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2020 Hyundai Kona EV Ultimate: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As electric vehicles go in 2020, the Hyundai Kona motors at or near the front of the pack.

The Kona EV is a small crossover sport utility vehicle, similar in many respects to the Kia Niro, no surprise because Hyundai owns almost one-third of Kia and the South Korean sister companies share engines and transmissions, though they do their own styling, other engineering and tuning.

Large-37051-2020KonaElectric

The Hyundai engineers have squeezed about as much power and range as possible from the Kona’s electric motor, which makes 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque, sent directly to the front wheels. There’s no need for the torque multiplication of a conventional automatic transmission because electric motors deliver maximum torque the instant they are switched on.

Unlike Kona gasoline-engine models, the EV comes only with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is not available. Still, independent tests have demonstrated that the EV is slightly quicker off the line than the Kona with the 175-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine.

Large-37020-2020KonaElectric

With a base curb weight of 3,750 lbs, that amount of power enables the Kona to scamper to 60 mph in the six-second range — not bad for what is described as a subcompact sport ute that has interior space of 111 cubic feet. That’s as much as a midsize sedan, though the back seat has a shortage of knee room.

Moreover, it is stingy with natural resources. With no fossil fuels directly involved — the electricity comes off the same grid as the juice that feeds your TV set and kitchen range — the Kona EV is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency as equivalent to 132 mpg fuel economy. And that’s around town. On the highway, the so-called MPGe is 108 and overall the happy owner gets 120 MPGe.

Large-37031-2020KonaElectric

Better yet, this little scooter is a joy to drive. The 64 kW hour battery pack, which enables an advertised range of 258 miles on a charge, is located under the floor. The lower center of gravity makes for a more stable set around curves, though the weight and suspension tuning makes for a choppy ride on rough surfaces. Of course, the Kona is blissfully silent at any speed.

Part of the reason for the decent range is an aggressive regenerative braking system. When the driver lifts off the throttle, the Kona immediately slows down, feeling as if the brakes had been applied. The energy produced goes right into the battery pack.

Large-36970-2020KonaElectric

The driver can control the system’s regeneration with paddles on the steering wheel, to the point where so-called one-pedal driving is possible. Much like the BMW i3, the Kona can be carefully driven without ever using the brake pedal.

There are three selectable drive modes: normal, sport and eco. Normal enhances the regenerative braking and eco shuts down some systems like the heating and air conditioning to extend battery life. Sport puts more power on tap, similar to higher engine revs on a gasoline-engine vehicle.

Large-36989-2020KonaElectric

Though there’s an onboard charger and a cord to plug into a standard 110-volt household outlet, it’s not anybody’s first choice because it would take a couple of days to get a full charge from a depleted battery pack. Better to use a 240-volt Level 2 charger at home, which can do the trick in about 9.5 hours overnight. If you have access to a commercial Level 3 DC charger, you can top up the Kona’s battery pack in about an hour.
Kona EV prices start at $38,310, including the destination charge, for the SEL trim level. Others are the Limited, at $42,920 and the top-line Ultimate, tested here, at $46,520. All versions get automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and lane departure warning with lane keeping assist.

Large-36961-2020KonaElectric

The Ultimate also came with blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic collision alert, DC fast charging capability, navigation system, SXM satellite and HD radio, head-up display, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, motorized glass sunroof, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity, LED lighting and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

In the current panoply of electric sedans and crossovers, the Kona EV stands out in a group that includes the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt and, of course, its garage-mate Kia Niro. But it also looks capable against  such higher-priced machines as the Jaguar E-Pace, Audi E-Tron and even the Tesla Model 3.

Large-36979-2020KonaElectric

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Kona Electric Ultimate four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Motor: 356-volt electric; 201 hp, 291 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed direct drive automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 92/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,750 lbs.
  • EPA Miles Per Gallon Equivalent city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 132/108/120 MPGe.
  • Advertised range: 258 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $46,295.
  • Price as tested: $46,430.

