We came here to get a look at the 2021 Kia Seltos, and to test drive it too. Kia gave us a lot of fluff about the Seltos being refined and right sized. They told us that it was slotted between the Sportage and the Soul. Eh, nope. Here’s the deal. The Soul is in a class by itself. We don’t even consider it a sport utility, a crossover utility or any other kind of utility. It is special and that is in a good way. We’ll leave it at that. Well, not quite. Kia officials consider the Soul more car than utility vehicle. What’s more, in roughly three years Kia has transformed itself from a company dependent on cars to one full of utility vehicles. Counting the Seltos, they have the Sportage, the Sorento, the Niro and the Telluride. That’s five; one for just about every pocketbook out there. As the market veers heavily towards utility vehicles, the Kia Seltos is the automaker’s way of expanding its offerings based on what buyers are craving, utility vehicles. The Seltos, it seems to us, rounds out Kia’s utility lineup. The Telluride is full-sized, the Sportage and Sorento are mid-sized and now the Seltos is small-sized. In other words, Kia now has a utility lineup that meets the needs of those who want a utility versus a car, and there are a lot of them, and their numbers are growing.
Volvo may have outdone itself with the 2020 XC90 T8-AWD Inscription. This mid-size sport utility was luxurious, powerful and functional. The T8 Twin Engine Volvo, that’s what the automaker is branding this plug-in hybrid, had two power sources. A 313 horsepower four-cylinder engine provided the gasoline kick and it was supplemented by an 87-horsepower electric motor mounted on the rear axle. Together they were rated at 400 horsepower and a hefty 472 lb.-ft. of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission transferred that power to the pavement, and it did so smoothly. The T8 had an EPA rating of 20 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined. On the way here, we gassed up in Indiana where petrol is cheaper, about 50 miles away from our destination. The XC90 T8 had used a little more than half of its 18.5-gallon fuel capacity. We didn’t think that was bad.
Toyota’s RAV4 literally invented the compact crossover segment and after more than 20 years, it continues to dominate. It went through a thorough makeover last year. It looked more muscular, got more angles in the sheet metal, basically, it is no longer a soft looking vehicle. It got bigger too. It was longer, lower and wider. We spent a week test driving the RAV4 Hybrid Limited all-wheel drive. It was powered by a 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine and combined with electric motors on the axles made 219 horsepower. There was what Toyota is branding an electronic continuous variable transmission.
We came to this suburb just west of Detroit to test drive the all-new 2020 Nissan Sentra. We found that it had grown, equipment and its road manners had gotten better. The Sentra has been the best-selling Nissan model in the U.S. since it went on sale in the 1982 model year. More than six million have been sold. This is the 8thgeneration of the compact sedan. It now shares the angular design of other Nissan sedans. The 2020 Sentra was more muscular and sportier than the car that it replaced. Nissan spent a lot of time and some decent dollars on upgrading its bread and butter car. They gave the engine more oomph. The 2.0-liter four cylinder’s horsepower was bumped up 20 percent to 149 and the torque increased 17 percent to an almost matching 144 pound-feet at 4,400 rpm. There was a continuously variable transmission.
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.
DETROIT – The first thing we noticed when getting into the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid was that it had a range of 575 miles. That was simply astounding for a subcompact car with an 11.4 gallon fuel tank. But with a fuel rating of 53 mpg in the city, 52 mpg on the highway and 52 mpg combined it makes sense. The Corolla Hybrid had a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motors which produced a net of 121 horsepower. It was mated to a continuously variable transmission or CVT. Like most hybrids, the Toyota Corolla was smooth and quiet. And like most hybrids, acceleration was not its strong suit. Under normal circumstances the car was okay. When pulling away, the battery provided a subtle power boost in order to put less strain on the engine and eliminate the “rubber band” effect experienced with some hybrids. That’s what Toyota said. But when aggressive acceleration was needed it was really not there. The 2020 Corolla was definitely a car that needed to be understood and defensively driven. Hybrids have regenerative brakes capable of capturing kinetic energy and transferring it to the battery for charging. The Corolla had electronically controlled regenerative brakes and they could be aggressive, or biting we thought. A couple of times we found ourselves stopping short because we had not gotten use to the brake pedal feel. The brakes could also reduce driver pressure needed on the pedal to keep the Corolla stationary while waiting at a traffic light. When the accelerator was pressed, Brake Hold as Toyota has branded it, releases instantly. We never noticed it.
