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The Review Garage

Rating the best and worst in cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, tools and accessories.

2019 Cadillac XT4 AWD Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2019 Cadillac XT4 actually is a compact crossover sport utility vehicle. But its lead exterior designer prefers to call it an Escalade puppy.

Robin Krieg was talking about the all-new XT4 at its national introduction. He said the challenge was to design a new small crossover for an audience that mainly thinks of Cadillacs as always big.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport

The Escalade certainly qualifies. It’s a full-size body-on-frame traditional SUV, 17 feet long and 6 feet 2 inches tall, built like a pickup truck. He said it was a challenge to translate that concept into the XT4, a small unit-body crossover, built like a car.

Some of the result was immediately apparent at first look. The XT4 is an inch over 15 feet long and 5 feet 4 inches tall. Moreover, it has styling that hints at a pickup truck, mainly looking at the wheels.

In an era when luxury crossovers often emphasize performance, the wheel openings are usually filled with big wheels and fat tires. The XT4’s wheel openings, however, have wheels and low aspect-ratio tires that look small, more like they belong on a sports sedan or roadster.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport

Krieg said the look was deliberate, aimed at imparting an impression that the XT4 was light and agile. Given its size, it would seem like that in any case, but the space around the tires does remind one of a pickup truck.

However you look at it, the XT4 puppy is another step in an offensive at Cadillac, which plans to introduce a new model every six months through 2020. Right now there are seven — four sedans and three SUVs, including the Escalade, Escalade ESV, XT5 and, now, the XT4. Many will go to China, now Cadillac’s top market.

The XT4 represents an all-new Cadillac architecture, designed to compete in the compact luxury class against the likes of the Volvo XC-40, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3 and the BMW X2. Its tidy dimensions make it a nimble partner in modern dense traffic.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Premium Luxury

But it also manages to be roomy with midsize sedan passenger space of 101 cubic feet, plus 22 cubic feet for cargo behind the rear seat. The rear seatbacks fold flat to expand the space to 49 cubic feet. A temporary spare wheel and tire lies under the cargo area.

Front-seat passengers get supportive and comfortable power seats and, in the case of the tested Sport model, a massage function for both front seats. Outboard passengers in back get decent head and knee room, though the seatbacks do not recline. The center-rear passenger is disrespected with a hard cushion and big floor hump.

A new turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine delivers 237 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels or all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode.

To enhance fuel economy, the middle two cylinders deactivate during sedate highway motoring. Also contributing to a city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 22/29/24 mpg on all-wheel drive models, the XT4 uses a system in front that can disconnect the driveshaft and rear wheels.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport

Though there’s a bit of a steering wiggle off-center, the tested XT4 handled securely, abetted by twin clutches at the rear axle that can send 100% of the available torque to either wheel depending on conditions.

The XT4 is comfortable, and remains mostly quiet except under hard acceleration, when the engine gets a bit raucous. On harsh surfaces, some road noise also intrudes, though wind noise is mostly nonexistent.

There are six versions: Luxury, Premium Luxury and Sport, available with front-wheel drive or, for an additional $2,500, all-wheel drive. The focus of this review is the Sport, which carried a base price of $40,290 and, as tested with all-wheel drive, $56,835. Both prices include the destination charge.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport

Not many customers are likely to order the base model. The tested AWD Sport came with $15,915 worth of options, including the all-wheel drive. They included forward collision alert with pedestrian braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, perforated leather upholstery, automatic dual-zone climate control, automatic lift gate, XSM satellite radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Cadillac deserves congratulations for an opaque sunshade for the motorized sunroof. Too many luxury cars and crossovers these days follow a fad of using sunshades made of perforated cloth that allows heat and too much sunlight to intrude on passengers.

Overall, this Escalade puppy aims to please — and does.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Cadillac XT4 AWD Sport four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 237 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/22 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,900 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/29/24 mpg (premium fuel).
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,290.
  • Price as tested: $56,835.

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

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport

Photos (c) Cadillac

2019 Range Rover Supercharged: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Because it emerges from the storied Land Rover company in England, the 2019 Range Rover Supercharged arrives with a presumption that it can conquer trackless terrain anywhere.

