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The 2020 Nissan 370Z Offers No Apologies

by Jason Fogelson

Sorry, not sorry, but the Z is a throwback to love.

The year the Datsun 240Z debuted here in the United States, the top movie was “Love Story” with Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. The top-selling fiction book was “Islands in the Stream” by Ernest Hemingway. The top-selling single on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart was “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” by Simon & Garfunkel. Now, five generations later (with a brief sales hiatus here in the U.S. from 1997 – 2002), the 2020 Nissan 370Z arrives as a 50th Anniversary edition. And for all the changes the Z (and the United States) have undergone – things are very familiar.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

The sixth-generation Z has been sold since the 2009 model year with incremental upgrades along the way. Like the 1970 U.S.-spec 240Z, the 370Z is a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) six-cylinder, rear-wheel drive GT sports coupe. In a world of high-tech cars, the 370Z comes across as a bit of a throwback – and that’s a big part of its appeal.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

My test vehicle was a 2020 Nissan 370Z Sport with a special 50th Anniversary package of options ($2,600) that included special two-tone paint, commemorative decals and badging, logos and kickplates, leather four-way power seats, and other goodies. While this much self-congratulation could easily tip toward the tacky, on this Z it looked super cool.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Inside, the Z’s cabin is compact, but comfy. What’s missing on the Sport model is a feature that has become ubiquitous on modern cars, even basic economy models – there’s no touchscreen display on the dash, just a collection of conventional gauges, buttons and knobs. It took me a while to figure out how to pair my Bluetooth smartphone to the car, but I finally regained my old-school pairing chops for an effective connection for both audio and hands-free operation. Concealed storage in the cabin is limited, but there’s a good amount of space under the liftback behind the seat, accessible from inside the cabin. Mid-generation Z-cars have been criticized for losing their edge and slipping toward bloated luxury, but this Z is tight and trim.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

My test Z came with a welcome throwback feature – a manual six-speed transmission (a seven-speed automatic is available to spec, but don’t do that, please). The Sport trim and above comes with SynchroRev Match, a synchronized Downshift Rev Matching feature that simplifies operation, mitigating the need to do the heel-toe dance on the pedals. It works beautifully. While purists might balk at this electronic assistance, it makes an average driver (like me) sound like a pro.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Under the hood, the six-cylinder in this Z is a 3.7-liter V6 – the 240Z used a 2.4-liter inline six – that sends a healthy 332 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. Thanks to the Z’s low seating position, the sensation of speed and sharp handling is amplified – and the car is a lot of fun to drive.

Nissan will be happy to help you upgrade many components on the Z with Nismo parts to improve handling and performance if you want to track your car, and there’s a healthy aftermarket to supply tweaks and gizmos to soup up every aspect of the coupe. Have at it, and have fun.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Out of the box, the Z is a blunt instrument that delivers driving enjoyment. The more refined Mazda MX-5 Miata is its closest competitor, representing a different approach to the equation.

Z prices start at $30,090 for the base model and go up to $39,490 for the top-of-the-line Sport Touring 7AT model. My test car was a Sport model with a base price of $33,820 and an as-tested price of $37,605, and represented the sweet spot in the lineup.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

The 2020 Nissan 370Z is a throwback, and I love it. As Ali McGraw famously said in the top-grossing film of 1970, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

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

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Photos (c) Nissan

Twelfth Time’s the Charm: Driving the 2020 Toyota Corolla

by Jason Fogelson

I’ve never owned a Toyota Corolla. I don’t know how I have avoided it, because I have owned at least five of the other top 10 best-selling vehicles of all time. Corolla has been manufactured over 12 generations since 1966, and has sold over 46 million examples worldwide to date, making it the number one best-seller in history. I made space for a 2020 Toyota Corolla XSE in my driveway for a week recently, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Profile Right Action

The Corolla sedan is all-new for 2020, following closely on the heels of the revised Corolla Hatchback, which arrived last year. It rides on the TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform, which underlies the current Toyota Prius, C-HR and Camry, along with the Lexus IS and a few other vehicles in the Toyota/Lexus family. The platform has proven to be versatile and adaptable. It is stiff, and allows for a low center of gravity that enhances stability and handling.

Profile Left

In the past, Corolla could be criticized for bland exterior design. In some generations, it looked like a generic car – or maybe it just felt that way, because there are so many of them on the road. The new Corolla is bolder, more futuristic, with a face that echoes the Camry’s. The XSE model even wears standard 18-inch wheels, the biggest ever for a Corolla. Like any bold design choice, this Corolla may be polarizing, but I like it.

