Search

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

2018 Ford EcoSport SES: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If you happen to have a Madras skirt, shorts or a shirt, you can match it with the 2018 Ford EcoSport SES, which was made in the same place.

Madras clothing, as many older folks recall and a few younger ones have discovered, is made from lightweight summertime cotton with plaid or patterned designs. It is named for the mega-city on the Bay of Bengal in eastern India, which has been renamed Chennai.

Ford EcoSport

The EcoSport is actually an international vehicle, a small four-door crossover sport utility vehicle. Though the version sent to the U.S. comes from Chennai, the EcoSport also is manufactured Romania, Russia, China, Thailand and Brazil.

That’s why it looks odd to American eyes: tall, sort of squished front to back and with a side-opening fifth door instead of the more familiar tailgate. A plus: it opens correctly for right-hand drive countries, hinged at the left and opening from curbside on the right. Other small crossovers with side-opening doors, like early Honda CR-Vs, opened the opposite, requiring loaders to stand out in traffic.

Ford EcoSport

The EcoSport is part of a proliferation of mini-sized crossovers that includes the Kia Soul, Hyundai Kona, Honda HR-V, Chevrolet Trax, Toyota CH-R, Nissan Kicks and Mazda CX-3.

At just 13 feet 5 inches long, it is shorter than other small crossovers and even some hatchbacks like the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra. It is just a few inches longer than BMW’s all-electric i3. Still, it manages 91 cubic feet of space for passengers and 21 cubic feet for cargo, which is equivalent to a midsize sedan.

However, on the EcoSport space is not allocated well. There’s plenty of room and comfort up front, but the second row comes up short on knee room, which would force the driver and front passenger to move their seats forward simply to accommodate those in back.

Ford EcoSport

Once you divvy up the space, rear-seat passengers get generous headroom to go with the short knee room. Outboard passengers, as usual, fare the best while the unfortunate in the center position must contend with cramped foot space and an uncomfortable cushion.

The basic S version, with a $20,990 price tag, comes with a 123-hp, 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine that delivers 125 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. It also is available with other trim levels but was not driven for this review, likely because it is more suited to the byways of Bangkok and Bengal than Milwaukee or Miami.

Instead, the tested EcoSport was the SES model with all-wheel drive. Its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes a more Yankee-friendly 166 hp with 149 lb-ft of torque, also with a six-speed automatic transmission. On the SES, the automatic was enhanced by a manual-shift mode that included steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters.

ecosport-trunkThat combination transforms the Eco-Sport into an entertaining urban runabout of a size that can dodge traffic and park easily almost anywhere. The main downside is lackluster fuel economy — just 23/29/25 mpg on the EPA’s city/highway/combined cycles.

With a $27,735 price tag, the SES comes well-equipped with rear cross-traffic alert, navigation, blind-spot warning, pushbutton starting, motorized sunroof, automatic climate control, leather-trimmed cloth upholstery, heated front seats, the paddles for manual shifting and 17-inch alloy wheels.

More important from the driver’s standpoint is a stiffer suspension system for improved handling. The EcoSport SES handles curves without much lean and cruises steadily on freeways. Safety equipment does not include collision warning, automatic emergency braking or lane-departure mitigation.

Ford EcoSport

The tester’s price tag placed it at the top end of the mini crossover class. Comparably equipped competitors sell for less, though the new all-wheel drive Hyundai Kona Ultimate has a higher price tag of $29,775.

However, an all-wheel drive Honda HR-V has a sticker price of $24,660. The new Nissan Kicks checks in at $22,205 and the Toyota CH-R sells for $24,060. However, both the Kicks and CH-R have front-wheel drive.

Ford has announced that it will bail out of sedans, which means the demise of the subcompact Fiesta, compact Focus and midsize Fusion. It will concentrate on trucks, no surprise because its F-Series pickups have been best-sellers for four decades.

Because of the current buyer infatuation with SUVs and crossovers of all sizes, shapes and price classes, the EcoSport likely will continue to anchor the bottom of the Ford lineup, which includes the Escape, Edge, Explorer and Expedition.

Ford EcoSport

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Ford EcoSport SES four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 166 hp, 149 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length:13 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 91/21 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,300 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/25/29  mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,735.
  • Price as tested: $27,735.

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

Ford EcoSport

Photos (c) Ford

2018 Volkswagen Golf R 2.0T: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

You could argue that the 2018 Volkswagen Golf R is superfluous, or at least a bit of overkill. It is the pinnacle of the Golf lineup, which also includes the best-selling GTI, for many years the darling of so-called “hot hatch” enthusiasts.

In full-blown Autobahn trim, the GTI comes with a sticker price of $37,020. The tested Golf R — the initial likely refers to “racing” but the preference here is to think of it as “randy” — jumps up to $40,635. With all-wheel drive, 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque from its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, it eclipses the front-drive GTI’s 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.

