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The Review Garage

Rating the best and worst in cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, tools and accessories.

Welcome to The Review Garage!

Garages provide shelter for cars, bikes, tools and overflow from your household. They can also be meeting places, project centers, studios and dream catchers.

The Review Garage will gather car, truck, SUV and motorcycle reviews from several experienced writers. We’ll also feature photographs, travel stories, driving advice and auction reports. If we see a cool car on the road, we’ll share a photo and a story. We’ll gather accessories, tools and garage gadgets, put them through their paces and tell you what we think.

Mostly, we’ll talk about cars, the automotive lifestyle, and anything else that you might talk about in your garage with your friends.

Join us. Make yourself comfortable. Hand me that wrench, and grab yourself a beer. Let’s hang out.

Featured post

The 2020 Nissan 370Z Offers No Apologies

by Jason Fogelson

Sorry, not sorry, but the Z is a throwback to love.

The year the Datsun 240Z debuted here in the United States, the top movie was “Love Story” with Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. The top-selling fiction book was “Islands in the Stream” by Ernest Hemingway. The top-selling single on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart was “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” by Simon & Garfunkel. Now, five generations later (with a brief sales hiatus here in the U.S. from 1997 – 2002), the 2020 Nissan 370Z arrives as a 50th Anniversary edition. And for all the changes the Z (and the United States) have undergone – things are very familiar.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

The sixth-generation Z has been sold since the 2009 model year with incremental upgrades along the way. Like the 1970 U.S.-spec 240Z, the 370Z is a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) six-cylinder, rear-wheel drive GT sports coupe. In a world of high-tech cars, the 370Z comes across as a bit of a throwback – and that’s a big part of its appeal.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

My test vehicle was a 2020 Nissan 370Z Sport with a special 50th Anniversary package of options ($2,600) that included special two-tone paint, commemorative decals and badging, logos and kickplates, leather four-way power seats, and other goodies. While this much self-congratulation could easily tip toward the tacky, on this Z it looked super cool.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Inside, the Z’s cabin is compact, but comfy. What’s missing on the Sport model is a feature that has become ubiquitous on modern cars, even basic economy models – there’s no touchscreen display on the dash, just a collection of conventional gauges, buttons and knobs. It took me a while to figure out how to pair my Bluetooth smartphone to the car, but I finally regained my old-school pairing chops for an effective connection for both audio and hands-free operation. Concealed storage in the cabin is limited, but there’s a good amount of space under the liftback behind the seat, accessible from inside the cabin. Mid-generation Z-cars have been criticized for losing their edge and slipping toward bloated luxury, but this Z is tight and trim.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

My test Z came with a welcome throwback feature – a manual six-speed transmission (a seven-speed automatic is available to spec, but don’t do that, please). The Sport trim and above comes with SynchroRev Match, a synchronized Downshift Rev Matching feature that simplifies operation, mitigating the need to do the heel-toe dance on the pedals. It works beautifully. While purists might balk at this electronic assistance, it makes an average driver (like me) sound like a pro.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Under the hood, the six-cylinder in this Z is a 3.7-liter V6 – the 240Z used a 2.4-liter inline six – that sends a healthy 332 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. Thanks to the Z’s low seating position, the sensation of speed and sharp handling is amplified – and the car is a lot of fun to drive.

Nissan will be happy to help you upgrade many components on the Z with Nismo parts to improve handling and performance if you want to track your car, and there’s a healthy aftermarket to supply tweaks and gizmos to soup up every aspect of the coupe. Have at it, and have fun.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Out of the box, the Z is a blunt instrument that delivers driving enjoyment. The more refined Mazda MX-5 Miata is its closest competitor, representing a different approach to the equation.

Z prices start at $30,090 for the base model and go up to $39,490 for the top-of-the-line Sport Touring 7AT model. My test car was a Sport model with a base price of $33,820 and an as-tested price of $37,605, and represented the sweet spot in the lineup.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

The 2020 Nissan 370Z is a throwback, and I love it. As Ali McGraw famously said in the top-grossing film of 1970, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Photos (c) Nissan

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport 2.0 SE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The leaders at Volkswagen weren’t kidding when they tacked the “Sport” designation on the 2020 Atlas Cross Sport 2.0 SE.

Sure, it likely was dreamed up to boost sales of the company’s new midsize crossover sport utility vehicle. Throughout automotive history, the marketing gurus have worked to manipulate buyers’ brains into automatically applying certain attributes to their vehicles.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10946Think Pontiac GTO, Dodge Hellcat, Ford Mustang Shelby GT, Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, Volkswagen Golf GTI, Honda Civic Si, Buick Grand National, Ford F-150 Raptor, Cadillac’s V models, Mercedes AMG, BMW M, Porsche Turbo and Subaru WRX STI, among others.

Mostly, the appellations denote actual performance. But sometimes they are simply slapped on in the middle of a model run to boost the inevitable lagging sales.

That’s not the case with the Atlas. It started out as a full-size, three row crossover sport utility vehicle that, for some families, could substitute for a minivan, though it is somewhat short on cargo space.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10945Now Volkswagen has expanded the Atlas horizons with the Sport, which has an entirely different character from its three-row sibling and lives up to its “sport” designation.

