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2022 Volkswagen Taos SE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As crossover utility vehicles continue to insinuate themselves into the automotive market, manufacturers fill out their lineups to offer more sizes and styles, as Germany’s Volkswagen has done with its all-new 2022 Taos.

It now is the smallest crossover in the VW lineup, joining the Tiguan, Atlas Sport, Atlas, and the new all-electric ID.4 It is described as a small sport utility vehicle by the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel economy website. There are no specific size categories for crossovers, but the Taos has more room inside than a sedan classified as large by the EPA.

It is four inches shorter than 15 feet long, 5 feet 4 inches tall and seats five in a passenger pod of 96 cubic feet, with a generous 28 cubic feet of space for cargo behind the back seat, some of it recessed into the floor. Fold the rear seatbacks and the cargo area expands to 66 cubic feet, though there’s a step up of more than six inches from the cargo floor.

The Taos, named for a town in north-central New Mexico, presents itself as an affordable and economical alternative to such established crossover SUVs as the Subaru Crosstrek and Hyundai Kona. The name derives from the American Indian Taos language and means “place of red willows.”

The Volkswagen red willow is powered by a turbocharged, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 158 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. That engine is mated to two different transmissions: a conventional eight-speed automatic in front-wheel drive models and a dual-clutch seven-speed automatic (DCT) in all-wheel drive versions.

On paper, that doesn’t look like a lot of juice to drive a 3,175-pound vehicle and its passengers. But the Taos delivers sprightly acceleration, though only after you suffer a second or three of turbo lag, that dreaded hesitation as the turbocharger spools up. Once past that, acceleration is strong. 

Highway cruising is mostly quiet except for some modest engine drone and tire noise. The latter is either pleasant or annoying, depending on the road surfaces, which these days have too many variations that need to be included in infrastructure improvements.

Handling is competent and secure with tactile steering feel. The tested Taos tracked true on turnpikes and twisting two-lane roads. Of course, even a small crossover is usually no match for a reasonably capable sports coupe or sedan.

Tested for this review was the front-drive SE, which is the middle of three trim levels. It was well-equipped, though lacking automatic climate control, and had a base price of $28,440, including the destination charge. The bottom-line sticker, with options, came to $31,325. Other versions are the base S, which starts at $24,190, and the top-line SEL, $32,685.

Given its relatively tidy size, the Taos was roomy inside with enough head room for all passengers and plenty of air for the knees of second-row passengers. As usual, the disrespected center-rear passenger has to contend with intrusions from the center console and a large floor hump. Front seats are supportive with prominent seatback bolstering to hold the torso around curves.

The seats on the SE were upholstered in a combination of cloth and faux leather, though Volkswagen got it backwards. The seating areas were done up in the leatherette, with cloth trim. The preference anywhere would be for breathable cloth seats with whatever else for trim.

An appreciated feature was the capability to change the view of the instrument cluster with the touch of a button. It was cool to display the speed as digital, with the tachometer surrounding the number. An eight-inch center touch screen handles infotainment functions. 

The center console consists of an open storage area with cup holders and a small storage area under the center armrest. The cup holders have spring loaded grippers to secure different sized cups — another appreciated feature.

 The Taos has full modern safety equipment, including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, rear traffic alert and adaptive cruise control with distance settings.

The tested Taos SE also came with optional black alloy wheels and a panoramic glass sunroof, which opened at the front but not in back. But the motorized sunshade was made of a flimsy, translucent white cloth that admitted some welcome light but too much hot sunlight, straining the air conditioning.

With this new entry, Volkswagen gets another tire solidly into the deepening groove created by consumer demands for more and better vehicles that combine practicality and entertaining motoring.

Specifications

  • Model: 2022 Volkswagen Taos SE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 158 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches. 
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 96/28 cubic feet. (66)
  • Weight: 3,175 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/36/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,440.
  • Price as tested: $31,325.

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

Photos (c) Volkswagen

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer AWD Activ: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer sports an adventurous name, though it’s not likely to blaze any trails. 

It’s a small, competent crossover sport utility vehicle, new for this model year and bearing the name of an earlier, larger Chevy SUV sold from 2001 to 2008, then replaced by the Chevrolet Traverse. But it’s no Jeep or Land Rover. 

The original Trailblazer, built with a body on frame, and the 2021 model, a crossover built with a unit-body like a car, are way different. The original left the market powered by a 394-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8 engine that delivered 400 lb-ft of torque.

That’s about 4.6 times the size of the tiny, 1.3-liter, three-cylinder turbo engine in the Trailblazer Activ tested for this review. It makes 155 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque along with surprising verve for such a diminutive motor.

