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2019 Mercedes-Benz A220 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The Mercedes-Benz A220 4MATIC sedan, an all-new entry-level model from the German luxury manufacturer, turns heads and invites comments attesting to its striking styling.

It’s as if this small car, only a couple of inches shorter than the new economy-model Nissan Versa and with less interior room, surprises onlookers with its presence.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018Well, it should, if for nothing else than its price tag. While you can buy a satisfactory top-line Versa SR for about 20 grand, the A220 has a starting price of $35,495. With the customary European luxury-car list of expensive options, the test car checked the boxes with a sticker of $49,785. You can save $2,000 by skipping the 4MATIC all-wheel drive.

Though marketed as subcompacts, both cars barely sneak into the compact class by the U.S. government’s definition: a car with interior space of 100 to 109 cubic feet, including the trunk. The A220 4MATIC has 102, with 93 cubic feet for passengers and shy of nine cubic feet in the trunk. The Versa has 104 cubic feet, divided at 89 for people with a large trunk of 15 cubic feet.

But enough of size comparisons. The A220 and the Versa do not circulate in the same company. Though either will get you to where you are going, the valets who park the Mercedes will expect a way bigger tip. Versa owners likely will self-park or seek out a street space.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018Of course, few Mercedes customers would even deign to look at a Versa, much less drive one, and it’s likely most Versa customers would not have pockets deep enough to venture into a Mercedes showroom.

The new A220 should not be confused with the CLA, another compact sedan that Mercedes calls a “four-door coupe.” Though both cars are built off the same front-drive architecture, the CLA is three inches longer and boasts sleeker down-low styling with slightly less passenger space — 91.5 cubic feet compared to 93 for the A220. However, it has a larger trunk of 13 cubic feet versus nine cubic feet in the A-220.

Sophisticatedly motivating the A220 is a 188-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 221 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. It gets the power to the pavement via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which delivers instant shifts up or down and can be manually shifted with paddles on the steering wheel.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018However you choose to do it, the engine-transmission combination will slingshot the A220 4MATIC to 60 mph in about six seconds. It does that with a remarkable lack of any dreaded turbo hesitation.

Despite its size and relatively light weight of 3,417 lbs, the A220 feels like a Mercedes-Benz, with handling responsive to the weighted steering. It tracks steadily in a straight line, cruises quietly, brakes smartly and its optional adaptive damping suspension system and tires mostly absorb the damnable road irregularities that increasingly plague U.S. roads.

So if nothing else, it’s a good thing for a car like the A220 to have  robust, quality underpinnings. At its price point, it also has many other desirable qualities, along with a few fluffs.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018Much of the desirable stuff comes with an additional price tag on the options list, including the comprehensive safety equipment: Distronic adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency stopping, lane-keeping and emergency steering assist, and blind-spot warning.

Also optional: combined digital instruments/center-screen cluster, head-up display, Burmester premium surround audio, navigation system, parking assist, surround-view rear camera, SXM satellite radio, heated front seats, auto-dimming inside and outside rear-view mirrors, and inductive smart phone charging

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018

The head-up display is unusual in that it has a readout that displays the distance between the A220 and the car ahead, up to 300 feet. However, although it shows the speed of the car, it does not indicate the speed limit. For that, you have to glance down at the dashboard instruments.

The test car also had a curious intervention. On some cars, when you shut down the engine and open the door, the driver’s seat automatically moves back to facilitate exit and entry. On the A220, it does the opposite. The seatback pushes forward, as if to squash your chest into the steering wheel. It does not, fortunately.

Other fluffs: the shade for the panoramic sunroof is not opaque but made from a flimsy material that admits heat and sunlight. Sun visors do not slide to block sun from the sides. And there were no inside assist handles — only coat hooks combined with reading lights.

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Mercedes-Benz A220 4MATIC four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 188 hp, 221 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed twin-clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 93/9 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,417 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/33/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,495.
  • Price as tested: $49,785.

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

Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse Limousine, V 177, 2018 // Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan, V177, 2018Photos:  Mercedes-Benz

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2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If “aggressive” is a word that gets your automotive juices flowing, and you’re in the market for a midsize luxury SUV, you might want to schedule a test drive in the 2019 BMW X5 xDrive crossover.

Now 20 years old, the X5 was the Bavarian Motor Works’s answer to the 1998 Mercedes-Benz ML 320, which had the distinction of leading the parade of modern luxury SUVs. They now have multiplied to the point where you can select from nameplates like Bentley, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, Acura, Audi, Volvo, Land Rover, Infiniti, Cadillac, Jaguar, Lincoln, Lexus and, of course, Mercedes-Benz.

P90325220-highResIn this company, as in other areas of the automotive firmament, the BMW X5 chooses to compete in a clique of vehicles oriented more toward performance than plush ride and comfort — hence the “aggressive” moniker.