Front 3q Left

My test vehicle was a top-of-the-line XSE model with a base price of $25,450. The XSE trim level and SE models come with a new engine, a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 2.0-liter four-cylinder that uses direct and port injection to produce 169 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. Base models (L, LE and XLE) come with a 1.8-liter port-injection engine that puts out 139 hp and 126 lb-ft of torque. The 30-hp advantage for XSE is significant, delivering livelier, more engaging performance.

Dash Beige

XSE models also get a new transmission, a continuously variable automatic (CVT) with a physical first gear. The CVT, which Toyota calls “Dynamic Shift CVT,” uses its first gear to launch the Corolla, then shifts to the variable ratios once the car is underway. The effect mitigates one of the things that plagues CVT performance, yet still allows Corolla to achieve good fuel economy – 31 mpg city/38 mpg highway/34 mpg combined – better, actually, than the base L model’s 30/38/33-mpg rating with its smaller, less powerful engine.

JBL Tweeter

Inside the Corolla, things are extremely tidy and simple, with a minimum of buttons, knobs and clutter. An eight-inch touchscreen is prominent at the top-center of the dash, flanked by neat rectangular buttons and a rotary volume control and rotary tuner knob. Just below is a clean HVAC control setup. A seven-inch driver information display is housed in the instrument panel, nestled beside analog gauges. The steering wheel houses cruise control, volume, mode and driver info buttons. The dash is layered, crisp, and clean, and so is the rest of the cabin.

Cabin

My test XSE model came with a $1,715 package that included premium audio and navigation and infotainment. The JBL audio system included eight speakers and a subwoofer, along with wireless smartphone charging, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth hands-free and audio streaming, Siri Eyes-Free, a six-month trial of Verizon Wi-Fi, a three-month trial of SiriusXM, six months of Destination Connect, three years of Toyota Safety Connect and Service Connect, and more – in other words, a ton of technology for a bargain price. My car also included optional Adaptive Front Lighting ($450), Carpeted Floor Mat Package ($249, not such a bargain), and a $930 Delivery Processing and Handling Fee, resulting in an as-tested price of $28,794.

Second Row seats

Safety is one area that has greatly improved over the life of Corolla. Not only does the new Corolla come with standard four-wheel disc brakes, every Corolla comes with Star Safety (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, ABS, Electronic Brake-Force Distribution, Brake Assist and Smart Stop Technology), they also get eight airbags, an electric parking brake, and Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 (Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Auto High Beams and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control). XSE models also include Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Road Sign Assist and Lane Tracing Assist. This level of advanced driver assistance technology is quite remarkable in an economy car.

Front

I guess that Corolla has made grown up a bit since 1966, leaving the entry-level slot open for Yaris to handle on its own. The competition in this class is stiff, with the Honda Civic, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte all representing good alternatives, with the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus fading away.

Rear 3q Right

Not only is the 2020 Toyota Corolla all-new for the model year, it is the best version of Corolla that Toyota has produced to date. And that’s saying something, with 46 million Corolla vehicles in its wake.

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

Rear

Photos (c) Toyota

Hoopla for the Supra

by Jason Fogelson

Ever since the Supra made its debut at the 2019 North American International Auto Show in Detroit this January, I’ve been itching to get a drive. I waited (sort of) patiently, bugging my local Toyota reps every few weeks for my chance. Finally, to get me to stop calling, I think, Toyota delivered a Renaissance Red 2.0 2020 Toyota GR Supra Launch Edition to my house for a week of fun. The Launch Edition is a special, limited trim level that carries a list price of $55,250. My test car came with an optional ($1,195) Driver Assist Package, a Delivery, Preparation and Handling Fee of $930 for an as-tested price of $57,375.

White Front 3q Left

In case you’ve missed the hoopla, Supra is a two-seater GT-style sportscar that was developed in a cooperative venture between Toyota and BMW, and which shares many powertrain and technology features with the new BMW Z4. Not that you’ll find many mentions of that in Toyota’s press materials, or BMW’s for that matter. Toyota is proud to crow about its in-house engineering and on-track development with GAZOO Racing (the “GR” part of the new car’s name). Akio Toyoda himself was hands-on with the performance tuning of the new Supra, and was visibly proud and excited when he unveiled the car in Detroit.

Red Front 3q Left

The Supra nameplate was used on Toyota models in the United States for four generations from 1978 to 1998, and returns here for the first time in 20 years. Supra was one of the first Toyota models to receive serious attention and respect for its handling and performance on the race track and on the road, and probably hit its pinnacle when it was featured in the 2001 film “The Fast and the Furious.”

