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Hatchbacks

2019 Hyundai Veloster N: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Now fielding the 2019 Veloster N, Hyundai could be whistled for encroachment.

It has happened before. The South Korean manufacturer has been steadily and successfully insinuating its products into almost every space in the automotive firmament: sedans of various sizes and power trains, crossover sport utility vehicles and even luxury cars. The last, Genesis, became its own luxury brand.

Now Hyundai is intruding into the small but image-important “hot hatch” group of relatively inexpensive high-performance hatchbacks. There are only a few, the most familiar of which is the Volkswagen GTI, with competition from the Honda Civic Type R and the Ford Focus ST.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

What these machines have in common is that they are based on practical runabouts for people on tight budgets. Emulating the kids who buy old Honda Civics and hop them up to be faster and more agile, the automakers do the same to create new excitements.

The GTI, for example, is based on the ubiquitous Golf, Volkswagen’s entry-level U.S. offering. Similarly, Hyundai already marketed the Veloster, a compact hatchback with two conventional doors in the front and a single third door in back on the passenger side. Despite its unusual layout, it has been reasonably successful, though slipping lately with 12,658 sales in 2017 and running at an annual rate of 10,581 in 2018.

Now it should get a boost as it vies for the “hot hatch” title with the N, which stands for Namyang, the site of Hyundai’s technology center in South Korea. The N also obliquely refers to the Nürburgring Nordschleife, the famed test track in Germany where some of the N’s development was carried out.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

Under the tutelage of Albert Biermann, Hyundai’s head of vehicle performance, the Veloster was not simply given additional power. Biermann, formerly chief of BMW’s M performance group, took a holistic approach to give the Veloster a stiffer chassis, sophisticated racing suspension system, more accurate steering with enhanced feedback, tires with more grip and, of course, robust power.

The goal, Bierman says, was to give the Veloster “real racetrack capability” in a machine that is easy and entertaining for novices to drive on the track and in everyday environments.

Power comes from a gasoline direct injection, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 250 hp with 260 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. A six-speed manual gearbox — the only transmission available so far — sends the force to the front wheels.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

To make things even easier for inexperienced drivers, the transmission comes with automatic rev-matching. On downshifts, the system raises the engine revolutions to match the speed of the car—particularly useful during braking on racetrack corners. Launch control also is included, which minimizes wheel spin on acceleration runs. Hyundai doesn’t publish zero-to-60 miles an hour times, but an educated estimate is in the five-second range.

Overall, the stick shift is delightful, with easy, short throws of the shift lever on both upshifts and downshifts. The rev-matching eliminates  jerkiness from sloppy shifting. Along with brake-induced torque vectoring to hasten maneuvers around corners, the system infuses the N with forgiving and delightful manners on a road-racing course.

Biermann says that’s what the Veloster is all about. He calls it accessible and affordable high performance for average drivers. To keep the cost reasonable, the N uses in-house brakes instead of something like Brembo racing brakes, although high-performance brake pads are available for serious racers.

Large-31055-2019VelosterN

Base prices for Veloster N will start at $27,785, including the destination charge. A special performance package tacks on an additional $2,000 and bumps the horsepower to 275. It includes a special “corner carving” differential, 19-inch alloy wheels, Pirelli P Zero performance tires, larger brake rotors and variable exhaust valves.

Standard equipment on all Velosters includes full modern safety equipment, 18-inch alloy wheels with Michelin Super Sport tires, LED headlights and taillights, automatic climate control, Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity, and premium audio with SXM satellite radio.

So no enthusiast will mistake the N from its lower-performing siblings, it comes with exclusive styling of the grille and front fascia, as well as special rear treatments, including a spoiler with brake light.

N prices are lower than those of the 306-hp Honda Civic Type R and the 220-hp Volkswagen GTI Autobahn, both of which have prices in the mid to high $30,000 range. More comparable to the N is the Ford Focus ST, which starts in the mid-$20,000 range.

