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2019 Kia Sorento SXL AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Sometimes, as with the 2019 Kia Sorento SXL, it’s good to resist too much change. It remains essentially as it was in 2016: a midsize crossover sport utility vehicle that is handsome, quiet, safe, comfortable and competent.

The few additions and modifications, though they make all versions more expensive than their predecessors, mostly enhance the South Korean’s appeal. A third row of seats now is standard across the lineup and the tested SXL with all-wheel drive comes with driver alertness monitoring, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, blind-spot alert and rear cross-traffic collision warning.

2019 Sorento

Overall, the top-of-the-line SXL comes equipped as well as some luxury cars and crossovers. Features included a navigation system, dual-zone automatic climate control, premium Nappa leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, power driver’s seat with memory, Harman Kardon surround-sound audio, Android Auto and Apple Car Play, SXM satellite radio, 19-inch polished alloy wheels and a surround-view rear camera.

A large panoramic sunroof opens wide at the front and features one-touch controls for the motorized section and the opaque sun shade.

The tested SXL AWD had a starting sticker price of $47,480. With a few options, it topped out at $48,020, right up there with competitors that include the somewhat larger Subaru Ascent, Volkswagen Atlas, Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Traverse.

2019 Sorento

Like the Mazda CX-9 and the downsized GMC Acadia, the Sorento is a bit of a tight fit for a three-row crossover. Its third-row seat can accommodate, with their knees at belly-button level, a couple of average-sized adults as long as the second-row passengers move their seats forward to provide knee room. Crawling back there takes athletic ability more common to teen agers than empty nesters.

The plush front seats are supportive and comfortable with modest bolstering. Outboard back seats are nearly as cozy. However, though there’s enough head and knee room for the center-rear passenger, the poor soul must perch on a hard cushion.

Mechanically, the new Sorento carries over two engines but drops the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder from the lineup. Lower trim levels are powered by a 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. The tested SXL AWD came with the carryover 292-hp, 3.3-liter V6 engine that develops 252 lb-ft of torque.

2019 Sorento

There are six trim levels, starting with the $26,980 front-drive L version. It and the LX use the 2.4-liter engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. Upper trim levels — LX V6, EX, SX and the tested SXL — are powered by the 3.3-liter V6 and an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with the shift lever, though there are no paddles on the steering wheel.

The base L  model comes only with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is optional at $1,800 on all of the other models. But the Sorento obviously is not intended for serious off-road adventures; the all-wheel drive delivers increased driver confidence in snow and other foul weather conditions.

The tested Sorento had four driving modes that adjust transmission shift points and other vehicle parameters: Comfort, Eco, Smart and Sport. They can be selected manually or will automatically adjust to the driver’s style and habits.

2019 Sorento

In any drive mode, the Sorento is as silent runner as can be found in its class. Plenty of insulation and acoustic glass in the windshield and front windows contribute to a hushed environment. Muted sounds make their way into the cabin, but they mostly come from the pockmarked urban streets that have become the default U.S. standard. Road noise, as well as mechanical and wind sounds, are practically nonexistent on smooth asphalt.

The Sorento’s V6 engine and eight-speed transmission deliver plenty of power for freeway merging, two-lane highway passing and fatigue-free all-day Interstate cruising. Handling is secure on curves without excess body lean and few steering corrections are needed in straight-line driving. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated by the EPA at 19/24/21 miles per each gallon of regular-grade gasoline.

2019 Sorento

American made in West Point, GA, the Sorento sports handsome crossover styling with Kia’s trademark “tiger nose” grille. The company’s design chief, Peter Schreyer, who formerly worked for BMW and Audi, has said he believes it has the same staying  power as BMW’s dual-kidney grille design.

On the sales charts, the Sorento has been the best-selling Kia crossover SUV. In 2017, sales totaled 99,684 and in 2018 it has been on a pace to escalate into six figures.

2019 Sorento

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Kia Sorento SXL AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.3-liter V6, 290 hp, 252 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 143/11 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,622 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,480.
  • Price as tested: $48,020.

