongoing proliferation of the SUV on this marketplace. There is no other example of this proliferation than the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71.
This example came with a 5.3-liter V8, a 10-speed automatic transmission, the requisite four-wheel drive, and some off-road embellishments.
While I praise the massive improvements on the Pathfinder and reveled in the luxury of the Grand Cherokee L, I admit that I felt disappointed in the Tahoe. The performance was fine overall. Yet, the suspension felt a bit uncomfortable. It swayed a bit and tried to absorb some bad surfaces with some luck.
Where it all went wrong for me was in the interior. The transmission actuator on this Tahoe Z71 was a series of buttons on the instrument panel. The logic was just not there for me. The infotainment touchscreen felt out of reach.
To sum up this $68,940 adventure into the large SUV realm, I turn to RuPaul Drag Race All-Star Ra’Jah O’Hara and her infamous catchphrase: “I’m not gagging.”
I was simply not connecting with this big General Motors SUV. Sometimes, that’s OK for me to feel that way.
Finally, I get to a vehicle I think will shake up things in the automotive industry – that is, after they sort out all of the supply chain issues and consider their future a bit more considerably.
According to Hyundai, the 2022 Santa Cruz should not be called a pickup truck. They’re calling it a Sports Adventure Vehicle. I call it the modern day version of the Subaru BRAT and Baja. Luckily for us, we had five Limited models to drive.
Everything about the Santa Cruz seems just right. Not because it was in the top-of-the-line trim. Nor it was because it had the 281-horsepower 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission.
It was the usefulness of the Santa Cruz. The open bed was where it’s at. It can be closed with a tonneau cover that slides away. It also had an in-bed storage that can serve as a beverage cooler. It can seat four-to-five humans inside the four-door cab. Plus, it can haul around 1,600 pounds of anything from the home improvement center and can tow up to 5,000 pounds in the configuration we drove at the Summer Drive.
Let me just come out and say this: This is the most fun you can get for under the current average transaction price for a new vehicle. Our testers came with the same sticker price of $41,100.
Oh, wait, there is one more vehicle I drove at the MAMA Summer Drive. It came as a surprise that Maserati wanted in on our Summer Drive. I was seriously surprised that I was able to drive to drive it.
The 2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo is a 580-horsepower hand-built twin-turbocharged V8 Italian stress reliever. It is the kind of car that you get in, start up the engine to hear the exhaust note, and the world seems insignificant for the time you are behind the wheel.
For 2021, Maserati did some updating all around for the Ghibli and Quattroporte sedans. Most noticeably is the new infotainment system that looks cleaner and easier to use. I will also mention that the Ghibli had the Bowers & Wilkins audio system that emitted nice sound all around the cabin.
Do you really buy a Maserati for the audio system and technology? Nope. You buy one because they’re rapid and ready. They also exude Northern Italian luxury that hugs you in for a blast across the countryside. The only soundtrack you need is from the exhaust system.
Starting from $110,240, then privilege of getting the fastest Ghibli ever will be a treat for your senses – and your soul.
Of course, driving to and from this event in the 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL Launch Edition added even more context overall. Although I may not have driven everything offered to the MAMA membership at the Summer Drive, I did bring something I wished my colleagues should get more exposure to.
One of my colleagues had a closer look at the Outlander. He came away impressed. The design and quality were the key points I ascertained from our conversation with the Outlander. Sadly, I did not take it on our drive route to see how it stacked against what was offered for us in the event.
One thing I did not mention was the fact that several manufacturers were not present at our event. These manufacturers cited concerns over the rise in COVID-19 cases nationwide and precautions that needed to be undertaken for the sake of health and safety.
Some may also complain that the manufacturers represented on site did not have enough vehicles for us to work with. They gave us the highlights of the latest and greatest in their lineup. With that, I am not complaining.
It is not about the drives that I took away from this event. It was the reconnections. The conversations that came out of our time at the MAMA Summer Drive. These were the things I missed from these past 17 months – real dialogue with my fellow colleagues and friends from this organization.
We need more of this. And, we’ll be getting that soon.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle for transportation to/from this event was provided by White Bear Mitsubishi, White Bear Lake, MN. All other vehicles were provided by their respective manufacturers. Travel logistics were paid by Victory & Reseda.
All Photos by Randy Stern