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It is rare, but occasionally something like the 2018 Kia Stinger appears and rides through a process of imprinting itself on the public consciousness — first with insiders and enthusiasts, and eventually with everyone else.
Think Chevrolet Corvette in 1954. Ford Mustang in 1964. BMW 1600 in 1967. Volkswagen Beetle and British Mini in mid-20th century. Honda Accord in 1976. Mazda MX-5 Miata in 1990. And now the upstart Kia Stinger.
The examples will prompt arguments. You could add the Tucker Torpedo of 1948, but it died in infancy. Or even the Acura Legend in 1986. But we’re talking here mostly about affordable cars that became highly prized and survived for a long time.
Usually it starts with surprise, morphs into appreciation and desire, and settles into a long-term relationship analogous to the St. Patrick’s Day stereotype, when everybody is either Irish or wants to be.
The word is not yet widespread about the Kia Stinger, and most observers are surprised that it was conceived by the South Korean company, originally known for sometimes shoddy economy cars. But it will achieve status because the company has finessed its way to the top on quality, styling, durability and performance with a full line of cars, crossover sport utility vehicles and even a minivan. There’s not a bad apple in the barrel.
The Stinger shines as a multi-purpose car: High performance across seven versions with style and luxury-car features, two engine choices, family practicality and prices that are doable for middle-income Americans.
Full disclosure: The Stinger is a hatchback. But it is nowhere near what U.S. buyers rejected for many years and now are tentatively embracing. No, it is more accurate to compare it to German high-performance luxury cars, and particularly the new Audi A7 and Audi A5 Sportbacks, both stunners with hatchbacks, high content and price tags to match. The first impression is that the Stinger mimics the A7: low-down and sexy. But depending on the model, it matches up against both the nearly $70,000 A7 and the $52,000 A5.
Closest to the A7 — here we’re comparing to the 2017 model, not the recently announced 2018 — is the most exalted Stinger, the GT2, which carried a $52,300 sticker as tested for this review. The tester had the optional all-wheel drive (available for $2,200 on all Stingers), while the A7 comes with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive.
Side by side, the A7 is seven inches longer than the Stinger, yet they have similar interior space: passenger/cargo volume of 94/25 cubic feet in the A7; 94/23 in the Stinger. The Audi, at 4,234 pounds, is lighter than the Stinger’s 4,515 pounds, but the Stinger has more power: 365-horsepower, turbocharged 3.3-liter V6 with 376 pound-feet of torque versus the A7’s 340-horsepower, supercharged V6 with 325 pound feet of torque.
The Stinger GT2’s extra power is canceled out by the A7’s lighter weight so the acceleration of each car to 60 miles an hour is rated by its manufacturer at 4.7 seconds. Both cars have eight-speed automatic transmissions with manual-shift modes.
At the other end of the comparison is the $32,800 rear-wheel drive Stinger 2.0T, which contains a 255-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine with 260 pound-feet of torque. It matches up with the new $52,100 Audi A5 Quattro, which is four inches shorter and smaller inside by four cubic feet. Its 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine delivers 252-horspower and 273 pound-feet of torque.
The Stinger 2.0T uses an eight-speed automatic transmission while the A5 is equipped with a snappy seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. It is about 100 pounds heavier than the 3,650-pound Stinger but has a slight edge in acceleration: 5.3 seconds against 5.9 for the Stinger.
The numbers are important, of course, though the proof is in the driving experience. Truth is, any of these four cars — Audi A7 and A5, and Stinger GT2 and 2.0T — would stir the soul of any driving enthusiast. They deliver exciting, right-now acceleration, fuss-free flat cornering and handling at speed, outstanding braking, comfortable and supportive seats, room for four adults (five in an emergency), and generous cargo space that can be expanded by folding the rear seatbacks.
The big difference is the Kia’s more tolerable prices and one of the best warranties anywhere. For some, the Audi’s reputation and prestige trump every other consideration. But it’s worth noting that Consumer Reports now ranks Kia No. 3 in reliability, based on owner reports. Audi is No. 4.
Model: 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 four-door hatchback sedan.
As if their customers weren’t already spending plenty on perfectly good vehicles like the Audi Q5, there’s a recurring imperative among luxury manufacturers to deliver ever more powerful, luxurious and expensive models.
Reigning among them is 2018 Audi SQ5, continuing as a member of a class that includes AMG models from Mercedes-Benz, BMW’s M performance variants, V versions from Cadillac and Quadrifoglio (Four-leaf Clover) models from Alfa Romeo.