Though it’s not up there in nosebleed price territory like the Rolls-Royce or Bentley, the X5 is aggressively priced. The tested X5 — the xDrive designation is superfluous because all of the 2019 models come with all-wheel drive — came with a base price of $61,695, including the destination charge.

As usual with European luxury cars — though the X5 actually is built in BMW’s U.S. plant near Spartanburg, S.C. — the devil is in the detailed list of options. The tested X5 was crammed with $12,285 worth, resulting in a bottom-line sticker price of $73,980.

P90325209-highResOptions included items that a customer might expect should be standard equipment in a vehicle in this price class—for example, the leather-trimmed dashboard, head-up display, Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless smart phone charging, rear camera with surround view, four-zone climate control and SXM satellite radio.

But BMW does focus on the performance gear, which is standard and not part of the options list. The silky in-line six-cylinder engine delivers 335 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque — enough, the company says, to accelerate to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, with a governed top speed of 130 mph.

That aggressive power gets to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with paddles mounted on the steering wheel. Want to do some stoplight drag races with a Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes-Benz GLE or Audi Q7? Go seek them out and the likely result will have more to do with driver skills than  power under the hood.

P90325505-highResThe X5’s aggressive nature extends to its lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control. Though it cruises sedately in easy-flowing Interstate traffic, the X5 gets downright mean if the driver’s attention wanders. Drift out of your lane and the system nearly jerks the steering wheel out of your hands as it brings this 4,613-lb machine back on track.

As with other adaptive cruise control systems, the driver can select the following distance from the vehicle ahead. It’s best to allow some extra air for the X5. Set it to the shortest distance and it can scare the daylights out of the driver as it aggressively closes, then slams on the brakes before meekly matching the target’s speed.

Even with its responsive acceleration and handling, the X5 still is a tall SUV and would not compete on a twisting racecourse with its sibling sedans. Still, among luxury crossover SUVs, it stands out for steady tracking, steering feel and feedback, and the capability to negotiate mountain curves with aplomb and control.

P90325536-highResAside from its aggressive personality, the X5 comports with other luxury vehicles in designing its driver-interactive systems more for engineers and tech enthusiasts than average moderately-savvy drivers. It often seems that infotainment systems on luxury vehicles are needlessly complex to justify the high prices. The attitude seems to be that if the systems are simple, they must be cheap.

Not so. Almost anybody would happily and quickly learn an infotainment system from, for example, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) than try to dissect the owner’s manual on a BMW or Mercedes to figure out how to, say, set the pre-sets on the SXM satellite radio.

P90325526-highResThough there are capable midsize crossover SUVs available for way less money — the 2020 Kia Telluride, Subaru Outback and Hyundai Palisade come to mind — the X5 is a fine choice for those with the wherewithal and a taste for aggressive performance.

In addition to its road-going manners, the X5 boasts some off-road chops, though likely not in the same manner as Land Rovers and Range Rovers. The emphasis, as is traditional with BMW, is “ultimate” street driving.

P90325383-highResSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged; 335 hp, 330 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 105/34 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,613 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,503-7,209 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/26/22 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $61,695.
  • Price as tested: $73,980.

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

P90325519-highResPhotos:  BMW

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

You might come up short with a big family, but the 2019 Mazda CX-9 works smartly for a couple of couples on a cross-state jaunt of hundreds of miles and many hours behind the wheel.

Of course, that’s if you fold down the third-row seat to stash the luggage. If your couples came with a couple of kids to sit in that third row, there wouldn’t be room for but a few suitcases or carry-ons.

MY16 Mazda CX-9Such are the compromises inherent in the tested CX-9 Signature, Mazda’s top-of-the-line three-row crossover sport utility vehicle.

Though it has those three rows of seats for seven-passenger accommodations, it is smaller inside than similar brands. It has 135 cubic feet of space for passengers with just 14 cubic feet for cargo behind the third row — not enough with kids exported back there.

Fold that third row, as that couple of couples did for a trip across Wisconsin to the Green Bay Packers shrine at Lambeau Field, and you realize an ample 38 cubic feet of space for the baggage to carry home Wisconsin-only Spotted Cow beer, and green and gold clothing and artifacts from the Packers Pro Shop.

2016_cx9_016Now that we’ve established that the CX-9 can be useful for hauling half a dozen grade-school kids to soccer practice but would require a top carrier for a family beach outing, fairness demands an assessment of other attributes.

It turns out there are many, starting with the inescapable conclusion that this is what colleagues at the enthusiast magazines like to anoint as a driver’s car. The chassis is stiff, the electric power steering precise and responsive, the independent suspension system compliant, the turbo engine powerful and the six-speed automatic transmission unobtrusive.

