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The Review Garage

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

Welcome to The Review Garage!

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

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

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

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

Featured post

Driving at a Social Distance in the 2020 Audi Q3

by Jason Fogelson

Driving has become one of my calming tools during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am quite familiar with the social isolation we’ve all been experiencing, since I work by myself in my home office in the suburbs of Detroit. But still, there’s a big difference between working at home and sheltering in place. Every so often, the walls begin to close in, and I’ve got to get out. When I’ve got a special new crossover vehicle like the 2020 Audi Q3 S line 45 TFSI quattro in the driveway, the temptation to escape is even greater than usual.

My wife works in the public schools, so she’s been here at home this month as well. We’ve holed up in our respective corners of the house, each accompanied by a dog to keep us company. I always invite her to go for a ride with me – she’s very smart about cars, and often notices things from the passenger’s seat that I miss as a driver.

Right off the bat, we both admire the new exterior of the Q3, which has just entered its second generation of production. Q3 is now slightly bigger than before, and more crisply edged than before, giving it a more grown-up, executive feel that ties in nicely with the rest of the Audi lineup. Our test vehicle wears a striking coat of Turbo Blue paint, a bold choice that works well. 

Inside, Audi’s well-deserved reputation for classy interior design is on display. The dash is layered, with strong horizontal lines that help the cabin feel wide and expansive. All of the materials are precisely fit and of high quality. There’s a unity of design that matches the feel of the outside of the Q3. Our Q3 is a top-of-the-line example, fitted with the $6,900 Prestige package and the $500 Sport Interior package of options. The Prestige package includes technology upgrades galore: Alarm; HomeLink garage door opener; three-months of SiriusXM; Audi advanced key; Audi side assist with rear cross-traffic alert; Audi parking system plus; Lane departure warning; Aluminum inlays; wireless phone charging; full LED headlights; adaptive cruise control with stop & go; park steering assist; top-view camera; LED interior lighting plus package; stainless steel trunk sill and more.

Perhaps most significantly for the new Q3, the Prestige package includes the latest version of the Audi MMI touch response system with a 10.1-inch touchscreen (up from the standard 8.8-inch unit) and the 12.3-inch Audi virtual cockpit (up from the standard 10.25 inches). Virtual cockpit has been a marvel since it was released in the flagship Audi models several years ago, and is no less remarkable now that it has trickled down to the compact Q3. From a simple layout of tachometer and speedometer to a live Google Maps satellite view, the virtual cockpit is customizable and flexible. It works in coordination with the MMI and voice control for infotainment and telematics.

The new MMI now incorporates a haptic touchscreen. That means that you get tangible feedback when you use the touchscreen, as it seems to push back against your fingertip when you change settings or make selections. Executing functions and changing settings is very intuitive, especially to smartphone users (isn’t that just about everybody by now?). You can also trace letters and numbers with your fingers on the screen in certain situations, making for another easy way to interact with the system. I spent several hours in the driveway exploring the system, putting it through its paces and getting comfortable with its operation – a very rewarding distraction. I also spent time listening to the excellent Bang & Olufsen 3D surround sound system with 680 watts of amplification and 15 speakers. 

How about actually driving? Yes, I did that, too. Q3 uses a small displacement (2.0-liter) turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine that produces 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, which Audi says can get it from 0 – 60 mph in 7.0 seconds, which feels right. It uses a quick-shifting Tiptronic automatic transmission with eight speeds, and quattro all-wheel drive is standard. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway/22 mpg combined. Suspension is five-link independent front and rear. Audi doesn’t make a big deal out of it, but Q3 handles well, with a low center of gravity and a direct steering feel. The quattro system enhances cornering in all road conditions. Solid build quality and ample sound deadening control makes for a serene ride on the highway, and an all-around big-car ride quality for such a small crossover vehicle. 

Both my wife and I were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed spending time in the Q3, and at how much we found to admire about its interior over time. 

This compact luxury crossover category has gotten crowded with great choices in the past few years, attracting more downsizing sedan and SUV owners than expected as car makers make high-end features available across lineups. Compare Q3 to the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, Lexus NX, Infiniti QX50, Cadillac XT4, Volvo XC40, Land Rover Range Rover Evoque and others. 

Starting at $34,700 ($44,745 as tested), the 2020 Audi Q3 has what it takes to compete in the big leagues – and is a great way to get out of the house without violating any social distancing guidelines. 

