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Compact Crossovers

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Minor changes to a vehicle during its periodic life cycles usually are called a freshen or refresh in the industry, though it looks as if the Subaru engineers and designers took the bit in their teeth and ran with the second-generation 2021 Crosstrek, a small crossover sport utility vehicle. 

Among the changes: A smooth and powerful new engine shanghaied from the larger Outback and Legacy models, Subaru Eye Sight technology with adaptive cruise control and lane centering, new wheels and exterior design cues, and new colors: Plasma Yellow Pearl and Horizon Blue Pearl. 

There’s also a new model, or trim level, called the Sport, which comes with a special X-Mode all-wheel drive with hill descent control. It  carries some of the feature content of Subaru’s larger Outback Onyx, including a polyurethane water repellent and breathable seat covering called Star Tex, set off by yellow piping and stitching.

Most notable is the Crosstrek’s new 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four cylinder engine, which generates 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. It is mated to Subaru’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which has been refined to the point where even CVT deniers can find little to complain about. It has a manual shift mode that mimics an eight-speed automatic transmission, controlled by paddles on the steering wheel.

Variations of the horizontally opposed power plant, also called a boxer or flat engine, were used in many generations of Volkswagens and Porsches. Japan’s Subaru now is the only manufacturer that installs them in all its vehicles. 

In a boxer engine, the cylinders lie flat on both sides of the crankshaft instead of standing upright or leaning at an angle, as with inline or V configurations. Because of its short vertical profile it can be mounted in the engine bay’s basement, giving the vehicle a lower center of gravity, which enhances handling and stability.

Older boxer engines, including those in Volkswagens and some in the Subaru lineup, emit a distinctive exhaust sound, caused by unequal length headers, which affect the exhaust pulses. But the 2.5-liter in the Crosstrek has equal-length headers.

The result is a quieter engine that doesn’t sound like an arrhythmic boxer at all. It delivers a strong surge of power and glassy smooth operation—a revelation when you first get in the new Crosstrek and step on the throttle. For do-it-yourselfers, the new design also mounts the oil filter on top of the engine, simplifying oil changes.

But it’s no drag racer. Subaru rates the zero to 60 mph acceleration 8.2 seconds, not exceptional these days. The Crosstrek’s forte is comfortable cruising in a mostly quiet cabin, and capable handling around the curves aided by active torque vectoring for the all-wheel drive.

Cabin comfort is first rate for four, with supportive seats and a suspension system that gobbles road shocks. As usual in most vehicles these days, the center-rear seat is an uncomfortable perch with a large floor hump that keeps feet apart.           

The Crosstrek boasts some off-road capability, enhanced by 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Subaru’s surveys show that many owners take their Crosstreks on excursions into tough unpaved terrain.

This vehicle can take it. It incorporates copious amounts of lightweight high-strength steel in the body. Among other things, it enables the rear hatchback opening to be shaped squarely for easier loading of cargo. Subaru also installs connecting posts in the lower back doors that gain strength from the body structure for less flexing and protection in side impact collisions.

Though there are higher priced Limited and Hybrid models, the tested Sport came well equipped, requiring few options. The starting price is $27,545, including the destination charge, and the tester had a $1,600 option package that included a motorized sunroof, blind spot detection, lane-keeping assist and rear cross-traffic alert. 

It also had Subaru’s Star Link Multimedia Plus system, which included Apple Car Play and Android Auto, HD radio and SXM satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, and hands-free phone calling. The bottom-line sticker came to $29,145. 

If that’s out of reach, there are two lower trim levels — Base at $23,295 and Premium at $24,345. They use a trusty 2.0-liter boxer engine and, for enthusiasts, come with a standard six-speed manual gearbox. The CVT is optional. But the 2.0-liter is less powerful, at 152 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque.

With more than 757,000 sold since its inception in 2012, the Crosstrek looks to continue among  the chosen.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder; 182 hp, 176 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with a manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 101/21 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 3,296 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/34/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,545.
  • Price as tested: $29,145. 

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

Photos (c) Subaru

Driving at a Social Distance in the 2020 Audi Q3

by Jason Fogelson

Driving has become one of my calming tools during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am quite familiar with the social isolation we’ve all been experiencing, since I work by myself in my home office in the suburbs of Detroit. But still, there’s a big difference between working at home and sheltering in place. Every so often, the walls begin to close in, and I’ve got to get out. When I’ve got a special new crossover vehicle like the 2020 Audi Q3 S line 45 TFSI quattro in the driveway, the temptation to escape is even greater than usual.

