Test driving the 2020 Volvo S90 AWD R-Design was like motoring in two different cars and both were more than adequate. First let’s deal with the S90 itself. This is the Swedish automaker’s flagship full size sedan. In the era of utility vehicles, Volvo only produces two sedans and this one was the R-Design, which in a word meant sport. But performance can be and was combined with a bit of luxury. This car was the S90 T6, it was powered by a 2.0-liter direct injected four-cylinder engine that had a super charger and a turbocharger working in unison. The combination gave the car 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.
The 2020 Toyota Avalon was one smooth hybrid. The sedan had surprising power, it handled effortlessly, and it had all the right creature comforts. Let’s start with the power. The car had a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that made 176 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque at a relatively low 3,500 rpms to 5,200 rpms. Couple that with two electric motor generators. One handles the generator, engine starter and charges the Nickle-Metal Hydride battery. The second generator drives the front wheels and handles regeneration during braking.
There is no way around it. The Lexus GX 460 is a throwback to the time when big, powerful, body on frame sport utilities were aspirational vehicles. During that era, it seems like the clarion call was the bigger the better. The GX can carry up to seven passengers. Our three-rowed luxury sport utility had captain’s chairs in the second row with heated seats and dual video screens attached to the back of the front seats.
This review of the 2020 Lexus NX 300h started in Houston. We landed and picked up the luxury crossover at airport parking and headed here, no stops, no visiting friends, no nothing. We got on state highway 59 South headed for I-610 East that would take us to I-10 East. Houston is big, we’re talking more than 600 square miles big. The fact that it took us roughly 20 minutes to get to the main road that would bring us here was a relatively quick ride. But on this short stretch we learned that the Lexus NX 300h was quick enough to deal with Texas expressway traffic. It had a 2.5-liter hybrid engine which supplied a total of 194 horsepower. The engine was mated to an electronic continuously variable transmission and of course there were electric motors. Our test vehicle had all wheel drive. We’ve never liked CVTs and we were not that thrilled with this one either. But it did the job. When we needed to do a quick lane change, the 2020 Lexus NX 300h had enough oomph to do it quickly. The crossover had blind spot alert and it was needed. The closeness of cities is often transmitted to its expressways and it was no different in Houston. It was essential to know what vehicles were near and there were a lot of them. Braking was good on the NXh. Cars and trucks were doing quick lane changes, evidently to get off at the right exit as well as to get on the right road. Not only were the regenerative brakes good but handling was better than average. There was no play in the steering, the crossover went where we steered it without hesitation.
The 2019 Honda Passport was a refined crossover with a rugged look. Inside it had what seemed like the width of a pickup truck, with a wide center console. However, it did not ride like a pickup truck. In fact, it had four ride modes: normal, snow, mud and sand. And there was a fifth, eco mode. Powered by a 3.5-liter direct injected V6, our test vehicle made 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission which transferred that power to the pavement smoothly.
When it comes to the 2020 Acura RDX, let’s get right to it. These week-long test drives are supposed to give the reader via the reviewer a real-world perspective of the vehicle being tested. Sometimes though the real world can get really real. We got the Acura RDX on a Friday and were able to enjoy it over the weekend on dry pavement. And then Monday, our world got really real with roughly 10-inches of snow followed by single digit temperatures the next day. Without checking the specs, we got in the RDX and thought it had a much larger engine than it did. It was quick with a bunch of oomph. We were surprised to learn that it had a direct injected 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. It made 272 horsepower ad 280 pound-feet of torque which was available from 1,600 to 4,500 rpm. It got 21 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined. This engine replaced a 3.5-liter V6 and had a 40 percent increase in low in torque which is where oomph comes from. We don’t think Acura, or its parent company get enough credit for their engineering chops. Anyway, the powerplant was mated to a 10-speed smooth shifting automatic transmission. There was no way we would have known that the RDX had that many gears without reading it, the shifts were that imperceptible.
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has been the best-selling plug-in hybrid CUV in the world for the last two years. And it seems to have done so without a lot of fanfare in this country. Still, if gas mileage and contributing to clean air are a couple of items you’d like to contribute to the environment, then the Outlander PHEV might be right up your alley. It was powered by a 2.0 liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that made 117 horsepower and 137 pound-feet of torque. But the plug-in Outlander also had two electric motors. The one on the front axle made 80 horsepower and 101 pound-feet of torque. The second motor made 80 horsepower and 144 pound-feet of torque. This powertrain was mated to a no gearshift transmission. That’s when Mitsubishi called it. We saw one drive somewhere else. That may be what they call it, but it sounded like a continuously variable transmission to us. Technically, they don’t shift gears but like some other automakers, our test vehicle had paddle shifters. Go figure. It also had a lithium-ion battery. Our test vehicle had S-AWC. It means super all wheel control. The gasoline engine drives the front wheels. The axle has a built-in clutch that switches the Outlander for engine powered driving at high speeds. PHEV to parallel drive mode. The series hybrid mode is engaged when the battery pack is low or when we needed additional power, the two electric motors were powered by the battery pack and the gasoline powered generator. That is the mode our test vehicle stayed in most of the time. Mitsubishi said the gasoline powered engine/generator, while operating at enough speed, will feed excess electricity back into the lithium-ion battery pack.
The 2019 Volvo V90 Cross County reminded us of the station wagons of the 1950s. You know, those cars that could haul kids and their stuff back and forth to school, take you to little league games, PTA meetings and then pull up in front of the country club for a black-tie affair. Station wagons have long been a strength of Volvo. They’ve got four of them and a fifth is on the way. We had the V90 Cross Country, which is Volvo’s five door, five seat premium all-road estate. That’s what station wagons are called in Europe.
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. This interstate highway was in great shape so the quality of the Tucson’s ride was excellent We engaged the adaptive cruise control. The system was easy to use and reliable. We wish that braking would engage sooner, however, we did not change the follow distance; that may have eased our anxiety but we doubt it. We still haven’t gotten used to automatic braking.
The Lexus NX 300h is yet another hybrid from the luxury automaker. This one combines the output of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and what Lexus called a small high torque electric motor. Power can shift between the gas engine and the electric motor or they can operate in tandem. Combined they supply 194 horsepower to the NX 300h. Transferring that power to the pavement is an electrically controlled continuously variable transmission or ECVT. We don’t know if there is any advantage to this type of transmission versus a regular CVT. But it seemed to convey a little more oomph to the pavement under normal conditions. This combination had an EPA rating of 33 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 31 mpg combined. We thought that was a little on the low side. But 30 mpg is the magic number for fuel efficiency and the Lexus NX Hybrid topped it across the board.