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The Review Garage

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

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Frank A. Aukofer

2020 Kia Soul: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Not that anyone could have predicted it a decade ago, but the Kia Soul not only survived, it thrived. Competitors fell by the wayside. Now, as a new 2020 model, it is poised for a growth spurt.

There is nothing quite like the Soul. It is basically a box with streamlining and styling cues, something like a small cargo van with comfort, performance and handling—not to mention a funky personality.

2020 Soul X-Line

When it was introduced as a 2009 model, competitors included the Scion xB and the Nissan Cube. The Cube, with a sideways-opening rear hatch, never caught on and faded away. The xB, from Toyota’s youth-oriented brand, grew into a larger station wagon, then disappeared as well, and later even the Scion name was axed. But the Soul soldiered on and in 2018 U.S. sales totaled 104,707.

Now in its third generation, the Soul presents a new face — actually, three new faces — to a broad range of customers from across different age and income spectrums. There are seven gasoline-engine trim levels from the base LX, at $18,485, to the top-line GT-Line trim, which starts at $28,485. An all-electric model will be introduced separately.

2020 Soul GT-Line

The GT-Line is unique in the lineup. Compared to all of the other trim levels, it presents a different front-end treatment and headlight positioning, a more powerful turbocharged engine and a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission. The electric model has a unique fascia as well.

At the national introduction, Kia showed the GT-Line and the $22,485 X-line. The latter, along with all the other gasoline Soul versions except the GT-Line, is powered by a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque through a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). City/highway/combined fuel economy is rated at 27/33/30 mpg.

2020 Soul X-Line

However, Kia calls its transmission an IVT, for intelligent-variable automatic. CVTs use a system of belts and pulleys to seamlessly multiply engine torque on its way to the wheels. They typically have no shift points. Some are criticized for a sound and feel as if they are slipping, though some manufacturers use computer software to mimic set shift points.

The Kia IVT has different innards, including a chain drive that results in what might be called a more natural feel — that is, one that is more familiar to motorists used to traditional torque-converter automatics with smooth or sometimes jerky shift points.

Whatever. The X-Line’s IVT shifts unobtrusively and presents no annoyance to customers used to their previous 1959 Oldsmobile Rocket 88. On the GT-Line, however, the transmission is a dual-clutch automatic, which essentially works like a manual gearbox except with two clutches that are poised to anticipate the driver’s next up or down shift.

2020 Soul X-Line

That happens when the manual mode is selected and the driver uses the shift lever or paddles on the steering wheel. The transmission uncannily knows what the driver plans, so the twin clutches engage and disengage in milliseconds for rapid shifts.

Unfortunately, for true enthusiasts — they probably would be opting for a Mazda MX-5 Miata or Volkswagen GTI in any case —t he only manual gearbox available on the new Soul is on the base LX model. Kia makes an excellent six-speed manual gearbox available on models like the exciting Forte5, which would be welcome on the GT-Line Soul as well.

Soul GT-Line

Whatever. In its position in the marketplace, with all prices well below the $36,000 average price of a new car these days, the 2020 Soul delivers a range of satisfactory penny-pinching as well as enticing performance models.

Kia thinks that practical-minded customers, usually older, will opt for the X-Line for everyday practicality and even bumming around in moderately-challenging boondocks, even though no Soul can be ordered with all-wheel drive.

The GT-Line exists for those who want the torque of a turbo for stoplight sprints and a bit of excitement on those twisting mountain roads, although as mentioned the six-speed manual would be the choice if it were available.

Soul GT-Line

So, bottom line: The 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line, with its $28,485 price tag, delivers a good handling, nice riding, tidy package — just an inch shy of 14 feet long — that has midsize sedan passenger space, with full-size car luggage space, and rewarding throttle response and long-distance cruising on supportive and comfortable front bucket seats.

If you get your juices flowing only from $200,000-plus Italian exotics, the Soul is not for your soul. But if your orientation is toward a not-as-attractive complete package for not a lot of bucks, take a look.

2020 Soul GT-Line

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 201 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/24 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,036 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/32/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,485.
  • Price as tested: $28,485.

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

2020 Soul GT-Line

Photos (c) Kia

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2019 Honda HR-V Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Like a fast-moving epidemic, subcompact crossover sport utility vehicles like the 2019 Honda HR-V are infecting the consciousness of buyers everywhere.

Compared to their compact brethren like the best-selling Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, they are but a blip on the monitor so far. But they are coming on strong, as witness the increasing numbers of nameplates.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

The HR-V arrived on the automotive scene in 2016, at a time when there were only a few other subcompact crossovers like the Jeep Renegade and Chevrolet Trax. Now there are many, including the Toyota C-HR, Nissan Kicks, Kia Niro, Mazda CX-3, Ford EcoSport, Fiat 500X, and the Hyundai Kona, voted 2019 North American Utility of the Year by an independent jury of automotive journalists.

