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SUV Reviews

2019 Chevrolet Blazer Premier: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

So it turns out that metamorphosis is not limited to lizards, insects or Gregor Samsa in the 1915 Franz Kafka novella. The 2019 Chevrolet Blazer stands out as a product of the process.

The Blazer had its gestation in 1969 as the big K5 Blazer, a precursor sport utility vehicle built on a body-on-frame truck chassis. It went through a number of transformations — call it a metamorphosis — over the years in various sizes and configurations until it hibernated a decade ago.

Now it re-appears in full butterfly mode as an all-new crossover SUV that mimics sedan-like unit-body construction, nestled between the compact Chevrolet Equinox and the large three-row Traverse. It is important for the brand because Chevrolet, like perennial adversary Ford, is bailing out of traditional sedans to focus on hot-selling crossovers.

As a competitor to the likes of the Honda Passport, Nissan Murano, Ford Edge and Hyundai Santa Fe, the Blazer adheres to the current formula of a tall, roomy, front-wheel drive station-wagon style vehicle with gobs of space for people and stuff, as well as the option of all-wheel drive for those places with nasty weather days. 

There’s 101 cubic feet of space — about what you’d find in a midsize sedan — for up to five passengers, with a capacious 31 cubic feet for cargo behind the back seat, augmented on the tested Premier model by a movable divider on tracks to segregate different stuff. Fold the rear seatbacks and the cargo area expands to 64 cubic feet.

Front seats and outboard back seats are mostly flat, okay comfortable but with little bolstering to hold the torso in cornering. The floor in back is nearly flat so you’d think that the designers could fashion a center-rear seat with minimal comfort. But no. As is usual these days, it’s a high, hard, uncomfortable cushion.

The Blazer comes in six trim levels with four-cylinder or V6 power and front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The base L model with front-drive and nine-speed automatic transmission has a starting price of $29,995, including the destination charge. It is powered by a 193-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 188 lb-ft of torque and a city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 22/27/24 mpg.

Only two models — the L and the $33,495 front-drive 1LT — come with the four-cylinder engine. The others are 2LT at $34,495; 3LT at $38,695; RS at $41,795, and Premium at $43,895. All have V6 engines and front- or all-wheel drive. The latter costs an additional $2,700 or $2,900, depending on the version.

The Premier tested for this review was the top of the line with all-wheel drive and a full load of equipment that required no options. Its starting price, $46,795, is the same as its delivered price.

Power is delivered by a 308-hp, 3.6-liter V6 engine that delivers 270 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel the Blazer to 60 mph in less than seven seconds. The juice gets to the front or all four wheels through the easy-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission. It has a manual-shift mode but likely won’t get used much because it’s controlled by a button on the shift lever.

The interior has a quality look and feel with soft-touch surfaces all around. Some of the design touches are obtuse but clever. For example, you can’t find a button or switch to change the temperature for the automatic climate control. A search reveals that twisting the ring around the circular center air outlets changes the temp setting.

There’s a big, deep console between the front seats with plenty of storage space. On many vehicles, that’s where you have to search with your smart phone flashlight to find a USB port. But on the Blazer, there are a couple of ports right in plain sight on the center stack. Nice.

The center screen is intuitive and easy to read. It controls the Bose premium audio system, SXM satellite radio, navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot.

On the road, the Blazer is competent, quiet and comfortable with responsive handling to negotiate clogged freeway minuets, and full safety equipment like automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection to rescue even an inattentive driver. 

The tested Blazer Premier also came with adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning and a stop-start system to enhance fuel economy, which the EPA rates at 18/25/21 mpg in city/highway/combined motoring.

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Chevrolet Blazer Premier AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:3.6-liter V6; 308 hp, 270 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission:Nine-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length:15 feet 11 inches.
  • Height:5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume:102/31 cubic feet. (64)
  • Weight:4,246 pounds.
  • Towing capability:4,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/25/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge:$46,795.
  • Price as tested:$46,795.

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

Photos (c) Chevrolet

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2019 Volkswagen Atlas: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As with the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas, sometimes the lesser of two choices makes all the difference — in this rendering, the $37,000 version versus the one north of $50,000.

2019_Atlas-Large-8753You might say that about many new vehicles. Sure, it seems everybody would like the one loaded with every option for safety, performance, comfort, convenience and even luxury surroundings.

