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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

2020 Kia Soul: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Not that anyone could have predicted it a decade ago, but the Kia Soul not only survived, it thrived. Competitors fell by the wayside. Now, as a new 2020 model, it is poised for a growth spurt.

There is nothing quite like the Soul. It is basically a box with streamlining and styling cues, something like a small cargo van with comfort, performance and handling—not to mention a funky personality.

2020 Soul X-Line

When it was introduced as a 2009 model, competitors included the Scion xB and the Nissan Cube. The Cube, with a sideways-opening rear hatch, never caught on and faded away. The xB, from Toyota’s youth-oriented brand, grew into a larger station wagon, then disappeared as well, and later even the Scion name was axed. But the Soul soldiered on and in 2018 U.S. sales totaled 104,707.

Now in its third generation, the Soul presents a new face — actually, three new faces — to a broad range of customers from across different age and income spectrums. There are seven gasoline-engine trim levels from the base LX, at $18,485, to the top-line GT-Line trim, which starts at $28,485. An all-electric model will be introduced separately.

2020 Soul GT-Line

The GT-Line is unique in the lineup. Compared to all of the other trim levels, it presents a different front-end treatment and headlight positioning, a more powerful turbocharged engine and a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission. The electric model has a unique fascia as well.

At the national introduction, Kia showed the GT-Line and the $22,485 X-line. The latter, along with all the other gasoline Soul versions except the GT-Line, is powered by a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque through a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). City/highway/combined fuel economy is rated at 27/33/30 mpg.

2020 Soul X-Line

However, Kia calls its transmission an IVT, for intelligent-variable automatic. CVTs use a system of belts and pulleys to seamlessly multiply engine torque on its way to the wheels. They typically have no shift points. Some are criticized for a sound and feel as if they are slipping, though some manufacturers use computer software to mimic set shift points.

The Kia IVT has different innards, including a chain drive that results in what might be called a more natural feel — that is, one that is more familiar to motorists used to traditional torque-converter automatics with smooth or sometimes jerky shift points.

Whatever. The X-Line’s IVT shifts unobtrusively and presents no annoyance to customers used to their previous 1959 Oldsmobile Rocket 88. On the GT-Line, however, the transmission is a dual-clutch automatic, which essentially works like a manual gearbox except with two clutches that are poised to anticipate the driver’s next up or down shift.

2020 Soul X-Line

That happens when the manual mode is selected and the driver uses the shift lever or paddles on the steering wheel. The transmission uncannily knows what the driver plans, so the twin clutches engage and disengage in milliseconds for rapid shifts.

Unfortunately, for true enthusiasts — they probably would be opting for a Mazda MX-5 Miata or Volkswagen GTI in any case —t he only manual gearbox available on the new Soul is on the base LX model. Kia makes an excellent six-speed manual gearbox available on models like the exciting Forte5, which would be welcome on the GT-Line Soul as well.

Soul GT-Line

Whatever. In its position in the marketplace, with all prices well below the $36,000 average price of a new car these days, the 2020 Soul delivers a range of satisfactory penny-pinching as well as enticing performance models.

Kia thinks that practical-minded customers, usually older, will opt for the X-Line for everyday practicality and even bumming around in moderately-challenging boondocks, even though no Soul can be ordered with all-wheel drive.

The GT-Line exists for those who want the torque of a turbo for stoplight sprints and a bit of excitement on those twisting mountain roads, although as mentioned the six-speed manual would be the choice if it were available.

Soul GT-Line

So, bottom line: The 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line, with its $28,485 price tag, delivers a good handling, nice riding, tidy package — just an inch shy of 14 feet long — that has midsize sedan passenger space, with full-size car luggage space, and rewarding throttle response and long-distance cruising on supportive and comfortable front bucket seats.

If you get your juices flowing only from $200,000-plus Italian exotics, the Soul is not for your soul. But if your orientation is toward a not-as-attractive complete package for not a lot of bucks, take a look.

2020 Soul GT-Line

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 201 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/24 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,036 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/32/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,485.
  • Price as tested: $28,485.

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

2020 Soul GT-Line

Photos (c) Kia

2019 Subaru Forester Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If Subaru were a surfer dude, it would be riding the crest of a very big wave, and its 2019 Forester will help keep it there.