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

2019 Sorento

Photos (c) Kia

2018 Kia Stinger GT AWD: A DriveWays Review

by Frank A. Aukofer

It is rare, but occasionally something like the 2018 Kia Stinger appears and rides through a process of imprinting itself on the public consciousness — first with insiders and enthusiasts, and eventually with everyone else.

Think Chevrolet Corvette in 1954. Ford Mustang in 1964. BMW 1600 in 1967. Volkswagen Beetle and British Mini in mid-20th century. Honda Accord in 1976.  Mazda MX-5 Miata in 1990. And now the upstart Kia Stinger.

The examples will prompt arguments. You could add the Tucker Torpedo of 1948, but it died in infancy. Or even the Acura Legend in 1986. But we’re talking here mostly about affordable cars that became highly prized and survived for a long time.

2018 Kia Stinger GT2 RWD & 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 AWD

Usually it starts with surprise, morphs into appreciation and desire, and settles into a long-term relationship analogous to the St. Patrick’s Day stereotype, when everybody is either Irish or wants to be.

The word is not yet widespread about the Kia Stinger, and most observers are surprised that it was conceived by the South Korean company, originally known for sometimes shoddy economy cars. But it will achieve status because the company has finessed its way to the top on quality, styling, durability and performance with a full line of cars, crossover sport utility vehicles and even a minivan. There’s not a bad apple in the barrel.

The Stinger shines as a multi-purpose car: High performance across seven versions with style and luxury-car features, two engine choices, family practicality and prices that are doable for middle-income Americans.

Full disclosure: The Stinger is a hatchback. But it is nowhere near what U.S. buyers rejected for many years and now are tentatively embracing. No, it is more accurate to compare it to German high-performance luxury cars, and particularly the new Audi A7 and Audi A5 Sportbacks, both stunners with hatchbacks, high content and price tags to match.        The first impression is that the Stinger mimics the A7: low-down and sexy. But depending on the model, it matches up against both the nearly $70,000 A7 and the $52,000 A5.

2018 Stinger GT2 RWD
2018 Stinger GT2 RWD

Closest to the A7 — here we’re comparing to the 2017 model, not the recently announced 2018 — is the most exalted Stinger, the GT2, which carried a $52,300 sticker as tested for this review. The tester had the optional all-wheel drive (available for $2,200 on all Stingers), while the A7 comes with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive.

Side by side, the A7 is seven inches longer than the Stinger, yet they have similar interior space: passenger/cargo volume of 94/25 cubic feet in the A7; 94/23 in the Stinger. The Audi, at 4,234 pounds, is lighter than the Stinger’s 4,515 pounds, but the Stinger has more power: 365-horsepower, turbocharged 3.3-liter V6 with 376 pound-feet of torque versus the A7’s 340-horsepower, supercharged V6 with 325 pound feet of torque.

The Stinger GT2’s extra power is canceled out by the A7’s lighter weight so the acceleration of each car to 60 miles an hour is rated by its manufacturer at 4.7 seconds. Both cars have eight-speed automatic transmissions with manual-shift modes.

At the other end of the comparison is the $32,800 rear-wheel drive Stinger 2.0T, which contains a 255-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine with 260 pound-feet of torque. It matches up with the new $52,100 Audi A5 Quattro, which is four inches shorter and smaller inside by four cubic feet. Its 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine delivers 252-horspower and 273 pound-feet of torque.

2018 Kia Stinger Blue - GT2 AWD

The Stinger 2.0T uses an eight-speed automatic transmission while the A5 is equipped with a snappy seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. It is about 100 pounds heavier than the 3,650-pound Stinger but has a slight edge in acceleration: 5.3 seconds against 5.9 for the Stinger.

The numbers are important, of course, though the proof is in the driving experience. Truth is, any of these four cars — Audi A7 and A5, and Stinger GT2 and 2.0T — would stir the soul of any driving enthusiast. They deliver exciting, right-now acceleration, fuss-free flat cornering and handling at speed, outstanding braking, comfortable and supportive seats, room for four adults (five in an emergency), and generous cargo space that can be expanded by folding the rear seatbacks.

The big difference is the Kia’s more tolerable prices and one of the best warranties anywhere. For some, the Audi’s reputation and prestige trump every other consideration. But it’s worth noting that Consumer Reports now ranks Kia No. 3 in reliability, based on owner reports. Audi is No. 4.