Leading the cadre in 2018 sales was the Subaru Crosstrek, though the others are poised to strengthen as the automotive-buying public continues to abandon traditional sedans in favor of small crossovers because of their practicality, low prices and decent fuel economy.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

The 2019 Honda HR-V embodies those virtues. In a tidy package just 14 feet 3 inches long, it houses 100 cubic feet of space for passengers with 24 cubic feet for cargo — more than that of some midsize sedans. For example, the best-selling midsize 2018 Toyota Camry, at 16 feet long, has 99 cubic feet for passengers and 15 cubic feet of trunk space.

Moreover, with its utilitarian design, the HR-V’s rear seatbacks fold to expand the cargo-carrying capacity to 59 cubic feet. Of course, that eliminates seats for three in back, which is unusually spacious for a small crossover, with generous head and knee room. However, as is usual in nearly every sedan or SUV nowadays, the HR-V’s center-rear passenger gets a hard perch while the outboard riders sit comfortably.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

There are nine versions of the 2019 HR-V across five trim lines. All but the top-of-the-line Touring version are available with standard front-wheel drive or optional ($1,400) all-wheel drive. The Touring comes standard with all-wheel drive.

Prices range from $21,565, including the destination charge, for the base front-drive LX model to $29,585 for the Touring. Other trim levels are the Sport, EX and EX-L. Power comes from a 141 hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with 127 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission available is a continuously variable automatic (CVT). All trim levels have EPA combined city/highway mileage ratings of 28 to 30 mpg.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

Driven for this review was the $24,665 all-wheel drive Sport model, which essentially is a base LX gussied up to make it sportier and attractive. Of all the HR-V versions, it is the only one with classy 18-inch alloy wheels and lower profile tires. All of the others have 17-inch alloy wheels.

The Sport also comes with quicker steering, clever multi-adjustable cup holder, electric parking brake, cruise control, air conditioning, audio system, fog lights, sport pedals, leather-covered steering wheel and shift knob, roof rails, and gloss black outside mirrors and underbody spoilers. Basic safety equipment, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, is part of the package.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

But the Sport does not include: collision mitigation braking, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, road departure mitigation, blind-spot warning or Honda’s Lane Watch, which displays a picture of the right-side blind spot on the center screen. Also missing are pushbutton start, automatic climate control and SXM radio.

The HR-V Sport’s strong suit is chasing around in urban environments. Handling in traffic is almost intuitive, and the suspension and tires deliver a decent ride on all but the roughest surfaces. Acceleration from rest is not blistering but more than adequate for stoplight sprints and freeway merging. For a quicker launch, the CVT can be shifted manually with steering-wheel paddles to mimic a seven-speed transmission.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

The surprise is the HR-V’s long-distance cruising. With cloth seats that are unusually supportive and comfortable, especially up front, there were no aches, pains or fatigue over a hundred miles or more.

But highway cruising also elicits the HR-V’s main fault. At 55 to 70-plus mph on Florida freeways, where most of the test was conducted, the combination of wind and road noise was so loud it overpowered the audio system.

Fortunately for customers who do a lot of long-distance driving, the HR-V’s upper trim levels contain additional insulation and other sound-deadening materials. So, it makes sense to pay a bit more for a quieter ride with the EX, EX-L and Touring models.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Honda HR-V Sport four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.8-liter four-cylinder; 141 horsepower, 127 pound-feet torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 100/24 cubic feet. (59)
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • Weight: 3,096 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/31/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $24,665
  • Price as tested: $24,665.

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

Photos (c) Honda

2019 Volkswagen Beetle Final Edition: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Sniffles. After so many years it sounds so, well, final: the 2019 Volkswagen SE Beetle Final Edition, for this review the two-door convertible model. There will be waves of nostalgia.

This is a thoroughly modern automobile with all of the comfort and conveniences not dreamed of by owners of the originals in the middle of the 20th century. Think back on some of the differences.

2019_Beetle_Convertible_Final_Edition--8697The 2019 Final Edition convertible has a padded top, so tight and quiet you’d swear you were driving a luxury coupe. You can barely hear exhaust sounds. Old Bugs were raucous, with twin exhaust pipes that sometimes whistled while they worked.

Check out the automatic climate control. Set it and forget it. The reviewer’s ’65 Type 113 Bug came with little vents on the floor that carried warm air from the rear engine compartment into the passenger pod — maybe. Air conditioning? Swing the front vent windows all the way out to force that humid summer air inside. Notice the cranks on the doors? Open the windows and get a bit of exercise.

Grasp the 2019’s sturdy console lever that controls the six-speed automatic transmission. Totally not as engaging as the early Bugs’ fragile floor-mounted shifter with the tiny pancake shift knob for the four-speed manual gearbox. Truth be told, it was a delight to snick through the gears.

