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Compact Crossovers

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

2019 Kia Niro EV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Although it sometimes seems as if Elon Musk’s Tesla gets all the publicity, an increasing number of fine electric vehicles are rolling into the market. An intriguing new one is the 2019 Kia Niro EV.

It is an engaging small crossover sport utility vehicle that also comes as a gasoline-electric hybrid or a plug-in hybrid. The EV competes against half a dozen other electrics in the sub-$40,000 category, including the Chevrolet Bolt, Kia Soul and Nissan Leaf hatchbacks; the Hyundai Kona subcompact crossover, and the Tesla Model 3 sedan.

2019 Niro EV

Because South Korea’s Hyundai owns about 38% of Kia, the Niro EV shares its power train with the Hyundai Kona, though with slightly different tuning. Kia and Hyundai gasoline and hybrid models also share engines and transmissions but do their own designs, styling and other components.

The Niro EV uses a 356-volt electric motor that delivers 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque. Power makes its way directly to the front wheels because electric motors deliver maximum torque immediately so there’s no need for a conventional automatic transmission.

Though Kia lists the zero to 60 mph acceleration time at 7.8 seconds, independent tests put it in the 6-second range. Top speed is 104 mph and the government rates the electric equivalent city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 123/102/112 mpgE.

2019 Niro EV

Among the current purely electric powered vehicles, the Kona EV delivers a respectable advertised range of 239 miles on a full charge, less than the Kona’s 258 miles. However, the Niro is heavier, five inches longer than the Kona and more expensive. Also, you are likely to get fewer miles in real-world driving.

You can enhance the range two ways: Select the Eco drive mode instead of Normal or Sport, which increases motor drag to regenerate the battery pack. You also can use the steering-wheel mounted paddles to accomplish the same thing, even in Sport mode. However, the owner’s manual does not tell you how the paddles work.

If you opt for the Niro EV, with all its virtues, make sure to invest in a Level 2 240-volt charger, which will recharge your Niro in nine hours and 35 minutes, easily overnight. If you stick with your standard 110-volt household outlet, figure on a weekend. That charging time is 59 hours. If you have access to a 100-KWh DC fast charger, you can top up your Niro’s battery to 80% in an hour. All numbers come from Kia.

2019 Niro EV

The Niro’s base price is $37,995, including the destination charge. But because it is new it qualifies for the federal government’s $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicle purchases. The credit has phased out for the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3. Unfortunately, for now the Niro is available in only 12 of the 50 states: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington.

Tested for this review was the top-line Niro EV EX Premium, which had a starting price of $44,995. It includes full basic safety equipment plus forward collision avoidance, lane keeping and following assist, driver attention warning, blind spot collision warning and rear cross-traffic alert, and stop-and-go adaptive cruise control.

2019 Niro EV

In addition, the tested EX Premium came with automatic climate control, heated and ventilated leather-upholstered front seats, navigation system, motorized sunroof, Harman Kardon premium audio, SXM satellite radio, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, wireless smart phone charging, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, power driver’s seat, and LED headlights and taillights.

On the road, the Niro EV is a sprightly performer. With the electric motor’s instant torque, it gets a quick jump off the line while other automobiles and trucks are just getting revved up.

2019 Niro EV

The steering has a hefty feel, not unlike that of some European luxury cars. It validates the old adage that a small car should drive like a big car, and vice versa. Small bumps and potholes do not upset the suspension system, which easily soaks them up.

However, the Niro EV’s short wheelbase — the 8 feet 10 inches distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels — results in some fore-and-aft pitching on undulating surfaces.

Overall, the handling is competent and secure, partly due to the Niro’s low center of gravity. The battery pack is housed under the floor. Front seats are well bolstered and the outboard back seats deliver space and comfort.

2019 Niro EV

Specifications    

  • Model: 2019 Kia Niro EV EX Premium four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 356-volt permanent magnet synchronous electric motor; 201 hp, 291 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed direct drive automatic; front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 97/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,854 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined mpgE: 123/102/112.
  • Advertised range: 239 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $44,995.
  • Price as tested: $47,155.