Moreover, it’s not even the smallest engine available. Base Trailblazer models come with a 1.2-liter three-cylinder turbo that delivers 137 hp. It powers front-drive versions with continuously variable automatic transmissions. The upgrade, as on the tested Activ Trailblazer, has all-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic transmission.

The Trailblazer slots in the Chevy crossover lineup between the smaller Trax and the larger Equinox. There are five trim levels: L at $20,195, LS at $22,795, LT at $24,895, the Activ tested here at $26,695, and the RS, also at $26,695. All prices include the destination charge. The Activ strives to project a rugged persona, where the RS aspires to a sporty mien.

But rugged is as rugged does. The Activ comes across more like the increasing number of small crossovers crowding the nation’s highways and byways, including names like the Kia Seltos, Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, Hyundai  Kona and Venue, Nissan Kicks, Mazda CX-30, and the Trailblazer’s fraternal cousin, the Buick Encore GX, which also uses the 1.3-liter three-cylinder turbo engine.

The Trailblazer’s strong suit is its attractive looks, inside and out. The tester wore a bronze dark copper metallic paint with a white roof and outside mirrors topped in white. Inside, red, black, and beige cloth and leatherette cover the seats, with a sort of denim cloth trim on the doors.

Front seats have decent bolstering to hold the torso in place. The outside seating positions offer plenty of head and knee room in the back, and even the usually disrespected center-rear seat has enough space for an average-size adult. However, the poor soul must sit on a lump with an intrusive back and a small floor hump.

Behind the back seat is a decent-sized, 25 cubic-foot cargo area with small extra space beneath the floor, home of the temporary spare wheel and tire. Rear seatbacks fold nearly flat 2/3 and 1/3 for additional cargo.

On the road, the surprise is the rapid throttle response off the line, which makes the Trailblazer feel faster than it is. Car and Driver magazine clocked an all-wheel-drive model with the 155-hp engine at 9.4 seconds, pretty pokey in this age, partly a testimony to its 3,325-pound weight. But the quick response makes it ideal for shooting through holes in urban and freeway traffic.

Handling is competent and inspires confidence on curving roads, even though there’s enough power available to get a hasty driver in trouble overdoing it. The handling tradeoff is a stiff ride.

Though the Activ model is supposed to project a rugged vehicle, the Trailblazer does not fall into the category of having any off-road chops. With the all-wheel drive, you could likely take it on a logging road or other modest terrain but nothing more challenging.

Interior noise is the main Trailblazer bugaboo. The tires and chassis transmit road irregularities directly into the cabin, abetting a smaller amount of engine noise. Long hours at the wheel could become fatiguing. More sound insulation would be welcome.

The Trailblazer Activ comes well equipped with such amenities as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist with lane departure warning, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, single-zone automatic climate control, high definition, and SXM satellite radio, premium Bose audio, Bluetooth streaming, wireless smartphone charging, an eight-inch color touch screen, auto-dimming inside mirror, heated outside power mirrors, and LED headlights.

All of that brought the Trailblazer Activ’s base price of $27,995 up to a relatively pricey, in this class, $30,730.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer AWD Activ four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.3-liter three-cylinder, turbocharged; 155 hp, 174 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 6 inches.      
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 98/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,325 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/30/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,995.
  • Price as tested: $30,730.

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

Photos (c) Chevrolet

2021 Buick Encore GX Essence: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Shoppers can be forgiven for thinking that the 2021 Buick Encore GX Essence is simply a new trim level, or version, in the Encore lineup of small crossover sport utility vehicles. 

It’s not. Introduced as a 2020 model, the GX Essence is still a small crossover SUV, slightly larger than the original Encore, which made its debut as a 2013 model. But it is a separate vehicle underpinned by a different platform, with its own trim levels.

It has a starting price of $25,195, including the destination charge, for the base Preferred trim. The midlevel Select starts at $26,795, and the GX tops out as tested here, with options, at $35,065 for the Essence — close to the average U.S. price of a new automobile. That was for the front-wheel-drive version; tack on $2,000 if you want all-wheel drive.

Yet despite its relatively low price, the Encore GX competes as a small premium crossover. It looks the part, too, with the tester’s classy brown and black interior, perforated leather upholstery, and rich features.

Among those on the tester: Full safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection; forward-collision warning; lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and following distance indicator. Also: head-up display, surround-view rear camera, and navigation.

The Encore GX is a bit larger and longer than the Hyundai Kona, another small crossover. But it is smaller than the Subaru Crosstrek, a ‘tweener that slots between the little guys and compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape. But any of these deliver the passenger room of a midsize sedan with way better cargo space.

