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The Review Garage

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

2020 Toyota C-HR Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though almost anyone would classify the 2020 Toyota C-HR as a crossover sport utility vehicle, the company prefers to refer to it as a designer blend of a sport coupe, hatchback and compact crossover.

That’s understandable. There’s little question that it is a stylish upgrade of a small wagon that does not exactly fit a crossover definition because it lacks an all-wheel drive option.

2020_Toyota_CHR_02It’s a trend. The C-HR, which was introduced as a 2018 model, competes now against at least three other front-wheel drive nameplates that are marketed as small crossover SUVs: The Kia Niro, Nissan Kicks and Hyundai Venue.

Others that offer all-wheel drive as well as front-drive include the Chevrolet Trax, Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Mazda CX-3 and CX-30, and the Honda HR-V. They are all part of a movement away from traditional subcompact and compact sedans toward more practical crossover-type vehicles that resemble hatchbacks or tall station wagons.

2020_Toyota_CHR_01The invention of the crossover was a futuristic marketing ploy by manufacturers. American buyers disdained hatchbacks and station wagons so the manufacturers simply gave their hatches a higher profile, added optional all-wheel drive, called them crossover SUVs and now they’re threatening to overwhelm the market—and not only in economy models. There’s no category that is immune — from the C-HR category to Bentley and Rolls-Royce.

The C-HR — it stands for Coupe/High Rider—was introduced as a 2018 model, mainly to compete with Honda’s HR-V, which unlike the C-HR does offer an all-wheel drive option. Though it has four doors, the C-HR mimics a coupe-like profile by mounting the outside rear door handles high up in the door frame.

2019_Toyota_CHR_08_5D136A3A848C374977E705590CB469C99A9FCCA1But the design has a downside. The funky styling, similar to Toyota’s Prius Prime hybrid, results in a sloping coupe-like roof that dictates small side windows for the back seat. Combine that with large headrests on the front seats and the rear-seat passengers may imagine they’re spelunking in the cutout of a cave.

Back seat denizens can barely see out of their dark quarters, and getting in and out takes some torso twisting. Commendably, however, they do have decent head and knee room except for the poor center-rear passenger, who must contend with a high, hard cushion, a floor hump and intrusion of the front console.

2018_Toyota_CHR_RCode_33_A41762A49FDD63D1B895CFE0084833CDED3C0C9AFor 2020, the snazzy millennial looks get complemented by a re-styled front fascia, LED lights and special wheels for different trim levels. There are three: LE, XLE and the tested top-line Limited, which also sported “Supersonic Red” paint two-toned with a black roof. The combination tacked $945 onto the base price of $27,740, which gave the test car some of the aura of high-end European luxury cars, which typically extort extra dollars for special paint jobs.

Other than looks, however, the C-HR rolls on much as it did when it was a newborn. The 144-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine still makes 139 lb-ft of torque with an identical city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of  27/31/29 mpg.

2018_Toyota_CHR_RCode_08_BFFE72057860224A1DCEDDFD07A89763BC1E1826With a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the C-HR won’t win too many stoplight drag races. However, it is eagerly responsive and feels a lot quicker off the line and in passing than the numbers would indicate. For control-freak drivers, there’s a quick-shifting mode that mimics a seven-speed manual. There are no steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters; you must use the console shift lever, which actually is more engaging.

Engaged drivers likely will select the Sport driving mode, which enhances throttle responsiveness and holds the CVT’s simulated upshifts to higher revs to enhance acceleration. Blasting off from a ramp onto a fast-moving freeway to meld with the traffic is a breeze but pay attention to merging.

2019_Toyota_CHR_RCode_32_EBA46173FCDFFB8258B0792DB829027B582ED459In keeping with Toyota’s current attention to safety, all trim levels get full basic safety equipment, including pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive radar cruise control.        Moreover, even the lower trim levels come equipped with SXM satellite radio along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Other enhancements on the tested Limited included voice recognition, Bluetooth streaming and phone connectivity, and WiFi hotspot.

Though the C-HR’s cargo area is compromised somewhat by a high load floor to accommodate the full-size temporary spare wheel and tire, its 19 cubic feet of space exceeds that of many midsize sedans. It’s part of the reason that these agile little vehicles, with their low prices and high fuel economy, are taking over.