2018_Golf_R--7564So, it’s fair to say that Volkswagen’s Golf overall is more of a high-performance machine than a pedestrian runabout, though lower-priced and less powerful Golfs exhibit much of that famed “German feel” as well.

Sales statistics bear that out. Between them, the R and GTI outsell the economy-oriented Golf models. In 2017, for example, they accounted for 55,426 U.S. sales, compared to 13,552 for the other Golf versions.

In the first half of 2018, GTI sales totaled 9,189 and the standard Golf had 4,036. The R’s sales, likely reflecting its higher price, totaled 2,240.

2018_Golf_R--7566The tested Golf R — it comes only as a four-door hatchback — arrived with a six-speed manual gearbox. For an additional $1,100 you can order the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which actually gets you up to speed quicker than the manual, computer controls being superior to the human right hand on the shifter and left foot punching the clutch pedal.

For 2018, there’s only one version, down from two, which now incorporates VW’s Dynamic Chassis Control as well as a navigation system. The DCC includes adaptive shock absorbers, which with precise steering helps deliver outstanding handling and a good ride for a hatchback that measures just 14 feet bumper to bumper.

So, while the Golf R easily handled bumps in the road, the manual shifter sustained bumps in the throws. This was the one disappointment in the entire R package. While it was easy to smoothly upshift at low rpm — much like expert European taxi drivers maximizing fuel economy — at other times the shift linkage felt clunky.

2018_Golf_R--7567Also new for 2018 are an idle stop-start system to enhance fuel economy, rated at 21/29/24 mpg on the EPA’s city/highway/combined cycle. Exterior touches are refreshed front and rear styling with LED headlights and taillights, as well as newly designed 19-inch alloy wheels. Inside, there’s a new eight-inch center touchscreen, up from 6.5 inches on the previous model.

Leather sport seats hold the torso snugly during spirited cornering on twisty roads while the driver looks through a flat-bottom steering wheel at the R’s Digital Cockpit, a 12.5-inch configurable information screen that displays different vehicle functions.

One annoyance is a display that reminds the driver when to upshift the manual gearbox, mainly to enhance fuel economy. Experienced drivers usually shift by feel and likely won’t look at it much anyway.

2017_Golf_R--5366The center touchscreen incorporates controls for the navigation system, SXM satellite and HD radio, and a JPEG viewer. A Bluetooth system can pair two smart phones simultaneously and the system has the capability to send and receive text messages. There are three USB ports.

Interior comfort is first rate, with supportive bolstering on the front seats. In back, the outboard seats have plenty of headroom and adequate knee room. The center-rear position is compromised by a big floor hump and a hard cushion. There’s 23 cubic feet for cargo.

A full suite of state-of-the art technology and safety equipment includes forward collision warning and braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, blind-spot warning with rear traffic alert, park distance control front and rear, automatic headlight high beams and a rear-view camera.

2018_Golf_R--6684On the road, depending on how you drive, the Golf R’s personality is as soft as a velvet cushion or as raucous as a race car. Throttle response is quick, though sometimes there’s a slight lag. It’s a good idea to turn off the stop-start system to avoid hesitation off the line.

In a test drive of both the manual-transmission R and GTI at the Road America road racing course near Elkhart Lake, Wis., both Golfs showed capable racetrack manners. With an all-wheel drive system that can send up to 50 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels, the R felt more composed in the corners.

2018_Golf_R--7563Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Volkswagen R 2.0T four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 292 hp, 280 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 93/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,300 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/29/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,635.
  • Price as tested: $40,635.

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

2018_Golf_R--6683Photos (c) Volkswagen

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

For economical family transportation to some beach, it would be hard to choose better than the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Limited Hybrid minivan.

How about fuel economy of 34 mpg going and coming in all traffic conditions? Chasing back and forth to supermarkets and shopping in the beach area without using any gasoline at all? That’s because this is a plug-in hybrid that can travel up to 33 miles on electric power alone.

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid with the Hybrid Special Appearance Package

So: Plug it into any 120-volt socket at the beach house and it will recharge the battery in about 12 hours, or overnight. If you have access to a 240-volt charger, the charging time is two hours.
If you locally travel less than 33 miles a day, you would hardly ever have to take Pacifica Hybrid to the service station to gas up. For that, the Pacifica’s engineers have included sensors that detect when gasoline in the tank is more than 90 days old, in which case the gasoline engine runs automatically to use up any possibly tainted fuel.

The EPA rates this Hybrid at 84 mpg equivalent on gasoline-electric operation, with an overall range of 566 miles. After the battery is depleted the gasoline engine starts seamlessly.