Large-33464-2019VelosterNSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Hyundai Veloster N three-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 275 hp, 260 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual with rev-matching and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet.
  • Height: 4 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 90/20 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,117 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/28/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,785.
  • Price as tested: $29,885. 

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

Large-31123-2019VelosterNPhotos (c) Hyundai

2018 Volkswagen Golf R 2.0T: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

You could argue that the 2018 Volkswagen Golf R is superfluous, or at least a bit of overkill. It is the pinnacle of the Golf lineup, which also includes the best-selling GTI, for many years the darling of so-called “hot hatch” enthusiasts.

In full-blown Autobahn trim, the GTI comes with a sticker price of $37,020. The tested Golf R — the initial likely refers to “racing” but the preference here is to think of it as “randy” — jumps up to $40,635. With all-wheel drive, 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque from its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, it eclipses the front-drive GTI’s 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.

2018_Golf_R--7564So, it’s fair to say that Volkswagen’s Golf overall is more of a high-performance machine than a pedestrian runabout, though lower-priced and less powerful Golfs exhibit much of that famed “German feel” as well.

Sales statistics bear that out. Between them, the R and GTI outsell the economy-oriented Golf models. In 2017, for example, they accounted for 55,426 U.S. sales, compared to 13,552 for the other Golf versions.

In the first half of 2018, GTI sales totaled 9,189 and the standard Golf had 4,036. The R’s sales, likely reflecting its higher price, totaled 2,240.

2018_Golf_R--7566The tested Golf R — it comes only as a four-door hatchback — arrived with a six-speed manual gearbox. For an additional $1,100 you can order the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which actually gets you up to speed quicker than the manual, computer controls being superior to the human right hand on the shifter and left foot punching the clutch pedal.

For 2018, there’s only one version, down from two, which now incorporates VW’s Dynamic Chassis Control as well as a navigation system. The DCC includes adaptive shock absorbers, which with precise steering helps deliver outstanding handling and a good ride for a hatchback that measures just 14 feet bumper to bumper.

So, while the Golf R easily handled bumps in the road, the manual shifter sustained bumps in the throws. This was the one disappointment in the entire R package. While it was easy to smoothly upshift at low rpm — much like expert European taxi drivers maximizing fuel economy — at other times the shift linkage felt clunky.

2018_Golf_R--7567Also new for 2018 are an idle stop-start system to enhance fuel economy, rated at 21/29/24 mpg on the EPA’s city/highway/combined cycle. Exterior touches are refreshed front and rear styling with LED headlights and taillights, as well as newly designed 19-inch alloy wheels. Inside, there’s a new eight-inch center touchscreen, up from 6.5 inches on the previous model.

Leather sport seats hold the torso snugly during spirited cornering on twisty roads while the driver looks through a flat-bottom steering wheel at the R’s Digital Cockpit, a 12.5-inch configurable information screen that displays different vehicle functions.

One annoyance is a display that reminds the driver when to upshift the manual gearbox, mainly to enhance fuel economy. Experienced drivers usually shift by feel and likely won’t look at it much anyway.

2017_Golf_R--5366The center touchscreen incorporates controls for the navigation system, SXM satellite and HD radio, and a JPEG viewer. A Bluetooth system can pair two smart phones simultaneously and the system has the capability to send and receive text messages. There are three USB ports.

Interior comfort is first rate, with supportive bolstering on the front seats. In back, the outboard seats have plenty of headroom and adequate knee room. The center-rear position is compromised by a big floor hump and a hard cushion. There’s 23 cubic feet for cargo.

A full suite of state-of-the art technology and safety equipment includes forward collision warning and braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, blind-spot warning with rear traffic alert, park distance control front and rear, automatic headlight high beams and a rear-view camera.

2018_Golf_R--6684On the road, depending on how you drive, the Golf R’s personality is as soft as a velvet cushion or as raucous as a race car. Throttle response is quick, though sometimes there’s a slight lag. It’s a good idea to turn off the stop-start system to avoid hesitation off the line.

In a test drive of both the manual-transmission R and GTI at the Road America road racing course near Elkhart Lake, Wis., both Golfs showed capable racetrack manners. With an all-wheel drive system that can send up to 50 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels, the R felt more composed in the corners.

