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2019 Volkswagen Beetle Final Edition: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Sniffles. After so many years it sounds so, well, final: the 2019 Volkswagen SE Beetle Final Edition, for this review the two-door convertible model. There will be waves of nostalgia.

This is a thoroughly modern automobile with all of the comfort and conveniences not dreamed of by owners of the originals in the middle of the 20th century. Think back on some of the differences.

2019_Beetle_Convertible_Final_Edition--8697The 2019 Final Edition convertible has a padded top, so tight and quiet you’d swear you were driving a luxury coupe. You can barely hear exhaust sounds. Old Bugs were raucous, with twin exhaust pipes that sometimes whistled while they worked.

Check out the automatic climate control. Set it and forget it. The reviewer’s ’65 Type 113 Bug came with little vents on the floor that carried warm air from the rear engine compartment into the passenger pod — maybe. Air conditioning? Swing the front vent windows all the way out to force that humid summer air inside. Notice the cranks on the doors? Open the windows and get a bit of exercise.

Grasp the 2019’s sturdy console lever that controls the six-speed automatic transmission. Totally not as engaging as the early Bugs’ fragile floor-mounted shifter with the tiny pancake shift knob for the four-speed manual gearbox. Truth be told, it was a delight to snick through the gears.

Historic_Beetle-Large-2284Sadly, the Final Edition’s engine is in the wrong place. It’s up front under the hood, where the trunk should be, instead of out back behind the wheels. Plus, it’s a 174-hp, turbocharged, upright four-cylinder engine, not a proper 40-hp boxer with its cylinders reclining like sunbathers.

The Final Edition comes with a small trunk of seven cubic feet. Bugs had their trunks up front plus a generous uncovered bin behind the rear seat.

That old ’65 Bug did have other advantages: Six-volt battery to keep the headlights so dim they would not blind oncoming drivers or light the road; windshield washers powered by air fed from the spare tire  in the trunk up front.

2019_Beetle_Final_Edition--8699Armrests? Padded beauties on the Final Edition. Nonexistent on many older Bugs because the German engineers decreed that owners should keep their hands on the steering wheels instead of elbows resting on armrests.

Though the Final Edition has that six-speed automatic transmission, you can order a six-speed manual if you want it. Some older Bugs came with a transmission called the Automatic Stick Shift, which one enthusiast magazine dubbed the A.S.S. It was so efficient, especially on the Bug’s big brother, the Microbus, that you could walk faster than it could accelerate from a stop sign.

Doggone it, Volkswagen finally went and did it. After all these years — nearly 80 overall and 70 in the United States — the rambunctious and familiar Bug, the modern New Beetle and, simply and finally, the Beetle, will be no more after the 2019 model year.

It actually was thought to be dead in an earlier time. After a slow start in the U.S. after World War II, it became wildly popular for its reliability and economy. More than 15 million of the little two-door sedans were sold from 1949 until 1955, beating out Ford’s model T as the best-selling single-model car of all time. It continued for two decades after that.

Historic_Beetle-Large-2295In 1975, the Bug ended its run, giving way to the Rabbit, called the Golf in other countries. But it was dead only in the U.S. It continued abroad in Brazil, Mexico and other places. Then, after selling 21.5 million cars overall, the last of the original Bugs rolled off the line in Mexico in 2003.

The U.S. Rabbit was different. Where the original Bug had an air-cooled, horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine mounted behind and driving the rear wheels, the Rabbit had a conventional liquid-cooled four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels.

Timeline_1976-Large-3786Though more modern, the fragile Rabbit was not the reliable equal of the old Bug. It lasted only about a decade until it was replaced by other Volkswagen models. But there still were no Beetles sold in the United States.

Then VW showed a prototype of a thing called the New Beetle, with updated attractive styling that resembled the original. It was displayed at the North American International Automobile Show and was an immediate hit. Volkswagen wasted no time in bringing it to market and it lasted until from 1997 to 2010, when it was replaced by a new version simply called the Beetle. That is the car that we mourn now.

Produkte: New Beetle USA Version (1998)
Enter a caption

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Beetle SE Final Edition two-door convertible.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 174 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 81/7 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,239 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/33/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,190.
  • Price as tested: $30,690.

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

2019_Beetle_Convertible_Final_Edition--8701Photos (c) Volkswagen

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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 Toyota Corolla XSE Hatchback: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

At least Toyota is not fudging anything with its first 2019 Corolla, coming right out and naming it the all-new Hatchback.

