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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.
GMC scheduled the introduction of its redesigned 2018 GMC Terrain to coincide with the momentous eclipse of the sun over the United States on Aug. 21, 2017.
The intro took place in Pittsburgh, Pa., so the Terrain did not experience totality. The moon’s coverage of the sun there was about 81%, according to the experts, and that seemed fitting because it’s a good grade that roughly matches the achievements of the new Terrain, especially in the top-line Denali version.
GMC, the truck division of General Motors, manufactures a full array of pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles, vans and crossovers. It has been riding the current wave of customer infatuation with crossovers, which resemble but differ from SUVs because they are built like cars with unit bodies. True SUVs have body-on-frame construction like pickup trucks.
This second-generation Terrain, a crossover SUV, is an upscale fraternal twin of the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox. They share three new engines: a 170-horsepower, turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder; 252-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, and a 137-hp, 1.6-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder.
However, the Terrain uses a nine-speed automatic transmission on its gasoline-engine models, where the Equinox has a six-speed automatic. Diesel engines on both cars connect to the wheels via the six-speed automatic.
The Terrain features a new system for shifting the automatic transmission, which GMC says was developed with an eye toward the future when cars will be able to drive autonomously. A set of switches are mounted on the dash. You pull out the ones for “drive” and “reverse,” and push in for other functions.
Terrains are available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Driven for this review were three versions: luxury-oriented Denali 2.0 AWD with a starting price of $40,245 and, with options, tested at $44,450; an SLT FWD diesel starting at $35,140 and tested at $39,545, and the focus here: SLE AWD with the 1.5-liter engine, starting at $30,545 and $33,210 as tested.
Of the three, the diesel is the fuel economy champ with an EPA certified city/highway/combined fuel consumption of 28/39/32 mpg. The 1.5-liter gets 24/28/26 and the 2.0-liter is rated at 21/26/23.
Though the Terrain’s all-new styling graces a vehicle that is slightly smaller than its predecessor, it is a roomy compact crossover with passenger room similar to that of a midsize sedan and a cargo area of 30 cubic feet, which is about double that of most midsize cars.
It also is distinguished by an unusual design element: each trim level — SLE, SLT and Denali — has its own distinct grille, so astute neighbors can instantly detect your Terrain’s snob appeal.
The top-of-the-line Denali, which has standard and optional features intended to rival those of luxury vehicles, can be equipped with state-of-the-art safety features, including low-speed automatic braking, forward collision alert, lane-keeping assist with lane-departure warning, blind-zone alert and rear cross-traffic alert. Especially appreciated is the notice to the driver to check the back seat after parking. It could save a child’s or pet’s life.
Another welcome innovation was teen-driving parental control, which can set speed limits and audio volume, as well as produce a report card on the teen’s behavior behind the wheel.
The Denali also features such comfort items as leather upholstery, heated and ventilated eight-way power front seats with memory settings, automatic tailgate, automatic dual-zone climate control, Wi-Fi hotspot and a full-fledged infotainment system. Curiously for this luxury-oriented trim, the right front seat has manual adjustments and the right front window does not have express up and down.
If you’re willing to give up some of the luxury and convenience items, the all-wheel drive SLE version is a satisfying vehicle in its own right — and in this test had a price tag $11,240 lower than that of the Denali.
Its smaller 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, with 170 hp and 203 lb-ft of torque, delivered sprightly acceleration with the nine-speed automatic transmission. Its main drawback is that its towing capability is 1,500 pounds compared to the 3,500-lb rating with the 2.0-liter engine.
The SLE’s front seats are comfortable and supportive, upholstered in sturdy cloth that keeps the torso cool in summer and warm in winter. The ride is pleasant on all but the roughest surfaces, and the Terrain handles securely on curves as long as it is not pushed too hard.
Overall, it is a competitive offering in the burgeoning compact crossover class and a good alternative — depending on an individual’s tastes — to the excellent Chevrolet Equinox.
Whatever else you might conclude about the 2018 Jeep Compass Trailhawk 4×4, it has mastered the spirit of the KISS Principle — a design precept that admonishes, “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Though the new Compass is anything but stupid, its designers have done their best to keep it simple.
Because the tested Compass came in the off-road rated Trailhawk version, it has more versatility than its competitors, who lurk in a class of crossover sport utility vehicles parked between subcompacts like the Honda HR-V and compacts like the Toyota RAV4.
Its size is close to the new Subaru Crosstrek, which comes standard with all-wheel drive but without much of the off-road sophistication of the Compass Trailhawk.
The Trailhawk is three inches shorter than the Crosstrek but has more interior room — a total of 127 cubic feet to the Crosstrek’s 119. However, the Trailhawk also is more powerful, heavier by about 400 pounds, more expensive and less fuel efficient.
It’s all about orientation. The Crosstrek, though it has some off-road capability, focuses primarily on highway performance in foul weather. The Compass Trailhawk can handle that and also deal with rough stuff off the road — though not as capably as its garage-mates Jeep Wrangler and Unlimited.
Its all-wheel drive system has five all-terrain drive modes: auto, rock, snow, sand and mud, along with four-wheel drive low range, four-wheel drive lock, and hill-descent control.
This is where it exhibits simplicity. All modes are controlled by buttons on the console that are legibly labeled and easy to operate. They complement the 8.4-inch touch screen in the middle of the dash, which also is a paragon of simplicity for controlling infotainment and navigation functions.
That contrasts with other vehicles, many of them in the luxury category, that are so obtuse in operation that they prompt angry tirades and an increase in blood pressure.
The Compass replaces its previous generation sibling and the Jeep Patriot, a similar crossover SUV. Fiat Chrysler discontinued the Patriot after 2016, although some leftovers are being sold as 2017 models.