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

Photos (c) Audi

2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In American slang, “86” means to get rid of, cancel, eject or bury something. In the Japanese automobile industry, 86 is the name of a nimble Toyota sports car that is actually built by Subaru.

The joint venture dates back to 2012, when Toyota introduced the two-door coupe as the Scion FR-S (then Toyota’s youth-oriented brand, now 86ed). The FR-S name went away with Scion. The FR-S and successor 86 also was — and still is — sold by Subaru as the BRZ. The two vehicles gave each manufacturer something it did not have.

For Toyota, it was the 200-hp, 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder engine, also called a flat or boxer engine. In a boxer, the cylinders lie flat, feet to feet, on both sides of the crankshaft, instead of standing straight or leaning sideways as in-line or V engines.

Subaru is the only manufacturer that uses boxer engines in all of its models. The configuration is the same as that used in millions of Volkswagen Beetles and microbuses from the 1930s until the 1970s. 

The other manufacturer currently using boxers is Germany’s Porsche, in its Boxster, Cayman and 911 models. In those cars the engine is mounted amidships, forward of the rear wheels, or behind them in a rear-engine design.

That leaves the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 with a unique layout in which the boxer engine nests up front and sends its power to the rear wheels via a driveshaft. Nobody else does a boxer front engine, rear drive layout. It also is the only two-wheel drive model in the Subaru lineup; the others come standard with all-wheel drive.

The 2020 86 gets its name from its production numbers — hachi-roku in Japanese. It still uses the boxer engine, now with 205 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. Tested for this review was the special Hakone Edition with a six-speed manual gearbox (a six-speed automatic is available). Hakone is the name of a famed curvy turnpike near Tokyo. It also is the name of the Hakone Edition’s deep green paint, similar to British Racing Green.

The Hakone Edition package also includes bronzed alloy wheels and smart-looking front seats done up with black suede cloth seating areas trimmed with tan leather. But the fancy stuff ends there; the two vestigial back seats are monotone.

That’s likely because Toyota doesn’t expect them to get much use. The 86 is what used to be called a “two-plus-two,” meaning a coupe with tiny back seats and no knee or leg room. In an emergency, you could squeeze two small humans back there but only if the front seat occupants run their seats as far forward as possible, likely compressing the driver’s chest.

So think of the 86 as a two-seater, not unlike a Mazda MX-5 Miata with a hard top and a bit of extra space in back for melons or capuchin monkeys. At least the 86’s back seat augments the meager seven cubic feet of trunk space.

Another way to consider the 86 is as the smaller, less powerful sibling of the resurrected Toyota Supra two-seater, which comes with a 382-horsepower in-line six cylinder engine from BMW. At $56,720 as reviewed here, it costs twice as much as the $28,015 base 86.

The Hakone Edition comes nicely equipped for $30,825 with the manual gearbox. Prices include the destination charge. The test car had Bluetooth connectivity but no Apple Car Play or Android Auto, though it was compatible with those apps. There was an AM-FM radio but no SXM satellite radio.

However, the 86 is a pure sports car so the entertainment comes from the driving. Engine noise intrudes harshly into the cabin any time the tachometer needle passes 3,000 rpms. The zero to 60 acceleration time is less than seven seconds (compared to less than four seconds for the Supra).

For enthusiasts, the stick shift is preferable to the automatic. But the 86’s clutch action can be a bit touchy, and the shift linkage is taut and even a bit bumpy changing gears. 

Handling is the 86’s forte. It corners flat, and the somewhat stiff steering provides good feedback. The tradeoff is a harsh ride on rough roads. Combine the ride with the echoing engine racket in the cabin and a long trip on freeways could become taxing.

Complaints include a hard-to-read, tiny backup camera mounted in the inside rearview mirror, and sun visors that do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sun from the side.

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition two-door sports coupe.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 205 hp, 151 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual with rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 77/7 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,810 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/28/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,825.
  • Price as tested: $30,825.

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

Photos (c) Toyota

What Would 1986 Think of the 2020 Hyundai Elantra?

by Jason Fogelson

I wish I had a time machine. Not so that I could go back in time, but so I could bring a car enthusiast from the past into our present and show them the 2020 Hyundai Elantra Limited. 