Historic_Beetle-Large-2284Sadly, the Final Edition’s engine is in the wrong place. It’s up front under the hood, where the trunk should be, instead of out back behind the wheels. Plus, it’s a 174-hp, turbocharged, upright four-cylinder engine, not a proper 40-hp boxer with its cylinders reclining like sunbathers.

The Final Edition comes with a small trunk of seven cubic feet. Bugs had their trunks up front plus a generous uncovered bin behind the rear seat.

That old ’65 Bug did have other advantages: Six-volt battery to keep the headlights so dim they would not blind oncoming drivers or light the road; windshield washers powered by air fed from the spare tire  in the trunk up front.

2019_Beetle_Final_Edition--8699Armrests? Padded beauties on the Final Edition. Nonexistent on many older Bugs because the German engineers decreed that owners should keep their hands on the steering wheels instead of elbows resting on armrests.

Though the Final Edition has that six-speed automatic transmission, you can order a six-speed manual if you want it. Some older Bugs came with a transmission called the Automatic Stick Shift, which one enthusiast magazine dubbed the A.S.S. It was so efficient, especially on the Bug’s big brother, the Microbus, that you could walk faster than it could accelerate from a stop sign.

Doggone it, Volkswagen finally went and did it. After all these years — nearly 80 overall and 70 in the United States — the rambunctious and familiar Bug, the modern New Beetle and, simply and finally, the Beetle, will be no more after the 2019 model year.

It actually was thought to be dead in an earlier time. After a slow start in the U.S. after World War II, it became wildly popular for its reliability and economy. More than 15 million of the little two-door sedans were sold from 1949 until 1955, beating out Ford’s model T as the best-selling single-model car of all time. It continued for two decades after that.

Historic_Beetle-Large-2295In 1975, the Bug ended its run, giving way to the Rabbit, called the Golf in other countries. But it was dead only in the U.S. It continued abroad in Brazil, Mexico and other places. Then, after selling 21.5 million cars overall, the last of the original Bugs rolled off the line in Mexico in 2003.

The U.S. Rabbit was different. Where the original Bug had an air-cooled, horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine mounted behind and driving the rear wheels, the Rabbit had a conventional liquid-cooled four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels.

Timeline_1976-Large-3786Though more modern, the fragile Rabbit was not the reliable equal of the old Bug. It lasted only about a decade until it was replaced by other Volkswagen models. But there still were no Beetles sold in the United States.

Then VW showed a prototype of a thing called the New Beetle, with updated attractive styling that resembled the original. It was displayed at the North American International Automobile Show and was an immediate hit. Volkswagen wasted no time in bringing it to market and it lasted until from 1997 to 2010, when it was replaced by a new version simply called the Beetle. That is the car that we mourn now.

Produkte: New Beetle USA Version (1998)
Enter a caption

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Beetle SE Final Edition two-door convertible.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 174 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 81/7 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,239 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/33/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,190.
  • Price as tested: $30,690.

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

2019_Beetle_Convertible_Final_Edition--8701Photos (c) Volkswagen

2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With “electrification” gaining in the automobile industry, Subaru returns to the fray with its 2019 Crosstrek Plug-in Hybrid crossover sport utility vehicle.

It’s doubtful that anybody in the business seriously believes that all-electric cars will be anything more than a blip on the sales charts any time soon. But there’s a sensitivity to the growing conviction that fossil fuels eventually will go the way of the dinosaurs.

16._2019_CrosstrekSo, manufacturers are producing increasing numbers of hybrids and plug-in hybrids as the bridge to the future. Of the two, hybrids make the most sense. They operate on gasoline and electric power, working in tandem automatically. The best example is the popular Toyota Prius, which has had U.S. sales of more than 1.6 million since its introduction in 1997.

Plug-in hybrids deliver the option of running on electricity exclusively. But the range usually is short and the plug-ins are more expensive than gasoline models or hybrids.

The Crosstrek Hybrid is a prime example. It plugs in easily with a port over the left-rear wheel. On a 220-volt charger, it takes about two hours to charge the battery, which intrudes into and takes about five cubic feet out of the rear cargo area. If you plug into a standard household 110-volt outlet, it takes about five hours.

17._2019_CrosstrekEither way, you will get an honest 17 miles of electric driving. But getting that range takes a delicate foot on the throttle. Punch the pedal to pass another vehicle or get up a hill and the gasoline engine fires up automatically. It shuts down once you get back to feather-foot driving.

This is Subaru’s second foray into the hybrid world. Its first, the XV Crosstrek, was marketed from 2014 to 2016. It used a small, 13-hp electric motor integrated into the transmission to provide an assist to the gasoline engine.

The 2019 Plug-in is way more sophisticated. With Subaru’s standard offering of all-wheel drive on all of its models except the BRZ sports coupe, the Crosstrek incorporates two electric motors to augment the 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine, sometimes also called a “boxer” or “flat” engine.