White Front

I really love the exterior design of the new Supra. It has a long hood, a very expressive face with piercing headlamps, big air intakes at the bottom, and a tasteful Toyota logo on its nose. Big 19-inch forged aluminum heels tuck under the front fenders, with wider 19-inch wheels under more muscular fenders in the rear. The roof is distinctive, with bubbles over the driver and passenger’s heads, and a slight depression running down the middle. The short cabin ends in a fast slope, with a tastefully upturned tail that is said to suppress lift. There’s a little bit of retro feel to the car – if you squint, you can see influences from the cool 2000 GT, one of Toyota’s sports cars from the 1960s.

White Profile

Inside, the design is crisp and clean. I especially like the horizontal slot that houses the HVAC outlets, and the tastefully minimal array of knobs and buttons on the center stack. Befitting a modern car, there’s a big 8.8-inch diagonal touchscreen prominently placed at the top of the center stack, home to Toyota’s infotainment setup. All of the expected technology is aboard, plus the pleasant appearance of Apple CarPlay, which is just starting to populate the Toyota ecosphere. A color head-up display is standard.

Dashboard

The Supra seats are race-inspired, very supportive and comfortable, and roomy enough for my American form. The leather seats in the Launch Edition are nicely finished, as is all of the trim throughout the cabin. Special carbon fiber trim is used tastefully, and adds a high-tech feel.

Center Console

What’s it like to drive? I thought you’d never ask. Under the hood lurks a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that’s tuned to produce 335 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission with an active differential and paddle shifters sends power to the rear wheel. MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link rear use adaptive dampers. Toyota estimates that the 3,300-lb Supra can scoot from 0 – 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, and will be electronically limited to a top speed of 155 mph. It certainly feels fast, thanks to assertive shifting by the transmission and a low, low seating position. The car is beautifully balanced, and hugs the curves like a champ. In true GT fashion, it is a serene cruiser, too, eating up highway miles with ease. The cabin is small, but outward visibility is quite good, so there’s no feeling of claustrophobia in traffic. I just wanted to drive and drive during my week with the Supra – and I did. I think I passed every mile with a smile pasted across my face.

Seats

I guess I’m a little bit old-fashioned, because while I appreciated the smooth shifting of the automatic transmission, my one disappointment with the Supra was the absence of a manual transmission option. The paddle shifters gave me the chance to interact with the engine, but I found myself wishing for a little more visceral engagement.

Engine

The 2020 Toyota GR Supra is not cheap, but I feel like it’s a good value for the money. The base 3.0 model starts at $49,990, and the 3.0 Premium starts at $53,990. I’d compare the Supra to the BMW Z4, Porsche Cayman, Audi TT, Lexus RC F, Jaguar F-Type – some pretty heady company, which should tell you how much I liked the Supra.

Blue Rear 3q Right Static

Welcome back, Supra.

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

Grouping

Photos (c) Toyota

2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

So the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid runs on sunshine as well as batteries and a gasoline engine. So what?

Call it groundbreaking, or unique, or perhaps a benchmark for the future. As technology advances, we’re likely to witness increasingly efficient ways of making clean power for motor vehicles.

Large-40183-2020SonataHybridIt’s not a breakthrough — yet. Solar panels have popped up all over the world as a way to reliably generate renewable clean energy. On the Sonata Hybrid, an array of solar-powered photovoltaic panels are installed on the roof under glass, right where you might find a panoramic sunroof on another car.

Electrons in the panels’ silicon cells are activated by photons of light from the sun, generating electricity. So far it doesn’t contribute a great deal to fuel economy. Hyundai of South Korea says the system can deliver 1,300 kilometers of extra electric range in a year, or about 808 miles.

That’s if you drive about six hours a day. Though the system can keep the batteries topped up, it won’t recharge them completely. Hyundai says it can recharge 30% to 60% of the batteries in a day. Juice goes into the lithium hybrid batteries as well as the 12-volt system for accessories.

Large-40154-2020SonataHybridThe Sonata Hybrid combines a 150-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that makes 139 lb-ft of torque with a 51-hp electric motor that delivers 151 lb-ft of torque. The combined hybrid system generates 192 hp and, with the slight boost from the Solar Roof, has an EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 45/51/47 mpg.