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

Large-36981-2020KonaElectricPhotos (c) Hyundai

Badges? The 2020 Genesis G70 Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges

by Jason Fogelson

The 2020 Genesis G70 has a lot going for it. Great looks, lusty performance, sharp handling and superb build quality. It’s no wonder that G70 accounted for over half of the Genesis brand sales in 2019. G70 captured accolades from multiple automotive press organizations in its debut year, and carries on with minor updates for 2020.

Front 3:4 Right

G70 also has plenty going against it. While it has to be considered a relative sales success, it sits in a showroom with two languishing luxury sedans, G80 and G90, each awaiting updates. And worse, it sits in a showroom devoid of SUVs or crossover vehicles, with no hybrids, plug-in hybrids or EVs to draw traffic.

Front 3:4 Left Red

It’s challenging to review G70 without thinking about the big picture.

Korean manufacturing giant Hyundai broke off Genesis as a standalone luxury automotive brand in 2015, and despite good reviews for its limited product line, Genesis has lurked in the shadows of the luxury marketplace. Perhaps I’m looking back with rose-tinted glasses when I remember the launch of Lexus as the luxury arm for Toyota, or the rise of Acura as Honda’s luxury brand, or the emergence of Infiniti from Nissan; but I remember a more visible splash, and not such a subtle ripple.

Profile Right

Based on purely anecdotal evidence from driving the G70 around the Detroit area for a week, among people who noticed the car, none were familiar with the Genesis brand. I had to explain it to them every time. Of course, Genesis will be happy to read that people frequently approached me to admire the G70 and to compliment me on its good looks – Detroiters are always happy to offer their (unsolicited) opinions in a parking lot.

Badge

And I agreed with them. The G70 is a really attractive sports sedan; a low, sleek four-door with a great stance, an assertive face, and crisp details. The Genesis logo sits proudly on the hood and trunk, a crest flanked by wings, reminiscent of Bentley’s logo (a happy accident, surely). Fit and finish are first rate all around.

Dashboard

Inside, crisply tailored luxury abounds. This is not the overstuffed luxury of early Lexus; this is the modern, elegant luxury of Audi. The supple leatherette (real leather is optional) on the seats is a particular highlight, but the dashboard and center console are also commendable for simple, uncluttered design. The driver’s cockpit is nicely arranged, and the alloy pedals are a great touch.

Genesis G70

Photo: James Lipman / jameslipman.com

My test car was a G70 RWD 2.0T Sport M/T, equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine with a six-speed manual transmission and rear-wheel drive. I’m one of those guys who can’t take a sport sedan seriously if it doesn’t have three pedals, though I recognize that I’m part of a dying breed. Still, I appreciate Genesis considering the “sport” part of “sport sedan” and making this option available. Now, if they’d just tweak the transmission a little bit – perhaps with a short-throw shifter – to make it a little better, I’d be in love. Still, running the 2.0T through its paces was fun, and never grew old during my week with the G70. A bigger engine, a turbocharged 3.3-liter V6 is available; so is all-wheel drive. If you choose the V6 or AWD, you can’t have a manual transmission, which is a bummer. EPA fuel economy estimates for the G70 RWD 2.0T Sport M/T are 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway/22 mpg combined.

Genesis G70

Photo: James Lipman / jameslipman.com

If you’re considering a G70, you’re probably weighing it against some stiff competition. The BMW 3 Series is the gold standard in the class, followed closely by the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, Lexus IS, Infiniti Q60, Volvo S60, and Cadillac CT5.

Genesis G70

Photo: James Lipman / jameslipman.com

Like Hyundai, Genesis bundles a ton of desirable standard features in with its cars, making the value proposition a very good one. The 2020 Genesis G70 RWD 2.0T Sport M/T that I tested came with an as-tested price of $39,495, including just about every luxury feature I would want in a sport sedan. The base car starts at $35,450; and the full zoot, 3.3T AWD A/T comes in at $46,650.

So, if you test the competition and you like the G70 and its pricing, you’ll have to decide whether the badge on the hood is one that you’ll be proud driving behind.

