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2022 North American Car, Truck, and Utility of the Year Awards: A DriveWays Report…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Detroit, Michigan — The Ford Motor Co. won two of the three major 2022 United States and Canada vehicle awards Tuesday, Jan. 11, with all-new entries: the Ford Maverick pickup truck crowned North American Truck of the Year and the Ford Bronco winning the Utility of the Year award.

Car of the Year went to the re-designed 2022 Honda Civic, the 11th generation of a perennial favorite that has held its own against the increasing popularity of crossover sport utility vehicles. 

The awards, which date back 28 years, are sponsored by the North American Car of the Year organization, composed of 50 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada. NACTOY bills itself as the longest-running independent vehicle competition — and the only one unaffiliated with any media outlet.

Journalist members of NACTOY (including this writer) must drive and evaluate all of the nominees for three rounds of voting. This year started with 36 nominated vehicles, which resulted in nine finalists—three in each category. The votes, tallied by Deloitte, an international financial services firm, are kept secret until the final announcement.

Winners were announced at the Huntington Place convention center in downtown Detroit, formerly named “TCF Center” and, before that, “Cobo Hall.” The event was co-sponsored by NACTOY and the Automotive Press Association, an organization of automotive journalists based in Detroit.

The 2022 Honda Civic is available as a four-door hatchback and a four-door sedan. Honda will introduce high-performance Si and Type R models later this year. In 2021, Honda Civic U.S. sales totaled 263,787, good for second place after the Toyota Corolla.

Other finalists for Car of the Year were the Lucid Air, an all-new, stunning and expensive 100% electric luxury sedan built in an Arizona factory by a new company based in California, and the Volkswagen GTI and R, high-performance versions of the VW Golf.

The Truck of the Year Ford Maverick is an all-new, entry-level small pickup truck slotting in below the Ford Ranger. It has a starting price of $21,490 with a hybrid power train, a 4.5-foot cargo bed, a payload of 1,500 pounds, and carries four passengers.

Other finalists for Truck of the Year were the Hyundai Santa Cruz, a stylish small pickup truck built like a crossover sport utility vehicle, but with a near $40,000 price tag fully equipped. The other is the Rivian R1T, an innovative full-size all-wheel drive electric pickup truck with four motors and 800 horsepower but a price tag that can easily exceed $70,000.

The Ford Bronco Utility of the Year is a resurrection of an earlier SUV and a challenge to off-road capable vehicles in the Jeep Wrangler and the Land Rover Defender category. It’s a big, brawny SUV that, in addition to a four-door version, comes in a utilitarian two-door with a seven-speed manual transmission.

The award likely does not apply to the Bronco Sport, a completely different compact crossover SUV with underpinnings similar to the award-winning Ford Maverick pickup truck.

Also-rans for Utility of the Year were the slick luxury Genesis GV70 crossover SUV and the futuristic electric Hyundai Ioniq 5, one of a cache of new fast-charging electrics from South Korea’s Hyundai and Kia. Genesis is Hyundai’s luxury brand.

Car of the Year: Honda Civic

Matt Almond of Honda accepts the award for the 2022 Civic. Photo: Honda.

Runners-up: Lucid Air sedan; Volkswagen GTI and R

Truck of the Year: Ford Maverick

The all-new 2022 Ford Maverick received the 2022 North American Truck of the Year award. Photo: Ford.

Runners-up: Hyundai Santa Cruz; Rivian R1T

Utility of the Year: Ford Bronco

The all-new 2022 Ford Bronco has taken home the 2022 North American Utility of the Year award. Photo: Ford.

Runners-up: Genesis GV70; Hyundai Ioniq 5

2021 Audi RS 7: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It’s tempting to describe the 2021 Audi RS 7 in disparate ways: a hair-trigger pistol in a silk holster. An explosive creampuff. An iron fist in a velvet glove.

They are all accurate, more or less. This four-door fastback, so low slung a five-footer can peer over the top, can be driven as softly as a cushy limousine or as harshly as a track or road racer without adjusting anything except the pressure of the right foot on the accelerator pedal.

It extracts gobs of power from its twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 engine: 591 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, enough to launch it to 60 mph north or south of three seconds. Top speed on the test car was 155 but the capability can be increased to 190 if you order the optional track-capable carbon ceramic brakes.

Power gets to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission and Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system. The transmission can be manually shifted with steering-wheel paddles, though there are likely few humans who could beat the automatic.