That’s certainly not shabby for a roomy sedan that, based on its overall interior volume, sneaks into the large car category as defined by the government. Its passenger volume is 104.4 cubic feet and the trunk another 16 cubic feet, for a total of 120.4. Any car with more than 120 cubic feet of interior space is classified as large.

It drives large, too, with some of the heft and steering feel of big luxury cars. There are four driver-selectable drive modes: Custom, Sport. Eco and Smart that adjust shift points, steering feel and handling. Unlike other hybrids that use continuously variable automatic transmissions with their absence of shift points, the Sonata Hybrid uses a six-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel mounted paddles for manual shifting.

Large-40164-2020SonataHybridLike other hybrids, the Sonata also features idle stop-start technology to enhance fuel economy. But there’s no hesitation off the line. With some other systems, especially those installed on gasoline-engine vehicles, there’s a hiccup on setting off as the engine re-starts. But on the Sonata Hybrid, the electric motor is poised to get things going with instant torque, or twisting force.

Select the Sport mode on the Sonata Hybrid Limited, punch the loud pedal and feel your torso slam into the seatback. It feels powerful and fast. Then settle down to a quiet, fuss-free ride on the freeway as the fuel gauge needle barely moves.

Though the handling on twisting roads can get a bit darting in some of the drive modes because of a somewhat irregular lane-keeping assist, there’s a solid feel and informative steering feedback in the Sport mode.

Large-40162-2020SonataHybridThere are three versions of the Sonata Hybrid: Blue, SEL and Limited. The base Blue, which is estimated to start somewhere south of $30,000, gets the best city/highway/combined fuel economy: 50/54/52 mpg. However, it does not come with the Solar Roof, which is reserved for the upper trim levels.

The tested Limited was loaded with full safety and convenience equipment: automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control, driver drowsiness detector and a blind-spot monitor that displays photos in the instrument cluster of the right- and left-rear areas. Though informative in an emergency, the system is no substitute for proper adjustment of the outside mirrors.

Large-40163-2020SonataHybridAfter the national press introduction was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, a top-line Limited model was made available as a test vehicle delivered through a third-party vendor.

Price information was not immediately available, awaiting the date when Sonata Hybrids arrive at dealerships. An educated estimate, based on the prices of the gasoline-engine Sonatas and leavened by the fact that hybrids cost more to manufacture, placed the tested Limited model with a base price of about $37,500 and, with one modest option, an as-tested price of $37,635.

Large-40138-2020SonataHybridSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited four-door sedan.
  • Engine/motor: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 150 hp, 139 lb-ft torque; 39 kW electric motor, 51 hp, 151 lb-ft torque; with 270-volt lithium battery and hybrid starter-generator. Combined hybrid system 192 horsepower.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 104/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,530 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 45/51/47 mpg.
  • Estimated base price, including destination charge: $37,500.
  • Estimated price as tested: $37,635.

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

Large-40182-2020SonataHybridPhotos (c) Hyundai

2020 Toyota Camry TRD V6: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though the sport oriented 2020 Toyota Camry TRD is distinct from its more expensive Avalon TRD sibling, you could argue that the two sedans actually are fraternal twins.

Both have been massaged by the Toyota Racing Development team, hence the TRD designation. Though the Avalon is marketed as a large car and as Toyota’s flagship, it is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a midsize car and is almost the same size as the Camry.

20_CamryTRD_SupersonicRed_MidnightRoof_0031The Camry is 16 feet 3 inches long with 99 cubic feet of space for passengers and 15 cubic feet of trunk volume. The Avalon is an inch longer, at 16 feet 4 inches, with 103 cubic feet of passenger space and a trunk of 16 cubic feet.

The two cars also use the same engine and transmission combination: a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 301 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission controlled by paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel. They have the same city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 22/31/25 mpg.

Both have received extensive TRD modifications to their body structures, suspension, exhaust systems and brakes to heighten the driving experience with better handling and a more sporting feel.

20_CamryTRD_SupersonicRed_MidnightRoof_001The big difference is that the Avalon is more luxurious with a higher level of equipment — and therefore is more expensive — than its Camry counterpart. An Avalon TRD reviewed recently for this column came with a base price of $43,255 and a tested price of $45,410.

However, the Camry TRD tested for this review started at $31,995 and had a bottom-line sticker of $32,920. So a buyer can get some of the same driving buzz and save anywhere from $11,260 to $12,490.

Based on the Camry XSE trim level, the TRD model came with underbody braces for a more rigid structure, stiffer coil springs and sway bars, special TRD shock absorbers, lightweight black alloy wheels and high performance tires — all aimed at improved steering and handling over other Camry versions. Stronger brakes with shorter pedal travel enhanced the package.