2018_Toyota_C_HR_19_79571FFC21B5C321825CAB95FDDAA9B8068E9AD4Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Toyota C-HR Limited four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 144 hp, 139 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 86/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,300 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/31/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,470.
  • Price as tested: $28,860.

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

2020_Toyota_CHR_04Photos (c) Toyota

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

2020 Lexus RX 450hL AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though they don’t rack up huge sales numbers, luxury crossover utility vehicles like the 2020 Lexus RX450hL operate in a highly profitable, and therefore competitive, place in the market.

In that territory, the Lexus RX continues as the best-selling nameplate. The addition of the 450hL, a midsize gasoline/electric hybrid with six- or seven-passenger seating, should help maintain that distinction.

2020_Lexus_RX450hL_02_B419CCEE05FD93C1324D9F072A2231E3087A74001Lexus, the luxury division of Japan’s Toyota, also is the best-selling brand among luxury manufacturers that sell SUVs and crossovers.

In 2019, the Lexus nameplates — UX, NX, RX, GX and LX — had total sales of 217,139 in the United States. Mercedes-Benz of Germany had a slightly larger total of 218,148 but two of its eight nameplates — the Sprinter and Metris vans — are commercial vehicles that together had 41,635 of those sales. For counting purposes, luxury crossovers and SUVs are classified as trucks.

The Lexus RX came on the market back in 1998, right after Mercedes-Benz introduced what was widely regarded as the first luxury SUV, the ML320. But the RX was a crossover, built with a unit body like a car, while the original ML320 was designed like a truck with body on frame construction. It has since converted to a crossover design.

2020_Lexus_RX_450hL_03_8EBCB13234463AD450880174D2F5FDEBA45450DC1The 2020 RX450hL’s forte is silent running in plush comfort, with a suspension system that absorbs nasty road surfaces while still delivering decent handling, though it’s not the sort of vehicle you’d want to enter in an autocross.

It comes with a host of standard and optional equipment to testify to its luxury status, including such items as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive radar cruise control, blind-spot monitoring with parking assist, rear cross-traffic braking, an informative head-up display that shows the compass, tri-zone automatic climate control, auto-dimming and heated outside mirrors, motorized glass sunroof, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, power hands-free tailgate, SXM satellite radio and Mark Levinson premium audio.

2020_Lexus_RX_450hL_06_2B21FFCA34432D4CE1D52CBFB37344C9A67EF2E71An annoyance is the fussy console-mounted touchpad that controls infotainment and other functions on the center screen. It requires focused attention and should not be used while under way.

The RX450hL doesn’t come cheap, though it is less expensive than some of its luxury crossover competitors. Base price of the tester, including the destination charge of $1,025, was $57,485. With options, the bottom line suggested delivered price came to $65,340.

The hybrid system consists of a 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine connected to two electric motors — one for the front wheels and the other for the rear wheels. On the tested all-wheel drive model, the system’s 308 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, gets to all four-wheels through Toyota’s gear-driven continuously variable automatic transmission.

2020_Lexus_RX_450hL_13_5086ED6AAE7EDB539987485C444F6D26FAAB40B11There are no shift points. You sense rather than feel that the engine seamlessly controls rpms to provide maximum power and efficiency. Even using the steering wheel paddles to drive in manual mode, which mimics a six-speed automatic transmission, there’s almost no sensation of shifting.

To broaden the RX’s appeal, Lexus introduced the L model in 2019 but stretched it by four inches over the five-passenger version to make space for a third row of seats. The L can accommodate six with captain’s chairs in the second row or seven with a second-row bench seat.

But it’s a squeeze, and even more so in the hybrid 450hL hybrid version. Where the gasoline-engine RX350L has 121 cubic feet of passenger space and 19 cubic feet for cargo behind the third row, the hybrid RX450hL has 114 cubic feet for passengers and just 8 cubic feet for cargo.

2020_Lexus_RX_450hL_16_0BC25A96F8C13A59D5201AD12FB94E9F10BC0F451The culprit is the hybrid battery pack, which resides underneath the second row of seats. That raises the floor, which stretches into the cargo area. (A compact spare wheel and tire are stashed outside). Even with about eight inches of second-row seat travel, it’s not enough to adjust passable knee room for passengers in the second and third rows.