About the only gripe heard on the trip came from one of the drivers, a large and muscular male who said the cockpit width at thigh level was uncomfortably narrow for his chunky legs. This reviewer had no problem.

CX9ENGINE-201The power train starts with a touch of a pushbutton to wake up the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It is turbocharged to deliver 227 hp and the surge of 310 lb-ft of torque, the twisting force that pins the spine against the seatback when you punch the pedal when the light changes.

That’s with Mazda’s recommendation to use regular 87-octane gasoline. If you are the sort who values a bit of extra punch, dump in premium fuel and you’ll get 250 hp, though the torque rating doesn’t change.

Either way, your zero-to-60 mph acceleration time will come up either slightly north or south of seven seconds, according to independent tests. Though there are any number of cars out there that could beat you in a drag race, that’s more than respectable for a crossover that measures 16 feet 7 inches long and weighs 4,383 lbs.

2019_-CX-9_US_IN_P7_20180719Moreover, the CX-9 manages the sprint effortlessly. The Mazda engineers have used their talents to wipe out any hint of the dreaded turbo lag, that hesitation that causes some turbo-engine cars to hiccup before they belch their power. City/highway/combined fuel economy is respectable at 20/26/23 mpg.

Though front-wheel drive is standard, the tested Signature model came with all-wheel drive, useful for areas with nasty weather. But if you don’t expect to battle snowstorms or visit ski areas you can operate nicely with the front-drive and save some money.

Mazda, the Japanese manufacturer that has given us exciting cars like the MX-5 Miata and the Mazda3 hatchback, has been on a campaign to upgrade its vehicles to premium and perhaps luxury status. It shows on the CX-9 Signature, with features a cut above the ordinary and a bottom-line sticker of $46,660.

2019_-CX-9_US_IN_P4_20180719Full safety equipment includes adaptive cruise control, brake assist, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking assist.

Inside, there’s three-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof to put wind in and sun on the hair, aluminum and wood trim, perforated leather upholstery with heated front seats, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, 12-speaker Bose audio system, an eight-inch touch screen that displays navigation, SXM satellite radio, HD radio, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth streaming audio, and apps for Pandora, Stitcher and Aha internet radio.

Exterior features, in addition to the attractive sheet metal, include 20-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, rain-sensing windshield wipers with windshield de-icer, power rear tailgate, heated and powered outside rear-view mirrors, and aluminum roof rails.

2019_-CX-9-16-G-US-LOC-004_R10_20170616Specifications

Model: 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.

Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 227 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.

Overall length: 16 feet 7 inches.

Height: 5 feet 8 inches.

EPA passenger/cargo volume: 135/14 cubic feet.

Weight: 4,383 pounds.

EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/26/23 mpg.

Base price, including destination charge: $46,360.

Price as tested: $46,660.

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

2019_-CX-9_Exterior_003-1_R5Photos:  Mazda

 

2019 Ford Ranger SuperCrew Lariat: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In all the hoopla around the new Ford Ranger midsize pickup truck, what few people mention is that it is a decent long-distance road runner.

Except for the buckboard ride over rough surfaces at lower speeds — expected of an empty pickup truck with load-carrying leaf springs in back — the 2019 Ranger SuperCrew Lariat 4X4 driven for this review delivered a comfortable, fatigue-free ride on Interstate highways over hundreds of miles.

2019 Ford RangerThe front bucket seats could have used a bit more support, but the softness was welcome during hours at the wheel. Few steering corrections were needed as the Ranger tracked steadily with a steering feel more akin to that of a European luxury car than a Yankee pickup.

With plenty of power from the four-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost engine, operating through a smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission, the Ranger never felt challenged in high-speed maneuvers. The adaptive cruise control held a steady speed up and down hills, also slowing and speeding up in heavy rubber-band traffic.

Though the Ranger name has defined a number of Ford products since the ill-fated Edsel Ranger back in 1958, the midsize Ranger pickup truck has not been marketed in the U.S. since it was discontinued after the 2010 model year. It had a 27-year run from 1983.

2019 Ford RangerGiven the growth of pickups in the last decade, it’s hard to think of the new Ranger as a midsize, though that’s where it is parked in today’s market. In 2008, the full-size Ford F-150 was 18 feet 1 inch long, 6 feet 4 inches tall, weighed 5,360 lbs, with a payload of 1,480 lbs and a towing capability of 6,200 lbs. It offered a choice of two V-8 engines of 4.6 and 5.4 liters with 248 and 300 hp and 294 or 365 lb-ft of torque. The transmission was a four-speed automatic.

The 2019 Ranger is 17 feet 7 inches long, 6 feet tall, weighs 4,441 lbs, with a payload of 1,560 lbs and a towing capability of 7,500 lbs. Its 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 270 hp and  310 lb-ft of torque to the pavement through its 10-speed automatic transmission.

