Search

The Review Garage

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

Category

Car Reviews

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

Advertisements

Is a BEV in Your Future?

by Jason Fogelson

I recently reviewed the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus for AutoTrader. It’s a fine vehicle in many respects. With an estimated 226 miles of range on a single charge, it can serve as an able commuter. It will require minimal maintenance over the course of its lifetime – just consumables like wiper blades and fluid, tires, brake pads and the like. No oil changes, transmission fluid, antifreeze, clutch adjustments – truly minimal routine maintenance. Perhaps best of all, it doesn’t use any gasoline, and can be charged in a reasonable amount of time on a 240-volt home outlet. But I still can’t recommend that you buy or lease a Nissan Leaf Plus, or any other current battery-electric vehicle (BEV), unless you are a committed early adopter.

That’s because some quick math has convinced me that the BEV equation still doesn’t work.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

A Leaf Plus will start at around $37,000 – still a guess, until Nissan announces prices when it launches the vehicle to dealerships in March 2019, a few weeks from now. There’s still a Federal tax credit available (up to $7,500) and some states offer additional credits. So, let’s assume that Leaf Plus nets at about $30,000.

Compare that to a base 2019 Nissan Sentra, which starts at $18,480 with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). That Sentra is rated by the EPA to achieve 32 mpg combined. If gasoline costs $2.50 per gallon (today’s average, according to the AAA, is $2.394), you’ll be able to buy 4,608 gallons of the stuff for the difference in price between a Sentra and a Leaf Plus – enough to travel up to 147,456 miles in a Sentra before you begin to recoup the difference in price between the Sentra and Leaf Plus. Of course, you’ll need to do some maintenance on the Sentra. Nissan recommends oil and filter changes every 5,000 miles/6 months. That’ll run about $60 a year at your local Jiffy Lube. You’ll need to replace the air filter every 30,000 miles/3 years for about $20 if you do it yourself. At 105,000 miles, you’ll need to replace all four spark plugs for about $7.50 each/$30.00 total. Let’s add in three batteries at $200 each, and a major service (timing belt, CVT fluid, radiator fluid, etc.) at the dealer every 50,000 miles, for about $500 a pop. We’ll ignore maintenance items that are common to the gasoline and battery vehicles, like tires, brakes, brake fluid and such.

2019 Sentra SR TurboHere’s a basic cost breakdown to keep the Sentra maintained for 147,456 miles, then:

Oil/Filters: 30 services @ $30 each: $900.00
Spark Plugs: 4 @ $7.50 each: $30.00
Battery Replacement: 3 @ $200 each: $600.00
Major Service: 3 @ $500 each: $1,500.00

Total: $3,030.00

Assuming that you drive somewhere near the national average of 15,000 miles, that’s just over $300 per year in maintenance for ten years of service.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

Charging an electric car is not free. This is where my math gets really fuzzy and estimated, because electricity rates vary so widely based on a number of factors. Residential rates average about $0.12/kWh, but there are different rates for different levels of usage, times of day, and other factors. The best estimates that I’ve found assume that it costs about $2.50 to bring an average electric car (whatever that is) to a full charge from empty. Charging at commercial charging stations can be by kWh, by time, or flat rate, depending on the system. A Level 2 charge can be as little as $2.50, while a DC Quick Charge usually starts at about $10.00. To make the math really simple, let’s assume that the Nissan Leaf Plus can be charged for about $0.10 per mile. That’s probably a low estimate. So, over 147,456 miles, electricity will cost you at least $1,475.

2018 Nissan Sentra

There are other factors to consider. The Leaf Plus battery is going to degrade over the course of use. Nissan’s warranty covers it for eight years or 100,000 miles against defects and excessive capacity loss, so those last 47,456 miles will be uncharted territory. My assumption is that it will take more electricity to get the same distance over time – and higher electrical costs as a result.

You might have access to free charging at work, or at a public station in a liberal metropolis. But if BEV adoption rates increase at predicted rates, those resources will become harder to come by as competition for charging stations intensifies.

You may be considering the installation of solar panels, which would benefit both your general home electricity bill and your vehicle charging. I can’t even begin to do the math on that.

But the basic math between a Nissan Sentra and a Nissan Leaf Plus does not provide a definitive answer.