Carved out of the GX’s length of 14 feet 3 inches and height of 5 feet 4 inches is a space of 92 cubic feet for five passengers, enhanced by a flat floor, so the center-rear passenger endures some hard cushion discomfort but not as much as on many cars and crossovers. There are 24 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, about double compact sedans. The rear seatbacks do not recline for comfort but fold flat to expand the cargo area to 50 cubic feet.

The 2021 GX is essentially the same as the original 2020 model, all-new at the time. But there have been a few changes and additions. SXM satellite radio now is standard on all trims; adaptive cruise control has been included on Preferred models, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on every version. Yet with that and some minor juggling of other features, the price escalated by just $100 across the board.

The tested GX Essence came with Buick’s upgraded engine, a tiny 1.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that develops 155 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque. Power gets to the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The combination delivers an EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 30/32/31 mpg using regular gasoline. 

A side note: Though the Buick name is as American as pizza and Budweiser beer, only 3% of the GX’s parts come from the U.S. and Canada. Engines and transmissions are manufactured in Mexico, and the vehicles are built in South Korea. That’s a recommendation. Vehicles from the southern Korean peninsula’s Hyundai and Kia consistently show up at or near the top of quality ratings. 

On the road, the GX is a pleasant, if leisurely, companion. Thanks to decent insulation and Buick’s noise-canceling technology, it cruises quietly, although the engine makes itself known under hard acceleration. 

Handling is capable around corners and on curving roads as long as the driver eschews aggression in favor of what is generally a smooth ride. The suspension, however, does get upset if the GX is pushed too hard on a road with uneven pockmarks. The supportive front seats absorb many minor shocks. But remember that this is no sports car.

Overall, the Encore GX Essence provides a stable though not outstanding ride and handling with decent fuel economy, good performance and quiet highway cruising, all with a dollop of what — for many people — would be something of a luxury experience at a middle-class price.

The Encore GX was nominated for North American Utility of the Year by an independent jury of U.S. and Canadian automotive journalists, of which this reviewer is one.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Buick Encore GX Essence FWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.3-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 155 hp, 174 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 92/24 cubic feet (50).
  • Weight: 3,094 pounds. 
  • Towing capability: 1,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 30/32/31 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,595.
  • Price as tested: $35,065.

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

Photos (c) Buick

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Mercedes-Benz regards the all-new 2021 GLA250 as its entry-level crossover SUV, but for many motorists it could represent a dual-purpose icon on the mountaintop.

That’s because it delivers the practicality of a small crossover, with up to 51 cubic feet of cargo space (rear seatbacks folded) and an engaging, even sporting, personality — all at a price that likely is reasonable for some though out of reach for many.

That, of course, is the usual state of affairs with Mercedes and other European luxury brands. You can find many cars and crossovers at reasonable prices for the majority of the hoi polloi. But when you’re talking BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Volvo and Alfa Romeo, forget any bargain basement deals.

The GLA250’s starting price actually looks fairly reasonable. At $37,280 with front-wheel drive and including the destination charge that rarely is advertised but everybody must pay, it comes close to the average price of a new car these days.

When you start plumbing the options list, the amount inflates. On the tested GLA250, the extras came to $10,980, or nearly a third of the basic price. That’s not uncommon with many luxury brands, which have options lists that stretch to the horizon. They send the GLA250’s “as-tested” price to $48,620.

But it’s unlikely Mercedes even bothers to assemble any base vehicles, likely because its customers would not even consider what used to be called a stripper. So, what you see is what you get. 

In this case, it’s a well-equipped small luxury conveyance with a lot of desirable equipment — some of it superfluous — and a few shortcomings that anyone likely could live with unless they were terminally picky. 

Of course, this is Mercedes engineering and quality, so the fundamentals are present. The GLA250 is powered by a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 221 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. The power makes its way to the front wheels via an also new eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode triggered by paddles on the steering wheel. There’s also an all-wheel-drive 4Matic model for an additional $2,000.

City/highway/combined fuel economy is rated by the EPA at a decent 25/34/28 mpg, aided by a standard idle stop-start system. It’s not a favorite with this reviewer because of the re-start hesitation when there’s a need to accelerate quickly off the line. But on the GLA250, there’s an off switch directly below the start button so you can disable it without searching through touch-screen menus. 

Safety equipment includes forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking — now increasingly demanded for motor vehicles everywhere — as well as the Mercedes attention assist, which monitors driver behavior and issues warnings to take a break.