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Then there’s the convenience that you can convey seven people with 32 cubic feet left over for luggage, beach umbrellas, coolers, chairs and the like. If only four of you go, there’s 99 cubic feet of stash space behind the second row and, if just two, a whopping 141 cubic feet behind the front seats. You can practically bring your own bed and rocking chair.

The Pacifica Hybrid is an offshoot of the critically acclaimed Pacifica from the manufacturer that invented the minivan back in the mid-1980s. It used to be called the Town and Country but Chrysler resurrected the Pacifica name for the 2017 all-new model, which came in standard and hybrid versions.

The tested 2018 Limited Hybrid is essentially the same but with upgrades, including a premium Harman Kardon audio system, revised center console, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and universal garage-door opener.

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

There wasn’t much to add because the Limited already was loaded with about every safety, convenience and comfort feature available on a modern automobile. That included Chrysler’s KeySense fob, which allows parents to set limits on top speed, radio channels and volume, and emergency thresholds for their younger drivers.

Other equipment, some standard and others optional: front collision mitigation; parallel and perpendicular parking assist; tri-zone automatic climate control; one-touch power side doors and tailgate; panoramic sunroof; adaptive cruise control; lane departure assist; blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert; UConnect streaming connectivity and entertainment system; SXM satellite radio, and 360-degree surround-view camera.

One curious omission: Although the owner’s manual listed memory seats and radio in the index, none could be found in the text or the vehicle itself.

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

About the only other feature not found in the Hybrid Pacifica is the gasoline model’s stow ’n’ go second-row seats, which fold into the floor to expand the cargo capacity. On the Hybrid, that space is taken up by the 350-lb battery.

To make up for the loss, the Hybrid comes with plush captain’s chairs that have more padding than the thin stow ’n’ go seats. But they must be physically wrestled out of the minivan if there’s a need to maximize the cargo area. Also, the Hybrid is not available as an eight-passenger minivan with a second-row bench seat.

The gasoline-electric system delivers a total of 260 hp, enough for a vehicle that weighs nearly 5,000 pounds. Because electric motors produce maximum torque instantly when the throttle is pressed, the Pacifica Hybrid has robust acceleration off the line.

The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid features a 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack (shown with cover on) that is stored under the second row floor.

Except for instrumentation needed to communicate what’s going on with the hybrid system, the new Pacifica Hybrid has all of the same features that made the 2017 original the new benchmark for minivans.

Among them: Hands-free power sliding side doors. Simply touch a button on the outside door handle and the door slides open. Touch it again and the door closes. No jerking of handles. The side doors are made of aluminum, also used in the hood and tailgate for reduced weight and better fuel economy.

Other minivan “firsts” included an electric parking brake, rotary shift knob (eliminates shift levers), 10-inch touch screens for second row passengers, and wireless connectivity for devices.

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited four-door minivan.
  • Engine/motors: 3.6-liter gasoline V6 with dual transmission-mounted electric drive motors; total system 260 hp.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable gear-driven automatic.
  • Overall length: 17 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 165/32 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,987 pounds.
  • EPA fuel consumption: 84 mpg equivalent gasoline-electric; 32 gasoline only.
  • Range on electric only: 33 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,590.
  • Price as tested: $48,580.

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

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Photos (c) FCA

2018 Mazda6 Signature: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Some cars deliver instant gratification the first time you get behind the wheel. The 2018 Mazda6 Signature is such a machine.

Barely a quarter of a mile underway, you already experience the palpable feedback from well-weighted steering, quick turn-in, supple suspension system, responsive throttle and solid brakes.

Mazda6_38There are many midsize sedans, most aimed at providing family transportation and at least a measure of performance. From its inception in 2002, the Mazda6 has been viewed as a sports sedan, not unlike some of its more expensive road companions from Acura, Cadillac, Infiniti and Lexus.

Though it won’t turn heads because it doesn’t look much different from its predecessor, the re-engineered 6 exhibits the currently fashionable near-fastback style that resembles cars like the Kia Stinger and Audi A5.

Despite the sleek roofline, there’s plenty of headroom front and back, as well as outboard back seats that can accommodate six-foot-plus humans. Unfortunately, as in most cars, the center-rear passenger is shortchanged with a high, hard cushion and large floor hump.

New_Mazda6_08The headline news for 2018 is the addition of a new powerplant for the 6. It is a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that was lifted from Mazda’s flagship CX-9 crossover sport utility vehicle. It runs on regular gasoline and makes 227 hp with 310 lb-ft of torque. Fill it with 93-octane premium and the horsepower jumps to 250.

Power makes its way to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted with paddles on the steering wheel. Shifts are crisp and rapid up or down and the 6 Signature exhibited no front-drive torque steer, that dreaded jerk of the steering wheel when you punch the pedal while turning.

The transmission came with a switchable Sport mode that changed the shift mapping to keep the engine at higher rpms in each gear. That’s the one you want when you want to grab the advantage in stoplight sprints.