But there’s a school of thought, endorsed by this reviewer, that even base automobiles and light trucks can be appealing — and not only for their parsimony. After all, every car must have an engine, transmission, tires, brakes, steering, seats, controlled climate and safety equipment mandated by the U.S. government.

Moreover, though the manufacturers like to tout the superiority of their lavishly-equipped products, the truth is there is no junk out there any more. Ask most experts what kind of new vehicle you should buy and many would simply say, “What do you like?”

2018_Atlas-Large-7501Ratings nowadays are informed not by engines that gobble oil or wheel bearings that fail, but more by whether there’s too much wind noise or a baffling infotainment system — not so much by things that put you on the side of the road at midnight.

Which brings us to the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas SE. It is a full-size, three-row, seven-passenger crossover sport utility vehicle that can satisfy  minivan-averse customers, though it comes up short with 21 cubic feet for cargo space behind the third row.

It can accommodate seven adults with head-room comfort, though the second-row passengers must give up some of their generous leg room for the folks in the third row. It is easily done because the second row has about eight inches of fore-and-aft travel to divvy up, as well as seatbacks that flip forward so even creaky oldsters can get back to the third row.

2018_Atlas-Large-6591On the SE model, everyone sits on VW’s V-Tex leatherette upholstery, which is about as comfortable as real leather and likely will last way longer, though the preference here would be for a durable cloth that is soothing in all climates.

The SE is a bottom-dweller, just one step up from the base S in a line of seven trim levels topped out by the SEL Premium. So, the SE doesn’t come with such amenities as leather upholstery, panoramic sunroof, 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, park assist, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, a Fender premium audio system and captain’s seats in the second row, which reduces the passenger accommodations from seven to six.

But the SE does have forward collision monitoring with emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and rear traffic alert, hill start assist, pushbutton starting, 10-way powered and heated driver’s seat, Bluetooth connectivity, three-zone automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, and LED headlights and daytime running lights.

2018_Atlas-Large-6604The base price of the tested SE came to $36,490, including the destination charge. With an optional towing package, it topped out at $37,040. One reason for the reasonable price is that it came with front-wheel drive instead of the optional all-wheel drive, which accounts for an $1,800 difference.

For most customers, except for those in severe snow belt areas, there’s no need to spend the extra money for all-wheel drive. Independent tests have shown that front-drive vehicles accelerate, brake and turn as well as all-wheel drive models in most circumstances except for low-speed maneuvering in heavy snow and other slippery conditions.

2018_Atlas-Large-6597The tested SE came with Volkswagen’s 276-hp 3.6-liter V6 engine that makes 266 lb-ft of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The base engine is a 235-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 258 lb-ft of torque.

Though the four-bangers, both turbo and naturally aspirated, are becoming ubiquitous everywhere in the motoring industry, there’s still nothing like the silky power delivery of a six-cylinder engine, either inline or with a V configuration.

With the easy-shifting eight-speed automatic, the Atlas is an elegant and quiet conveyance that has a supple ride, tracks cleanly in a straight line and, if you don’t push it too hard, easily handles curving roads.

2018_Atlas-Large-6613Though the Atlas feels smaller than its length of 16.5 feet and height of nearly six feet, maneuvering in traffic and on ramps inside parking garages requires attention and care.

But for anyone who needs to carry seven passengers—or five passengers with 56 cubic feet of cargo space—the Atlas SE comes with a decent price and city/highway/combined fuel economy of 17/24/19 mpg of regular gasoline.

2019_Atlas-Large-8755Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.6-liter V6; 276 hp, 266 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 154/21 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,343 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/24/19 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,490.
  • Price as tested: $37,040.

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

2018_Atlas-Large-7510Photos (c) Volkswagen

 

2020 Lincoln Corsair: A DriveWays First Look…

by Frank A. Aukofer

New York, N.Y. — Looking back and into the future, the luxury Lincoln division of the Ford Motor Co. unveiled its all-new technology and serenity cocoon, the 2020 Corsair, here at the New York Auto Show.

ImageIt is a luxury compact crossover sport utility vehicle that looks forward with innovations like smart phone control, as well as a return to its heritage of giving its vehicles glamorous names instead of sterile alphanumeric designations.