My wife works in the public schools, so she’s been here at home this month as well. We’ve holed up in our respective corners of the house, each accompanied by a dog to keep us company. I always invite her to go for a ride with me – she’s very smart about cars, and often notices things from the passenger’s seat that I miss as a driver.

Right off the bat, we both admire the new exterior of the Q3, which has just entered its second generation of production. Q3 is now slightly bigger than before, and more crisply edged than before, giving it a more grown-up, executive feel that ties in nicely with the rest of the Audi lineup. Our test vehicle wears a striking coat of Turbo Blue paint, a bold choice that works well. 

Inside, Audi’s well-deserved reputation for classy interior design is on display. The dash is layered, with strong horizontal lines that help the cabin feel wide and expansive. All of the materials are precisely fit and of high quality. There’s a unity of design that matches the feel of the outside of the Q3. Our Q3 is a top-of-the-line example, fitted with the $6,900 Prestige package and the $500 Sport Interior package of options. The Prestige package includes technology upgrades galore: Alarm; HomeLink garage door opener; three-months of SiriusXM; Audi advanced key; Audi side assist with rear cross-traffic alert; Audi parking system plus; Lane departure warning; Aluminum inlays; wireless phone charging; full LED headlights; adaptive cruise control with stop & go; park steering assist; top-view camera; LED interior lighting plus package; stainless steel trunk sill and more.

Perhaps most significantly for the new Q3, the Prestige package includes the latest version of the Audi MMI touch response system with a 10.1-inch touchscreen (up from the standard 8.8-inch unit) and the 12.3-inch Audi virtual cockpit (up from the standard 10.25 inches). Virtual cockpit has been a marvel since it was released in the flagship Audi models several years ago, and is no less remarkable now that it has trickled down to the compact Q3. From a simple layout of tachometer and speedometer to a live Google Maps satellite view, the virtual cockpit is customizable and flexible. It works in coordination with the MMI and voice control for infotainment and telematics.

The new MMI now incorporates a haptic touchscreen. That means that you get tangible feedback when you use the touchscreen, as it seems to push back against your fingertip when you change settings or make selections. Executing functions and changing settings is very intuitive, especially to smartphone users (isn’t that just about everybody by now?). You can also trace letters and numbers with your fingers on the screen in certain situations, making for another easy way to interact with the system. I spent several hours in the driveway exploring the system, putting it through its paces and getting comfortable with its operation – a very rewarding distraction. I also spent time listening to the excellent Bang & Olufsen 3D surround sound system with 680 watts of amplification and 15 speakers. 

How about actually driving? Yes, I did that, too. Q3 uses a small displacement (2.0-liter) turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine that produces 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, which Audi says can get it from 0 – 60 mph in 7.0 seconds, which feels right. It uses a quick-shifting Tiptronic automatic transmission with eight speeds, and quattro all-wheel drive is standard. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway/22 mpg combined. Suspension is five-link independent front and rear. Audi doesn’t make a big deal out of it, but Q3 handles well, with a low center of gravity and a direct steering feel. The quattro system enhances cornering in all road conditions. Solid build quality and ample sound deadening control makes for a serene ride on the highway, and an all-around big-car ride quality for such a small crossover vehicle. 

Both my wife and I were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed spending time in the Q3, and at how much we found to admire about its interior over time. 

This compact luxury crossover category has gotten crowded with great choices in the past few years, attracting more downsizing sedan and SUV owners than expected as car makers make high-end features available across lineups. Compare Q3 to the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, Lexus NX, Infiniti QX50, Cadillac XT4, Volvo XC40, Land Rover Range Rover Evoque and others. 

Starting at $34,700 ($44,745 as tested), the 2020 Audi Q3 has what it takes to compete in the big leagues – and is a great way to get out of the house without violating any social distancing guidelines. 