34._2019_Crosstrek_PremiumBoxers, used exclusively by Subaru and in some Porsche models, have the cylinders lying flat on both sides of the crankshaft, unlike conventional engine designs with cylinders standing upright or leaning in V or W configurations.

The Crosstrek’s hybrid system makes 148 hp, slightly less than the 2018 gasoline model’s 152 hp. But with the electric motors it has 149 lb-ft of torque compared to 145 for the gasoline-only engine.

The electric motors, which produce instant torque, make the Crosstrek Plug-in feel lively and quick off the line. Of course, if you get your foot in it for maximum acceleration, the gasoline engine also gets in the game. With the lower center of gravity afforded by the boxer engine, this Crosstrek handles capably and tracks steadily in a straight line.

33._2019_Crosstrek_PremiumThe tester boasted a comfortable, quality interior, full basic safety equipment and options that included a navigation system with an eight-inch touch screen, upscale Harman Kardon audio, SXM satellite radio, motorized glass sunroof and a heated steering wheel.

Based on the top-line Limited Crosstrek, the Hybrid also came with a long list of desirable standard equipment: EyeSight technology with adaptive cruise control, automatic pre-collision and reverse braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot detection with lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert.

13._2019_Crosstrek_LimitedThe EPA rates the Crosstrek Plug-in at 35 mpg in combined city/highway driving on the gasoline engine only. In overall hybrid driving the combined rating is 90 mpgE.

But economics is factor. The tested Crosstrek Hybrid had a base price of $35,970, including the destination charge. That is $8,760 more than the 2018 gasoline Crosstrek Limited model tested here earlier. The 2019 Hybrid, with options, topped out at $38,470 compared to the 2018 gasoline model’s $30,655 — a $7,815 difference.

Assuming you could actually achieve the hybrid’s 90 mpgE you would use about 167 gallons in a year of 15,000 miles of hybrid driving. At $4 a gallon, it would take more than 11 years to recoup the additional cost of this Hybrid.

That said, there is an environmental cost to consider. Using the 35 miles to the gallon number for gasoline driving, you would burn 429 gallons over 15,000 miles, or about 4,720 gallons in 11 years. Let your conscience be your guide.

36._2019_Crosstrek_Limited_and_2019_Crosstrek_PremiumSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder gasoline; two electric motors; combined 148 hp, 149 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/16 cubic feet.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • Weight: 3,725 pounds.
  • Gasoline-only city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 35 mpg; gasoline-electric 90 mpgE.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,970.
  • Price as tested: $38,470.

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

18._2019_CrosstrekPhotos (c) Subaru

2019 Honda Passport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In the ongoing struggle for supremacy on the crossover sport utility battlefield, Honda re-enlists a veteran name for an all-new combatant, the 2019 Passport.

It has not been around for 17 years, having left the market after the 2002 model year. The original Passport was the result of a partnership with Isuzu, another Japanese manufacturer, which re-badged its Rodeo SUV as the Passport.

The 2019 Passport goes on sale Feb 4

The other half of the equation was that Honda re-badged its Odyssey minivan as an Isuzu Oasis.

That first Passport was an SUV of its time, built like a truck with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, a five-speed manual gearbox and a 120-hp, 2.6-liter four-cylinder engine. A 3.2-liter V6 with 175 hp and a four-speed automatic transmission was optional.

Though there still are truck-based SUVs around, crossover sales have been exploding, dominating sales of traditional sedans. In 2018, crossovers achieved a 38% share of the vehicle market compared to 31% for cars. Crossover SUVs are built like cars, with unit bodies and, usually, front-wheel drive with optional all-wheel drive.

2019 Honda Passport

Though justifiably proud of its sedans, Honda is a captive of the trend. In 2018, the company sold 624,122 crossovers — the small HR-V, compact CR-V and three-row Pilot. The number does not include its Odyssey minivan or Ridgeline pickup truck, both classified as light trucks.

In the same year, Honda sold a total of 684,815 cars, including five models: the compact Civic, midsize Accord, subcompact Fit, hybrid Insight and the Clarity, available as an electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen-fueled electric.

Honda claims supremacy in sales for its Civic and Accord. But unlike other makes, it counts only retail sales to individuals, not fleet sales to rental car and other multiple-unit buyers.

2019 Honda Passport

With the 2019 Passport, Honda’s offerings likely will soon tilt in favor of crossovers over cars, no matter how they are counted. That’s because the Passport plugs a gap in the company’s crossover lineup.

It’s a midsize, based on and slotted just below the three-row Pilot and above the compact CR-V and entry-level HR-V, which is marketed as a subcompact but is so roomy it would be considered midsize if it were a car. The U.S. government classifies cars by interior volume as subcompact, compact, midsize and large. Crossovers are classified by whatever you think.