2018 Stinger GT2 RWD

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine: 3.3-liter V6, twin turbochargers, 365 hp, 376 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 94/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,032 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/25/21. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $50,100.
  • Price as tested: $52,300.

Disclaimer: This test drive was based on a loan of the vehicle from the manufacturer. It was driven by the author in circumstances similar to everyday driving by consumers.

2018 Kia Stinger GT2 AWD
2018 Kia Stinger GT2 AWD

Photos (c) Kia Motors America.

2018 Kia Rio EX: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Translated from Spanish, the 2018 Kia Rio means “Kia River.” A better name would be Kia Alegre, which translates into frisky, merry or joyful.

It even could qualify as a Kia Perrito, or puppy. That’s the sense you get chasing around in this new compact car, which comes as a four-door hatchback or conventional four-door sedan. It is entertaining and eager to please, though with a few faults like any puppy.

As South Korea’s Kia has evolved into a full-line manufacturer of cars, crossover sport utility vehicles and even a minivan, the Rio hasn’t received much attention. But it is the company’s top seller world-wide, owing to its low price, tidy dimensions and good fuel economy.

2018 Rio

In the U.S., the Rio competes against an array of subcompact and compact economy cars: Chevrolet Spark and Sonic, Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris and iA, Nissan Versa, Fiat 500, Mitsubishi Mirage and Mini Cooper.

The fourth generation Rio presents new styling, a carryover but improved 130-hp engine with 119 lb-ft of torque, new suspension system tuning and a choice of a six-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox.

Unfortunately for enthusiasts who might want the stick shift, it only is available on the base LX trim level. Though the LX is hardly a hair-shirt proposition, it lacks some desirable features like cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, alloy wheels, split folding rear seatback, power windows, fog lights, heated outside mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, and lighted vanity mirrors. Then again, it has a sticker price of just $14,795.

2018 Rio

In a rarity deserving of a standing ovation, all Rio trim levels come standard with SXM satellite radio. Economy cars from other manufacturers require the buyer to buy a more expensive version simply to get SXM. There’s no navigation system but you can run one through your smart phone with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

At the national introduction in Baltimore, MD, Kia offered only the fully-equipped top-line EX four-door hatchback with the six-speed automatic transmission. There was no opportunity to test the notchback sedan, manual gearbox version or other trim levels.

With a base price of $19,595 and a special launch edition price of $20,095, which included two-tone black and red leather upholstery, the Rio EX hatchback was uncommonly well equipped for a compact economy car. That’s a smart move because there are any number of buyers out there who want a small car for its fuel economy, maneuverability and ease of parking, but don’t want to stint on the amenities.

2018 Rio

The Rio EX has plenty of those. Though its standard upholstery is a handsome embossed cloth — preferred by many, including this reviewer — a leather package is optional. Also part of the EX package: full safety equipment with autonomous emergency braking, seven-inch center screen with infotainment functions and a rear camera, 15-inch alloy wheels, tilt and telescoping steering column, leather-wrapped steering wheel, tire pressure monitoring and power windows with one-touch up and down on the driver’s side.

In urban traffic, the Rio EX has a frisky personality, quick moves and, with its strong power train, a capability to easily pop through gaps in traffic. With four-wheel antilock disc brakes, it also stops with authority. The LX and S trim levels have front disc brakes and drum brakes on the rear wheels.

2018 Rio

Driving at high speeds on freeways is another matter. Though the tested Rio had no trouble merging from ramps and keeping up with traffic, the steering had a loose feel with a tendency to wander, requiring frequent steering corrections. That could become tiring on a long trip.

However, the Rio hatchback had little difficulty tracking on curving roads. It obviously is no sports car but its steering and suspension system combine to hold a decent line around corners as long as you don’t move too fast. At the same time, the ride is not punishing except on very rough roads.

Inside, there’s decent comfort for four people, though there are seatbelts for five. The front seats deliver long-distance support and the back seats offer ample headroom, though knee room is in short supply. As with most cars, the center-rear seat is an unyielding, uncomfortable cushion.