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

Photos (c) Audi

Attracting Xennials in the 2020 Lexus UX 250h

by Jason Fogelson

I still find it difficult to think about a $40,000 vehicle as “entry level,” but the 2020 Lexus UX 250h is actually that – a doorway into the Lexus family. Lexus says that “UX” stands for “Urban Crossover,” and that the UX was designed to attract a micro-generation of Americans that they call “Xennials.” Xennials were born in the mid-1980s (putting them in their mid-30s now). They were born before the proliferation of smart phones and the internet, but they have come to adulthood in a digital culture. The 25 million American Xennials are connected, and comfortable with tech – so their cars have to be, too.

Profile Right

UX comes with Apple CarPlay, Lexus+Alexa, Google Assistant, Voice Command and Siri Eyes Free. It gets a seven-inch full color display as standard equipment, upgradable to 10.3 inches when factory navigation is selected. The Lexus Enform Remote app is standard with a three-year trial period, easily loaded on iOS and Android smartphones for access to vehicle information and control functionality. A three-month trial of Lexus Enform Wi-Fi is included. Four USB ports are standard in the cabin, and a QI wireless charging pad is available for just $75. That’s a load of tech, and up-to-the-minute.

When I first explored the UX during a launch event for the 2019 model, I got caught up in the distinction between a crossover and a hatchback. Ultimately, I’ve decided that there is no hard line, and it doesn’t really matter – it’s more marketing talk than it is an actual set of rules or measurements. I’ve always liked hatchbacks better than notchbacks anyway, and I have come to appreciate crossovers more and more as they’ve gotten better to drive and less tied to their SUV roots. UX isn’t concerned with looking rugged, or pretending that it can go off-roading with a flock of Jeeps. It’s right there in the name: Urban Crossover. UX is sized and shaped for the city. It is compact, yet roomy, with 17.1 cubic feet of storage space behind its second row of seats.

Dash

The interior is luxurious, but not overstuffed. It is tasteful, neatly tailored and still comfortable, with a nice material selection and great (Lexus-level) fit and finish. It’s got a Dwell flavor to it, rather than Architectural Digest – younger, more athletic and appropriate to a Xennial audience without pandering or losing the Lexus identity.

As a commuter/urban runaround, UX hybrid has the right powertrain and driving character. First of all, the EPA estimates that the crossover can achieve 41 mpg city/38 mpg highway/39 mpg combined – very respectable. It uses a 2.0- liter four-cylinder naturally aspirated (non-turbo) gasoline engine mated to an electric motor for a combined 181 hp, sent to the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) for maximum efficiency. Lexus estimates 0-60 mph times at 8.6 seconds, which will keep the UX 250h running with traffic, not ahead of it. The CVT can be a little monotonous and drone on the highway, but in everyday driving, it’s fine. Suspension and steering are similarly middle of the road, neither remarkably good nor bad. I wouldn’t want to take a long trip in the UX 250h, but that’s not what it’s built for. On a daily basis, it delivers exactly what it promises – a luxurious, pleasant, connected experience in a stylish, attractive conveyance.

Rear 3q Left

My test car was a 2020 Lexus UX 250h Luxury Hybrid with a suggested retail price of $39,550 ($43,625 as tested). That’s about 25% higher than the average price of a new car these days. The competition in the luxury compact crossover includes the BMW X2, Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, Audi Q3, Volvo XC40, Acura RDX, Infiniti QX30, Cadillac XT4, and Land Rover Range Rover Evoque – none of which are hybrids. You also have to include the gasoline-only Lexus UX 200 as a competitor, running about $2,000 less than a similarly equipped UX hybrid.

Will the UX 250h draw Xennials the way Lexus hopes? Possibly. But low fuel prices on one side and increasing availability of EVs on the other side may put the squeeze on this urban contender.

Rear

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

Photos (c) Lexus

 

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Whether someone becomes a fan of the 2020 Fiat 500X depends more on what the customer wants than the vehicle itself.

If the person’s orientation is toward a small crossover sport utility vehicle with some Italian styling panache, the 500X — especially in the Trekking trim tested for this review — would be a decent starting point.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

If, on the other hand, the customer is seeking a small crossover with more versatility, including moderate off-road capabilities, the choice likely would be the 500X’s fraternal twin: the Jeep Renegade.

If off-roading, or even all-wheel drive, are not in the equation, there are many small crossovers at reasonable prices to check out, including the Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V, Buick Encore, Subaru Crosstrek, Nissan Kicks and Rogue Sport, Hyundai Kona and Venue, Kia Niro and Seltos, and Mazda CX-3 and CX-30.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

The Renegade and 500X, products of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, share engines and transmissions, and are built in an FCA factory in Melfi, Italy. They also are similarly priced, though the Jeep is a bit more expensive because of its all-terrain equipment.