2018_Mazda6-7It was the setup in the tested top-of-the-line Signature model, which, given the equipment and features, came with a reasonable base price of $33,860, including the inescapable destination charge. With a few minor options, the bottom-line sticker came to $36,040, which is only a bit more than the average price of a new car these days.

There are five trim levels, starting with the Sport model, stickered at $22,480 with a six-speed manual gearbox. It is the only manual-transmission model, which will disappoint enthusiasts who would appreciate it on the 2.5-liter turbo versions. Though the manual was not tested for this review, if it’s anything like its predecessors it is a pleasure to manipulate.

The difference is that the base Sport and Touring versions come with Mazda’s 187-hp non-turbo 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, which delivers 186 lb-ft of torque. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated by the EPA at 24/33/27 mpg for the manual and 26/35/29 for the automatic. The 2.5-liter turbo, which is designed for cylinder deactivation when cruising, gets 23/31/26 mpg.

Mazda6_28In addition to the tactile performance sensations in the cut and thrust of daily driving, the Mazda6 Signature delivers long-distance cruising comfort. The front seats, upholstered in perforated Nappa leather, with heat and cooling, coddle the lower back with welcome adjustable lumbar support, though the seatback bolsters are a bit truncated. Radar cruise control operates to a stop.

The Signature came with a full suite of safety equipment, including lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, a comprehensive head-up display with traffic-sign recognition, radar cruise control, blind-spot warning and a 360-degree rear camera.

It also came equipped with features one might expect on a luxury or near-luxury car, including dual-zone-climate control, Bose premium audio, navigation, motorized glass sunroof, eight-way power driver’s seat with two memory settings, six-way power front passenger seat, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated outside mirrors, and pushbutton starting with keyless entry.

Mazda6_30There’s an eight-inch center screen that displays navigation and audio functions operated by a control knob on the console, right next to the volume button for the audio system. The control takes a bit of learning but can be operated without looking, though the driver must still look at the screen. No system is completely eyes-free.

Out back, there’s a well-shaped and finished trunk that can accommodate 15 cubic feet of cargo. The trunk lid has C-shaped hinges  fully isolated from the contents.

Bottom line: If you seek sport driving as well as midsize family accommodations, the Mazda6 is worth serious consideration.

Mazda6_9Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Mazda6 Signature four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 227 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 100/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,560 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/31/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $33,860.
  • Price as tested: $36,040.

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

2018_Mazda6-2Photos (c) Mazda

2018 Nissan Kicks: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If the 2018 Nissan Kicks landed a part in a western movie, bystanders likely would be moved to say, “Seems like a mighty fine ride.”

The Kicks is the latest in a proliferation of small crossover sport utility vehicles, though it is not accurate to call them subcompacts because their interior volume – the combination passenger and cargo space — nearly matches that of a midsize sedan.

2018 Nissan Kicks Blue

For the Kicks, it amounts to 119 cubic feet, with 94 cubes for passengers and 25 for cargo behind the back seat. Another cubic foot and the interior space would be in the federal government’s large car category.

It becomes apparent when you climb inside. The Kicks has ample head-, shoulder- and knee-room front and back. Even the center-rear passenger, who usually is dissed in most vehicles, gets almost as much room, with a nearly flat floor, as the outboard passengers, although he or she must sit on a raised, hard cushion.

Nissan regards the Kicks’s main competitors as the Kia Soul, Ford EcoSport and the all-new Hyundai Kona. But there are others, including the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Toyota C-HR and Chevrolet Trax.

2018 Nissan Kicks

Although some of these can be ordered with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the Kicks — like the Toyota C-HR — comes only with front-drive. It also betrays its economy orientation with disc brakes on the front wheels and drum brakes on the rear wheels. But they are effective given the Kicks’s light weight.

It’s an endearing package for young couples or singles with limited budgets. Nissan says the styling was inspired by a concept car that made its debut in Brazil. Five youth-oriented two-tone paint combinations are available.

There are four trim levels, starting with the base S model and moving up to the SV, SR and the tested SR Premium, which is the top of the line. Prices start at $18,965 for the S, $20,665 for the SV and $21,265 for the SR. The SR Premium adds $1,000 for a total of $22,265.

2018 Nissan Kicks

Standard equipment on all versions includes automatic emergency braking, cruise control, hill-start assist, power windows, hands-free telephone system, Bluetooth connectivity, pushbutton starting, keyless locking, automatic headlights and roof rails.

Features on upper level models include Apple CarPlay, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, alloy wheels, SXM satellite radio, heated outside mirrors, LED low-beam headlights, around-view camera and remote starting.

The tested SR Premium had all of that plus an upscale Bose audio system with eight speakers, a security system and heated cloth front seats with faux leather trim. The seats, using Nissan’s “zero gravity” design, were particularly luxurious with superb support and comfort.