Time was, that could be the kiss of death — or languishing on the sales charts — because American buyers overwhelmingly rejected hatchbacks, preferring traditional sedans.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_003_2AA6E4B3409FB3B9FE48B09E67DA23689FACBF39_lowNow, in the wake of a tsunami of crossover sport utility vehicles, many little more than tall hatchbacks with optional all-wheel drive, the hatches appear to be making a comeback. At least that’s what the automakers’ prognosticators seem to think.

In the luxury realm, there are hatchbacks that don’t look like traditional hatchbacks — beautiful, streamlined fastbacks like the Audi A5 and A7, the all-new Kia Stinger, BMW 640i Gran Turismo and the Buick Regal Sportback.

Closer to the new Corolla Hatchback — that’s its official name — are a bunch of nifty and sporting hatches, some even deserving of the unofficial appellation of “hot hatch,” signifying high performance.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_017_2F320AA9564C0509E7208838EF0575E939D41FC0_lowThe template for much of this is the Volkswagen Golf, which has  economy models but also is available as the perennially popular, high-performance GTI, as well as the Golf R. Another in that category is the Honda Civic, which is available as a Sport hatchback and the highest-performance Type R.

But there are plenty of other competitors for the new Corolla Hatchback, earlier versions of which have been sold for years in other countries but not seen in the U.S. There’s the Hyundai Elantra GT, the all-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza, Chevrolet Cruze, Mazda 3, Kia Forte 5, Ford Focus and Nissan Versa Note.

The new Corolla Hatchback inherited its role because of a death in the family. Toyota decided to mercifully terminate its youth-oriented Scion brand, which had among its offerings a good hatchback, the iM. After Scion went away, the iM became a Toyota, now replaced by the new Hatchback.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_006_89FA51D77FDEF706918C528A4F285C9958ECC92B_lowThe biggest things the Hatchback has going for it are its neat styling, especially viewed from the rear, front-seat comfort, supple ride, and the fact that it is a Corolla, one of the most reliable vehicles on the planet and the biggest-selling nameplate in automotive history.

Though Toyota would like you to think of the Hatchback as having a “super hot hatch persona,” as one official described it, it is actually a modest performer. The hot stuff could come later, as it did with the Hyundai Elantra GT Sport and Honda Civic Type R.

It is an entertaining around-town runabout, with dimensions that enable its driver to shoot holes in traffic and park almost anywhere, but which has athletic moves at higher freeway speeds and around mountain curves. It could be anybody’s only car.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_026_3CE68E43AD4F76D5D4CD0C1A3FD05245E1E9CEA0_lowIf you are the sort who does mostly highway travel, pay a bit extra for the XSE model, which incorporates more sound-deadening insulation than the base SE, which tends to get noisy. You’ll feel more relaxed after an all-day drive.

The Hatchback is entertaining with either the six-speed manual gearbox or the continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). Some belt-driven CVTs, which do not have shift points, impart a sensation that the transmission is slipping, which is a turn-off for many critics.

The Corolla’s does not suffer from that malady because Toyota has incorporated a sort of locked and loaded first gear to get the Hatchback launched. It gets a good jump off the line and then the CVT takes over.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_032_27827E716510A450E55588DE3C6F4AEDBF6AE1FD_lowBut for enthusiasts, even inexperienced drivers, the stick shift should be the choice because it incorporates rev-matching — a relatively new technology that heretofore came on more expensive cars. When you downshift, the system revs the engine to match the lower gear to the speed of the car for a smooth transition.

From a size and power standpoint, the Hatchback slots neatly among its competitors. Where it falls a bit short is in interior space, especially for cargo. It has a total of 103 interior cubic feet, 18 of them behind the rear seat.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_036_516ED2D1AA5161E9F01C01B17C551C7E41D70DA9_lowThe Hyundai Elantra GT has 122 cubic feet including 25 for cargo, and the Honda Civic hatchback has 120 cubic feet with 23 for cargo. However, the fastback Subaru Impreza has 112 cubic feet with just 12 for cargo, though that likely is related to its fastback, all-wheel drive design.

For now, the Hatchback is the only Corolla newbie. Anall-new sedan is on the way but Toyota isn’t saying when. However, the existing sedan is a fine piece of work itself, offering a full suite of safety equipment on all trim levels.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_004_A30701A5B8031D23399774CC615604ECA1955101_lowSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Toyota Corolla XSE Hatchback five-door.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 168 hp, 151 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 85/18 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,060 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 30/38/33 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $25,010.
  • Price as tested: $26,610.