At a time early in the 20th century, Lincolns were revered as staunch competitors to the likes of luxurious and high-performing cars from Duesenberg, Packard and Cadillac. They were named Cosmopolitan, Lido and Capri, and especially Zephyr, arguably the most beautiful passenger car of its era.

But that fell into a ditch somewhere along the line, as this quintessentially American car company tried to emulate German luxury cars with confusing letters and numbers to identify them.

Image-3In the burgeoning category of crossover sport utility vehicles, the Lincolns became identified as MKC, MKS and MKT, although its full-size body-on-frame SUV received the more appropriate name of Navigator.

Now the company has come full circle with the 2020 Corsair. It says the name comes from the Latin “cursus,” meaning “journey.” But almost anyone with a memory of history will relate it to the World War II F4U Corsair, the gorgeous gull-winged fighter plane that heroic U.S. Marine Corps pilots flew off aircraft carriers in the Pacific.

Obviously, Lincoln has no intention of evoking devastating wartime battles. Nope. The new Corsair was designed to be a serene, welcoming, comfortable place for youthful 21stcentury achievers with the wherewithal to step up from a Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 or Mazda CX-5.

Image-4And guess what? All the old letter designations have gone to the junkyard. The Lincoln SUV lineup, in order of size, now starts with the Corsair and moves on in price and size steps to the Nautilus, Aviator and Navigator—in short, the alpha and omega of current SUVs, though a subcompact may be in the offing.

So what’s the new Corsair all about? There’s some old and much that is new. It replaces the 2019 MKC and shares its basic power plants, though the new engines have been recalibrated, or tweaked in common parlance.

New are two four-cylinder turbocharged engines. The base 2.0-liter in the front-wheel drive models delivers 250 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive models can be equipped with that engine or a 2.3-liter with 280 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque.

Image-9Power surges to the pavement through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with paddles on the steering wheel. The previous MKC had a six-speed automatic.

There are five drive modes, similar to those on other vehicles, but Lincoln has chosen to give them descriptive names: Normal, Excite, Slippery, Deep Conditions and Conserve. In another place they might use aliases.

But the Corsair’s emphasis eschews the performance side of the equation to concentrate on exterior and interior design. Designers exult over the form, shapes and lines of the exterior, which is attractive even to a layperson but bears a passing resemblance to the Range Rover Evoque.

Image-10The interior is similarly elegant with attention to horizontal lines, modern design and quality materials. There’s also a manifest effort to isolate the driver and passengers from any unwanted sounds from outside or the engine compartment, isolated by extra insulation in the firewall.

Lincoln officials used the word “sanctuary” to describe the motoring experience. We already have sanctuaries in places of worship, as well as sanctuary cities. Now we have a sanctuary crossover. It even extends to warnings with “symphonic chimes” instead of beeps or buzzers.

Corsair’s kicker is its “phone as a key” technology, which enables owners to control and operate the luxury conveyance from their smart phones. Using the Lincoln Way app, drivers can lock and unlock doors, open the lift-gate, and start and drive their Corsairs.

Image-11For the more Luddite-inclined in the customer base, a standard key fob is included as a—whew!—substitute for the smart phone app.

If a smart phone’s battery dies, the owner can gain entry with the Corsair’s standard exterior keypad, then use the center touch screen to drive off. Also, if the phone is lost or stolen, “phone as a key” can easily be deleted.

The Corsair comes standard with driver assist features called Lincoln Co-Pilot 360. They include pre-collision emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, lane-keeping assist and automatic high-beam lighting. There’s also Wi-Fi and wireless charging for mobile devices.

Image-2An option, called “Lincoln Co-Pilot360 Plus,” adds adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane centering, roadside speed sign recognition, emergency evasive steering assist, reverse braking assist, and active parking assist, which automatically parks the Corsair in parallel or perpendicular spaces.

No prices were announced, but an educated guess puts them in a range from about $35,000 for the base model, marching through trim levels to a top-of-the-line Corsair that could have sticker price of around $57,000.

The Corsair, built in a plant in Louisville, Kentucky, will arrive at dealerships in the fall.

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

Image-6Photos (c) Lincoln

2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

So, you have to ask yourself: Who in the world would want to spend nearly $100,000 on a square-bodied Jeep SUV that can nail 60 mph in about three seconds?