B-Roll video: 2018 Nissan Kicks

At just an inch more than 14 feet long, five feet two inches tall and weighing just 2,672 pounds, the Kicks is quick, maneuverable and economical in urban traffic, as well as on desolate freeways and curving mountain roads. It cruises quietly at freeway-plus speeds, delivers an acceptable ride on rough surfaces and holds a straight line without frequent steering corrections.

Though its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine has but 125 hp and 115 lb-ft of torque, the light weight combined with a vigorous continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) delivers instant throttle response, making it feel faster than it is. Some critics bash CVTs for their lack of shift points, as well as sounds and a feel that the transmission is slipping.

2018 Nissan Kicks

That’s not the case here. Of all the manufacturers, Nissan likely has the most experience with CVTs and it shows. Unless you are overly sensitive or picky, you won’t even notice anything unusual. Mash the throttle or feather-foot it, the Kicks easily moves off.

City/highway/combined fuel economy on the SR Premium is rated by the EPA at 31/36/33 mpg.

The cargo area behind the second-row seats is well-designed and roomy. Space more than doubles from 25 to 53 cubic feet when the rear seatbacks are folded. However, though they fold flat they are a step above the cargo floor. There’s an overhead privacy cover and a temporary spare tire resides under the cargo floor. Moreover, the tailgate rises high enough for a six-foot-tall person to load or unload without ducking.

Though the Nissan folks say that the Kicks is not a replacement for its quirky Juke, the Juke itself is going away from the U.S. market. Its Kicks replacement amounts to a more than worthy replacement and entry in the increasingly competitive small crossover class.

2018 Nissan Kicks

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Nissan Kicks SR Premium four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, 125 hp, 115 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 94/25 cubic feet. (53)
  • Weight: 2,672 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 31/36/33 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $21,265.
  • Price as tested: $22,025.

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

2018 Nissan Kicks

Photos (c) Nissan

2019 Toyota Corolla XSE Hatchback: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

At least Toyota is not fudging anything with its first 2019 Corolla, coming right out and naming it the all-new Hatchback.

Time was, that could be the kiss of death — or languishing on the sales charts — because American buyers overwhelmingly rejected hatchbacks, preferring traditional sedans.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_003_2AA6E4B3409FB3B9FE48B09E67DA23689FACBF39_lowNow, in the wake of a tsunami of crossover sport utility vehicles, many little more than tall hatchbacks with optional all-wheel drive, the hatches appear to be making a comeback. At least that’s what the automakers’ prognosticators seem to think.

In the luxury realm, there are hatchbacks that don’t look like traditional hatchbacks — beautiful, streamlined fastbacks like the Audi A5 and A7, the all-new Kia Stinger, BMW 640i Gran Turismo and the Buick Regal Sportback.

Closer to the new Corolla Hatchback — that’s its official name — are a bunch of nifty and sporting hatches, some even deserving of the unofficial appellation of “hot hatch,” signifying high performance.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_017_2F320AA9564C0509E7208838EF0575E939D41FC0_lowThe template for much of this is the Volkswagen Golf, which has  economy models but also is available as the perennially popular, high-performance GTI, as well as the Golf R. Another in that category is the Honda Civic, which is available as a Sport hatchback and the highest-performance Type R.

But there are plenty of other competitors for the new Corolla Hatchback, earlier versions of which have been sold for years in other countries but not seen in the U.S. There’s the Hyundai Elantra GT, the all-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza, Chevrolet Cruze, Mazda 3, Kia Forte 5, Ford Focus and Nissan Versa Note.

The new Corolla Hatchback inherited its role because of a death in the family. Toyota decided to mercifully terminate its youth-oriented Scion brand, which had among its offerings a good hatchback, the iM. After Scion went away, the iM became a Toyota, now replaced by the new Hatchback.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_006_89FA51D77FDEF706918C528A4F285C9958ECC92B_lowThe biggest things the Hatchback has going for it are its neat styling, especially viewed from the rear, front-seat comfort, supple ride, and the fact that it is a Corolla, one of the most reliable vehicles on the planet and the biggest-selling nameplate in automotive history.

Though Toyota would like you to think of the Hatchback as having a “super hot hatch persona,” as one official described it, it is actually a modest performer. The hot stuff could come later, as it did with the Hyundai Elantra GT Sport and Honda Civic Type R.

It is an entertaining around-town runabout, with dimensions that enable its driver to shoot holes in traffic and park almost anywhere, but which has athletic moves at higher freeway speeds and around mountain curves. It could be anybody’s only car.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_026_3CE68E43AD4F76D5D4CD0C1A3FD05245E1E9CEA0_lowIf you are the sort who does mostly highway travel, pay a bit extra for the XSE model, which incorporates more sound-deadening insulation than the base SE, which tends to get noisy. You’ll feel more relaxed after an all-day drive.