The new Passport is nothing like its predecessor. Its wheelbase — the distance between the centers of its front and rear wheels — is the same as the larger Pilot but it is 6.2 inches shorter overall. Front and rear overhangs are tidier, giving the Passport better approach, departure and break-over angles for off-roading.

2019 Honda Passport

Of course, no crossover can rival a properly-equipped Jeep or Land Rover dedicated for off-roading. But the Passport acquitted itself well at the national introduction on unpaved roads in gorgeous but desolate areas surrounding Moab, Utah, including the spectacular Arches National Park.

As Johnny Cash’s song, “A Boy Named Sue” told it, the Passport handles competently in the “mud, the blood and the beer,” with Honda’s torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system. It can send up to 70% of the torque — or twisting force — to the rear wheels and 100% to the left or right wheels.

2019 Honda Passport

The tested Passport Elite, pushed too fast on a pockmarked unpaved road, went airborne over a sharp berm and seemed destined for a front-to-rear somersault, yet crunched smartly to a landing on all four wheels. Whew.

But the Passport is a slick piece of work on paved highways as well. In an era when 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines, both naturally aspirated and turbocharged, are becoming standard in luxury as well as popular-priced vehicles, the Passport comes with a tried-and-true Honda and Acura 3.5-liter V6 engine that exhibits the relaxed confidence of a great athlete coach trotting along with a group of marathon-wannabe pre-teens.

2019 Honda Passport

The V6 delivers 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque to the front or all four wheels with a nine-speed automatic transmission controlled by the Honda/Acura console-mounted pushbutton control. The system has been faulted by some critics, but not here. It is simple and intuitive: one-finger push for “drive” and “park,” pull for “reverse.”

There are four Passport trim levels, starting with the front-drive Sport at $33,045, including the destination charge. Others are the EX-L at $37,455 and Touring at $40,325. Tack on $1,900 for all-wheel drive. The tested top-line Elite, priced at $44,725, comes standard with all-wheel drive.

Can’t get no satisfaction? Give the Passport a try.

2019 Honda Passport

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Honda Passport Elite four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 280 hp, 262 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 11 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 115/41 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,237 pounds.
  • Maximum towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $44,725.
  • Price as tested: $44,725.

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

2019 Honda Passport

Photos (c) Honda

2019 Fiat 500 Lounge: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Whether you see it on the wall at an Interstate rest stop or on a small car, the message is the same: For a good time, dial FIAT 500.

In this rendering, that would be the 2019 Fiat 500 Lounge model, an upscale version of the basic two-door Italian runabout, which if nothing else comes across as cute and spunky. It arrives from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which also produces Jeeps, Chryslers, Dodges, Ram Trucks and high-performance marques Alfa-Romeo and Maserati.

2019 Fiat 500c

The 500 is quintessentially Italian, not much different in concept from the many tiny Fiat 500s of yore that have been romanticized in film and fiction. The idea was to be small enough to negotiate narrow Italian roads, economical enough to withstand outrageous gasoline prices, quick enough to handle urban traffic and maybe just roomy enough with a miniscule cargo area and constricted back seat suited mainly for groceries.

Not much of that has changed little with the 2019 model except that it’s more comfortable up front, with semi-exciting performance and entertaining handling, and modern amenities like satellite radio, automatic climate control, backup camera and turbocharged engines.

2019 Fiat 500c

The original 500 actually made its way to the United States, along with the Fiat 124 Spider convertible, rear-engine X/19 sports car and other models in the 1950s and 1960s. But the cars were plagued by rust and poor reliability, which prompted the recurring joke that FIAT stood for, “Fix It Again, Tony.”

In 1983, Fiat bailed out of the U.S. market. But after the merger that created FCA, the marque returned in 2011, and it’s been around since for fans of its bello design, recognized world-wide as the leader of automotive style, mostly on ultra-performing machines like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati.

2019 Fiat 500c

The 500 Lounge tested here, of course, does not dance in that company. Nevertheless, it has styling that has delighted generations of motorists who consider it charming and endearing. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always equated with everyday reliability and durability. Even today Fiat ranks near the top in aggravation.

Still, ratings of reliability nowadays are not what they were. In earlier days, a low ranking meant a car that had transmission, electrical or engine problems that left an owner at the side of a rural road at midnight. Now a low ranking might include some of that as well, but more often traced to a loose gasoline cap, an unfamiliar automatic transmission shifter, wind noise at highway speeds or frustration in using an infotainment system.

All of that said, the 2019 Fiat Lounge prompts affection both for its driving traits and its idiosyncrasies. On the plus side, despite a paucity of power from its 135-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which delivers 150 lb-ft of torque, it feels quick off the line with the six-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration at all speeds is enhanced if you punch the dash-mounted Sport button, which tweaks transmission shifting.

2019 Fiat 500c

Engine sounds, which deliver constant cabin noise during stoplight sprints as well as highway cruising, are pleasant to an enthusiast’s ears though annoying on a long drive. The shortage of cabin insulation also allows a tinny sound to the audio system no matter how the bass and treble are adjusted.