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Likely at least some people, or the folks at the Jeep Division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) would not have equipped the Jeep Grand Cherokee with the Hellcat package heretofore restricted to the Dodge Challenger and Charger.

The most expensive Jeep, $96,230 as reviewed here, delivers a mere 707 hp and 645 lb-ft of torque from a supercharged 6.2-liter V6 engine that uses an ironman eight-speed automatic transmission to send that muscle to all four wheels.

Even at that, it’s not the most powerful package in the FCA’s lineup, where it has been bested by the Challenger with the Hellcat Redeye combination and ups the ante to 797 hp and 707 lb-ft of torque.

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Why not just tweak the tuning a bit and make it 800 hp? It’s a question that may not have an answer other than 797 is a more intriguing number. And who knows? The Redeye may eventually wind up in the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk as well.

Meanwhile, the GCT makes do with package Hellcat, around for about four years, which now makes it something of an also-ran in FCA’s super high-performance machinery.

Even so, the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is almost frightening, depending on which driving mode you select. If you simply want to puddle around town, you can do that and perhaps maximize its dismal fuel economy numbers. Select the ECO mode and you may not even notice the explosive force under the hood.

Powering the 2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 engine delivering 707 horsepower and 645 lb.-ft. of torque

However, select the Sport or Track mode, plug in the launch control and you have a credible monster at the drag strip. Raise the engine revs to a scream, drop the foot from the brake pedal and blast off on the tarmac while trying to control your heart palpitations.

But where can you do that except on an airport landing strip or a deserted rural highway? Try it in city traffic and you’re likely to go airborne over that Chevy Spark up ahead.

So, no. If you hanker after pure adrenaline shots as if you were driving a Ferrari, Porsche or McLaren — only sitting up higher to look over that Spark and the rest of the line of traffic piddling along at 19 mph — you can get that from the Trackhawk in ECO.

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

But better to find a private country club racetrack, where you and other enthusiasts — usually gals and guys with the big bucks to pay the membership fees — can get your juices flowing on weekends.

That’s about the only way you will get to enjoy the monstrous power of your Trackhawk. Forget daily commuting in traffic like that on Interstate 95 between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, VA, which often is little more than a slow-moving caravan not unlike the parking lot at Disney World.

On the plus side, though the Jeep Trackhawk doesn’t come across as a particularly luxurious vehicle, it is priced lower than some machines from Great Britain’s Land Rover, builder of the other high-performance on- and off-road vehicles that appeal more to luxury buyers than macho types who yearn to traverse the Serengeti in Africa.

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

The Trackhawk could do some of that, though not at drag strip speeds. It comes with Jeep’s sophisticated four-wheel drive system, eight inches of ground clearance, and approach and departure angles that handle terrain that would be daunting for lesser four-wheel drive vehicles.

But it’s questionable whether off-road enthusiasts, who spend most of their boondocks time at around two to five mph over boulders, potholes and hummocks, would even find a use for the Trackhawk. More likely you would find at the drag strip or country-club racetrack. Or you could use your Trackhawk’s 7,200-lb towing capability to transport your race car.

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

The best thing you can say about the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk is that it is special. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere. You have to be a person with a mindset that is quite different from the mainstream.

But if you are that person — one who is not into exotic super cars but loves incredible energy and power useful for everyday travels and occasionally for incredible heart-throbbing excitement and wilderness trudging, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk could fit your matrix.

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk four-door sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 6.2-liter V8, supercharged; 707 hp, 645 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and full-time four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 105/36 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,365 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,350 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,200 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 11/17/13 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $88,145.
  • Price as tested: $96,230.

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

2019 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Photos (c) FCA North America

 

 

 

 

2020 Kia Telluride SX AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Driving the 2020 Kia Telluride along one of the most scenic roads in America, the thought occurs that vehicle manufacturers have achieved a level of perfection not dreamed of in the history of the automobile.

2020 Telluride

It has gotten to the point that reviewers are reduced to criticizing mainly at the margins, and the margins keep getting narrower. The new Kia Telluride achieves the narrowest of margins.

This is an all-new midsize crossover sport utility vehicle with three rows of seats in either an eight-passenger layout with a second-row bench seat or seven-passenger with second-row captain’s chairs.