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

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_013_68CC86E5DFFA511E0325B0AEEB02FFB9D8B004C5_lowPhotos (c) Toyota

2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer 

2017_Mazda3_57If the 2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring were a lot more expensive,  it likely would be regarded as an exclusive high-class sedan. 

A longstanding favorite of driving enthusiasts, the Mazda3 is a quality compact with exceptional overall performance and many desirable features. Yet in 2017, it came in 10th in sales against the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Kia Forte, Volkswagen Jetta and Subaru Impreza.

Total Mazda3 sales amounted to a respectable 75,018, which included both conventional sedans and hatchbacks. Leading the compact pack was the Honda Civic with 377,286 sold, or more than five times as many as the Mazda3. In 9th place was the Subaru Impreza, an exceptional compact in its own right with standard all-wheel drive, which totaled 86,043 sales.

2017_Mazda3_exterior_005Sedans and hatchbacks are losing ground to sport utility vehicles, especially the car-based crossovers. At Mazda, for example, the CX-5 midsize crossover outsells all of the Mazda cars, including the Mazda3, Mazda6 and the MX-5 Miata two-seat sports car.

Still, there’s a solid cadre of American customers who prefer sedans — especially those with some sporting credentials — for pure driving enjoyment. That’s where a car like the Mazda3 Grand Touring comes in.

2017_Mazda3_55There are two versions: a five-door hatchback and the subject here, the traditional four-door notchback sedan, which comes with a choice of two engines. The base model, which is no slouch, is equipped with a 155-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic transmission.

The Grand Touring model, the subject here, uses a 184-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 185 lb-ft of torque. It is the torque, or twisting force, that delivers the excitement of strong acceleration off the line. The Grand Touring moves to 60 mph in about seven seconds, more than respectable for a compact sedan in the Mazda3’s price range.

Autodesk VRED Design 2016 SR1-SP4

For enthusiasts who like to shift for themselves, the tested Grand Touring arrived with steering-wheel mounted paddles to manually shift the six-speed automatic transmission. Though the transmission did fine on its own, the paddles were useful for holding gears on twisting, hilly roads.

With a starting price of $25,070, the tested Grand Touring with its six-speed automatic transmission is a bit more expensive than some of its compact competitors. Spiffed up with a short list of options, it came with a $28,470 bottom-line sticker.

2017_Mazda3_51That’s roughly $5,000 less than the average price of a new car these days. Yet it’s a complete package, with a full suite of safety equipment, including lane keeping warning and assist; low-speed automatic collision braking; blind-spot warning; adaptive cruise control; rear cross-traffic alert, and tire-pressure monitoring.

One of the options deserves a separate mention. It is Mazda’s adjustable  head-up display, which uses a separate screen that rises up from the top of the dashboard into the driver’s line of sight. In addition to a digital speedometer, it also reads traffic signs like speed limits and shows other information.

A center-mounted seven-inch color touch screen displays navigation and an array of vehicle functions as well as satellite radio and other entertainment data. Selections can be made from the screen or by using a rotary knob mounted on the center console. 

2017_Mazda3_36The Grand Touring sedan’s exterior styling borders on the generic for compact sedans, handsome without being offbeat or offensive. Where it stands out is in the interior materials, design and execution. The heated leather-covered sport seats on the test car showed quality workmanship and offered long-distance support and comfort up front.

However, the back seat was tight on knee and headroom for average-sized humans. Though there were seatbelts for three, the center-rear position should be reserved for emergency situations. The small trunk’s exposed hinges could damage contents.

Desirable equipment, both standard and optional, included a motorized glass sunroof; dual-zone automatic climate control; LED headlights, fog lights and taillights; pushbutton starting; keyless locking, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

2017_Mazda3_37On the road, the test car cruised quietly except for engine noises that intruded under hard acceleration. The electric power steering felt nicely weighted and responsive around curves and maintained a strong line in straight freeway cruising. A supple suspension system, abetted by 18-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires, helped the handling without sacrificing ride quality.

Mazda has long touted its SkyActiv technology, a holistic approach that covers every aspect of vehicle design, no matter how tiny. When you sweat the small stuff, you get something like the Mazda3 Grand Touring.