Even without the carbon-ceramic grabbers, Car and Driver magazine reported that its testers were able to haul the 4,947-pound RS 7 to a stop from 70 mph in 171 feet, which it judged as impressive. In short, this hatchback sedan is the whole nine yards.

Fuel economy, given the power available, is respectable. City/highway/combined EPA numbers are  15/22/17 miles to the gallon, though to get maximum performance and economy, premium gasoline is required.

There are no different versions, or trim levels. The one you get has a starting price of $115,045. With options, the tester’s bottom-line sticker came to $125,140. If you want something less intimidating, check out the Audi S 7 and A 7. 

What you get for the money, besides the scintillating performance, are luxury accouterments. The tested RS 7 had beautiful perforated and embossed leather upholstery covering supportive and comfortable seats with good bolstering to hold the torso in place. 

In back, the outboard seats are positioned way down to afford head room under the low roof, making it a bit awkward for some people to access. Comfort back there, however, is available only for two. The center-rear seat is a hard perch aggravated by a large floor hump, so the poor soul must splay feet on both sides. It’s not a place for even a short trip.

But there’s a modicum of practicality lurking among the luxurious appointments. Open the rear hatch and access 25 cubic feet of cargo space. Fold the rear seatbacks nearly flat and the cargo area almost doubles. However, despite the sharply angled backlight, there is no rear window wiper. 

The RS 7 comes with full safety equipment, as well as a comprehensive digital gauge cluster that includes instant readouts for power and torque. The infotainment system operates with touch screens that unfortunately require a firm touch to operate, which means the driver can be distracted to aim fingers accurately. But there’s also voice recognition. Navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included, along with wireless smart phone charging. A subscription Wi-Fi hot spot  is available.

The RS 7 has impeccable manners, whether tootling around downtown, commuting to the suburbs or rocketing around curves on a deserted mountain roadway. As noted, the power is on tap for any circumstance, yet you can feather-foot the throttle for docile motoring in comfort.

Buttressing this package is an adaptive air suspension and four-wheel steering. Both contribute to the controlled ride and confident handling. The tester had an optional driver assistance package that included a head-up display, adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition and Audi’s intersection assist, which monitors cross traffic.

The tested RS 7 came with an optional exterior black optics package, black outside mirror housings, summer performance tires on 22-inch matte titanium wheels, and red brake calipers. There also was a $500 sport exhaust system, which this reviewer could have done without.

Fortunately, the exhaust notes are most raucous under hard acceleration. In more sedate motoring, the RS 7 runs quietly enough to allow easy listening to the 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system and the SXM satellite radio.

Whether you’re entranced by the whole nine yards, the complete ball of wax or the full megillah, the Audi RS 7 will suit up.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Audi RS 7 four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine: 4.0-liter V8, turbocharged; 591 hp, 590 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 95/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,947 pounds.
  • Height: 4 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 15/22/17. Premium gasoline required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $115,045.
  • Price as tested: $125,140.

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

Photos (c) Audi

2021 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though it’s among the runners-up for pure driving pleasure, the 2021 Infiniti Q50 can satisfy almost anyone who enjoys driving for its own sake. 

Most of those enthusiasts likely would concede that the best vehicles for their preferred pursuit are sports cars. However, it’s a tradeoff because they have limitations of two seats and truncated luggage space.

The runners-up are compact and midsize sports sedans like the Q50 Signature Edition tested for this review. Many aficionadoes even prefer them for their additional space for up five passengers and the capability to accommodate luggage in a trunk or under a rear hatch.

Examples of the Q50’s competition are the Audi A4 and A5, as well as their higher performance S and RS models; BMW 3-Series and M versions; Mercedes-Benz C-Class and AMG models; Alfa-Romeo Giulia; Cadillac CT-4, CT-5, and Blackwing versions; Acura TLX; Honda Civic Type R; Genesis G70; Subaru BRZ, and Volkswagen Golf GTI/R.

There even are subcompacts that qualify as sports sedans, as witness the Audi A3, S3, and a current favorite here, the Audi RS3, about as sweet a driver as you’ll find anywhere. However, it has a price tag north of $65,000.

The 2021 Infiniti Q50 is not quite as dear. But the tested Signature Edition checked in at $52,800, which included $1,575 worth of options: exterior “welcome lighting,” rear USB charging ports, trunk area enhancements and premium paint.

Sports sedan qualifications start with the Q50’s 3.0-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers that punches out 300 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed automatic transmission sends the power to all four wheels. There’s a manual shift mode, but curiously no steering-wheel paddles. You shift with the shifter.