Engine

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

Rear 3:4 Right RedPhotos (c) Genesis

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave, Renegade Trailhawk 4X4: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

This is a tale of two Jeeps: The flyover model and the Italian Job. Former is the new Gladiator Mojave pickup truck, tricked out to validate those videos showing Jeeps launched airborne off sand dunes; the latter is the Renegade Trailhawk, a small crossover sport utility vehicle with modest off-road credentials.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Mojave

That they are both Jeeps, with what that implies, goes without saying. The vehicles, which date back to World War II, have maintained their reputations as solid, go-anywhere military and civilian machines that can handle almost any terrain anywhere. Jeep now is a division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).

The decision to squish two Jeeps into one DriveWays review happens because of circumstances. In the case of the Renegade Trailhawk, which is assembled at a Fiat factory in Melifi, Italy, and uses 63% Italian parts — hence the Italian Job moniker — there have been few changes since the 2019 model year.

2020 Jeep® Renegade Trailhawk

It uses the same 1.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which delivers 177 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission. The Renegade’s underpinnings are similar to that of the less capable Fiat 500X.

On the road, the Renegade Trailhawk is not particularly fast though noisy under hard acceleration. Like almost all Jeeps, it has a choppy ride. The handling, however, is reasonably competent because of its small size.

2020 Jeep® Renegade Trailhawk

Unlike some other Renegade models, the Trailhawk is “Trail Rated,” meaning it comes with off-road equipment, including all-terrain tires, skid plates and a two-speed transfer case for the four-wheel drive. There’s also hill descent control, and four selectable driving modes: automatic, snow, sand, mud and rock.

2020 Jeep® Renegade

If you plan to drive mostly on paved roads, there are other choices in small crossovers, including Renegades that are not trail rated. Among them: Kia Seltos, Hyundai Kona, Mazda CX-30, Nissan Kicks, Toyota C-HR and Honda HR-V.

The Renegade starts at $23,770, including the destination charge. The tested Trailhawk model started at $29,290 and, with options, had a  sticker of $35,770.

*    *   *

At the other end of the spectrum in this evaluation is the Gladiator Mojave 4X4, a new version of the Jeep pickup truck. It is a sort of evil twin of the Gladiator Rubicon, which is designed for serious off-road duty like that found on the famed Rubicon trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and Nevada, traversed by all manner of Land Rovers, Jeeps and trucks with four-wheel drive.

 

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Mojave

The entry-level Gladiator pickup, with a six-speed manual gearbox,  was previously featured in a DriveWays review, and the new Mojave shares many parts and features with that machine. It uses the same 3.6-liter V6 engine with 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque and an eight-speed automatic transmission with a two-speed transfer case. However, the Mohave is a higher trim level, more akin to the Rubicon. The base Gladiator with the six-speed manual gearbox had a base price of $35,040 and, as tested, came to $36,330. The Mojave model tested here had a base price of $45,370 and, with many options, climbed to $61,795.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Mojave

Traditional off-roading is mostly done in tough terrain like the Rubicon trail at walking speed, challenging driver skills and vehicle capabilities. But you’d hardly know it to witness some advertising videos, which often show four-wheel-drive vehicles racing at high speeds around desert locales like Mexico’s Baja California.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator – interior

Those machines are often modified. But the new Gladiator Mojave was specifically designed for that sort of off-road duty. It has some of the same equipment as the Rubicon model, and adds a beefed up frame as well as stronger shock absorbers and suspension system parts. Though it can do some of the same rock crawling as the Rubicon model, it can manage higher speeds through rough outback.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator – interior

There was no opportunity to evaluate those Mojave bones. The  introduction in the California desert between Ocotillo Wells and Borrego Springs was canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. So for now the focus is on pavement performance.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator 3.6 Liter Pentastar V-6 engine

It has the typical choppy Jeep ride and, with solid axles front and rear, the Mojave requires frequent steering corrections on straight-line roads. But its heft, stiff suspension and fat tires keep it tracking well on curves, though you wouldn’t want to be chasing Porsches or Corvette Stingrays.

But they wouldn’t want to chase the Mojave at the beach either.

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Mojave

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave four-door pickup truck.
  • Engine: 3.6-liter V6; 285 hp, 260 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with four-wheel drive, two-speed transfer case and manually locking rear differential.
  • Overall length: 18 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 109/36 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,970 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,200 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/22/19 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,370.
  • Price as tested: $61,795.