Here’s my basic breakdown for ten years/150,000 miles of ownership:

2018 Nissan Sentra

2019 Nissan Sentra:
$18,480.00 purchase price
$ 3,030.00 unique maintenance costs
$11,718.75 gasoline (150,000 miles @ 32 mpg X $2.50/gallon)
$33,228.75 Total

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus
$30,000.00 net purchase price
$ 0.00 unique maintenance costs
$ 1,500.00 electricity (150,000 miles @ $0.10 per mile)
$31,500.00 Total

This is back-of-the-envelope stuff, and not entirely scientific. The Leaf Plus would appear to pay off – but just barely. And there are tons of variable here. Gas prices could vary wildly over the next ten years. So could electricity prices. We don’t really know how well the Leaf Plus batteries will hold up over 10 years – Nissan warns that range will decrease with time and use, which means that costs will increase. We have a pretty good idea that a well-maintained Sentra is capable of 150,000 miles of trouble-free operation, though. According to Kelley Blue Book, a 2009 Nissan Sentra S with 150,000 miles on the clock lists at $4,799, while a 2011 Nissan Leaf (the first year of production) with 100,000 miles on the odometer lists at $5,290, so depreciation is also something to think about.

After reviewing my math, I still have a hard time recommending the purchase of a new Nissan Leaf Plus – for now. Stay tuned.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

Photos (c) Nissan

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 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 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

2019 Nissan Maxima and Murano: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Even when you are fundamentally healthy like Nissan’s 2019 Maxima sedan and Murano crossover SUV, it never hurts to add some bling to enhance your appeal.

Usually it happens midway through a model run. In the automobile biz, they call it a refresh — changes that present a new face and personality to prospective customers.

2019 Nissan Maxima-7Both the sport- and luxury-oriented Maxima sedan and the Murano midsize crossover are marketed by Nissan as top-of-the line flagships. Though they do not compete in the luxury segment — that’s the job of the company’s Infiniti brand — the 2019 designs nudge them closer. They are intended to appeal to buyers who want luxury content without big price tags.

Of the two, the Maxima needs the most help. Reflecting the nation-wide trend among buyers toward crossovers and away from sedans, the Maxima’s sales have dropped precipitously in 2018. The Murano, on the other hand, is on a path to increase sales.

MikeDitzPhoto.com

The Maxima competes in the near-luxury, large car class, although like Toyota’s Avalon, it actually is classified by the government as a midsize car.

From a performance standpoint, the Maxima doesn’t need a thing. It is powered by a 300-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine with 261 lb-ft of torque delivered to the front wheels through Nissan’s Xtronic continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). The combination earns a city/highway/combined fuel economy of 20/30/24 mpg.

Some critics deride CVTs, which have no shift points, as noisy and sluggish. But Nissan arguably has more experience with them than any manufacturer and it shows on the Maxima. Throttle response is quick, smooth and powerful. Also, the Maxima handles curving roads like a sports sedan. Straight-line cruising is quiet and effortless with few steering corrections needed.

2019 Nissan Maxima-16The new appeal is mostly about appearances, especially on the tested top-line Maxima Platinum with the Reserve package, though there are safety enhancements as well. With a bottom-line sticker of $43,835, it was loaded with the full 2019 package of safety and luxury enhancements.

One is Nissan’s new rear door alert. The system notes if you open a rear door to stash a package — or a child — in the back seat. At the end of the trip, if you leave without re-opening the back door, it will sound the horn.

Other freshening included Nissan’s V-Motion styling, which sends body lines flowing from the distinctive grille up and over the body. LED headlights and taillights punctuate the styling and augment interior color schemes and accents. The taillights give the impression of width and streamlining.

2019 Nissan Maxima-13The Maxima’s Reserve package, with a $1,140 price tag, includes heated rear seats, 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels, “Rakuda tan” leather upholstery with diamond-quilted seating areas, two-tone leather covered steering wheel, charcoal headliner and pillars, and satin bronze interior trim.

Similarly, the Murano moves closer to luxury territory with new colors like its rusty-shiny “Sunset Drift Chromaflair.”  Along with the Maxima, it also incorporates the company’s Safety Shield 360, which includes automatic emergency braking, rear braking, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-sport warning. One apparent shortcoming: there’s no mention of lane-departure assist.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-10Though not as powerful as its sibling Maxima, the Murano contains enough oomph to avoid embarrassment in the stoplight sprints or on the freeways. Its 3.5-liter V6 engine makes 260 hp with 240 lb-ft of torque, delivered to the front wheels or all four wheels through the Xtronic CVT.