On the tested six-passenger RX450hL, the two second row captain’s chairs delivered luxurious space and comfort when pushed all the way back. But that virtually eliminated knee room for anyone in the third row.

So it’s best to simply touch the power button to fold the third row and keep it tucked away, which expands the cargo area to 24 cubic feet. But the seats still are available for emergency transportation of backpacks, watermelons or the family dogs.

2020_Lexus_RX450hL_012_A0E1C49D26B5F0BCCB1666042FC5BC14A865885D1Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Lexus RX 450hL AWD Lux hybrid four-door, three-row crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motors: 3.5-liter V6 gasoline with two electric motors; combined 308 hp, 247 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 114/8 cubic feet. (23, 34)
  • Weight: 4,905 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 29/28/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $57,485.
  • Price as tested: $65,340.

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

Lexus_RX_450hL_01jpg_25CC5457FD664F12CABA89FF8F8AC3BC60E51A6BPhotos (c) Lexus

2020 Toyota Camry TRD V6: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though the sport oriented 2020 Toyota Camry TRD is distinct from its more expensive Avalon TRD sibling, you could argue that the two sedans actually are fraternal twins.

Both have been massaged by the Toyota Racing Development team, hence the TRD designation. Though the Avalon is marketed as a large car and as Toyota’s flagship, it is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a midsize car and is almost the same size as the Camry.

20_CamryTRD_SupersonicRed_MidnightRoof_0031The Camry is 16 feet 3 inches long with 99 cubic feet of space for passengers and 15 cubic feet of trunk volume. The Avalon is an inch longer, at 16 feet 4 inches, with 103 cubic feet of passenger space and a trunk of 16 cubic feet.

The two cars also use the same engine and transmission combination: a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 301 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission controlled by paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel. They have the same city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 22/31/25 mpg.

Both have received extensive TRD modifications to their body structures, suspension, exhaust systems and brakes to heighten the driving experience with better handling and a more sporting feel.

20_CamryTRD_SupersonicRed_MidnightRoof_001The big difference is that the Avalon is more luxurious with a higher level of equipment — and therefore is more expensive — than its Camry counterpart. An Avalon TRD reviewed recently for this column came with a base price of $43,255 and a tested price of $45,410.

However, the Camry TRD tested for this review started at $31,995 and had a bottom-line sticker of $32,920. So a buyer can get some of the same driving buzz and save anywhere from $11,260 to $12,490.

Based on the Camry XSE trim level, the TRD model came with underbody braces for a more rigid structure, stiffer coil springs and sway bars, special TRD shock absorbers, lightweight black alloy wheels and high performance tires — all aimed at improved steering and handling over other Camry versions. Stronger brakes with shorter pedal travel enhanced the package.

Camry_TRD_008_C784C2FDC14583F188032FF4B5EA58CB9443CFABAll of that reported for driving duty during testing. Though there was no opportunity to compare the TRD with every other Camry that ever existed, the overall impression strongly suggests that this is best-handling Camry ever. Acceleration is swift and braking is superb, though the ride necessarily is taut because of the stiffened body structure and suspension system. Off the line, the Camry TRD can effortlessly nail 60 mph in a bit more than five seconds, according to independent tests.

Though not needed except for looks, the Camry TRD is distinguished by a trunk mounted spoiler that comes as part of a $500 appearance package. Other embellishments: brake calipers painted red and a prominent gloss black grille, along with exterior trim and interior TRD items that include red seatbelts and stitching, and striped cloth inserts for the leatherette trimmed seats.

Standard safety equipment: pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assistance, brake assist, radar adaptive cruise control, and automatic high headlight beams.

Camry_TRD_012_CBEA3134B72223A118ECF89B38084379F933A146Inside convenience items included pushbutton starting, automatic climate control, six-speaker audio system, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, a manually-adjusted front passenger seat with height adjustment welcomed by shorter passengers, seven-inch infotainment screen, hands-free Bluetooth connectivity for audio streaming and smart phone, SXM satellite radio and two USB ports.