*    *   *

2020 Jeep® Renegade Trailhawk

  • Model: 2020 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk 4X4 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: 13 feet 11 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 100/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,320 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/27/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,290.
  • Price as tested: $35,770.

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

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Mojave

Photos (c) Jeep

2020 BMW M340i xDrive Sedan is the Leader of the Pack

by Jason Fogelson

If you listen to some BMW fans, the last great 3 Series was the E36 (1991 – 1999). Or maybe it was the E46 (1998 – 2006). All I know is, the 2020 BMW M340i xDrive Sedan that I had during a recent week-long test drive is a great car that owes apologies to no one.

Front 3q LeftThe history of the BMW 3 Series is well-known. First introduced as a 1975 model to replace the model 2002 coupe, 3 Series is a front-engine/rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive car that has been built in various configurations over seven generations of production. There have been two-doors and four-doors, notchbacks and liftbacks, hardtops and convertibles. The 3 Series has been loved and reviled, praised and damned, both by its supporters and detractors. BMW drivers can sometimes be the punchline in jokes about rude drivers, but the brand’s longtime advertising tag, “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” has stuck for a reason – and the 3 Series has worn it well.

Front2019 marked the beginning of 3 Series’ seventh generation. For 2020, there are four models, all four-door sedans: 330i rear-wheel drive (starting at $40,750); 330i xDrive (starting at $42,750); M340i rear-wheel drive (starting at $54,000); and M340i xDrive (starting at $56,000). My test car was an example of the all-wheel drive M340i xDrive with a host of extras, including Tanzanite Blue Metallic paint ($1,950); Oyster Vernasca Leather ($1,450); Drivers Assistance Package ($500); Drivers Assistance Pro Package ($1,700); Premium Package ($1,400); Executive Package ($2,100); Remote Engine Start ($300); 19-inch M wheels ($400); Adaptive M Suspension ($700); Power Tailgate ($250); Ambient Lighting ($250); Wireless Charging ($500); Harman Kardon surround sound ($875); and a $995 Destination Charge for an as-tested price of $69,570. Take a knee. Breath deeply. Let’s discuss.

NoseThe M340i is gorgeous, for one thing. The proportions of this sedan just work, with a great profile and long dash-to-front-axle distance. The BMW signature twin-kidney grille is flanked by expressive squinting-eye LED headlights, and the car’s face is determined and confident. The sleek roofline looks windswept. The M340i does what a sports sedan must do – it looks fast standing still.

Dash

The interior is almost as successful as the exterior. Leather, polished metal trim, great textures and smart repeated hexagonal shapes bring an elegant simplicity that 3 Series has been missing in the latest generations, and a 10.25-inch touchscreen is perfectly placed at the top of the center stack. iDrive 7.0 and BMW Live Cockpit deliver all the latest tech with an intuitive interface – I never thought I’d be able to say that about an iDrive system. The 14-way power leather seats are insanely comfortable, especially for the long-legged among us, thanks to long travel and extendable thigh support, which makes a big difference on long drives.

Cabin

If you’re going to keep calling yourself “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” you’d better have the goods under the hood, and M340i does. A 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline six-cylinder direct-injected gasoline engine sends 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque to the wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission with an M Sport limited-slip differential. The M340i xDrive is the quickest of the 3 Series models, capable of going from 0 – 60 mph in 4.2 seconds on the way to a top speed of 130 mph. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway/25 mpg combined.

Live Cockpit

I’m sad that there’s no manual transmission available for the M340i, but it’s a sign of the times. Even among the buyers of a sporty brand like BMW, three-pedal fanatics are few and far between. The automatic is a very good one, with quick shifts and a manumatic mode accessible via paddle shifters.

Engine

Driving the M340i is very compelling. It sounds great, feels great, and handles great. Every cloverleaf is an opportunity to feel some g-forces. Every stoplight can be an arm-stretching launch. If you need to spend a lot of time behind the wheel, M340i will reward you with constant enjoyment, and a collaboration with technology that will make your drive easier and safer.

Chassis

The mid-size sport sedan market caught up with the 3 Series, with some very good competitors like the Audi A4/S4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Infiniti Q50, Lexus IS, Volvo S60, Jaguar XE, Alfa Romeo Giulia, Genesis G70, Kia Stinger and others.