But the 500X, depending on the trim level, is not a bargain either. There are four trim levels: Pop, Trekking, Sport and Trekking plus. Tested for this review was the Trekking, which had a starting price of $27,490, including the destination charge. With options, it topped out at $34,550. Other models’ base prices range from $26,085 to $30,990.

1.3-liter direct-injection turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine 

All use the same engine and transmission combination: a small displacement, 1.3-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that nevertheless makes 177 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is standard, with a nine-speed automatic transmission — the same as the Jeep Renegade.

For such a tiny mill, the tested 500X felt strong on acceleration, though it was an illusion. There was some turbo hesitation off the line even with the standard idle stop-start turned off. Independent tests put the zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration in the eight-second range.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

Not particularly porky at 3,505 lbs, the 500X Trekking had respectable, though not outstanding, city/highway/combined fuel economy of 24/30/26 mpg.

With a fairly stiff suspension system and three adjustable modes — Auto, Sport and Low Traction — for  light off-roading, the 500X Trekking cruises fairly quietly on the public roads. But the ride is choppy unless the highway surface is pool-table smooth. However, the rigid underpinnings help the handling somewhat around curves.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

There was no opportunity to evaluate the 500X Trekking off-road, though the all-wheel drive would come in handy in wintry and other nasty weather. However, the 500X doesn’t come across as an ideal road car for a long trip. The front seats are hard, with little bolstering and aggressive seatback cushions that could contribute to driver fatigue.

Outboard seating in back has adequate headroom for average-sized adults, although knee room is in short supply. As with many modern vehicles, the center-rear seat is a hard, uncomfortable perch compromised by intrusion of the front console and a prominent floor hump that leaves no space for feet so they must be widely splayed.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

Behind the rear seat is a cargo area that is small even by subcompact crossover standards. It measures just 14 cubic feet, about the same size as the trunks in some compact sedans. However, folding the rear seatbacks nearly flat expands the area to 32 cubic feet. Rear seatbacks are divided two-thirds and one-third.

The tested 500X came with an optional double-pane glass sunroof. However, following a current fad even in some expensive European cars, the sunroof shade was made of a sort of perforated cheesecloth, which allowed the admission of too much hot sunlight. Sunroof shades should be opaque.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

As it should be for its $34,550 sticker, which included a pricey $1,495 destination charge, the tested 500X Trekking came with a high equipment level. Standard items included SXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, FCA’s U-Connect infotainment system with a seven-inch center screen, Bluetooth connectivity with voice command, passenger-seat height adjuster (it pleases shorter companions), automatic headlights and fog lights.

Options included a $1,395 an advanced driver assistance group with forward collision avoidance, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, cross-path warning, rain-sensing windshield wipers, front and rear parking assist and automatic high headlight beams.

Italian cars have always come with a certain indefinable appeal, more traced to styling and flair than deadbolt reliability. Most of the world’s renowned super cars — Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Alfa-Romeo — come from the land of pizza, gelato and Vespa motor scooters.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Fiat 500X Trekking AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.3-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 177 hp, 210 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 100/14 cubic feet. (32)
  • Weight: 3,505 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/30/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,490.
  • Price as tested: $34,550.

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

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

Photos (c) FCA

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

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Mojave

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

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

2020 Jeep® Renegade Trailhawk

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

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

2020 Jeep® Renegade Trailhawk

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

2020 Jeep® Renegade

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

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

*    *   *

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

 

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Mojave

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

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Mojave

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

2020 Jeep® Gladiator – interior

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

2020 Jeep® Gladiator – interior

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

2020 Jeep® Gladiator 3.6 Liter Pentastar V-6 engine

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

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

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Mojave

Specifications

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

*    *   *

2020 Jeep® Renegade Trailhawk

  • Model: 2020 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk 4X4 four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.3-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 177 hp, 210 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 11 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 100/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,320 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/27/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,290.
  • Price as tested: $35,770.