Standard equipment includes most everything a customer might want. Safety items include emergency braking and collision warning, backup collision intervention, blind-spot and lane-departure warning, around-view camera with moving-object detection, adaptive cruise control and hill start assist. 

Convenience and comfort features include dual-zone automatic climate control, perforated leather upholstery, remote engine starting, motorized glass sunroof, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated outside mirrors, and LED headlights and fog lights.

Inside, the Q50 displays a comfortable ambiance with quality materials and workmanship. The black dash is highlighted with yellow stitching. Over-and-under center touch screens handle navigation and infotainment functions. Buttons control climate functions. Instruments feature big analog displays that are easy to read day or night. 

On the road, the Q50 delivers a comfortable ride, which might be its main drawback. It seems as if the suspension tuning and tires were set up more toward the luxury than the sport side of the spectrum. That’s not to say it’s a slug on handling. It goes where you point it with good steering feedback; its turn-in on sharp curves at high speeds is not as quick as some of the competition. But it is  companionable as a daily driver.

Independent tests place the Q50’s zero-to-60-mph acceleration time in the five-second range — certainly acceptable in this era. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 19/27/22 mpg.

Front seats deliver support and comfort for spirited driving, with good bolstering to hold the torso in place. The back seats offer welcoming accommodations for two in the outboard seats. But as usual in most cars with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, the Q50’s center-rear seat—there to qualify it for five passengers — should be reserved for knapsacks or capuchin monkeys. Any comfort is compromised by a giant floor hump, intrusion of the center console and a cushion so hard and high the poor passenger’s noggin bumps the headliner-covered metal roof.

Though the Q50 looks like a compact, it has midsize interior space as defined by the EPA. There’s 100 cubic feet for passengers with a trunk of 14 cubic feet, well carpeted to avoid damaging any contents. There’s no spare so figure on calling for help if there’s a flat. 

The Q50’s design with a traditional trunk provides a template that enables stylists. Though not a neck-snapping head turner, this well-designed machine qualifies as eye candy. However, in this view it also could be an Audi-style fastback with a hatchback to enhance the utility side of the equation even further without affecting the performance personality.

Like other manufacturers, Infiniti concentrates on its crossover sport utility vehicles as sedans fade in the marketplace. The Q50 is the company’s sole surviving four-door sedan. But it’s still a worthy competitor.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Infiniti Q50 Signature Edition four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6, twin turbochargers; 300 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 100/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,025 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/27/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $51,225.
  • Price as tested: $52,800.

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

Photos (c) Infiniti

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It’s still a puzzle why any luxury manufacturer would produce a vehicle like the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe.

It must have something to do with the psyche of some of its customers — people who maybe have the same mindset of those who rushed out to buy the BMW X6 after it was introduced in 2008.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

To some, it looked ridiculous. Take a tall midsize luxury sport utility vehicle, with all its attendant practicality, and shave the roof so at least the part above the beltline vaguely resembles a sleek fastback like an Audi A7.

Never mind that the effect is that of a clumsy effort to produce a stylish SUV with limited rear headroom and visibility, as well as truncated cargo space. Or, as a Car and Driver magazine critic wrote, it “proves that some people really do want a running shoe with a hiking sole attached.”

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Mercedes gives ‘em the Old Razzle Dazzle by describing its new AMG GLE 53 as a four-door Coupe. It’s even part of the official name. The company has produced other so-called coupes with four doors but some are tempting designs with sensuous fastback styling—what was called a torpedo body in the World War II era.

Except for the odd body and nosebleed price, the AMG GLE 53 Coupe has solid Mercedes-Benz credentials, enhanced by the company’s high-performance AMG arm. It is a mild hybrid with a 48-volt electric supercharger that contributes 21 hp to get things going without discernible turbo lag, connected to a 429 hp, 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine that makes 384 lb-ft of torque.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

It could hardly have less given its high performance image and curb weight of 5,250 lbs. Mercedes-Benz says that the AMG GLE 53 can nail 60 mph in about five seconds, assisted by the mild hybrid system off the line, which also enables a sophisticated idle stop system that barely makes itself felt. Top speed is governed at 155 mph.

The transmission is a nine-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. Mercedes 4Matic all-wheel drive and an AMG Ride Control air suspension system are part of the standard equipment.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

There are seven selectable drive modes for on- and off-road motoring: Sand, Trail, Slippery, Individual, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. The last is intended only for race track duty, and the onboard computer informs the driver whether there are any race tracks — or none at all — in the neighborhood.