Camry_TRD_008_C784C2FDC14583F188032FF4B5EA58CB9443CFABAll of that reported for driving duty during testing. Though there was no opportunity to compare the TRD with every other Camry that ever existed, the overall impression strongly suggests that this is best-handling Camry ever. Acceleration is swift and braking is superb, though the ride necessarily is taut because of the stiffened body structure and suspension system. Off the line, the Camry TRD can effortlessly nail 60 mph in a bit more than five seconds, according to independent tests.

Though not needed except for looks, the Camry TRD is distinguished by a trunk mounted spoiler that comes as part of a $500 appearance package. Other embellishments: brake calipers painted red and a prominent gloss black grille, along with exterior trim and interior TRD items that include red seatbelts and stitching, and striped cloth inserts for the leatherette trimmed seats.

Standard safety equipment: pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assistance, brake assist, radar adaptive cruise control, and automatic high headlight beams.

Camry_TRD_012_CBEA3134B72223A118ECF89B38084379F933A146Inside convenience items included pushbutton starting, automatic climate control, six-speaker audio system, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, a manually-adjusted front passenger seat with height adjustment welcomed by shorter passengers, seven-inch infotainment screen, hands-free Bluetooth connectivity for audio streaming and smart phone, SXM satellite radio and two USB ports.

One serious shortcoming: reading the instruments. The Camry TRD’s speedometer, odometer and other gauges were done up with pale red numbers and other indicators on a black background. There was backlighting but it was so dim that it was difficult for even a driver with 20-20 eyesight to read the speedometer, and impossible in bright sunlight. There was no way to adjust the daytime lighting intensity though the gauges were more visible at night.

Camry_TRD_010_D78DD0799D47C0248647DC0314B96E535569272CToyota’s Camry has been the nation’s best-selling midsize sedan for nearly two decades, although like other four-doors it has been losing ground as buyers flock to crossover sport utility vehicles like Toyota’s own RAV4 and Highlander.

That’s certainly part of the reason for the 2020 Camry TRD. Manufacturers often deliver special models of existing cars during their brief generations to spark buyer enthusiasm. The Camry TRD comes across as one of those. At its relatively modest price, it delivers an embraceable driving experience along with family car practicality and Toyota’s reputation for reliability and durability.

Now, if Toyota would just brighten the speedometer for better readability.

20_CamryTRD_SupersonicRed_MidnightRoof_004Specifications    

  • Model: 2020 Toyota Camry TRD V6 four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 301 hp, 267 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 99/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,572 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/31/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,995.
  • Price as tested: $32,920.

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

Camry_TRD_011_4340B2057ABBFD07AC0AA10A7E2067DE8141CBB0Photos (c) Toyota

 

 

2021 Hyundai Elantra: A DriveWays Preview…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Historians may one day view the 2021 Hyundai Elantra as America’s first coronavirus car.

It’s possible because of the unusual global introduction of the all-new sedan. The event had been scheduled as a glitzy Hollywood production for a group of automotive journalists from around the country.

The novel coronavirus changed all that. Close to the event on Mar. 17, the South Korean manufacturer was forced to disinvite the entire press corps because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the nation.

Large-40594-2021ElantraBut the show went on anyway, via YouTube from the Lot Studios in West Hollywood and headlined by José Muñoz, Hyundai’s president and CEO, along with other company heavyweights.

The Elantra is Hyundai’s best-seller, though its sales slipped from 200,415 in 2018 to 175,094 in 2019 amid the surging popularity of crossover sport utility vehicles. It dates back to 1990 and has had 3.4 million total sales in the U.S., according to Muñoz.

Large-40585-2021ElantraAll new from the tire patches up, the seventh-generation Hyundai sedan is longer, lower and wider than its predecessor, but only by inches or fractions of an inch so interior space has actually increased slightly.

It is 15 feet 4 inches long and 4 feet 8 inches high.

The lower profile gives the Elantra a passing resemblance to cars like the low-slung $73,445 Mercedes-Benz CLS450, a four-door that the German company calls a Coupe. Muñoz said the Elantra was aimed at “young disrupters” or people with a disruptive spirit.

Large-40602-2021ElantraThough marketed as a compact, the Elantra likely will be classified as a midsize by the government based on its total interior volume. Without a sunroof, it has 116 cubic feet of interior volume, divided into 102 cubic feet for passengers and a trunk of 14 cubic feet. With a sunroof, the passenger space drops to 99 cubic feet but it is still comfortably in the midsize category.