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

2020 Jeep® Gladiator Mojave

Photos (c) Jeep

2020 Mazda CX30 AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020_Mazda_CX-30_Interior_1Specifications

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

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

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

2020 Toyota C-HR Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018_Toyota_C_HR_19_79571FFC21B5C321825CAB95FDDAA9B8068E9AD4Specifications

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

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

2020_Toyota_CHR_04Photos (c) Toyota

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 4MATIC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If one were needed or wanted, you could label the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 4MATIC as the bargain luxury crossover sport utility vehicle from the storied German manufacturer.

It’s an all-new entry in the compact luxury category. With a starting price of $39,995 and a bottom-line sticker of $51,875, the tested vehicle is not exactly cheap but priced more like a near-luxury than a full-on luxury crossover.

_F8A4424-sourceIn the Mercedes SUV lineup, the GLB250 slots in between the entry-level GLA and the more expensive GLC. Mercedes uses European letter designations for its vehicle classes. In addition to the GLA, GLB and GLC, it offers the midsize GLE and full-size three-row GLS crossovers.

Curiously, the new GLB250 is nearly a carbon copy of its garage-mate, the GLC300. The latter is nearly an inch longer but has slightly less interior space. The GLB has 102 cubic feet for passengers and 20 cubic feet for cargo behind the second row. Also unusual, it offers the $850 option of a small third-row seat, which the tester did not have.

_F8A4400-sourceThe GLC, on the other hand, has 97 cubic feet of passenger room and 19 cubic feet for cargo. An older design, it does not offer a third row seat. All the foregoing numbers are for the all-wheel drive 4MATIC versions.

Power trains also are similar. Both have turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines. The GLB’s makes 221 hp with 254 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. The GLC’s delivers 255 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque.

The GLB comes with a dual-clutch eight-speed automatic transmission and the GLC uses a nine-speed conventional automatic. EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is 23/31/26 mpg for the GLB and 22/29/24 for the GLC.

_F8A4417-sourceAt least in the versions tested here, the GLC is more expensive than the GLB. The GLC starts at $43,495, or $3,430 more than the GLB. A loaded GLC noted earlier had a sticker of $63,615 with options, or $11,740 more than the GLB tested here.

Not to unduly muddle the discussion, we need to take note of a second, even more expensive GLC300 4MATIC. It’s the stylish Coupe version with a sloped roofline and the same engine/transmission combination as the crossover GLC. Tested previously, it had a base price of $50,995 and, with options, a delivered price of $67,615 — or $15,740 more than the GLB250 tested here. It makes the GLB250 look like even more of a bargain.

_F8A4482-sourceOf course, there are differences in equipment among all three. The tester lacked some items that are almost routinely expected in a Mercedes. For example, it had standard cruise control rather than the company’s excellent Distronic adaptive cruise control. There was no lane departure mitigation or a head-up display.

However, the tester had other safety equipment, including brake assist and blind-spot warning. It also was paragon of luxury with soft, dark-brown leather upholstery trimmed in black, sparkling interior trim and such items as a navigation system, dual-zone automatic climate control, Apple Car Play, Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, SXM satellite radio, power tailgate and a panoramic sunroof. Unfortunately, the sunshade was made of a flimsy cloth that admitted too much sunlight.

_F8A4508-sourceAll of that aside, the GLB250’s strength is in the driving experience. It’s not super fast, but respectable with the zero to 60-mph acceleration at less than seven seconds. But it is mostly hesitation-free. Even the idle stop-start system mostly works smoothly, although the preference here is to simply turn it off.

There’s tactile feedback through the steering while the GLB250 negotiates curving roads without much lean. Highway cruising is fatigue free and the cabin remains quiet enough for whispered conversation. Overall, it would be a vehicle of choice for long-distance travel.

_F8A4560-sourceExcept for any poor soul relegated to the center-rear seating position, which consists of a hard seat cushion and a floor hump to nag the feet, the driver and three other passengers are cosseted in large, supportive and comfortable seats. Rear seatbacks fold flat to expand the cargo area to 62 cubic feet. The GLB250 came with winter tires but no spare wheel.

There’s some fussiness. The infotainment functions and instruments are integrated into one wide video screen. Functions can be controlled by touch, a haptic pad on the center console or buttons on the steering wheel. More than once, a minor touch on one of them while turning the wheel changed a satellite radio station.