2017_Mazda3_56Specifications

    • Model: 2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring four-door sedan.
    • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder, 184 hp, 185 lb-ft torque.
    • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
    • Overall length: 15 feet.
    • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/12 cubic feet.
    • Weight: 3,100 pounds.
    • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/36/30 mpg.
    • Base price, including destination charge: $25,070.
    • Price as tested: $28,470.

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

2017_Mazda3_27.jpgPhotos (c) Mazda.

 

2018 Kia Rio EX: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Translated from Spanish, the 2018 Kia Rio means “Kia River.” A better name would be Kia Alegre, which translates into frisky, merry or joyful.

It even could qualify as a Kia Perrito, or puppy. That’s the sense you get chasing around in this new compact car, which comes as a four-door hatchback or conventional four-door sedan. It is entertaining and eager to please, though with a few faults like any puppy.

As South Korea’s Kia has evolved into a full-line manufacturer of cars, crossover sport utility vehicles and even a minivan, the Rio hasn’t received much attention. But it is the company’s top seller world-wide, owing to its low price, tidy dimensions and good fuel economy.

2018 Rio

In the U.S., the Rio competes against an array of subcompact and compact economy cars: Chevrolet Spark and Sonic, Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris and iA, Nissan Versa, Fiat 500, Mitsubishi Mirage and Mini Cooper.

The fourth generation Rio presents new styling, a carryover but improved 130-hp engine with 119 lb-ft of torque, new suspension system tuning and a choice of a six-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox.

Unfortunately for enthusiasts who might want the stick shift, it only is available on the base LX trim level. Though the LX is hardly a hair-shirt proposition, it lacks some desirable features like cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, alloy wheels, split folding rear seatback, power windows, fog lights, heated outside mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, and lighted vanity mirrors. Then again, it has a sticker price of just $14,795.

2018 Rio

In a rarity deserving of a standing ovation, all Rio trim levels come standard with SXM satellite radio. Economy cars from other manufacturers require the buyer to buy a more expensive version simply to get SXM. There’s no navigation system but you can run one through your smart phone with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

At the national introduction in Baltimore, MD, Kia offered only the fully-equipped top-line EX four-door hatchback with the six-speed automatic transmission. There was no opportunity to test the notchback sedan, manual gearbox version or other trim levels.

With a base price of $19,595 and a special launch edition price of $20,095, which included two-tone black and red leather upholstery, the Rio EX hatchback was uncommonly well equipped for a compact economy car. That’s a smart move because there are any number of buyers out there who want a small car for its fuel economy, maneuverability and ease of parking, but don’t want to stint on the amenities.

2018 Rio

The Rio EX has plenty of those. Though its standard upholstery is a handsome embossed cloth — preferred by many, including this reviewer — a leather package is optional. Also part of the EX package: full safety equipment with autonomous emergency braking, seven-inch center screen with infotainment functions and a rear camera, 15-inch alloy wheels, tilt and telescoping steering column, leather-wrapped steering wheel, tire pressure monitoring and power windows with one-touch up and down on the driver’s side.

In urban traffic, the Rio EX has a frisky personality, quick moves and, with its strong power train, a capability to easily pop through gaps in traffic. With four-wheel antilock disc brakes, it also stops with authority. The LX and S trim levels have front disc brakes and drum brakes on the rear wheels.

2018 Rio

Driving at high speeds on freeways is another matter. Though the tested Rio had no trouble merging from ramps and keeping up with traffic, the steering had a loose feel with a tendency to wander, requiring frequent steering corrections. That could become tiring on a long trip.

However, the Rio hatchback had little difficulty tracking on curving roads. It obviously is no sports car but its steering and suspension system combine to hold a decent line around corners as long as you don’t move too fast. At the same time, the ride is not punishing except on very rough roads.

Inside, there’s decent comfort for four people, though there are seatbelts for five. The front seats deliver long-distance support and the back seats offer ample headroom, though knee room is in short supply. As with most cars, the center-rear seat is an unyielding, uncomfortable cushion.

Kia has plenty of decent cars for the masses. Abetting the Rio, there’s the best-selling Soul, now with a turbocharged model (unfortunately only with an automatic transmission), and the superb Forte5 turbo hatchback, which also offers both a stick and an automatic, and is one of the better performance machines around.

2018 Rio
2018 Rio

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Kia Rio EX four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 6-liter four-cylinder; 130 hp, 119 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall Length: 13 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 91/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,714 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/37/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $19,595.
  • Price as tested: $20,095.