The Q5 and its SQ5 sibling account for a quarter of all Audi sales in the U.S., no surprise given the current buyer infatuation with crossover sport utilities of all sizes in every price class.
With Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive and a full complement of safety, comfort and convenience features, the Q5 is the sort of vehicle that could satisfy a broad range of buyers seeking a two-row compact or midsize crossover.
It is powered by a 252-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a snap-shifting dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission. With modern computerized technology, this 2.0-liter turbo, along with others like it that are becoming ubiquitous, has enough hustle to get you arrested anywhere.
The starting price tag is $42,475 and, with the sorts of options ordered by folks who shop in this price range, can top out at $52,700. That gets you a tasteful, luxurious, comfortable and quiet interior that almost anyone would welcome for a day-long drive, along with most of the convenience and infotainment functions most buyers want these days.
But no. That’s not enough karma for some customers with deep pockets. So, Audi obliges with the SQ5, which is way over the top for any driving on the public highways. It is the same size as its Q5 garage mate with 102 cubic feet of space for passengers — about what you get with a midsize sedan — plus a cargo area behind the back seat of 27 cubic feet, or about double that of a midsize sedan trunk.
It is listed as a five-passenger crossover. But that’s optimistic because the center-rear seat is compromised by a hard cushion, a hidden pull-down center armrest and a giant, square floor hump. The outboard seats, however, are fine and nearly as comfortable as the front seats.
Under the SQ5’s hood lurks a 354-horsepower, turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine that delivers 369 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.
That and a bunch of other high-performance stuff bumps the SQ5’s base price to $55,275, or $12,800 more than the Q5. With options, the SQ5 driven for this review had a bottom-line price of $65,800.
According to Audi, that gets you a zero-to-60 time of 5.1 seconds, or eight-tenths of one second quicker than the A5’s 5.9-second time. That’s a bunch of bucks that won’t amount to much of a difference in daily driving.
In Drive, there’s a slight bit of hesitation off the line as the turbocharger spools up. It goes away if you tap the shifter into Sport. There, the SQ5 feels even faster than it is, delivering that rush of excitement that devotees presumably covet.
Start-stop technology, which thankfully can be switched off, contributes to decent SQ5 city/highway/combined fuel economy of 19/24/21 mpg. However, the Q5 saves some bucks with a rating of 23/27/25.
Of course, the SQ5’s higher sticker price also confers bragging rights about how much you can afford to pay for your compact crossover SUV. And the options cover a lot of nifty stuff: air suspension system, torque-vectoring sport rear differential, performance brakes with red calipers, Nappa leather upholstery, 21-inch wheels with sticky summer tires, and Bang & Olufsen audio with 3D sound and a head-up display.
That’s in addition to the standard full safety equipment, rear-view camera, LED headlights and taillights, three-zone climate control, rear-view camera and SXM satellite radio. Curiously for a vehicle in this category, the test car did not have adaptive cruise control.
Also, though the tested SQ5 came with a roof-size panoramic sunroof, the sunshade was made of a perforated cloth that admitted too much sunlight. Sunshades should be opaque.
The SQ5’s tidy size — 15 feet four inches long — and the air suspension system contribute to sporty handling on twisting roads. There are selectable driving modes that adjust performance parameters but most owners likely will stick with the comfort setting, which is fine for daily motoring. However, the dynamic mode awaits for hustling around curves.
Model: 2018 Audi SQ5 3.0T Quattro four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
It’s not much of a challenge in word association to say turkey during the holidays. The same holds true for car manufacturers when you say the word crossover. They’re busy giving thanks for a category that since 2000 has continued its upward climb to one step from the top, in a tight race with sedans. Crossovers are barely edged out 35% to 35.8% for sedans, according Stephanie Brinley, Senior Analyst at IHS Markit.
After driving the Cadillac XT5 with three adult passengers on a holiday journey, it’s easy to see why the category is so appealing. This stellar example of the breed combines equal measures of comfort, style, form and function. XT5 has become Cadillac’s global best seller.
Starting out in New York City the day before a holiday can be a challenge. I went to a garage to pick up the car, trying to beat the traffic rush getting out of town. As I walked around the car, it struck me as more understated in its stance than big brother Escalade. There was no doubt XT5 was a Cadillac, with the signature grille on the front, but it wasn’t screaming at me. It was inviting me to enjoy the more curved lines, swept back from the front roof peak, and the gentle hint of expanded curves over the wheels. The XT5 was definitely shorter and smaller than the Escalade, but not diminutive like some of the smaller Crossovers. My AWD 3.6-liter version with DI (direct injection) and VVT (variable valve timing) is rated at 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. I was about to do a little of one, and more of the other, as we made our way from the heart of NYC to the bucolic Massachusetts college town of Northampton.
