The 2019 Mazda CX-3 is a small crossover. It was so small it could do a good imitation of a big hatchback. We drove one here to scope out the auto show. On the way we encountered ice and sleet, then rain and then something akin to fog. The point is Mazda’s CX-3 handled it all relatively well. It was powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that made 148 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode and a sport mode. You don’t want to use the latter on an Interstate. It burns more gasoline because of the higher revolutions due to the gearing. The CX-3 was rated at 27 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg combined. I stopped to gas up a few miles before I crossed into Indiana. I didn’t have a full tank of fuel when I left and the smaller the vehicle the smaller the gas tank; 11.9 gallons on the all-wheel-drive version which is what I had.
Kia made some incremental yet substantial changes to the Kia Optima for 2019. We had the SX Turbo, which is the top of the line. It was powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The combination made 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The EPA fuel rating was 21 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg combined. Although Kia doesn’t say it, the SX is the sporty rendition of the Optima. My test car had paddle shifters, two-toned red bucket seats and as slick a set of 18-inch alloy wheels as I’ve seen in a while.
The first thing I noticed about the 2019 Lexus LS 500 when they dropped it off was that it seemed heavier than when I drove it in San Francisco during its launch. The feeling of being heavier didn’t mean that the car was sluggish, bigger or slower for that matter. It was powered by a new 3.5-liter twin turbo V6 that made 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a ten-speed automatic transmission. Not that it matters with a car that retails for $103,635 but mileage was not bad for a full-size sedan with this kind of power. The LS 500 AWD was rated at 18 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg combined. Lexus’s new flagship LS 500 had an all-new platform. That gave it a lower profile. It was longer, lower and sleeker with a longer wheel-base than the outgoing LS. The car had the brand’s signature spindle grille which looked even more prominent with the long hood and short trunk. Cold weather tends to slow traffic down, even on dry pavement. I didn’t do any hard accelerating, sharp cornering or stressed related braking. And the full size LS sedan had all the condiments that you’d expect in a full size luxury car. I’ll get into some of that a little bit later.
It was just last spring near Portland, Oregon, when Toyota launched the all new Toyota Camry. If you’ve ever been in that area of the country, it is loaded with trees and reportedly has more aggregate surfaced highways than anywhere else in the country. But what it didn’t have when I was there, was pothole, lots of traffic, urban expressways and noise. Well, in these parts all of that is prevalent and drivers must deal with it on a daily basis. I had the Toyota Camry XLE. It was powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that made 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. This combination got 22 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg combined.
Mazda is incrementally improving its midsize three row crossover vehicle the CX-9. But don’t get it twisted; this was a good crossover to begin with but now it can compete with top notch premium crossovers. Style is not a shortcoming with Mazda. The smooth lines of the company’s KODO soul of motion design have been transferred to the larger CX-9 nicely. The signature look; a long nose, short rump and arching curves over the wheel wells have been proportioned so that the CX-9 does not look like an oversized station wagon. When you start out with a good solid vehicle, incremental changes can seem like leaps forward. Externally, I thought the LED enhanced lighting that edged the bottom of the grille made the 2019 CX-9 look like a much more expensive vehicle.
The 2019 Volvo XC40 is arguably the best small luxury sport utility on the planet but it is has one huge challenge, there aren’t enough of them to meet demand. Volvo execs underestimated the take rate on a new XC40 subscription program, which is a sophisticated lease, and that has left dealership showrooms bare. As soon as an XC40 comes in it goes right back out the door. I had a 2019 XC40 Momentum, which came in Amazon Blue with a white contrast roof (two-tone) and a guy in my fitness club raved about it. He loved the color, the look and the exclusivity. He said he hadn’t seen one anywhere in the city.
It wasn’t 15 minutes after they dropped off the 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander that I was headed towards I-94 on my way to Chicago. During the week-long test drive I found the Outlander to be a very good crossover for both city and highway driving. A 2.4 liter four cylinder engine provided enough oomph for the Interstate. It made 168 horsepower and an almost matching 167 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a continuously variable transmission. CVTs are usually a little loud and seemingly a little slow but not on the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport GT AWC which is the trim line that I had. I cruised to the Windy City effortlessly, setting the cruise control just shy of 80 mph. Those times when I stopped at a rest area and then got back on the road, the Outlander’s acceleration was impressive – for a CVT. It was pretty quiet too. The 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport had a rating of 23 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg combined. In real world driving, I averaged 24.7 mpg combined and I averaged 37 mph for five days. I had the Sport model with GT trim. It had what Mitsubishi called the “Dynamic Shield” front design. I didn’t like the appearance; it made the Outlander look like it had half a grille. But that was the only thing I didn’t like.
It was 22 years ago that Toyota’s RAV4 first hit these shores. Now comes the fifth generation of the compact sport utility. It was the first such vehicle and it created the market we now know as crossover utility vehicles because if its uni-body construction. Not only was the RAV4 the first crossover, it is now the best-selling non-pickup truck in the country. In 2017, Toyota sold 408,000 RAV4s. What they’re trying to do with the new RAV4 is make it an all-round vehicle that can handle urban, suburban and the great outdoors driving. Another way of looking at it is that they want the 2019 RAV4 to be more utility like rather than car like. To make the 2019 RAV4 look tougher, designers have picked up some design cues from Toyota’s pickup trucks, especially the Tacoma. The front end and grille design was meant to give it an athletic look. Black cladding around the wheel arches appeared to lift the tires into a higher position much like a pickup truck. The lifted-up body was supposed to make the 2019 RAV4 look more capable. That was the idea. We were in a convenience store getting our lotto on the drive and an older RAV4 parked next to our test vehicle. The difference was visible immediately. Our RAV4 had a higher hood and a more muscular face. It was just huskier. Ground clearance was upped by more than a half inch over the model that it replaced. Even though it was higher Toyota said the step-in height remained comfortable. It was easy to get into and out of and the new RAV4 was comfortable.
I test drove something special a few weeks ago. It was a 2019 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody. According to Dodge, “it is a drag-oriented, street legal muscle car designed with the grassroots drag racer in mind.” Further, it had the body of the 717 horsepower Dodge Hellcat without the supercharger. That’s where the wide body moniker comes from. I’d say it was thick with oversized muscular body colored wheel flares, a black performance spoiler on the edge of the trunk, dual vents in the hood, a rocking mango paint job and 20-inch Devil’s rim forged aluminum (black) wheels. And that was for starters.
Lexus has literally added on to the most popular luxury CUV in the country, the RX 350L. They made it longer and gave it a third row of seats. I had the 2018 Lexus RX 350L AWD. It had bench seats in the second row, captain’s seats are available, and that meant it could carry seven people. Interestingly, it weighed 4,619 lbs. That’s bordering on hefty but it didn’t drive like an overweight vehicle. Undoubtedly the ease with which the 350L moved can be attributed in part to its suspension. It had a MacPherson strut and coil springs setup in the front and a double wishbone type and coil springs in the rear. But what really made this three-row CUV smooth was under the hood. The RX 350L was powered by a 3.5-liter normally aspirated V6 that made 290 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. The engine was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, This combination was velvety, almost as quiet as a hybrid and it had ample get up and go when needed. About the only thing to quibble about was the mileage. It wasn’t a guzzler but it wasn’t all that economical either.