The Hyundai Kona, a subcompact crossover, has garnered all sorts of rewards since it was introduced in the 2018 model year. The crossover had love it or hate it styling which is a central feature of good design. In a word, it was distinctive. We had the 2019 Kona Ultimate AWD model. It was the top-of-the-line model for the gasoline powered Kona. There is an all-electric version of the crossover. The Kona featured Hyundai’s cascading grille, double headlights, LED daytime running lights above the headlamps, fog lights and halogen cornering lights. The side was sculpted with scallops and there were edgy distinctive lines while the rear roofline curved down and filled out the rear. There was black cladding on the bottom and around the wheel wells; it looked like one piece. And the bulging shoulders of the fenders added some muscularity to the look. It made for a distinctive and aggressive design.
DETROIT – A Hyundai Tucson was delivered on Friday and we were on the road to Chicago early Sunday morning. In short, this Hyundai had Interstate chops. We engaged the front-wheel-drive crossover’s adaptive cruise control and headed west down I-94. The 2.4-liter, direct-injected four-cylinder engine made 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability. That was more than enough oomph. This stretch of highway gently curves south and goes around the southern tip of Lake Michigan. It is two-lanes in one direction and expands to three as you approach the metro areas. And this route to the Windy City is almost flat. In other words, there is really no place to test how well the engine, its torque and its transmission can handle hills. Still, the drive revealed some of the characteristics of the 2019 Hyundai Tucson FWD. First the pavement was dry. Therefore, power to the front wheels provided enough traction; what’s more the Tucson was easy to handle.
Let’s face it, the original Lexus ES luxury sedan was designed to not offend anybody. That means from a design standpoint, the luxury sedan didn’t appeal to anybody. But all that has changed. We don’t know that any nameplate in Lexus’ lineup has benefitted more from the brand’s style change fueled by the adoption of the spindle grille. These days you love or hate the new Lexus look. From the street reaction, most folks we ran across while test driving the new 2019 ES 350 were all in favor of the new style. The front-wheel-drive sedan used an all-new platform that lowered and widened its stance, and made it longer too. The wheels had been pushed closer to the corners than ES models before it. For the first time in its seven generations, designers used a flat roof to lower the stance even more and provide for better aerodynamics. Lexus said thanks to a two-inch longer wheelbase and wider tracks front and rear and enhanced the 2019 ES 350’s ride and its performance capabilities. The ES’ spindle grille had a vertical pattern and satin plated trim. That theme is repeated at each corner of the bumper to give the ES a wide, planted look.
If it looks like a Volvo, rides like a Volvo and feels like a Volvo, then, hey, it is a Volvo. That came to mind during our test drive of the 2019Volvo XC40 T4. This particular Volvo had a sticker that was just shy of $38,000. In a world where you get less and pay more, that is a bargain for a luxury automobile. At that price, we think this Volvo may be the most cost efficient vehicle in the lineup, thus far. That means it is the cheapest. But beside the word there is nothing cheap about the XC40. It looked like a Volvo with the Thor’s hammer daytime running lights, the Iron Mark grille which was concaved on the XC40, a bunch of vibrant colors to attract the younger buyer, a color contrast roof on some models, that means two toned, large 18-inch wheels, obviously large clad covered wheel arches and an 8.3 inch ride height which bolstered a feeling of security. Every time we got out of the test vehicle we were always a little startled by how far our foot went down before it touched the ground. We never felt like we had to step up to get into the XC40 but we had to step down a little to exit.
Talk about more than enough, the GMC Yukon XL 4WD SLT certainly filled the bill. Where to begin? Let’s start under the hood. We had the Graphite Performance Edition. That means that the 5.3-liter V8 for a normal Yukon got bumped up to 6.2-liters and 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque with cylinder deactivation. There was a 10-speed automatic transmission, a 3.23 axle ratio and a two-speed active transfer case and magnetic ride control. This engine moved the Yukon XL, which weighed almost three tons, with ease. We didn’t sense any cylinder deactivation. Gearshifts were silky smooth and the suspension managed to kill most of the truck-like ride on this body on frame three-row sport utility. It had an independent coil-over shock, magnetic ride control with the graphite performance package front suspension. In the rear was a solid axle with five-link location and coil springs, magnetic ride control and the graphite performance package. This package included black 22-inch machined wheels with carbon flash metallic pockets, black assist steps with gloss black accents, black chrome grille mesh insert and fog lamp surrounds, body-colored grille surround, gloss black beltline moldings and additional trim, the Z85 suspension package. This was a menacing looking vehicle and we mean that in a good way. About the only thing that was missing were LED headlights. The halogen lamps seemed like they were from another planet. And there wasn’t a moonroof. Still, this GMC Yukon was well equipped. It was the XL Yukon. It had a wheelbase that was 14 inches longer than a normal Yukon and it was almost two-feet longer overall with more than twice the cargo space behind the third row seats.