The Elantra  comes both as a standard gasoline model or, for the first time, as a gasoline-electric hybrid. Standard on the gasoline SE, SEL and Limited models is a 147-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 132 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. It is mated to Hyundai’s IVT, a continuously variable automatic transmission that electronically mimics the shifting behavior of a standard automatic.

Large-40584-2021ElantraThe Elantra Hybrid uses a 1.6-liter gasoline engine with a 32-kW electric motor. Together they deliver 139 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Mated to a six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission, the Hybrid is projected to deliver a combined city/highway fuel economy rating of more than 50 mpg.

Hyundai’s Smart Sense safety equipment includes forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping and lane-centering assist, automatic headlight high beam switching, driver fatigue detection, safe exit warning of a vehicle approaching from behind, emergency backup braking and a rear-view camera with guidelines.

Large-40580-2021ElantraOptional equipment includes adaptive radar cruise control, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance and blind-spot warning. Other new available features include a navigation system, natural voice control for a multitude of functions, Hyundai’s digital smart-phone key with wireless charging, wireless Apple Car Play and Android Auto, and dual Bluetooth connectivity so a phone can be used simultaneously with streaming audio.

At the introduction, there was no word on whether the Elantra would continue to be available as a hatchback or as a high-performance N model. No prices were announced.

Large-40588-2021ElantraPhotos (c) Hyundai

 

2020 Nissan Sentra SR Premium: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Every so often, an automobile rolls onto the national stage and surprises the critics. The 2020 Nissan Sentra has done that — certainly in this reckoning.

It’s a compact sedan from the Japanese manufacturer that has been around for 32 years, usually undistinguished and an also-ran competing with the compact class leaders — the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-10-sourceBut the all-new version bears no resemblance to its predecessors. The step up is a good thing because Sentra sales have been dropping, mainly because of the surge in popularity of small crossover sport utility vehicles like Nissan’s own Rogue, Kicks and Rogue Sport. Between 2018 and 2019, the Sentra’s U.S. sales dropped by 28,428 to 184,618.

The 2020 model not only will have to overcome that but also will be hobbled by Nissan’s intention, reported in Automotive News, the industry Bible, that the company initially will not offer the Sentra for sales to rental car companies and other fleets.

It will have to stand on its own merits with the general buying public. Well, guess what? If you have any doubts, take a test drive, as we did.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-12-sourceIt’s short of astounding but it is an eye opener. This new Sentra stands out as a desirable, roomy, well-performing compact sedan that  bunches of people can afford to buy and operate. Moreover, it has the bones to attract customers who could easily buy something more expensive.

Take the Sentra SR Premium tested here. The starting price, including the destination charge, is $22,355. Loaded with every option, the bottom-line sticker price came to $25,325. That’s somewhere around $12,000 less than what the average new car sells for these days.

The Sentra’s starting price for the base S version is $20,015. There’s also a midlevel SV version. Previous SR Turbo and performance Nismo models are not available — at least for now.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O_s-sourceLike all the 2020 Sentra models, the base S and SV come with full safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert with automatic rear braking, lane-departure warning, blind-spot warning and tire pressure monitoring. In addition, all Sentra examples have rear-door alert to prevent a driver from forgetting a child or pet in the back seat.

The tested SR Premium also came with pushbutton starting and remote locking, leatherette seats (heated in front), a motorized glass sunroof, automatic climate control, six-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar adjustments, rear camera with around-view monitor, LED headlights and fog lights, heated steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear trunk-mounted spoiler, premium Bose audio system, SXM satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.

Besides the pleasantries on the pricing and equipment lists, the tested 2020 SR Premium presented itself well on the highway stage. With all-new styling, it had the signature Nissan V-Motion grille, which to the eyes of this viewer has a sort of sad-sack look.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-3-sourceNever mind. The tester was done up in two-tone Monarch Orange and Super Black exterior colors, with the now familiar Nissan floating roof design. The color scheme would do justice to a BMW, Lexus or Audi.

According to the U.S. government, the Sentra straddles official size classes. With the sunroof, as on the tested SR, it is classified as a compact. But without that amenity, it creeps just barely into the midsize category.