Standard equipment includes such amenities as Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and dual-zone automatic climate control. Options on the tested GLA250 included $2,240 for performance AMG body styling, including a classy black diamond grille, and perforated front disc brakes; panorama sunroof (with a flimsy perforated sunshade), navigation system, SXM satellite radio, digital instrument cluster and center display, heated front seats, and auto-dimming inside and outside mirrors.

However, the tested GLA250’s sun visors did not slide on their support rods to adequately block sunlight from the side, there was no adaptive cruise control, and the redundant steering wheel controls included tiny buttons that mimic the center touch pad. The buttons were too susceptible to inadvertently touch while driving and, among other things, change a radio station.

The main attraction of the GLA250, however, is the driving dynamics, and this is where this borderline luxury crossover SUV shines. Its tidy dimensions — six inches shy of 16 feet — along with a stiff but supple suspension system and accurate steering delivers handling on curving roads that can match or better some sports sedans. The tradeoff is a choppy ride on the many pockmarked surfaces on U.S. roads.

It also is a comfortable long-distance cruiser that tracks steadily with few steering corrections needed and a reasonably quite cabin. Front and outboard rear seats, though covered in MB-Tex faux leather, are supportive and comfortable. The center-rear seat, as usual in many vehicles these days, is compromised by a high, hard cushion and intrusion of a floor hump that is a full eight inches high.

Sales of the Mercedes GLA-Class have been slipping in 2020. COVID-19 permitting, the new models should help them regain some solid footing.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 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 front-wheel drive. 
  • Overall length: 14 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 98/15 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 3,410 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/34/28 mpg. Premium gasoline required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,280.
  • Price as tested: $48,620.

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

Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz

2020 BMW X3 xDrive30e: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), especially high performance luxury models like BMW’s 2020 X3 xDrive30e, pose a puzzle for potential customers.

The all-new X3 is a compact crossover sport utility vehicle from Germany’s Bavarian Motor Works, manufactured in a U.S. plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Like all BMWs, it is a sweet handling, fast moving machine. It can snap off a zero to 60-mph run in six seconds, with a top speed of about 130 mph.

P90374484_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivWhere it distinguishes itself is in fuel economy because of its gasoline/electric power: a turbocharged 2.0-liter gasoline engine mated to an electric motor and a 12 kW battery. The system makes 292 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque that powers all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

The Environmental Protection Agency rates the 4,586-lb xDrive30e’s fuel consumption, in combined city and highway driving, at 60 mpg equivalent (MPGe). A standard X3 with a turbo gasoline engine gets a combined rating of 27 mpg.

The PHEV X3 has a base price of $49,545, which is $4,900 more than the gasoline-engine version. A bit of back of the envelope math reveals that an owner driving about 12,000 miles a year with $3 a gallon gasoline would not make up the difference and start realizing actual savings for more than six years — assuming he or she even kept the X3 that long.

P90374469_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivOf course, fuel economy likely is way down on the list of reasons anyone buys an X3 — or any BMW, for that matter. The company has a reputation for delivering excellent driver-oriented vehicles with little regard for mileage bragging rights, and the X3 PHEV is no exception.

One advantage to a hybrid is having the electric motor poised to provide extra punch to the gasoline engine. In this application, the boost helps eliminate any turbo lag — that hesitation off the line while the turbo spools up. Electric motors deliver instant torque.

Mash the X3 PHEV’s pedal and go. The computer-controlled eight-speed automatic decides when to shift. If you must, there are paddles mounted on the steering wheel so you can have the fun to decide for yourself.

P90374470_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivAnother plus is the fact that a PHEV can be driven on purely electric power — up to a point. BMW claims an electric range of 20 miles in combined city-highway driving. This reviewer, without effort, managed 21. Part of the system includes regenerative decelerating and braking, which provides a bit of extra charge for the battery pack.

There are selectable drive modes for pure electric and economical hybrid motoring. Either way, the X3 PHEV is a smooth and silent runner on the open roads, switching automatically to hybrid when the battery pack runs out of juice.

Twisting roads provide little challenge for the X3 PHEV. With the battery pack and fuel tank positioned under the back seat and over the rear axle, the X3 has backwoods ballet balance. Settle into the firm, nearly uncomfortable but supportive seats, with plenty of bolstering, and simply attack the corners, controlled as if it were a low-slung sports sedan.

P90263723_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivThere is the matter of price. At BMW, compiling profitable options lists borders on art. With a list of expensive packages, including M Sport trim at $5,000, a Harman Kardon surround audio system at $4,500 and assorted other handling and driving assistance upgrades, the tested X3 came with a bottom-line suggested price of $65,020.