City/highway fuel consumption for the old V-8 F-150 was 13/17 mpg. The 2019 Ranger, using a subsequent stricter EPA measurement, has a city/highway/combined rating of 20/24/22 mpg.

2019 Ford RangerThe tested SuperCrew Lariat 4X4 is the top-of-the line with a base price of $39,580, including the destination charge. Equipment included pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, reverse sensing with rear-view camera, idle stop-start, tire-pressure monitoring, capless fuel filler (though the cover does not lock), leather-trimmed seats (heated in front), dual-zone automatic climate control, Wi-Fi hotspot, SXM satellite radio, power front seats (though seatback adjustments are manual), heated and powered outside mirrors, tow hooks, trailer sway control, and LED headlights, taillights and running lights.

Options were few and included the adaptive cruise control, composite cargo bed liner, an off-road package and a trailer tow package. With the options, the suggested sticker price came to $44,960 — not cheap but way less than what some full-size pickup trucks go for these days.

2019 Ford RangerWith its four-wheel drive setup, the tested Ranger was fairly tall, so not easy to load from the sides, and it takes a bit of athletic ability to hoist oneself up over the tailgate.

Except for the rear bumper, there are no side- or rear-side steps to help climb into the bed. The remote control automatically locks and unlocks the tailgate with the doors, but it seems superfluous unless the cargo area has a cap or cover.

There was no opportunity to take the all-wheel drive Ranger off-road. It has favorable approach and departure angles for rugged terrain, though its sheer length is a limitation. The wheelbase measures 10 feet 7 inches, not optimal for hump and rock crawling.

2019 Ford RangerThe competition in midsize pickup trucks has started to heat up. Most recent, in addition to the Ranger, is the new Jeep Gladiator, which is oriented more toward off-roading than any competitors. At the other end of the midsize spectrum is the Honda Ridgeline, which leans more toward passenger car ride and handling, though it has load-carrying and off-road attributes as well.

Other Ranger competitors are the similar Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon models, the best-selling Toyota Tacoma midsize, and the Frontier from Nissan. There are enough variations to satisfy the inclinations of any midsize intenders.

2019 Ford Ranger

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Ford Ranger SuperCrew Lariat 4X4 four-door pickup truck.
  • Engine: 2.3-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 270 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 98/43 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,441 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,560 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/24/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $39,580.
  • Price as tested: $44,960.

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

2019 Ford Ranger

Photos: Ford

2019 Mazda3 Hatchback AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2019 Mazda3 Hatchback epitomizes the company’s goal of developing vehicles that punch above their weight.

This a slinky, stylish, fully-realized four-door for four (though there’s a seatbelt for a hapless soul in the cramped center-rear seat) that has the appointments and feel of luxury compacts costing thousands of dollars more.

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_01It leans more in that direction and away from the so-called “hot hatch” category characterized by machines like the Hyundai Veloster N, and Volkswagen GTI and R models. But slotting between those two categories makes it more versatile for enthusiasts as well as people who value quality transportation that does not require a second mortgage.

The first impression is the styling. Nobody buys a car that is unattractive; something they would not want to be seen in. The Mazda3 is a beauty with artistic lines that belie its hatchback configuration.

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_04That, of course, requires compromises — in the Mazda3 a low roofline that dictates a fanny-down seating position and limited headroom in the back seat. If you want something higher and airier for Uncle and Grandma, check out the Mazda CX-5 crossover.

The Mazda3 Hatchback AWD satisfies on multiple fronts: With 186 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque from its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, operating through a snap-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, it can nail zero to 60 mph in whiff more than seven seconds, with a factory-limited top speed of 131 mph.

2019-Mazda3-Sedan_44That’s respectable these days but not outstanding. Nevertheless, it’s just one aspect of a car that handles effortlessly, delivers a comfortable ride over most surfaces and cruises quietly on smooth freeways (though defeated by the many pimple-faced roadways around the country). City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 24/32/27 mpg.

A die-hard enthusiast might not choose the Mazda3 Hatchback with all-wheel drive because it comes only with the six-speed automatic transmission, although there are manual-shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel. If you’re one of those, you can save $1,400 by ordering the front-wheel drive model with the six-speed manual gearbox.

2019-Mazda3-Sedan_46The tested Mazda3 Hatchback AWD came with a Premium package incorporated in the base price of $29,920, including the destination charge. With options, the bottom-line sticker came to $31,245 — not inexpensive but about $5,000 less than the current U.S. average price of a new car.

This is the fourth generation Mazda3, which comes as a standard four-door sedan as well as the tested Hatchback. In both cases, Mazda has been concentrating on upgrades intended to transform the 3 into a premium compact.