It also comes with mid-pack pricing, ranging from $32,735 for the base LX trim level with front-wheel drive to the top-line SX with all-wheel drive at $44,535. There are four versions, each with front-drive or all-wheel drive. With options, the SX tested for this review topped out at $46,860.

2020 Telluride

Yet the tester drove as well as some luxury midsize competitors costing tens of thousands of dollars more. It is powered by a silky 291-hp V6 engine that delivers 262 lb-ft of torque. Though many manufacturers have moved to four-cylinder turbocharged engines, it’s hard to beat the effortless power delivery of a V6. Of course, there is some cost in fuel economy.

The tested Telluride gets the power to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that shifts so unobtrusively it could be mistaken for a continuously variable automatic (CVT) that has no shift points. It is rated at 21 mpg overall.

2020 Telluride

Kia chose to introduce its biggest new model on a drive between Gateway, in western Colorado, southeast to its namesake Telluride, the famed ski resort. The 206-mile round trip meanders through canyons surrounded by astonishing mountains, mesas and crumbling rock outcroppings likely more than a billion years old.

Best of all, highways 141 and 146 were bereft of traffic, offering challenging twists and curves as well as straightaways relaxing enough to enjoy the stunning scenery while driving.

2020 Telluride

The Kia Telluride, of South Korea, is built in a plant in West Point, Georgia, southwest of Atlanta. It settled into and easily handled the Colorado highways, tracked steadily on the straights, handled curves with aplomb, and its supple suspension absorbed the many road irregularities. Wind and road noise were noticeable mainly by their absence.

Kia boasts that the Telluride has more standard driver-assist safety technologies than any of its competitors, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane-centering and lane-keeping assist, blind-spot detection with collision avoidance and rear cross-traffic alert.

Other innovative safety equipment included Kia’s safe-exit assist, which alerts left-side passengers before stepping into the road when the system detects a vehicle approaching from the rear, and rear occupant alert, which sends a message to a smart phone and blows the horn if a passenger or pet are unintentionally left behind when the driver leaves.

2020 Telluride

Besides that, the top-line SX model, with the optional premium package, was about as well-equipped as anything you would find cruising the nation’s highways, including a quiet mode, which mutes second- and third-row audio speakers to allow the front-seat passengers to listen to music without disturbing rear-seat passengers.

Also: A comprehensive head-up display, premium leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control, front and rear sunroof, memory driver’s seat, Harman-Kardon surround-sound audio, memory driver’s seat, navigation system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and SXM satellite radio.

2020 Telluride

The tester’s second-row captain’s chairs were as supportive and comfortable as the front buckets. They had enough fore-and-aft adjustment to allow knee room for adult third-row passengers, who had better be starvation-skinny to accommodate three back there.

Gateway, the unincorporated community that was the starting point for the Telluride introduction, has a permanent population of about 140. But its jewel is a luxury destination resort called Gateway Canyons, which includes a spanking new automobile museum housing the collection of John Hendricks, the founder and former chairman of the TV Discovery channel.

2020 Telluride

The museum focuses on the history of American automobiles, with 52 examples dating from the early 1900s and including the one-of-a-kind 1954 concept Oldsmobile F-88. Every car is as pristine as a china plate at the White House, though unfortunately many are unidentified.

But placing the Kia Telluride in close proximity demonstrates how stunningly far automobiles have come. None have anything near what the Telluride offers and prompts unavoidable thoughts of where personal transportation will become in the future.

2020 Telluride

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Kia Telluride SX AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.8-liter V6; 291 hp, 262 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 7 inches.
  • Height :5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 167/21 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,482 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $44,535.
  • Price as tested: $46,860.

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

Telluride Cadet Leader

Photos (c) Kia

 

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

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

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

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

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

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

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

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

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

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

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

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

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

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

Specifications

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

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

Photos (c) Honda

2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

36._2019_Crosstrek_Limited_and_2019_Crosstrek_PremiumSpecifications

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

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

18._2019_CrosstrekPhotos (c) Subaru

2019 Honda Passport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

The 2019 Passport goes on sale Feb 4

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

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

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

2019 Honda Passport

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

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

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

2019 Honda Passport

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

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

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

2019 Honda Passport

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

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

2019 Honda Passport

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

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

2019 Honda Passport

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

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

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

2019 Honda Passport

Specifications

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

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

2019 Honda Passport

Photos (c) Honda

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