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.
Detroit – The Lexus IS was one of the first models from the Japanese luxury brand that demonstrated it was serious about changing its image. Don’t get it twisted. From its start, Lexus always produced first rate products. But they were known for their reliability and quality more so than for their styling. That all changed with the IS. The spindle grille was in full bloom on this car. There were striking headlamps, large air intakes in the front bumper and accent creases on the side that made the compact sedan seem like it was hugging the ground. The hood had a raised center point indicating the power underneath it. LED headlamps were standard, and it had L-shaped LED daytime running lights. On the IS F Sport, which is the model we had, the grille had a three dimensional F-mesh pattern At the rear, the “L” theme continued. LED taillights were triple layered within the taillight housing. Rectangular chrome exhaust tips accentuated the performance accent. There were split five spoke 18-inch wheels. Under the hood was a 3.5-liter V6 that had been tweaked up to 311 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. In addition to its looks, the IS 350 that we tested had all-wheel-drive and handled like the sports sedan that it was. Acceleration was better than average, the car managed the ends and outs of urban traffic without a hitch and the multidimensional suspension smoothed out the roads. The interior was inspired by the brand’s LFA supercar, which is no longer in production. There was NuLuxe trimmed seating, 10-way power front sport seats, a high-efficiency dual-zone automatic climate control system with touch-sensitive controls, power moonroof, and what Lexus has branded SmartAccess with pushbutton start. The climate-control panel, analog clock and steering wheel switches in the black interior were enhanced with stitching. The speedometer and tachometer, as well as the stitching atop the gauge hood, gave the cockpit an austere but sporty feel. The car had the Lexus Remote Touch Interface (RTI) multi-function control device. The RTI is the go-to control for the audio system, driver’s phone, navigation system and more. In essence it is your basic mouse. It was available in conjunction with the navigation system; there was an 835, watt 15-speaker premium sound system. “Enter” buttons on either side of the RTI on the center console helped make the system easier to use, as did a larger leather-wrapped palm rest. During our week-long test drive, family matters took us to New England where we landed in Boston, picked up a Lexus ES 350 Ultra Luxury sedan and motored to Providence, RI.
In way, Hyundai is looking to re-assert itself as a premium brand; that is a tall order in a market chock full of different nameplates. But the 2020 Hyundai Palisade is a big step in that direction. The Palisade is a three row midsize premium crossover with a prominent grille, today’s ID badge in the automotive world. The cascading grille was wide, distinctive and clearly made to lay stake to a place in the market. Depending on trim, LED headlights and daytime running lights are available. Internals called the headlights crocodile lights, they seemingly were just above the sheet metal line. There was a vertical layout to the lights both fore and aft where too there were LED lights. There were also options for roof glass. A regular moonroof was available and so was a double glass roof. The pane in the front was movable while the pane covering the second and the third row was fixed. Hyundai said, “This design has aerodynamic benefits as well, with a 0.33 coefficient of drag (Cd). Palisade achieves this low drag coefficient with specific design cues that include a fast A-pillar angle, a rear spoiler side garnish, an optimized front cooling area with an extended internal air guide, aero underside panels, and rear wheel aero deflectors.” Sounds great but the proof of that was on the pavement. And it started with what was under the Palisade’s hood. The midsized crossover had a 3.8 liter V6 that made 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm. It was mated to an eight speed automatic transmission. In front-wheel drive mode it got 19 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined. In all-wheel-drive mode it got 19 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg combined. The short story is that this engine made the Palisade deceptively quick. Any number of times we found ourselves braking because we had come to a curve in the road a lot quicker than we thought.