It’s a midsize crossover SUV with 112 cubic feet of space for passengers in the first and second rows, with a generous cargo space of 40 cubic feet. Fold the seatbacks flat and the cargo area expands to 78 cubic feet, plenty to haul all the stuff for your kid’s freshman year in college.

You’d think that would satisfy a lot of customers. But VW also has infused this bulky crossover with performance bones. Though it is 16 feet 4 inches long, 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 4,228 pounds, it validates the old canard about “German feel” with responsive handling and a ride that won’t produce fatigue on a long trip.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10951Belying its size, it attacks twisting roads with some of the aplomb of a sports sedan: capable 4Motion all-wheel drive and communicative steering with good feedback. Of course it’s no match for a Bullitt Mustang or a Mazda MX-5 Miata but it can hold its own with a host of other vehicles.

Power comes from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 235 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, delivered through an eight-speed automatic transmission. City/highway/combined fuel economy of 18/23/20 mpg is not outstanding but that’s the tradeoff for the performance.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport-Large-10326The engine is turbocharged but you’d be hard-pressed to notice. There’s almost no turbo lag, although there is a hesitation if you use the idle stop-start system, which shuts down the engine at stoplights and then cranks it up when you take your foot off the brake. Fortunately, you can disable the stop-start with the touch of a button, as was the script for this review.

There also are driver selectable settings for different on- and off-road drive modes: Normal and snow, as well as off-road and off-road custom. Hill descent control is included for challenging boondocks courses.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10937There’s no manual-shift mode for the automatic transmission — thus no steering-wheel paddle shifters — but it’s not needed. You can easily select “sport” instead of “drive” with the console mounted shifter and rocket off  with instant snap-shifts in the stoplight drag races simply by keeping your foot to the floor.

On the road, the Atlas Sport is mostly a quiet cruiser with enough engine drone to alert you to the power under the hood. The only time it gets annoying is when you hit the “max” button on the air conditioning. Then the engine and blower sounds become a racket that overpowers even loud audio.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10935The Atlas Sport has a starting price of  $31,565, including the destination charge,18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, full LED lighting, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, and Wi-Fi capability.

The test vehicle was a mid-level SE model with a technology package that included adaptive cruise control, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, wireless smart phone charging, park distance control, power lift gate and SXM satellite radio. Inside, the look leaned toward the austere, with perforated black leather upholstery and attractive gray faux wood trim.

But the price was reasonable, slightly more than  the average of a new car in this era. The base was $38,865, including the destination charge and, with an option of a special Aurora Red metallic paint job,  the bottom line sticker came to $39,495. It’s a decent hunk of a crossover for the money.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10938Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport 2.0 SE w/ Technology four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 235 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with 4Motion all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 112/40 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,288 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/23/20 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,865.
  • Price as tested: $39,495.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10933Photos (c) Volkswagen

Twelfth Time’s the Charm: Driving the 2020 Toyota Corolla

by Jason Fogelson

I’ve never owned a Toyota Corolla. I don’t know how I have avoided it, because I have owned at least five of the other top 10 best-selling vehicles of all time. Corolla has been manufactured over 12 generations since 1966, and has sold over 46 million examples worldwide to date, making it the number one best-seller in history. I made space for a 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE in my driveway for a week recently, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Profile Right Action

The Corolla sedan is all-new for 2020, following closely on the heels of the revised Corolla Hatchback, which arrived last year. It rides on the TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform, which underlies the current Toyota Prius, C-HR and Camry, along with the Lexus IS and a few other vehicles in the Toyota/Lexus family. The platform has proven to be versatile and adaptable. It is stiff, and allows for a low center of gravity that enhances stability and handling.

Profile Left

In the past, Corolla could be criticized for bland exterior design. In some generations, it looked like a generic car – or maybe it just felt that way, because there are so many of them on the road. The new Corolla is bolder, more futuristic, with a face that echoes the Camry’s. The XSE model even wears standard 18-inch wheels, the biggest ever for a Corolla. Like any bold design choice, this Corolla may be polarizing, but I like it.

Front 3q Left

My test vehicle was a top-of-the-line XSE model with a base price of $25,450. The XSE trim level and SE models come with a new engine, a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 2.0-liter four-cylinder that uses direct and port injection to produce 169 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. Base models (L, LE and XLE) come with a 1.8-liter port-injection engine that puts out 139 hp and 126 lb-ft of torque. The 30-hp advantage for XSE is significant, delivering livelier, more engaging performance.

Dash Beige

XSE models also get a new transmission, a continuously variable automatic (CVT) with a physical first gear. The CVT, which Toyota calls “Dynamic Shift CVT,” uses its first gear to launch the Corolla, then shifts to the variable ratios once the car is underway. The effect mitigates one of the things that plagues CVT performance, yet still allows Corolla to achieve good fuel economy – 31 mpg city/38 mpg highway/34 mpg combined – better, actually, than the base L model’s 30/38/33-mpg rating with its smaller, less powerful engine.

JBL Tweeter

Inside the Corolla, things are extremely tidy and simple, with a minimum of buttons, knobs and clutter. An eight-inch touchscreen is prominent at the top-center of the dash, flanked by neat rectangular buttons and a rotary volume control and rotary tuner knob. Just below is a clean HVAC control setup. A seven-inch driver information display is housed in the instrument panel, nestled beside analog gauges. The steering wheel houses cruise control, volume, mode and driver info buttons. The dash is layered, crisp, and clean, and so is the rest of the cabin.