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

2019 Niro EV

Photos (c) Kia

2019 Buick Envision: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Some potential customers might hesitate because the 2019 Buick Envision is, in fact, a Chinese-made crossover sport utility vehicle with 86% of its parts made in China, not a quintessentially American vehicle.

Nowadays, almost everything you pick up is made in China: shoes, clothing, appliances, you name it. We haven’t minded much, even when the quality may not be great, because the prices are competitive. There’s also a soft spot because China was our ally in WWII, though not in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

2019 Buick Envision

It’s an old story. After World War II, Japanese products started coming into the U.S. They were widely derided — cheap but of poor quality. Later, after the American reconstruction of Japan, the situation reversed, especially with automobiles, when Japanese cars like Toyota and Honda became quality benchmarks.

In recent years, South Korea followed Japan and delivers high quality cars and crossovers from Hyundai and Kia.

Now we’re seeing increasing numbers of vehicles made in China, which has become the world’s biggest market for cars and light trucks. In 2018, sales in China totaled more than 23 million, compared to more than 17 million in the United States. Chinese manufacturers are exploring exporting vehicles here.

2019 Buick Envision

We can visualize the Envision, Buick’s luxury compact crossover, as a bellwether for vehicles to come. Moreover, it is well designed and  has earned good quality and reliability ratings.

Tested for this review was the all-wheel drive Premium II trim level. It had a base price of $44,795 and, with options, a not-inexpensive sticker of $48,435.

It came with full safety equipment, some optional. Included were automatic collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, surround-vision rear camera, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and a head-up display.

2019 Buick Envision

A full suite of connectivity features included OnStar services and Buick Infotainment with an eight-inch center screen, navigation with voice recognition, Bluetooth audio streaming, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and SXM satellite radio.

Though some other modern luxury cars have systems that are irritatingly complex, the Envision keeps things simple. For example, instead of going through a series of annoying steps to pre-set radio and satellite stations, in the Envision you simply find the station and touch the screen to save it.

Comfort and convenience features included tri-zone climate control, power tailgate, perforated leather upholstery with heated and cooled front seats, heated outboard back seats, memory settings for front seats and outside mirrors, panoramic sunroof with opaque sunshade and one-touch operation, and a Bose premium audio system.

2019 Buick Envision

The tested Envision was powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 252 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque A nine-speed automatic transmission sends the power to the pavement. A stop-start system contributes to city/highway/combined fuel economy of 20/25/22 mpg.

Though not as luxurious as some competitors like the Acura RDX and the as-yet untested 2020 Lincoln Corsair, the Envision has a well-designed interior. Front seats and outboard back seats are comfortable but without much bolstering. The floor is flat in back, but the center-rear seat has a hard cushion.

Outside mirrors are mounted on the doors with a small window pane forward so shorter drivers can see curbs and other obstacles. A nice touch: all four outside door handles have lock/unlock buttons.

2019 Buick Envision

Controls are intuitive and white on black backlighted instruments are easy to see and comprehend. One shortcoming: the nine-speed automatic transmission can be shifted manually but with a dinky button on the side of the shift lever. There are no steering-wheel paddles or a separate slot on the shift gate.

On the road, the Envision comports itself capably but without any sporting pretensions. The ride is compliant and comfortable, and the steering and handling feel secure under most circumstances, though you would not want to chase somebody in a sports sedan on twisting mountain roads.

2019 Buick Envision

The turbo engine delivers acceleration that will not be embarrassing in the urban stoplight sprints. Punch the pedal to the floor and you could hit 60 mph in the neighborhood of seven seconds. But the Envision is more endearing as a comfortable around-town and freeway cruiser, as befits its luxury orientation.

In the end, with this entry in the compact luxury crossover category, design and features trump country of origin. It may be built in China with Chinese parts but the Envision is a modern Buick through and through.

2019 Buick Envision

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Buick Envision AWD Premium II four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 252 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/27 cubic feet. (57)
  • Weight: 4,083 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/25/22 mpg.
  • Based price, including destination charge: $44,795.
  • Price as tested: $48,435.

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

2019 Buick Envision

Photos (c) Buick

2019 Toyota RAV4 XLE: A DriveWays Review…

byFrank A. Aukofer

There’s no better indication of the relentless onslaught by crossover utility vehicles than the 2019 Toyota RAV4, which arrives with a medley of 13 stylish versions, including gasoline and hybrid powertrains with all-wheel or front-wheel drive.