In the United States, that translates into recreational off-roading in many venues around the country. But driving this powerful, expensive giant, it’s hard to imagine it being used as anything but a beautiful luxury boulevard SUV.

rr19my25071814At 16 feet 5 inches long and an inch over six feet tall, it’s way big for serious off-road adventures. For another, the luxurious tester came with a bottom-line price of $118,320. Unless you have megabucks to burn, it’s not the vehicle you’d want to scratch and bash in the outback.

As with any Land Rover, the right stuff nevertheless is there, delivering the serenity of knowing you’d have a possible exit in a dystopian scenario of aliens blowing up streets and freeways.

Other than that, most owners likely will have little inclination to learn its sophisticated all-wheel drive, air suspension system, terrain response with hill descent control, low-traction and hill launch assist, and roll stability control.

Range Rover PHEV Media Drive, March 2018

So, Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, country clubs and cruising sedately to black-tie Oscar awards await. It’s a bit of a shame because the Land Rover Supercharged is a high-performance machine that can rip off zero to 60 mph acceleration in five seconds, with a top speed of 130 mph — notwithstanding a curb weight of 5,235 lbs.

In an era when turbocharged smaller engines are taking over the light vehicle landscape, the Land Rover Supercharged gets its motivation from a supercharged, 5.0-liter V8 engine that delivers 518 hp and 461 lb-ft of torque.

It gets the grunt to all four wheels under any road or off-road condition through an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel — just like super cars — although paddles now show up on lesser cars as well.

rr19my25071810There’s a Sport setting on the rotary transmission selector that amps the acceleration and allows manual shifting. But underway in Drive you can’t get to it without shifting into neutral first.

With its air suspension system, which among other skills can lower the back end to ease cargo loading, the Land Rover Supercharged handles decently on twisting, hilly back roads. There’s little body roll or other drama unless you push it too hard. But understand that it is no sports sedan — or even a quick, smaller high-performance SUV like the Porsche Macan.

As a long-distance Interstate cruiser, however, it has few peers. The seats are sinfully supportive and comfortable, there’s minimal intrusion of wind, mechanical or road noise, and it tracks truly with few steering corrections needed.

rr19my25071817The difficulties come in little things that could be easily corrected. Worst is the so-called sun shade for the panoramic glass sunroof. Adhering to a current fad among luxury vehicles, the shade is made of a sort of perforated, cheesecloth-like cheap cloth that admits too much sunlight.

On the Land Rover Supercharged, especially on the sunny and extremely hot days much of the country experienced this last summer, the sunlight through the cheesecloth heats the cabin to the point where the air conditioning can barely keep up.

It’s reminiscent of military cargo airplanes where passengers sit in cloth sling seats with their torsos overheated while their legs freeze. The cheesecloth “sunshades” should prompt a movement among buyers to demand opaque shades that return the cozy ambiance of a closed vehicle.

rr19my25071818The Range Rover Supercharged is British, of course, which implies a certain amount of quirk. Another is the awkward power seat controls mounted on the doors. Most vehicles place them on the sides of the seat, which is way more intuitive. In Land Rover’s defense, Mercedes-Benz uses a similar system.

Then there are the Range Rover’s two big center touch screens that control vehicle and infotainment functions. They are mounted below the driver’s line of sight, at chest and belt-buckle height, and use tiny icons that require focus of the eyes and an aimed finger touch, making the driver take his or her eyes off the road.

Best to get everything set before moving off. Even better, get some lessons on how everything works to avoid angry outbursts. True, an owner’s time with the Supercharged will breed familiarity. But, as with so many luxury vehicles, these functions could easily be more intuitive.

rr19my25071811Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Range Rover Supercharged four-door sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 5.0-liter V8, supercharged; 518 hp, 461 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 113/32 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,235 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,716 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 16/21/18 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $105,845.
  • Price as tested: $118,320.

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

Range Rover PHEV Media Drive, March 2018

Photos (c) Jaguar Land Rover

2019 Ram Big Horn Sport Quad Cab 4X2: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Because full-size pickup trucks all do essentially the same chores for their owners, marketing them entails offering new and desirable features, as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has done with the 2019 Ram 1500.