Cabin

My test XSE model came with a $1,715 package that included premium audio and navigation and infotainment. The JBL audio system included eight speakers and a subwoofer, along with wireless smartphone charging, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth hands-free and audio streaming, Siri Eyes-Free, a six-month trial of Verizon Wi-Fi, a three-month trial of SiriusXM, six months of Destination Connect, three years of Toyota Safety Connect and Service Connect, and more – in other words, a ton of technology for a bargain price. My car also included optional Adaptive Front Lighting ($450), Carpeted Floor Mat Package ($249, not such a bargain), and a $930 Delivery Processing and Handling Fee, resulting in an as-tested price of $28,794.

Second Row seats

Safety is one area that has greatly improved over the life of Corolla. Not only does the new Corolla come with standard four-wheel disc brakes, every Corolla comes with Star Safety (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, ABS, Electronic Brake-Force Distribution, Brake Assist and Smart Stop Technology), they also get eight airbags, an electric parking brake, and Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 (Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Auto High Beams and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control). XSE models also include Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Road Sign Assist and Lane Tracing Assist. This level of advanced driver assistance technology is quite remarkable in an economy car.

Front

I guess that Corolla has made grown up a bit since 1966, leaving the entry-level slot open for Yaris to handle on its own. The competition in this class is stiff, with the Honda Civic, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte all representing good alternatives, with the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus fading away.

Rear 3q Right

Not only is the 2020 Toyota Corolla all-new for the model year, it is the best version of Corolla that Toyota has produced to date. And that’s saying something, with 46 million Corolla vehicles in its wake.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Rear

Photos (c) Toyota

2020 Acura MDX AWD A-Spec: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

To paraphrase Erasmus: in the land of multiplying bitty crossovers, the luxury 2020 Acura MDX still reigns.

Desiderius Erasmus, in the 15th or 16th century, famously wrote, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

The maxim is interpreted to mean that even someone with limited abilities or opportunities can be dominant over and considered special by those who have fewer abilities and opportunities.

Front 3q Left WhiteIt is apt when considering the new MDX, and other luxury crossover SUVs, awash in a flood of subcompact, compact and midsize crossovers.

Many of the newer small crossovers have much to recommend them: low prices, practicality over any four-door sedan, good performance and handling, and decent fuel economy.

They are named Kicks, Corsair, GLA, C-HR, Venue, Enclave, QX-30, HR-V, Niro, Kona, X1, Renegade, Seltos, CX-3 and Trax, among others. Some are luxury; most are popular priced.

Front 3q Right RedAs good as most of them are, many buyers aspire to something bigger, more luxurious and comfortable, with better performance and, important to some, reputation and presence. Those sentiments are what gave rise to luxury crossovers — at a time when truck-based SUVs like the Ford Explorer and Jeep Wagoneer of the last century dominated what then was a tiny slice of the market.

Mercedes-Benz was the first to introduce a luxury SUV, the ML-320 in 1998, though then it was not a crossover but a proper body-on-frame hauler built like a truck. It was followed in short order by the Lexus RX and the Acura MDX, both built with unit-body construction like automobiles, which the ML-320 also morphed into. The MDX distinguished itself by starting out as the first three-row, seven-passenger crossover SUV.

DashIt remains that way in 2020 and fits the interpretation of the famed Erasmus admonition. It is not a perfect vehicle, meaning it has some limitations, but it has been dominant in the marketplace.

Acura brags that it was the retail sales champ among three-row luxury competitors in 2019, beating Lexus, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Infiniti, Tesla and Volvo then and in every year since 2010. The claim gets some argument because it counts only sales to individual buyers and ignores fleet sales.

Nevertheless, Acura also says the MDX is the best selling three-row luxury SUV of all time, and has completed its eighth straight year of sales higher than 50,000.

Center ConsoleNo vehicle is perfect and the MDX A-Spec tested for this review is no exception, fitting the Erasmus definition of limited capabilities in some areas. The most obvious: It seats seven passengers, but only four of them comfortably.

The front bucket seats, done up in suede-like Alcantara cloth with leather trim, are supportive and comfortable for both long-distance cruising and challenging mountain curves. The same goes for the outboard rear seats.

Unaccountably, however, the center-rear seat, despite a flat floor, has a hard, uncompromising cushion that would be torture on a long trip. The second-row seats can be adjusted as much as five inches fore and aft, but there’s no way to divide the knee room to prove space for second- and third-row passengers.

2020 Acura MDX A-Spec

The third row is tiny, difficult to access for all but athletic youngsters, and without decent space for adults. So it’s best to think of the MDX as a two-row crossover with the third row folded to open a giant cargo area, usable mainly for extra passengers in emergencies.

So much for the MDX’s limited capabilities. In other respects, especially the driving experience, it is a superb performer despite its two-ton heft and length of 16 feet 4 inches.

WheelThere’s an old adage that says small vehicles should drive big and big vehicles drive small. The MDX, for all of its bulk, drives small. On curving roads, the MDX feels soft and flexible while also clipping corners with the composure of a smaller vehicle tuned for sporty handling.