The version tested for this review was the mid-priced SV trim level with front-wheel drive. It had a base price of $35,485 and, with a modest list of options, checked in at $39,230. Add $1,600 if you want all-wheel drive. Fuel economy is rated by the EPA at 20/28/23 mpg.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-24Handling, of course, is not as crisp as the Maxima’s but the Murano acquits itself well, with little body roll, on twisting mountain roads. Its forte, however, is more attuned to quiet, straight-line cruising with the audio cranked up and the kids on their video games with earphones.

The SV trim eschews leather upholstery in favor of a sturdy embossed cloth, which to some people — including this critic — is more comfortable over a wide range of temperatures than leather. On the Murano, the cloth covers a supportive seat structure that takes the fatigue out of long-distance cruising.

A nearly flat floor should enhance comfort in the center-rear seating position. Unfortunately, the cushion is high and hard, and knee room is compromised by intrusion of the center console.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-11Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Maxima Platinum Reserve four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 300 hp, 261 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,676 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/30/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $42,335.
  • Price as tested: $43,835.

*   *   *

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Murano SV four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 260 hp, 240 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 103/31 cubic feet. (65)
  • Weight: 3,837 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/28/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,485
  • Price as tested: $39,230.

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

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-5Photos (c) Nissan

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 4MATIC: A Driveways Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In an era when the prevailing trend is toward SUV-style vehicles that perch driver and passengers up high, the 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS parks their butts down close to the pavement.

It’s been that way since Mercedes invented the so-called four-door coupe genre in 2004 — the idea being to deliver sensuous coupe styling with the convenience of a couple of rear doors for those occasional double dates.

If you are one who appreciates eye candy, the tested CLS 450 4MATIC Coupe — its official title — presents handsome and aggressive new styling that reinforces the kinship with its more expensive version from the Mercedes high-performance AMG division.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

On the other hand, the streamlined, low-slung body envelops a tight package. You must duck and twist to get in and out, especially in the back seat. There’s 93 cubic feet of space for passengers, with limited head and legroom, and a shallow trunk of just 12 cubic feet, which earns the CLS a compact car classification.

The new car now has seat belts for five with the fifth in the center-rear. But you wonder why the designers bothered. With its all-wheel drive, there’s a giant floor hump and a seat more suited to a small backpack than a person. Ground clearance is less than four inches, so watch those driveway entrance bumps.

The CLS returns to a Mercedes tradition with an all-new inline six-cylinder engine that replaces the previous twin-turbo V8. Inline sixes characteristically deliver exceptional smoothness, and the CLS obliges. The new turbocharged 3.0-liter makes 362 hp with 369 lb-ft of torque, sent to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

Providing additional spurts of power is a 48-volt electric starter-generator that delivers 21 hp and also enables a sophisticated and unobtrusive engine stop-start system. Not that many CLS buyers would pay much attention, but the EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 23/30/26 mpg of premium gasoline.

On the road, the CLS 4MATIC acts more like a sports car than a luxury cruiser. With its air-suspension system and precise steering, it carves corners like an expert butcher with a Thanksgiving turkey. There are five drive modes, each of which can be selected instantly underway with the touch of a button on the center console. There’s no need to take eyes off the road or the head-up display.

The modes are labeled Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual. The last can be tailored with the Mercedes COMAND (cq) system but it is best done while parked. In Sport and Sport Plus, acceleration is enhanced by holding shifts to higher rpms, and the suspension and steering tighten.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

In all the driving modes except for Sport and Sport Plus, the nine-speed automatic transmission starts in second gear to enhance fuel economy. If you need to get off the line quickly, select one of the Sport modes, which will get you to 60 mph in slightly more than five seconds, according to the manufacturer. Top speed is rated at 130 mph.

No Mercedes is bargain-priced, but the tested CLS makes a mockery of the sticker price. This one started at $72,695, including the destination charge, but after the options were added up the bottom line came to $100,730. The $28,035 worth of options could buy you a nice compact crossover SUV.

The tester had so-called “design” packages totaling $6,200 that included perforated leather upholstery in Macchiato Beige and Titian Red with piano black lacquer and wood interior trim. Also on the options list were a $5,400 Burmester surround-sound audio system, the $1,900 air suspension, and packages totaling  $2,150 to enhance warmth, comfort and acoustics.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

Standard equipment covered a full suite of safety measures, including the head-up display, pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane-keeping assist and active emergency stopping. The last brings the CLS to a stop if the system detects that the driver is not actively driving while using the adaptive cruise control and the active steering assist.