2018_Golf_R--7563Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Volkswagen R 2.0T four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 292 hp, 280 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 93/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,300 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/29/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,635.
  • Price as tested: $40,635.

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

2018_Golf_R--6683Photos (c) Volkswagen

2019 Toyota Corolla XSE Hatchback: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

At least Toyota is not fudging anything with its first 2019 Corolla, coming right out and naming it the all-new Hatchback.

Time was, that could be the kiss of death — or languishing on the sales charts — because American buyers overwhelmingly rejected hatchbacks, preferring traditional sedans.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_003_2AA6E4B3409FB3B9FE48B09E67DA23689FACBF39_lowNow, in the wake of a tsunami of crossover sport utility vehicles, many little more than tall hatchbacks with optional all-wheel drive, the hatches appear to be making a comeback. At least that’s what the automakers’ prognosticators seem to think.

In the luxury realm, there are hatchbacks that don’t look like traditional hatchbacks — beautiful, streamlined fastbacks like the Audi A5 and A7, the all-new Kia Stinger, BMW 640i Gran Turismo and the Buick Regal Sportback.

Closer to the new Corolla Hatchback — that’s its official name — are a bunch of nifty and sporting hatches, some even deserving of the unofficial appellation of “hot hatch,” signifying high performance.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_017_2F320AA9564C0509E7208838EF0575E939D41FC0_lowThe template for much of this is the Volkswagen Golf, which has  economy models but also is available as the perennially popular, high-performance GTI, as well as the Golf R. Another in that category is the Honda Civic, which is available as a Sport hatchback and the highest-performance Type R.

But there are plenty of other competitors for the new Corolla Hatchback, earlier versions of which have been sold for years in other countries but not seen in the U.S. There’s the Hyundai Elantra GT, the all-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza, Chevrolet Cruze, Mazda 3, Kia Forte 5, Ford Focus and Nissan Versa Note.

The new Corolla Hatchback inherited its role because of a death in the family. Toyota decided to mercifully terminate its youth-oriented Scion brand, which had among its offerings a good hatchback, the iM. After Scion went away, the iM became a Toyota, now replaced by the new Hatchback.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_006_89FA51D77FDEF706918C528A4F285C9958ECC92B_lowThe biggest things the Hatchback has going for it are its neat styling, especially viewed from the rear, front-seat comfort, supple ride, and the fact that it is a Corolla, one of the most reliable vehicles on the planet and the biggest-selling nameplate in automotive history.

Though Toyota would like you to think of the Hatchback as having a “super hot hatch persona,” as one official described it, it is actually a modest performer. The hot stuff could come later, as it did with the Hyundai Elantra GT Sport and Honda Civic Type R.

It is an entertaining around-town runabout, with dimensions that enable its driver to shoot holes in traffic and park almost anywhere, but which has athletic moves at higher freeway speeds and around mountain curves. It could be anybody’s only car.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_026_3CE68E43AD4F76D5D4CD0C1A3FD05245E1E9CEA0_lowIf you are the sort who does mostly highway travel, pay a bit extra for the XSE model, which incorporates more sound-deadening insulation than the base SE, which tends to get noisy. You’ll feel more relaxed after an all-day drive.

The Hatchback is entertaining with either the six-speed manual gearbox or the continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). Some belt-driven CVTs, which do not have shift points, impart a sensation that the transmission is slipping, which is a turn-off for many critics.

The Corolla’s does not suffer from that malady because Toyota has incorporated a sort of locked and loaded first gear to get the Hatchback launched. It gets a good jump off the line and then the CVT takes over.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_032_27827E716510A450E55588DE3C6F4AEDBF6AE1FD_lowBut for enthusiasts, even inexperienced drivers, the stick shift should be the choice because it incorporates rev-matching — a relatively new technology that heretofore came on more expensive cars. When you downshift, the system revs the engine to match the lower gear to the speed of the car for a smooth transition.