Detroit – Mazda continues to evolve its Kodo design language and the results are impressive. We didn’t think it possible but the 2019 Mazda3 sedan looked longer, wider and lower. It took its design cues from Mazda’s Vision Concept which was first shown at the Los Angeles Auto Show a couple of years ago. Some aspect of the design made into the production car and others did not. But overall the Mazda3 sedan is the first production model which has taken on the new look that Mazda called a matured Kodo design language: a lower hood, a more refined cabin and a shorter rump which concealed a huge trunk 13.2 cu. ft. which expands to 20 cu. ft. with the back seats folded. Under the hood was a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that made 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. Yes, the engine is a carryover but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The four-cylinder was mated to a six-speed transmission with manual shift capabilities and paddle shifters. And lest I forget, the Mazda3 Premium Package had cylinder reactivation. The Mazda3 sedan featured standard G-Vectoring and all-wheel-drive. It got 25 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined. This engine always sounds a little wimpy when it starts up but once it comes to life it has more than enough oomph to get the job down. Mazda said the top speed is 130 mph. It was a snappy snazzy little sedan that got a lot of attention because of its styling. Handling was precise, acceleration was good, the suspension was up to the challenge of city roads and it confronted the ends and outs of urban traffic with no problems. LED headlights and taillights are now standard. The suspension used MacPherson struts in the front and a newly developed torsion beam setup in the rear. The internal structure of the bushings adopted a new spherical shape and updated suspension geometry to help realize lag-free transmission and linear action. The car was smooth running and riding. Inside is where designers really upped the quality and the style of the Mazda3. They set the infotainment screen back atop the dash/. It is still a floating fixture but it was too far back to be reached with ease. Thus, it is no longer a touch screen.
I had completely forgotten that the Kia Niro being delivered was an EV; that is an electric vehicle. It wasn’t a hybrid or a plugin hybrid; both have gasoline engines that work in tandem with electricity generating batteries. The Kia EV had no gasoline engine, it was completely electric. I was scheduled to go to Chelsea in a couple of days. That’s about 60 miles from here. Now I’ve written about range anxiety, I’ve theorized about it and I’ve participated in panel discussions on the subject. But for the first time I experienced it and the feeling was almost immediate. At the heart of the Niro EV were the 64 KWh liquid-cooled Lithium ion Polymer battery and the electric motor that made 201 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque. The Kia Niro doesn’t come with a charger but for peace of mind and practicality you would be wise to get one to go with this car. And whether you like it or not, you’re going to have to know or to learn a little bit about electricity. It takes 60 minutes to charge the battery to 80 percent of its capacity with a DC fast (100kW) charge. A DC 50 kW charge will do the job in 75 minutes. A 240v (Level 1) will take 9 hours and 35 minutes for a full charge and 120 v (Level 1) will take 59 hours. Really, that is what the media information said. Just plug the Kia Niro EV in, the plugs in the front of the crossover. But the settings have to be right to match the current flowing into the car. I opted not to call and get the right settings for my 120v outside socket. Besides I didn’t know whether eight or nine hours charging overnight with 120v would be of any use. And I thought it might not be a bad thing if I could say that I drove Kia Niro for a week and didn’t charge it. It had a range of 257 mile; officially it is 239 miles, when I started the test drive. There was one full day and 97 miles left when I wrote this review. That wasn’t bad, I drove about 160 miles. Beyond the silence, there wasn’t that much difference in the electric driven Kia EV and a gasoline engine powered car. Kia said the Niro EV makes a whir to alert pedestrians but I never heard it; of course I was inside the car. The Kia EV was silent but the everyday sounds of driving with windows down created the connection needed between movement and the crossover.
Switching from a trim line to a brand, especially a luxury brand, has proved to be a challenge for Genesis. The automaker started by launching luxury sedans when market tastes switched to crossover and utility vehicles. But Genesis had to follow its development plans and we’ve seen the launch of three top notch luxury sedans. What’s more the last one, the G70, may be the best of the lot. We had the 2019 G70 AWD 3.3T. This car will grow into the epitome of a luxury sport sedan. It was powered by a 3.3-liter dual turbocharged V6 that made 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque at 1,300 rpm. It was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and rev matching. The car was capable of getting from a standstill to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds. When dealing with speed, braking becomes even more important. The test car had a set of Brembo performance brakes. They had four-piston front and two-piston rear calipers, which gave the G70 great stopping power and good fade resistance, thanks to 13.8-inch ventilated front rotors. And speed and fuel efficiency don’t normally go together. The G70 AWD 3.3T got 18mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway and 20 mpg combined. This G70 was lightning fast and the brakes gripped with authority and slowed the car down in quick order. It had launch control, which went unused as did the drive modes; it stayed in comfort for most of the week-long test drive. There were five choices. The adjustable elements include: powertrain response, steering weight, engine sound, all-wheel drive torque distribution, and suspension firmness. Custom-drive mode further adjusted a variety of vehicle parameters to suit preferences or driving conditions. We noticed the suspension kept the G70 on track even in curves which we took at ever increasing speeds. There was rack and pinion power steering in the front and motor driven power steering in the rear. That meant four-wheel steering. All G70 models ride on a MacPherson multi-link front and multi-link rear suspensions with a performance-oriented geometry. The 3.3T model had a dynamic package that included a mechanical limited slip differential that improved traction by balancing torque distribution across the rear axle when wheel spin was detected. The G70 3.3T models also featured variable gear ratio steering. The car’s mass was managed by various aluminum components, including an aluminum hood. Handling was exceptional.