There’s some sort of space-related magic or sleight of hand that car designers have mastered it seems. Getting in to the XT5 felt like getting in to a much bigger vehicle than I had imagined I was getting in to. Maybe it’s the sweeping curve of the leather dashboard and comfy seats. Or the panoramic moonroof that provides a ton of light streaming in, if one wants it opened. While it’s true that the cargo area behind the back row is not as cavernous as an SUV, there was plenty of room for four adults to stash their luggage, as well as a few extraneous bags of food and drink.
Out on the road, the driver assistance systems kick in. The XT5 has a back-up camera of course – it seems mandatory – with the virtual overhead view which always feels weird, but makes some sense to help people orient themselves in space. Cars have been edging their way towards airplanes in this regard – they’re becoming almost IFR capable. IFR is instrument flight rules – which means you essentially rely on the instruments to guide your actions as you fly. You’re not actually looking where you’re going – you’re only looking at the instruments and reacting accordingly.
Another automatic system the XT5 comes with is automatic parking. While driving down a street, the driver hits a button, which alerts the car to search for a parking space. When it finds one, it takes over control of the car, and by all accounts, works perfectly, like another magic trick. Except I was in NY, and after a few searches up and down and around the block, I stopped the car from looking for a space. I will admit to a certain amount of age-related crankiness about a car that parks itself. My feeling is that if you own or lease a car, it’s incumbent upon you to know how to drive the car, and that includes parallel parking it in New York City. And yes, this crankiness is based on the fact that I expended a bit of effort mastering the skill of parking a car in New York City, back in the days when I actually lived there. One can’t park a car without having a sense of where the four edges of the car are, which is also kind of paramount to operating it successfully and safely on the road. So, consider parallel parking a kind of litmus test of how well one knows the car one is driving.
With the Cadillac XT5, however, the driver assistance systems don’t end with back-up cameras and self-parking modes. Out on the highway, the XT5, with 310 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque, has the power to get up and go. Time to get from zero to sixty is reported to be 6.4 seconds. I didn’t time it, but I believe it. Speed can be fun, but driving on the highway, it can also be an important safety consideration. Sometimes being able to get out of the way in a hurry is critical to avoiding an incident.
Holiday traffic being what it is, of course, meant a ping ponging of traveling at full highway speeds and slowdowns due to the number of cars, and over the course of the three plus hour trip a variety of traffic accidents — precisely the kind of driving Adaptive Cruise Control was made for. Instead of having to constantly brake and gas, brake and gas, I was able to choose from three different distances at which I felt comfortable following the car in front of me, and enter the maximum speed I wanted to travel. After that, my job as driver was to steer the car. And also, these technologies being somewhat new, and not 100% full proof, a bit of attention to the Adaptive Cruise Control is of course called for. Over the course of the journey it worked really well, with the one or two times when I wasn’t sure it was going to stop, and it did. It’s not Super Cruise (offered on the 2018 Cadillac CT6) which has received high marks from a few writers, but it’s a welcome addition.
Road noise inside the cabin was minimal. The controls worked pretty easily as one would desire – a large touchscreen placed at the correct angle for visibility without sacrificing any forward view. Unlike some vehicles, the touchscreen is integrated in to the dash design, and not stuck on like a tablet, the way some manufacturers do. The heated seats – with three levels – came in super handy as the temperatures dropped in to the 30s. Sound system provided the lush touches to the road trip environment.
Tallying up the experience, the XT5 fares well against its somewhat crowded field of competitors like the Audi Q5, the BMW X3, Lexus RX, Mercedes GLC class. We’ve entered a time where we’re approaching Peak Automobile – which in some ways feels like the end of an era, as we move from cars we drive to cars that drive us, as the Autonomous Automobile age is upon us. And at this stage, no one makes a bad car. In fact, you would have to work really hard to find a bad car to buy. What makes the difference between various versions of a category like crossovers is more about style, and the splitting of hairs among accessories and systems like Adaptive Cruise Control and things like touchscreen placement. Price is one key differentiator as well – the Platinum level XT5 I drove comes in just over $67,000 – but again, over the course of four-year loan, or two-year lease, the monthly difference of even a $5,000 price variance is not that great.