Imagine plucking some guy from 1986, the year that Hyundai began selling the Excel in the United States. Imagine this guy with his pleated pants, Hawaiian shirt with the collar popped, and the sleeves of his white linen jacket pushed up his forearms like Don Johnson on Miami Vice. He’s laughing at the Excel in a Hyundai showroom, giggling at the idea that any self-respecting car guy would be caught dead in a Korean car. Suddenly, a beam of light from above captures this guy – let’s call him Chad – and rearranges his molecules through space and time, reconstructing him in the driver’s seat of a 2020 Elantra.

Once the nausea from time travel wears off, Chad looks around the cabin of the Elantra Limited. He’s sure that he’s in a luxury car. I assure him that he’s in a Hyundai Elantra Limited with a list price of $22,800. He whistles at how expensive that is – until I tell him that the average transaction price on a new car in the United States right now is above $35,000, so this is quite clearly an economy car. (In 1986 where Chad is from, the average transaction price for a new car is around $12,500.)  Even with the options on our 2020 Elantra Limited ($3,350 Ultimate Package; $135 Carpeted Floor Mats; $930 Inland Freight and Handling), the as-tested price of the car he’s sitting in is $27,215 – way below average.

Chad nods, looks around and starts touching things. He’s impressed with the design, which is simple and elegant to his eyes. He’s impressed with the eight-inch infotainment touchscreen, and once I explain all of the technology that it gives access to, he nods as if he understands (he really doesn’t, because he’s from 1986). He loves the fact that there’s no key to insert or turn, just a button to push, because he thinks that a key fob will work better in his linen jacket pocket than some jangly keys. He’s thrilled with the controls available on the steering wheel, and when I describe some of the SmartSense safety systems that come with the Limited’s Ultimate Package – Smart Cruise Control, Forward Collision Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Safe Exist Assist and Blind Spot Collision Warning with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist – he’s amazed and enthralled. It seems like science fiction, but I assure him that it’s science fact. 

As a car guy, he can’t wait to get a look under the hood. He’s a little disappointed by the engine’s size, a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline unit. But when I tell him that the little 2.0 can produce 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque while achieving 30 mpg city/40 mpg highway/34 mpg combined, he’s ready to take a drive.

Elantra’s Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT), a new Hyundai take on the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), is transparent in operation for Chad, just like a conventional geared automatic transmission, but he’s a little flummoxed by the slightly sluggish performance in “D” mode. I reach over and push the gear selector lever in “S,” and the 2.0 engine perks up immediately, holding gear ratios longer, and livening up performance. Chad pushes the Elantra into curves, tries out the brakes, and puts the car through its paces, a wide grin breaking out on his face. Chad declares the Elantra a winner over all of the economy cars and most of the luxury cars of 1986 – and it’s even comfortable and quiet on the road. 

I have to agree with Chad (after all, I made him up for this story). But how does the Elantra stand up to the competition in 2020? Measure it against the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, Mazda3 and Volkswagen Jetta to get an idea. I’d put it near the top rung for value and overall quality, in the lower end for overall driving experience. I prefer the Mazda3 and Jetta for pure driving enjoyment, but I like the Elantra’s packaging and available safety features a lot. 

If you, like Chad, have not experienced the current state of the art in economy/commuter cars, I encourage you to explore the landscape before buying. You’ll be wise to include the 2020 Hyundai Elantra Limited on your list for consideration.

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

Photos (c) Hyundai

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It’s still a puzzle why any luxury manufacturer would produce a vehicle like the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe.

It must have something to do with the psyche of some of its customers — people who maybe have the same mindset of those who rushed out to buy the BMW X6 after it was introduced in 2008.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

To some, it looked ridiculous. Take a tall midsize luxury sport utility vehicle, with all its attendant practicality, and shave the roof so at least the part above the beltline vaguely resembles a sleek fastback like an Audi A7.

Never mind that the effect is that of a clumsy effort to produce a stylish SUV with limited rear headroom and visibility, as well as truncated cargo space. Or, as a Car and Driver magazine critic wrote, it “proves that some people really do want a running shoe with a hiking sole attached.”

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Mercedes gives ‘em the Old Razzle Dazzle by describing its new AMG GLE 53 as a four-door Coupe. It’s even part of the official name. The company has produced other so-called coupes with four doors but some are tempting designs with sensuous fastback styling—what was called a torpedo body in the World War II era.