BANFF, Alberta, Canada, — We came here to see some of the product highlights that Volvo has planned for the 2020 model year. We also heard about how the company is doing. The short story is that sales are up in the U.S. even though the market is down from last year. Global sales are up too. The name of the auto game is product, product, and product. And Volvo has been rolling out top notch vehicles for the last four years. You need look no further than the new crossovers, sedans and wagons the company has been churning out to pinpoint the cause of its sales increase. Specifically, we were going to drive the new XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered, the new Volvo V60 Cross Country and the refreshed 2020 Volvo T8 Twin Engine Plug-In Hybrid. It had 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque. Among the tweaks for the XC90 was a new color, Birch Light Metallic, and third row seats. Depending on the second row configuration, the 2020 XC90 can now be configured for four, six or seven passengers. Volvo staffers said the addition was made because American consumers wanted a third row. And Volvo promised easy access to that row. Alas, we just didn’t get the chance to check it out; even though the XC90 T8 was the first vehicle we put on the road. We had the six-seat model. Volvo had a pretty long list of tweaks for the XC90 in the upcoming model year. Among them were a new concave front grille design, restyled front and rear bumpers, a new gloss black theme for the R-Design trim and all new wheel designs. Volvo said the electric motor sits on the rear axle of the T8s and provides 87 hp driving the rear wheels. The placement allows room for a large electric motor, which is useful in stop-and-go city traffic. The rear placement also makes all-wheel drive more efficient by providing the rear axle with an independent power source. The XC90 T8 comes with what Volvo calls a TurboCord, which is a dual voltage (110v & 220v) charging cable. This allows customers to charge at home using a standard 110v or 220v wall outlet. The flexibility of the vehicle’s industry standard J1772 connectors means customers can recharge their vehicle at thousands of public charging stations. With a 200v power source, the T8 can fully recharge in 2.5 hours.
The 2019 Toyota Avalon Hybrid is an awfully good midsize sedan. The brand’s flagship car was given a complete makeover that didn’t get that much attention in a world dominated by utility vehicles. Still, it should be noted that the 2019 Avalon Hybrid went from a fairly boring design to soothing akin to a snazzy design. The car had a new wide grille that was dominant. Overall the new Avalon was longer, lower and wider. That really gave it a sleek appearance, especially in dark colors. Our test vehicle was opulent amber. It looked black until the sun caught it. New stamping methods allowed for deep draw panels that expressed distinguishable sculpted forms. Complex surfaces could now be shaped, like the at Avalon’s door handles that coincided with its profile’s robust character line. A distinct, carved lower rocker panel behind the front wheels visually exemplified the benefits of its new global platform. We had the Limited Avalon Hybrid. It was the top-of-the-line and had all the bells and whistles as they say. There were slim LED headlights, three dimensional surfaces, an aluminum hood with longitudinal lines and the new grille had tangential vents at its lower portion for passing air across the front tires. Horizontal character lines were across the back, at the top, center, and lower portions of the car. The Avalon’s 72.8-in. width, in effect, was highlighted by the distinct sectioning. Connected LED tail lamps shaped in a three-dimensional, “aero fin” style differentiated the back from the last generation Avalon. They integrated the backup, stop, and turn lights into a single harmonious, fluid form. In short, the 2019 Avalon Hybrid looked good. The Avalon was what Toyota called a premium midsize sedan. But it looked full size. However, it didn’t handle like a big car. A new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine was more fuel efficient, ran cleaner, and was more powerful than previous iterations. The four-cylinder was married to an all-new Toyota Hybrid System II powertrain that was engineered for both spirited driving and fuel consciousness. The hybrid system’s net power output was 215 horsepower – up 15 horsepower versus the outgoing version.