In a shrinking market for cars, automakers are doing everything they can to keep consumers interested in sedans and coupes. At Mazda that meant making i-Activsense safety and diver assisting technologies standard across all trim levels. The i-Activsense safety features now standard in the Mazda6 Sport include Advanced Smart City Brake Support with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning with Lane-Keep Assist, Smart Brake Support and Mazda Radar Cruise Control with stop and go function. We had the top of the line Signature trim line and it came with a lot of equipment. Under the hood was a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that made 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. Cylinder-deactivation technology is standard on Mazda6’s 2.5-liter engine, which shuts off its two outside cylinders in cruising conditions for even more efficiency. The engine was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The midsize sedan got 23 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg combined. On startup, this engine sounded a little wimpy. But once we put our foot to the gas pedal all thoughts of weakness left. The Mazda6 accelerated well. Gear shifts were precise and the midsized sedan was not overwhelmed by traffic. As a colleague of ours says, the 2019 Mazda6 was road worthy. The ride was great, the car smoothed out the roads. It had an independent front and rear suspension, front and rear stabilizer bars and electric power steering. The cabin was quiet and the sightlines were unobstructed. The Mazda6 provided a pleasant driving experience. The only quibble we had was that for some reason the audio system had a lag time. It took a few seconds between startup and it coming on line. However, we had it set on satellite radio; that may have been the cause. The interior was clean and without a lot of clutter. There was a floating touch screen infotainment system. The instrument panel had three large circular dials. The odometer was on the left, the speedometer was in the middle and the fuel and temperature gauge filled the third one. They all were black with white lettering. Fit and finish were great. There was parchment stitching, which was the same color as the bottom half of the dash. It was so nicely done that it was difficult to tell whether the stitching was real. The heated and cooled front seats provided plenty of support. The dash was soft touch, there was a moon roof and both front seats were power operated. We’ve always said that it is the little things that can make a big difference. With the 2019 Mazda6 we thought that all four power windows being one touch up and down was a nice touch. You would be surprised how often that feature is limited to the driver’s window. And we were really surprised by the back seat. There seemed to be no fall off. They had the same thickness as the front seats. There was plenty of head room and since the Mazda6 was front wheel drive, the tunnel didn’t seem like it was an intrusion in the interior. What really caught our attention was when we pulled down the arm rest there was a pod inside with two USB jacks in it. If that did not cause glee enough, we saw the controls for the heated back seats. This 2019 Mazda6 was chock full of features. It had 19-inch alloy wheels, heated folding sideview mirrors with turn lamps, a heated steering wheel and a rear lip spoiler. There were automatic deeming mirrors and a heads up display.
Lincoln is crafting a new identity that just might lift it from the ranks of second tier luxury brands. We test drove the 2019 Lincoln L Navigator Black Label and were duly impressed. The question is not whether it was good but how good it was. Where to begin? From the distinctive honeycombed grille with the Lincoln badge in the center which is now the face of the brand, to the family of powerful V6 engines that propel Lincolns down the road, the brand has taken some impressive steps. A close inspection of the grille revealed the honeycombs to be outlines of Lincoln’s rectangular badge. The body on frame constructed Navigator was loaded with little details like that that illuminate a step up in thinking on the part of the brand’s engineers and designers. First of all, the 2019 Lincoln Navigator L was big. The wheelbase was 131.6 inches, compared to a regular Navigator at 122.5 inches. Overall length was 221.9 inches compared to a regular Navigator at 210 inches. But let’s be clear, the Navigator has left the realm of regular. The Navigator L 4X4 weighed three tons, 6,056 lbs. to be exact. It takes a lot of brute force to move that much weight. But Lincoln put the Navigator’s power in a velvet glove. Under the hood was a twin turbocharged 3.5 liter V6 that made 450 horsepower and a diesel-like 510 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 RPMs. The engine was mated to a ten-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and it could tow up 8,100 lbs. This powertrain moved the Navigator L with little or no effort. I never heard the engine. The vehicle had that force of personality that changes the natural inclination of the driver. There wasn’t much hard acceleration or powering through curves. It was quiet, the suspension certainly smoothed out the road, and there were drive modes to deal with all sorts of road conditions and the V6 when idling sounded like a V8.