From a size and power standpoint, the Hatchback slots neatly among its competitors. Where it falls a bit short is in interior space, especially for cargo. It has a total of 103 interior cubic feet, 18 of them behind the rear seat.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_036_516ED2D1AA5161E9F01C01B17C551C7E41D70DA9_lowThe Hyundai Elantra GT has 122 cubic feet including 25 for cargo, and the Honda Civic hatchback has 120 cubic feet with 23 for cargo. However, the fastback Subaru Impreza has 112 cubic feet with just 12 for cargo, though that likely is related to its fastback, all-wheel drive design.

For now, the Hatchback is the only Corolla newbie. Anall-new sedan is on the way but Toyota isn’t saying when. However, the existing sedan is a fine piece of work itself, offering a full suite of safety equipment on all trim levels.

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_004_A30701A5B8031D23399774CC615604ECA1955101_lowSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Toyota Corolla XSE Hatchback five-door.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 168 hp, 151 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 85/18 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,060 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 30/38/33 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $25,010.
  • Price as tested: $26,610.

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

2019_Toyota_Corolla_Hatchback_013_68CC86E5DFFA511E0325B0AEEB02FFB9D8B004C5_lowPhotos (c) Toyota

2017 Mazda3 Test Drive and Review

by Jason Fogelson

The Fogelson fleet is rather small. I own a 2014 Mazda CX-5 crossover vehicle (“Maus”), a 2012 Mazda3 (“Mori”) and a 1993 Harley-Davidson Sportster Deluxe (“Manny”). The CX-5 is my daily driver, and the Sportster is my trusty motorcycle. Mori the Mazda3 is my wife Robin’s car, providing transportation to and from work every day.

Robin loves Mori. We bought the car new in 2012, and it has been trouble-free ever since. She loves the size, handling, performance, comfort and style of the compact five-door, and I have been so pleased with it that when it came time to replace my beloved Toyota 4Runner (“Moose”), I decided to downsize to the CX-5.

So, when I got a chance to spend some time with the new Mazda3, I approached it with great familiarity with the car. Sitting nose-to-tail with the 2012 model, I noted the similarities and differences with interest. Though Mazda3 got a makeover for the 2014 model year, it retains many of the design cues that attracted us to the vehicle in the first place. The front end has been refined with a new grille, and the rear fascia has newly elegant tail lamps. The body is a little curvier, a little more muscular, and a little less cute than the 2012 model – not necessarily a bad thing. Inside, the design is a little more refined, with a touchscreen display on top of the center stack and upgraded materials.

The thing that sealed the deal for Robin when buying the 2012 Mazda3 was the driving experience. Robin isn’t a performance driver by any means – she’s a classic commuter, and prizes reliability and ease of use over handling. But she loves the road feel and stability of her little car, and chose it over its competitors for that reason.

I prefer the 2017 Mazda3 to our 2012. I like the interior and exterior styling better, and the newer car felt a little tighter and crisper during driving tests.

I asked Robin if she’d like to replace Mori with a new 2017 Mazda3 after we spent a week with the car. “No,” she responded. “I love my little car.” I must admit, I’m proud of my wife. She knows what she likes, and she’s not easily seduced by the shiny new thing. I’m a lucky man.

Read my 2017 Mazda3 Test Drive and Review on Forbes.com.

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

Photos (c) Mazda.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

What once was a slur of contempt now has become a badge of acceptance, as the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback can confirm.

Not long ago, hatchback was a dirty word—at least as far as most U.S. consumers were concerned. They overwhelmingly preferred traditional sedans with trunks, though the practical hatchback body style was popular in Europe and other areas around the world.

Hatchbacks actually did fairly well on these shores in a surprising number of iterations once you investigate. But manufacturers shied away from calling them hatchbacks. Somewhat the same thing happened with station wagons, which once ruled the American roads along with big Detroit sedans.

The 2017 Cruze Hatch offers 47.2 cubic feet of rear cargo room w

A few manufacturers soldiered on steadfastly with their hatchbacks, notably Volkswagen’s Golf. Others, like the Mazda3, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa and Ford Focus, came in both hatchback and traditional notchback sedans.