Kia has plenty of decent cars for the masses. Abetting the Rio, there’s the best-selling Soul, now with a turbocharged model (unfortunately only with an automatic transmission), and the superb Forte5 turbo hatchback, which also offers both a stick and an automatic, and is one of the better performance machines around.

2018 Rio
2018 Rio

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Kia Rio EX four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 6-liter four-cylinder; 130 hp, 119 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall Length: 13 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 91/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,714 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/37/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $19,595.
  • Price as tested: $20,095.

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

2018 Rio

Photos (c) Kia.

 

2017 Kia Soul Exclaim: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer 

Always a good and faithful servant, the 2017 Kia Soul gets some fire in the belly.

It comes in the guise of a 201-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 195 pound-feet of torque. It is the most power ever in the Soul’s brief history as a mainstay of the South Korean manufacturer’s lineup of sedans, hatchbacks, crossover sport utility vehicles and the Sedona minivan.

2017 Soul Turbo

But it’s going about its new role in a covert way. It is not a separate Soul. Rather, it is one of a trinity of trims. The $16,950 base version comes with a 130-horsepower, naturally-aspirated 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. The midlevel $20,650 Plus has a 161-horsepower, 2.0-liter four.

To get the turbo engine, you must order the top-line Exclaim, which Kia identifies simply with an exclamation point (!). In an expression of modesty—or perhaps cachet for the cognoscenti—the Exclaim carries no turbo identification badges. So it could surprise some lead foots in stoplight sprints.

Unfortunately for enthusiasts with limited bucks, the Exclaim does not offer a manual gearbox. The easy-shifting six-speed stick comes only on the base Soul. A six-speed automatic transmission costs an extra $1,600 on the base model and is standard on the Plus.

2017 Soul Turbo
2017 Soul Turbo

Order the turbo Exclaim and the only transmission is a performance-oriented seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which delivers snappy shifts and a manual mode to shift for yourself, though there are no steering-wheel shift paddles. If you must have a manual gearbox, Kia will happily direct you to its Forte 5 hatchback, offered with the six-speed stick or seven-speed twin-clutch automatic.

Kia likes to refer to the Soul as a crossover SUV. Strictly speaking, however, it doesn’t fit the definition because it has front-wheel drive and does not offer all-wheel drive. In that respect, it is similar to the new Toyota C-HR and Kia Niro, both of which are front-drive only.

2017 Soul Turbo

But the Soul does qualify as unique in the marketplace, though it used to have competition from the Nissan Cube and now-defunct Scion xB, both of which were squared-off hatchbacks.

Since its introduction in 2009, the Soul has been an unqualified success for Kia. When 2017 closes out, it will be on the threshold of a million sales in the United States. The new Exclaim turbo likely will contribute substantially to that milestone.

Likely nobody buys a Soul for sport. Its essence, or soul if you will, is that of a roomy, comfortable and economical car with up-high seating and tidy exterior dimensions that make it easy to maneuver and park. The bonus is its interior volume of 125 cubic feet, which the government classifies as a large car.

2017 Soul Turbo

Twenty-four of those cubes await behind the second row seatback, which is about double what you get in a typical compact sedan. Fold the seatbacks, the space jumps to 61 cubic feet and the Soul becomes a small cargo truck with seats up front for two soul-mates.

That’s true of all Soul models, of course. What the Exclaim adds, though not without extra cost, is a sporting personality. With the snap-shifting twin-clutch automatic, it gets a solid leap off the line and nails 60 mph in a smidgen more than seven seconds, according to an instrumented test by Car and Driver Magazine. Top speed is 125 mph.

2017 Soul Turbo

The performance ingredient continues with handling and braking. Though the Soul would not be much of a challenge on twisting roads to some sports sedans and two-seaters, it hustles around curves confidently with little body lean.

Moreover, the Exclaim qualifies as frugal by modern standards. City/highway/combined EPA-certified fuel consumption works out to 26/31/28 mpg on regular gasoline. Its $23,500 base price is about 10 grand less than the average price of a new car these days. The tester was so well equipped that the only option in its $23,620 delivered price was $120 for carpeted floor mats.