Nissan’s Murano was one of the earliest pure crossovers. It has been around for 16 years. But now in its third generation it has been extensively refreshed for the 2019 model year and it looks sleek, slick and svelte. The V-motion grille was more pronounced. There were redesigned LED headlights and taillights, new LED fog lights and 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels. But I think were the big boost came was inside. That begins with what was under the hood. The 2019 Murano was powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that made 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to what Nissan has branded an Xtronic CVT or continuously variable transmission. They’ve put a lot of work into this technology that many manufactures took a look at and walked away. CVTs don’t have the gears, it is a pulley system. The point is there are fewer parts so they are easier and I presume cheaper to manufacture. The upside is that they get better gas mileage than regular transmissions but it is all downhill from there. They are loud under acceleration, they seem to be slow and since there are no gears they are disconcerting to drivers. A CVT can actually make it seem like there is something wrong with the vehicle. Nissan through its engineering prowess has done away with most of the downsides of CVTs. This transmission was quiet, it transferred power to the wheels efficiently and it feigned gear shifts so well it left me wondering does the it or does it not have a CVT. It did and this one could be put in manual mode. Anyway, the combination gave the 2019 Murano an EPA rating of 20 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined. The Murano was quick and relatively quiet under hard acceleration. And it did feel like gears were shifting rather than the drone that comes with most CVTs. But the real surprise was the interior. It was quilted leather with stitching. The seats were comfortable; the front set was heated and cooled while the back set was heated.
Even before my week test driving the 2019 Subaru Forester was up my opinion had been reached. It was very satisfying to the point of being a very impressive midsize crossover that delivered on a number of levels. Under the hood was a 2.5-liter Boxer engine, meaning horizontally opposed four-cylinder that made 182 horsepower and 176 pound feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. The Forester had an EPA rating of 26 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg combined. This new engine provided more than enough oomph in day to day driving. I really don’t care for CVTs but this one was not bad. Acceleration was good and it was fairly quiet, for a continuously variable transmission. The first driving characteristic I noticed about the Forester was its handling. It was Go-Kart precise. Just the slightest turn of the wheel and the midsize crossover went in the direction the wheel was turned. Reaction time to driver input was almost instant. Styling was new for 2019 too. Subaru said it was more rugged. The exterior had shoulder lines that followed around the pillars to emphasize height and strength. Prominent wheel arches emphasized the standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system’s functionality. Subaru is one of the few manufactures that make all-wheel-drive standard. The front, side and rear under guards were also standard on all models, with color finish according to trim line. New LED headlights were standard on all models. The wheelbase was increased to 105.1 in. from 103.9 in., with the gain benefitting rear seat legroom, which is now 39.4-in., a 1.4-in. increase. I got into the rear seats and found them comfortable. There was plenty of headspace, hip room and I think three people could sit in the back seat in relative comfort. And because the Forester sits deceptively high, the drive tunnel was not that much of an intrusion into the interior space.
I thought that big body on frame sport utilities were, well, obsolete. But I was wrong. After spending a week test-driving the 2019 Lexus LX 570, I’ve learned that it is still an admired aspirational vehicle. More than once I was asked for the keys, or whether I was driving it. During my week with the LX, I discovered it was a spacious powerful sport utility. Under the hood was 5.7-liter normally aspirated V8 that made 383 horsepower and 403 pound-feet of torque. It should not matter in this price range but for the record the EPA rating for this LX 570 was 13 mpg in the city, 18 mpg on the highway and 15 mpg combined. Ninety percent of the torque is available at a relatively low 3,600 rpm. The engine was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. This LX could tow up to 7,000 lbs.