Luxury Europeans BMW and Mercedes-Benz tried hatchbacks like the 318i and C-Class, and then dropped them. In recent years, though, more hatchbacks have been sneaking through. Among them: Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Sonic and Spark, Hyundai Accent and Elantra, Kia Rio and Forte, the former Scion xA and xD, and Subaru Impreza.

Now there’s a new atmosphere, aided immensely by the runaway popularity of small crossover sport utility vehicles, most of which are tall hatchbacks with a choice of front-drive or all-wheel drive.

The first ever Cruze Hatch blends sporty design with the versati

It now has gotten to the point where manufacturers no longer are ashamed to embrace the once dreaded hatchback designation. The two most notable contenders for 2017 are the Honda Civic and the subject here, the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback LT four-door.

The Cruze, as a four-door sedan, succeeded the undistinguished and forgettable Chevrolet Cavalier and Cobalt compact cars. Introduced as a 2009 model, the Cruze has found increasing acceptance and, in 2015, had 226,602 U.S. sales, in third place behind the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic.

Sales have dropped off in 2016 but the new Hatchback models are poised to give the Cruze some newfound popularity as buyers appreciate the advantages of well-designed hatchbacks.

There are two versions, both with options packages that further distinguish them: the tested Hatchback LT with the RS appearance package, which starts at $22,115, and the top-line Hatchback Premier with a starting price of $24,820.

The 2017 Cruze Hatch offers unexpected segment-exclusive technol

The Premier comes with a six-speed automatic transmission as part of the standard equipment. With a full set of option packages, it tops out at $29,465. So equipped, it resembles a near-luxury car with a high-quality interior slathered in leather and state-of-the art safety, connectivity and convenience features.

But you can get the same fundamental good stuff in the tested Hatchback LT with the RS appearance package, which is distinguished by a different grille, rear spoiler and other body treatments.

You’ll have to forego some of the luxury, infotainment and entertainment items, but you’ll sit in comfortable and supportive seats upholstered in quality cloth for a way-lesser tested price of $22,965. The base price is $22,115.

The basics, which are the same in all Cruze models, include a 153-hp 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 177 lb-ft of torque and city/highway/combined fuel economy of 28/37/32 mpg with the either the six-speed manual gearbox or the optional six-speed automatic transmission.

The first ever Cruze Hatch blends sporty design with the versati

Interestingly, the Cruze Hatchback LT is priced almost the same as the 2017 Honda Civic Sport Hatchback. The two cars have nearly the same passenger and cargo space, but the Civic is more powerful with a 180 hp 1.5-liter turbocharged engine with 177 pound-feet of torque and 30/39/33 fuel economy.

Both cars come with comfortable cloth seats. However, the Cruze LT has a more extensive level of equipment, including SirusXM satellite radio, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and Chevrolet’s OnStar connectivity with automatic crash notification and turn-by-turn navigation.

The main thing distinguishing the two is that the Civic is more sporting and driver oriented while the Cruze is softer and better appointed. Its manual shift linkage and clutch are not quite as slick as the Honda’s, but they work well – and you won’t notice much difference unless you compare the cars together.

Both have handsome exterior styling but different approaches. The Civic has a sloping body that resembles a modern sedan while the Cruze has a distinct hatchback look.

Chevrolet’s culture no longer tolerates ordinary cars destined for rental fleets. Two examples are the new Malibu, a midsize standout, and the Impala, selected by Consumer Reports as its top pick among large cars.

The new 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback rolls easily into that parade.

The 2017 Cruze Hatch offers the design, engineering and technolo

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback LT w/RS four-door.
  • Engine: 1.4-liter four cylinder, direct injection, 153 hp, 177 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 94/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,910 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/37/31 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $22,115.
  • Price as tested: $22,965.

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

Photos (c) General Motors.

2017 Honda Civic Sport Hatchback: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If any vehicle can eliminate the longstanding prejudice against hatchbacks, it’s the 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback.