14_Mazda3_5HB_INT_2The list of equipment, including standard and optional items, testifies to the effort. There’s hardly anything missing that you might find on more expensive European cars of a similar size.

Safety-related items on the tester included Mazda’s Smart Brake Support, which uses a laser sensor to detect the risk of a low-speed collision, prepares the system for maximum braking and, if the driver does not brake, automatically brakes and slows the engine.

Other safety equipment: rear cross-traffic alert, radar adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist, rain-sensing windshield wipers, LED headlights and taillights, and tire-pressure monitoring.

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_28Not to be outdone on the luxury front, the tested Mazda3 Hatchback came with “Polymetal Gray Mica” paint, red leather upholstery, heated front seats, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, memory settings for outside mirrors and driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, 18-inch black alloy wheels, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bose premium audio, SXM satellite and HD radio, and Bluetooth connectivity.

If you were new to the Mazda3 and had not been briefed, you’d likely be unaware that it is now available with all-wheel drive (front-wheel drive is standard). The system is unobtrusive in normal driving. However, dive at speed into a tight curve on a winding road and the tires take a bite with good steering feel. The all-wheel drive is biased slightly toward the rear wheels for improved cornering.

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_15The Mazda3, as noted, also can be ordered as a standard four-door sedan. Of the two, however, the Hatchback is the choice here. Though it is four inches shorter than the sedan, it has a total interior volume of 111 cubic feet, with 20 of those for cargo and 91 for passengers. The sedan has a total of 108 cubic feet with 96 for passengers and a trunk of just 12 cubic feet.

Competitors include the hatchback versions of the Honda Civic, Subaru Impreza, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus, as well as the Volkswagen Golf.

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_05Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Mazda3 AWD w/Premium Package four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 186 hp, 186 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shifting mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 91/20 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,228 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/32/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,820.
  • Price as tested: $31,245.

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

2019-Mazda3-Hatchback_08Photos: Mazda

2020 Hyundai Palisade: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With the introduction of the Palisade, its all-new midsize crossover SUV, Hyundai lines up for a long-distance race against its sister company’s similarly homologated entry.

That’s because the three-row Palisade starts life as a direct competitor of the also all-new Kia Telluride. The two vehicles even share many of the same genes.

Large-38050-2020PalisadeSouth Korea’s Kia is a subsidiary of Hyundai, and the two brands share engines and transmissions, though they operate independently and do their own interior and exterior designs, as well as suspension system tuning and other components.

With similar DNA, you’d expect the Palisade to be something of a knockoff of the Telluride. But no. They were developed in parallel automotive universes and each is distinctive in its own dimension.

However, both vehicles are excellent contenders in the midsize, three-row crossover category, against such worthy competition as the Honda Pilot, Subaru Ascent, Volkswagen Atlas, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, Mazda CX-9 and Nissan Pathfinder.

Large-36538-2020PalisadeThe conclusion here in an earlier review was that the Kia Telluriderolls as an example of the heights of perfection that vehicle manufacturers have achieved, getting to the point where reviewers are reduced to criticizing at ever-narrowing margins.

The same applies to the Palisade. With the departure of Hyundai’s Genesis nameplate to become its own brand, the Palisade now is Hyundai’s flagship — the model at the top of its pyramid of sedans, hatchbacks and crossovers with gasoline, hybrid, electric and fuel-cell power trains.

As is usual in all-new vehicle introductions, Hyundai put its best bumper forward at the national news media introduction. So the focus inevitably — at least for this review — settles onto the top-line, fully equipped Limited model.

There are half a dozen trim lines, three with front-wheel drive and three with all-wheel drive, including the version that is the subject here. If you don’t live in a place where nasty conditions prevail, you can save $1,700 by ordering the Palisade with front-wheel drive.

Large-36542-2020PalisadeHowever, if you customarily trundle the kids and their gear off to winter family vacations, you’ll want the tested Palisade Limited with all-wheel drive. It comes as a fully-equipped, near-luxury, three-row crossover SUV with about every feature you’d want. The $47,445 price reflects that.

It includes such items as an exclusive blind-view monitoring system. When you click the left or right turn signal, the rear view on either side shows up directly on the instruments, substituting briefly for the speedometer or tachometer.

It means you can check the blind spots without looking at the outside rear-view mirrors. Of course, if you are among the few drivers who actually know how to adjust the original blind-spot monitors — the outside mirrors — you don’t need the system. Still, it’s a comfort for the vast majority.

Large-36544-2020PalisadeOther Limited features include an auto-leveling rear suspension system, second-row captain’s chairs, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, 20-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing windshield wipers, third-row power folding and reclining seats, heated and ventilated Nappa leather seats, high-zoot Harman Kardon audio system and a speaker system to yell at the kids in back without raising your voice. (They don’t get the assist if they talk back).