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

2018 Rio

Photos (c) Kia.

 

2017 Kia Soul Exclaim: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer 

Always a good and faithful servant, the 2017 Kia Soul gets some fire in the belly.

It comes in the guise of a 201-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 195 pound-feet of torque. It is the most power ever in the Soul’s brief history as a mainstay of the South Korean manufacturer’s lineup of sedans, hatchbacks, crossover sport utility vehicles and the Sedona minivan.

2017 Soul Turbo

But it’s going about its new role in a covert way. It is not a separate Soul. Rather, it is one of a trinity of trims. The $16,950 base version comes with a 130-horsepower, naturally-aspirated 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. The midlevel $20,650 Plus has a 161-horsepower, 2.0-liter four.

To get the turbo engine, you must order the top-line Exclaim, which Kia identifies simply with an exclamation point (!). In an expression of modesty—or perhaps cachet for the cognoscenti—the Exclaim carries no turbo identification badges. So it could surprise some lead foots in stoplight sprints.

Unfortunately for enthusiasts with limited bucks, the Exclaim does not offer a manual gearbox. The easy-shifting six-speed stick comes only on the base Soul. A six-speed automatic transmission costs an extra $1,600 on the base model and is standard on the Plus.

2017 Soul Turbo
2017 Soul Turbo

Order the turbo Exclaim and the only transmission is a performance-oriented seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which delivers snappy shifts and a manual mode to shift for yourself, though there are no steering-wheel shift paddles. If you must have a manual gearbox, Kia will happily direct you to its Forte 5 hatchback, offered with the six-speed stick or seven-speed twin-clutch automatic.

Kia likes to refer to the Soul as a crossover SUV. Strictly speaking, however, it doesn’t fit the definition because it has front-wheel drive and does not offer all-wheel drive. In that respect, it is similar to the new Toyota C-HR and Kia Niro, both of which are front-drive only.

2017 Soul Turbo

But the Soul does qualify as unique in the marketplace, though it used to have competition from the Nissan Cube and now-defunct Scion xB, both of which were squared-off hatchbacks.

Since its introduction in 2009, the Soul has been an unqualified success for Kia. When 2017 closes out, it will be on the threshold of a million sales in the United States. The new Exclaim turbo likely will contribute substantially to that milestone.

Likely nobody buys a Soul for sport. Its essence, or soul if you will, is that of a roomy, comfortable and economical car with up-high seating and tidy exterior dimensions that make it easy to maneuver and park. The bonus is its interior volume of 125 cubic feet, which the government classifies as a large car.

2017 Soul Turbo

Twenty-four of those cubes await behind the second row seatback, which is about double what you get in a typical compact sedan. Fold the seatbacks, the space jumps to 61 cubic feet and the Soul becomes a small cargo truck with seats up front for two soul-mates.

That’s true of all Soul models, of course. What the Exclaim adds, though not without extra cost, is a sporting personality. With the snap-shifting twin-clutch automatic, it gets a solid leap off the line and nails 60 mph in a smidgen more than seven seconds, according to an instrumented test by Car and Driver Magazine. Top speed is 125 mph.

2017 Soul Turbo

The performance ingredient continues with handling and braking. Though the Soul would not be much of a challenge on twisting roads to some sports sedans and two-seaters, it hustles around curves confidently with little body lean.

Moreover, the Exclaim qualifies as frugal by modern standards. City/highway/combined EPA-certified fuel consumption works out to 26/31/28 mpg on regular gasoline. Its $23,500 base price is about 10 grand less than the average price of a new car these days. The tester was so well equipped that the only option in its $23,620 delivered price was $120 for carpeted floor mats.

2017 Soul Turbo

At that price, the Exclaim is uncommonly well equipped with features that cost extra even on some luxury cars, including: 18-inch alloy wheels, flat-bottom sport steering wheel, automatic climate control, stability management, hill-start assist, Android Auto and Apple Car Play, Bluetooth connectivity, SXM satellite radio, push-button starting with smart key, and power windows, locks and outside mirrors.

The fastest growing vehicles now are small crossover SUVs. Though they offer all-wheel drive, many are sold with front-drive. If that’s the choice, the Soul is a fine alternative.

2017 Soul Turbo

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Kia Soul Exclaim four-door hatchback.
  • Engine:6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 201 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/24 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,250 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/31/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $23,500.
  • Price as tested: $23,620.