The AMG GLE 53 Coupe is an easy driver, obviously with plenty of power, though it is almost six feet tall and has the substantial, even somewhat ponderous, feel of a big vehicle, though the heavy steering and handling feel secure on twisting roads. Because of the bias toward handling, the ride is a bit stiff.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Despite the off-road equipment, this is more of a confortable road runner suited to long-distance travel on Interstate highways. It is uncommonly well dressed, and the price tag bears witness to the long list of standard and optional equipment and features.

The starting price of $77,495, including the destination charge, looks almost reasonable. But the tested Coupe also came with a whopping $27,829 worth of options — an amount that could buy you a nice compact crossover SUV.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

The equipment is too extensive to fully list here, but includes a suite of safety features enhanced by one of the biggest head-up displays anywhere, along with Distronic adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, heated and ventilated seats, four-zone automatic climate control, navigation, Burmaster surround-sound audio, SXM satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A particular favorite for this review was the massage function built into the driver’s seat. Relaxing.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

There’s a bewildering array of buttons, switches and icons on the  console, steering wheel and center screen, some of them redundant. They can be learned but it takes time and practice to get everything set up properly. Don’t fiddle with them while driving.

The AMG GLE 53 Coupe does come up short in a few areas. There are no assist handles inside for entering and exiting. Visibility to the rear is limited, with wide pillars flanking a small rear window that resembles a machine gun port in a military bunker. And the sunshade for the glass sunroof is made of a perforated cloth that admits too much light and heat.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter six-cylinder, supercharged and turbocharged; 429 hp, 384 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: NA/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,250 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/23/20 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $77,495.
  • Price as tested: $105,324.

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

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

Attracting Xennials in the 2020 Lexus UX 250h

by Jason Fogelson

I still find it difficult to think about a $40,000 vehicle as “entry level,” but the 2020 Lexus UX 250h is actually that – a doorway into the Lexus family. Lexus says that “UX” stands for “Urban Crossover,” and that the UX was designed to attract a micro-generation of Americans that they call “Xennials.” Xennials were born in the mid-1980s (putting them in their mid-30s now). They were born before the proliferation of smart phones and the internet, but they have come to adulthood in a digital culture. The 25 million American Xennials are connected, and comfortable with tech – so their cars have to be, too.

Profile Right

UX comes with Apple CarPlay, Lexus+Alexa, Google Assistant, Voice Command and Siri Eyes Free. It gets a seven-inch full color display as standard equipment, upgradable to 10.3 inches when factory navigation is selected. The Lexus Enform Remote app is standard with a three-year trial period, easily loaded on iOS and Android smartphones for access to vehicle information and control functionality. A three-month trial of Lexus Enform Wi-Fi is included. Four USB ports are standard in the cabin, and a QI wireless charging pad is available for just $75. That’s a load of tech, and up-to-the-minute.

When I first explored the UX during a launch event for the 2019 model, I got caught up in the distinction between a crossover and a hatchback. Ultimately, I’ve decided that there is no hard line, and it doesn’t really matter – it’s more marketing talk than it is an actual set of rules or measurements. I’ve always liked hatchbacks better than notchbacks anyway, and I have come to appreciate crossovers more and more as they’ve gotten better to drive and less tied to their SUV roots. UX isn’t concerned with looking rugged, or pretending that it can go off-roading with a flock of Jeeps. It’s right there in the name: Urban Crossover. UX is sized and shaped for the city. It is compact, yet roomy, with 17.1 cubic feet of storage space behind its second row of seats.

Dash

The interior is luxurious, but not overstuffed. It is tasteful, neatly tailored and still comfortable, with a nice material selection and great (Lexus-level) fit and finish. It’s got a Dwell flavor to it, rather than Architectural Digest – younger, more athletic and appropriate to a Xennial audience without pandering or losing the Lexus identity.

As a commuter/urban runaround, UX hybrid has the right powertrain and driving character. First of all, the EPA estimates that the crossover can achieve 41 mpg city/38 mpg highway/39 mpg combined – very respectable. It uses a 2.0- liter four-cylinder naturally aspirated (non-turbo) gasoline engine mated to an electric motor for a combined 181 hp, sent to the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) for maximum efficiency. Lexus estimates 0-60 mph times at 8.6 seconds, which will keep the UX 250h running with traffic, not ahead of it. The CVT can be a little monotonous and drone on the highway, but in everyday driving, it’s fine. Suspension and steering are similarly middle of the road, neither remarkably good nor bad. I wouldn’t want to take a long trip in the UX 250h, but that’s not what it’s built for. On a daily basis, it delivers exactly what it promises – a luxurious, pleasant, connected experience in a stylish, attractive conveyance.