Except for the odd body and nosebleed price, the AMG GLE 53 Coupe has solid Mercedes-Benz credentials, enhanced by the company’s high-performance AMG arm. It is a mild hybrid with a 48-volt electric supercharger that contributes 21 hp to get things going without discernible turbo lag, connected to a 429 hp, 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine that makes 384 lb-ft of torque.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

It could hardly have less given its high performance image and curb weight of 5,250 lbs. Mercedes-Benz says that the AMG GLE 53 can nail 60 mph in about five seconds, assisted by the mild hybrid system off the line, which also enables a sophisticated idle stop system that barely makes itself felt. Top speed is governed at 155 mph.

The transmission is a nine-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. Mercedes 4Matic all-wheel drive and an AMG Ride Control air suspension system are part of the standard equipment.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

There are seven selectable drive modes for on- and off-road motoring: Sand, Trail, Slippery, Individual, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. The last is intended only for race track duty, and the onboard computer informs the driver whether there are any race tracks — or none at all — in the neighborhood.

The AMG GLE 53 Coupe is an easy driver, obviously with plenty of power, though it is almost six feet tall and has the substantial, even somewhat ponderous, feel of a big vehicle, though the heavy steering and handling feel secure on twisting roads. Because of the bias toward handling, the ride is a bit stiff.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Despite the off-road equipment, this is more of a confortable road runner suited to long-distance travel on Interstate highways. It is uncommonly well dressed, and the price tag bears witness to the long list of standard and optional equipment and features.

The starting price of $77,495, including the destination charge, looks almost reasonable. But the tested Coupe also came with a whopping $27,829 worth of options — an amount that could buy you a nice compact crossover SUV.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

The equipment is too extensive to fully list here, but includes a suite of safety features enhanced by one of the biggest head-up displays anywhere, along with Distronic adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, heated and ventilated seats, four-zone automatic climate control, navigation, Burmaster surround-sound audio, SXM satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A particular favorite for this review was the massage function built into the driver’s seat. Relaxing.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

There’s a bewildering array of buttons, switches and icons on the  console, steering wheel and center screen, some of them redundant. They can be learned but it takes time and practice to get everything set up properly. Don’t fiddle with them while driving.

The AMG GLE 53 Coupe does come up short in a few areas. There are no assist handles inside for entering and exiting. Visibility to the rear is limited, with wide pillars flanking a small rear window that resembles a machine gun port in a military bunker. And the sunshade for the glass sunroof is made of a perforated cloth that admits too much light and heat.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, supercharged and turbocharged; 429 hp, 384 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: NA/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,250 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/23/20 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $77,495.
  • Price as tested: $105,324.

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

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2020 Toyota Prius is the Proto-Hybrid

by Jason Fogelson

As the automotive industry does its best to catch up, the 2020 Toyota Prius posts incremental improvements and additions. Prius has been the poster child for hybrid cars for over 20 years now, a beacon that identifies its owners as green and woke (and maybe a little self-congratulatory). Say what you will about image and perception, it’s hard to criticize the roomy, efficient Prius when it comes with an EPA rating of 52 mpg city/48 mpg highway/50 mpg combined when equipped with newly available (as of 2019) all-wheel drive.

Front 3q Left Blue

For 2020, Toyota has added more standard features to Prius, sweetening the pot. On the audio front, Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa have been added to the system’s capability. This is particularly welcome for users who find the Scout GPS app that links with Toyota’s Entune system lacking (I do), because they can now connect an Apple iPhone via a USB cable and have the Apple Maps app operate through the Prius’ infotainment screen. This works way better than Scout, in my experience, and lets you get a quick link between other information in your smartphone and your mapping program. Amazon Alexa functionality is great, too, if you’re willing to take the time to set up Alexa skills in the Alexa app. If you have iOT devices at home – smart lightbulbs, a smart thermostat, etc. – this can be very convenient and fun. These are the kind of tech upgrades that Prius should get – the kind that help integrate the vehicle into owners’ (users’) lives beyond transportation.

Front 3q Right

The other big area of upgrade to Prius for 2020 is in standard safety systems. Toyota Safety Connect is now standard (with a free three-year trial subscription) on all Prius grades, including Emergency Assistance, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Roadside Assistance and Automatic Collison Notification. Similar to the tech upgrades in the audio area, this connectivity is also a smart, appropriate addition for Prius and its connected owners.