One serious shortcoming: reading the instruments. The Camry TRD’s speedometer, odometer and other gauges were done up with pale red numbers and other indicators on a black background. There was backlighting but it was so dim that it was difficult for even a driver with 20-20 eyesight to read the speedometer, and impossible in bright sunlight. There was no way to adjust the daytime lighting intensity though the gauges were more visible at night.

Camry_TRD_010_D78DD0799D47C0248647DC0314B96E535569272CToyota’s Camry has been the nation’s best-selling midsize sedan for nearly two decades, although like other four-doors it has been losing ground as buyers flock to crossover sport utility vehicles like Toyota’s own RAV4 and Highlander.

That’s certainly part of the reason for the 2020 Camry TRD. Manufacturers often deliver special models of existing cars during their brief generations to spark buyer enthusiasm. The Camry TRD comes across as one of those. At its relatively modest price, it delivers an embraceable driving experience along with family car practicality and Toyota’s reputation for reliability and durability.

Now, if Toyota would just brighten the speedometer for better readability.

20_CamryTRD_SupersonicRed_MidnightRoof_004Specifications    

  • Model: 2020 Toyota Camry TRD V6 four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 301 hp, 267 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 99/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,572 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/31/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,995.
  • Price as tested: $32,920.

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

Camry_TRD_011_4340B2057ABBFD07AC0AA10A7E2067DE8141CBB0Photos (c) Toyota

 

 

2020 Ram 1500 Limited Crew Cab 4X4: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Comparing the 2020 Ram pickup truck to a luxury car is tempting, but it’s something like putting a manatee in the same tank as an Atlantic salmon.

The manatee is big, lovable and graceful but slow moving, like the Ram 1500 Limited Crew Cab 4X4 that is the subject here. A smaller Atlantic salmon has quick, fluid moves — not unlike the 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLS450 4MATIC Coupe four-door reviewed here earlier.

2020 Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn EcoDiesel

That Mercedes had a starting price of $73,445. The Ram tested for this review, with options, checked in at $74,910. So the only thing these two vehicles have in common is a nosebleed price tag.

That’s becoming increasingly common as fans of pickup trucks seek out the most expensive, well-equipped models. They do double duty for hauling, towing and formal nights at the opera — or black tie and boots at the rodeo.

If there were any doubts that this Ram truck is a luxury vehicle, start with the gleaming paint job: “Diamond Black Crystal Pearl Coat.” Follow that inside to the black, leather trimmed seats with the red and black designer inserts.

2020 Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn EcoDiesel

At its starting price of $58,660 the Ram Limited Crew Cab comes with four-wheel drive and a load of standard safety and convenience equipment: blind spot warning and cross-path detection, air suspension system, pushbutton and remote starting, and remote tailgate release.

Inside: Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity, SXM satellite radio, wireless smart phone charging, dual-zone automatic climate control, wood and leather wrapped heated steering wheel, power adjustable pedals with memory, heated and ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats.

About those seats. There are five supportive and comfortable spots for almost any torso. Unlike most luxury cars, which have seatbelts for five but an impossibly uncomfortable center-rear seat compromised by a hard cushion and prominent floor hump, the Ram 1500 has a flat floor and a center-rear seat that is as roomy as the outboards.

2019 Ram 1500 Limited

The rear seats are divided two-thirds and one-third. Seatbacks fold for extra cargo carrying capability. There also were cargo box dividers under the optional tonneau cover on the test truck.

Where the price starts to climb comes with the optional $4,995 diesel engine. It is a 3.0-liter V6 that makes 260 hp and a whopping 480 lb-ft of torque to enable effortless towing. Power gets to the rear wheels or all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.

This diesel Ram can tow up to 12,560 lbs and carry a payload of 2,040 lbs. Its EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 21/29/24 mpg—not bad for a nearly 20-feet long monster that weighs 5,735 lbs.

2020 Ram 1500 Limited

It’s also tall so it should satisfy drivers who like to sit up in the stratosphere and look down at smaller humans in lesser machinery. The tested Ram makes it easy even for height-challenged owners with running boards that automatically deploy when the doors are opened.

Besides the diesel engine, the tested Ram came with a load of luxury options that included: black aluminum wheels and exterior trim, premium audio, a tri-fold cargo tonneau cover, tow hooks, adaptive radar cruise control with stop and go, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning, surround-view rear camera, perpendicular and parallel parking assist, multifunction tailgate and a dual-pane panoramic sunroof. It also had a 33-gallon fuel tank, which could give it a range of nearly 800 miles.