The 2019 Ford Escape might be the best deal in the automaker’s lineup. The reason is simple, there’s a new model on the way. We may not see it for a while but it has debuted at the New York Auto Show. That means to clear showroom floors, Ford has to make the 2019 Ford Escape even more appealing than it already is. In other words, I’m talking about lower prices on a world class small crossover. We had the front-wheel-drive Ford Escape SEL. It was powered by a 1.3-liter four cylinder turbocharged engine that made 179 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
Ford’s F-150 Limited is a lot of pickup truck. It is the top of the line model of the bestselling vehicle on the American market for the last 41 years. And it has an almost $75K sticker. This truck had so much equipment it was challenging to note it all. But first let’s cite the basics; after all it is a pickup truck. The test vehicle was the Ford F-150 4X4 Supercrew Limited. Under the hood was Ford’s 3.5-liter V6 Ecoboost (dual turbocharged) High Output engine. It made 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. Ford bills the F-150 with this engine as the most powerful light duty pickup in America.
DETROIT – Volvo has come to market with a bunch of products during the last five years. But the 2019 Volvo V60 just might be the slickest and that’s saying something since it is a station wagon. Volvo has gained plaudits for sticking to the station wagon market long after they fell out of favor with the car buying public. Their called Estates in Europe and the Swedish automaker has had at least one in its stable since 1953’s Volvo Duett. Now it has four, the V90 regular and Cross Country and the same for the V60. Of the group I like the V60. Mirroring the body style of the midsize S60 sedan, the V60 was low, the sheet metal was swept back and it looked wider because of the low stance. It had the face of Volvo including the “Thor’s Hammer” LED headlight design and the new grille with Volvo’s Iron Mark badge. The name Volvo across the tailgate in block letters left no doubt as to the brand. My test vehicle was a regular station wagon, not the V60 Cross Country which sits a little higher off the ground. Ground clearance for the “regular” V60 Estate was 5.4 inches. That got down to five inches with one person, me, in the car. It was powered by Volvo’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a turbocharger and a supercharger. I still don’t think the automaker gets enough accolades for the merging of these blowers. In this iteration the T6 makes 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque at 2,200 rpm. The engine was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The combination meant power and efficiency. The Volvo V60 T6 got 21 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg combined.
The 2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse is a no nonsense crossover designed to handle day-to-day driving needs. Its angular styling was eye catching. There was the three-bar grille and 18-inch alloy wheels. It was powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that made 152 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a continuously variable transmission or CVT that was engineered to act like it had eight gears. It also had all-wheel-drive. The Eclipse Cross had an EPA rating of 25 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg combined. This was not a particularly fast or quick crossover. It was made for deliberate driving. At times the CVT would act as if it was shifting gears. However, as with most eight-speeds I felt first two gearshifts but not the rest. This transmission could also be shifted manually and it had paddle shifters as well.
Kia may have hit on the right product at the right time with its all-new 2020 Telluride, a midsize but large three rowed crossover. We came here to southwestern Colorado to put the Telluride through its paces. We went down Colorado 141 over the Dolores River which cuts through of course the Dolores River Canyon with its 1,200 foot red granite canyon walls. Look beyond and you can see 12,000 foot mountains all round. Kudos to Kia for picking this place; they could have found a much easier path. C141 is a narrow two-lane twisting affair. We climbed from our base camp, the Gateway Canyons Resort and Spa which was at 5,000 feet up to Telluride (yep, the vehicle is named after the town) which was at more than 9,000 ft. But I’m ahead of myself. The Telluride is the first SUV designed by Kia in the U.S. specifically for the U.S. market. It was styled in Irvine, California and will be built at Kia’s assembly plant in West Point, Georgia. It is indeed the company’s new flagship and they wanted it to be bold and boxy; their words not mine. It is the largest Kia ever built and it can seat seven or eight passengers, depending on whether the second row has captain’s seats or a bench seat. The Telluride had a long broad hood. The design made the tiger grille wider and taller. Dual headlights were stacked; it had inverted “L” taillights with LED stripes. The windshield was upright and the sides were smooth but bulging and that conveyed strength. And there were elongated nameplates on the edge of the hood and on the lip of the liftgate. This Kia was the real deal. It had skid plates with twin exhaust tips that let you know it can go off-road. Grab handles were integrated into the center console for such occasions. I passed up the off road course in favor of pushing back to basecamp. Under the hood was a 3.8-liter direct injection V6 that made 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque at 5,600 rpm. This engine was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It is the only engine available and it gets 20 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined for front wheel drive. All-wheel-drive gets 19 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg combined.