Dash

Beyond those upgrades, the 2020 Prius is pretty much a carryover model, very similar to the 2019 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e model that I reviewed last year for Forbes. This year’s test car had an optional feature that I very much appreciated: the $800 Advanced Technology Package that included a Head-Up Display (HUD). This bright, color projection above the steering wheel solved the slight unease that I feel with the Prius’ center-mounted instrument panel. With the HUD, I was able to keep my head straight, my eyes on the road, and still have visual access to my car’s speed and the activity of the hybrid system. I’m a big fan of a well-executed HUD in the first place, and on Prius I would consider it an essential feature, not an extra.

Engine

My test vehicle, a 2020 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e, came with a base price of $29,250. With options, including the HUD, $259 Carpeted Floor Mats, $299 Illuminated Door Sills, $125 Door Edge Guards, $69 Rear Bumper Applique, and $955 Delivery Processing and Handling Fee, the as-tested price was $31,757. Bracketed in the Toyota lineup by the new 2020 Corolla Hybrid (starting at $23,100) and 2020 Camry Hybrid (starting at $28,430), it’s not the only smart choice in the Toyota lineup – just the most visible.

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

Rear 3q Right

Photos (c) Toyota

2020 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Ultimate: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If raucous high performance defines motoring excitement for you, consider the 2020 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Ultimate.

This is a compact, front-wheel drive hatchback with midsize room that is distinguished by three passenger doors. There’s a long door for the driver and two shorter doors on the right side. Having the third door is way preferable to squirming into the back seat of a two-door.

Three Doors Open

Though it’s far from a sales standout in Hyundai’s lineup, the Veloster, depending on the version, qualifies as an economy car or all the way up to what some observers like to call a “hot hatch” — that is, a sports car in hatchback metal.

The Veloster has been part of the South Korean manufacturer’s lineup for almost a decade. For 2020, it comes in five trim levels: The base model, at $19,430, including the destination charge, comes with a 147-hp, 2.0-liter engine with 132 lb-ft of torque and a five-speed manual gearbox. Next up is the 2.0 Premium for $23,730, which adds a six-speed automatic transmission and other equipment.

Front 3q Right Dynamic

Both fall into the economy end of the equation, though they offer standard Apple Car Play and Android Auto as well as a suite of safety enhancements. Among them: forward collision mitigation and lane-keeping assist. They are solid, dependable daily drivers.

Move up to the next level and you get the stick shift Turbo R-Spec, which has a sticker of $24,080 and is a blast to drive because of its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 201 hp with 195 lb-ft of torque. Get the same power with a dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission and the price jumps to $26,380.

Front 3q Left Dynamic

Which brings us to the tested Veloster Turbo Ultimate. It has the same power train as the Turbo DCT but more equipment and a bottom-line sticker price of $29,215. It comes equipped with blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection,

The dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission is part of the Ultimate package. This type of automatic operates something like a manual gearbox but with two clutches alternately poised to engage the next gear instantly, computer controlled unless the driver opts to shift for himself or herself. The advantage is quicker shifts and improved fuel economy.

Dash Daytime

The tested Veloster Turbo Ultimate was gorgeously gussied up with bright red paint topped by a glossy black top. You could argue that it had an arresting presence — likely attracting any police vehicle in sight.

Inside, the effect was similar, with light gray, perforated leather upholstery trimmed with red stripes. The front seats were supportive and comfortable, with seatbacks well bolstered to hold the torso in hard cornering on curving roads. Oddly, though the tester was well equipped, even with a head-up display, the driver’s seat had only manual adjustments.

Second Row

Once you awkwardly work your way through the narrow right rear-door opening, the back seat offered decent head and knee room for average-sized adults.

On the road, the Veloster Turbo Ultimate was a stellar performer. But it might be a good idea to bring along ear plugs or noise-canceling headphones. Combine the racket from the revving turbo engine and road noise stabbing into the cabin, ordinary conversation or listening to audio is off the table.

Profile Right

Still, there’s excitement. With the snap shifts from the dual-clutch transmission, the Turbo Ultimate can nail 60 mph from rest in about six seconds, according to a test by Car and Driver magazine.

The steering is precise and responsive, though with a heavy feel, and communicates what’s going on at the front wheels. However, the ride, on anything but smooth asphalt, is harsh and upsetting.

Hatchback Open

Equipment is extensive. As the top of the lineup, the Veloster Turbo Ultimate came with only one option: $135 carpeted floor mats. Included  were a motorized glass sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, navigation system, automatic climate control, premium audio with SXM satellite radio, wireless smart phone charging and LED headlights and tail lights.