Negatives also include: Sun visors that are fixed forward with no way to swing sideways to block sunlight; the impossibly cramped back seat, a perforated cloth sunshade for the motorized glass sunroof which admits blistering sunlight in summer, a big adjustable steering wheel that tilts but does not telescope and no pushbutton starting, though the ignition key works as well as always.

2019 Fiat 500

The tested 2019 Fiat 500, with no increase in price, is essentially the same as the 2018 model, which introduced a number of mechanical and style improvements, including the standard turbocharged engine, performance braking and suspension systems, backup camera, rear spoiler and fog lights.

Interior appointments belie the 500 Lounge’s economy runabout classification. The tester featured white leather seats and steering wheel, and body-colored metal dashboard with matte black trim—altogether classy looking though there were no soft-touch surfaces.

Base price of the Lounge trim level is $21,240 and the bottom-line sticker came to $24,815. Options included the six-speed automatic transmission (a five-speed manual is standard), motorized glass sunroof, navigation system, 16-inch bright aluminum wheels and a Beats premium audio system, which as noted earlier could not manage a premium listening experience.

If what you need or want is a stylish, entertaining mini-car that also is OK for an occasional short trip, take a test drive.

2019 Fiat 500c

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Fiat 500 Lounge two-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 1.4-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 135 hp, 150 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 11 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 76/10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,375 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/32/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $21,040.
  • Price as tested: $24,815.

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

2019 Fiat 500c

Photos (c) FCA North America

2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD 4X4 Off Road: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Toyota has not been able to scale the wall of buyer loyalty to full-size U.S. pickup trucks. But it perches at the pinnacle of the midsize class, of which its 2019 Tacoma is the latest example.

Among the big guys, the Toyota Tundra is an also-ran in sales behind the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, Ram and GMC Sierra, besting only the last-place Nissan Titan.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_001_46e6b73e2c3bfc00e65384bbb61115fcebe259ffBut against the slowly-increasing midsize nameplates, it is the unchallenged champion. In 2018, it was expected to sell more Tacoma pickups than nearly all of its competitors combined, including the Chevrolet Colorado, Nissan Frontier, GMC Canyon and Honda Ridgeline, although the Ridgeline is in a class by itself as a more car-like amalgam.

The curious trend in all of this is that the new crop of midsize pickups are nearly as big — or even bigger — than some earlier full-size pickups.

Bumper to bumper, the Tacoma 4X4 Double Cab Long Bed is nearly 19 feet long and it is six feet tall with a 6 feet 2 inch cargo bed. It weighs 4,840 lbs, can tow a trailer weighing up to 6,400 lbs and carry a payload of 1,120 lbs. A decade ago, the full-size 2008 Ford F-150 was 18 feet 1 inch long, 6 feet 4 inches tall, weighed 5,360 lbs, with a payload of 1,480 lbs and a towing capability of 6,200 lbs.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_003_ef9b7576d7ba7efd9f2e7049634af8ee0bb87a2fMost big trucks back then got their grunt from large and thirsty V8 engines. Engineering advances over the years have squeezed ever more horsepower and torque from smaller-displacement power plants. The tested Tacoma gets its power from a 278-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine with 265 lb-ft of torque. On the TRD Off Road 4X4, the power routes to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.

The tested Tacoma, with a base price of $38,120, came equipped for pasture and logging-road duty. It had a part-time four-wheel drive system with a two-speed electronically-controlled transfer case and an off-road tuned suspension system with special shock absorbers, a locking rear differential, hill-start assist and multi-terrain crawl control.

But because of its length and wheelbase — the distance between the front and rear axles — of 11 feet 5 inches, the Tacoma Off Road could not be expected to handle seriously pockmarked terrain as well as a smaller machine. However, the all-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator midsize pickup truck will have nearly the same shortcoming with a wheelbase of 10 feet 7 inches and an overall length of 18 feet 2 inches.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_004_3a8248857bb7d0324f488932f4ab596d5d58f2afFull safety equipment, including pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning are part of the standard equipment. The tested TRD Off Road also had options that included blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, sonar rear parking assist, leather-trimmed upholstery with heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof, JBL premium audio system with integrated navigation, and a cover for the cargo bed.

All of that brought the bottom-line price to $42,430, which is not inexpensive but looks reasonable compared to the $60,000 and up sticker prices on many full-size pickups. Price is one reason manufacturers are closely monitoring the midsize pickup market. Ford recently reintroduced its midsize Ranger pickup.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_007_331b22b457d747c6db5b552ac7cca61ecb8d9327On paved roads, the tested Tacoma mainly displayed its off-road characteristics. The ride was bouncy and stiff with seemingly direct connections between road irregularities and the driver’s lower back and bottom. It tracked decently in a straight line, but the beefy suspension system makes for problematical comfort on a long trip.

