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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

2020 Nissan Versa SR: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Any modern vehicle manufacturer can produce a good automobile if price is no object. The trick is to build a decent, affordable small car like the 2020 Nissan Versa.

The Versa has been around for more than a dozen years as Nissan’s entry-level economy car. Marketed as a subcompact but usually with the interior room of a larger car, it was offered as a four-door sedan and a hatchback, recently called the Versa Note.

Versa MMP4a-sourceIt has been consistently popular and in 2018 was the best seller  against the Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit, Kia Rio, Toyota Yaris, Chevrolet Sonic and Spark, and Ford Fiesta.

For 2020, it may have a tougher uphill route because Nissan has axed the Note in favor of shunting shoppers toward its subcompact Kicks crossover sport utility vehicle, which some argue is more of a hatchback anyway because it does not offer all-wheel drive.

The 2020 Versa sedan is all-new, longer, lower and wider than its  frumpy predecessor, with more of a family resemblance to the midsize Altima. It even mimics European luxury brands by offering extra-cost exterior paint jobs.

One was the focus of this review, a top-line SR model done up in “Scarlett Ember,” one of eight colors. It cost an additional $395. Even at that, however, the test car had a bottom-line sticker of $20,040, about 15 grand less than the current average price of a new car.

Versa MMP10a-sourceBut if you have a tighter budget, you can order an entry-level Versa S with a base price of $15,625, including the destination charge. That’s with a five-speed manual gearbox. Add Nissan’s Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and the price jumps to $17,295.

That price covers full basic safety equipment plus automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, lane departure warning, rear-view camera (without line markers) and high-beam headlight assist. It also includes Siri eyes-free Google assistant with voice recognition. All Versa models come with pushbutton starting.

The cool thing about the S is that, like cars everywhere, it is equipped with the basics anybody would need, including the 122-hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 114 lb-ft of torque that delivers a government city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of  32/40/35 mpg with the CVT.

Versa MMP7a-sourceThat doesn’t sound like a hot car on paper and it is not. But the S and its sibling SV and SR trim levels are quite comfortable in any driving situation anyone is likely to encounter on American’s increasingly clogged streets and freeways.

You won’t win many stoplight drag races, but acceleration is strong enough for urban traffic, freeway merging and passing on two-lane roads as long as you allow enough space. The CVT transmission, which ordinarily has no shift points, is one of the better units of its kind, and Nissan incorporates a system called D-Step that adds a kick-down shift for more responsive passing power.

2020 Nissan Versa SV-1-sourceSurprisingly, the base S model rides comfortably and is nearly as quiet a highway cruiser as the SR test car, perhaps benefitting from smaller 15-inch steel wheels with plastic wheel covers and fatter tires than the 17-inch alloy wheels with skinnier sidewalls on the SR trim. There was little mechanical and wind noise, and the main intrusion — as on the top-line SR — came from the tires on the variety of irregular pavements found everywhere.

The tested top-line SR adds blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert, as well as automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, remote starting, leather-wrapped steering wheel and LED headlights.

2020 Nissan Versa SV-2-sourceIt also came with Nissan’s back-seat warning system, which could save the life of a child or pet left in a closed car on a hot summer day. The system activates when you open a rear door to place a child or something else in back. Later, when you shut down the engine and leave the car, visual and audio warnings are activated to remind you to check.

With 89 cubic feet of space for passengers, the Versa SR delivered supportive and comfortable so-called “zero gravity” seats up front, with upgraded cloth upholstery, and adequate head and knee room in the outboard back seats for average-sized humans. However, as in most cars, the center-rear passenger gets an uncomfortable perch with a floor hump and intrusion of the center console.

The trunk is uncommonly large for a compact car, at 15 cubic feet, and the rear seatbacks fold for additional cargo. However, the trunk lid’s C-hinges are not protected and could damage luggage and other contents.

2020 Nissan Versa

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Nissan Versa SR four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder; 122 hp, 114 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: D-Step Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 89/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,729 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 32/40/35 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $19,135.
  • Price as tested: $20,040.

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

Versa MMP2a-sourcePhotos (c) Nissan

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

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.

 

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