The holiday itself arrived. Family and friends dined on the traditional feast, with a few vegan additions thrown in as we expand our approach to food into new quarters. The turkey was tasty, and even though we didn’t find the wishbone, my wish did come true – we made it safely and comfortably to our holiday destination thanks to the 2018 Cadillac XT5 crossover.
Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.
Like the proverbial cup that runneth over, the 2018 Honda Accord oozes newness in practically every molecule of its mechanical being. The company touts it as “the most radical redesign of the Accord ever.” That covers a lot of territory, given its 42 years on the American scene, during which Accord has sold 13 million hatchbacks, coupes, sedans and station wagons — 11 million of them manufactured in the USA.
All but the four-door sedan are now gone, so Honda is counting on this new Accord to hold up against the midsize competition, particularly its perennial nemesis, the Toyota Camry, which also has an all-new, driver-oriented entry for 2018.
Both have been nominated for the North American Car of the Year award from an independent jury of 60 automotive journalists from all over the country, including this reviewer.
The Camry has been the best-selling midsize car for 15 years, though Honda argues that the Accord does better in direct sales to consumers, without depending on fleet sales.
Whatever, it’s certain to be a dogfight, even facing the fact that both cars have been lagging against the smothering onslaught of crossover sport utility vehicles.
To catalog all of the Accord’s new features would overwhelm the space allotted to a review like this. It includes a host of improvements, including a lower center of gravity, lighter weight, stiffer structure, suspension and steering enhancements, streamlined wind-cheating bodywork, improved visibility, more comfortable and supportive seats, quieter interior, bigger passenger space and trunk, and excellent interior design and ergonomics that includes radio knobs instead of Honda’s recent infatuation with touch screens.
The Accord drives like a big car, which it is. It is marketed as a midsize but its interior volume, depending on the trim, hovers fractionally on both sides of the government’s large-car designation of a minimum of 120 cubic feet of interior room. On the tested Touring, that was divided into 103 for passengers and 17 cubic feet in the trunk.
Any car is only as good as its powerplants. For the first time, the Accord has gone all-turbo with its engines: a 192-hp, 1.5-liter four-cylinder with 192 lb-ft of torque and a 252-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 273 lb-ft of torque.
Last year, neither Accord engine featured turbocharging. One was a 2.4-liter four-cylinder and the upgrade was a 3.5-liter V6 engine. Not long ago, Honda avoided turbo engines, but since has embraced them for their computer-manipulated power and fuel economy.
Tested for this review was the fully-equipped Accord Touring with the 2.0-liter engine and either a 10-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode or a six-speed manual gearbox. There’s also a 2.0 Sport version with the same transmission choices. The manual likely will give the Accord an edge among enthusiasts who like to shift for themselves.
The stick shift also is available on the 1.5-liter Sport model, which also offers a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). With that combination, the Accord gets a city/highway/combined fuel economy rating from the EPA of 30/38/33 mpg.
Not surprisingly, the powerful tested Touring model came with a lower rating of 23/34/29. But this is package will appeal to customers who enjoy a shot of adrenaline when they accelerate from a stoplight or cruise at high speeds on deserted freeways.
The Accord handles superbly on twisting or straight roads. It is anvil steady and library quiet, although the turbo 2.0-liter engine announces itself rudely under rapid acceleration. There’s generous space for four with well-bolstered seats up front, though the center-rear seat is compromised by a hard cushion and a floor hump.
The Touring features Honda’s new gear selector. It uses pushbuttons for all functions except Reverse, which is a pull-up button. There also are selectable drive modes, one of which enhances fuel economy. But the preference here is for the Sport setting, which unleashes a stampede of the horses under the hood.
At $36,675, the 2.0 Touring sits at the top of the line, not a minor achievement given the fact that it is close to the current average transaction price for a new car in the U.S. Yet it is equipped as well as some luxury cars, including adaptive shock absorbers, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, navigation, memory driver’s seat, head-up display, LED headlights, wireless smart phone charging, ventilated front seats and heated back seats, and the new Honda Link driver assist system that includes Wi-Fi and remote engine starting.
Everybody needs a hug sometimes, but the 2018 Mercedes-Benz AMG E43 embraces you every time you drive it.
The E43 is a version of the Mercedes E-Class, enhanced by AMG, the company’s high-performance engineering division. It comes only as a four-door sedan with all-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.
With its 396-hp, 3.0-liter V6 engine, boosted with twin turbochargers, it makes 384 lb-ft of torque to scoot to 60 mph in slightly more than four seconds. Top speed is limited at 131 mph.