The Hatchback is entertaining with either the six-speed manual gearbox or the continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). Some belt-driven CVTs, which do not have shift points, impart a sensation that the transmission is slipping, which is a turn-off for many critics.

The Corolla’s does not suffer from that malady because Toyota has incorporated a sort of locked and loaded first gear to get the Hatchback launched. It gets a good jump off the line and then the CVT takes over.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_032_27827E716510A450E55588DE3C6F4AEDBF6AE1FD_lowBut for enthusiasts, even inexperienced drivers, the stick shift should be the choice because it incorporates rev-matching — a relatively new technology that heretofore came on more expensive cars. When you downshift, the system revs the engine to match the lower gear to the speed of the car for a smooth transition.

From a size and power standpoint, the Hatchback slots neatly among its competitors. Where it falls a bit short is in interior space, especially for cargo. It has a total of 103 interior cubic feet, 18 of them behind the rear seat.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_036_516ED2D1AA5161E9F01C01B17C551C7E41D70DA9_lowThe Hyundai Elantra GT has 122 cubic feet including 25 for cargo, and the Honda Civic hatchback has 120 cubic feet with 23 for cargo. However, the fastback Subaru Impreza has 112 cubic feet with just 12 for cargo, though that likely is related to its fastback, all-wheel drive design.

For now, the Hatchback is the only Corolla newbie. Anall-new sedan is on the way but Toyota isn’t saying when. However, the existing sedan is a fine piece of work itself, offering a full suite of safety equipment on all trim levels.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_004_A30701A5B8031D23399774CC615604ECA1955101_lowSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Toyota Corolla XSE Hatchback five-door.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 168 hp, 151 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 85/18 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,060 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 30/38/33 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $25,010.
  • Price as tested: $26,610.

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

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_013_68CC86E5DFFA511E0325B0AEEB02FFB9D8B004C5_lowPhotos (c) Toyota

2019 Subaru Ascent Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

You make a flavorful confection without a tasty topping, so you lose customers. Subaru faced that dilemma and whipped up the 2019 Ascent to top its lineup of cars and crossover SUVs.

19MY_Ascent-cinn2The Japanese company, enjoying steady popularity, found that customers with growing families were fleeing. It had the Outback, originally a station wagon converted to a crossover; the Forester and smaller Crosstrek crossovers; the Legacy and Impreza sedans; WRX and WRX STI sport sedans, and the BRZ sport coupe.

But none could carry more than five passengers. Customers with a couple or more kids, as much as they liked Subaru — especially its “love” advertising — went looking elsewhere.

The company tried to accommodate more passengers with its 2004 Tribeca, a seven-passenger crossover. But it was cramped, sales were lousy and it was unceremoniously dropped in 2014.

19MY_Ascent-red6Now comes the all-new Ascent, the biggest-ever Subaru, with both seven- and eight-passenger configurations. More than that, however, it is stocked with inventive and imaginative features that prompted one Subaru official to describe the Ascent as the “perfect family hauler” and the top-line Touring “the kitchen sink” model.

One item is an inside rear-view mirror that, with the touch of a lever, switches from mirror mode to a rear-facing camera. That’s for when you load up the back with so much vacation stuff you can’t see out of the rear window. Like others of this kind, the camera view can confuse a viewer’s depth perception but at least it gives an unobstructed view of what’s behind.

2019_Ascent_Touring-Interior_1Also: tri-zone climate control so even third-row passengers have air vents. Nineteen (count ‘em) cup holders. Eight USB charging ports so everybody can play games and write novels. Rolling 4G LTE Wi-Fi  hotspot. Reading lights for the back rows. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Wide-opening rear doors and a rear hatch opening maximized for loading large items.

Depending on the trim level — there are four — some of these items are extra-cost options. However, this review is based on the Touring “kitchen sink” model, which has a sticker of $45,670, so has all of those and more. Other trims are the base at $32,790, Premium at $35,170 and Limited at $39,970.

2019_Ascent_Touring-Interior_2The base model comes equipped for eight passengers, with a second-row bench seat. Premium and Limited trims offer a choice of seven- or eight-passenger seating with no price difference. The Touring model comes only as a seven-passenger with second-row captain’s chairs.

Some notables: Like all Subaru vehicles (except for the rear-drive BRZ coupe), the Ascent has standard all-wheel drive, motivated by a horizontally-opposed 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. Also called a boxer or flat engine, it is similar to those that powered the famed Volkswagen Beetle. Subaru now is the only car company that uses boxers exclusively.

