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Frank A. Aukofer

2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport 2.0 SE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The leaders at Volkswagen weren’t kidding when they tacked the “Sport” designation on the 2020 Atlas Cross Sport 2.0 SE.

Sure, it likely was dreamed up to boost sales of the company’s new midsize crossover sport utility vehicle. Throughout automotive history, the marketing gurus have worked to manipulate buyers’ brains into automatically applying certain attributes to their vehicles.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10946Think Pontiac GTO, Dodge Hellcat, Ford Mustang Shelby GT, Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, Volkswagen Golf GTI, Honda Civic Si, Buick Grand National, Ford F-150 Raptor, Cadillac’s V models, Mercedes AMG, BMW M, Porsche Turbo and Subaru WRX STI, among others.

Mostly, the appellations denote actual performance. But sometimes they are simply slapped on in the middle of a model run to boost the inevitable lagging sales.

That’s not the case with the Atlas. It started out as a full-size, three row crossover sport utility vehicle that, for some families, could substitute for a minivan, though it is somewhat short on cargo space.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10945Now Volkswagen has expanded the Atlas horizons with the Sport, which has an entirely different character from its three-row sibling and lives up to its “sport” designation.

It’s a midsize crossover SUV with 112 cubic feet of space for passengers in the first and second rows, with a generous cargo space of 40 cubic feet. Fold the seatbacks flat and the cargo area expands to 78 cubic feet, plenty to haul all the stuff for your kid’s freshman year in college.

You’d think that would satisfy a lot of customers. But VW also has infused this bulky crossover with performance bones. Though it is 16 feet 4 inches long, 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 4,228 pounds, it validates the old canard about “German feel” with responsive handling and a ride that won’t produce fatigue on a long trip.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10951Belying its size, it attacks twisting roads with some of the aplomb of a sports sedan: capable 4Motion all-wheel drive and communicative steering with good feedback. Of course it’s no match for a Bullitt Mustang or a Mazda MX-5 Miata but it can hold its own with a host of other vehicles.

Power comes from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 235 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, delivered through an eight-speed automatic transmission. City/highway/combined fuel economy of 18/23/20 mpg is not outstanding but that’s the tradeoff for the performance.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport-Large-10326The engine is turbocharged but you’d be hard-pressed to notice. There’s almost no turbo lag, although there is a hesitation if you use the idle stop-start system, which shuts down the engine at stoplights and then cranks it up when you take your foot off the brake. Fortunately, you can disable the stop-start with the touch of a button, as was the script for this review.

There also are driver selectable settings for different on- and off-road drive modes: Normal and snow, as well as off-road and off-road custom. Hill descent control is included for challenging boondocks courses.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10937There’s no manual-shift mode for the automatic transmission — thus no steering-wheel paddle shifters — but it’s not needed. You can easily select “sport” instead of “drive” with the console mounted shifter and rocket off  with instant snap-shifts in the stoplight drag races simply by keeping your foot to the floor.

On the road, the Atlas Sport is mostly a quiet cruiser with enough engine drone to alert you to the power under the hood. The only time it gets annoying is when you hit the “max” button on the air conditioning. Then the engine and blower sounds become a racket that overpowers even loud audio.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10935The Atlas Sport has a starting price of  $31,565, including the destination charge,18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, full LED lighting, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, and Wi-Fi capability.

The test vehicle was a mid-level SE model with a technology package that included adaptive cruise control, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, wireless smart phone charging, park distance control, power lift gate and SXM satellite radio. Inside, the look leaned toward the austere, with perforated black leather upholstery and attractive gray faux wood trim.

But the price was reasonable, slightly more than  the average of a new car in this era. The base was $38,865, including the destination charge and, with an option of a special Aurora Red metallic paint job,  the bottom line sticker came to $39,495. It’s a decent hunk of a crossover for the money.

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10938Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport 2.0 SE w/ Technology four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 235 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with 4Motion all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 112/40 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,288 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/23/20 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,865.
  • Price as tested: $39,495.

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

2020_Atlas_Cross_Sport_-_Tourmaline_Blue_-_SE_with_Technology-Large-10933Photos (c) Volkswagen

2020 Acura MDX AWD A-Spec: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

To paraphrase Erasmus: in the land of multiplying bitty crossovers, the luxury 2020 Acura MDX still reigns.