It’s not entirely that, of course, because pickup customers are notoriously loyal to their chosen brands. Still, something on the order of the Ram’s brand-new eTorque mild hybrid system has the potential to prompt alienation of affection.

ETorque combines a belt-drive electric motor-generator with a 48-volt battery, which provides short boosts of extra power for the gasoline engine. It also enables a sophisticated idle stop-start function that, for the time being, is the smoothest and least intrusive system experienced by this reviewer.

2019 Ram 1500 Big Horn

Stop-start, which enhances fuel economy, is popular in Europe, where fuel prices are way higher than in the United States. But the systems are becoming more common on vehicles sold here. In many cases, however, the stop-starts are so annoying that owners switch them off — unless they happen to be on Chevrolets and other General Motors vehicles, which do not have off switches.

In a typical stop-start function, the engine shuts down at stoplights or in other situations when the vehicle is motionless. Lift your foot off the brake or tap the accelerator pedal and the engine automatically starts, often with a noticeable shudder and hesitation before getting underway.

The Ram eTorque is a notable exception. Unless you pay close attention, you are unaware that the engine has cranked up. Ram engineers say the engine re-starts in 400 milliseconds.

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

Vibration and noise are nearly nonexistent, unlike with some systems — especially in vehicles with powerful engines — that cause violent shaking. Stop-starts comparable in smoothness to the eTorque are in low-powered hybrid cars.

For 2019, eTorque is standard equipment on all Ram 1500 pickups with the 305-hp V6 engine, which delivers 269 lb-ft of torque. For truckers who need or want more power, a step up to the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine costs $1,195. For an additional $1,450, the Hemi eTorque is available with 395 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque.

All Ram 1500 trucks use eight-speed automatic transmissions, which like the eTorque go about their business quietly and without drama. Add to that the Ram 1500’s independent suspension system, with air suspension on the rear wheels and vibration damping on the steel frame, and the Ram rolls like a luxury car, even when empty. Most pickups bounce around unless they are loaded.

Many modern full-size pickup trucks, however, also are priced like luxury cars. Some Ram models — the Limited Crew Cab with all-wheel drive, for example — have prices that nudge $70,000 or more, depending on equipment.

2019 Ram 1500 Big Horn

Driven for this review was a more modest Ram1500 Big Horn Sport Quad Cab 4X2 model, which had a base price of $37,340 and, with options, a bottom-line sticker of $43,960. The base price for the entry-level Tradesman Quad Cab with rear-wheel drive is $33,340, including the destination charge.

Ram 1500 pickups come with four doors. Crew Cab models are the roomiest. Quad Cab models have shorter rear doors and tighter accommodations in the back seat. Head room there is generous, but knee room is in short supply. Still, the tested Big Horn Sport had 117 cubic feet of passenger space, which is nearly that of a full-size car.

Out back, the pickup bed measures 6 feet 4 inches and accommodates 62 cubic feet of cargo up to the gunwales. Total payload is 1,910 lbs and the tester had a towing capability of 6,640 lbs.

2019 Ram 1500 Big Horn – Black Diesel Interior

Though it was among the lower priced Ram models, the tested Big Horn Sport was a comfortable road companion that could easily be used as a daily driver.

Mechanical, road and wind noises were minimal, there was plenty of power on tap for passing on two-lane roads and the handling and ride were exceptional given the truck’s bulk and 19-foot length. Comfort was enhanced by supportive seats upholstered in cozy cloth.

The test truck came with full safety equipment, including electronic stability control, roll mitigation, trailer sway damping, back-up camera, hill start assist, trailer brake control and antilock brakes with rain-braking support.

Options included FCA’s UConnect infotainment system with navigation, power-adjustable pedals, powered rear sliding window, audio system with HD and SXM satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, LED bed lighting and 20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels.

2019 Ram 1500 – 5.7-liter HEMI® eTorque

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Ram 1500 Big Horn Sport Quad Cab 4X2 four-door full-size pickup truck.
  • Engine: 3.6-liter V6 with eTorque; 305 hp, 269 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 19 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 6 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 117/62 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,891 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,910 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,640 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/25/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,340.
  • Price as tested: $43,960.