As a compact crossover, the tester has the interior space of a midsize car, done up luxuriously with leather upholstery and buffed wood trim. There’s 101 cubic feet of passenger space — enough to seat four with generous room, along with a poor soul in the center-rear space who must perch on a hard cushion with feet splayed alongside a big floor hump.

P90263707_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivThe cargo area offers 16 cubic feet of space, a bit stingy but that’s because the battery pack lies under the back seat with the fuel tank over the rear axle. Fold the rear seatbacks and it opens up 53 cubic feet of stash space.

The X3 PHEV’s main competitors are the 325-horsepower Mercedes-Benz GLC 350e, with a starting price of $51,645, and the 400-horsepower Volvo XC60 T8, at $54,945.

P90263702_highRes_the-new-bmw-x3-xdrivSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 BMW X3 xDrive30e plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/Motor: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; electric motor with 12 kW lithium ion battery; 292 system hp, 310 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 101/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,586 pounds.
  • EPA fuel consumption: 60 MPGe PHEV; 24 mpg gasoline only.
  • Electric-only range: 20 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $49,545.
  • Price as tested: $65,020.

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

P90365485_highRes_the-new-bmw-x1-xdrivPhotos (c) BMW

2020 Nissan Kicks SV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though it’s assuredly not a virus, the 2020 Nissan Kicks can easily go viral with almost anybody. It grows on you and insinuates itself into your consciousness.

On paper, it looks fairly ordinary: a subcompact crossover sport utility vehicle of a variety that is rapidly proliferating because of practicality, fuel economy and low prices. It doesn’t have awesome power or racetrack handling, though the ride is comfortable enough. There’s space for four adults and a wee one, and a cargo area that would do justice to a limousine.

2020 Nissan Kicks

The Kicks comes with a 122-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 114 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT), which uses a set of belts and pulleys to multiply torque smoothly without shift points.

CVTs, get subjected to harsh criticism because some of them are not well engineered and feel as if they are slipping while the engine’s revs build, which results in engine noise under hard acceleration. But Nissan arguably has more experience with CVTs than any manufacturer, and the Kicks’s CVT is capable and unobtrusive.

2020 Nissan Kicks SV-3-sourceA big advantage of a CVT is its economical delivery of power. Most CVTs have fuel consumption numbers that are not only better than other automatic transmissions but superior even to manual gearboxes. The specially tuned Kicks CVT has an EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 31/36/33 mpg.

The Nissan engineers have used computer software to mimic shift points, so many drivers would be hard-pressed to discern that the Kicks comes with a CVT.

Moreover, the Kicks drive train feels tightly wound and responsive, especially in urban traffic. Punch the loud pedal and the Kicks reacts instantly. Quick lane changes in traffic and on-ramps onto freeways present little challenge. It does inspire affection.

2020 Nissan Kicks SV-5-sourcePassing power on the highway is less spunky, understandable because of the modest horsepower and torque. But the Kicks cruises nicely at freeway speeds and even is quieter than some more expensive machinery.

The tested Kicks was the mid-level SV version, which had a base price of $21,545, including the destination charge. It was nicely equipped with just about everything most customers might want.

That included full basic safety equipment plus automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, rear automatic braking, blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, rear parking sensors and automatic headlight high beams. The brakes have discs in front and drums in the rear but you’d never know it. They work fine.

2020 Nissan Kicks

In addition, the SV tester came with beautiful, sturdy and comfortable cloth upholstery (superior to leather or leatherette in this view), automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, pushbutton starting, cruise control and Bluetooth connectivity with streaming audio.

Options included two-tone paint, 17-inch black alloy wheels and a booming Rockford Fosgate audio system (part of which stole a few cubic feet of space from the generous cargo area, rated at 25 cubic feet). The bottom line sticker price came to $24,810, somewhere around $12,000 less than the average price of a new car these days.

The Kicks competes in a growing segment of the crossover sport utility market. Though described as a subcompact crossover, its total interior space of 119 cubic feet would put it at the top of the midsize class if it were a sedan. In fact, another cubic foot of air inside would put it in the large car category like a Dodge Charger.

2020 Nissan Kicks

The breakdown of 94 cubic feet for passengers and 25 for cargo is typical of crossovers. On the Kicks it results in four comfortable seats front and back, with decent head and knee room, and a tiny fifth space, with a seatbelt, in the center-rear compromised by a floor hump and a high, hard cushion.

Out back, the cargo area is recessed like a sunken family room, though there’s enough space beneath it to accommodate a temporary spare wheel and tire. The rear seatbacks fold to expand the cargo area to 53 cubic feet, though they line up a step above the cargo floor.