Buttressing the handling is Acura’s integrated Dynamics System, which provides driver-adjustable settings for steering effort, throttle responses and, with SH-AWD (super-handling all-wheel drive), torque vectoring to tighten cornering. Settings are Comfort, Normal and Sport, but the differences are small and handling remains confident.

Under the hood lies Acura’s 3.5-liter V6 engine, as smooth a power plant as you can find anywhere. It makes 290 hp with 267 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, delivered to Acura’s SH-AWD through a nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual shifting mode. It’s a personality any driver would embrace.

RearSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Acura MDX AWD A-Spec four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 290 hp, 267 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 138/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,303 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/25/21 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $55,895.
  • Price as tested: $55,895.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Rear 3q Left WhitePhotos (c) Acura

Hoopla for the Supra

by Jason Fogelson

Ever since the Supra made its debut at the 2019 North American International Auto Show in Detroit this January, I’ve been itching to get a drive. I waited (sort of) patiently, bugging my local Toyota reps every few weeks for my chance. Finally, to get me to stop calling, I think, Toyota delivered a Renaissance Red 2.0 2020 Toyota GR Supra Launch Edition to my house for a week of fun. The Launch Edition is a special, limited trim level that carries a list price of $55,250. My test car came with an optional ($1,195) Driver Assist Package, a Delivery, Preparation and Handling Fee of $930 for an as-tested price of $57,375.

White Front 3q Left

In case you’ve missed the hoopla, Supra is a two-seater GT-style sportscar that was developed in a cooperative venture between Toyota and BMW, and which shares many powertrain and technology features with the new BMW Z4. Not that you’ll find many mentions of that in Toyota’s press materials, or BMW’s for that matter. Toyota is proud to crow about its in-house engineering and on-track development with GAZOO Racing (the “GR” part of the new car’s name). Akio Toyoda himself was hands-on with the performance tuning of the new Supra, and was visibly proud and excited when he unveiled the car in Detroit.

Red Front 3q Left

The Supra nameplate was used on Toyota models in the United States for four generations from 1978 to 1998, and returns here for the first time in 20 years. Supra was one of the first Toyota models to receive serious attention and respect for its handling and performance on the race track and on the road, and probably hit its pinnacle when it was featured in the 2001 film “The Fast and the Furious.”

White Front

I really love the exterior design of the new Supra. It has a long hood, a very expressive face with piercing headlamps, big air intakes at the bottom, and a tasteful Toyota logo on its nose. Big 19-inch forged aluminum heels tuck under the front fenders, with wider 19-inch wheels under more muscular fenders in the rear. The roof is distinctive, with bubbles over the driver and passenger’s heads, and a slight depression running down the middle. The short cabin ends in a fast slope, with a tastefully upturned tail that is said to suppress lift. There’s a little bit of retro feel to the car – if you squint, you can see influences from the cool 2000 GT, one of Toyota’s sports cars from the 1960s.

White Profile

Inside, the design is crisp and clean. I especially like the horizontal slot that houses the HVAC outlets, and the tastefully minimal array of knobs and buttons on the center stack. Befitting a modern car, there’s a big 8.8-inch diagonal touchscreen prominently placed at the top of the center stack, home to Toyota’s infotainment setup. All of the expected technology is aboard, plus the pleasant appearance of Apple CarPlay, which is just starting to populate the Toyota ecosphere. A color head-up display is standard.

Dashboard

The Supra seats are race-inspired, very supportive and comfortable, and roomy enough for my American form. The leather seats in the Launch Edition are nicely finished, as is all of the trim throughout the cabin. Special carbon fiber trim is used tastefully, and adds a high-tech feel.

Center Console

What’s it like to drive? I thought you’d never ask. Under the hood lurks a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that’s tuned to produce 335 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission with an active differential and paddle shifters sends power to the rear wheel. MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link rear use adaptive dampers. Toyota estimates that the 3,300-lb Supra can scoot from 0 – 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, and will be electronically limited to a top speed of 155 mph. It certainly feels fast, thanks to assertive shifting by the transmission and a low, low seating position. The car is beautifully balanced, and hugs the curves like a champ. In true GT fashion, it is a serene cruiser, too, eating up highway miles with ease. The cabin is small, but outward visibility is quite good, so there’s no feeling of claustrophobia in traffic. I just wanted to drive and drive during my week with the Supra – and I did. I think I passed every mile with a smile pasted across my face.

Seats

I guess I’m a little bit old-fashioned, because while I appreciated the smooth shifting of the automatic transmission, my one disappointment with the Supra was the absence of a manual transmission option. The paddle shifters gave me the chance to interact with the engine, but I found myself wishing for a little more visceral engagement.

Engine

The 2020 Toyota GR Supra is not cheap, but I feel like it’s a good value for the money. The base 3.0 model starts at $49,990, and the 3.0 Premium starts at $53,990. I’d compare the Supra to the BMW Z4, Porsche Cayman, Audi TT, Lexus RC F, Jaguar F-Type – some pretty heady company, which should tell you how much I liked the Supra.