But you can also get a satisfactory Palisade SE model for as little as $32,595, assuming you don’t want any options. Still, it is decently equipped with all the same basics as the higher trim levels, including the 291-hp, 3.8-liter V6 engine with 262 lb-ft of torque, eight–speed automatic transmission and the capability to tow a trailer weighing 5,000 lbs.

The Palisade is three inches shorter than the Telluride, weighs 246 lbs less and has slightly less passenger and cargo space — 157 cubic feet for passengers versus 167, and 18 cubic feet versus 21 for cargo. But it’s a distinction without much of a difference. Both vehicles earn city/highway/combined EPA fuel economy numbers of 19/24/21 mpg on regular gasoline.

Large-36545-2020PalisadeIn the top-level trims, the Telluride is slightly less expensive. The SX all-wheel drive tested earlier had a sticker price of $46,860, or $485 less.

In the end, with two family-oriented vehicles as closely matched as these two, it will come down to individual reactions, mainly due to styling. Like other Kia models up against those from its sister division, the Hyundai Palisade comes across as more mainstream in its orientation, while the Kia Telluride presents a slightly more sporting personality.

Pay your money and take your choice. You can’t go wrong either way.

Large-37498-2020PalisadeSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Palisade Limited 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 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 157/18 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,236 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,445.
  • Price as tested: $47,605.

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

Large-34822-2020PalisadePhotos (c) Hyundai

2019 Kia Niro EV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Although it sometimes seems as if Elon Musk’s Tesla gets all the publicity, an increasing number of fine electric vehicles are rolling into the market. An intriguing new one is the 2019 Kia Niro EV.

It is an engaging small crossover sport utility vehicle that also comes as a gasoline-electric hybrid or a plug-in hybrid. The EV competes against half a dozen other electrics in the sub-$40,000 category, including the Chevrolet Bolt, Kia Soul and Nissan Leaf hatchbacks; the Hyundai Kona subcompact crossover, and the Tesla Model 3 sedan.

2019 Niro EV

Because South Korea’s Hyundai owns about 38% of Kia, the Niro EV shares its power train with the Hyundai Kona, though with slightly different tuning. Kia and Hyundai gasoline and hybrid models also share engines and transmissions but do their own designs, styling and other components.

The Niro EV uses a 356-volt electric motor that delivers 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque. Power makes its way directly to the front wheels because electric motors deliver maximum torque immediately so there’s no need for a conventional automatic transmission.

Though Kia lists the zero to 60 mph acceleration time at 7.8 seconds, independent tests put it in the 6-second range. Top speed is 104 mph and the government rates the electric equivalent city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 123/102/112 mpgE.

2019 Niro EV

Among the current purely electric powered vehicles, the Kona EV delivers a respectable advertised range of 239 miles on a full charge, less than the Kona’s 258 miles. However, the Niro is heavier, five inches longer than the Kona and more expensive. Also, you are likely to get fewer miles in real-world driving.

You can enhance the range two ways: Select the Eco drive mode instead of Normal or Sport, which increases motor drag to regenerate the battery pack. You also can use the steering-wheel mounted paddles to accomplish the same thing, even in Sport mode. However, the owner’s manual does not tell you how the paddles work.

If you opt for the Niro EV, with all its virtues, make sure to invest in a Level 2 240-volt charger, which will recharge your Niro in nine hours and 35 minutes, easily overnight. If you stick with your standard 110-volt household outlet, figure on a weekend. That charging time is 59 hours. If you have access to a 100-KWh DC fast charger, you can top up your Niro’s battery to 80% in an hour. All numbers come from Kia.

2019 Niro EV

The Niro’s base price is $37,995, including the destination charge. But because it is new it qualifies for the federal government’s $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicle purchases. The credit has phased out for the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3. Unfortunately, for now the Niro is available in only 12 of the 50 states: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington.

Tested for this review was the top-line Niro EV EX Premium, which had a starting price of $44,995. It includes full basic safety equipment plus forward collision avoidance, lane keeping and following assist, driver attention warning, blind spot collision warning and rear cross-traffic alert, and stop-and-go adaptive cruise control.

2019 Niro EV

In addition, the tested EX Premium came with automatic climate control, heated and ventilated leather-upholstered front seats, navigation system, motorized sunroof, Harman Kardon premium audio, SXM satellite radio, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, wireless smart phone charging, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, power driver’s seat, and LED headlights and taillights.

On the road, the Niro EV is a sprightly performer. With the electric motor’s instant torque, it gets a quick jump off the line while other automobiles and trucks are just getting revved up.

2019 Niro EV

The steering has a hefty feel, not unlike that of some European luxury cars. It validates the old adage that a small car should drive like a big car, and vice versa. Small bumps and potholes do not upset the suspension system, which easily soaks them up.