Rear 3q LeftThe 2020 BMW M340i xDrive shoots back into the lead. It’ll be fun to see the others try to catch up.

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

RearPhotos (c) BMW

The 2020 Nissan 370Z Offers No Apologies

by Jason Fogelson

Sorry, not sorry, but the Z is a throwback to love.

The year the Datsun 240Z debuted here in the United States, the top movie was “Love Story” with Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. The top-selling fiction book was “Islands in the Stream” by Ernest Hemingway. The top-selling single on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart was “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” by Simon & Garfunkel. Now, five generations later (with a brief sales hiatus here in the U.S. from 1997 – 2002), the 2020 Nissan 370Z arrives as a 50th Anniversary edition. And for all the changes the Z (and the United States) have undergone – things are very familiar.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

The sixth-generation Z has been sold since the 2009 model year with incremental upgrades along the way. Like the 1970 U.S.-spec 240Z, the 370Z is a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) six-cylinder, rear-wheel drive GT sports coupe. In a world of high-tech cars, the 370Z comes across as a bit of a throwback – and that’s a big part of its appeal.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

My test vehicle was a 2020 Nissan 370Z Sport with a special 50th Anniversary package of options ($2,600) that included special two-tone paint, commemorative decals and badging, logos and kickplates, leather four-way power seats, and other goodies. While this much self-congratulation could easily tip toward the tacky, on this Z it looked super cool.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Inside, the Z’s cabin is compact, but comfy. What’s missing on the Sport model is a feature that has become ubiquitous on modern cars, even basic economy models – there’s no touchscreen display on the dash, just a collection of conventional gauges, buttons and knobs. It took me a while to figure out how to pair my Bluetooth smartphone to the car, but I finally regained my old-school pairing chops for an effective connection for both audio and hands-free operation. Concealed storage in the cabin is limited, but there’s a good amount of space under the liftback behind the seat, accessible from inside the cabin. Mid-generation Z-cars have been criticized for losing their edge and slipping toward bloated luxury, but this Z is tight and trim.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

My test Z came with a welcome throwback feature – a manual six-speed transmission (a seven-speed automatic is available to spec, but don’t do that, please). The Sport trim and above comes with SynchroRev Match, a synchronized Downshift Rev Matching feature that simplifies operation, mitigating the need to do the heel-toe dance on the pedals. It works beautifully. While purists might balk at this electronic assistance, it makes an average driver (like me) sound like a pro.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Under the hood, the six-cylinder in this Z is a 3.7-liter V6 – the 240Z used a 2.4-liter inline six – that sends a healthy 332 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. Thanks to the Z’s low seating position, the sensation of speed and sharp handling is amplified – and the car is a lot of fun to drive.

Nissan will be happy to help you upgrade many components on the Z with Nismo parts to improve handling and performance if you want to track your car, and there’s a healthy aftermarket to supply tweaks and gizmos to soup up every aspect of the coupe. Have at it, and have fun.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Out of the box, the Z is a blunt instrument that delivers driving enjoyment. The more refined Mazda MX-5 Miata is its closest competitor, representing a different approach to the equation.

Z prices start at $30,090 for the base model and go up to $39,490 for the top-of-the-line Sport Touring 7AT model. My test car was a Sport model with a base price of $33,820 and an as-tested price of $37,605, and represented the sweet spot in the lineup.

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

The 2020 Nissan 370Z is a throwback, and I love it. As Ali McGraw famously said in the top-grossing film of 1970, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

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

2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition

Photos (c) Nissan

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

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Acura MDX A-Spec

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

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

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

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

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

RearSpecifications

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

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

Rear 3q Left WhitePhotos (c) Acura

2020 Mazda CX30 AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020_Mazda_CX-30_Interior_1Specifications

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

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

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

2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

So the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid runs on sunshine as well as batteries and a gasoline engine. So what?

Call it groundbreaking, or unique, or perhaps a benchmark for the future. As technology advances, we’re likely to witness increasingly efficient ways of making clean power for motor vehicles.