2020 Ram 1500 Limited

For the driving experience, go back to the manatee comparison. Sure, the gentle marine mammal is sometimes referred to as the sea cow. But it is as graceful under water as a mermaid ballet dancer, though in slow motion.

The Ram 1500 Limited 4X4 fits that template. Its size limits anything that resembles pinpoint handling. Though the steering is responsive, full attention is required on twisting roads to avoid any quick moves. With the air suspension system, decent insulation and good seats, the ride is quiet and comfortable, even without a load. Braking is capable, and the adjustable pedals and steering wheel make it easy for most people to find a comfortable driving position.

The diesel engine delivers strong and steady power, especially for towing, even managing a zero-to-60 mph acceleration time of less than eight seconds. Moreover, most people would be surprised to know there was a diesel engine clattering under the hood because of the engineered-in silence and sound deadening materials.

2020 Ram 1500 Limited

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Ram 1500 Limited Crew Cab 4X4 four-door pickup truck.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6 diesel; 260 hp, 480 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with four-wheel drive high and low range.
  • Overall length: 19 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger volume: 126 cubic feet.
  • Payload: 2,040 lbs.
  • Towing capability: 12,560 lbs.
  • Weight: 5,735 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/29/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $58,660.
  • Price as tested: $74,910.

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

2020 Ram 1500 3.0-liter V-6 EcoDiesel engine

Photos (c) FCA

2021 Hyundai Elantra: A DriveWays Preview…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Historians may one day view the 2021 Hyundai Elantra as America’s first coronavirus car.

It’s possible because of the unusual global introduction of the all-new sedan. The event had been scheduled as a glitzy Hollywood production for a group of automotive journalists from around the country.

The novel coronavirus changed all that. Close to the event on Mar. 17, the South Korean manufacturer was forced to disinvite the entire press corps because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the nation.

Large-40594-2021ElantraBut the show went on anyway, via YouTube from the Lot Studios in West Hollywood and headlined by José Muñoz, Hyundai’s president and CEO, along with other company heavyweights.

The Elantra is Hyundai’s best-seller, though its sales slipped from 200,415 in 2018 to 175,094 in 2019 amid the surging popularity of crossover sport utility vehicles. It dates back to 1990 and has had 3.4 million total sales in the U.S., according to Muñoz.

Large-40585-2021ElantraAll new from the tire patches up, the seventh-generation Hyundai sedan is longer, lower and wider than its predecessor, but only by inches or fractions of an inch so interior space has actually increased slightly.

It is 15 feet 4 inches long and 4 feet 8 inches high.

The lower profile gives the Elantra a passing resemblance to cars like the low-slung $73,445 Mercedes-Benz CLS450, a four-door that the German company calls a Coupe. Muñoz said the Elantra was aimed at “young disrupters” or people with a disruptive spirit.

Large-40602-2021ElantraThough marketed as a compact, the Elantra likely will be classified as a midsize by the government based on its total interior volume. Without a sunroof, it has 116 cubic feet of interior volume, divided into 102 cubic feet for passengers and a trunk of 14 cubic feet. With a sunroof, the passenger space drops to 99 cubic feet but it is still comfortably in the midsize category.

The Elantra  comes both as a standard gasoline model or, for the first time, as a gasoline-electric hybrid. Standard on the gasoline SE, SEL and Limited models is a 147-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 132 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. It is mated to Hyundai’s IVT, a continuously variable automatic transmission that electronically mimics the shifting behavior of a standard automatic.

Large-40584-2021ElantraThe Elantra Hybrid uses a 1.6-liter gasoline engine with a 32-kW electric motor. Together they deliver 139 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Mated to a six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission, the Hybrid is projected to deliver a combined city/highway fuel economy rating of more than 50 mpg.

Hyundai’s Smart Sense safety equipment includes forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping and lane-centering assist, automatic headlight high beam switching, driver fatigue detection, safe exit warning of a vehicle approaching from behind, emergency backup braking and a rear-view camera with guidelines.