Though popular early on, with 14,835 U.S. sales in 2005, the CLS has been on a roller coaster since, dropping to just 1,839 sales in 2017. The 2019 model could reverse the skid if there are enough luxury car intenders with fat purses or healthy credit ratings who have not yet been bitten by the crossover sport utility bug.

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 4MATIC Coupe four-door.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged; 362 hp, 369 lb-ft torque; with 48-volt, 21-hp starter-generator.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 4 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 93/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,350 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/30/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $72,695.
  • Price as tested: $100,730.

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

2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS450

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2019 Hyundai Veloster N: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Now fielding the 2019 Veloster N, Hyundai could be whistled for encroachment.

It has happened before. The South Korean manufacturer has been steadily and successfully insinuating its products into almost every space in the automotive firmament: sedans of various sizes and power trains, crossover sport utility vehicles and even luxury cars. The last, Genesis, became its own luxury brand.

Now Hyundai is intruding into the small but image-important “hot hatch” group of relatively inexpensive high-performance hatchbacks. There are only a few, the most familiar of which is the Volkswagen GTI, with competition from the Honda Civic Type R and the Ford Focus ST.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

What these machines have in common is that they are based on practical runabouts for people on tight budgets. Emulating the kids who buy old Honda Civics and hop them up to be faster and more agile, the automakers do the same to create new excitements.

The GTI, for example, is based on the ubiquitous Golf, Volkswagen’s entry-level U.S. offering. Similarly, Hyundai already marketed the Veloster, a compact hatchback with two conventional doors in the front and a single third door in back on the passenger side. Despite its unusual layout, it has been reasonably successful, though slipping lately with 12,658 sales in 2017 and running at an annual rate of 10,581 in 2018.

Now it should get a boost as it vies for the “hot hatch” title with the N, which stands for Namyang, the site of Hyundai’s technology center in South Korea. The N also obliquely refers to the Nürburgring Nordschleife, the famed test track in Germany where some of the N’s development was carried out.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

Under the tutelage of Albert Biermann, Hyundai’s head of vehicle performance, the Veloster was not simply given additional power. Biermann, formerly chief of BMW’s M performance group, took a holistic approach to give the Veloster a stiffer chassis, sophisticated racing suspension system, more accurate steering with enhanced feedback, tires with more grip and, of course, robust power.

The goal, Bierman says, was to give the Veloster “real racetrack capability” in a machine that is easy and entertaining for novices to drive on the track and in everyday environments.

Power comes from a gasoline direct injection, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 250 hp with 260 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. A six-speed manual gearbox — the only transmission available so far — sends the force to the front wheels.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

To make things even easier for inexperienced drivers, the transmission comes with automatic rev-matching. On downshifts, the system raises the engine revolutions to match the speed of the car—particularly useful during braking on racetrack corners. Launch control also is included, which minimizes wheel spin on acceleration runs. Hyundai doesn’t publish zero-to-60 miles an hour times, but an educated estimate is in the five-second range.

Overall, the stick shift is delightful, with easy, short throws of the shift lever on both upshifts and downshifts. The rev-matching eliminates  jerkiness from sloppy shifting. Along with brake-induced torque vectoring to hasten maneuvers around corners, the system infuses the N with forgiving and delightful manners on a road-racing course.

Biermann says that’s what the Veloster is all about. He calls it accessible and affordable high performance for average drivers. To keep the cost reasonable, the N uses in-house brakes instead of something like Brembo racing brakes, although high-performance brake pads are available for serious racers.

Large-31055-2019VelosterN

Base prices for Veloster N will start at $27,785, including the destination charge. A special performance package tacks on an additional $2,000 and bumps the horsepower to 275. It includes a special “corner carving” differential, 19-inch alloy wheels, Pirelli P Zero performance tires, larger brake rotors and variable exhaust valves.

Standard equipment on all Velosters includes full modern safety equipment, 18-inch alloy wheels with Michelin Super Sport tires, LED headlights and taillights, automatic climate control, Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity, and premium audio with SXM satellite radio.

So no enthusiast will mistake the N from its lower-performing siblings, it comes with exclusive styling of the grille and front fascia, as well as special rear treatments, including a spoiler with brake light.

N prices are lower than those of the 306-hp Honda Civic Type R and the 220-hp Volkswagen GTI Autobahn, both of which have prices in the mid to high $30,000 range. More comparable to the N is the Ford Focus ST, which starts in the mid-$20,000 range.