As it teases the public with the all-new 2020 Toyota Corolla sedan — the company’s all-time best-seller with 45 million copies sold since its introduction in 1966 — the RAV4 has muscled its way to the top of the compact crossover category.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_02Last year it outsold the Corolla and the company’s onetime best-seller, the midsize Camry sedan. In 2018, the RAV4 is selling at an annual rate of about 424,000, outpacing the Camry’s 348,000 and the Corolla’s 309,000. The latter includes the new 2019 Corolla Hatchback.

With the buying public’s appetite for crossovers, that should continue for the foreseeable future. The RAV4’s major competitors — the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Ford Escape — will be in the chase, though the Rogue is an anomaly because Nissan lumps two different vehicles — the Rogue and Rogue Sport — into a single sales statistic.

Other competitors, including the Subaru Forester, Mazda CX-5, Chevrolet Equinox, Jeep Compass, Dodge Journey, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, should continue strong but with lower numbers.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Group_04The array of new RAV4 models starts with the front-wheel drive LE trim level at $26,545 and ranges up to the all-wheel drive Hybrid Limited with a base price of $36,745. However, options increase the prices on all versions, up to $40,375 for the top-line Hybrid Limited. Prices include a $1,045 destination charge.

All RAV4 trim levels come with Toyota’s second-generation Safety Sense suite of active safety capabilities and technologies, including pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive radar cruise control, automatic headlight high beams, lane-departure warning and mitigation, and lane tracing and road sign assists.

Also standard on all RAV4s is Toyota’s Entune 3.0 multimedia system, which includes Wi-Fi with capabilities for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as Apple Car Play compatibility. The system uses a seven-inch touch screen.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_45Of the 13 RAV4 versions, four are hybrids: LE, XLE, sporty XSE and Limited. There also are four gasoline-engine models with front-wheel drive: LE, XLE, XLE Premium and Limited. The remaining nine versions, including all of the hybrids, come with all-wheel drive. That includes a separate, gasoline-only Adventure with a price tag of $33,945 that can tow up to 3,500 pounds.

Gasoline models are powered by a new 203-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 184 lb-ft of torque. They come with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Hybrids use a different tune of the 2.5-liter engine with 176 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque working with an electric motor. Combined, the system delivers 219 horsepower. The transmission is a continuously-variable automatic. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 41/37/39 mpg.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_59Though other models were driven, the focus of this review is on the more economically-priced but well equipped XLE model with front-wheel drive. It has an EPA fuel economy rating of 27/34/29 mpg. The starting price is $28,345 and options boost the sticker to $31,545.

Standard equipment included a motorized sunroof, power rear lift gate, folding outside power mirrors with blind spot warning, Bluetooth connectivity, LED outside lights, dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton starting and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Option packages provided an upgraded Entune system with SXM satellite radio, eight-inch touch screen, eight-way power driver’s seat, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated steering wheel and front seats, and five USB ports.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_47The RAV4 has passenger space that rivals that of a midsize sedan along with 38 cubic feet for cargo. The back seats are split 60-40 and recline as well as fold for additional cargo.

Inside, the tester delivered long-distance comfort and space for four passengers. The fifth person in the center-rear has a less comfortable seat but OK head and knee room. Seats all-around were upholstered in sturdy cloth with contrasting stitching. Armrests and trim were of soft-touch material.

On the road, the tested RAV4 exhibited more than adequate acceleration in passing, abetting an unscientific estimate of a zero to 60 mph acceleration time in the neighborhood of eight seconds. The more powerful hybrid was a bit quicker.

The cabin was quiet with little intrusion of mechanical or road noise on smooth roads, though rough pavement sounds reverberated inside. Handling was secure around curves with steady tracking in straight-line driving. The brake pedal felt a bit soft, especially on hybrid models, but stopping was not affected.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_08Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Toyota RAV4 XLE four-door crossover utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 203 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 99/38 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,380 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/34/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,345.
  • Price as tested: $31,545.