Blue Rear 3q Right Static

Welcome back, Supra.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Grouping

Photos (c) Toyota

2020 Mazda CX30 AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Not only does the all-new 2020 Mazda CX-30 get an extra digit in its model number, it apparently plugs a hole in the Mazda lineup that nobody noticed.

It slots in the Japanese manufacturer’s crossover sport utility vehicle lineup between the slightly smaller CX-3 and the slightly larger CX-5. The question is why. The answer lies somewhere among Mazda’s marketing mavens.

2020-Mazda-CX-30_001Consider: The CX-30 is 14 feet 5 inches long with 94 cubic feet of passenger volume and 20 cubic feet of cargo space.

The smaller CX-3 is five inches shorter, at 14 feet long, with about half the cargo space and eight cubic feet less for passengers: 86 cubic feet and 10-12 cubic feet for cargo, depending on the trim level.

The larger CX-5 is six inches longer than the CX-30, at 14 feet 11 inches long with 102 cubic feet of space for passengers and 31 cubic feet for stuff. We’ll see which of the three models buyers prefer.

2020-Mazda-CX-30_003The CX-30 also is a ‘tweener on engine power and fuel economy. In most respects, it resembles the Mazda3, which is built as a four-door hatchback or conventional four-door sedan. They share the same engine — a 186-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 186 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force.

If you’re the sporting type who likes manual gearboxes, your only choice is a front-drive Mazda3 Hatchback. The four-door comes only with the six-speed automatic transmission, the same as the all-wheel drive 3 hatchback and the CX-30.

With similar power, prices, appointments and underpinnings, both models fit Mazda’s current campaign to take its entire lineup more upscale. It shows in the CX-30’s interior, done up with quality materials and workmanship. The CX-30 has the same cargo space of 20 cubic feet as the 3 and just three cubic feet more for passengers.

2020-Mazda-CX-30_013The main difference between the two is the CX-30’s taller crossover profile, which is not a demerit. Its 5 feet 2 inch height doesn’t feel like it causes much perceptible disadvantage in ordinary handling. Curving roads are easily conquered with little body lean and good steering feedback.

At 2.5 liters, the engine is large for a four-cylinder. But it’s naturally aspirated, meaning no turbocharger, which in turn means no dreaded turbo lag, that hesitation while the turbo spools up after you mash the accelerator pedal.

Throttle response on the CX-30 is prompt, both off the line and in passing, with a zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time in the seven-second range, almost the same as the 3 hatchback. The six-speed automatic transmission transfers the power to the wheels with no hiccups. If you don’t want to be shiftless, steering wheel paddles enable you to shift for yourself.

2020-Mazda-CX-30_004Freeway merging poses no problems and the CX-30 has long-distance comfort, although you have to put up with engine drone at cruising speeds. Though it’s not fatiguing, you always know the engine is working. It’s not unlike some European luxury cars, which always seem to announce the presence of an internal combustion power plant under the hood.

The front seats have good support and plenty of bolstering for spirited driving on curving mountain roads. The outboard back seats are similarly accommodating though a bit tight on space for anyone nearing six feet tall. As usual these days, the occasional passenger who gets exiled to the center-rear position is punished by a hard cushion, big floor hump and intrusion of the front console.

2020_Mazda_CX-30_Interior_11With front-wheel drive, the base CX-30 has a starting price of $22,945, including the destination charge. Tested for this review was the  premium all-wheel drive version. It had a starting price of $30,645 and, with options, a bottom-line sticker of $31,670.

Yet it was as well equipped as almost anyone would specify for new wheels. It included modern safety equipment: adaptive radar cruise control with stop and go, rear cross traffic alert, blind-spot warning, tire pressure monitoring and smart brake support with collision warning and pedestrian detection.

2020_Mazda_CX-30_Interior_5The smart brake support comes coupled with Mazda’s Distance Recognition Support System (DRSS) that displays the distance to the vehicle ahead. In addition, the system includes a warning alarm of the risk of a collision with the car ahead, helping a driver maintain a safe following distance.

There’s modern infotainment from Apple Car Play and Android Auto, navigation system, motorized glass sunroof, power rear lift gate, heated front seats, power driver’s seat with memory, and LED lighting.

2020_Mazda_CX-30_Interior_1Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Mazda CX30 AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 186 hp, 186 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 94/20 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,390 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/32/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,645.
  • Price as tested: $31,670.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2020-Mazda-CX-30_005Photos (c) Mazda

Gaining Elevation in the 2020 Kia Telluride SX V6 AWD

by Jason Fogelson

The last time Kia launched a midsize three-row SUV, the 2009 Kia Borrego, the company’s timing couldn’t have been less fortunate. Arriving in late 2008, the body-on-frame Borrego was available with a V8 engine. With base prices from $26,245 to $37,995, the Borrego was a well-equipped, attractive SUV, designed to compete with the Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner and other popular SUVs. And it flopped. While Kia was launching the Borrego, fuel prices were spiking, reaching over $5 per gallon in some parts of the country. The US banking system was headed toward collapse, taking the auto industry with it and leading to bailouts and a prolonged recession. “Right SUV, wrong time” was the refrain in Borrego reviews, and the big SUV disappeared from Kia lineup after just one year.

A decade-plus later, and Kia’s ready to try the mid-size three-row SUV class again. This time, it’s the 2020 Kia Telluride, and the timing is much better – and the vehicle is very different.