Curiously, the Turbo Ultimate actually is not the ultimate Veloster. Hyundai has developed a new N high performance line for some of its models. The designation resembles F-Sport at Lexus, AMG at Mercedes-Benz, V at Cadillac, S at Audi, R-Type at Honda and M at BMW.

The Veloster N comes in two versions: Standard package for $28,530 and Performance package at $30,430. Both have 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines. The Standard makes 250 hp and the Performance has a 275-hp four-banger. That’s the ultimate.

Front Dynamic

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Ultimate three-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged with direct injection; 201 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 90/20 cubic feet. (44.5).
  • Weight: 2,987 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/34/30 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,080.
  • Price as tested: $29,215.

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

Rear 3q Left Dynamic

Photos (c) Hyundai

Don’t Ignore the 2020 Acura RDX

by Jason Fogelson

Ignoring Acura is a mistake. While the brand has had its ups and downs in terms of awareness and popularity, its cars have never lacked in quality and passion. As the luxury brand of the Honda universe, Acura has a tall order to fulfil. Honda’s reputation for dependability, efficiency and competence is well-established, and Acura shares in that regard. If Honda and Acura share a deficit, it might be excitement. Even when the brands come up with an exciting vehicle, like the Honda Civic Type R or the Acura NSX, the limelight seems to fade quickly after launch. Blame a fickle audience; blame the marketing department; blame the shock of the new; it doesn’t matter. The fact is that most of us buy or lease our vehicles for a long-term relationship, and we’d be wise to consider factors beyond popularity and infatuation before making a commitment.

Advance Action

If you’re in the market for a compact luxury crossover, I’m going to point you in the direction of the 2020 Acura RDX SH-AWD Advance. I might be behind the curve on this, as RDX has sold over 450,000 examples over three generations since its launch in 2006.

RDX was all-new for 2019, the first Acura vehicle to be designed and engineered in the United States. It rides on an Acura platform, rather than a shared Honda platform as previous generations did. RDX is built in East Liberty, Ohio.

In a sea of automotive sameness, there are a few cool features that help RDX stand out in the crowd of compact luxury crossover SUVs.

Advance Beauty & Details

For drivers, there’s a completely transparent feature called “Torque Vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive.” Torque vectoring is not new, but when properly executed (as it is on RDX), it can be a revelation. Simply explained, torque vectoring directs the twisting force on the wheels to the outside wheels on a turn, which can enhance control and turn-in. You probably realize that the inside and outside wheels rotate at different speeds during a turning maneuver. This is managed by a differential, which allows the wheels to spin as needed. A torque vectoring system takes this one step further – pushing the power toward the outside wheels during a turn. This can be done passively, by applying brake pressure to the inside wheel, or actively. RDX’s SH-AWD system can send up to 70% of the available power to the rear wheels, and up to 100% of that power to the side that needs it. In practical terms, what that means is that when you mash the throttle from a standstill while turning the front wheel, perhaps trying to make a right turn at a red light and merging into cross-traffic, RDX simply bites in, applying the power just how you need it, and you get a smooth, powerful merge, not a scary, out-of-control power slide. It’s very impressive, and compelling enough that you’ll want to try it over and over again. Torque vectoring is usually very challenging to explain and demonstrate – not in the RDX. The benefits are apparent at every corner.

Advance Interior

In another cool feature, Acura has taken an evolutionary approach to its infotainment system with the True Touchpad Interface. Everything operates intuitively, and as expected. The cool evolution is how easy it is to customize the system, and how it expands the widely used concept of favorites from the confines of individual apps to the whole system operation. There are eight primary “tiles” on the home screen that can be moved around to the user’s preference, and programmed individually with a firm press for specific actions across multiple functions. For instance, you can program a tile to start navigation to your home; another to dial a frequently called phone number; another to play music from a favorite SiriusXM channel; another to set climate control to your preferred function. Place the tiles so that your most frequently used functions are at the corners, and you’ve got quick, no-look access. It’s smart, easy to use, and best of all, easy to set up – no programming degree required.

Advance Beauty & Details

Not everything is perfect in the RDX. While I liked the character of its turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder direct-injected gasoline engine (272 hp/280 lb-ft of torque), I found that I needed to select Sport mode in order to wake up its lagging acceleration. Left in “D” mode, the ten-speed automatic transmission simply took too long to respond to an insistent application of throttle.