The redesigned compact crossover sport utility vehicle, now in its fourth generation, arrives with more streamlined and sophisticated styling, as well as a host of new features.

Subaru2019Forester-9Built on a new global platform that also underpins the Ascent, Impreza and Crosstrek, the Forester delivers improved access for passengers and cargo, a new engine and transmission combination with automatic idle stop-start for improved fuel economy, additional safety measures and standard all-wheel drive.

Except for the company’s rear-drive BRZ sports coupe, developed with Toyota, all Subaru cars and crossover SUVs put the power to the ground with all four wheels. The Forester doesn’t have the off-road credentials of muscular Jeeps and Land Rovers. But it can handle foul weather conditions and moderately challenging terrain, especially on versions with X-Mode, which includes hill descent control.

There are five trim levels, starting with the $25,270 Base, followed by the $27,070 Premium, new $29,770 Sport, $31,770 Limited and $35,270 Touring. Prices include the $975 destination charge.

Subaru2019Forester-75All Foresters come with Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, which includes pre-collision throttle management and braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist with lane departure and sway warning.

The tested Sport model came with a $2,045 option package that included blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, reverse automatic braking, and a power rear tailgate with pushbutton closing and adjustable open height.

The package also covered Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system with an eight-inch touch screen, premium Harman Kardon audio, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and SXM satellite radio. It brought the Sport’s bottom-line price to $31,815.

Power surges from a newly-engineered 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine that makes 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque with city/highway/combined fuel consumption of 26/33/29 mpg.

Subaru2019Forester-26It is mated to Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). CVTs ordinarily ordinarily multiply torque seamlessly without shift points. However, on the Forester Sport, the CVT incorporates a computer-generated seven-speed manual shift mode with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Under hard acceleration in automatic mode, it also mimics a conventional automatic’s upshifts.

The Forester is equipped with a system called SI-Drive that allows the driver to select throttle characteristics for fuel economy (“intelligent”) or maximum performance (“sport”), called “sport sharp” on the Sport trim.

The horizontally-opposed engine, also called a boxer or flat engine, has cylinders that lie supine, feet to feet, on both sides of the crankshaft instead of standing upright or leaning as with an inline or V configuration. Its low profile results in a lower center of gravity, which contributes to more secure road-holding and handling.

Subaru2019Forester-81As a vehicle that is oriented toward small families and adventuresome singles, the new Forester is designed to be both practical and comfortable. The rear doors are wider than before and swing open to nearly 90 degrees for adults to easily step in. Also, the cargo area, with 33 cubic feet of space, has an opening more than 43 inches wide and 32 inches high for ease of loading large objects. Fold the rear seatbacks flat and the space expands to 71 cubic feet.

Though not a racer, the Forester Sport’s suspension tuning and  performance-oriented wheels and tires, aided by brake-engaged torque vectoring, enhance handling on curving roads. At highway speeds, it tracks true and is quiet except for some intrusion of engine noise under hard acceleration.

The ride is compliant on all but the roughest roads and the Sport comes with supportive front seats upholstered in sturdy and comfortable cloth.

Subaru2019Forester-80One shortcoming: If the driver inadvertently shuts down the engine with the transmission in “drive,” the Forester will roll away. If that happens on many other vehicles, the transmission automatically shifts to “park.” The rollway scenario has been receiving increasing attention as a safety hazard.

Even at that, the Forester is a highly desirable vehicle and a staunch competitor in the compact crossover class. Since its introduction in 1997, it has totaled sales of 1.8 million, with many owners keeping them beyond expected trade-in times.

As a company, Subaru has been uncommonly successful, one of a few manufacturers that thrived despite the recession of a decade ago. In the last nearly seven years, it has had 81 consecutive months of year over year sales growth.

Subaru2019Forester-29Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Subaru Forester Sport four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder; 182 hp, 176 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic with seven-speed manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 108/33 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,531 lbs.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/33/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,770.
  • Price as tested: $31,815.

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

Subaru2019Forester-4Photos (c) Subaru

2019 Cadillac XT4 AWD Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2019 Cadillac XT4 actually is a compact crossover sport utility vehicle. But its lead exterior designer prefers to call it an Escalade puppy.