Large-40183-2020SonataHybridIt’s not a breakthrough — yet. Solar panels have popped up all over the world as a way to reliably generate renewable clean energy. On the Sonata Hybrid, an array of solar-powered photovoltaic panels are installed on the roof under glass, right where you might find a panoramic sunroof on another car.

Electrons in the panels’ silicon cells are activated by photons of light from the sun, generating electricity. So far it doesn’t contribute a great deal to fuel economy. Hyundai of South Korea says the system can deliver 1,300 kilometers of extra electric range in a year, or about 808 miles.

That’s if you drive about six hours a day. Though the system can keep the batteries topped up, it won’t recharge them completely. Hyundai says it can recharge 30% to 60% of the batteries in a day. Juice goes into the lithium hybrid batteries as well as the 12-volt system for accessories.

Large-40154-2020SonataHybridThe Sonata Hybrid combines a 150-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that makes 139 lb-ft of torque with a 51-hp electric motor that delivers 151 lb-ft of torque. The combined hybrid system generates 192 hp and, with the slight boost from the Solar Roof, has an EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 45/51/47 mpg.

That’s certainly not shabby for a roomy sedan that, based on its overall interior volume, sneaks into the large car category as defined by the government. Its passenger volume is 104.4 cubic feet and the trunk another 16 cubic feet, for a total of 120.4. Any car with more than 120 cubic feet of interior space is classified as large.

It drives large, too, with some of the heft and steering feel of big luxury cars. There are four driver-selectable drive modes: Custom, Sport. Eco and Smart that adjust shift points, steering feel and handling. Unlike other hybrids that use continuously variable automatic transmissions with their absence of shift points, the Sonata Hybrid uses a six-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel mounted paddles for manual shifting.

Large-40164-2020SonataHybridLike other hybrids, the Sonata also features idle stop-start technology to enhance fuel economy. But there’s no hesitation off the line. With some other systems, especially those installed on gasoline-engine vehicles, there’s a hiccup on setting off as the engine re-starts. But on the Sonata Hybrid, the electric motor is poised to get things going with instant torque, or twisting force.

Select the Sport mode on the Sonata Hybrid Limited, punch the loud pedal and feel your torso slam into the seatback. It feels powerful and fast. Then settle down to a quiet, fuss-free ride on the freeway as the fuel gauge needle barely moves.

Though the handling on twisting roads can get a bit darting in some of the drive modes because of a somewhat irregular lane-keeping assist, there’s a solid feel and informative steering feedback in the Sport mode.

Large-40162-2020SonataHybridThere are three versions of the Sonata Hybrid: Blue, SEL and Limited. The base Blue, which is estimated to start somewhere south of $30,000, gets the best city/highway/combined fuel economy: 50/54/52 mpg. However, it does not come with the Solar Roof, which is reserved for the upper trim levels.

The tested Limited was loaded with full safety and convenience equipment: automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control, driver drowsiness detector and a blind-spot monitor that displays photos in the instrument cluster of the right- and left-rear areas. Though informative in an emergency, the system is no substitute for proper adjustment of the outside mirrors.

Large-40163-2020SonataHybridAfter the national press introduction was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, a top-line Limited model was made available as a test vehicle delivered through a third-party vendor.

Price information was not immediately available, awaiting the date when Sonata Hybrids arrive at dealerships. An educated estimate, based on the prices of the gasoline-engine Sonatas and leavened by the fact that hybrids cost more to manufacture, placed the tested Limited model with a base price of about $37,500 and, with one modest option, an as-tested price of $37,635.

Large-40138-2020SonataHybridSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited four-door sedan.
  • Engine/motor: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 150 hp, 139 lb-ft torque; 39 kW electric motor, 51 hp, 151 lb-ft torque; with 270-volt lithium battery and hybrid starter-generator. Combined hybrid system 192 horsepower.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 104/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,530 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 45/51/47 mpg.
  • Estimated base price, including destination charge: $37,500.
  • Estimated price as tested: $37,635.

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

Large-40182-2020SonataHybridPhotos (c) Hyundai

2020 Nissan Kicks SV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

2020 Nissan Kicks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Nissan Kicks

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

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

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

2020 Nissan Kicks

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

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

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

2020 Nissan Kicks SV-2-sourceSpecifications

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

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

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

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