Desiderius Erasmus, in the 15th or 16th century, famously wrote, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

The maxim is interpreted to mean that even someone with limited abilities or opportunities can be dominant over and considered special by those who have fewer abilities and opportunities.

Front 3q Left WhiteIt is apt when considering the new MDX, and other luxury crossover SUVs, awash in a flood of subcompact, compact and midsize crossovers.

Many of the newer small crossovers have much to recommend them: low prices, practicality over any four-door sedan, good performance and handling, and decent fuel economy.

They are named Kicks, Corsair, GLA, C-HR, Venue, Enclave, QX-30, HR-V, Niro, Kona, X1, Renegade, Seltos, CX-3 and Trax, among others. Some are luxury; most are popular priced.

Front 3q Right RedAs good as most of them are, many buyers aspire to something bigger, more luxurious and comfortable, with better performance and, important to some, reputation and presence. Those sentiments are what gave rise to luxury crossovers — at a time when truck-based SUVs like the Ford Explorer and Jeep Wagoneer of the last century dominated what then was a tiny slice of the market.

Mercedes-Benz was the first to introduce a luxury SUV, the ML-320 in 1998, though then it was not a crossover but a proper body-on-frame hauler built like a truck. It was followed in short order by the Lexus RX and the Acura MDX, both built with unit-body construction like automobiles, which the ML-320 also morphed into. The MDX distinguished itself by starting out as the first three-row, seven-passenger crossover SUV.

DashIt remains that way in 2020 and fits the interpretation of the famed Erasmus admonition. It is not a perfect vehicle, meaning it has some limitations, but it has been dominant in the marketplace.

Acura brags that it was the retail sales champ among three-row luxury competitors in 2019, beating Lexus, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Infiniti, Tesla and Volvo then and in every year since 2010. The claim gets some argument because it counts only sales to individual buyers and ignores fleet sales.

Nevertheless, Acura also says the MDX is the best selling three-row luxury SUV of all time, and has completed its eighth straight year of sales higher than 50,000.

Center ConsoleNo vehicle is perfect and the MDX A-Spec tested for this review is no exception, fitting the Erasmus definition of limited capabilities in some areas. The most obvious: It seats seven passengers, but only four of them comfortably.

The front bucket seats, done up in suede-like Alcantara cloth with leather trim, are supportive and comfortable for both long-distance cruising and challenging mountain curves. The same goes for the outboard rear seats.

Unaccountably, however, the center-rear seat, despite a flat floor, has a hard, uncompromising cushion that would be torture on a long trip. The second-row seats can be adjusted as much as five inches fore and aft, but there’s no way to divide the knee room to prove space for second- and third-row passengers.

2020 Acura MDX A-Spec

The third row is tiny, difficult to access for all but athletic youngsters, and without decent space for adults. So it’s best to think of the MDX as a two-row crossover with the third row folded to open a giant cargo area, usable mainly for extra passengers in emergencies.

So much for the MDX’s limited capabilities. In other respects, especially the driving experience, it is a superb performer despite its two-ton heft and length of 16 feet 4 inches.

WheelThere’s an old adage that says small vehicles should drive big and big vehicles drive small. The MDX, for all of its bulk, drives small. On curving roads, the MDX feels soft and flexible while also clipping corners with the composure of a smaller vehicle tuned for sporty handling.

Buttressing the handling is Acura’s integrated Dynamics System, which provides driver-adjustable settings for steering effort, throttle responses and, with SH-AWD (super-handling all-wheel drive), torque vectoring to tighten cornering. Settings are Comfort, Normal and Sport, but the differences are small and handling remains confident.

Under the hood lies Acura’s 3.5-liter V6 engine, as smooth a power plant as you can find anywhere. It makes 290 hp with 267 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, delivered to Acura’s SH-AWD through a nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual shifting mode. It’s a personality any driver would embrace.

RearSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Acura MDX AWD A-Spec four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 290 hp, 267 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 138/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,303 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/25/21 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $55,895.
  • Price as tested: $55,895.

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

Rear 3q Left WhitePhotos (c) Acura

2020 Mazda CX30 AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Not only does the all-new 2020 Mazda CX-30 get an extra digit in its model number, it apparently plugs a hole in the Mazda lineup that nobody noticed.

It slots in the Japanese manufacturer’s crossover sport utility vehicle lineup between the slightly smaller CX-3 and the slightly larger CX-5. The question is why. The answer lies somewhere among Mazda’s marketing mavens.

