I was given the choice of test driving a Subaru Impreza equipped with either a continuously variable transmission or one with a manual gearbox. I chose the manual and I’m glad I did. The car was powered by a 2.0 liter four cylinder boxer direct injection engine that made 152 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a five-speed short throw manual transmission. The combination had an EPA rating of 23 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg combined.
Kia tinkered with the 2018 Rio 5Dr; and the moderate changes were definitely for the better. First, 5DR is code for hatchback; that fifth door is the tailgate. The Kia Rio 5-door is now 160.0 inches long, up from 159.4 inches). It had a longer wheelbase, 101.6 inches, and more upright A-pillars. It was lower and wider than the outgoing model. Although slight, the different dimensions gave the Rio a sleeker look.
Last spring it had been warm for days and then the snow came. It was plentiful, up to eight inches in some locales, there were huge flakes and it was heavy. There was snow and slush and frustration all over the place. But I was secure in the 2018 Volvo S90 Inscription that I was test driving. All-wheel-drive was standard and there were no slips, no slides, no sideway glides. The car drove as though the pavement was dry. And when it was really dry, I got the chance to experience a top-flight luxury sedan. For 2018, the S90 had a longer wheelbase that provided 4.5-inches more legroom.
Mitsubishi has always been on the cutting edge of technology. Granted during the last decade the automaker has been in dire straits for product and for cash. But it is still alive and it has secured some new working capital through a merger. The point is I spent a week last winter test driving the 2018 Mitsubishi Mirage GT. It was a five-door hatchback that had the look of a small crossover. Mitsubishi put an inline three-cylinder engine in the Mirage. It made 78 horsepower and 74 pound-feet of torque. The engine was mated to a continuously variable transmission or CVT.
It’s real simple. As sport utilities and crossover vehicles become ever more popular, automakers are developing new models to meet the demand. Enter the 2018 Hyundai Kona, an all-new small crossover. They dubbed the design theme urban smart armor. In a phrase the Kona is meant to be an urban run about. But don’t get it twisted. I have no doubt that it can gobble up Interstate Highways on long drives. Still, the truth is how often do people take long trips? We drove about 100 miles during the course of the day and the majority of it was on surface streets throughout the metropolitan area here, starting downtown. Several traits were apparent about the Kona. It was awfully easy to drive. Sight lines were great, although it was a small crossover, that doesn’t mean it was small or that it drove small. And it was quiet.
Toyota is the industry leader in many areas; one of them is in the sale of hybrids. And as the automaker continues to produce hybrids they get incrementally better. I had the new Toyota Camry Hybrid for a week last winter and found it surprisingly capable. Unforeseen by me was the oomph that this car made. Hybrids are notoriously slow. But the 2018 Camry Hybrid had a little bit of kick when I stepped on the accelerator. It was powered by a 2.5 liter four cylinder engine that made 176 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque. There was an electric motor that made 118 horsepower and 149 pound-feet of torque.
Hyundai is conducting regional test drives of its new Veloster and Kona. But there’s more to it than that. Since the automaker spun off its Genesis nameplate to form a new luxury line, Hyundai is faced with the same challenges that helped to create the Genesis nameplate in the first place. It must grow beyond the perception of a value brand, read cheap. As an executive told me, Hyundai must convince people that the brand is a great deal more than a great deal. The way it intends to do that is by offering outstanding safety, great equipment, the best warranty in the industry and good performance. Enter the 2019 Veloster.
Volvo has a 60-year history of producing great full-size station wagons and the 2018 V90 TS AWD Inscription continues to the tradition. You would think that the Swedish automaker would not continue the product line given the popularity of utility vehicles. But it has an ace in the hole; Volvo produces some of the best station wagons anywhere. The 2018 V90 comes in either T5 or T6 trims. I had the T6. It had a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that was supercharged and turbocharged. All Volvos have four cylinder engines; the only difference is how they breathe. On the T6 the engine made 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque at 2,200 rpm.
Lexus, like a lot of other manufacturers, got caught. One of the world’s premier luxury brands, it is in the middle of rolling out a new generation of sedans when the entire market has become utility driven, pun intended. Last year light truck sales accounted for two thirds of market sales. Still, Lexus can’t stop its product cycle. In other words, it must launch the vehicles that are in the pipeline and it is time to launch the 2019 Lexus ES 350. With about 50,000 sales last year, the ES is the top seller in the entry luxury market.
Although it is early in this generation of the Mazda CX-3’s model cycle, the automaker made a few changes to keep the current rendition fresh in its offerings for the hot small crossover market. They made a lot of under the sheet-metal improvements. They added what they’ve branded Smart City Brake Support as standard equipment on all trim lines. Other improvements included Standard G-Vectoring control, automatic on/off headlights on some models, others got rain sensing windshield wipers, automatic climate controls and the GT premium package now includes six-way power seats, power driver lumbar supports, driver seat memory, heated steering wheel and traffic sign recognition.