Rear 3q Left

My test car was a 2020 Lexus UX 250h Luxury Hybrid with a suggested retail price of $39,550 ($43,625 as tested). That’s about 25% higher than the average price of a new car these days. The competition in the luxury compact crossover includes the BMW X2, Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, Audi Q3, Volvo XC40, Acura RDX, Infiniti QX30, Cadillac XT4, and Land Rover Range Rover Evoque – none of which are hybrids. You also have to include the gasoline-only Lexus UX 200 as a competitor, running about $2,000 less than a similarly equipped UX hybrid.

Will the UX 250h draw Xennials the way Lexus hopes? Possibly. But low fuel prices on one side and increasing availability of EVs on the other side may put the squeeze on this urban contender.

Rear

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

Photos (c) Lexus

 

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Whether someone becomes a fan of the 2020 Fiat 500X depends more on what the customer wants than the vehicle itself.

If the person’s orientation is toward a small crossover sport utility vehicle with some Italian styling panache, the 500X — especially in the Trekking trim tested for this review — would be a decent starting point.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

If, on the other hand, the customer is seeking a small crossover with more versatility, including moderate off-road capabilities, the choice likely would be the 500X’s fraternal twin: the Jeep Renegade.

If off-roading, or even all-wheel drive, are not in the equation, there are many small crossovers at reasonable prices to check out, including the Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V, Buick Encore, Subaru Crosstrek, Nissan Kicks and Rogue Sport, Hyundai Kona and Venue, Kia Niro and Seltos, and Mazda CX-3 and CX-30.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

The Renegade and 500X, products of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, share engines and transmissions, and are built in an FCA factory in Melfi, Italy. They also are similarly priced, though the Jeep is a bit more expensive because of its all-terrain equipment.

But the 500X, depending on the trim level, is not a bargain either. There are four trim levels: Pop, Trekking, Sport and Trekking plus. Tested for this review was the Trekking, which had a starting price of $27,490, including the destination charge. With options, it topped out at $34,550. Other models’ base prices range from $26,085 to $30,990.

1.3-liter direct-injection turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine 

All use the same engine and transmission combination: a small displacement, 1.3-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that nevertheless makes 177 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is standard, with a nine-speed automatic transmission — the same as the Jeep Renegade.

For such a tiny mill, the tested 500X felt strong on acceleration, though it was an illusion. There was some turbo hesitation off the line even with the standard idle stop-start turned off. Independent tests put the zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration in the eight-second range.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

Not particularly porky at 3,505 lbs, the 500X Trekking had respectable, though not outstanding, city/highway/combined fuel economy of 24/30/26 mpg.

With a fairly stiff suspension system and three adjustable modes — Auto, Sport and Low Traction — for  light off-roading, the 500X Trekking cruises fairly quietly on the public roads. But the ride is choppy unless the highway surface is pool-table smooth. However, the rigid underpinnings help the handling somewhat around curves.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

There was no opportunity to evaluate the 500X Trekking off-road, though the all-wheel drive would come in handy in wintry and other nasty weather. However, the 500X doesn’t come across as an ideal road car for a long trip. The front seats are hard, with little bolstering and aggressive seatback cushions that could contribute to driver fatigue.

Outboard seating in back has adequate headroom for average-sized adults, although knee room is in short supply. As with many modern vehicles, the center-rear seat is a hard, uncomfortable perch compromised by intrusion of the front console and a prominent floor hump that leaves no space for feet so they must be widely splayed.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

Behind the rear seat is a cargo area that is small even by subcompact crossover standards. It measures just 14 cubic feet, about the same size as the trunks in some compact sedans. However, folding the rear seatbacks nearly flat expands the area to 32 cubic feet. Rear seatbacks are divided two-thirds and one-third.

The tested 500X came with an optional double-pane glass sunroof. However, following a current fad even in some expensive European cars, the sunroof shade was made of a sort of perforated cheesecloth, which allowed the admission of too much hot sunlight. Sunroof shades should be opaque.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

As it should be for its $34,550 sticker, which included a pricey $1,495 destination charge, the tested 500X Trekking came with a high equipment level. Standard items included SXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, FCA’s U-Connect infotainment system with a seven-inch center screen, Bluetooth connectivity with voice command, passenger-seat height adjuster (it pleases shorter companions), automatic headlights and fog lights.