2020-Mazda-CX-30_001Consider: The CX-30 is 14 feet 5 inches long with 94 cubic feet of passenger volume and 20 cubic feet of cargo space.

The smaller CX-3 is five inches shorter, at 14 feet long, with about half the cargo space and eight cubic feet less for passengers: 86 cubic feet and 10-12 cubic feet for cargo, depending on the trim level.

The larger CX-5 is six inches longer than the CX-30, at 14 feet 11 inches long with 102 cubic feet of space for passengers and 31 cubic feet for stuff. We’ll see which of the three models buyers prefer.

2020-Mazda-CX-30_003The CX-30 also is a ‘tweener on engine power and fuel economy. In most respects, it resembles the Mazda3, which is built as a four-door hatchback or conventional four-door sedan. They share the same engine — a 186-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 186 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force.

If you’re the sporting type who likes manual gearboxes, your only choice is a front-drive Mazda3 Hatchback. The four-door comes only with the six-speed automatic transmission, the same as the all-wheel drive 3 hatchback and the CX-30.

With similar power, prices, appointments and underpinnings, both models fit Mazda’s current campaign to take its entire lineup more upscale. It shows in the CX-30’s interior, done up with quality materials and workmanship. The CX-30 has the same cargo space of 20 cubic feet as the 3 and just three cubic feet more for passengers.

2020-Mazda-CX-30_013The main difference between the two is the CX-30’s taller crossover profile, which is not a demerit. Its 5 feet 2 inch height doesn’t feel like it causes much perceptible disadvantage in ordinary handling. Curving roads are easily conquered with little body lean and good steering feedback.

At 2.5 liters, the engine is large for a four-cylinder. But it’s naturally aspirated, meaning no turbocharger, which in turn means no dreaded turbo lag, that hesitation while the turbo spools up after you mash the accelerator pedal.

Throttle response on the CX-30 is prompt, both off the line and in passing, with a zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time in the seven-second range, almost the same as the 3 hatchback. The six-speed automatic transmission transfers the power to the wheels with no hiccups. If you don’t want to be shiftless, steering wheel paddles enable you to shift for yourself.

2020-Mazda-CX-30_004Freeway merging poses no problems and the CX-30 has long-distance comfort, although you have to put up with engine drone at cruising speeds. Though it’s not fatiguing, you always know the engine is working. It’s not unlike some European luxury cars, which always seem to announce the presence of an internal combustion power plant under the hood.

The front seats have good support and plenty of bolstering for spirited driving on curving mountain roads. The outboard back seats are similarly accommodating though a bit tight on space for anyone nearing six feet tall. As usual these days, the occasional passenger who gets exiled to the center-rear position is punished by a hard cushion, big floor hump and intrusion of the front console.

2020_Mazda_CX-30_Interior_11With front-wheel drive, the base CX-30 has a starting price of $22,945, including the destination charge. Tested for this review was the  premium all-wheel drive version. It had a starting price of $30,645 and, with options, a bottom-line sticker of $31,670.

Yet it was as well equipped as almost anyone would specify for new wheels. It included modern safety equipment: adaptive radar cruise control with stop and go, rear cross traffic alert, blind-spot warning, tire pressure monitoring and smart brake support with collision warning and pedestrian detection.

2020_Mazda_CX-30_Interior_5The smart brake support comes coupled with Mazda’s Distance Recognition Support System (DRSS) that displays the distance to the vehicle ahead. In addition, the system includes a warning alarm of the risk of a collision with the car ahead, helping a driver maintain a safe following distance.

There’s modern infotainment from Apple Car Play and Android Auto, navigation system, motorized glass sunroof, power rear lift gate, heated front seats, power driver’s seat with memory, and LED lighting.

2020_Mazda_CX-30_Interior_1Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Mazda CX30 AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 186 hp, 186 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 94/20 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,390 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/32/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,645.
  • Price as tested: $31,670.

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

2020-Mazda-CX-30_005Photos (c) Mazda

2020 BMW X3 xDrive30e: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), especially high performance luxury models like BMW’s 2020 X3 xDrive30e, pose a puzzle for potential customers.