2020 TellurideEven the name gives a hint toward Kia’s status in the automotive industry and toward its aspirations for the new vehicle. “Borrego” was inspired by the Anza-Borrego Desert, a region in Southern California near San Diego, best-known for the ecological disaster area, Salton Sea, which sits at an elevation of 15 feet above sea level. Telluride is a playground for the rich and famous in Colorado, perched at a lofty 8,750 feet above sea level.

Beyond their shared seating capacity and SUV category, Telluride and Borrego share few common characteristics. Where Borrego rode on a body-on-frame platform with a rear-wheel drive/four-wheel drive powertrain, Telluride is a unibody (frameless) crossover SUV with a front-wheel drive/all-wheel drive powertrain. Borrego came with a choice of 3.6-liter V6 or 4.6-liter V8 engines and 6-speed automatic transmissions, and was rated to achieve 17 – 18 mpg combined. Telluride uses a 3.8-liter gasoline direct injection engine with an 8-speed automatic transmission, and gets EPA fuel economy ratings of 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway/23 mpg combined (FWD), 19 mpg city/24 mpg highway/21 mpg combined (AWD). Borrego’s V6 produced 276 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, while Telluride’s V6 is tuned to put out 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. Borrego weighed in at 4,248 – 4,621 lbs (depending on configuration), while Telluride weighs between 4,112 lbs and 4,482 lbs.

Enough with the Borrego comparisons.

2020 TellurideI spent a week driving a 2020 Kia Telluride SX V6 AWD, a top-of-the-line model that carried a base price of $43,490. My test vehicle had additional installed equipment, including Snow White Pearl Paint ($395), SX Prestige Package ($2,000 for Head-Up Display, 110-volt inverter, Nappa leather seat trim, premium cloth headliner and sun visors, heated and ventilated second-row seats, and rain sensing front windshield wipers), carpeted floor mats ($210), carpeted cargo mat with seat back protection ($115), interior lighting ($450), a tow hitch ($395) plus freight and handling ($1,045) for an as-tested price of $48,100.

Telluride is a good-looking SUV with great presence, and an outstanding face. It has a big SUV attitude, and an air of premium elegance. Black 20-inch alloy wheels give an aggressive, sporty look. Inside, the SX trim level Telluride approaches luxury levels of fit and finish, and a great array of standard technology and convenience features. Each row of seating is comfortable and surrounded by smart storage.

2020 TellurideDriving the Telluride is a pleasure equal to admiring its design. It handles well, and accelerates briskly for a vehicle its size. It is not a rocket ship like some of the premium SUVs, but it never wants for power in normal (sane) operation. The smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission keeps Telluride in its power band without allowing the V6 to get thrashy or noisy.

There have been big changes in the midsize SUV landscape since 2009, and a whole new set of competitors has emerged. The Ford Explorer has moved from body-on-frame to crossover, and is newly revised for 2020. Nissan Pathfinder made the same move, though it is due for a makeover soon. The Honda Pilot remains a stiff competitor, along with GM’s trio of Buick Enclave/Chevrolet Traverse/GMC Acadia. The Volkswagen Atlas and Subaru Ascent are new midsize three-row SUVs worth considering, and Kia’s cousin Hyundai has produced the Palisade on the same platform as Telluride. Of the old body-on-frame competition, only the Toyota 4Runner remains in the game as a class of one, and it too has lost its V8 option.

2020 TellurideUnless outside forces like spiking gas prices or another economic crisis intervene, the 2020 Kia Telluride is likely to succeed in the marketplace in ways that its ill-fated predecessor never did. It is hitting dealerships at a time when the three-row crossover SUV is more popular than ever, a hot market segment with an appetite for well-equipped, stylish family SUVs. And Telluride is a very good option.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2020 TelluridePhotos (c) Kia

2020 BMW X3 xDrive30e: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), especially high performance luxury models like BMW’s 2020 X3 xDrive30e, pose a puzzle for potential customers.

The all-new X3 is a compact crossover sport utility vehicle from Germany’s Bavarian Motor Works, manufactured in a U.S. plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Like all BMWs, it is a sweet handling, fast moving machine. It can snap off a zero to 60-mph run in six seconds, with a top speed of about 130 mph.

P90374484_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivWhere it distinguishes itself is in fuel economy because of its gasoline/electric power: a turbocharged 2.0-liter gasoline engine mated to an electric motor and a 12 kW battery. The system makes 292 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque that powers all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

The Environmental Protection Agency rates the 4,586-lb xDrive30e’s fuel consumption, in combined city and highway driving, at 60 mpg equivalent (MPGe). A standard X3 with a turbo gasoline engine gets a combined rating of 27 mpg.

The PHEV X3 has a base price of $49,545, which is $4,900 more than the gasoline-engine version. A bit of back of the envelope math reveals that an owner driving about 12,000 miles a year with $3 a gallon gasoline would not make up the difference and start realizing actual savings for more than six years — assuming he or she even kept the X3 that long.

P90374469_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivOf course, fuel economy likely is way down on the list of reasons anyone buys an X3 — or any BMW, for that matter. The company has a reputation for delivering excellent driver-oriented vehicles with little regard for mileage bragging rights, and the X3 PHEV is no exception.