Options included a $1,395 an advanced driver assistance group with forward collision avoidance, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, cross-path warning, rain-sensing windshield wipers, front and rear parking assist and automatic high headlight beams.

Italian cars have always come with a certain indefinable appeal, more traced to styling and flair than deadbolt reliability. Most of the world’s renowned super cars — Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Alfa-Romeo — come from the land of pizza, gelato and Vespa motor scooters.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Fiat 500X Trekking AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.3-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 177 hp, 210 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 100/14 cubic feet. (32)
  • Weight: 3,505 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/30/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,490.
  • Price as tested: $34,550.

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

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

Photos (c) FCA

2020 Honda Civic Sport Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Anyone who thinks that the sales-surging crossover sport utility vehicles have ripped the wheels off hatchbacks should take a look at the 2020 Honda Civic Sport Touring.

Though hatchbacks, as well as station wagons, have been disrespected over time by U.S. buyers, there still are a number of very good and relatively popular examples available. Moreover, there still exists a cadre of customers who recognize the advantages they offer over traditional sedans with trunks.

Front 3q Left

That’s certainly the case with the Honda Civic, which currently is the biggest selling compact automobile in the United States, with 430,248 total sales in 2019 and through May of 2020. Of that number 22% were hatchbacks — a total of 94,655 — certainly a respectable showing.

The big news in recent years, if you haven’t noticed, is the insurgent takeover of the vehicle marketplace by crossovers, which essentially are tall hatchbacks — often, but not always, with optional all-wheel drive.

Front 3q Right

They are distinguished from SUVs because they usually have unit bodies, built like automobiles, instead of using body-on-frame construction like pickup trucks. (Of course, in the olden days even cars were built with bodies dropped onto frames).

Different manufacturers at various times in the late 20th and early 21st centuries tried marketing new station wagons and hatchbacks to U.S. buyers, usually without much success as motorists stuck to traditional sedans, big wagons and minivans. Then SUVs showed up and became popular, led by Jeeps and the Ford Explorer.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

So the manufacturers finessed the situation. They built competing SUVs, then redesigned hatchbacks and wagons, jacked them up somewhat for a taller profile and baptized them as crossovers. Subaru, for example, which did not have a truck-based SUV, simply elevated its Legacy station wagon for more ground clearance and created the popular Outback, later joined by the dedicated crossovers Forester and Crosstrek.

Honda joined the crossover revolution with its compact CR-V, midsize Passport and three-row Pilot. The Accord started out as a wildly sought-after two-door hatchback in 1976 but morphed into a conventional sedan and, at various points, a station wagon and the Crosstour hatchback, both of which ran into a ditch of buyer indifference.

Dash

The Civic soldiered on and expanded its reach and popularity, now with a lineup of sedans and coupes with performance Si versions of each, as well as the hatchback Type R, a paragon of performance offered only with a six-speed manual gearbox for dedicated enthusiasts.

The thing is, you can get some of the Type R kicks without paying its current $37,255 price. That’s where the tested 2020 Civic Sport Touring Hatchback comes in. Sure, the Type R has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo motor that delivers 306 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque.

Center Stack

There are not many places short of a racetrack where you can put that sort of power to the pavement and be held harmless. But you can spend $7,475 less for a $29,780 Civic Sport Touring, with a 180-hp, 1.5-liter turbo that delivers 162 or 177 lb-ft of torque and find almost as much joy behind the wheel on the public roads.

The conundrum for this review is that the tested Sport Touring came with Honda’s continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT), which uses belts and pulleys to multiply its engine’s162 lb-ft of torque. Though it has a computerized manual-shifting mode with steering-wheel paddles that mimics a seven-speed manual, it is nowhere near as entertaining as the six-speed manual gearbox, which by the way gets the engine with 177 lb-ft of torque.

Center Console

Most customers, however, likely will be happy with the CVT, which goes about its shifting duties unobtrusively and without hiccups. In manual mode, you can hold selected gears on hilly and twisting roads, though the computerized system doesn’t totally trust the driver. If you don’t select the correct gear, it simply shifts for you.

The Sport Touring is no Type R, but is satisfying and comfortable to drive, though the preference here would be for the six-speed manual gearbox. The front seats are supportive with good seatback bolstering to hold the torso in hard cornering. In back, there’s head- and knee-room for two, though the center-rear passenger contends with a big floor hump and a hard perch.

Second Row

The hatchback advantage shows up behind the rear seats. There’s 23 cubic feet of space for cargo (compared to 15 cubic feet in the Civic sedan’s trunk). A clever sideways-sliding shade hides the cargo and the space grows to 46 cubic feet if you fold the rear seatbacks.

CargoSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Honda Civic 1.5T Sport Touring four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 180 hp, 162 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 95/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,012 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 29/35/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,780.
  • Price as tested: $29,780.

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

2018 Honda Civic Hatchback

Photos (c) Honda

2020 Nissan Titan SL Crew Cab: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Pickup trucks, especially those that are similar to the 2020 Nissan Titan SL 4X4 Crew Cab, are as much a phenomenon as utilitarian work vehicles.

Think about it. How often do you see a pickup loaded with furniture, cabbages, appliances or potted palm trees? And how often do you see empty pickups with only the driver threading his or her way through urban rush-hour traffic?

2020 Nissan TITAN SL

Of course, much depends on where you live. If you’re commuting in a big city, the pickups you see are likely substituting for the subway or bus. If you live in a rural area in Texas or the Central Valley in California, you’re likely to see them loaded with hay, cabbages or lettuce.

Americans love pickups. Around the world, they are small work trucks for people who need to haul stuff and can afford something more than a skinny-tired motorcycle on crowded streets, piled high with goods—and maybe even mom and one of the kids.

2020 Nissan TITAN SL

In the U.S., pickups are mostly giant vehicles that can carry a ton of cargo and tow motor homes or boats on trailers. They are undeniably popular with buyers, many of whom have no real need to haul trash to the dump or sod for the back yard. They are often family cars used occasionally to haul lawn chairs and kayaks to the beach.

In 2019, a banner year for motor vehicle sales, Americans bought 17,108,156 cars, pickups, SUVs, crossovers, vans and assorted specialty vehicles. Of that number, six full-size pickup nameplates accounted for 2,550,659 sales — or 14.9% of the total.

2020 Nissan TITAN SL

Leading the exclusive pack of six, as it has for nearly 40 years, was the Ford F-Series with 896,526 sales. It was followed by Ram at 703,023, Chevrolet Silverado at 575,600, GMC with 232,323, Toyota Tundra at 111,673 and the subject here, the Nissan Titan with 31,514.

Note that the sales statistics include all versions of a particular pickup. For example, the Ford F-Series includes the light duty F-150 as well as Super Duty models F-250, F-350 and F-450. The same goes for the other nameplates.

2020 Nissan TITAN SL

Unless you are a pickup enthusiast, you might scratch your head over why a buyer might choose a Chevy Silverado 1500 or Ford F-150 over the Nissan Titan SL that is the subject here. After all, they’re all about the same size with plenty of power — in the Titan’s case a 400-hp, 5.6-liter V8 engine that makes 413 lb-ft of torque.

The Titan is 19 feet long with four doors and 98 cubic feet of passenger space, along with a payload rating of 1,697 lbs and the capability to tow 9,240 lbs, according to Nissan’s specifications.

2020 Nissan TITAN SL

Competing pickups obviously can match or exceed that so perhaps the clincher has to do with price. The Titan is not particularly cheap, with a sticker price of $61,160. But the tester was the top-of-the-line SL with four-wheel drive and options that would do justice to a luxury car, including such items as automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, Nissan’s comfortable “zero gravity” seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, around-view rear camera, memory settings for the power seats and steering wheel, blind-spot warning, SXM satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth connectivity, among others.

The interior was as luxurious as it was accommodating, with perforated leather upholstery and wood grain trim. The back seat offered generous room for three with a center-rear seat that was almost as comfortable as the outboards.

2020 Nissan TITAN SL

So the question might be: Why does the Nissan Titan sit in sixth place among full-size pickup trucks with sales in five digits, way behind the other brands? There are many reasons, but a prominent one is loyalty. U.S. pickup buyers are notoriously loyal to their chosen brands.

Still, to some non-pickup people, pickups are basically alike. They all do pretty much the same thing, so there’s little reason not to shop around and pick what suits you, never mind that your family has always driven GMCs or Rams.

The tested Titan, driven empty, had the choppy ride typical of heavy-load carrying pickups. But it cruised nicely at freeway speeds, with only the muted drone of its mighty V8 engine. The nine-speed automatic transmission shifted easily and the Titan’s handling, even on curving roads, was capable and secure — as long as you didn’t go too fast.

2020 Nissan TITAN SL

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Nissan Titan SL 4X4 Crew Cab four-door pickup truck.
  • Engine: 5.6-liter V8; 400 hp, 413 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with four-wheel drive and two-speed transfer case.
  • Overall length: 19 feet.
  • Height: 6 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 98/47 cubic feet (estimated).
  • Weight: 5,603 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,697 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 9,240 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 15/21/18 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $58,785.
  • Price as tested: $61,160.