Robin Krieg was talking about the all-new XT4 at its national introduction. He said the challenge was to design a new small crossover for an audience that mainly thinks of Cadillacs as always big.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport

The Escalade certainly qualifies. It’s a full-size body-on-frame traditional SUV, 17 feet long and 6 feet 2 inches tall, built like a pickup truck. He said it was a challenge to translate that concept into the XT4, a small unit-body crossover, built like a car.

Some of the result was immediately apparent at first look. The XT4 is an inch over 15 feet long and 5 feet 4 inches tall. Moreover, it has styling that hints at a pickup truck, mainly looking at the wheels.

In an era when luxury crossovers often emphasize performance, the wheel openings are usually filled with big wheels and fat tires. The XT4’s wheel openings, however, have wheels and low aspect-ratio tires that look small, more like they belong on a sports sedan or roadster.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport

Krieg said the look was deliberate, aimed at imparting an impression that the XT4 was light and agile. Given its size, it would seem like that in any case, but the space around the tires does remind one of a pickup truck.

However you look at it, the XT4 puppy is another step in an offensive at Cadillac, which plans to introduce a new model every six months through 2020. Right now there are seven — four sedans and three SUVs, including the Escalade, Escalade ESV, XT5 and, now, the XT4. Many will go to China, now Cadillac’s top market.

The XT4 represents an all-new Cadillac architecture, designed to compete in the compact luxury class against the likes of the Volvo XC-40, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3 and the BMW X2. Its tidy dimensions make it a nimble partner in modern dense traffic.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Premium Luxury

But it also manages to be roomy with midsize sedan passenger space of 101 cubic feet, plus 22 cubic feet for cargo behind the rear seat. The rear seatbacks fold flat to expand the space to 49 cubic feet. A temporary spare wheel and tire lies under the cargo area.

Front-seat passengers get supportive and comfortable power seats and, in the case of the tested Sport model, a massage function for both front seats. Outboard passengers in back get decent head and knee room, though the seatbacks do not recline. The center-rear passenger is disrespected with a hard cushion and big floor hump.

A new turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine delivers 237 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels or all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode.

To enhance fuel economy, the middle two cylinders deactivate during sedate highway motoring. Also contributing to a city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 22/29/24 mpg on all-wheel drive models, the XT4 uses a system in front that can disconnect the driveshaft and rear wheels.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport

Though there’s a bit of a steering wiggle off-center, the tested XT4 handled securely, abetted by twin clutches at the rear axle that can send 100% of the available torque to either wheel depending on conditions.

The XT4 is comfortable, and remains mostly quiet except under hard acceleration, when the engine gets a bit raucous. On harsh surfaces, some road noise also intrudes, though wind noise is mostly nonexistent.

There are six versions: Luxury, Premium Luxury and Sport, available with front-wheel drive or, for an additional $2,500, all-wheel drive. The focus of this review is the Sport, which carried a base price of $40,290 and, as tested with all-wheel drive, $56,835. Both prices include the destination charge.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport

Not many customers are likely to order the base model. The tested AWD Sport came with $15,915 worth of options, including the all-wheel drive. They included forward collision alert with pedestrian braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, perforated leather upholstery, automatic dual-zone climate control, automatic lift gate, XSM satellite radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Cadillac deserves congratulations for an opaque sunshade for the motorized sunroof. Too many luxury cars and crossovers these days follow a fad of using sunshades made of perforated cloth that allows heat and too much sunlight to intrude on passengers.

Overall, this Escalade puppy aims to please — and does.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Cadillac XT4 AWD Sport four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 237 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/22 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,900 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/29/24 mpg (premium fuel).
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,290.
  • Price as tested: $56,835.

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

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport

Photos (c) Cadillac

2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer 

Large-31740-2018KonaStart with a blank screen or a clean sheet of paper, designers and engineers who understand the territory, and you can deliver a vehicle like the 2018 Hyundai Kona.

It is an all-new, sharply competitive compact crossover sport utility vehicle from the South Korean manufacturer, which arrives at a time when it targets the sweet spot in U.S. automotive preferences. All crossovers, but especially the affordable compacts and mid-sizes, are threatening to overwhelm the market.