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

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_06Photos (c) Toyota

2018 BMW X2 xDrive28i: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

BMW, the Bavarian Motor Works of Germany, has been masterful at plugging holes in its high-performance luxury lineup, especially with crossover sport utility vehicles. Now, with the 2018 X2 xDrive28i, it’s even filling a small gap where there was no hole.

The company, somehow sensing that crossovers would be the next big thing, already marketed the X1, X3, X4, X5 and X6 crossover SUVs, plus higher-performance M versions of the X5 and X6. Most are built in the company’s plant in Spartanburg, SC, and exported around the world.

P90278977_highResNow it has slipped the X2 between the smallest X1 and compact X3. But unlike its garage mates, it is more of an amalgamation of a crossover and small hatchback or wagon.

Though built on the same front-wheel drive platform as the X1 and BMW’s Mini Countryman, it is shorter than the X1 with a lower roofline, giving it a sleeker, more sporting appearance while maintaining a crossover look.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, a crossover is an SUV built like a sedan with unit-body construction. A pure SUV, which doesn’t appear anywhere in the BMW lineup, is constructed like a pickup truck with a separate body and frame.

No BMW comes cheap, and the new X2 is no exception. Its performance and quality dictate a high price compared to other, similar vehicles. The tested X2, with xDrive — meaning all-wheel drive — came with a base price of $39,395 and, as tested with a load of expensive options, checked in at $50,920.

P90278987_highResOn the performance side, it is powered by a 228-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine, mounted crosswise under the hood like most front-drive based vehicles. The engine makes 258 lb-ft of torque, sent to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by steering-wheel mounted paddles.

The combination is enough to propel the X2 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds with a top speed of 143 mph, according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Given BMW’s heritage dating back to the remarkable 1600-2 in 1967, it’s no surprise that the X2 handles beautifully, responding rapidly to steering inputs, cornering with minimal body lean and tracking ruler-straight on the highway. The tradeoff is a harsh ride, especially on the increasingly pockmarked roads all over the country.

Some of the harsh ride likely could be traced to the hard run-flat tires, which eliminate the need for a spare. The X2 also was noisy, with engine and road sounds transmitted into the cabin.

P90278949_highResBut there’s a practical side as well. Passenger volume is 93 cubic feet, which means a couple of adults can sit comfortably in the back seat, though as usual any center-rear passenger gets dissed by a high, hard cushion and a big floor hump.

Augmenting the passenger pod is a cargo area of 22 cubic feet behind the rear seat, which expands to 50 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded. Total interior volume of 115 feet would place the X2 in the midsize class if it were a sedan.

The biggest items among the $11,525 worth of options were the $5,050 M SportX packages, which included an upgraded automatic transmission and sport suspension, panoramic sunroof, SXM satellite radio, power folding outside mirrors, garage-door opener, sport seats with lumbar support, 19-inch alloy wheels and M Sport exterior and interior trim pieces.

P90278955_highResAlso, the test car came with its most controversial feature: $550 “Galvanic Gold” metallic paint. Comments ranged from people who though it stood out beautifully to others who said it looked hideous. It reminded a few of early BMWs that came with orange paint jobs.

Other features included a power tailgate, LED cornering headlights and fog lights, automatic climate control, a Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless smart phone charging, Apple CarPlay and a high-zoot Harman Kardon audio system.

In today’s marketplace, it’s not difficult to find a crossover roughly the same size as the X2. With customers and manufacturers abandoning sedans, there are many good choices across the board, from small  vehicles like the Honda HR-V and Jeep Renegade to big, three-row crossovers like the Chevrolet Traverse and Audi Q7.

However, if you can afford it and your choice is a sports car in semi-crossover guise, the BMW X2 certainly is worth a test drive. The only drawback from an enthusiast’s point of view is that there is no manual shifter available.

P90278961_highResSpecifications

  • Model: 2018 BMW X2 xDrive28i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 228 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: Five feet (60.1 inches).
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 93/22 cubic feet. (50)
  • Weight: 3,685 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/31/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $39,395.
  • Price as tested: $50,920.

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

P90278958_highResPhotos (c) BMW

2018 Ford EcoSport SES: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If you happen to have a Madras skirt, shorts or a shirt, you can match it with the 2018 Ford EcoSport SES, which was made in the same place.