There are four Compass trim levels with front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, three different transmissions and one engine: a 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder that delivers 175 pound-feet of torque. The four trims are Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk and Limited, the last being the loaded luxury model.
A six-speed manual gearbox is standard on the Sport 4×2 and 4×4, and the Latitude 4×4. The Latitude 4×2 comes with a six-speed automatic transmission. Jeep’s nine-speed automatic transmission, with a manual-shift mode, is standard on Trailhawk and Limited, both of which come standard with all-wheel drive. The nine-speed also is an option on the Sport and Latitude 4×4 models.
Though not a scorcher on acceleration, there’s enough power for anything the Compass encounters. It handles decently on and off the road and delivers a compliant, somewhat choppy though quiet ride with some intrusion of engine and road noise.
The tested Trailhawk came with a starting price of $29,690 and, with options, topped out at $33,560, which is slightly below the average price of a new car now in the U.S. Equipment was extensive, including roll mitigation, front and rear tow hooks, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot warning, along with navigation, parking assist, satellite radio, remote starting and a power tailgate.
One handy item, especially for adventuresome backwoods boomers, was a full-size spare wheel and tire, though the wheel was plain steel and not handsome alloy like other four.
Receiving increasing attention are vehicles that roll away if the driver inadvertently turns off the engine while the automatic transmission still is in Drive. Some systems automatically shift into Park, but the Compass finesses the situation by refusing to let the engine shut down. An instrument message orders the driver to shift into Park.
Though the interior contained a number of plastic trim items, the seats were upholstered in a combination of sturdy cloth trimmed with leather. The front seats had well-bolstered seatbacks to hold the torso in cornering and off-roading.
The outboard back seats had plenty of head and knee room for average sized adults, and even the center-rear position, hampered by a floor hump, intrusion of the console and a cushion instead of a real seat, actually could accommodate a fifth passenger.
Overall, this new Compass is a bundle of compromises that delivers a potpourri of capabilities.
Model: 2018 Jeep Compass Trailhawk 4X4 crossover sport utility vehicle.
The 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4MATIC forges a strong link in the longest chain of luxury sport utility vehicles in America.
In a move that was prescient but a gamble in 1997, the German manufacturer introduced the first luxury SUV, the 1998 ML320, at a surprisingly low price of $34,545.
Following the practice of the era, the ML320 was built like a truck, with the body mounted on a welded steel frame. As such, it had significant off-road chops but also delivered great highway handling from an independent suspension system and decent performance from a 215-hp, 3.2-liter V6 engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Moreover, it was American-made in a brand-new Mercedes plant in Alabama.
The ML320 was an immediate hit, with some customers waiting as long as eight months for delivery, and soon Japan’s Lexus countered with its RX, which was manufactured with a passenger-car unit body. That configuration now is called a crossover. Mercedes switched to a unit body for the second-generation ML-Class in 2005.
The company’s prescience paid off and it expanded its lineup as buyer interest remained steady, then soared for crossover SUVs in every price class, especially in recent years.
With two decades of experience, Mercedes now sells five models, starting with the subcompact GLA. It also has re-named others in the lineup to match their size classes. The tested compact GLC300 used to be called the GLK; the old midsize ML now is the GLE and the full-size GLS used to be the GL. Also in the lineup is the G-Class, based on a Mercedes military vehicle.
As a compact, the 2018 GLC300 is a solid contender in its luxury category, available with almost every modern safety, driver involvement and infotainment feature. Many come as options, which inflated the base price of $42,975 to $62,795.
Power is delivered by a responsive 241-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 273 lb-ft of torque. A nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by steering-wheel paddles sends the power to all four wheels. If you don’t need all-wheel drive, the GLC300 can be ordered with standard rear-wheel drive at a saving of $2,000.
The GLC300 is two inches longer and nearly 500 lbs heavier but with less interior room than the best-selling compact Honda CR-V, which has 106 cubic feet of passenger volume and 39 cubic feet for cargo. The GLC’s passenger volume is 98 cubic feet with 19 cubic feet for cargo.
The two-ton weight and an air suspension system translate into a hefty, planted and comfortable ride on the highway with good road feedback through the steering wheel. Likely the acceleration would be better if a few pounds were extracted but the GLC300 is no slouch, reaching 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, according to Mercedes’s specifications.
Some of that weight obviously has gone into insulation and other sound-deadening materials. This is a quiet highway cruiser with little intrusion of road, mechanical and wind noise.
There are five driver-selectable driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual, which adjust shift points and suspension settings to maximize fuel economy and move up from there to enhance performance.
Seats on the test car were upholstered in perforated leather, heated and cooled up front. There are three memory settings for the front seats and mirrors. Outboard back seats are similarly accommodating and even the center-rear position, hampered by a large floor hump, offers room and some comfort. The seatbacks fold flat with a finger pull on a switch.
There’s additional hidden space for small items under the cargo floor because the GLC300 now comes with run-flat tires. The under-floor space comes with a nice touch: two small bags that hold bright yellow vests to wear in an emergency.
A few criticisms are in order. Though there’s an easy-to-use fingertip shifter, if you turn off the engine and forget to put the transmission in Park, the GLC300 will roll forward or backward. Infotainment functions require learning and attention, and should not be attempted underway. The sunshade for the panoramic sunroof is flimsy and admits sunlight. Also, the window controls on the door would be more intuitive placed on the sides of the front seats.
Still, if you have interest and the money for luxury surroundings, state-of-the-art driving and safety features — all in a tidy package — the 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 strongly hints at the self-driving technology of the future.
Model: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4Matic four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.