Kia starting rolling out its models for 2020 recently and there were two new lines. We had the 2020 Soul X-Line; a more or less basic model. But basic does not mean what it used to years ago. First, the Soul mystique was present. The test vehicle had that squared look with that slightly slanted roof that makes the Soul look as though it was cutting through the wind. Under the hood was a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that made 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to what Kia called an Intelligent Variable Transmission, the automaker’s in-house version of a continuously variable transmission. This combination gave the car plenty of power. It was smart, snappy and it had a little oomph. What’s more, we were hard pressed to tell that the transmission was a CVT of sorts. The Soul X-Line was a pleasure to drive it featured body cladding; overfenders for a chunkier look, offroad-inspired accents, unique 18-inch alloy wheels, roof rail inspired accents, optional two-tone paint (ours was white) and fog lights. In some sense, it was a throwback. This Soul had an actual key. There was a fob to lock and unlock the door, but there was no push button on the door nor to start or stop the car. We had to put the key in the ignition and turn the switch to start it. But once we did there was a certain verve to this Soul X-Line no matter the trim line. Handling was surprisingly agile. Steering was very responsive to driver input, as a colleague used to say. Soul handling mirrored that of a Go-Kart. It took just a little turn of the steering wheel for the car to in another direction. Cornering was excellent and lane changes were effortless. The ride was firm without being harsh. The suspension took minor lumps and bumps out of the rode. And the car was quiet; road noise was left outside and at times we could not hear the engine at all.
It has been more than 20 years since Toyota’s RAV4 hit this market. And case you’ve forgotten the vehicle was one of the first crossovers, thus it one of the founders of the segment. It is also a sales leader. With more and more crossovers entering the market, Toyota has made every attempt to keep the RAV4 out front. It has been redesigned; given spiffy new technology, a better engine, more creature comforts and new sheet metal. We thought the new 2.5-liter engine sounded a little wimpy upon start up. But there was nothing lacking in its performance. This power plant made a healthy 203 horsepower and-184 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The combination got 25mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined. That mileage is for the all-wheel-drive model that we had. There is a front-wheel-drive version of the RAV4 as well as a first-ever hybrid. We thought the transmission could be a little slippery. Let up a bit on the accelerator while cruising and then press on it and you kind of caught the gearbox off guard and that could make the direct shift transmission hesitant. Still, the 2019 Toyota RAV4 handled well. Acceleration was excellent. Sight lines were great. The suspension was capable of smoothing out the road. Cornering was good too. The RAV4 was relatively quiet. There were six drive modes to select from: eco, normal, sport, mud and sand, rock and dirt and snow. The compact crossover was bigger, it had a more muscled look and it featured some attributes of edge design. At one point, coming out of the fitness center we thought someone had hit our test vehicle. The creases around the pocket for the parking lights and beside the grille were so pronounced we thought the new RAV4 had been crunched.
The Hyundai Elantra Sport was a great car. Never mind its 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that made 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Never mind that it had a smooth shifting six-speed manual transmission. And never mind it had one of the funkiest sets of 18-inch alloy wheels that we’ve seen in a while. What made the compact sedan great was that its USB jack worked without the engine running. In other words, just plug in your smartphone and it will start charging without turning on the ignition. That makes a big difference when the power is out and stays out for three days. The car had LED daytime running lights as well as full LED headlights and there was a moon-roof too. We had the Elantra Sport. The car was smooth, the gear-shift had just enough torque to give a sense of being attached to the car, but it was not like we had to wrestle. It was an easy driving car. The 2019 Hyundai Elantra cornered well, it rode well and because of the manual transmission, it had some spunk. We climbed inside and found a sporty interior that was all black with red stitching. The perforated seats were not power but the front set was heated. They had fixed bladders for the thighs and the sides, which made the seats very comfortable. The sportiness of the 2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport went right down to the floor with the aluminum and rubber studded peddles and foot-stop. A three-dial climate control system dominated even though there was a touch infotainment screen atop the dash. From that screen Apple CarPlay and Android Auto could be engaged and controlled. The car also had satellite radio, voice controls, Bluetooth, and a SiriusXM Data portal with weather, sports, stocks, fuel prices and movies. The flat bottom steering wheel was wrapped, stitched and sporty. It had a really nice feel. There were power windows but only the driver’s was completely automatic.