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

2019 Ram 1500 Big Horn Sport

Photos (c) FCA

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If you have one of those primal urges for a low-slung, two-seat sports car, and you’re not a member of the one percent, look no farther than the 2019 Mazda MX-5 RF.

Don’t bother reading about the $3.3 million Bugatti Chiron, the $285,000 McLaren 270S, the $187,500 Porsche GT3 RS, or the $141,000 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. There are other nosebleed-priced super cars as well.

And you can even skip the $30,000-plus Fiat 124 Abarth Spider, which is basically a knockoff of the MX-5 with Italian styling and a Fiat engine, but only comes as a ragtop convertible. Mazda also builds an MX-5 two-seat ragtop but the focus here is on the RF, which stands for “retractable fastback.”

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-9With slick engineering that would do justice to cartoonist Rube Goldberg, along with13 seconds of your time, the fastback MX-5 RF swallows its roof in a maw behind the driver and pirouettes a few other pieces to wind up looking like a 1960s-era Porsche 911 Targa-top roadster open to the sky.

Another touch of the dash-mounted switch sends all the parts back into their cozy tubs so you can enjoy closed-car, weatherproof motoring. However, it’s not particularly quiet. This is a sports car, after all, and the Mazda people want you to enjoy the performance vibes of mechanical and raucous exhaust sounds.

They come from Mazda’s re-refined SkyActiv 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which now makes 181 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, sent to the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic transmission.

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-26Though too many exotic sportsters now rely exclusively on automatic transmissions, computer-controlled so anybody could drive them, purists like us still favor the tactile feeling of mastery and skill driving good manual gearboxes. And, of course, the MX-5 has one with a positive, effortless shift linkage that almost makes you want to seek out heavy stop and start traffic.

No, forget that. Better to find mountain roads with tight curves and elevation changes that encourage attention to the frequent up and down gear shifts of the squat-down, two-seater driving experience. Practice your heel-and-toe technique to match engine revolutions with road speed on downshifts. The MX-5 RF unfortunately does not have automatic rev matching, though you can get it on a humble stick shift Toyota Corolla Hatchback.

So, maybe later for that on the MX-5. Meanwhile, as the motoring gods intended, you drive this neat Mazda the way your forbears did with the Austin-Healey Sprite, MG Midget and Triumph Spitfire back in the 1960s. After all, the MX-5 — most people still call it the Miata and Mazda doesn’t argue with it — was invented in 1990 to be the reliable Japanese descendant of those wonderful — and infamously unreliable — British sports cars.

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-15True, you can derive driving joy from many modern sport-oriented cars—including some crossover SUVs with automatic transmissions. There’s shifting with paddles on the steering wheel but you soon learn, even on a racetrack, that the onboard computer is way better at it than you are so why bother.

And, of course, you can buy enjoyment with something like a marvelous old Honda S2000 two-seater with a six-speed manual gearbox, if you can find one. But the performance, which depended mainly on high engine revolutions instead of low-end torque, is not up to modern standards.

So back to the MX-5. There are two versions: Club, which is directed more at a customer who might want to do some week-end faux racing, and the Grand Touring, a bit more expensive but more oriented toward the relaxed, automatic-transmission boulevardiers, though it also comes with a stick shift.

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-20The tested Club model had a starting price of $33,240 — not exactly economy-car territory but actually less than the average out-the-door price of a new car these days. With options that include Recaro sport seats with plenty of bolstering, Brembo high-performance brakes and 17-inch BBS metallic black wheels, the bottom-line sticker came to $37,910.

That’s fairly pricey for what essentially would be a toy for middle-class fun-seeking enthusiasts. It would work for a single person and a significant other, but they would have to forego double dating unless there was a second car — even a used compact — in the picture.

There are some other choices that can deliver some of the same driving excitement as the MX-5. A few that come to mind are the Volkswagen Golf GT, Ford Focus RS or the upcoming Hyundai Veloster N.

In the end, however, there’s nothing quite like the MX-5 RF.

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-22Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF hardtop convertible two-seat roadster.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 181 hp, 151 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual.
  • Overall length: 12 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 49/5 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,339 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/34/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $33,240.
  • Price as tested: $37,910.