Mitigating that somewhat are front seats that are supportive and middling comfortable. Though they have only manual adjustments, there are enough to accommodate most body sizes. There’s space in back for three, though seating is upright and knee room is tight. The center-rear position is compromised by a floor hump, hard cushion and intrusion of the center console. Rear vision is limited by back seat headrests so it’s important to get those big outside mirrors properly adjusted.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_006_ed9ebf5e42a922ed31dba8561df5a18e2f1414efThe V6 engine makes plenty of power but you have to slam the pedal to engage it. In ordinary driving, the throttle is stiff, making the engine/transmission combination feel sluggish. Engine drone is loud under hard acceleration.

Overall, don’t expect the Tacoma — especially in the tested trim — to be anything other than what it is: a rugged, solid truck with an enviable reputation for durability and reliability.

2016_toyota_tacoma_trdor_28_170ad64be7d4e750a886f7dc942f15fd173fb26bSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road 4X4 Double Cab Long Bed midsize pickup truck.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 278 hp, 265 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with part-time four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 18 feet 10 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet.
  • EPA passenger volume: 100 cubic feet.
  • Cargo bed length: 6 feet 2 inches.
  • Weight: 4,840 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,120 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,400 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/22/20 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,120.
  • Price as tested: $42,430.

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

2016_toyota_tacoma_trdor_31_07d7a0e69594c5d39805f91df23a6d5373bf81dePhotos (c) Toyota

2019 Car, Utility and Truck of the Year: A DriveWays Report…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Detroit, Mich.—South Korea’s Hyundai swept the honors Monday (Jan. 14), winning both the North American Car of the Year and Utility of the Year trophies for the Genesis G70 and Hyundai Kona.

The announcement came at the opening of the annual North American International Automobile Show (NAIAS) here.

large-1094-genesisg70The Genesis G70, the newest model from Hyundai’s separate luxury brand, was voted Car of the Year by an independent panel of 54 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada.

large-34508-2019konaelectricTaking the prize for North American Utility of the Year was the Hyundai Kona, a subcompact crossover sport utility vehicle that is available with a gasoline engine, as a plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid and as a pure electric with 248 miles of range.

2019 Ram 1500 Rebel 12A product of  Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the Ram 1500 was voted Truck of the Year. It features a new system called eTorque that combines a belt-drive electric motor generator with a 48-volt battery, which provides short boosts of extra power for the gasoline engine. It also enables a sophisticated idle stop-start function for improved fuel economy.

The North American Car of the Year Organization (NACTOY) is composed of  automotive journalists from print, online, television and broadcast organizations who pay annual dues and are required to drive and evaluate nominated new vehicles, culminating in the vote for the winners. They are independent of NAIAS and have no connections or relationships with any of the vehicle manufacturers.

The Genesis G70 fared better than its fraternal cousin, the Kia Stinger, which was a finalist for Car of the Year in 2018 but lost the honor to the Honda Accord.

Hyundai owns about 38% of Kia and the two cars share engines and drivetrains. Both the Stinger and the Genesis G70 are four-doors except that the midsize Stinger is a hatchback and the compact G70 is a conventional four-door sedan with a trunk. Prices range from the low $30,000 range to the low $50,000 range.

Both come with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive with turbocharged four-cylinder or V6 engines and eight-speed automatic transmissions. One  advantage for the G70 is that it also is available with a six-speed manual gearbox. The Stinger does not offer a manual transmission.

Hyundai’s Kona is a stylish subcompact crossover with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It comes with a four-cylinder gasoline engine, as a plug-in hybrid and, most recently as a dedicated electric. Prices range from slightly more than $20,000 for the base gasoline model to nearly $40,000 for the electric, which can be reduced to around $30,000 with tax and other incentives.

Kona models offer such modern safety installations as forward collision warning and braking, lane-keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, blind-spot collision warning and driver attention warning, as well as torque vectoring braking, which selectively applies the inside brakes to ease cornering.

There were three finalists in each category. Besides the Genesis G70, Car of the Year nominees were the compact Honda Insight hybrid and the Volvo S60 sedan and V60 station wagon, both midsize.

The Kona’s competition finalists consisted of the all-new luxury compact crossover, the Acura RDX, and the Jaguar I-Pace, an all-electric midsize luxury crossover. In the truck category, the Ram’s competitors were the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra.

Chris Paukert, NACTOY’s vice-president, commented, “The Genesis G70 doesn’t just go toe-to-toe with segment mainstays like the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class—it beats them all in driver engagement while positively slaying them on value for the dollar.” Paukert is executive editor of Roadshow by CNET.

“The Kona Electric is the first mass-market electric car that truly works for the mass market,” said NACTOY juror Jamie Page Deaton, executive editor at U.S. News & World Report Best Cars. “A livable EV range, affordable price and practical cabin combine with lively driving dynamics to make the Kona EV a true pleasure.”