The company has such confidence its latest iteration of the Honda Civic that it doesn’t shy away from simply calling it a hatchback. For many years until just recently, hatchbacks — as well as station wagons — have been anathema to U.S. buyers.

That’s changing, mainly because of the growing popularity of small and midsize crossover sport utility vehicles. Many of the smaller ones are little more than tall hatchbacks with front- or all-wheel drive. Entry-level crossovers now constitute the biggest vehicle segment in the U.S.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

That’s not the case, yet, with hatchbacks. But they do appear to be finding increasing acceptance among buyers — to the point where Chevrolet, for example, designed its new electric car, the Bolt, as a four-door hatchback. It also has added a well appointed four-door hatchback to its compact Cruze lineup. Honda takes a different approach. It started last year with the 10th generation Civic, first as a four-door sedan followed by a two-door coupe. The Civic won the Car of the Year honor from the independent panel of automotive journalists who are members of the North American Car of the Year organization.

Now Honda follows with the four-door Hatchback; performance models are coming later. The Hatchback spans the spectrum from the basic LX, which starts at $20,535 with a six-speed manual gearbox to the plush EX-L Navi, at $26,635.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring
2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

The latter includes, among other features, a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), navigation, motorized glass sunroof, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, satellite radio, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors and Honda’s Lane Watch camera that covers the right-side blind spot. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto also are part of the standard equipment.

But the real hoot for fans comes with two enthusiast-oriented versions: Sport and Sport Touring. The latter, fully equipped at $29,135, unfortunately comes only with the CVT.

The hot number is the Sport, reviewed here, which sells for just $22,135 with the six-speed manual gearbox. It gets the juices flowing with sporting performance and handling. You can order it with the CVT for an additional $800 but unless you’re dead set against shifting for yourself, don’t bother. The stick shift is the way to travel.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring
2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

It is the most powerful in the Hatchback lineup, with 180 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque from a new 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that is so precisely programmed that the dreaded so-called turbo lag is eliminated.

City/highway/combined fuel consumption works out to 30/39/33 mpg. Premium fuel is recommended for maximum performance but regular is OK.

The Sport also features handling enhancements that include stabilizer bars, front and rear fluid-filled suspension bushings, multi-link rear suspension system and a tight steering ratio that results in just 2.1 turns of the steering wheel from hard left to hard right.

That and a stiff chassis delivers a car that stays firmly planted in a straight line or around curves, yet delivers a comfortable ride. The Sport’s supportive front seats are covered in a high-quality cloth that grips the torso.

The Sport’s clutch action and shift linkage are among the best anywhere. Clutch engagement is smooth and progressive, and the greasy shifter follows the driver’s inputs without glitches.

All of the streamlined new Hatchbacks resemble sedans. But they feature a shorter rear overhang, sculptured exterior design and stylish 18-inch alloy wheels that fill the wheel openings and are positioned near the corners of the car.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring
2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

Under the hatch is an innovative cargo cover that moves sideways rather than fore and aft, eliminating the need for a crossbar. Cargo volume is 23 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks. Fold the seatbacks and the space expands to 46 cubic feet. Total interior volume, including 97 cubic feet for passengers, is120 cubic feet, which classifies the Hatchback as a large car, though it is marketed as a compact.

That makes for a roomy interior. The outboard back seats offer plenty of head and knee room for people more than six feet tall, and even the center-rear position, which is a punishing perch in most cars, provides decent head and knee room, although the passenger sits on a rigid cushion and must splay his feet on both sides of a four-inch floor hump.

The Civic Sport is conceived and built for driving entertainment, which it delivers with a shot of excitement and a dose of practicality.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring
2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Honda Civic Sport four-door hatchback.
  • Engine:1.5-liter four cylinder, 180 hp, 177 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 97/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,864 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 30/39/33 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $22,135.
  • Price as tested: $22,135.

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

Photos (c) Honda.

2017 Ford Focus RS: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though not widely lauded, the 2017 Ford Focus RS epitomizes the ongoing revolution in the world-wide automobile industry.

