Detroit – Simple clean straight lines are often the best. And that’s what we found when climbed into Volkswagen’s 2020 Passat. There was a touch infotainment screen housed in glass and there was a long horizontal display that made the interior look wide. But what really set this off was the fit and finish. There was not a gap anywhere. The odometer and speedometer were large and with easy to read numerals. The former had a temperature gauge in the bottom of the circle while the fuel gauge was at the bottom of the speedometer. There was a TFT screen between the two. It had keyless lock and unlock and implicit with that was pushbutton start stop. As we toggled through the different information on the TFT, the front-wheel drive sedan had a range of 370 miles. That was after almost one week of driving. Granted we didn’t do much, this state is just opening back up, but still that wasn’t bad. The Volkswagen Passat was a conservatively styled sedan. But in its own way it was slick. Leather seats were comfortable. There was stitching but it was restrained, only around the seats and the headrests.
Lexus designers have taken a sedate sedan, the ES 350, and turned it on its head. The 2020 Lexus ES 350 F Sport was snazzy, sporty and fun to drive. The new generation of the ES, the seventh, was longer, lower, and wider. The wheels were pushed to the corners, and the wheelbase was longer, and the track was wider. What that means is a sedan that performed more like a sports coupe than a front-wheel drive four-door car aimed at an older buyer, which was the original task of the ES. The ES 350 F Sport of course had Lexus’ signature spindle grille. It had a mesh pattern comprised of interlocking “L” s with jet black finish and dark trim. The headlights were slim, and they were a triple beam setup, with L shaped marker lights. The silhouette started with a low hood line. So too was the roofline. The A-pillar flowed nicely into the C-pillar. The shoulder line was interrupted and started from the top of the front wheel arch and ended at the corner of the trunk. The rear was edgy; LED taillights wrapped around the quarter panels. They carried the “L” motif that gave each cluster a continuous styling line from any angle. There was a low valance that highlighted the wide stance that was accentuated by the chrome exhaust tips. A distinctive trunk spoiler added a good bit of sportiness.
We had a three-row 2020 Toyota Highlander. So, we started by climbing into the third row. It was relatively easy to access. Just pull a lever on the side of the second-row seat; it slid forward, and the seat back flipped forward as well. It was an easy maneuver and climbing back there was relatively easy to the spry if not the young. There was surprisingly plenty of headroom, leg room was sufficient but totally dependent on moving the second-row seat forward and straightening the seat back, if necessary. And the floor level was higher, thus our knees were higher than our hip point. Plus, the third-row seats bordered on being outright hard. One drawback was getting out when there is no one to activate second row seat forward motion. We did it but it was not easy. While back there we noticed that this Toyota Highlander had manual sunscreens for the second-row windows. The second-row seats were much better. They were captain’s chairs and they were heated. There were climate controls at the back of the center console. The Highlander had two USB charging jacks, and a 120V plug with ground. Those captain’s chairs were soft and perforated. Legroom was abundant and headroom was too, considering they were right at the end of the panoramic roof. We could get a much better look at the beige and brown motif of the interior. We got in the driver’s seat and it felt like the command center. Early on we noticed that there were two more USB charging stations and a 12V plug under the control panel. In front the center console flowed into the armrest. That console had the switches for the ride modes: sport, eco and normal. There was also a dial that could put the Highlander in gear for mud & sand or rock & dirt. And there too was a button that shifted it into the right configuration for plain old snow.
The Hyundai Elantra Limited is a perfect example of how times have changed. Small used to mean cheap in the auto world but not anymore. It was thought that consumers would not buy a small but pricey well-equipped car; that has changed too. We bring it up because when we recently test drove the Hyundai Elantra, we found it to be chocked full of equipment that would have been unthinkable in a small car just a few years ago. It had a 2.0-liter engine that made 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to what Hyundai is branding as an Intelligent Variable Transmission or IVT. This transmission performs continuous shifts by modulating pressure of the transmission’s pulley, depending on driving conditions and driver inputs. It utilizes a wide ratio pulley system, which provides a broader ratio of operation. The bottom line was that the Elantra’s IVT didn’t feel like a continuously variable tranny. There were simulated shifts, it didn’t have that drone associated with this type of transmission and it even had three drive modes: normal, sport and comfort.