One advantage to a hybrid is having the electric motor poised to provide extra punch to the gasoline engine. In this application, the boost helps eliminate any turbo lag — that hesitation off the line while the turbo spools up. Electric motors deliver instant torque.

Mash the X3 PHEV’s pedal and go. The computer-controlled eight-speed automatic decides when to shift. If you must, there are paddles mounted on the steering wheel so you can have the fun to decide for yourself.

P90374470_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivAnother plus is the fact that a PHEV can be driven on purely electric power — up to a point. BMW claims an electric range of 20 miles in combined city-highway driving. This reviewer, without effort, managed 21. Part of the system includes regenerative decelerating and braking, which provides a bit of extra charge for the battery pack.

There are selectable drive modes for pure electric and economical hybrid motoring. Either way, the X3 PHEV is a smooth and silent runner on the open roads, switching automatically to hybrid when the battery pack runs out of juice.

Twisting roads provide little challenge for the X3 PHEV. With the battery pack and fuel tank positioned under the back seat and over the rear axle, the X3 has backwoods ballet balance. Settle into the firm, nearly uncomfortable but supportive seats, with plenty of bolstering, and simply attack the corners, controlled as if it were a low-slung sports sedan.

P90263723_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivThere is the matter of price. At BMW, compiling profitable options lists borders on art. With a list of expensive packages, including M Sport trim at $5,000, a Harman Kardon surround audio system at $4,500 and assorted other handling and driving assistance upgrades, the tested X3 came with a bottom-line suggested price of $65,020.

As a compact crossover, the tester has the interior space of a midsize car, done up luxuriously with leather upholstery and buffed wood trim. There’s 101 cubic feet of passenger space — enough to seat four with generous room, along with a poor soul in the center-rear space who must perch on a hard cushion with feet splayed alongside a big floor hump.

P90263707_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivThe cargo area offers 16 cubic feet of space, a bit stingy but that’s because the battery pack lies under the back seat with the fuel tank over the rear axle. Fold the rear seatbacks and it opens up 53 cubic feet of stash space.

The X3 PHEV’s main competitors are the 325-horsepower Mercedes-Benz GLC 350e, with a starting price of $51,645, and the 400-horsepower Volvo XC60 T8, at $54,945.

P90263702_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 BMW X3 xDrive30e plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/Motor: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; electric motor with 12 kW lithium ion battery; 292 system hp, 310 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 101/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,586 pounds.
  • EPA fuel consumption: 60 MPGe PHEV; 24 mpg gasoline only.
  • Electric-only range: 20 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $49,545.
  • Price as tested: $65,020.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

P90365485_highRes_the-new-bmw-x1-xdrivPhotos (c) BMW

Automatic for the People: The 2020 Polaris Slingshot

by Jason Fogelson

Ever since its launch in 2015, the Polaris Slingshot has been about attracting riders to a unique form of transportation. Slingshot is neither car nor motorcycle; it is a three-wheeled offspring of both. Call it an “autocycle,” as Polaris sometimes calls it. No matter what you call it, the second-generation Slingshot is set to arrive as a 2020 model with big ambition and a very clear mission: to attract a whole new crop of buyers.

2020-Slingshot-R-Stealth-Black-01At first glance, the 2020 Slingshot isn’t radically different from the outgoing 2019 model. Each features two wheels in front/one wheel in the rear and an open cockpit with side-by-side bucket seating for two. There are no doors or side windows – just a 7.5-inch tall windscreen, and polymer body panels give an angular, futuristic look that is almost worthy of an exotic supercar.  A new front end with a more assertive look, front accent lighting and LED headlights and taillights, new wheel designs and bold color choices (Red Pearl, Blue Steel for SL models; Stealth Black and Miami Blue for R models) assure that you’re not going to go unnoticed at the gas pump. Introverts might want to avoid piloting a Slingshot – even though over 30,000 examples have been sold since launch, the three-wheeler is still an eye-catching anomaly.

2020-Slingshot-R-Stealth-Black-18Slingshot’s interior has been revamped for 2020, significantly upgrading the materials, finishes and build quality. There’s been great attention paid to touchpoints – places where your body has to come into contact with the vehicle. Switchgear is better, more precise. LED interior lighting is a welcome addition. The challenge with an open cockpit like this is balancing durability and weather resistance with comfort and styling. Slingshot walks the line between modern and stark. There’s not a whole lot of covered storage in the cockpit – a glove compartment, center armrest, and two lockable bins behind the seats – but it’s a little smarter and easier to access than before, and there are several places to stash a cellphone or wallet. Standard keyless ignition cleans up more clutter, and gives you a cool “Start/Stop” button in the deal. The steering wheel is now multi-function, and a racy flat-bottomed model. Despite the upgrades and classier look, Slingshot’s cockpit can still be rinsed out with a hose and drained by pulling a plug in the floorboard.

2020-Slingshot-R-Stealth-Black-25Slingshot’s frame is made from tubular steel, visible in some places on the vehicle between the bodywork. The suspension geometry and components have been enhanced for improved performance – more on that later.

Which brings us to the really big changes for 2020.