However, the Niro EV’s short wheelbase — the 8 feet 10 inches distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels — results in some fore-and-aft pitching on undulating surfaces.

Overall, the handling is competent and secure, partly due to the Niro’s low center of gravity. The battery pack is housed under the floor. Front seats are well bolstered and the outboard back seats deliver space and comfort.

2019 Niro EV

Specifications    

  • Model: 2019 Kia Niro EV EX Premium four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 356-volt permanent magnet synchronous electric motor; 201 hp, 291 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed direct drive automatic; front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 97/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,854 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined mpgE: 123/102/112.
  • Advertised range: 239 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $44,995.
  • Price as tested: $47,155.

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

2019 Niro EV

Photos (c) Kia

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2.0T: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The most tired cliché in the automotive world is “fun to drive,” used everywhere and on everything from kiddie cars to 18-wheelers. Still, Volkswagen is faithful to the original idea with its 2019 Jetta GLI 35thAnniversary Edition.

Just as the VW Golf GTI invented the so-call “hot hatch” and still is regarded as the benchmark for popular-priced practical performance cars, the Jetta GLI has long been regarded as the sedan version of the GTI.

2019_Jetta_GLI_35th_Anniversary_Edition-Large-9557The front fenders of the 2019 GLI bear an escutcheon that announces “GLI 35,” reminding us that it’s been around since 1984 as the notchback with the roomy trunk for American buyers who, until recently, treated hatchbacks as if they were coated with slime (actually attractive to 11-year old girls).

That changed with the geniuses who decided that hatchbacks could be jacked up for more ground clearance and re-named as crossover SUVs, usually with optional all-wheel drive. Now they are taking over the marketplace and sedans are dying off, as witness the impending demise of the Ford Focus and Fusion, and Chevrolet Cruze, Malibu and Impala.

That hasn’t happened at Volkswagen — at least in the U.S., where the Jetta sedans handily outsell the Golf hatchbacks, though the Tiguan crossover beats both.

2019_Jetta_GLI_35th_Anniversary_Edition-Large-9569The 2019 Jetta GLI comes in three trim levels: S with a base price of $26,890 including the destination charge, 35thAnniversary Edition at $27,890 and the top-line Autobahn $30,090. All of those prices are with the six-speed manual gearbox. Add $800 for a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

What that means is that the highest sticker price you can find for a Jetta GLI is $30,890. That’s somewhere around $5,000 less than the current average price of a new car.

Die-hard enthusiasts will rejoice over the fact that all GLI models come with stick shifts, as well as selectable driving modes and what some like to call “German handling.” It’s a vague term, more felt than defined.

2019_Jetta_GLI_35th_Anniversary_Edition-Large-9556What it translates into is a compact sport sedan with athletic moves in traffic and on twisting mountain roads, and comfortable, straight-line cruising with few steering corrections needed. Also, with a fully independent suspension, the GLI also delivers a steady ride and plenty of insulation for a quiet cabin during freeway cruising.

Unfortunately, in an era when the vast majority of motorists have no clue how to drive a manual gearbox, only a select few will experience the pleasurable sensations of shifting for themselves. The GLI’s manual is a paradigm of slick, with effortless upshifts and downshifts, as well as easy clutch engagement. You have to be a real klutz to kill the engine on a bad shift.

2019_Jetta_GLI_35th_Anniversary_Edition-Large-9539However, there is a bit of a downside. In former times, manual gearboxes delivered better fuel economy than automatic transmissions, sometimes referred to as slush boxes. But the automatics have been improved to the point where many beat the manuals on fuel economy. That’s especially true of the dual-clutch types, as on the GLI, which essentially are manuals that shift automatically.

It turns out that the VW engineers have managed to deliver a six-speed manual that, in the hands of an economy-oriented driver, can equal the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Both are rated by the EPA at 25/32/28 mpg in city/highway/combined driving. The GLI tested for this review consistently delivered nearly 30 mpg.

2019_Jetta_GLI_35th_Anniversary_Edition-Large-9544That’s remarkable given the reviewer’s heavy foot and the fact that the GLI is powered by a turbocharged 228-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 258 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. That’s enough to hit 60 mph in around six seconds — no slouch by anybody’s definition.

Along with its other attributes, the Jetta GLI is a comfortable everyday companion. The tested 35thAnniversary Edition came with seats covered in an attractive, durable textured black cloth, preferable in this reviewer’s preference to sometimes cold or hot and sticky leather or leatherette. Even at that, the front seats are heated.

2019_Jetta_GLI_35th_Anniversary_Edition-Large-9545The front seats have well-bolstered seatbacks to hold the torso in cornering. Outboard back seats also are comfortable with adequate head and knee room. However, as on most cars these days, any center-rear passenger will have to suffer a hard cushion and splay his or her feet around a big, square hump.