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

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-13Photos (c) Mazda

2019 Kia Forte EX: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The Forte was not suffering. But Kia nevertheless injected it with juice from the Stinger — though not the venom.

That’s the opening loud note signaling the 2019 Kia Forte, which competes in the compact sedan class against such stalwarts as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Jetta.

Since its introduction nearly a decade ago, the Forte has been a success story for South Korea’s Kia. Steady annual sales peaked in 2017 at 117,596, making it the brand’s top seller. They continued strong in 2018.

2019 Forte

Not content to simply cruise, the company redesigned the Forte to resemble the Stinger, its critically acclaimed high-performance midsize fastback. They reimagined the styling, giving the new Forte a long hood, short rear deck and other design cues of the Stinger.

However, the Stinger is equipped with a practical hatchback, popular in Europe and other places, while the new Forte, at least initially, comes only as a four-door sedan with a traditional trunk, albeit of a size, 15.3 cubic feet, that would do justice to a midsize car.

The Forte itself, though marketed as a compact, perches on the cusp between compact and midsize, As defined by the federal government, size classes are determined by interior volume—a combination of passenger and cargo space.

2019 Forte

With a motorized sunroof, the new Forte has an interior of slightly less than 109 cubic feet, classified as a compact. Without the sunroof, the space is a bit over 111 cubic feet, which gives it a midsize designation. The dividing line is 110 cubic feet.

It also has an economy car orientation, although in the Korean tradition it comes well equipped even in the lower trim levels. There are four: FE, which starts at $18,585, followed by the LXS, S and EX. Only the base FE comes with a choice of a six-speed manual gearbox or Kia’s new continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). All others get the automatic.

The transmission, which Kia calls an IVT, for Intelligent Variable Transmission, varies the power with a belt and pulleys so there are no shift points. It is the company’s first of its type built in-house and it was engineered to subdue common complaints about CVTs — that they are noisy and feel as if the transmission is slipping.

2019 Forte

Kia’s IVT uses a chain-type belt and special sound deadening materials around the transmission housing. It also can be switched to a different mode that mimics the shift points of a conventional automatic transmission.

But the IVT goes about its business so unobtrusively, getting the power to the front wheels efficiently, a driver is unlikely to give it a second thought. The Forte is powered by a 147-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 132 lb-ft of torque.

The combination is more than adequate for most driving conditions in urban settings or on freeways. But as noted earlier it does not have much venom. On long upgrades, it feels as if it is straining to maintain speed.

It is likely that Kia will eventually offer more powerful versions of the Forte, perhaps similar to the current 2018 Forte5, a four-door hatchback of conventional design that comes with a 201-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with either a six-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox.

2019 Forte

Even with the modest power on the 2019 sedans, the Forte presents itself as a well-executed value package that could easily satisfy many younger families.

At the introduction, most of the test cars were the top-line EX equipped with a $3,210 Launch Edition package of options that included forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic collision warning, adaptive cruise control, UVO infotainment with voice-activated navigation, 17-inch alloy wheels, motorized sunroof, LED headlights and interior lights, and a premium Harman-Kardon audio system.

The EX is priced at $22,885. With the Launch Edition package, the sticker comes to $26,095, which means that a customer could buy two Forte EX Launch Editions for about the same price as the top-line Kia Stinger GT with all-wheel drive. With the family resemblance, you could maybe tack on a Stinger badge and fool your friends.

Even better from a savings standpoint would be to order the S trim level with the $1,200 Premium package, which includes the sunroof and LED projection headlights with high-beam assist. It does not include navigation or pushbutton starting but it has quality cloth upholstery instead of the Sofino leather-like trim of the EX. The price is $22,285.

2019 Forte

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Kia Forte EX four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 147 hp, 132 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 94/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,903 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 30/40/34 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $22,885.
  • Price as tested (Launch Edition): $26,095.

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

2019 Forte

Photos (c) Kia

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Playing hardball with its exceptional 2019 Santa Fe, Hyundai is on the verge of realizing its full competitive lineup of crossover sport utility vehicles.