“Ram continues to lead the way in making a big truck double as a big family pleaser with as much attention paid to interior conveniences and ride comfort as to cargo hauling and towing,” said John Davis, executive producer at Maryland public television’s MotorWeek.

NACTOY President Lauren Fix, owner of the online The Car Coach, thanked the vehicle manufacturers for ‘taking the time and effort to work with us throughout the year as our jurors rigorously tested, evaluated and debated the best new vehicles on the market. Now in our 25th year, we are proud that both automakers and consumers recognize the value our awards provide to new car buyers.”

2019 Audi RS 3 2.5T Quattro Sedan: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Every so often, a car like the 2019 Audi RS 3 arrives that can only be described with one word: sweet.

This subcompact sedan comes in a sweet size with sweet (if sometimes alarming) performance, sweet handling and even sweeter tactile feedback.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2649But whoa. The tester came with a $66,590 price tag. It doesn’t make it any less sweet but it sure activates a person’s pause button — and maybe for salivating but income-challenged intenders, the stop button.

Fortunately, there are some less expensive choices. In keeping with current German luxury-car philosophy, there always are pinnacle high-performance models to augment the regular lineup — as if any of these small Audi sedans could be considered regular.

Think Mercedes-AMG and BMW M Series. These are the ultra-performing and expensive top-liners for those marques. At Audi, such machines come from the Sport Division and the RS 3 is one of those creatures.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-2589It is based on the Audi A3, a subcompact sedan, which itself is not what any enthusiast would consider mundane. Usually, subcompact denotes small, economical and low-priced. Not here. The A3 comes with a 220-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 258 lb-ft of torque and a price tag of $35,150 to $44,100, depending on the trim level.

Not believing that will satisfy some Audi-philes, the Sport division raises the ante with the S3, which also has the 2.0-liter four-banger but which pumps out 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. Prices range from $43,850 to $49,350. Both the A3 and S3 use Audi’s six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting, called the S tronic, and quattro all-wheel drive.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2507Climbing all the way to the summit, we find the subject here — the  RS 3, which goes up one cylinder to five and displacement to 2.5 liters. Also turbocharged, it hammers out 394 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, enabling the tiny, 3,593-lb RS 3 to sprint to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds with a top speed of 174 mph. And that’s a governed, or limited, speed. It could go faster on a track with proper racing equipment.

All of this nestles in a low-slung, four-door sedan with 19-inch wheels, menacing dual exhaust pipes and ceramic racing brakes, but otherwise doesn’t exactly scream ultra high performance. Uninformed onlookers might see nothing more than a streamlined Toyota Corolla. The RS 3 is just 14 feet 9 inches long with a passenger volume of 87 cubic feet and a tiny trunk of 10 cubic feet.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2508But the design is clever enough to accommodate four passengers comfortably with adequate but not generous head or knee room in back. The rear doors swing wide so entry and exit are easy. There’s a seatbelt  for a fifth passenger in the middle but it’s a fiction. The space is impossible for anything but a two-foot tall capuchin monkey.

Inside design validates Audi’s reputation for classy, understated elegance with fine materials. The only jarring note is the so-called sunshade for the panoramic glass sunroof. In thrall to a current cliché in some luxury cars, the RS 3’s sunshade is made of a cheesecloth-like perforated cloth material, which admits hot sunlight and looks cheap next to the neighboring carbon-fiber and alcantara trim. Sunshades should be opaque.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2509The appeal of the RS 3 lies in the sweet driving experience. Settle into the driver’s seat, light up the engine and touch a button to choose from driving modes labeled Dynamic, Comfort, Auto and Individual. For an all-out run, you want to select Dynamic, which holds the shift points to higher revs to keep the engine on the boil for instant acceleration.

The transmission is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, calibrated to shift up and down in milliseconds, always ready for the driver’s next whim. But it would be silly to stay in the Dynamic mode in highway cruising because there would be a cost in fuel economy, which the EPA rates at 19/28/22 mpg in city/highway/combined driving. In easy, around-town cruising, Comfort works, well, comfortably.

medium-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2491Don’t expect a floating, limousine-like ride. Almost nobody does that anymore. The Audi RS is, first and foremost, a sports car in sedan guise with the steering and suspension system biased toward precise handling and control. So, avoid the potholes if you can and enjoy the tactile feedback as you carve corners, win stoplight drag races and shoot holes in heavy traffic.

Or simply cruise serenely and enjoy the scenery.

large-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2543Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Audi RS 3 2.5 T Quattro S tronic four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter five-cylinder, turbocharged; 394 hp, 354 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 87/10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,593 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/28/22 mpg. Premium recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $57,195.
  • Price as tested: $66,590.

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

large-2018-audi-rs-3-sedan-2526Photos (c) Audi

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