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

2020 Nissan TITAN SL

Photos (c) Nissan

2020 Genesis G90 RWD 5.0 Ultimate: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

A knowledgeable onetime editor of automobile reviews thought the 2020 Genesis G90 “looks like a Chrysler.”

That person shall remain nameless, having actually mentored a famous reviewer, who sadly is not among us any more but who learned the craft from the editor, now retired.

Front 3q Left Static

It can be viewed as a tribute to the infant Genesis brand, to be thought of in the same breath as some of the famed Chrysler and Imperial models of yore, which were right up there in prestige with Lincoln, Duesenberg and Cadillac in the homeland.

The Genesis G90 follows a modern trend in which popular automobiles have spun off their own luxury brands, taking the good will the manufacturers have developed from providing interesting, reliable and even exciting cars and developing new models to command higher prices and prestige.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

Prominent in this concept are Japan’s Lexus, the luxury brand of Toyota, and Acura, gestated from Honda. In an earlier era, Ford begat Mercury and Lincoln, and now we have used-to-be humble Hyundai beguiling us with Genesis.

It’s just getting started. Originally introduced as the top-line Hyundai Equus from the South Korean manufacturer, the G90 became the pinnacle of a separate luxury brand in 2017. It is now on its way to becoming its own special entity with a lineup of premium sedans and upcoming crossover sport utility vehicles. Up first is the 2021 Genesis GV80 later this year.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

For now, the G90 stands as the flagship, offering the performance, luxury orientation and reputation as established marques that include Mercedes-Benz, Lexus,  BMW, Jaguar, Acura, Audi, Cadillac, Lincoln and even Volvo — but with the South Korean basic principle of offering more bang for the bucks.

Sure, if keeping up with and exceeding the Joneses at snazzy cocktail  parties is your thing, prattling on about owning a Genesis G90 will not score as many conversational points as talking about your daily driver with the Mercedes three-pointed star or the leaping Jaguar on the hood.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

The Genesis G90, as of now, doesn’t have that sort of panache. But if you’re in interested in a slick, smooth luxury car and you are without unlimited financial resources, you can substitute — in your psyche, at least — a G90 for that BMW 7-Series or Mercedes S-Class and pocket about 20 grand in savings.

The best part, except for the status that goes with the blue and white spinning propeller or the three-pointed star, is you won’t be short-changed from the feel behind the wheel. The G90 is as capable as any sedan in the large luxury class, with all the accouterments you might specify.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

The tested Genesis G90 RWD 5.0 Ultimate four-door comes with a velvety 420-hp, 5.0-liter V8 engine that delivers 383 lb-ft of torque. The power gets to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Also available is a turbocharged 3.3-liter V6 with 365 hp. All-wheel drive is an option with either engine.

The G90, with its imposing new grille, is an inch more than 17 feet long with 113 cubic feet of space for passengers and a trunk of 17 cubic feet. City/highway/combined fuel economy of 16/24/19 mpg is not outstanding but, hey, this is a luxury car, not a Chevy Spark.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

With luxury cars, it’s about feedback and ambiance. The Genesis G90 communicates tactile sensations from the steering wheel that is characteristic of premium sedans. It’s also mausoleum silent in highway cruising, nearly as quiet as an electric, though there’s some muted growl under hard acceleration.

The ride is creamy but controlled and the handling on curving roads is competent and confidence inspiring. But don’t mistake the G90 for a sports sedan. Its forte is sedate motoring, even at extra-legal speeds.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

The G90 Ultimate is set up for maximum comfort and serenity for four. Surroundings are done up with premium wood trim and soft, perforated leather seats with heating and cooling all around. In back, the outboard passengers get sun shades on the windows and power seat adjustments, along with infotainment screens mounted on the front seatbacks.

The center armrest in back houses climate and other controls, and can be tucked up to accommodate a fifth unfortunate passenger, who gets relegated to a hard, uncomfortable perch. There are seatbelts and headrests for three persons in back, as well as a pass-through into the trunk for skis or other long objects.

The suggested price for the G90 Ultimate came to $76,695, not for everybody — but in this snooty class it’s a bargain.

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Genesis G90 RWD 5.0 Ultimate four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 5.0-liter V8; 420 hp, 383 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 113/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,850 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 16/24/19 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $76,695.
  • Price as tested: $76,695.

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

Genesis G90

Photo: James Lipman

Photos (c) Genesis

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