It’s an important milestone, given the phenomenon of crossover sales that lately have been overpowering traditional sedans and coupes. In the 2017 model year, the South Korean company offered just two nameplates: the compact Tucson and the Santa Fe, a midsize offered with either two or three rows of seats. An earlier Veracruz model had been dropped in 2011.

Large-34014-2019SantaFeEarly in 2018, the brash new Kona arrived as smaller sibling of the Tucson. Now comes the two-row, midsize Santa Fe, formerly called the Santa Fe Sport, which will be followed by an all-new, as yet unnamed, large three-row, eight-passenger crossover. That will complete the lineup unless Hyundai decides to squeeze in another something someplace.

The existing three-row Santa Fe continues unchanged for about a year, after which it will be consigned to that great crossover retirement community in the sky. It will be sold as the Santa Fe XL until its replacement arrives.

The Santa Fe comes in five trim levels — SE, SEL, SEL Plus, Limited and Ultimate — with a starting price of $26,485, including the destination charge. All come with front-wheel drive standard. Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel drive costs an additional $1,700.

As some other manufacturers have done, the Santa Fe eschews stand-alone options in favor of escalating lists of features for each trim level. The tested top-of-the-line Ultimate, at $39,905, had only one minor option of $125 for carpeted floor maps.

Large-34019-2019SantaFeThere are two powertrains: 185-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 178 lb-ft of torque on the S, SEL and SEL Plus trims, and a 235-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter engine with 260 lb-ft of torque on the Limited and Ultimate models. All versions come with eight-speed automatic transmissions and idle stop-start.

Most notable from a peace of mind standpoint are two safety innovations. Rear Occupant Alert monitors the back seats with an ultrasonic sensor that detects movement of children or pets. As with some other vehicles, the system alerts drivers to check the rear seats after stopping and before exiting.

But the Santa Fe takes it to another important level. If for some reason a distracted driver forgets or ignores the warning, leaves the vehicle and locks the doors, the system honks the horn and sends an alert to the driver’s smart phone via Hyundai’s Blue Link connected car system. The innovation could prevent some of the 37 deaths that occur annually in the U.S., on average, of children left in hot cars.

Large-34023-2019SantaFeThe other system mimics blind-spot warning. If a rear-seat passenger tries to open a door and an oncoming car is detected, both visual and audio warnings are triggered. Also, it will prevent the driver from deactivating the electronic child safety lock until the oncoming car has passed.

Besides those safety features, the Santa Fe also comes with Hyundai Safety Sense, which includes forward collision avoidance, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot and lane-departure warning.

On the road, the tested all-wheel drive Santa Fe Ultimate delivered strong acceleration, a resilient ride and responsive handling. Tactile steering feedback felt more like a capable sedan than a tall crossover. Partly responsible was the all-wheel drive torque vectoring that apportioned the power to the rear wheels depending on road conditions, abetted by relocation of the rear shock absorbers.

Large-34029-2019SantaFeThere are three drive modes that adjust steering feel, ride motions and transmission shift points. Normal is the main setting for daily driving. Smart enhances fuel economy and Sport tightens everything up for improved performance, especially in challenging conditions like twisting mountain roads.

The eight-speed automatic transmission shifted unobtrusively and can be manually shifted. However, shifting must be done with the console-mounted lever; there are no steering-wheel mounted paddles.

On smooth roads, the Santa Fe Ultimate was almost eerily quiet with only vague road and mechanical noises. There was no detectable wind noise. Comfort was first-cabin with the headliner and pillars upholstered in a soft cloth that would do justice to a living-room divan.

Contributing to the comfort were “variable density” front seats with power extensions to provide extra thigh support, as well as acoustic glass and a rigid body structure that makes extensive use of high-strength steel and strong structural adhesives.

Summing up, the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate competes handily and almost lazily against other midsize crossover contenders.

Large-34046-2019SantaFeSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 235 hp, 260 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 8 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 111/36 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,960 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $39,780.
  • Price as tested: $39,905.

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

Large-34008-2019SantaFePhotos (c) Hyundai

2019 Honda Pilot AWD Elite: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

For 2019, the Honda Pilot continues its imaginative indecision, which resembles either an oscillating cooling fan or Edgar Allen Poe’s pendulum.