I had no complaints about the comfort or fit and finish of the RDX, which I found to be exemplary all around. Acura’s paint quality is always great, and my test car’s Fathom Blue Pearl was particularly stunning.

Advance Beauty & Details

The 2020 Acura RDX SH-AWD Advance carried a list price of $47,700. Including a Destination and Handling fee of $995, my test vehicle had an as-tested price of $47,695, right in line with its stated competitive set of BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60. Tough to make a bad decision in that group. The only mistake would be to leave RDX out of consideration before making your decision.

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

Advance Beauty & Details

Photos (c) Acura

2020 Nissan Leaf SV Plus: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Although Tesla gets most of the attention and expensive newcomers like the Porsche Taycan and Audi e-Tron get the praise, the almost-venerable 2020 Nissan Leaf continues as a decent, relatively inexpensive, alternative for anyone who wants an electric car.

We can give it the venerable title because the Leaf was the first modern mass-market electric car from a major vehicle manufacturer. Introduced in the United States in December, 2010, it was the best seller until recently, when the Tesla Model 3 passed it.

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But best-selling as an electric doesn’t compare with the resurgence of small-displacement fossil-fuel engines, which now dominate the market, mostly in crossover SUVs.

In 2019, electric cars  accounted for 1.9% of the U.S. sales of cars and light trucks. If you skip trucks and you’re just talking cars, it’s about 6%. So, motorist acceptance likely will not arrive for some years to come as manufacturers scramble for battery and charging breakthroughs.

But electric cars possess a great deal of innate appeal: They don’t pollute, they’re fuel efficient, have low maintenance costs, are quiet and relaxing to drive, never have to visit a service station and, best of all for people who enjoy driving, are natural great performers.

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The excitement common to all electrics comes from the nature of the electric motor, which produces maximum torque, or twisting force, immediately when they are switched on. That’s unlike gasoline or diesel engines, which deliver their maximum torque when they reach a certain revolutions per minute (rpm).

With the Nissan Leaf electric, you sit quietly at a stoplight as if the motor is switched off, though it’s still connected. The light changes and you punch the throttle pedal. Wham! You have full torque, enough with the nearly two-ton Leaf SV Plus to nail 60 mph in about seven seconds.

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You don’t even need a transmission to multiply the torque. The “force be with you” for acceleration and passing exists because of the motor itself. That’s why most electric cars list the transmission as “single speed automatic.”

Drive the around all day, even take a short trip — the advertised range is 215 miles with its 62 kilowatt-hour battery — then plug it into a 240-volt home or commercial charger overnight and it will be ready to boogie again the next day.

Of course, the downside of the Leaf and other pure electrics is the time required to recharge the battery. With a 240-volt charger, it takes about 11 hours, OK overnight. If you have access only to household current, figure on a couple of days. So long trips, unless meticulously planned  for charging stops and stays at rural motels, are likely out of the question.

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That likely will change as battery technology and charging equipment improve. Until then, most people will stick with their gassers, which can be refueled in minutes at an Interstate truck stop.

All of that said, the tested Nissan Leaf SV Plus is a nifty, even endearing choice. First, it’s a standard four-door hatchback with midsize room for five (though the center-rear passenger is dissed as usual) and plenty of space in a deep cargo area.

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The surroundings are familiar. There’s a simple knob on the console for shifting into forward, reverse and park. It’s different but not goofy. Instruments, controls and infotainment are all intuitive and mostly easy to figure out. If not, consult the owner’s manual.

It’s all set up for careful drivers who want to extend their range—and it works. First, there’s a B setting to augment the D for drive. Simply shift the knob a second time. It switches from a coasting mode on deceleration to one that more aggressively slows the Leaf. The regenerative braking helps recharge the battery while you’re driving.

Center Console

There’s also a so-called e-Pedal mode, activated by a switch on the console, that delivers even more aggressive regenerative braking that allows what is called “one pedal driving.” If you learn how to use it, you can re-charge the battery even more and never use the brake pedal.

The Leaf comes in five trim levels, with a starting price for the S version of $32,525, including the destination charge. Tested for this review was the SV Plus, which had a suggested price with options of $42,670. Others are the SV, S Plus and SL Plus

The tested Leaf posted an EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent fuel economy of 114/94/104 MPGe.