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

2017 Soul Turbo

Photos (c) Kia.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel sedan, General Motors places a long-odds bet that oil-burning passenger vehicles have not met their end of days in the U.S. marketplace.

Except for heavy-duty trucks and long-distance 18-wheelers, Americans have never fully embraced diesels, remembering the days in the latter half of the 20th century when most diesels were smelly, slow and often wouldn’t start in cold weather.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel

Those negatives have gone away. Modern diesels, especially in luxury cars, behave unobtrusively and most drivers would be hard put to distinguish them from gasoline-engine automobiles.

Yet the old prejudices continue, now augmented by the scandal in which Volkswagen faked emissions tests for nearly 11 million diesel-engine vehicles world-wide, including about 500,000 in the U.S.

About half of the passenger vehicles in Europe use cheaper diesel fuel and get about a 30% improvement in mileage over comparable gas burners. They also get high marks for durability. But it is becoming increasingly expensive to scrub the foul emissions. The CEO of Sweden’s Volvo said recently that the company likely would not develop a new-generation diesel engine.

The 2017 Cruze Hatch offers the design, engineering and technological advancements of the 2016 Cruze sedan in a functional, sporty package with added cargo space.

Moreover, the mayors of Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have announced that they planned to ban diesel cars and vans from the centers of their cities by 2025 to reduce air pollution.

Cities in the U.S. have an easier clean-air pathway because only about 5.3 million of the 264 million passenger cars and light trucks on the road nation-wide are diesel-powered. In 2016, less than 1% of the total 17.5 million light vehicles sold were diesels.

It was a poor diesel sales year partly because of the Volkswagen scandal, which now has caused the German manufacturer to eschew diesels entirely in the U.S. That opens the way for Chevrolet and a few others to fill the gap for the remaining diesel enthusiasts, who might account for several hundred thousand annual sales.

cq5dam.web.1280.1280-2The Cruze is an ideal candidate for diesel power. It is a sedan (or hatchback) that resides in the compact class, just a few cubic feet shy of the interior space that would get it a midsize classification. Unlike its predecessors, the forgettable Cobalt and Cavalier, it was so carefully designed and engineered that it won one of the “10 Top Picks” in the Consumer Reports 2017 Annual Auto Issue.

Most impressive, according to CR, was that its testers managed 47 mpg in highway driving, though the EPA gave the Cruze a 42-mpg rating. That was with the standard 153-hp 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine with 177 lb-ft of torque.

The EPA rated the city/highway/combined mileage of the diesel Cruze tested here at 31/47/37 mpg. It is powered by a 137-hp 1.6-cylinder diesel (also turbocharged) that develops 240 lb-ft of torque.

The 2017 Cruze Hatch offers 47.2 cubic feet of rear cargo room with the back seats flipped down.

That number is what gives this Cruze a sense of performance in acceleration off the line because the torque, or twisting force, makes itself felt at lower engine revolutions than with the gasoline engine. A new nine-speed automatic transmission efficiently sends the power to the front wheels. (A more engaging six-speed manual gearbox costs $1,600 less).

But it’s no drag racer and it is encumbered somewhat by a mileage enhancing stop-start system, which builds in a bit of hesitation moving away from a stoplight. Unfortunately, it cannot be turned off but can be defeated by simply lifting a foot slightly off the brake pedal.

The first ever Cruze Hatch blends sporty design with the versatility of a hatch making it adaptable for urban to outdoor adventures.

There are other minor downsides to the Cruze diesel. Its engine noises are raucous—more so under hard acceleration. Its equipment is similar to the midlevel LT trim, which means it does not have automatic climate control or sun visors that slide on their support rods to adequately block sunlight from the side. That omission adds a couple of bucks to the profit margin, but why? Curiously, previous Cruze models did have a sliding sun visor—only on the driver’s side.

Other than that, the tester had a high level of equipment for its base price of $26,270. It included full safety equipment, pushbutton starting, air conditioning, a Wi-Fi hotspot, SXM satellite radio, navigation, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Options added lane departure and blind-spot warning, a motorized glass sunroof and leather upholstery for a $29,655 sticker.

Given the outstanding fuel economy of the gasoline Cruze, the question is whether buyers will spend the extra $2,795 for the diesel-engine model. But it’s there for those diesel devotees and others who might want one.

The first ever Cruze Hatch blends sporty design with the versatility of a hatch making it adaptable for urban to outdoor adventures.