Either way, there’s plenty of room and comfort for four, with good bolstering on the front seatbacks for spirited driving on curving roads. Rear seat head and knee room are adequate, though getting in and out of the back seat requires a bit of agility. Even the center-rear seat can carry a fifth passenger because the cushion is not too hard and the floor hump not too tall.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-5-sourcePower gets delivered to the front wheels from an all-new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 149 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque. That may not sound like much to hot rodders, but in everyday driving it’s plenty. With the responsive Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the Sentra is rapidly responsive to throttle inputs.

Some critics deride CVTs but Nissan has vast experience with the transmissions, which are buttery smooth without shift points except when you punch the pedal to pass. Then the Sentra’s kicks down like a standard passing gear.

Handling on twisting roads is flat with little body lean. The suspension system soaks up most road irregularities for a decent ride under most circumstances and the interior is reasonably quiet except for  tire noise that varies with road surfaces.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-14-sourceSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Nissan Sentra SR Premium four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 149 hp, 146 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Xtronic continuously variable automatic and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 94/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,084 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/37/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $22,355.
  • Price as tested: $25,325.

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

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-13-sourcePhotos (c) Nissan

2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS450 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If your heart desires and your finances can handle the slinky 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS450 4Matic Coupe, figure on two things: Learning how to duck and sometimes getting annoyed.

The former is needed because this compact luxury/sport car possesses a stature that is hunkered down and menacing, with a low roofline, forcing almost everyone to duck way down just to enter the driver’s seat — or any door, for that matter — lest a noggin gets cracked. That vertically squished profile likely is the reason Mercedes formally refers to the four-door CLS450 as a Coupe.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS

A periodic annoyance occurs when the radio jumps to a different station than the one you’re enjoying. An in-depth investigation revealed that it happens while turning and accidentally bumping buttons on the steering wheel.

It happens when you use the recommended nine and three o’clock position for hands on the wheel. That places the thumbs in close proximity to the switches and buttons on both sides of the wheel. The culprit is a button that returns to previous settings.

If you’re listening to the SXM radio, brushing the button will send you back to a previous station — classical music to country, for example. If that’s not annoying enough, it’s a distracting four-step process to return to your original station: Use the control knob on the console to select presets, press, then scroll to your station and press again.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS

Though a minor annoyance, it doesn’t detract from this entertaining, superbly performing, comfortable and quiet sports sedan/coupe that lives up to its $73,445 base price. With options, it swells to $81,575

As noted, it’s low down, just four feet eight inches tall, so even your five-foot tall friend can see over the top. With 105 cubic feet of space inside, divided into 94 for passengers and 12 in the trunk. it is classified as a compact by the Environmental Protection Agency. It seats four in reasonable comfort, though without much extra space in back.

_F8A8877-sourceThere is a seatbelt for a fifth passenger in the center-rear but don’t try putting anyone there unless it’s an emergency. A hard cushion and a big floor hump rudely intrude.

Where the CLS450 shines is in the driving experience. It is a 4Matic, Mercedes-speak for all-wheel drive, and it is powered by a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that is turbocharged and boosted by a 48-volt electric motor. The system makes 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, the twisting force that enables rapid acceleration off the line.

It’s heartening to see inline sixes returning in an era of V6s and four-cylinder turbo engines. Inline sixes are renowned for their smooth and linear delivery of power.

_F8A8906-sourceThe addition of the electric mild hybrid motor, called Eco Boost, does two things: It eliminates any hint of turbo lag, that hesitation off the line as the turbocharger spools up. It also enables an idle stop-start system that is so unobtrusive you hardly know it’s there. The stop-start contributes marginally to the EPA’s city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 24/30/26 mpg.

Power travels to the wheels through a velvety nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. It’s nice if you like to shift for yourself, especially to hold gears in mountainous driving, but you hardly need it. The onboard computer precisely handles the automatic shifting.

_F8A9057-sourceMercedes rates the CLS450 4Matic’s zero-to-60-mph acceleration time at 4.8 seconds,  with a governed top speed of 130 mph.

Specifications are important, of course, but the proof is in the driving. There are five selectable driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual. They vary shift points, as well as steering and suspension settings. But the truth is, the CLS450 is as capable as almost anyone might want even in the Comfort setting, which enhances the ride and overall smoothness.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS

The six-cylinder engine emits a satisfying growl, especially under hard acceleration, but settles down to just enough of a drone in cruising to let you know it’s poised there under the hood to growl again on demand.

There’s tactile feedback through the steering wheel and cornering is accurate with little body lean around curves. Though the CLS450 lacks a spare wheel and uses tougher run-flat tires, they don’t seem to affect the comfortable ride.