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Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Nissan Leaf SV Plus four-door hatchback.
  • Motor: AC Synchronous Electric; 214 hp, 250 lb-ft torque; 62 kWh lithium-ion battery.
  • Transmission: Single-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 92/24 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,909 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 114/94/104 MPGe.
  • Range: Up to 215 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,675.
  • Price as tested: $42,670.

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

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Photos (c) Nissan

Avalon Hybrid Generates Grins

by Jason Fogelson

Through five generations of production since the 1995 model year, Avalon has been the flagship of the Toyota lineup in the United States. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it has been given a lot of respect or attention on the sales floor. Though it shares a platform, TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture), with sibling Camry, Avalon sales in 2019 were one-tenth the number of Camry sales. Looking at Avalon Hybrid sales versus Camry Hybrid sales reveals a different balance. In 2019, Toyota sold 26,043 Camry Hybrid sedans, while selling 6,552 Avalon Hybrid sedans, about a 4:1 ratio – much closer than the overall numbers. What’s going on here?

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I decided to take the 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid for a week-long test drive to see if I could figure it out.

My test vehicle was a Limited trim level with a list price of $43,150. With options ($1,150 Advanced Safety Package; $259 Carpet Mat Package) and a $950 Delivery Processing and Handling Fee, my Parisian Night Pearl Avalon Hybrid carried an as-tested price of $45,489.

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Avalon spent its first four generations cloaked in blandness, but the new generation, which launched with the 2019 model year, is much more interesting and attractive. Sharper lines, a bolder snout, and, dare I say, sportiness to the exterior have livened up the big sedan. Still on the conservative end of the spectrum, but much better than before.

Inside, Avalon manages to achieve Lexus levels of luxury, but with a flair that matches Avalon’s newly spruced exterior design. I particularly like the way that the center stack is set off from the dashboard, putting the standard nine-inch touchscreen display at the top. My Limited model also included a 10-inch head-up display, which beamed information into my line of sight in the driver’s windshield – a very desirable safety feature, well-executed.

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Avalon is roomy and comfortable, notably so in the second row. The flexible TNGA platform has allowed engineers and designers to stretch the wheelbase by two inches over Camry, and to put that additional space to use in the second row of the Avalon, almost to executive sedan level.

Under the hood, Avalon Hybrid uses a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine (176 hp/163 lb-ft of torque) and a pair of electric motors. One motor operates as a generator, engine starter and hybrid battery charger, while the other drives the front wheels and captures braking energy during regeneration. The drive motor has a maximum output of 118 hp. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) directs power to the front wheels, with a net system horsepower rating of 215. The hybrid battery pack is a sealed Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) type with a nominal voltage of 244.8. Systems that are designed to deliver extensive EV-only range have mostly switched over to Lithium Ion battery packs, which are more energy-dense (and more expensive) than Ni-MH. Avalon Hybrid is engineered for overall fuel efficiency, not pure electric range or operation – Toyota doesn’t even provide information on EV range, though there is an EV button on the center console. In practice, I found that it was nearly impossible to keep the Avalon Hybrid in EV mode, as the faintest push on the accelerator pedal kicked the car back into hybrid operation. In any event, Avalon Hybrid Limited is rated to achieve 43 mpg city/43 mpg highway/43 mpg combined – very impressive for a roomy five-passenger sedan with a 16.09 cubic-foot trunk and a 3,715-lb curb weight.

Center StackThe TNGA platform reaps big benefits for Avalon Hybrid when it comes to handling. While Avalon Hybrid isn’t exactly sporty, it is a sharp-handling, connected car that responds precisely to inputs, turns in sharply, and delivers a comfortable, controlled ride. Past generations of Avalon have been correctly criticized for being a little too floaty and cushioned, but those are voices of the past. While enthusiastic drivers will wish for quicker acceleration (get the gas-only V6 for that), few will complain at Avalon’s overall competence and comfort.

The big reveal for the Avalon Hybrid, and maybe its secret weapon, is the fact that choosing the Hybrid over the gasoline-only Avalon only adds $1,000 to the suggested retail price.

Second Row

The competition for a vehicle this size with a hybrid gasoline-electric powertrain is thin in this price range, from $37,000 for Avalon Hybrid XLE to $39,500 for Avalon Hybrid XSE to $43,300 for the 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited.

I’d be very comfortable recommending the Avalon Hybrid to anyone who is looking for an efficient, luxurious, pleasant to drive and relatively affordable five-passenger sedan.

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

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Photos (c) Toyota

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