Trying to have a van for every need, Ford has significantly updated its Transit Connect cargo van. To be clear, the Transit Connect comes in two configurations. One is for cargo and the other can carry passengers. I had the model that was specifically for cargo. There is a bigger, Ford Transit and it too comes in either passenger or cargo configuration. The pitch to customers is that the Transit Connect can lower cost for personal and small business customers. And as not to get it twisted, this was not a minivan, there were no side windows, just panels. There are three trim levels of the Transit Connect: XL, XLT and Titanium. I had the XLT. It came with a 2.0-liter direct injected four cylinder engine that was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The combination made 140 horsepower and 144 pound-feet of torque and got 24 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg combined. There is also a 2.5-liter gasoline engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. This engine comes with a CNG/LPG gaseous fuel prep package. A 1.5 liter turbo diesel that Ford has branded EcoBlue will be available this spring. It too has an eight-speed transmission. There are two wheelbase choices that allow the passenger carrying Ford Transit Connect to accommodate five or seven passengers. As Ford said in its press material, “there’s a Transit Connect for everyone.”
DETROIT – I was really impressed by the 2019 Ford Edge. In a phrase, it has grown. I’m not talking about its size which looks about the same. I’m talking about stature and equipment and perception. I always thought the Ford Edge was a poor-man’s Ford Explorer but not anymore. I had the Titanium trim with all-wheel-drive. It came with what Ford has branded EcoBoost. In this case, that was a 2.0-liter twin scroll turbocharged engine. This engine made 250 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm. I would like to see that torque available at half the rpms but this was a very capable engine. It moved the 2019 Edge with authority, it provided plenty of oomph when needed and it was really quiet at low speeds. And it got 21 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined. I neglected to say that the 2019 Edge also had paddle shifters. I did not use them, but apparently enough drivers do because automakers keep equipping some vehicles with them. Anyway, I was mildly surprised that my test vehicle did not have drive-modes. But it really didn’t need them. It had a MacPherson strut front suspension and an independent integral link set up in the rear. Given that there were still some icy spots on the road, my driving was not all that aggressive. Still, the Edge’s ride was smooth and steady. Although it had that intangible heft that comes with a quality build, the midsize Edge did not have that bounce that comes with truck-based sport utilities; it had unibody construction.
If not for the Corolla Toyota may not have survived in the American car market. It was small, fuel- efficient and reliable which was just what the driving public wanted. More than 50 years later, 50 million plus copies have been sold worldwide, making the Corolla the best- selling car ever. And despite a market that has turned sharply towards crossovers and SUVs, Toyota vowed not to turn its back on sedans as it introduced here the 12 generation of the Corolla. Other than the wheelbase, which is still the same at 106.3 inches, everything else has changed. The car is wider. The front overhang has been shortened while the rear overhang has been lengthened; neither by much but enough to improve the overall balance of the car. For 2020, the Corolla is shorter overall, the hood has been lowered by 1.4 inches and the center of gravity has been lowered. They also lowered the side view mirrors and attached them to the front doors. What all this “lowering” has done is create an open airy passenger cabin. The front seats were redesigned and I found them very comfortable, sort of form fitting, especially around my lumbar. Even the backseats, traditionally a cramped area in compact cars, were relatively comfortable. I had a good bit of leg room as well as ample headroom. Toyota has created a Corolla for just about every driving appetite in the community. There were six trim lines and for the first time there is a hybrid.
There have been some big changes for the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe. The five-passenger Santa Fe Sport is now called Santa Fe. The current long wheelbase three-row, seven-passenger model called Santa Fe has been renamed Santa Fe XL. And an all-new three-row, eight-passenger SUV is currently under development and will carry an all-new name. What’s more, the Santa Fe crossover that I test drove had a bolder design, new safety, comfort and convenience technology, and better sight lines and cabin storage space. All of that is a long-winded way of saying the Santa Fe has been reworked for the better. The first thing I noticed about the 2019 Santa Fe was the quiet smoothness of the engine. Its ride was silky, much like an all-round air suspension. Instead, the 2019 Santa Fe had a multi-link with gas shock absorber and 24 mm stabilizer bar w/self-leveling suspension.
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.