The 2020 Mazda CX-5 does not have the long curvy front of most of its brand brethren. That no doubt is because it is a midsize crossover. Still it maintains the smooth lines of the brand’s Kodo design. It had full-LED headlights, heated power-folding door mirrors with turn signals, rain sensing windshield wipers, a power-sliding moon-roof, a rear roof spoiler and a new Signature trim level badge on the lift-gate. There were also 19-inch alloy wheels. Our test vehicle was powered by a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It made 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm. It was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with sport mode. There were also paddle shifter. This engine provided more than enough oomph. On city streets it was quiet, we could barely hear it. On the expressways, it accelerated effortlessly and could cruise without strain, plus it got up to speed without exertion.
It is something when you can say that a $73K car is a bargain. But that is the truth when we are talking about the 2020 Genesis G90 full size sedan. In a nutshell this is a baby limousine outfitted so that you can chauffer yourself around. It was a big car, over 200 inches in overall length, that did not drive big. We had the 3.3-liter V6 that made 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque. The engine was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. This rear-wheel drive G90 got 17 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway and 20 mpg combined. We were somewhat surprised when first got in the car and found that it had a range of almost 500 miles. We looked at the specs and found that the G90 with the 3.3-liter turbo had a fuel capacity of almost 22 gallons. That is just what you need for really long cruises. Everything about this car said limousine. We got in the back seat and found a small control center in the tip of the armrest. It housed the climate controls; you could move the front passenger seat forward or backward and tilt the seat back. The rear seats were heated, there were audio controls for the FM and AM radio, satellite radio and media.
It is difficult reviewing a vehicle that will be discontinued. But that is what we face. Production of the 2020 Lexus GS 350 is scheduled to stop in August. But do not get it twisted, this is a great car. The problem is it could not stand the onslaught of sport utilities and crossovers, sales fell, and it was no longer profitable to make in Japan, ship here and then sit in dealer showrooms. It is as simple as that. Still, there are and will be models at dealerships around the country. And if you do not mind being different, this car is well-worth a look and perhaps a purchase.
While test driving the 2020 Mazda3 Hatchback, we pulled into a parking spot at the grocery store and before we could get out of the car a young lady pulled in beside us. As we exited our test vehicle, she said, “I like the color of this car. I need to go get mine washed.” That is the subtleness of premium and luxury cars: colors, lines, and style. Without a lot of fanfare, Mazda is moving its product line upstream and the Mazda3 Hatchback is the latest beneficiary.
We did not get as much seat time in the 2020 Nissan Sentra as we would have liked thanks to the lock-down brought about by the coronavirus. But we did spend enough time to come away with an opinion about the car – it is big in a good way. We do not mean physical size but the 2020 Nissan Sentra drove big. That is not bad for a compact car and a new chassis did not hurt. Nissan made what it called extensive upgrades to the Sentra’s platform. The most important was a new independent rear suspension. This opened rear seat room; enough to accommodate a six-footer. We did not climb in the back seat during our really short time behind the wheel. But we did note the openness of the back seat and we did not need to sit in it to tell that it was spacious and comfortable. To handle the bigger dimensions of the 2020 Nissan Sentra, the car got more oomph under the hood. For 2020, the Sentra’s engine was bumped up from a 1.8-liter four cylinder to a 2.0-liter four cylinder. Horsepower increased to 149 which was a 20 percent improvement over the previous model. And more importantly, torque was improved 17 percent to 146 pound-feet. This engine provided more than enough power for the day in day out routine of driving. We found it responsive and more than powerful enough. About the only thing we did not like was the continuously variable transmission or CVT. But it was not just this one, we do not like them period.
We had the 2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross last year and were impressed with the crossover. We got the 2020 version recently and nothing has really changed in terms of our opinion. However, the automaker took steps to make the Eclipse Cross available to a wider swath of people. This model year, Mitsubishi made two-wheel drive standard across all trim lines. The crossover was equipped with standard active yaw control and they have applied traction sensitive braking force to either the left or right wheel during simultaneous cornering and acceleration. That meant that we could power through turns as well as curves.