Madras clothing, as many older folks recall and a few younger ones have discovered, is made from lightweight summertime cotton with plaid or patterned designs. It is named for the mega-city on the Bay of Bengal in eastern India, which has been renamed Chennai.

Ford EcoSport

The EcoSport is actually an international vehicle, a small four-door crossover sport utility vehicle. Though the version sent to the U.S. comes from Chennai, the EcoSport also is manufactured Romania, Russia, China, Thailand and Brazil.

That’s why it looks odd to American eyes: tall, sort of squished front to back and with a side-opening fifth door instead of the more familiar tailgate. A plus: it opens correctly for right-hand drive countries, hinged at the left and opening from curbside on the right. Other small crossovers with side-opening doors, like early Honda CR-Vs, opened the opposite, requiring loaders to stand out in traffic.

Ford EcoSport

The EcoSport is part of a proliferation of mini-sized crossovers that includes the Kia Soul, Hyundai Kona, Honda HR-V, Chevrolet Trax, Toyota CH-R, Nissan Kicks and Mazda CX-3.

At just 13 feet 5 inches long, it is shorter than other small crossovers and even some hatchbacks like the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra. It is just a few inches longer than BMW’s all-electric i3. Still, it manages 91 cubic feet of space for passengers and 21 cubic feet for cargo, which is equivalent to a midsize sedan.

However, on the EcoSport space is not allocated well. There’s plenty of room and comfort up front, but the second row comes up short on knee room, which would force the driver and front passenger to move their seats forward simply to accommodate those in back.

Ford EcoSport

Once you divvy up the space, rear-seat passengers get generous headroom to go with the short knee room. Outboard passengers, as usual, fare the best while the unfortunate in the center position must contend with cramped foot space and an uncomfortable cushion.

The basic S version, with a $20,990 price tag, comes with a 123-hp, 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine that delivers 125 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. It also is available with other trim levels but was not driven for this review, likely because it is more suited to the byways of Bangkok and Bengal than Milwaukee or Miami.

Instead, the tested EcoSport was the SES model with all-wheel drive. Its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes a more Yankee-friendly 166 hp with 149 lb-ft of torque, also with a six-speed automatic transmission. On the SES, the automatic was enhanced by a manual-shift mode that included steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters.

ecosport-trunkThat combination transforms the Eco-Sport into an entertaining urban runabout of a size that can dodge traffic and park easily almost anywhere. The main downside is lackluster fuel economy — just 23/29/25 mpg on the EPA’s city/highway/combined cycles.

With a $27,735 price tag, the SES comes well-equipped with rear cross-traffic alert, navigation, blind-spot warning, pushbutton starting, motorized sunroof, automatic climate control, leather-trimmed cloth upholstery, heated front seats, the paddles for manual shifting and 17-inch alloy wheels.

More important from the driver’s standpoint is a stiffer suspension system for improved handling. The EcoSport SES handles curves without much lean and cruises steadily on freeways. Safety equipment does not include collision warning, automatic emergency braking or lane-departure mitigation.

Ford EcoSport

The tester’s price tag placed it at the top end of the mini crossover class. Comparably equipped competitors sell for less, though the new all-wheel drive Hyundai Kona Ultimate has a higher price tag of $29,775.

However, an all-wheel drive Honda HR-V has a sticker price of $24,660. The new Nissan Kicks checks in at $22,205 and the Toyota CH-R sells for $24,060. However, both the Kicks and CH-R have front-wheel drive.

Ford has announced that it will bail out of sedans, which means the demise of the subcompact Fiesta, compact Focus and midsize Fusion. It will concentrate on trucks, no surprise because its F-Series pickups have been best-sellers for four decades.

Because of the current buyer infatuation with SUVs and crossovers of all sizes, shapes and price classes, the EcoSport likely will continue to anchor the bottom of the Ford lineup, which includes the Escape, Edge, Explorer and Expedition.

Ford EcoSport

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Ford EcoSport SES four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 166 hp, 149 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length:13 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 91/21 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,300 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/25/29  mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,735.
  • Price as tested: $27,735.