In a boxer, the cylinders lie feet-to-feet on both sides of the crankshaft instead of standing up as in a conventional four or leaning as in a V6 or V8. The low profile makes for a lower center of gravity for better handling, which the big Ascent has in abundance. It conquers curves with aplomb and tracks true in a straight line, minimizing driver fatigue.

2019_Ascent_Limited-Interior_3The Ascent’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is one of the better units of that design, which uses belts and pulleys to multiply engine power. There is none of the slipping sensation of some CVTs and the Ascent’s can be shifted with steering-wheel paddles to mimic an eight-speed automatic.

With a responsive throttle, the Ascent is never embarrassed in freeway merging or two-lane passing. It can tow a trailer weighing up to 5,000 pounds, and also has some off-road capability with 8.7 inches of ground clearance and a so-called “X-drive” mode that maximizes traction and includes automatic hill descent control.

Ascent_Lmtd-Interior1Packaging for seven or eight people is artfully done. The second-row seats slide fore-and-aft to provide knee room in the third row, which can accommodate a couple of adults but is best reserved for agile youngsters.

In this age, it goes without saying that a vehicle of this stature comes with modern safety equipment, including automatic pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping and trailer sway warning, and blind-sport warning.

Overall, the new Ascent is a more than worthy competitor to the Volkswagen Atlas, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder and Hyundai Santa Fe.

19MY_Ascent-cinn3Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Subaru Ascent Touring four-door, three-row crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.4-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder; 260 hp, 277 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic with eight-speed manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 150/18 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,603 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/26/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,670.
  • Price as tested: $45,670.

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

19MY_Ascent-cinn1Photos (c) Subaru

2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Q: When is an Eclipse not an Eclipse? A: When it’s a 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross.

Okay. It has nothing to do with the eclipse of the sun that plunged parts of the United States into total darkness on Aug. 21, 2017.

Nope. It’s about an all-new crossover sport utility vehicle from  Mitsubishi of Japan that reprises a name from the past but on a completely different vehicle.

2018 Eclipse Cross

The original Eclipse was a sports coupe and convertible marketed in four different versions over 22 years from 1990 to 2012. For some of that time, Mitsubishi had a relationship with Chrysler, and the Eclipse also was rebadged as the Eagle Talon and Plymouth Laser.
Resurrecting the Eclipse name injects a dose of familiarity into a new vehicle that aims to take advantage of the stampede of buyers to crossovers — at the expense of traditional sedans and station wagons.

Some crossovers are little more than jacked-up hatchbacks with a bit of extra ground clearance and, in most cases, optional all-wheel drive. That’s not the case with the Eclipse Cross, which was designed from the get-go as a crossover with front- or all-wheel drive.

2018 Eclipse Cross

It is slightly smaller than popular compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, competing more directly against the likes of the Mazda CX-3, Buick Encore, Subaru Crosstrek, Kia Niro, Nissan Rogue Sport and Hyundai Kona.

As such, it is an affordable vehicle for singles, couples and small families who seek low-cost wheels with decent cargo space. It also is a tidy package for parking and negotiating urban traffic.

The Eclipse Cross is 14 feet 5 inches long with 95 cubic feet of space for passengers and 23 cubic feet for cargo behind the second-row seats. It has edgy styling, especially when viewed from the rear, which dictates a split tailgate window.

Though that restricts rear vision somewhat, the designers made up for it by installing rear headrests that slide up for passengers and down for a better view behind. The rear seats can be adjusted fore and aft to divvy space between passengers and cargo, and the backs fold nearly flat to expand the cargo area. The cargo floor, which is a tad high, hides a full-size temporary spare wheel and tire.

2018 Eclipse Cross

There are five trim levels, ranging from the front-drive ES at $24,900 to the SEL Touring at $31,390. The base price of the tested SE model with Mitsubishi’s S-AWC electronically controlled all-wheel drive  was $27,390. (The S-AWC, which stands for Super All-Wheel Control, has driver selectable adjustments for snow, gravel and automatic operation). With a few minor options, the tested price came to $27,715.

Power comes from a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 152 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a continuously variable automatic (CVT) with a manual-shift mode.

With such a small engine, expectations were not high. But the combination delivers a strong and sprightly surge off the line, making the Eclipse Cross feel faster than it actually is. Though many critics deride CVTs for a sensation that the transmission is slipping, this one has very little of that. The small crossover cruises happily at freeway-plus speeds, though city/highway/combined fuel economy is just 25/26/25 mpg — likely because the little engine has to work hard.

2018 Eclipse Cross

Inside, comfort is first rate. The SE model came with heated and  luxurious cloth seats that were relaxing and supportive, with prominent seatback bolsters to coddle the torso. Seat adjustments were manual but allowed fine tuning. Outboard seats in back are similarly accommodating and even the center-rear position, though less comfortable, is at least usable.