Large-33464-2019VelosterNSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Hyundai Veloster N three-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 275 hp, 260 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual with rev-matching and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet.
  • Height: 4 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 90/20 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,117 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/28/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,785.
  • Price as tested: $29,885. 

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

Large-31123-2019VelosterNPhotos (c) Hyundai

2019 Lexus UX 250h: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Not inclined to be a cowboy trailing the fast-moving herd of small luxury crossover SUVs, Lexus introduces its 2019 UX with a choice of conventional or hybrid power trains.

This is not its first rodeo. Lexus, the luxury division of Toyota, marketed the CT200h, a compact hybrid hatchback with the same powertrain as the popular Toyota Prius, from 2011 to 2017.

D55_5157Now it rides into the fray with the UX against subcompact crossovers like the Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Lincoln MKC, Volvo XC40, Infiniti QX30 and BMW X1. The entry-level UX slots below the compact NX and gives Lexus a full array of crossovers and SUVs. Unlike SUVs, constructed like trucks with bodies on frames, crossovers are built with unit bodies like automobiles.

Lexus crossovers now include the UX, NX and the midsize RX. At the top of the lineup are the GX and LX, both truck-based SUVs.

Lexus identifies the UX as an urban crossover, which suggests that it is not intended as a long-distance traveler. But that could be said about many small vehicles that owners customarily drive across country. The UX can certainly do the same.

DSC_0497But its personality, as Lexus describes it, is that of a “creative urban explorer,” a runabout aimed to tantalize younger buyers more attuned to cityscapes than suburban/rural areas. Like others of its ilk, the UX has four doors, carries four passengers and a fifth uncomfortably center-rear, with 17 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat.

There are two versions: the front-wheel drive UX 200, powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that makes 169 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. The manufacturer estimates a zero-to-60 mph acceleration time of 8.9 seconds with a top speed of 118 mph. Its EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 29/37/33 mpg on regular fuel. Starting price is $33,025, including the destination charge.

DSC_0197The other, the focus here, is the hybrid UX 250h, which comes with all-wheel drive. It is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine working with twin electric motor generators. The system delivers 181 hp on regular gasoline. All-wheel drive is automatically engaged by a small electric motor integrated into the rear differential.

An unusual apparent shortcoming: Lexus says the UX 250h’s all-wheel drive operates only up to 43 mph, after which it becomes a front-wheel drive vehicle.

According to Lexus, that’s because the UX all-wheel drive system is electronic instead of mechanical. It operates in all-wheel drive at lower speeds when needed and front-drive at higher speeds for optimal efficiency and fuel economy. But road conditions mitigated by all-wheel drive can get nasty at more than 43 mph.

DSC_0128The zero-to-60 acceleration time of 8.6 seconds is slightly better than the UX 200’s, with the top speed of 110 less than the UX 200. But the hybrid’s fuel economy rating is 41/38/39 and its starting price is $35,025, or $2,000 more than the UX 200’s.

The tested UX 250h came with options that included a navigation system, soft-touch interior trim called Washi, blind spot monitoring, a motorized sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers, garage-door opener and an auto-dimming inside mirror. The options brought the as-tested price up to $38,900, and a spokesperson said a fully loaded UX250h could reach $41,000.

Both the UX 200 and the hybrid UX 250h are frisky around-town performers with acceleration that feels quicker than the numbers would indicate. They get the power to the pavement through continuously variable automatic transmissions, which sometimes can feel as if they are high-revving and slipping.

DSC_0170These do not. In the 200, the CVT uses a mechanical gear to get an initial boost off the line; in the 250h the boost comes from the electric motors. It can mimic the shift feel of a stepped 10-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. There is a noticeable loud growl under hard acceleration with the 200. The 250h hybrid is quieter and feels stronger, tighter and more planted overall.

Both UX models come standard with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0, which includes pre-collision warning and braking with pedestrian and bicyclist detection, adaptive radar cruse control and lane departure mitigation. Blind-spot warning is optional.

There are three trim packages: Premium, Luxury and F-Sport. The last, available on both the 200 and 250h, comes with suspension modifications and special 18-inch alloy wheels to enhance handling. The tradeoff is a stiffer though not punishing ride.

DSC_1306Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Lexus UX 250h four-door crossover SUV.
  • Engine/motors: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline with two electric motor-generators; 181 system hp.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic (CVT).
  • Overall length: 14 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 86/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,605 pounds.
  • City/highway/combined fuel consumption: 41/38/39 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,025.
  • Price as tested: $37,875.

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

D55_4132Photos (c) Lexus

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