Unlike some of its competitors, the Kicks is available only with front-wheel drive. Others are the Toyota C-HR, Kia Soul and Niro, and the new Hyundai Venue. If you live in an area where you must have all-wheel drive, your choices in this category are the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-30, Hyundai Kona and the all-new Kia Seltos.

2020 Nissan Kicks SV-2-sourceSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Nissan Kicks SV four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder; 122 hp, 114 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 94/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,707 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 31/36/33 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $21,545.
  • Price as tested: $24,810.

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

19TDI_KCKSss006_JPEG_High_Res-rev-1-sourcePhotos (c) Nissan

2020 Hyundai Venue SEL: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Hyundai sagely developed a grasp of Americans’ preference for crossover sport utility vehicles and now has extended its reach with the 2020 Venue.

The South Korean manufacturer has a lineup of six SUVs: Venue; Kona, available as a hybrid and an electric; the hydrogen-fueled Nexo, sold only in California; compact Tucson, midsize Santa Fe and three-row Palisade. They cover the size spectrum of the currently most popular vehicle type in the U.S.

Large-40000-2020Venue-MiamiWith a starting price of $18,550, including the destination charge, the entry-level Venue is aimed squarely at some of the buyers of 41 million used cars in 2019. The target group is younger people who are into urban night life — whatever that means. The idea is to provide them the opportunity to own an affordable new car with all the latest safety and infotainment equipment.

In a tidy package that measures 13 feet 3 inches in length and 5 feet 3 inches tall, the Venue instantly reminds an onlooker of the Kia Soul, the best seller of Hyundai’s sister company. Though classified as a subcompact crossover, the Venue boasts the interior volume of a midsize sedan with plenty of passenger space for four and a seatbelt for a squished fifth person in the center-rear.

Large-36140-2020VenueHowever, unlike the funky Kia Soul, which has 125 cubic feet of interior volume, 14 more than the Venue’s 111, the Venue has a more conventional crossover profile. Like the Soul, it comes only with front-wheel drive but it looks the part of an attractively styled small SUV. That along with the low price should easily attract buyer attention.

But despite what appears to be a paucity of power on paper, the Venue is a sprightly and economical performer. Its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine delivers 121 hp and 113 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, not exactly the stuff of drag racers.

Large-36141-2020VenueHowever, the Venue makes up for any shortcomings in performance with outstanding city/highway/combined fuel consumption of 30/34/32 mpg in a vehicle that weighs 2,732 pounds. That betters the Soul’s 27/32/29 with a curb weight of 3,036 pounds.

Nevertheless, the Venue feels quick off the line and responsive in the cut and thrust of urban traffic, as well as passing on rural two-lane roads. Credit some of that to what Hyundai calls its “intelligent” continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT).

Large-40047-2020Venue-MiamiCVTs use a system of belts and pulleys to multiply engine power, usually without shift points. But the Venue’s CVT uses a durable chain instead of a belt and is programmed to operate like a conventional automatic transmission with stepped shift points. Drivers used to the feel of upshifts will not notice anything different.

There are three driver-selectable drive modes with the CVT: normal, sport and snow. The two former settings adjust acceleration shift points and steering feel, while the snow setting feathers the throttle on start-ups to avoid wheel spin on slippery surfaces.

Large-36146-2020VenueThe Venue also offers a six-speed manual gearbox. There was no opportunity at the national introduction to drive the stick shift but if it is anything like the manuals on Hyundai’s other vehicles like the Elantra and Veloster, it should be delightfully manipulative.

There are just two Venue trim levels: SE and SEL. The SE comes standard with the six-speed manual, with the intelligent CVT as an option. The SEL comes with the CVT as standard equipment.

Driven for this review was a top-line SEL with a premium package that had a starting price of $20,245 and a bottom-line sticker of $23,280, which is somewhere around $13,000 less than the average price of a new car these days. Take heed, urban night lifers. That buys a lot of mojitos and manhattans.

Large-39995-2020Venue-MiamiBoth trim levels come with advanced safety equipment that includes forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, stability and traction control, lane-keeping assist, driver attention warning, tire-pressure monitoring, and a full suite of airbags and a rear-view camera.

Also, the SEL had blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic collision warning.

Other options: Power sunroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, pushbutton starting, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, SXM satellite radio, Bluetooth, heated front seats and outside mirrors, LED lighting, navigation system, and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Among potential buyers of late-model used cars, there is an increasing appetite for the peace of mind of driving a car that, for example, will slam on the brakes when a driver is distracted. With that comfort ambiance on an affordable car, it’s a slam dunk.