Equipment included blind-spot warning, lane departure assist and rear cross-traffic alert; heated and automatic folding outside mirrors;  dual-zone automatic climate control; pushbutton starting, electric parking brake, rain-sensing windshield wipers; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; fog lights, and HD and SXM satellite radio.

The center touchscreen controls were not intuitive and required close attention to operate, so would be distracting to a driver trying to make adjustments while underway. Better to get things set up before moving off. Though there were remote audio buttons on the steering wheel, there was no volume control knob.

Despite its minor faults and Mitsubishi’s relatively low profile in the U.S., the new Eclipse Cross deserves a look for anyone seeking an entertaining and inexpensive crossover.

2018 Eclipse Cross

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 152 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 95/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,550 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/26/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,390.
  • Price as tested: $27,715.

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

2018 Eclipse Cross

Photos (c) Mitsubishi.

 

2019 Acura RDX A-Spec: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With an all-new vehicle for 2019, the Acura RDX has come full circle in a dozen years.

When it was introduced as a 2007 model, the RDX was the first luxury compact crossover sport utility vehicle, slightly larger than its garage-mate at Honda, the popular-priced CR-V.

That RDX came with a turbocharged 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine. It delivered 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. In 2007, it had modest sales of 23,356, well behind the 58,545 sales of the midsize MDX.

Advance Action

Though a good first effort, the original RDX was faulted — even by some of its own people at American Honda — for a hard ride and poor fuel economy.

Acura remedied that with the 2013 RDX, substituting a smooth and powerful 3.5-liter V6 engine that delivered better fuel economy as well as 263 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission. It was luxurious and quiet with precise handling and a creamy ride.

By 2017, it was nipping at the tailgate of its bigger MDX sibling, and early in 2018 it had become Acura’s best selling vehicle.

Now, with the all-new 2019 model, the RDX returns to a four-cylinder turbocharged engine. But the four-banger turbo motor of today is more refined and sophisticated than the original 2007 because of computer and software advances.

Advance Action

The new one is smaller than the original. It is joining an army of 2.0-liter turbo engines that are becoming an auto industry standard, much as V8 and V6 engines were years ago.

With 272 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, connected to the front wheels or all four wheels through a 10-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted with steering-wheel paddles, the new RDX is an exciting performer with an adjustable ride and Acura’s super-handling all-wheel drive, or SH-AWD. The system uses torque vectoring to control side-to-side movements. It can shift 70% of the power to the rear wheels and direct 100% of that to either rear wheel.

There are four selectable drive modes: snow, comfort, sport and sport plus, which adjust transmission shift points and suspension settings to improve ride, handling and overall performance. As might be expected, the handling improves but the ride gets a bit choppy in sport and sport plus.

Advance Interior

The RDX comes in four trim levels: Standard; Technology; A-Spec; and Advanced, with either front-wheel drive or the SH-AWD all-wheel drive. Tested for this review was the A-Spec, which is mechanically the same as the others but adds appearance items to give it a youthful appeal. It includes instruments — tachometer and speedometer — with red numerals on a gray background, which look great at night but are difficult to read in daylight.

Standard equipment on all RDX trims includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, road departure mitigation, Acura Watch technology suite, panoramic sunroof with power shade, SXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay (but no Android Auto yet), dual-zone automatic climate control, LED headlights and taillights, pushbutton starting and stop-start engine idling. Adaptive shock absorbers, rear cross traffic alert and power tailgate are standard on top trim levels.

Advance Interior

The tested all-wheel drive A-Spec model, with a $46,495 price tag, also came with red leather sport front seats with faux suede inserts; black 20-inch alloy wheels; an ELS premium audio system with 16 speakers, including four in the headliner; gloss black body accents; sport steering wheel, four-inch round exhaust tips and A-Spec badging.

The aggressively bolstered front seats are supportive and hold the torso securely in hard cornering. Outboard back seats are comfortable. The RDX has a nearly flat floor to provide foot and knee space for the center-rear passenger, who unfortunately must sit on a narrow, flat and hard cushion.

Advance Beauty & Details

Acura’s trademarked True Touchpad Interface is certain to cause some initial consternation, as it requires a good bit of study and practice to operate. It controls all vehicle functions displayed on the elevated center screen. Screen displays correspond exactly to the location of a finger on the touchpad. The touchpad itself can be operated without looking, but the driver’s eyes still must focus on the screen. Best to get things set up while the RDX is parked.

There’s 31 cubic feet for cargo behind the rear seat, which expands to 80 with the seatbacks folded. The area includes three storage tubs, two under the cargo floor. However, the A-Spec has an inflator kit but no spare wheel.

Advance Action

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Acura RDX A-Spec four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 272 hp, 280 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches. Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 104/31 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,019 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/26/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $46,495.
  • Price as tested: $46,495.

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

Advance Action

Photos (c) Acura.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