Anyone who enjoys driving for its own sake will embrace this cookie, even with the ducking in and out. Now, about those steering- wheel buttons…

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS450 4MATIC Coupe four-door.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6, turbocharged; 362 hp, 369 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 93/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,300 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/30/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $73,445.
  • Price as tested: $81,575.

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

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2020 Toyota Avalon TRD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Wait. Hold on. Toyota’s Racing Development team took the 2020 Avalon and massaged it for better performance? That Avalon? The one they used to call Toyota’s Buick?

Turns out it’s true. But they took the new Avalon TRD only part of the way. It has a host of suspension and tire modifications, as well as extra body braces, an earthy exhaust sound and lots of snazzy interior and exterior visual enhancements. But the engine and transmission are the same as in other Avalon models.

20_AvalonTRD_CelestialSilverMetallic_002That’s actually not shabby because the Avalon’s standard power plant is a 301-hp, 3.5-liter V6 that develops 267 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, enough to propel it to 60 mph in about six seconds.

The Avalon has come a long way since its introduction in 1995 as Toyota’s flagship. For years, a main distinguishing characteristic was that it was one of the few sedans anywhere that could seat three adults comfortably in the back seat, thanks to a flat floor and a real center-row seat.

It was classified as a large car by the federal government, defined by the EPA as an automobile with 120 cubic feet or more of interior volume, which includes the passenger and trunk space.

20_AvalonTRD_CelestialSilverMetallic_001In 2013, the Avalon joined the masses when was downsized to its current state as a midsize car with a center-rear seat that featured a small, uncomfortable seat cushion and a big floor hump — pretty much like almost every other car, and even some SUVs, on the market. It continues in that configuration for 2020, now barely larger than its popular — and lower-priced — sibling, the Toyota Camry.

The 2020 Avalon TRD, with 119 cubic feet divided into 103 for passengers with a trunk of 16 cubic feet, misses the large car mark by just one cubic foot, though Toyota markets it as a full-size automobile. The Camry is close as well, with 114 cubic feet, divided into 99 for passengers and 15 cubic feet in the trunk.

20_AvalonTRD_SupersonicRed_002The TRD is not the most expensive Avalon. Its base price of $43,255, including the destination charge, slots it beneath the more luxury-oriented Touring trim line. The tested TRD, with options that included a navigation system and a high-performance JBL audio system with 14 speakers, checked in at $45,410.

Full safety equipment is standard, including pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive radar cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, blind spot monitoring, automatic headlight high beams and rear cross-traffic alert.

It takes only a glance to discern the Avalon TRD’s intention to  advertise its performance personality. The grille is huge, black and menacing, and the lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels are painted black with red brake calipers showing through.

20_CamryTRD_Interior_005The theme carries through inside with black leather upholstery trimmed in bright red. There’s red stitching on the steering wheel, TRD emblems embossed on the headrests and the floor mats, and bright red seatbelts — standard equipment here but on some other sporting cars — a Porsche, say — would be an extra-cost option costing hundreds of dollars.

There are eight-way powered and heated front seats with lumbar support on the driver’s side; seat memory settings, automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, hands-free Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay and wireless smart phone charging.

20_AvalonTRD_Interior_003Front seats are a bit flat, with little bolstering, but nevertheless are supportive and comfortable. The outboard back seats deliver ample head and knee room, with decent comfort, although that center-rear seat — well, you know.

Out back, the truck is large, and well-shaped and finished. One negative: The large, C-shaped trunk hinges are not isolated or protected and could damage contents in a fully loaded trunk.

20_AvalonTRD_Interior_001Despite the TRD’s lack of engine modifications, the Avalon TRD is a stellar performer. The horsepower, torque and braking are more than adequate in the push, pull and rapid lane-changing of modern clogged freeway traffic, and the eight-speed automatic responds quickly to throttle inputs. There are paddles to manually shift but not worth the bother in traffic. Better to save manual shifting to hold gears on twisting mountain roads.

Despite its midsize rating, the Avalon’s length of 16 feet 4 inches has the look of a big car. But it epitomizes the old adage that a small car should drive big and a big car drive small. Its strong suit is small-car quick handling.

Except for the intentional raucous exhaust sounds, especially under hard acceleration, the Avalon TRD cruises serenely with a somewhat stiff but supple ride.

20_AvalonTRD_SupersonicRed_001Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Toyota Avalon TRD four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 301 hp, 267 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 103/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,700 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/31/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,255.
  • Price as tested: $45,410.

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

20_AvalonTRD_CelestialSilverMetallic_0031Photos (c) Toyota

 

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