They are proliferating like mechanical rabbits, as witness the Kona’s competitors, which include the Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, Kia Soul, Chevrolet Trax, Mazda CX-3, Subaru Crosstrek and Jeep Renegade.

Large-31653-2018Kona2.0-litermodelCrossover SUVs generally are described as vehicles built with car-like unit-body construction, with front-wheel or optional all-wheel drive, and configured like jacked-up station wagons with hatchbacks to access  the rear cargo areas. The definition doesn’t apply across the board because some, like the Toyota CH-R and Kia Soul, do not offer all-wheel drive.

The Kona, however, does have that as well as a comprehensive package that checks all the crossover boxes, and not only among the affordables. Its full range of features also makes it competitive with more expensive compacts.

For example, it offers such modern safety installations as forward collision warning and braking, lane-keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, blind-spot collision warning and driver attention warning. Though included for improved handling on curving roads but which also qualifies as a safety feature, the Kona offers torque vectoring braking, which selectively applies the inside brakes to ease cornering.

Large-30381-2018KONANot all of this comes in the base package. To get different features, the buyer chooses from trim levels. There are four: Base S, with a $20,450 price tag, including the destination charge; SEL, at $22,100; Limited, $25,650, and the focus here, the top-Line Ultimate with Lime interior trim at $29,660.

Keeping options to a minimum is not a new concept, but the powers at Hyundai correctly decided that keeping pricing simple was customer-friendly. 

In all trim levels, the Kona delivers a rigid and tidy package that enhances handling, delivers unexpected stability and a comfortable and quiet ride. Fifty-two percent of its innards are constructed of high-strength steel and the body incorporates 375 feet of structural adhesives.

Large-31685-2018KonaIt’s apparent the first time you get behind the wheel. The tested Ultimate delivered a solid and planted feel. It also tracked true with few corrections needed from the nicely weighted steering. That same feel came through in a shorter drive of the less expensive all-wheel-drive SEL. 

All-wheel drive models share an independent, multi-link rear suspension system, which contributes the secure handling. Front-wheel drive versions use a less sophisticated torsion beam rear axle. Front-drivers were not among the testers at the national press introduction in namesake Kona, an area on the big island of Hawai’i. But they are likely to be the models of choice in sunbelt areas.

Large-31647-2018KonaThe Kona is available with two drive trains. The S and SEL models come with a 147-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 132 pound feet of torque mated to six-speed automatic transmission. The package delivers EPA-rated city/highway/combined fuel consumption of 25/30/27 miles to the gallon.

The Limited and tested Ultimate are equipped with a 175-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 195 lb-ft of torque. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic delivers instant, smooth shifts and rapid acceleration. The EPA rating is 26/29/27 mpg.

Though the S and SEL models have less power and slower acceleration, they share the body rigidity and stable feel with their more powerful siblings. Cornering is fuss-free with little body roll. The more powerful Limited and Ultimate models, with driver-selectable Normal and Sport modes that adjust transmission shifting and steering feel, are quicker. 

Large-31688-2018KonaLarge-31737-2018KonaTypically with Hyundai, the new Kona is uncommonly well-equipped. On the tested Ultimate model, they included LED gauges, a power driver’s seat, heated leather seats, motorized sunroof, automatic climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels and an innovative head-up display screen that rises from the dashboard and offers comprehensive information on a screen mounted in the driver’s line of sight.

The eight-inch center touch screen displays vehicle functions as well as navigation, Apple Car Play and Android Auto. In what Hyundai says is a first in the class, the Kona also offers wireless smart phone charging. It also is equipped with Hyundai’s Blue Link system, which offers a variety of services, including remote starting.

Large-31689-2018KonaSpecifications

    • Model: 2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD Lime four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
    • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 175 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
    • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
    • Overall length: 13 feet 8 inches.
    • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 92/19 cubic feet. (46 2nd folded)
    • Weight: 3,344 pounds.
    • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/29/27 mpg.
    • Base price, including destination charge: $29,660.
    • Price as tested: $29,775.

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

Large-31649-2018Kona2.0-litermodelPhotos (c) Hyundai.

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