_F8A4491-sourceSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 4MATIC four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 221 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 102/20. (62)
  • Weight: 3,759 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/31/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $39,995.
  • Price as tested: $51,875.

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

_F8A4259-sourcePhotos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2020 Ford Escape AWD Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though not faring badly in the crossover sport utility wars, the 2020 Ford Escape enhances its chances with new weapons that include two hybrid versions — one standard and the other a plug-in.

In 2019, the compact Escape, a Ford mainstay since the 2001 model year, settled into fourth place among compact crossovers behind the best-selling Toyota RAV4, the second-place Honda CR-V and the third place Chevrolet Equinox. Escape sales bested those of the other prominent competitors: Jeep Cherokee, Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, Volkswagen Tiguan, GMC Terrain and Kia Sportage.

2020 Ford Escape

Ford, using a hybrid system similar to that of the best-selling Toyota Prius, was the first to introduce the fuel-saving technology into a crossover in 2005, then let it slide away.

Now it returns with the two hybrids. Front-drive Escape models are available as standard hybrids and plug-ins. The company says the latter can travel up to 30 miles on electric power alone. It has a city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 44/37/41 mpg.

If you order the Escape with all-wheel drive, the plug-is not available. But its standard hybrid power train, with a stingy 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine combined with an electric motor integrated into the transmission, delivers a combined 200 hp. The EPA fuel economy rating is 43/37/40 mpg, enough to give it an estimated range of 568 miles.

2020 Ford Escape

The all-wheel drive Titanium model, tested here, came to the market before the plug-in. Though expensive for a vehicle in this category, it exhibits characteristics that rival some near-luxury and luxury crossovers.

It has classy exterior styling, borrowing cues from the Ford Mustang, the new electric Mustang Mach-E and Ford’s GT super car. The last has a price tag of nearly half a million dollars. Elements transfer to the Escape, which presents clean, fuss-free lines.

Inside, the driver and passengers are cosseted in soft leather seats, surrounded by trim, materials and workmanship that would not be out of place in a Lincoln or Cadillac. No surprise, then, that the tested Titanium trim had a $35,995 price including the destination charge and, with options, topped out at $37,990. As an American Motors executive said years ago, “Americans want fuel economy, and they’ll pay anything to get it.”

2020 Ford Escape

It could be argued that this Ford Escape represents the epitome of what U.S. buyers currently are seeking in a compact crossover SUV. At 15 feet 1 inch in length and passenger space of 104 cubic feet with 35 cubic feet for cargo behind the second row, it exceeds the EPA’s definition of a large sedan like the Bentley Flying Spur.

Of course, it comes up short of the Lincoln Aviator from Ford’s luxury division, a three-row crossover that has 150 cubic feet of passenger space and 18 cubic feet for cargo, or 42 cubic feet if you fold the third row, which cuts the passenger room to 126.

2020 Ford Escape

Nevertheless, the Escape can carry up to five passengers and most of their stuff on a beach or ski vacation, assuming the snowboards and skis are tied down somewhere on the roof.

As with most modern hybrids, the only clue that this is not a standard gasoline-engine vehicle is the silence that results when you punch the start button. It simply announces that everything is “ready.” Then you drive it as you would any automobile.

Except for some tiny lag off the line, the Escape accelerates smartly and holds its own in any stoplight sprint or freeway on-ramp. There’s no hint of a transition between electric and gasoline power; they simply work in concert. Plus as a conventional hybrid, you never have to plug it in.

2020 Ford Escape

To help boost the fuel economy, the hybrid Escape boasts four hybrid settings: Auto EV, in which the onboard computer decides the mix of gasoline and electric power; EV Now, which delivers all-electric driving; EV Later, which switches to full gasoline-fueled driving to conserve electric power for later use, and an all-new EV Charge mode in which the battery charges continually for eventual use.

All Escape models, including the hybrids, also are equipped with five driver-selectable settings that adjust transmission shifting and other  functions to enhance fuel economy and performance under different conditions. They are labeled Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Snow/Sand driving.

And, by the way for duffers, Ford brags that the Escape can carry a foursome and their golf bags.

2020 Ford Escape

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Ford Escape Titanium AWD hybrid four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with 14.4 kw electric motor; combined 200 hp.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 104/35 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,706 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 43/37/40 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,995.
  • Price as tested: $37,990.

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

2020 Ford Escape

Photos (c) Ford

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