But this midsize crossover sport utility vehicle is anything but the pits — except, of course, when it’s negotiating ditches in a purpose-built course aimed at demonstrating its fitness in off-road conditions.

The Pilot stands among the best three-row crossovers on the market, a capable, sturdy and competent vehicle for people who don’t want a minivan like the excellent Honda Odyssey but still need to haul people and stuff.

Honda Associates to Test Their Skills Driving Honda Light Trucks

When it was first introduced as a 2003 model, it came with all-wheel drive but essentially was a tall station wagon with a 240-hp V6 engine and a five-speed automatic transmission. It lasted for six years as a comfortable and durable people hauler, racking up total sales of 744,474.

But the soothsayers at Honda did not rest on their laurels. Figuring that familiarity breeds boredom, they cranked up an all-new Pilot with boxy, truck-like styling and emphasized its off-road chops, which were modest to serious enthusiasts but impressed the hoi polloi.

At the national introduction, that 2009 model showed it could coolly traverse gullies, humps, steep climbs and descents, rocks, mud and other assorted obstacles. The emphasis was on its truck-like looks and rugged character, which Honda said customers wanted.

That, too, wore off in time, so when the 2016 model came along, it lost the boxy mien in favor of mainstream, more streamlined styling. It came across more like an attractive people mover than a boondocks basher. The engine was a 3.5-liter V6 with 280 hp, 262 lb-ft of torque and either a six-speed or nine-speed automatic transmission, depending on the trim level.

2019 Honda Pilot

Enter the 2019 model, which continues with the same drivetrains but marginally a more rugged, aggressive appearance, mimicking styling concepts from the latest Odyssey and Accord. Included are reworked wheels, grille, bumpers and LED headlights.

As in 2009, the emphasis again is on the Pilot’s all-terrain capabilities, abetted by Honda’s trademarked intelligent Variable Torque Management, or iVTM4, on all-wheel drive versions.

It incorporates active torque vectoring. In straight-line driving, the system distributes engine torque, or twisting force, to the wheel with the most traction. In cornering, it sends additional power to outside wheels to hustle the Pilot around curves.

The iVTM4 also enhances off-road traction. Computer controlled, it can send 70% of the torque to the rear wheels, and 100% of that power to either rear wheel if needed. Honda demonstrated that characteristic at the national introduction by sending test Pilots over man-made terrain that sent one of the rear wheels into the air.

2019 Honda Pilot Interior

Another system, which works with the iVTM4, is so-called Intelligent Traction Management. There are four driver-selectable settings labeled Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand. The Normal setting, which likely will be the default choice, adjusts for daily driving on most surfaces.

Selecting Snow assists in winter driving conditions. Among other things, it instructs the automatic transmission to start out in second gear to minimize wheel spin. Mud and Sand optimize transmission and other components for those conditions. As at the 2009 introduction, this time at a different off-road course in California, the Pilot easily negotiated the rocks, logs, moguls and other obstacles.

With all that and more, the 2019 Pilot doesn’t offer bargain prices. There are 13 versions, starting with the front-drive LX at $32,445, including the destination charge. The most expensive is the Elite, fully equipped, at $49,015.

2019 Honda Pilot

Every trim level comes with Honda Sensing, the company’s suite of safety features that includes adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, lane keeping assist,  and road-departure mitigation. Blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert also are available.

Except for the top-of-the-line Elite model, all versions — LX, EX, EX-L, EX-L with Navigation and Touring — come with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The Elite is all-wheel drive only. Lower trim levels come with a six-speed automatic transmission; Touring and Elite use the nine-speed automatic.

The Pilot has ample space inside for seven or eight passengers, depending on whether it is equipped with second-row captain’s chairs. Second-row seats flip forward with the touch of a button, but it still takes teenage agility to get into the third row, which has decent headroom. However, passengers sit with their knees up high.

Chronic gripers will be happy to learn that the Pilot now comes with simple volume knob for the audio system.

2019 Honda Pilot

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Honda Pilot AWD Elite four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 280 hp, 262 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 153/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: Est. 4,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/26/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $49,015.
  • Price as tested: $49,015.