Large-40580-2021ElantraOptional equipment includes adaptive radar cruise control, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance and blind-spot warning. Other new available features include a navigation system, natural voice control for a multitude of functions, Hyundai’s digital smart-phone key with wireless charging, wireless Apple Car Play and Android Auto, and dual Bluetooth connectivity so a phone can be used simultaneously with streaming audio.

At the introduction, there was no word on whether the Elantra would continue to be available as a hatchback or as a high-performance N model. No prices were announced.

Large-40588-2021ElantraPhotos (c) Hyundai

 

2020 Nissan Sentra SR Premium: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Every so often, an automobile rolls onto the national stage and surprises the critics. The 2020 Nissan Sentra has done that — certainly in this reckoning.

It’s a compact sedan from the Japanese manufacturer that has been around for 32 years, usually undistinguished and an also-ran competing with the compact class leaders — the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-10-sourceBut the all-new version bears no resemblance to its predecessors. The step up is a good thing because Sentra sales have been dropping, mainly because of the surge in popularity of small crossover sport utility vehicles like Nissan’s own Rogue, Kicks and Rogue Sport. Between 2018 and 2019, the Sentra’s U.S. sales dropped by 28,428 to 184,618.

The 2020 model not only will have to overcome that but also will be hobbled by Nissan’s intention, reported in Automotive News, the industry Bible, that the company initially will not offer the Sentra for sales to rental car companies and other fleets.

It will have to stand on its own merits with the general buying public. Well, guess what? If you have any doubts, take a test drive, as we did.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-12-sourceIt’s short of astounding but it is an eye opener. This new Sentra stands out as a desirable, roomy, well-performing compact sedan that  bunches of people can afford to buy and operate. Moreover, it has the bones to attract customers who could easily buy something more expensive.

Take the Sentra SR Premium tested here. The starting price, including the destination charge, is $22,355. Loaded with every option, the bottom-line sticker price came to $25,325. That’s somewhere around $12,000 less than what the average new car sells for these days.

The Sentra’s starting price for the base S version is $20,015. There’s also a midlevel SV version. Previous SR Turbo and performance Nismo models are not available — at least for now.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O_s-sourceLike all the 2020 Sentra models, the base S and SV come with full safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert with automatic rear braking, lane-departure warning, blind-spot warning and tire pressure monitoring. In addition, all Sentra examples have rear-door alert to prevent a driver from forgetting a child or pet in the back seat.

The tested SR Premium also came with pushbutton starting and remote locking, leatherette seats (heated in front), a motorized glass sunroof, automatic climate control, six-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar adjustments, rear camera with around-view monitor, LED headlights and fog lights, heated steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear trunk-mounted spoiler, premium Bose audio system, SXM satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.

Besides the pleasantries on the pricing and equipment lists, the tested 2020 SR Premium presented itself well on the highway stage. With all-new styling, it had the signature Nissan V-Motion grille, which to the eyes of this viewer has a sort of sad-sack look.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-3-sourceNever mind. The tester was done up in two-tone Monarch Orange and Super Black exterior colors, with the now familiar Nissan floating roof design. The color scheme would do justice to a BMW, Lexus or Audi.

According to the U.S. government, the Sentra straddles official size classes. With the sunroof, as on the tested SR, it is classified as a compact. But without that amenity, it creeps just barely into the midsize category.

Either way, there’s plenty of room and comfort for four, with good bolstering on the front seatbacks for spirited driving on curving roads. Rear seat head and knee room are adequate, though getting in and out of the back seat requires a bit of agility. Even the center-rear seat can carry a fifth passenger because the cushion is not too hard and the floor hump not too tall.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-5-sourcePower gets delivered to the front wheels from an all-new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 149 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque. That may not sound like much to hot rodders, but in everyday driving it’s plenty. With the responsive Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the Sentra is rapidly responsive to throttle inputs.

Some critics deride CVTs but Nissan has vast experience with the transmissions, which are buttery smooth without shift points except when you punch the pedal to pass. Then the Sentra’s kicks down like a standard passing gear.

Handling on twisting roads is flat with little body lean. The suspension system soaks up most road irregularities for a decent ride under most circumstances and the interior is reasonably quiet except for  tire noise that varies with road surfaces.