The all-new X3 is a compact crossover sport utility vehicle from Germany’s Bavarian Motor Works, manufactured in a U.S. plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Like all BMWs, it is a sweet handling, fast moving machine. It can snap off a zero to 60-mph run in six seconds, with a top speed of about 130 mph.

P90374484_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivWhere it distinguishes itself is in fuel economy because of its gasoline/electric power: a turbocharged 2.0-liter gasoline engine mated to an electric motor and a 12 kW battery. The system makes 292 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque that powers all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

The Environmental Protection Agency rates the 4,586-lb xDrive30e’s fuel consumption, in combined city and highway driving, at 60 mpg equivalent (MPGe). A standard X3 with a turbo gasoline engine gets a combined rating of 27 mpg.

The PHEV X3 has a base price of $49,545, which is $4,900 more than the gasoline-engine version. A bit of back of the envelope math reveals that an owner driving about 12,000 miles a year with $3 a gallon gasoline would not make up the difference and start realizing actual savings for more than six years — assuming he or she even kept the X3 that long.

P90374469_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivOf course, fuel economy likely is way down on the list of reasons anyone buys an X3 — or any BMW, for that matter. The company has a reputation for delivering excellent driver-oriented vehicles with little regard for mileage bragging rights, and the X3 PHEV is no exception.

One advantage to a hybrid is having the electric motor poised to provide extra punch to the gasoline engine. In this application, the boost helps eliminate any turbo lag — that hesitation off the line while the turbo spools up. Electric motors deliver instant torque.

Mash the X3 PHEV’s pedal and go. The computer-controlled eight-speed automatic decides when to shift. If you must, there are paddles mounted on the steering wheel so you can have the fun to decide for yourself.

P90374470_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivAnother plus is the fact that a PHEV can be driven on purely electric power — up to a point. BMW claims an electric range of 20 miles in combined city-highway driving. This reviewer, without effort, managed 21. Part of the system includes regenerative decelerating and braking, which provides a bit of extra charge for the battery pack.

There are selectable drive modes for pure electric and economical hybrid motoring. Either way, the X3 PHEV is a smooth and silent runner on the open roads, switching automatically to hybrid when the battery pack runs out of juice.

Twisting roads provide little challenge for the X3 PHEV. With the battery pack and fuel tank positioned under the back seat and over the rear axle, the X3 has backwoods ballet balance. Settle into the firm, nearly uncomfortable but supportive seats, with plenty of bolstering, and simply attack the corners, controlled as if it were a low-slung sports sedan.

P90263723_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivThere is the matter of price. At BMW, compiling profitable options lists borders on art. With a list of expensive packages, including M Sport trim at $5,000, a Harman Kardon surround audio system at $4,500 and assorted other handling and driving assistance upgrades, the tested X3 came with a bottom-line suggested price of $65,020.

As a compact crossover, the tester has the interior space of a midsize car, done up luxuriously with leather upholstery and buffed wood trim. There’s 101 cubic feet of passenger space — enough to seat four with generous room, along with a poor soul in the center-rear space who must perch on a hard cushion with feet splayed alongside a big floor hump.

P90263707_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivThe cargo area offers 16 cubic feet of space, a bit stingy but that’s because the battery pack lies under the back seat with the fuel tank over the rear axle. Fold the rear seatbacks and it opens up 53 cubic feet of stash space.

The X3 PHEV’s main competitors are the 325-horsepower Mercedes-Benz GLC 350e, with a starting price of $51,645, and the 400-horsepower Volvo XC60 T8, at $54,945.

P90263702_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 BMW X3 xDrive30e plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/Motor: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; electric motor with 12 kW lithium ion battery; 292 system hp, 310 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 101/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,586 pounds.
  • EPA fuel consumption: 60 MPGe PHEV; 24 mpg gasoline only.
  • Electric-only range: 20 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $49,545.
  • Price as tested: $65,020.

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

P90365485_highRes_the-new-bmw-x1-xdrivPhotos (c) BMW

2020 Toyota C-HR Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though almost anyone would classify the 2020 Toyota C-HR as a crossover sport utility vehicle, the company prefers to refer to it as a designer blend of a sport coupe, hatchback and compact crossover.

That’s understandable. There’s little question that it is a stylish upgrade of a small wagon that does not exactly fit a crossover definition because it lacks an all-wheel drive option.