Even at that, it is not the hottest Mercedes E-Class. It slots between the 241-hp E300 and the faster 603-hp AMG E63 S.
Completing the E43’s performance package are precise steering with a hefty feel, an air suspension system and, on the tested model, 20-inch alloy wheels with sticky performance tires.
Hugging is one feature of the multi-endowed drivers’ seat, upholstered in black Nappa leather with red stitching and red seatbelts. When you hustle around corners and curves, even at modest speeds, sensors activate the seatback bolsters. Turn right and the left-side bolster pushes against the torso. Turn left and the right-side bolster activates.
It’s a weird sensation at first but it soon becomes a friendly assistant and you look forward to it. It can be deactivated if you choose and other adjustments can be made to suit your seating preferences.
The E43 exhibits multiple personalities. At light throttle inputs around urban areas, it is as effortless as a comfort-oriented luxury car. Enriching the experience is an optional ($1,100) acoustic comfort package that includes additional cabin insulation, and windshield and side glass with acoustic and heat-absorbing membranes.
Punch the throttle, and the turbo V6 lights up instantly and presses you into the seatback. Yet even under full-scream acceleration the sounds are muted and musical, never assaulting the eardrums.
The nine-speed automatic transmission shifts quickly and smoothly, always appearing to select the correct gear for the circumstances. You can shift it manually with paddles on the steering wheel but the Mercedes engineers don’t trust you. If the onboard computer decides it’s time to shift, the transmission shifts no matter what gear you’ve selected.
Overall, the AMG E43 drives and feels smaller than earlier E-Class cars, and it is. With a total of 111 cubic feet of interior volume — 98 for passengers and 13 for cargo in the trunk — the E43 barely squeaks into the midsize category. As defined by the federal government, the midsize class starts at 110 cubic feet of interior volume.
There’s plenty of room and comfort for the driver and front passenger but the outboard back seats are barely adequate for average-sized humans. The center-rear position is compromised by a hard bottom cushion and large floor hump. A fold-down center armrest, with flimsy and hard to use cup holders, divides the outboard seats.
Bucking a trend in luxury cars, the E43’s motorized glass sunroof shade is opaque except for a few small louvers to admit light. Many other luxury cars these days use shades made of a sort of perforated cheesecloth that admit too much sunlight.
Door-mounted power seat controls continue as a stubborn Mercedes-Benz feature despite the fact that they are awkward to use compared to the intuitive controls on the sides of the front seats in most other cars.
The 2018 AMG E43 comes with a starting price of $72,595, slightly lower than the nearly identical 2017 model. With $18,350 worth of options, the test car had a bottom-line sticker price $90,945, so this is not a machine for the masses. On the test car, options included a $4,550 Burmester High-End 3D surround sound system.
Standard and enhanced safety equipment included active emergency braking and crosswind assist, LED headlights and taillights, a predictive occupant protection system, blind-spot warning, adaptive headlights, Distronic adaptive cruise control, active lane-keeping and steering assist, an around-view rear camera, and a head-up display.
One welcome safety feature: If the driver inadvertently stops the engine while the transmission is still in the Drive mode, the transmission instantly shifts into Park, preventing the car from rolling away.
Given its price tag, the AMG E43 obviously is not a car for everyone. But for those who can afford either the cash or long-term payments, it delivers a triple play: family sedan with room for four or occasionally five; athletic sports car, and comfortable, quiet and luxurious town car.
The best standard equipment on the 2018 Lexus LS 500 luxury sedan is its driver-oriented personality.
It’s interesting that a nameplate could produce such excellent products over its 28-year lifetime that it would get rapped for being too good. Polite people said a Lexus was done so well that it was unobtrusive — like a silent butler. Arch critics said it was boring, even sleep-inducing.
The executives, designers and engineers at Lexus, Toyota’s luxury division, eventually felt wounded enough that they decided to inject the LS 500 flagship with doses of automotive pheromones to get enthusiasts’ juices flowing.
The effort went all the way to the top with final approval test drives by none other than Toyota’s chairman, Akio Toyoda, a well-known driving aficionado, who drove the LS 500 repeatedly. Photos of him in a helmet and racing coveralls at a test track were shown at the national press introduction.
In motoring circles, an article of faith for years has been that German luxury cars — Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi — were most prized by enthusiasts. Not only did they exhibit superb handling, performance and braking, you could actually hear the growl of the engine under hard acceleration and even cruising on the freeway.
The Lexus, on the other hand, was usually so quiet you had to listen carefully or check the tachometer to find out whether the engine was actually doing its thing or was possibly an electric.