2017 Soul Turbo

At that price, the Exclaim is uncommonly well equipped with features that cost extra even on some luxury cars, including: 18-inch alloy wheels, flat-bottom sport steering wheel, automatic climate control, stability management, hill-start assist, Android Auto and Apple Car Play, Bluetooth connectivity, SXM satellite radio, push-button starting with smart key, and power windows, locks and outside mirrors.

The fastest growing vehicles now are small crossover SUVs. Though they offer all-wheel drive, many are sold with front-drive. If that’s the choice, the Soul is a fine alternative.

2017 Soul Turbo

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Kia Soul Exclaim four-door hatchback.
  • Engine:6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 201 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/24 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,250 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/31/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $23,500.
  • Price as tested: $23,620.

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

2017 Soul Turbo

Photos (c) Kia.

2017 Kia Niro Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though not quite like the Big Bang, the all-new 2017 Kia Niro, a gasoline-electric hybrid, expands the idea of what it means to be a crossover sport utility vehicle in this modern era.

It enters the fray in the current hottest sales segment of the market: small and compact crossovers, which are taking over from compact and midsize sedans mainly because of their more useful cargo carrying capability and higher seating position to see over traffic.

You could argue that it’s unique. The Niro is smaller than the compact leaders, including the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, and Nissan Rogue. It’s also smaller than its Korean cousins, the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage.

2017 Niro - Red

But it is marginally bigger than the Mazda CX-3, Buick Encore, Honda HR-V, Chevrolet Trax and two newly-announced 2018 entries, the Ford EcoSport and Toyota C-HR.

As a dedicated hybrid, the Niro competes against the Nissan Rogue Hybrid and the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, and handily beats both on fuel economy. But it has one major shortcoming: It is not available with all-wheel drive, as are all the others except for the smaller Toyota C-HR, which also only comes with front-wheel drive.

Because it was designed and built on a dedicated front-drive hybrid platform, the Niro is stuck; it will not add all-wheel drive later. But that should not be a major liability. Except for the foulest weather areas of the country, its front-drive should manage just fine.

2017 Niro - Red

Although it competes in the small and compact crossover class, Kia representatives believe it could steal some thunder from the best-selling hybrid in history, the Toyota Prius. The standard Prius is a hatchback, not a crossover, but it only uses front-wheel drive. However, it also offers variants that include a station wagon and a plug-in model called the Prius Prime.

The Niro’s strong suits are fuel economy, quality, refinement and feel, decent performance, comfortable ride, competitive price, and attractive exterior and interior styling. It also will add a plug-in hybrid model later.

For now, it boasts exemplary fuel economy across the board. There are four trim levels: FE at $23,785; LX, $24,095; EX, $26,595, and the tested Touring, $30,545. The lightly-equipped base FE has the highest EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 52/49/50 mpg while the LX and EX get 51/46/49 mpg and the features-laden Touring comes in at 46/40/43 mpg. (The larger RAV4 AWD gets 34/31/33 and the front-drive Rogue is rated at 33/35/34).

2017 Niro – Red

All Niro models come equipped with a 104-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that works in concert with a 43-horspower electric motor. Combined, they deliver 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque.

Unusual in an era when continuously-variable automatic transmissions (CVTs) are proliferating, the Niro uses a dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission. It was chosen, Kia representatives said, because it provides a traditional, familiar feel as it pauses for shifts between gears. CVTs have no shift points, although some use computer programming to mimic shifts.

The Niro’s transmission has selectable economy and sport modes. In the latter, the shifts are calibrated to occur at higher engine revolutions to improve acceleration. In the economy mode, stoplight sprints are leisurely, so some drivers may opt to use the sport mode exclusively. Of course, that reduces fuel economy. Take your choice.

2017 Niro - Red

The choice here is for the sport mode, which imparts a sprightly feel from stops and in freeway merging. An armchair estimate pegs the zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time at eight to nine seconds. Once underway on the highway, it doesn’t matter which mode is selected. Either way, the Niro feels like a normal car; hybrid operation is seamless.

On the road, the Niro is a quiet, relaxing conveyance with quality and pleasant surroundings. There is little intrusion of mechanical, road or wind noise.