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel four-door sedan.
  • Engine:6-liter four-cylinder diesel, turbocharged, 137 hp, 240 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 94/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,172 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 31/47/37 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $26,270.
  • Price as tested: $29,655.

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

cq5dam.web.1280.1280Photos (c) Chevrolet.

2017 Audi S3 quattro: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With its 2017 A3 and S3 models, Germany’s Audi redefines the meaning of “entry level.”

Yes, they are the first-step introduction to the company’s extensive lineup of luxury/high performance sports cars, sedans and crossover sport utility vehicles. But they are anything but base.

Their only nod to the entry label is their classification as subcompact cars. With a total of slightly more than 96 cubic feet of interior volume, they reside in the U.S. government’s subcompact range of 85 to 99 cubic feet. That includes 86 cubic feet for passengers and 10 cubic feet of trunk space.

That has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is a tidy footprint. At 14 feet 8 inches long, they exhibit quick and precise handling, especially in the all-wheel-drive quattro models, along with a capability of doing rapid U-turns almost anywhere.

news-2017-audi-s3-10The main disadvantage is a small trunk and a back seat that anyone over 6 feet tall likely would find challenging, with restricted knee and head room. As with most sedans these days, the outboard rear seats are comfortable but the center-rear position—with a hard cushion and big floor hump—should be reserved for backpacks or watermelons.

The A3 was introduced to plaudits as a 2016 model. Now, for 2017, there’s a family of four: A3 in sedan and convertible (Cabriolet) models with either front-drive or all-wheel drive; high-performance S3 sedan with quattro all-wheel drive, and the e-tron plug-in hybrid four-door hatchback.

Audi chose the new S3 as the 2017 launch vehicle. With standard all-wheel drive, it is powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 292 horsepower and 280 pounds-feet of torque. That considerable power gets to the pavement through a snap-shifting six-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission that also can be manually shifted with paddles on the steering wheel.

news-2017-audi-s3-9Audi says the S3’s zero-to-60 mph acceleration time is 4.7 seconds, with a top track speed of 155 mph (or 130 with all-season tires). It’s unlikely anybody would try that on a regular basis, but the confidence of instant power is always present.

The A3, with a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, comes with 186 horsepower and 221 pounds-feet of torque. That’s with front-wheel drive and a starting price tag of $32,150. Order it with Quattro all-wheel drive, and the 2.0-liter four-cylinder delivers 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The sticker is $35,100.

None of the prices are in economy car territory and options boost the stickers even higher. The tested S3 had a starting price of $43,850 and when the extras were added the bottom-line cost came to $51,325.

news-2017-audi-s3-24Leather upholstery is part of the standard equipment, unlike the man-made faux leather on some other luxury cars. It also includes full safety equipment, automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, satellite and HD radio, smart phone interface with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, and a seven-inch infotainment screen that hides in the dash and rises majestically when the S3 wakes up.

Among the options were a navigation system, Bang & Olufsen premium audio system, 19-inch custom wheels with high-performance summer tires, magnetic ride control, cross traffic alert, sport seats and soft Nappa leather upholstery. Curiously for a car in this price class, all the S3’s front seat controls are manual, although they offer a myriad of adjustments to accommodate almost anyone.

One minor annoyance is the shade for the panoramic sunroof, which is made from a perforated cheesecloth-like material that allows way too much sunlight to intrude. This is a current fad embraced by too many luxury cars. Sun shades should be opaque.

news-2017-audi-s3-23But driver satisfaction and entertainment is the bottom line on the S3 sedan. Under any circumstance you might imagine—short of rough off-roading, which you would never do anyway—the S3 accelerates strongly, shifts swiftly, brakes strongly, handles with intuitive competence, tracks cleanly on straightaways, promises reliability and delivers a ride that is sporting stiff but compliant and not uncomfortable.

The only thing some owners in areas of foul weather might do would be to swap out the 155-mph summer tires for the 130-mph all-season tires. As much grip as they deliver in handling and stopping on dry surfaces, the summer tires get tricky in messy circumstances.

Because of its price, the S3 is not a car for everybody. However, you can order a lightly optioned A3 with front-drive and almost as much driving satisfaction—at a price near what an average new car sells for nowadays.

news-2017-audi-s3-11Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Audi S3 quattro four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder, turbocharged, 292 hp, 280 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 86/10 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,462 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/28/24 mpg. Premium recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,850.
  • Price as tested: $51,325.

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

Photos (c) Audi.

 

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