That’s now in the past. The new Lexus LS 500 takes on the Germans in a way that it has not done before, including actual engine sounds intruding into the passenger pod. Some items:
A new rugged platform with down-low engine accommodations for a lower center of gravity, better fore-and-aft balance, accurate steering for flat cornering, and responsive acceleration and braking.
An all-new 415-hp, twin-turbocharged V6 engine that delivers 442 lb-ft of torque, said to match the performance of competitors’ V8 engines. It is mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting via paddles on the steering wheel. Lexus says zero to 60 mph flashes by in 4.6 seconds with a top speed of 136.
A multi-stage hybrid model with a new 3.5-liter V6 engine and electric motors that delivers 354 system hp and 359 lb-ft of torque with EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption of 25/33/28 mpg in the rear-drive version.
An F Sport variant available with both the LS 500 and LS 500h hybrid, which is oriented toward improved handling with 20-inch wheels, an air suspension system and rear-wheel steering on rear-drive models.
A redesigned, striking Lexus “spindle grille” with 5,000 individual surfaces to catch the light. On the F Sport models, the grille has 7,000 facets.
All three LS 500s can be ordered with all-wheel drive as well as the standard rear-wheel drive. All-wheel drive versions get slightly lower fuel economy ratings than the rear-drivers. With a starting price of about $76,000, sales start in February.
Because some buyers likely will employ chauffeurs, an optional package enables the right-rear seat to be reclined with a full footrest, while at the same time moving the right-front seat out of the way.
Surprisingly, this new Lexus is not a large car by the U.S. government’s definitions. With 98 cubic feet of space for passengers and 17 cubic feet of volume in the trunk — a total of 115 cubic feet – the LS 500 is classified as a midsize, which no doubt contributes to the excellent handling. However, it feels roomy on the inside, with surroundings that include soft leather upholstery, hand-pleated origami-style cloth, laser-cut wood-grain and jewel-cut glass.
Contributing to its luxury/sport sedan feel is the exterior coupe-like styling. This is not new. Other luxury competitors have models with that bumper-to-bumper flow, which in the middle of the last century was called a “torpedo body” and has become widespread again.
Asked why they invested so much effort in a flagship sedan when the industry trend is toward crossovers and traditional sport utility vehicles, Lexus officials said they believed most of the LS 500 customers already owned SUVs. If not, they pointed to another top model: the LX SUV. There’s also the all-new LC 500 sports coupe.
When the discussion gets exhausted, the conclusion for the new Lexus LS 500 is that you can obtain the automotive equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too — that is, an extravagant luxury conveyance with sport-driving credentials.
As midsize sedans struggle against the onslaught of customer preference for crossover sport utility vehicles, manufacturers work hard to up their game with cars like the 2018 Hyundai Sonata Sport.
The Sonata started a successful run with its “fluidic sculpture” design in 2012 but then backed off for more conservative styling in the 2015 model year. With other midsize sedans, sales tailed off in recent years. Where Hyundai had been selling more than 200,000 Sonatas a year, sales dropped to 199,416 in 2016 and in 2017 have been running at an annual rate of fewer than 150,000.
For 2018, the South Korean manufacturer delivers freshened styling that could persuade customers that they’re seeing an all-new automobile.
The design is rakish and handsome from every angle, accentuated by a bold new grille. Overall, the look would do justice to a near-luxury sedan costing many thousands of dollars more than the $26,210 price of the Sonata Sport tested for this review.
Moreover, the tester’s 122 cubic feet of interior volume gets it a large car rating from the U.S. government. Though an inch shy of 16 feet long, the Sonata Sport has airy rear-seat headroom and especially generous knee room that allows outboard back seat passengers to stretch out. As usual in most cars, however, the center-rear seat is compromised by a hard cushion and a small floor hump.
Other seat comfort is first rate front and rear with one of the best upholstery combinations around. Seats are covered mainly with sturdy leather but the butt and back areas are a comfortable cloth. It means the Sonata doesn’t need seat heaters or coolers, though it does come with heated front seats. A power front seat and a fully-adjustable steering wheel with a sporty flat bottom assures an optimum driving position.
Out back, the trunk can swallow a large load of luggage or cargo, However, the C-Hinges are naked, without anything to isolate them, so could damage the contents when fully loaded.
Though there are some pricier trim levels with 245-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter engines, along with an Eco model, the focus here is on the standard Sonata lineup, which consists of SE, SEL, Sport and Limited models.