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-14-sourceSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Nissan Sentra SR Premium four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 149 hp, 146 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Xtronic continuously variable automatic and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 94/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,084 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/37/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $22,355.
  • Price as tested: $25,325.

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

2020 Nissan Sentra_O-13-sourcePhotos (c) Nissan

2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With a few caveats, it looks as if the 2021 Kia Seltos follows the winning ways of its siblings from the South Korean manufacturer, especially the critically acclaimed Telluride.

A small crossover sport utility vehicle, the Seltos teeters in size between subcompact crossovers like the new Hyundai Venue and compacts like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. In fact, it’s almost the same size as the compact Kia Sportage — just four inches shorter with four fewer cubic feet of space inside.

2021 Seltos

But it has some of the same appeal of the new Telluride, where the Sportage, in SUV and crossover guise, has been around since 1998. The Seltos has rugged, SUV-stylish looks, a well-designed interior and, in the tested S model, outstanding driving dynamics and performance.

However, there are a few shortcomings, mainly owing to the fact that the only way to get some equipment is to choose which of five versions, or trim levels, fits your desires.

For example, on the tested S Turbo version with the 175-hp 1.6-liter engine, which delivers 195 lb-ft of torque, there is no pushbutton starting, exterior-touch locking, automatic climate control or SXM satellite radio. It has a starting price of $26,610, including the destination charge.

2021 Seltos

To get those items you must move up $2,400 in price to the top-line $29,010 SX all-wheel drive model, which has the same turbocharged engine and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. But then you must give up the S version’s excellent and comfortable cloth upholstery and seat yourself on leatherette.

Lower trim levels somewhat make up for the lack of satellite radio by including Apple Car Play and Android Auto so people can play music and navigation from their smart phones.

The S Turbo and SX are the only models with the upgraded engine and transmission. Others, including the base S with front-wheel drive, have a 145-hp, 2.0-liter engine with 132 lb-ft of torque and a continuously-variable automatic transmission.

2021 Seltos

All versions come with all-wheel drive except for the base S, which has front-wheel drive. Its starting price is $23,110 — the same as the LX with all-wheel drive. The S also can be ordered with all-wheel drive.

All Seltos versions come with basic safety equipment, including rear occupancy alert, tire-pressure monitoring, hill start assist and downhill braking control. But the LX does not have forward collision mitigation with pedestrian detection. To get that, you must order one of the upper trim levels.

Also, some of the more sophisticated safety and convenience items like blind-spot warning, lane keeping assist and rear cross traffic alert, are not available on the LX. If you want adaptive cruise control, it’s available only on the top-line SX model.

2021 Seltos

One very unusual oversight on the tested S Turbo, the sun visors did not slide on their support rods to fully block sunlight from the sides. The South Korean manufacturers Kia and Hyundai have been in the forefront of including such items, as well as other convenience and safety equipment, even in base models.

Carping aside, the Seltos S Turbo — there was no opportunity to drive the lower powered versions — delivers an entertaining, even exciting, driving experience with handling more akin to a sports sedan than a small crossover. It is rabbit-quick off the line with little or none of the dreaded lag as the turbocharger spools up. Zero to 60 miles an hour happens in the six-second range but it feels quicker, especially with rapid throttle response for passing or jumping lanes in traffic.

2021 Seltos

The Seltos name is an adaptation of Celtus, a character in Greek mythology who was the progenitor of the Celtic people. But Kia changed the spelling to better connect it to “speed” and “sport.”

At 5 feet 4 inches including the roof rails, the Seltos is not particularly tall. But it has the look of a serious crossover SUV, unlike its funky smaller sibling, the Kia Soul.

In a smaller, less expensive package, the Seltos, especially in the top-line SX trim, has some of the same appeal as the Telluride, which was voted Utility of the Year by an independent group of 50 automotive journalists from around the United States and Canada, including this reviewer.

It would help its case if, as needed on the tested S Turbo version, a few additional stand-alone options like pushbutton starting and SXM radio were available. And Kia, please equip the Seltos with proper sliding sun visors.

2021 Seltos

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 175 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 99/27 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,317 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/30/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $26,610.
  • Price as tested: $26,740.

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

2021 Seltos

Photos (c) Kia

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