2020_Toyota_CHR_02It’s a trend. The C-HR, which was introduced as a 2018 model, competes now against at least three other front-wheel drive nameplates that are marketed as small crossover SUVs: The Kia Niro, Nissan Kicks and Hyundai Venue.

Others that offer all-wheel drive as well as front-drive include the Chevrolet Trax, Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Mazda CX-3 and CX-30, and the Honda HR-V. They are all part of a movement away from traditional subcompact and compact sedans toward more practical crossover-type vehicles that resemble hatchbacks or tall station wagons.

2020_Toyota_CHR_01The invention of the crossover was a futuristic marketing ploy by manufacturers. American buyers disdained hatchbacks and station wagons so the manufacturers simply gave their hatches a higher profile, added optional all-wheel drive, called them crossover SUVs and now they’re threatening to overwhelm the market—and not only in economy models. There’s no category that is immune — from the C-HR category to Bentley and Rolls-Royce.

The C-HR — it stands for Coupe/High Rider—was introduced as a 2018 model, mainly to compete with Honda’s HR-V, which unlike the C-HR does offer an all-wheel drive option. Though it has four doors, the C-HR mimics a coupe-like profile by mounting the outside rear door handles high up in the door frame.

2019_Toyota_CHR_08_5D136A3A848C374977E705590CB469C99A9FCCA1But the design has a downside. The funky styling, similar to Toyota’s Prius Prime hybrid, results in a sloping coupe-like roof that dictates small side windows for the back seat. Combine that with large headrests on the front seats and the rear-seat passengers may imagine they’re spelunking in the cutout of a cave.

Back seat denizens can barely see out of their dark quarters, and getting in and out takes some torso twisting. Commendably, however, they do have decent head and knee room except for the poor center-rear passenger, who must contend with a high, hard cushion, a floor hump and intrusion of the front console.

2018_Toyota_CHR_RCode_33_A41762A49FDD63D1B895CFE0084833CDED3C0C9AFor 2020, the snazzy millennial looks get complemented by a re-styled front fascia, LED lights and special wheels for different trim levels. There are three: LE, XLE and the tested top-line Limited, which also sported “Supersonic Red” paint two-toned with a black roof. The combination tacked $945 onto the base price of $27,740, which gave the test car some of the aura of high-end European luxury cars, which typically extort extra dollars for special paint jobs.

Other than looks, however, the C-HR rolls on much as it did when it was a newborn. The 144-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine still makes 139 lb-ft of torque with an identical city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of  27/31/29 mpg.

2018_Toyota_CHR_RCode_08_BFFE72057860224A1DCEDDFD07A89763BC1E1826With a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the C-HR won’t win too many stoplight drag races. However, it is eagerly responsive and feels a lot quicker off the line and in passing than the numbers would indicate. For control-freak drivers, there’s a quick-shifting mode that mimics a seven-speed manual. There are no steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters; you must use the console shift lever, which actually is more engaging.

Engaged drivers likely will select the Sport driving mode, which enhances throttle responsiveness and holds the CVT’s simulated upshifts to higher revs to enhance acceleration. Blasting off from a ramp onto a fast-moving freeway to meld with the traffic is a breeze but pay attention to merging.

2019_Toyota_CHR_RCode_32_EBA46173FCDFFB8258B0792DB829027B582ED459In keeping with Toyota’s current attention to safety, all trim levels get full basic safety equipment, including pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive radar cruise control.        Moreover, even the lower trim levels come equipped with SXM satellite radio along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Other enhancements on the tested Limited included voice recognition, Bluetooth streaming and phone connectivity, and WiFi hotspot.

Though the C-HR’s cargo area is compromised somewhat by a high load floor to accommodate the full-size temporary spare wheel and tire, its 19 cubic feet of space exceeds that of many midsize sedans. It’s part of the reason that these agile little vehicles, with their low prices and high fuel economy, are taking over.

2018_Toyota_C_HR_19_79571FFC21B5C321825CAB95FDDAA9B8068E9AD4Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Toyota C-HR Limited four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 144 hp, 139 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 86/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,300 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/31/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,470.
  • Price as tested: $28,860.

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

2020_Toyota_CHR_04Photos (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 Nissan Kicks SV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though it’s assuredly not a virus, the 2020 Nissan Kicks can easily go viral with almost anybody. It grows on you and insinuates itself into your consciousness.