Large-36130-2020VenueSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Venue SEL four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder; 121 hp, 113 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 92/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,732 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 30/34/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $20,245.
  • Price as tested: $23,280.

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

Large-36142-2020VenuePhotos (c) Hyundai

 

 

2020 Lincoln Corsair Reserve: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Even as Lincoln advertises heavily to clear out stocks of the current MKC model, it is poised to charm customers with the all-new 2020 Lincoln Corsair, the MKC’s replacement.

With it, the luxury division of Ford Motor Co. fills out its cadre of sport utility vehicles, including three crossover SUVs, now with their old letter designations eliminated, and the traditional body-on-frame Navigator SUV.

2020 2.0L Corsair

Moving up in size from the compact Corsair are the midsize Nautilus and three-row Aviator (formerly MKX and MKT), with the full-size Navigator at the top. Although the Corsair could be considered the entry-level model, it is anything but that. Abounding with modern technology and conveniences, as well as plush passenger accommodations, it would be comfortable in any upscale automotive troupe.

Lincoln emphasizes the serenity of the Corsair’s interior, and it delivers that. If you did not have to occupy yourself with driving, certainly a pleasant enough pursuit in itself, you could simply relax inside and practice mindfulness in sumptuous surroundings.

2020 2.3L Corsair

Lincoln says the Corsair name comes from the Latin “cursus,” meaning “journey.” But to old-timers — among those likely to take this new crossover seriously — the name evokes the F4U Corsair, the beautiful gull-winged fighter plane that fought battles around Pacific islands from aircraft carriers with U.S. Marine pilots in World War II.

But the F4U was a raucous, noisy beast and a killing machine. The Lincoln Corsair is calm, quiet and built for genteel living and driving enjoyment. That, however, does not mean it is averse to high performance and athletic moves.

There are five trim levels, with the standard front-wheel drive model priced at $36,940, including the destination charge. Add $2,200 for all-wheel drive. Driven for this review, one of two, was a top-line all-wheel drive Reserve II with all the goodies that topped $60,110. But you can be well satisfied for less.

2020 Corsair Interior

More to the point and the focus here was an all-wheel drive Reserve model with the standard 250-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which delivers 280 lb-ft of torque, the twisting force that makes an engine feel powerful under acceleration. An eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual shifting mode gets the power to the pavement.

Well equipped, the 2.0-liter Reserve came with a base price of $44,825 and, with options that included an active suspension system, a comprehensive head-up display and a technology package, it came with a bottom-line sticker price of $54,375.

2020 Corsair Interior

For an additional $1,140 you can order the 2.3-liter turbo four-cylinder, which makes 295 hp and 315 lb-ft of torque. It obviously is more powerful than the 2.0-liter but it is doubtful that any Corsair buyer would be disappointed with either one. Both engines are smooth, quiet and up to any motoring situation.

Four-cylinder engines of around 2.0 liters, especially with turbochargers, are the 21st century successors to the lumbering V6 and V8 engines of yesteryear. Not only are they more powerful, they deliver exceptional fuel economy. On the EPA’s city/highway/combined cycle, Lincoln’s 2.0-liter delivers 21/29/24 mpg and the 2.3-liter is rated at 21/28/24.

Though you wouldn’t equate it with a sports car, the tested 2.0-liter Corsair performed admirably. It was quiet on the highways and byways, with brisk acceleration and passing power, tight steering with responsive moves and a comfortable, non-jarring ride.

All-New 2020 Corsair Reserve with Beyond Blue Interior Package

There are five selectable drive modes that adjust multiple functions, including shift points, steering and suspension system, among others. They are descriptively labeled Normal, Conserve, Excite, Slippery and Deep.

Inside, the multi-adjustable front seats, upholstered with leather, were supportive for long-distance cruising, and heated for cold weather.

All-New 2020 Corsair Reserve with Beyond Blue Interior Package

The back seat is uncommonly roomy for a compact crossover, though the center-rear passenger suffers from a hard cushion and compromised foot room.

Many functions can be controlled from Lincoln’s “phone as a key” technology, which works hand-free from an app on smart phones, including locking and unlocking doors, opening the lift gate, starting and driving, and operating interior features.

2020 Corsair Interior

The Corsair comes standard with driver assist features called Lincoln Co-Pilot 360. They include pre-collision emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist. blind-spot warning, and automatic high-beam headlights. There’s also Wi-Fi and wireless charging for mobile devices.

An option, called “Lincoln Co-Pilot360 Plus,” adds adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane centering, roadside speed sign recognition, emergency evasive steering assist, reverse braking assist, and active parking assist, which automatically parks the Corsair in parallel or perpendicular spaces.