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

Ford EcoSport

Photos (c) Ford

2018 Nissan Kicks: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If the 2018 Nissan Kicks landed a part in a western movie, bystanders likely would be moved to say, “Seems like a mighty fine ride.”

The Kicks is the latest in a proliferation of small crossover sport utility vehicles, though it is not accurate to call them subcompacts because their interior volume – the combination passenger and cargo space — nearly matches that of a midsize sedan.

2018 Nissan Kicks Blue

For the Kicks, it amounts to 119 cubic feet, with 94 cubes for passengers and 25 for cargo behind the back seat. Another cubic foot and the interior space would be in the federal government’s large car category.

It becomes apparent when you climb inside. The Kicks has ample head-, shoulder- and knee-room front and back. Even the center-rear passenger, who usually is dissed in most vehicles, gets almost as much room, with a nearly flat floor, as the outboard passengers, although he or she must sit on a raised, hard cushion.

Nissan regards the Kicks’s main competitors as the Kia Soul, Ford EcoSport and the all-new Hyundai Kona. But there are others, including the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Toyota C-HR and Chevrolet Trax.

2018 Nissan Kicks

Although some of these can be ordered with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the Kicks — like the Toyota C-HR — comes only with front-drive. It also betrays its economy orientation with disc brakes on the front wheels and drum brakes on the rear wheels. But they are effective given the Kicks’s light weight.

It’s an endearing package for young couples or singles with limited budgets. Nissan says the styling was inspired by a concept car that made its debut in Brazil. Five youth-oriented two-tone paint combinations are available.

There are four trim levels, starting with the base S model and moving up to the SV, SR and the tested SR Premium, which is the top of the line. Prices start at $18,965 for the S, $20,665 for the SV and $21,265 for the SR. The SR Premium adds $1,000 for a total of $22,265.

2018 Nissan Kicks

Standard equipment on all versions includes automatic emergency braking, cruise control, hill-start assist, power windows, hands-free telephone system, Bluetooth connectivity, pushbutton starting, keyless locking, automatic headlights and roof rails.

Features on upper level models include Apple CarPlay, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, alloy wheels, SXM satellite radio, heated outside mirrors, LED low-beam headlights, around-view camera and remote starting.

The tested SR Premium had all of that plus an upscale Bose audio system with eight speakers, a security system and heated cloth front seats with faux leather trim. The seats, using Nissan’s “zero gravity” design, were particularly luxurious with superb support and comfort.

B-Roll video: 2018 Nissan Kicks

At just an inch more than 14 feet long, five feet two inches tall and weighing just 2,672 pounds, the Kicks is quick, maneuverable and economical in urban traffic, as well as on desolate freeways and curving mountain roads. It cruises quietly at freeway-plus speeds, delivers an acceptable ride on rough surfaces and holds a straight line without frequent steering corrections.

Though its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine has but 125 hp and 115 lb-ft of torque, the light weight combined with a vigorous continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) delivers instant throttle response, making it feel faster than it is. Some critics bash CVTs for their lack of shift points, as well as sounds and a feel that the transmission is slipping.

2018 Nissan Kicks

That’s not the case here. Of all the manufacturers, Nissan likely has the most experience with CVTs and it shows. Unless you are overly sensitive or picky, you won’t even notice anything unusual. Mash the throttle or feather-foot it, the Kicks easily moves off.

City/highway/combined fuel economy on the SR Premium is rated by the EPA at 31/36/33 mpg.

The cargo area behind the second-row seats is well-designed and roomy. Space more than doubles from 25 to 53 cubic feet when the rear seatbacks are folded. However, though they fold flat they are a step above the cargo floor. There’s an overhead privacy cover and a temporary spare tire resides under the cargo floor. Moreover, the tailgate rises high enough for a six-foot-tall person to load or unload without ducking.

Though the Nissan folks say that the Kicks is not a replacement for its quirky Juke, the Juke itself is going away from the U.S. market. Its Kicks replacement amounts to a more than worthy replacement and entry in the increasingly competitive small crossover class.

2018 Nissan Kicks

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Nissan Kicks SR Premium four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, 125 hp, 115 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 94/25 cubic feet. (53)
  • Weight: 2,672 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 31/36/33 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $21,265.
  • Price as tested: $22,025.