On paper, it looks fairly ordinary: a subcompact crossover sport utility vehicle of a variety that is rapidly proliferating because of practicality, fuel economy and low prices. It doesn’t have awesome power or racetrack handling, though the ride is comfortable enough. There’s space for four adults and a wee one, and a cargo area that would do justice to a limousine.

2020 Nissan Kicks

The Kicks comes with a 122-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 114 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT), which uses a set of belts and pulleys to multiply torque smoothly without shift points.

CVTs, get subjected to harsh criticism because some of them are not well engineered and feel as if they are slipping while the engine’s revs build, which results in engine noise under hard acceleration. But Nissan arguably has more experience with CVTs than any manufacturer, and the Kicks’s CVT is capable and unobtrusive.

2020 Nissan Kicks SV-3-sourceA big advantage of a CVT is its economical delivery of power. Most CVTs have fuel consumption numbers that are not only better than other automatic transmissions but superior even to manual gearboxes. The specially tuned Kicks CVT has an EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 31/36/33 mpg.

The Nissan engineers have used computer software to mimic shift points, so many drivers would be hard-pressed to discern that the Kicks comes with a CVT.

Moreover, the Kicks drive train feels tightly wound and responsive, especially in urban traffic. Punch the loud pedal and the Kicks reacts instantly. Quick lane changes in traffic and on-ramps onto freeways present little challenge. It does inspire affection.

2020 Nissan Kicks SV-5-sourcePassing power on the highway is less spunky, understandable because of the modest horsepower and torque. But the Kicks cruises nicely at freeway speeds and even is quieter than some more expensive machinery.

The tested Kicks was the mid-level SV version, which had a base price of $21,545, including the destination charge. It was nicely equipped with just about everything most customers might want.

That included full basic safety equipment plus automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, rear automatic braking, blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, rear parking sensors and automatic headlight high beams. The brakes have discs in front and drums in the rear but you’d never know it. They work fine.

2020 Nissan Kicks

In addition, the SV tester came with beautiful, sturdy and comfortable cloth upholstery (superior to leather or leatherette in this view), automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, pushbutton starting, cruise control and Bluetooth connectivity with streaming audio.

Options included two-tone paint, 17-inch black alloy wheels and a booming Rockford Fosgate audio system (part of which stole a few cubic feet of space from the generous cargo area, rated at 25 cubic feet). The bottom line sticker price came to $24,810, somewhere around $12,000 less than the average price of a new car these days.

The Kicks competes in a growing segment of the crossover sport utility market. Though described as a subcompact crossover, its total interior space of 119 cubic feet would put it at the top of the midsize class if it were a sedan. In fact, another cubic foot of air inside would put it in the large car category like a Dodge Charger.

2020 Nissan Kicks

The breakdown of 94 cubic feet for passengers and 25 for cargo is typical of crossovers. On the Kicks it results in four comfortable seats front and back, with decent head and knee room, and a tiny fifth space, with a seatbelt, in the center-rear compromised by a floor hump and a high, hard cushion.

Out back, the cargo area is recessed like a sunken family room, though there’s enough space beneath it to accommodate a temporary spare wheel and tire. The rear seatbacks fold to expand the cargo area to 53 cubic feet, though they line up a step above the cargo floor.

Unlike some of its competitors, the Kicks is available only with front-wheel drive. Others are the Toyota C-HR, Kia Soul and Niro, and the new Hyundai Venue. If you live in an area where you must have all-wheel drive, your choices in this category are the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-30, Hyundai Kona and the all-new Kia Seltos.

2020 Nissan Kicks SV-2-sourceSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Nissan Kicks SV four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder; 122 hp, 114 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 94/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,707 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 31/36/33 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $21,545.
  • Price as tested: $24,810.

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

19TDI_KCKSss006_JPEG_High_Res-rev-1-sourcePhotos (c) Nissan

2020 Lexus RX 450hL AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though they don’t rack up huge sales numbers, luxury crossover utility vehicles like the 2020 Lexus RX450hL operate in a highly profitable, and therefore competitive, place in the market.

In that territory, the Lexus RX continues as the best-selling nameplate. The addition of the 450hL, a midsize gasoline/electric hybrid with six- or seven-passenger seating, should help maintain that distinction.

2020_Lexus_RX450hL_02_B419CCEE05FD93C1324D9F072A2231E3087A74001Lexus, the luxury division of Japan’s Toyota, also is the best-selling brand among luxury manufacturers that sell SUVs and crossovers.