2020 2.3L Corsair

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Lincoln Corsair Reserve four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; turbocharged, 250 hp, 280 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 103/28 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,842 pounds.
  • Towing capability: Up to 3,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/29/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $44,825.
  • Price as tested: $54,375.

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

2020 2.0L Corsair

Photos (c) Lincoln

2020 Audi Q3 S line Quattro: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If Audi adopted warm-blooded names for its vehicles, this new SUV could be christened Border Collie instead of the 2020 Q3 S line 45 TFSI Quattro Prestige.

German manufacturers, including BMW and Mercedes-Benz, are fond of obtuse engineering-style descriptions of their vehicles. They may be thrilling to techies everywhere but for the rest of us personal names would paint a better picture.

Large-2019-Audi-Q3-5678Case in point: the Q3. As crossover sport utility vehicles go, it’s analogous to the world-famous herding dog, the Border Collie. It’s smart, small, fast, changes directions quickly, stops immediately and is always willing to eagerly chase the sheep-like vehicles clogging the nation’s highways.

It also happens to be a luxury-oriented sporting machine with a price tag that won’t knock some wannabe owners out of the queue.

All-new for 2019, the 2020 model continues without a price increase but with standard tri-zone climate control and four USB ports.

Though the base price is $36,995, the tested Q3 had the Prestige package, which bumped it to $43,895 and, with options, a bottom-line sticker of $45,340 — not unreasonable in these times for a luxury or near-luxury crossover.

Large-2019-Audi-Q3-6053Of course, for that price you can get a mid-size crossover with three rows of seats like the new Kia Telluride, while the Q3 is classified as a small SUV. It has comfortable room for four and an uncomfortable seat with a giant floor hump for an ill-fated fifth passenger in the center-rear.

That’s not uncommon. On the plus side, the Q3 eschews the current cliché in luxury cars and crossovers of a perforated cheesecloth-like shade that admits too much heat and sunlight through the panoramic glass sunroof. The Q3’s thankfully is opaque, the way the shade gods intended.

Despite its classification as small, the Q3 has the interior space of a midsize car, divided into 95 cubic feet for passengers and 24 cubic feet for cargo under the rear hatch. The carpeted cargo space doubles with the rear seatbacks folded flat. Beneath the cargo floor lies a full-size temporary-use wheel and tire.

Large-2019-Audi-Q3-6050Audi’s Quattro full-time all-wheel drive is standard. Power pulses from the Q3’s turbocharged 228-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 257 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic with a Tiptronic manual-shifting mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel.

There are five selectable drive modes — comfort, automatic, dynamic, off-road and individual — that allow the driver to tailor handling, shifting and other performance preferences.

Audi lists the zero-to-60 mph run at 7.0 seconds with a top track speed of 130 mph. The EPA rates the city/highway/combined fuel economy at 19/27/22 mpg.

Large-2019-Audi-Q3-6061In real-world driving, the Q3 feels powerful off the line, on freeway on-ramps and passing on two-lane highways. It has a nimble feel with  responsive steering and little body roll through fast curves.

Inside, the front seats are comfortable with solid support, including adjustable thigh cushions. The sun visors actually slide on their support rods to block sun from the side — unlike too many European luxury cars that do not bother installing such a desirable convenience.

On the other hand, don’t try fiddling with the infotainment system and the center touch screen without the owner’s manual close by. Even simple functions like setting and finding a pre-set for a favorite radio or SXM satellite radio station is a frustrating experience without detailed instructions.

Large-2019-Audi-Q3-4348Moreover, the touch screen can be difficult and distracting, especially while under way. First you have to look to find what you want, then give it a determined push with a finger because it requires pressure with the touch. If you simply tap it, there’s no response.

The Q3 comes with a comprehensive suite of safety enhancements, though it does not include forward emergency braking. The Pre-Sense system helps prepare the Q3 for an impact, including closing the windows and the panoramic sunroof, as well as pre-tensioning the front seatbelts. Visual and acoustic warnings alert the driver.

Other equipment on the tested Q3 included lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control and a rear camera with overhead view.

Faithful to its luxury orientation, the tested Q3 Prestige came equipped with a Bang & Olufsen premium audio system, leather upholstery with heated seats, navigation system, parking assist, LED headlights and taillights, power rear hatch, stop-start idle system, genuine wood trim, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Large-2019-Audi-Q3-6051Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Audi Q3 S line 45 TFSI Quattro Prestige four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; turbocharged, 228 hp, 257 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shifting mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 95/24 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,916 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/27/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,895.
  • Price as tested: $45,340.

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

Large-2019-Audi-Q3-4345Photos (c) Audi

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