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

2019 Honda Pilot

Photos (c) Honda

2018 Audi S5 Sportback 3.0 quattro: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

President Trump’s rejoinder to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un that he has a bigger button illustrates the reason why we will always have cars like the 2018 Audi S5 Sportback.

With Trump, it was all about the superior U.S. nuclear arsenal; with Audi it’s about engine dominance and performance. No matter what, especially among luxury makes, vehicle manufacturers surely will market more powerful versions of perfectly capable cars, crossover SUVs and trucks.

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

In the Audi lineup, there are A cars and S cars, even RS cars, as well as Q and SQ crossovers. Over at BMW, there are extra-powerful M models, and at Mercedes-Benz they are labeled AMG, a company that once was an independent performance tuner of Mercedes cars but now is part of the company.

Similarly, In the U.S. there are SRT, R/T, Scat Pack and Hellcat versions of various Dodge Challengers and Chargers, along with GT and Bullitt Ford Mustangs, Cadillac V performance models, Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and ZL1, and Camaro SS and ZL1 versions.

You get the picture, which is to stretch the boundaries in automotive design and performance, while also maximizing buyer devotion and profits—this in spite of choking traffic and near-universal speed limits that thwart any actual performance driving desires.

Audi is particularly adept at the dance with over 30 distinct versions of sedans, crossovers, sport hatchbacks, coupes, convertibles and sports cars. And more are on the way.

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

The A5 Sportback and its more powerful sibling, the S5, are particularly welcome because they punctuate a return to an automotive design that was once popular but faded away. That was the so-called torpedo body, used on various cars in the early 20thcentury but most familiar on cars like the Tucker ’48 and the 1941 Buick, where the roofline was an unbroken sweep from the windshield header to the rear bumper.

At Audi, the design is called a Sportback, and it also incorporates a hatchback body that doesn’t look like one. American buyers never developed much affection for hatchbacks that looked like small station wagons, although that changed when manufacturers jacked them up a bit, added all-wheel drive in some cases and called them crossover SUVs.

The advantage of Sportbacks like the Audi A5 and S5 is utility. Plus, they don’t look like station wagons. They have cargo areas of 22 cubic feet, which expands to 35 cubic feet if you fold the rear seatbacks. As a sedan with a typical trunk, the cargo volume could be as little as 12 cubic feet in the same size car.

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

With a 252-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine connected to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, the A5 should provide plenty of driving thrills for almost any motorist. It has a starting price of $43,575.

If that’s not a fit, any enthusiast can plunk down an additional $11,800 for the tested S5 Sportback 3.0 quattro Tiptronic. Yes, that’s its official title. As indicated, it comes with a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine that makes 354 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, transferred to all four wheels through an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with manual-shifting paddles.

The tested S5’s price started at $55,375 and, with options, ended up at $63,975. For that, you get a midsize rocket that will surge from rest to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds with a governed top speed of 155 mph, according to Audi — and there’s no reason to question the claim.

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

The S5 comes with five drive modes that can be selected with the touch of a button: Efficiency, Comfort, Dynamic, Auto and Individual. They customize engine, transmission, steering and suspension settings to suit the driver’s mood and conditions. For example, Efficiency enhances fuel economy during sedate cruising while Dynamic is the choice for fast driving on curving mountain roads.

Though the tester came with $8,600 worth of options, they did not include the $1,800 Audi driver assistance package, which covers such items as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic headlight high beams. It did have pre-collision sensing and other safety equipment.

There’s a seatbelt for a third passenger in back, but the seat is hard and compromised by a huge floor hump and center console.

The S5 has one of those oddball shifters that require a push on a button for “park.” If you push the shifter forward it lands in reverse. Happily, it automatically goes into “park” when you shut off the engine.

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Audi S5 Sportback 3.0 quattro Tiptronic four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6, turbocharged; 354 hp, 369 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 93/22 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,015 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/30/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $55,375.
  • Price as tested: $63,975.

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

2018 Audi S5 Sportback

Photos (c) Audi

2019 Kia Sorento SXL AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

2019 Sorento

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

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

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

2019 Sorento

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

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

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

2019 Sorento

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

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

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

2019 Sorento

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

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

2019 Sorento

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

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

2019 Sorento

Specifications

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

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

2019 Sorento

Photos (c) Kia

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