In 2019, the Lexus nameplates — UX, NX, RX, GX and LX — had total sales of 217,139 in the United States. Mercedes-Benz of Germany had a slightly larger total of 218,148 but two of its eight nameplates — the Sprinter and Metris vans — are commercial vehicles that together had 41,635 of those sales. For counting purposes, luxury crossovers and SUVs are classified as trucks.

The Lexus RX came on the market back in 1998, right after Mercedes-Benz introduced what was widely regarded as the first luxury SUV, the ML320. But the RX was a crossover, built with a unit body like a car, while the original ML320 was designed like a truck with body on frame construction. It has since converted to a crossover design.

2020_Lexus_RX_450hL_03_8EBCB13234463AD450880174D2F5FDEBA45450DC1The 2020 RX450hL’s forte is silent running in plush comfort, with a suspension system that absorbs nasty road surfaces while still delivering decent handling, though it’s not the sort of vehicle you’d want to enter in an autocross.

It comes with a host of standard and optional equipment to testify to its luxury status, including such items as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive radar cruise control, blind-spot monitoring with parking assist, rear cross-traffic braking, an informative head-up display that shows the compass, tri-zone automatic climate control, auto-dimming and heated outside mirrors, motorized glass sunroof, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, power hands-free tailgate, SXM satellite radio and Mark Levinson premium audio.

2020_Lexus_RX_450hL_06_2B21FFCA34432D4CE1D52CBFB37344C9A67EF2E71An annoyance is the fussy console-mounted touchpad that controls infotainment and other functions on the center screen. It requires focused attention and should not be used while under way.

The RX450hL doesn’t come cheap, though it is less expensive than some of its luxury crossover competitors. Base price of the tester, including the destination charge of $1,025, was $57,485. With options, the bottom line suggested delivered price came to $65,340.

The hybrid system consists of a 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine connected to two electric motors — one for the front wheels and the other for the rear wheels. On the tested all-wheel drive model, the system’s 308 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, gets to all four-wheels through Toyota’s gear-driven continuously variable automatic transmission.

2020_Lexus_RX_450hL_13_5086ED6AAE7EDB539987485C444F6D26FAAB40B11There are no shift points. You sense rather than feel that the engine seamlessly controls rpms to provide maximum power and efficiency. Even using the steering wheel paddles to drive in manual mode, which mimics a six-speed automatic transmission, there’s almost no sensation of shifting.

To broaden the RX’s appeal, Lexus introduced the L model in 2019 but stretched it by four inches over the five-passenger version to make space for a third row of seats. The L can accommodate six with captain’s chairs in the second row or seven with a second-row bench seat.

But it’s a squeeze, and even more so in the hybrid 450hL hybrid version. Where the gasoline-engine RX350L has 121 cubic feet of passenger space and 19 cubic feet for cargo behind the third row, the hybrid RX450hL has 114 cubic feet for passengers and just 8 cubic feet for cargo.

2020_Lexus_RX_450hL_16_0BC25A96F8C13A59D5201AD12FB94E9F10BC0F451The culprit is the hybrid battery pack, which resides underneath the second row of seats. That raises the floor, which stretches into the cargo area. (A compact spare wheel and tire are stashed outside). Even with about eight inches of second-row seat travel, it’s not enough to adjust passable knee room for passengers in the second and third rows.

On the tested six-passenger RX450hL, the two second row captain’s chairs delivered luxurious space and comfort when pushed all the way back. But that virtually eliminated knee room for anyone in the third row.

So it’s best to simply touch the power button to fold the third row and keep it tucked away, which expands the cargo area to 24 cubic feet. But the seats still are available for emergency transportation of backpacks, watermelons or the family dogs.

2020_Lexus_RX450hL_012_A0E1C49D26B5F0BCCB1666042FC5BC14A865885D1Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Lexus RX 450hL AWD Lux hybrid four-door, three-row crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motors: 3.5-liter V6 gasoline with two electric motors; combined 308 hp, 247 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 114/8 cubic feet. (23, 34)
  • Weight: 4,905 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 29/28/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $57,485.
  • Price as tested: $65,340.

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

Lexus_RX_450hL_01jpg_25CC5457FD664F12CABA89FF8F8AC3BC60E51A6BPhotos (c) Lexus

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

 

 

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