First, it’s a four-door hatchback, a body style that American buyers rejected but now is getting new respect because of the way manufacturers reconfigured and renamed hatchbacks as crossovers.

A crossover generally is defined as a tall utility vehicle that is built with a unit body like a car, instead of with a body on frame, like a traditional pickup truck.

The biggest current change in consumer preferences is away from traditional sedans and toward compact and mid-size crossover sport utility vehicles. They are now setting sales records across the board, from popular priced to luxury. Even a high-altitude luxury brand like Bentley weighs in with its $229,000 mid-size Bentayga.

_42a1075_hrMany crossovers are little more than jacked-up four-door hatchbacks with all-wheel drive. They demonstrate the ingenuity of automotive designers and engineers, who took an orphan design and turned it into a star.

The Focus RS also has all-wheel drive, though it’s more of a performance feature than a utilitarian, all-weather enhancement. That, too, is a trend with no end in sight.

Most of all, however, the revolution is under the hood as manufacturers, thanks to creative computer software, extract ever more power from smaller engines.

No longer do people repeat the old mantra that “there’s no replacement for displacement.” That was once true. Muscle cars of the last half of the 20th century, despite poor handling and brakes but with big V8 engines, now are history though avidly sought by collectors.

16fordfocusrs_11_hrFour-cylinder engines, including the one in the new Focus RS, are becoming the norm. Often with turbocharging, they deliver horsepower and torque, along with fuel economy that only could be imagined even a decade ago.

The RS four-banger has a displacement—the total volume inside the cylinders—of 2.3 liters. That’s not much more than that two-liter soft drink bottle at the supermarket. Yet it delivers a whopping 350 horsepower and 350 pounds-feet of torque. With its six-speed manual gearbox and curb weight of 3,460 pounds, it can rocket to 60 miles an hour in less than five seconds.

That sort of performance doesn’t come cheap. Basically, the Ford Focus is a compact economy car with a starting price of about $18,000. The RS, with its high-zoot power, all-wheel drive and handling refinements, starts at $36,995. The test car, with options, had a suggested retail price at $40,475.

Base equipment includes Brembo high-performance brakes, selectable drive modes, pushbutton starting, launch control, satellite radio with Ford’s Sync system, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lights and a rear spoiler.

focus-rs_12An options package on the test car included a navigation system, performance summer tires on painted alloy wheels, heated front seats, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel and heated outside mirrors.

Except for the custom 19-inch wheels and a few other styling fillips, the Focus RS does not betray its economy compact origin, which makes it something of a stealth bomber on the highway.

Even the interior does not depart much from the base car except for the aftermarket Recaro bucket seats with their generous side bolsters and high friction cloth upholstery with leather trim to grip the torso in spirited driving. They feel terrific but take a bit of extra effort to settle into.

focus_rs_09The RS’s standard launch control minimizes wheel spin in acceleration runs. It also comes with four different drive modes: normal, sport, track and drift. The last is a bit questionable because the motor sport of drifting involves busting the rear end loose around a corner in a display of tire burning smoke.

The RS all-wheel drive mitigates the drift. It features a standard torque vectoring system that can send about 70% of the power to the rear wheels.

The operative description of the Focus RS is “tight.” The steering, shifter, clutch, ride, seating—everything about this so-called “hot hatch” is tight and stiff. It’s a characteristic well loved by enthusiasts but not endearing to commuters. Despite that, however, the shift linkage is direct and intuitive.

The sport, track and drift modes deliver a rock hard ride so most owners likely will engage normal for everyday driving. The different modes adjust the suspension system.

This obviously is not a casual car. Many drivers likely would reject it out of hand after one test drive. The Focus RS requires skill and effort to bring out its considerable qualities. But over time it can deliver the automotive equivalent of a teenage crush.

_p9a2215_hrSpecifications

  • Model: 2017 Ford Focus RS four-door hatchback.
  • Engine:3-liter four cylinder, turbocharged, 350 hp, 350 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 91/20 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,460 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/25/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,995.
  • Price as tested: $40,475.

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

Photos (c) Ford.

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