Traditional on Jetta models, there’s a large trunk, though the hinges for the trunk lid are only partially isolated from the contents. You also have to pay more for the Autobahn model to get SXM satellite radio.

2019_Jetta_GLI_35th_Anniversary_Edition-Large-9562Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen GLI 2.0T 35thAnniversary Edition four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; turbocharged, 228 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume:  95/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,217 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/32/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,890.
  • Price as tested: $27,890.

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

2019_Jetta_GLI_35th_Anniversary_Edition-Large-9560Photos (c) Volkswagen

 

2019 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As a new trim level, the 2019 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek arrives as the least truck-like sport utility vehicle in the Pathfinder lineup during its more than three-decade history in the United States.

This is a fully realized midsized crossover SUV in the current idiom that leans more toward family transportation and long-distance cruising  than off-road bashing around in bush country. It is neither expensively luxurious nor barefoot economical but a decent performer at a competitive price.

Nissan at Chicago Auto Show

There are three rows of seats for seven passengers, so this Pathfinder can substitute for a minivan, though overall it is not as commodious, especially for beach-vacation cargo. The second-row seats slide fore-and-aft, allowing a division of knee room that enables third- and second-row adult passengers enough space for moderate comfort.

Original Pathfinders were built like Nissan’s Hard Body compact pickup trucks, with body-on-frame construction. As used vehicles, they were sought after by rock climbers and mountain bikers without the wherewithal to purchase expensive Jeeps or Land Rovers. Their main competitor was the Toyota 4Runner and the short-lived Isuzu Trooper.

Nissan at Chicago Auto Show

There was some indecision along the way. From 1996 to 2004, the Pathfinder became a crossover with unit-body construction, though it retained the looks of a truck. Then it was redesigned again as a body-on-frame SUV, where it remained until 2013, when it returned to a car-like unit-body.

Today, competitors include the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, GMC Acadia and Mazda CX-9.

Customers familiar with Washington, D.C., will immediately associate the Rock Creek Edition with the creek and park of the same name that runs up the spine of the city. But Nissan says the name was chosen to connect the vehicle’s rugged heritage to outdoor-adventure minded families.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-24-sourceThe Rock Creek Edition package is available on the Pathfinder’s midlevel SV and upscale SL trim levels, in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations. Tested for this review was the SV with all-wheel drive. It had a base price of $37,005 and, with the Rock Creek package and a few other options, topped out at $39,675. Both prices include the destination charge.

Rock Creek items include special tires on 18-inch alloy wheels with a smoky patina, and black mesh grille, roof rails, door handles, outside rearview mirrors and fender details. Inside are unique two-tone seats (upholstered with comfortable cloth on the SV tester), metallic trim and high-contrast stitching on seats, doors, console lid and steering wheel.

The Rock Creek comes with adaptive cruise control and safety equipment that includes automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert and tire-pressure monitoring along with basic traction control , rear camera and electronic brake-force distribution.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-20-sourceOptional equipment included Nissan Connect infotainment with a navigation system, SXM satellite radio, and heated front seats, outside rearview mirrors and steering wheel.

Controls are intuitive and consist of a touch screen, large knobs and buttons. There even are redundant radio pre-set buttons in addition to those on the screen. However, USB and charge ports are so far back in a center stack cubby they are nearly inaccessible. Fortunately, there are extras ports in the console.

The Pathfinder is powered by 284-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes 259 lb-ft of torque. On the tested all-wheel drive SV, the power travels to all four wheels via Nissan’s Xtronic continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). Both two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions can tow up to 6,000 pounds.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-8-sourceSome critics routinely bash CVTs, which multiply torque with systems of belts and pulleys or, in some cases, with gears. Their main characteristic is a lack of shift points, so acceleration is smooth and seamless. However, some CVTs feel and sound as if they are slipping.

That’s not the case with the Pathfinder and other CVTs from Nissan, which arguably has more experience with them than other manufacturers. Moreover, the transmission on the Pathfinder incorporates a kick-down passing gear that mimics a conventional automatic.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-12-sourceWith ample power from the smooth-running V6, the Rock Creek Pathfinder is an amiable highway companion. It cruises quietly and effortlessly with few steering corrections needed in straight-line driving. Of course, it is no sports sedan but handles curves capably as long as it’s not pushed too hard.

A twist knob allows the driver to select two-wheel drive for economy, automatic all-wheel drive and locking all-wheel drive for gooey or gravelly conditions. Though marketed as a rugged vehicle, the Pathfinder is not equipped for serious off-roading.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-19-sourceSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Pathfinder SV Rock Creek Edition four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 284 hp, 259 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nissan Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 138/16 (47, 80) cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,448 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/26/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,005.
  • Price as tested: $39,675.

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

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-21-sourcePhotos (c) Nissan

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