Interior passenger space totals 101 cubic feet, which is similar to a midsize sedan. Outboard back seats are nearly as roomy and comfortable as the front seats, though the center-rear position is compromised by a hard cushion and intrusion of the front console. There’s 19 cubic feet of space for cargo.

The tested Touring model came with a full suite of safety and infotainment features, including lane keeping assist, autonomous emergency braking, smart cruise control, wireless smart phone charging, and Apple Car Play and Android Auto.

Though not a banger, the Niro is a hero.

2017 Niro - Blue

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Kia Niro Touring four-door hybrid crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engines:6-liter, 104 hp gasoline four-cylinder engine with 43 hp electric motor; combined 139 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic with sport mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,174 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 46/40/43 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,545.
  • Price as tested: $32,445.

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

2017 Niro

Photos (c) Kia

2017 North American International Auto Show: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Detroit, Mich.—Bucking the tide of compact crossover sport utility vehicles, three new sedans from Japan’s Toyota and South Korea’s Kia captured onlookers’ attention here at the 2017 North American International Auto Show, which runs through Jan. 22.

A few manufacturers introduced new compact crossovers, which have taken over as the hottest category in U.S. sales—mainly at the expense of midsize and compact sedans. But they were few and overshadowed by three four-doors.

They are the all-new 2018 Toyota Camry, the 2018 Lexus LS500 from Toyota’s luxury division and the 2018 Kia Stinger, a new midsize sports sedan that looks as if it could threaten some of Europe’s best.

On the small crossover front, Nissan unveiled the new Rogue Sport, a smaller version of its compact SUV. It is based on the Nissan Qashqui, which is sold in other world markets. Mercedes-Benz introduced an all-new GLA and Chevrolet presented its redesigned Equinox, a compact crossover that tilts toward midsize.

But that was about it unless you count the new Chevrolet Traverse, a full-size, three-row crossover, the stretched Volkswagen Tiguan—also with three rows—and the smaller performance-oriented Audi SQ5.

toyotacamryDespite the booming popularity of compact crossovers, manufacturers still obviously believe in midsize sedans. The Camry, despite losing 40,737 customers between 2015 and 2016, still topped the midsize field with 388,618 sold in 2016.

The 2018 model, seeking to mitigate the Camry’s reputation as durable but bland, boasts styling changes and improvements across the board. It is longer, lower and wider, with a lower center of gravity for better handling.

As before, there are four versions: LE, XLE, SE, and XSE. The LE and XLE models have a different grille from the S and XSE versions and are oriented toward comfort. The S and XSE models have a more sporting personality. Power choices are a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, a 3.5-liter V6 and a hybrid.

For 2018, all Toyota Camry models get the company’s Entune 3.0 connectivity system, which includes navigation and a host of other state-of-the art features.

lexusls5502Over at the Lexus display, the attention grabber was the all-new LS500, which at 17 feet 2 inches long is bigger and classier than ever, rivaling the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJ and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The LS500 is powered by a 415-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers, a 10-speed automatic transmission and a predicted zero-to-60 mph acceleration time of 5.1 seconds.

Among other things, its standard and optional features include a 12.3-inch center screen with navigation and handwriting recognition, air suspension system, heated, cooled and massaging front and rear seats, and a detection system that can trigger braking or steering around a pedestrian.

kiastinger2Most of the excitement among enthusiasts, however, focused on the Kia Stinger, an all-new car with a new name. It marks a milestone at the South Korean manufacturer, which delivers high quality cars, crossovers and even a minivan.

The midsize Stinger is a performance-oriented Gran Turismo four-door with a fastback design and a rear hatch, not unlike the larger Audi A7, which competes among cars that can cost up to $80,000.

Few Stinger details were available at the introduction, including the price, but it likely will be way less than the A7’s—more competitive with the likes of the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Jaguar XE, Lexus IS and Mercedes-Benz C-Class cars.

With rear-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive with torque vectoring for improved handling, the Stinger will offer two power plants: 225-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine or a 365-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6 engine. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters for a manual shifting mode. No manual gearbox was considered.Vice President Joe Biden Visits 2017 NAIAS

Photos and Logo (c) NAIAS.

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