All four, including the Sport, come with a 185-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 178 lb-ft of torque. This one does not have a turbocharger, which seems to be the engineering fad of the moment, especially among 2.0-liter engines.
Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode operated by steering-wheel paddles, the tested front-wheel drive Sonata Sport acquits itself well in everyday urban, suburban and freeway driving.
It comes with three separate driving modes: Eco, Comfort and Sport, which alter shift patterns and other performance parameters. In Eco, automatic shifts sometimes can feel a bit dodgy, so it’s best to stick with the Comfort or Sport modes. But you have to pay attention to select either one when you set off because the system defaults to Eco when the engine is shut down.
You won’t win many drag races in any of the drive modes, though the Eco mode falls away if you punch the throttle to pass or otherwise speed up. But there’s plenty of power for any driving circumstance on public roads and the Sport delivers city/highway/combined fuel economy of 25/35/28 mpg burning regular gasoline.
The Sonata Sport is equipped with with full basic safety equipment like stability/traction control and antilock brakes, enhanced by blind-spot warning, tire-pressure monitoring and a rear-view camera.
It also comes with a motorized sunroof, an easy-to-use center interface with a touch screen and redundant buttons for functions like SXM satellite radio, HD radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Touch screen functions are simple and intuitive.
A navigation system is not included, though many people nowadays forego the built-in systems in cars and simply use Waze, Google Maps or Mapquest anyway, and there are USB ports in the Sonata Sport for smart phones.
The only glaring shortcoming, given the overall high level of equipment, is that the Sonata Sport is not equipped with automatic climate control. Though the temperature and fan-speed knobs are easy enough to use, they require occasional fiddling around to maintain cabin comfort.
Given the average price of near $36,000 for a new car today, the $26,210 Hyundai Sonata Sport should deliver many years of trouble-free motoring well beyond the end of the monthly payments.
Translated from Spanish, the 2018 Kia Rio means “Kia River.” A better name would be Kia Alegre, which translates into frisky, merry or joyful.
It even could qualify as a Kia Perrito, or puppy. That’s the sense you get chasing around in this new compact car, which comes as a four-door hatchback or conventional four-door sedan. It is entertaining and eager to please, though with a few faults like any puppy.
As South Korea’s Kia has evolved into a full-line manufacturer of cars, crossover sport utility vehicles and even a minivan, the Rio hasn’t received much attention. But it is the company’s top seller world-wide, owing to its low price, tidy dimensions and good fuel economy.
In the U.S., the Rio competes against an array of subcompact and compact economy cars: Chevrolet Spark and Sonic, Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris and iA, Nissan Versa, Fiat 500, Mitsubishi Mirage and Mini Cooper.
The fourth generation Rio presents new styling, a carryover but improved 130-hp engine with 119 lb-ft of torque, new suspension system tuning and a choice of a six-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox.
Unfortunately for enthusiasts who might want the stick shift, it only is available on the base LX trim level. Though the LX is hardly a hair-shirt proposition, it lacks some desirable features like cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, alloy wheels, split folding rear seatback, power windows, fog lights, heated outside mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, and lighted vanity mirrors. Then again, it has a sticker price of just $14,795.
In a rarity deserving of a standing ovation, all Rio trim levels come standard with SXM satellite radio. Economy cars from other manufacturers require the buyer to buy a more expensive version simply to get SXM. There’s no navigation system but you can run one through your smart phone with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
At the national introduction in Baltimore, MD, Kia offered only the fully-equipped top-line EX four-door hatchback with the six-speed automatic transmission. There was no opportunity to test the notchback sedan, manual gearbox version or other trim levels.
With a base price of $19,595 and a special launch edition price of $20,095, which included two-tone black and red leather upholstery, the Rio EX hatchback was uncommonly well equipped for a compact economy car. That’s a smart move because there are any number of buyers out there who want a small car for its fuel economy, maneuverability and ease of parking, but don’t want to stint on the amenities.
The Rio EX has plenty of those. Though its standard upholstery is a handsome embossed cloth — preferred by many, including this reviewer — a leather package is optional. Also part of the EX package: full safety equipment with autonomous emergency braking, seven-inch center screen with infotainment functions and a rear camera, 15-inch alloy wheels, tilt and telescoping steering column, leather-wrapped steering wheel, tire pressure monitoring and power windows with one-touch up and down on the driver’s side.
In urban traffic, the Rio EX has a frisky personality, quick moves and, with its strong power train, a capability to easily pop through gaps in traffic. With four-wheel antilock disc brakes, it also stops with authority. The LX and S trim levels have front disc brakes and drum brakes on the rear wheels.