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

2018 Nissan Kicks

Photos (c) Nissan

2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Q: When is an Eclipse not an Eclipse? A: When it’s a 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross.

Okay. It has nothing to do with the eclipse of the sun that plunged parts of the United States into total darkness on Aug. 21, 2017.

Nope. It’s about an all-new crossover sport utility vehicle from  Mitsubishi of Japan that reprises a name from the past but on a completely different vehicle.

2018 Eclipse Cross

The original Eclipse was a sports coupe and convertible marketed in four different versions over 22 years from 1990 to 2012. For some of that time, Mitsubishi had a relationship with Chrysler, and the Eclipse also was rebadged as the Eagle Talon and Plymouth Laser.
Resurrecting the Eclipse name injects a dose of familiarity into a new vehicle that aims to take advantage of the stampede of buyers to crossovers — at the expense of traditional sedans and station wagons.

Some crossovers are little more than jacked-up hatchbacks with a bit of extra ground clearance and, in most cases, optional all-wheel drive. That’s not the case with the Eclipse Cross, which was designed from the get-go as a crossover with front- or all-wheel drive.

2018 Eclipse Cross

It is slightly smaller than popular compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, competing more directly against the likes of the Mazda CX-3, Buick Encore, Subaru Crosstrek, Kia Niro, Nissan Rogue Sport and Hyundai Kona.

As such, it is an affordable vehicle for singles, couples and small families who seek low-cost wheels with decent cargo space. It also is a tidy package for parking and negotiating urban traffic.

The Eclipse Cross is 14 feet 5 inches long with 95 cubic feet of space for passengers and 23 cubic feet for cargo behind the second-row seats. It has edgy styling, especially when viewed from the rear, which dictates a split tailgate window.

Though that restricts rear vision somewhat, the designers made up for it by installing rear headrests that slide up for passengers and down for a better view behind. The rear seats can be adjusted fore and aft to divvy space between passengers and cargo, and the backs fold nearly flat to expand the cargo area. The cargo floor, which is a tad high, hides a full-size temporary spare wheel and tire.

2018 Eclipse Cross

There are five trim levels, ranging from the front-drive ES at $24,900 to the SEL Touring at $31,390. The base price of the tested SE model with Mitsubishi’s S-AWC electronically controlled all-wheel drive  was $27,390. (The S-AWC, which stands for Super All-Wheel Control, has driver selectable adjustments for snow, gravel and automatic operation). With a few minor options, the tested price came to $27,715.

Power comes from a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 152 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a continuously variable automatic (CVT) with a manual-shift mode.

With such a small engine, expectations were not high. But the combination delivers a strong and sprightly surge off the line, making the Eclipse Cross feel faster than it actually is. Though many critics deride CVTs for a sensation that the transmission is slipping, this one has very little of that. The small crossover cruises happily at freeway-plus speeds, though city/highway/combined fuel economy is just 25/26/25 mpg — likely because the little engine has to work hard.

2018 Eclipse Cross

Inside, comfort is first rate. The SE model came with heated and  luxurious cloth seats that were relaxing and supportive, with prominent seatback bolsters to coddle the torso. Seat adjustments were manual but allowed fine tuning. Outboard seats in back are similarly accommodating and even the center-rear position, though less comfortable, is at least usable.

Equipment included blind-spot warning, lane departure assist and rear cross-traffic alert; heated and automatic folding outside mirrors;  dual-zone automatic climate control; pushbutton starting, electric parking brake, rain-sensing windshield wipers; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; fog lights, and HD and SXM satellite radio.

The center touchscreen controls were not intuitive and required close attention to operate, so would be distracting to a driver trying to make adjustments while underway. Better to get things set up before moving off. Though there were remote audio buttons on the steering wheel, there was no volume control knob.

Despite its minor faults and Mitsubishi’s relatively low profile in the U.S., the new Eclipse Cross deserves a look for anyone seeking an entertaining and inexpensive crossover.

2018 Eclipse Cross

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 152 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 95/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,550 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/26/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,390.
  • Price as tested: $27,715.

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

2018 Eclipse Cross

Photos (c) Mitsubishi.

 

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