First of all, Slingshot gets an all-new engine, a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder multiport injected gasoline engine that is tuned to produce 180 hp/120 lb-ft of torque in SL models and 203 hp/144 lb-ft of torque in R models. The old engine, which was a GM Ecotec 2.4-liter, peaked at 173 hp and 166 lb-ft of torque.

2020-Slingshot-ProStar-Engine-05The new engine has a very different character than the outgoing one. It has a higher rev limit (8,500 rpm vs 7,200 rpm), and puts out its top horsepower near the limit, at 8,500 rpm, while the GM engine spiked at 6,200 rpm. That means that there’s a reason to let this new engine, which Polaris has named “Prostar,” run through the rev range – which gives it a really exciting personality and sound, which honestly fits Slingshot’s look better than the Ecotec did. Of course, switching from a proven workhorse engine from GM to a purpose-built new powerplant has its risks, but it also makes Slingshot into more of a complete, holistic vehicle, rather than a kit project. As Mike Dougherty, Polaris’ Slingshot President reminded me, “Polaris designs and builds a lot of engines.”

All of these updates and improvements are great, but they’re not even the big news.

The big news is, for the first time, Slingshot will be available with an automatic transmission. Up until now, the only choice was a manual five-speed. Now, a new “AutoDrive” five-speed automatic (or “automated manual”) synchromesh transmission is fitted in all SL AutoDrive and R AutoDrive models. A conventional five-speed manual is still available in the R Manual model.

2020-Slingshot-R-Stealth-Black-32Why is this big news? Because beyond enthusiasts, manual transmissions have fallen from favor, nearly to the point of extinction in the automotive world. New drivers aren’t interested in shifting their own gears, and have few opportunities to learn the skill in the first place. Polaris polled potential customers, and discovered that an automatic would make Slingshot even more attractive to a wider audience. I know that they’re right – even if it makes me a little sad.

Time to drive (or ride, depending on how you define the terms).

highres-4702Getting into Slingshot takes a little bit of practice, but is nowhere near as awkward for me at six feet two inches than getting into an exotic Italian supercar, and is actually more comfortable and cozy once in place. I choose to gear up for a ride in Slingshot like I would for a motorcycle ride, with a padded jacket, gloves, and a helmet with eye and ear protection. For my first ride in the new three-wheeler, I also wore motorcycle pants and boots – mostly for weather protection, because the forecast promised intermittent showers (which never materialized, thankfully). On a nice day, I’d feel just as safe in jeans and driving shoes or sneakers. A helmet is optional in some states – check your local regulations – but I’d recommend wearing one anyway. Not only will it be handy in the unlikely event of an accident, a full-face helmet will help protect you from flying debris, wind and noise. Slingshot’s windscreen sends most of the blast over your head, but you’re sitting so low to the pavement that other vehicles can easily send a rock or tire tread your way. Find a quality helmet that fits well and that you like, and wear it on every ride.

highres-5436I had the chance to drive all three Slingshot models on the road and on a closed-course racetrack, and even took a few laps in the 2019 model for comparison. The new Slingshot is faster and more maneuverable than the outgoing model. Polaris says the 2020 Slingshot can go from 0 – 60 mph in under five seconds, and that it can pull up to 1.02 g in lateral grip. With its two wheels up front and a beefy wheel in the rear, Slingshot is stable, nimble and fun to drive. I don’t think I’d spend much time seeking out racetracks for a Slingshot – it’s not that kind of vehicle, though it does perfectly well in that environment. But the real fun of a Slingshot is riding along the road, seeking out the challenging curves, and zipping around in a cool vehicle. The ground rushes past you, increasing the sensation of speed, and the sound of the engine and throaty exhaust sends tingles up your spine. Modern electronics, including Polaris’ Ride Command system with navigation and Rockford Fosgate audio (standard on R, available on SL) provide creature comforts and convenience, though using a Bluetooth helmet audio system might make actually hearing the music easier at speed.

The new AutoDrive transmission is good on the street, though I still preferred the manual transmission on the track. I suspect that Polaris will continue to tweak AutoDrive as production units get into owners hands. The good news is the new transmission makes Slingshot accessible to exactly the customers Polaris seeks. If you can drive a car with an automatic transmission, you can drive a Slingshot. And you’ll have a lot of fun doing it.

239A6857Slingshot starts at $26,499 for the SL AutoDrive. R Manual starts at $30,999, and R AutoDrive starts at $32,699. Polaris has developed an extensive line of accessories and modifications for Slingshot (Slingshot Engineered Accessories), including the Slingshade roof system (which I consider essential).

It’s tough to come up with a direct competitor for Slingshot. If you’re not a motorcyclist, it’s one of the easiest ways to get out in the wind and experience the road. A Mazda MX-5 Miata can deliver some of the thrills and more practicality, but it’s a different animal. Three-wheelers from Can-Am, the Spyder and Ryker, offer a unique experience, but lack the ease of operation and polish of Slingshot. The Morgan three-wheeler and Vanderhall vehicles take the three-wheeler equation to a different level of luxury and price points far beyond Slingshot.

483A2357With all of the new features and engineering, the 2020 Polaris Slingshot really delivers. I still hope that you’ll learn how to operate a manual transmission for a fuller experience, but AutoDrive opens up the Slingshot experience for everyone.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

highres-3092Photos (c) Polaris

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