Driving at high speeds on freeways is another matter. Though the tested Rio had no trouble merging from ramps and keeping up with traffic, the steering had a loose feel with a tendency to wander, requiring frequent steering corrections. That could become tiring on a long trip.
However, the Rio hatchback had little difficulty tracking on curving roads. It obviously is no sports car but its steering and suspension system combine to hold a decent line around corners as long as you don’t move too fast. At the same time, the ride is not punishing except on very rough roads.
Inside, there’s decent comfort for four people, though there are seatbelts for five. The front seats deliver long-distance support and the back seats offer ample headroom, though knee room is in short supply. As with most cars, the center-rear seat is an unyielding, uncomfortable cushion.
Kia has plenty of decent cars for the masses. Abetting the Rio, there’s the best-selling Soul, now with a turbocharged model (unfortunately only with an automatic transmission), and the superb Forte5 turbo hatchback, which also offers both a stick and an automatic, and is one of the better performance machines around.
With the 2018 Volvo XC60 T8 Hybrid as an early move toward its goal of electrification, Sweden’s top car maker finessed four new vehicle unveilings at an introduction of 2018 models in Colorado.
The other three were all T6 gasoline-engine models: the XC60 crossover SUV, V90 station wagon and the new stretched S90 four-door sedan. They came in different trim levels, including R-Design and Inscription. But the star was the T8 Hybrid Inscription.
That was because of the publicity accolades, many of them unwarranted, that greeted Volvo’s announcement that it would sell a million “electrified” cars by 2025. For good and ill, many news outlets read the statement by Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson as meaning the company would substitute electric vehicles for those powered by gasoline and diesel engines.
Not so. Here’s what he said: “Volvo cars . . . plans to have sold one million electrified cars by 2025.” That means gasoline-electric hybrids and plug-in hybrids, as well as pure electrics.
At least a few of those will be the 2018 XC60 T8 E-AWD Hybrid. In fact, most of them, assuming Volvo’s goal is reached, will be hybrids. That squares with what almost every manufacturer in the world now is building. Japan’s Toyota has sold more than 10 million hybrids world-wide.
Volvo, the storied Swedish automaker, has had its downs and ups in the last decade. Financially troubled, it was sold to Geely Holdings, a Chinese company, which had the sense to provide the money to prop up the company but also allow Volvo to map its own road.
It now is on the up side with an array of new vehicles, all of which share fine performance, comfort, high quality materials and workmanship, and a luxury ambiance with prices to match.
One result of the new thrust is that the company abandoned all of its old five- and six-cylinder engines in favor of more economical four-cylinder turbocharged engines, some also supercharged. It even plans to introduce a three-cylinder engine.
This has been a trend throughout the industry as computers have enabled designers and engineers to squeeze more power, torque and fuel economy from smaller displacement engines. The current standard appears to be the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder.
All of the vehicles lined up for inspection in Colorado used Volvo’s supercharged and turbocharged four-banger. The supercharger, which runs off the engine, provides extra power at low engine speeds and the turbocharger, which is driven by exhaust gases, takes over at higher speeds.
That power plant makes 316 hp with 295 lb-ft of torque, delivered to the front wheels or all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode.
The Hybrid XC60 uses one of those dual-boosted engines to drive the front wheels and adds an electric motor to power the rear wheels. It works flawlessly and unobtrusively, sending power to the wheels with the best traction.
Together, the engine and motor deliver 400 hp with 472 lb-ft of torque, also with the eight-speed automatic. The combination means that the T8 Hybrid can accelerate to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds and deliver fuel economy of 59 mpg equivalent.
Of Volvo’s two other stars at the Colorado event, the V90 wagon likely has the least chance of success in the United States. American motorists have all but delivered a death knell to station wagons of any kind. Yet Volvo, which was a pioneer in truck-based wagons, figures it has a fifth column of its wagon enthusiasts lurking somewhere, poised with checkbooks. They won’t be disappointed. The wagon has all of the performance and handling characteristics as the fine S90 sedan.
Also, sedans like the new stretched S90 are being gradually overwhelmed by crossover SUVs of every size and price class. So, with the S90’s extra 4.5 inches of foot room in the back seat, they likely will be sold in great numbers in China, where prosperous folks like to be chauffeured to their destinations. In the U.S., some likely will be outfitted as limousines.
One jarring note shared by all of the new Volvos: for some unfathomable reason, the sun visors do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sunlight from the sides. It’s a simple and welcome enhancement that should be a no-brainer in this price class.