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Hybrid SUVs

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As a manufacturer that came relatively late to the SUV party/game, Kia brought a gift for figuring out how to satisfy buyers of crossover sport utility vehicles, including the 2021 Sorento Hybrid EX.

It’s no small feat to develop a lineup of these practical, popular vehicles. South Korea’s Kia has delivered five — seven if you count the hatchback Soul and the Sedona minivan.

In 2020, the top-line Kia Telluride won North American Utility of the Year, beating its close cousin, the Hyundai Palisade, and the luxury Lincoln Aviator. Though a separate brand, Kia is part of the Hyundai automotive family, and the two marques share engines and transmissions.

The Soul is technically not a crossover, defined as an SUV with a unit body. It is a boxy hatchback sedan and, at times, has been Kia’s best-seller in the U.S. Also not fitting the crossover designation is the Sedona minivan, which competes against the Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Pacifica, and Toyota Sienna.

That leaves the small Seltos, compact Sportage and Niro, midsize Sorento, and the flagship Telluride. Each has much to recommend it in its class, but the new Sorento comes closest to the excellent Telluride in concept and execution.

The Hybrid EX, reviewed here, not only delivers outstanding city/highway/combined fuel economy of 39/35/37 miles to the gallon on regular gasoline. It also makes additional horsepower and torque for better all-around performance. A standard non-hybrid Sorento S uses a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 191 hp.

The Hybrid, on the other hand, comes with a turbocharged 1.6-liter gasoline engine linked to a 60-hp electric motor. Together, they deliver 227 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode.

All-wheel drive is not yet available on the Hybrid.

Classified as a midsize crossover, the Sorento Hybrid comes with 143 cubic feet of passenger room in three rows of seats. On the tested Hybrid, the second row consisted of two captain’s chairs and a third-row seat for two, making the Sorento a full six-passenger vehicle — although twisting and sliding back into the lowdown third row takes some youthful agility. Those poor souls sit with their knees up under their chins. Fortunately, the second-row seats have enough fore-and-aft travel to give the third row enough knee room.

But the cargo space behind the Hybrid Sorento’s third row is a stingy 13 cubic feet — about what you’d find in a compact sedan’s trunk. Likely most owners will simply drive around with the third row folded until it’s needed. The Telluride does better, with generous cargo space behind its third row.

The Hybrid EX Sorento is 10 inches shorter than the Telluride with 32 cubic feet less passenger and cargo space. The Telluride has 167 cubic feet of space for passengers with 21 cubic feet for cargo behind the third row. 

Despite its hybrid power train and higher price — $1,700 more than the standard gasoline-only Sorento — the Hybrid comes across as something of a bargain — even before dickering with the dealer. The tested EX model had a starting price of $37,760, close to the average cost of a new vehicle in the U.S., and a delivered price, including the destination charge, of $38,205.

It was well equipped, with full safety equipment: automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection; lane-keeping and lane following assist; driver attention warning, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor, and collision avoidance displayed in the instrument cluster. In addition, rear occupant alert with motion detection and rear passenger safe exit assist using the blind spot monitor to detect passing vehicles.

There also were luxury touches, including a panoramic sunroof with one-touch opening, dual-zone automatic climate control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, SXM satellite radio, wireless Bluetooth, heated front seats, and USB chargers in all three rows.

On the road, the Sorento delivered a comfortable ride, capable handling, and a quiet interior with little intrusion of wind, mechanical, or road noise except on very rough surfaces. It’s not the quickest arrow in the quiver, but the electric motor in the hybrid system delivers a bit of extra oomph off the line, enabling a zero-to-60 acceleration time in the seven-second range.

Made in the USA in a plant in West Point, GA, the Kia Sorento Hybrid EX deserves consideration by anyone shopping in this category.

Specifications:

  • Model: 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid EX four-door crossover sport utility vehicle,
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline, turbocharged; 60 hp electric motor; combined 227 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 143/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,050 pounds (est.).
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 39/35/37 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,760.
  • Price as tested: $38,205.

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

Photos (c) Kia

2021 Toyota Venza Limited Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

When the Toyota Venza made its debut in 2009, it was something of a novelty. Billed as a crossover utility vehicle, or CUV, it looked and felt more like a traditional station wagon, albeit a bit taller than most.

Automotive News, the most prominent trade publication in the automotive industry, listed the Venza as a car in its U.S. sales statistics, not in the truck category along with sport utility vehicles and crossovers. 

Though the terms get mixed up and misused, a sport utility vehicle generally is a wagon-like vehicle with body on frame construction, like a truck. Crossovers are built like cars with unit-body construction. 

The Venza crossover lasted just seven years. Its best sales year was 2009, the year it was introduced, when 54,410 were sold in the United States. But sales dwindled and Toyota dropped it after the 2005 model year.

But now it’s back for 2021 as a fully realized crossover SUV, better than ever with economical gasoline-electric hybrid power, not unlike its garage-mate Toyota Prius. Both are hybrid-only, a system with which Toyota has vast experience. The Venza also comes with standard all-wheel drive.

On the tested Venza Limited as well as other trim levels, the hybrid combination delivers 219 horsepower from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with 88 hp and three electric motors, one of which drives the rear wheels. The system earns an EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 40/37/39 mpg. 

Power gets to all four wheels via an electronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Standard CVTs use a system of belts and pulleys to multiply engine torque. Toyota’s ECVT, also used in the Prius, uses electric motor generators to control a planetary gear set, allowing the transmission to continuously change the gear ratio and keep the engine’s rpms at maximum efficiency.

The hybrid system incorporates four driver-selectable drive modes: EV for purely electric motoring, Eco for maximum fuel efficiency, Normal for everyday commuting, and Sport for horsing around (carefully, of course).

There are three Venza versions: Base SE, midlevel SEL and top-line Limited. The last, tested for this review, came with a base price of $40,975, including the destination charge. With options that included a $1,400 panoramic glass sunroof and a $725 technology package with a head-up display and rain-sensing windshield wipers, the bottom-line sticker came $43,525.

The panoramic sunroof is unusual. The glass changes from nearly opaque gray to a translucent white fog at the touch of an overhead switch. But it does not open to the sky for fresh air. There is an opaque power-operated sunroof shade. 

The Venza slots in Toyota’s crossover SUV lineup between the less-expensive RAV4 and the larger Highlander. Curiously, though it shares its basic platform with the RAV4, the Venza actually has less interior space. It has 95 cubic feet of room for passengers and a cargo area of 29 cubic feet. The RAV4 has 99 cubic feet for passengers and 38 cubic feet for cargo.

The Venza is 15 feet 7 inches long compared to the RAV4’s 15 feet 1 inch. But the RAV4, at 5 feet 7 inches, is an inch taller than the Venza’s height of 5 feet 6 inches.

Overall, the Venza presents itself as a stylish and comfortable conveyance, more luxury-oriented than the RAV4. Following a trend among luxury crossover SUVs, it has the roofline of a coupe, though taller, and an interior that has prompted some critics to opine that it looks more like a Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, than a Toyota.

Inside, the upholstery and many surfaces are covered in leather or leatherette. Front and outboard rear seats are roomy, supportive and comfortable. Even the center-rear seat is not horrible, thanks to a shallow floor hump and a decently soft cushion. Rear seatbacks fold flat to expand cargo space to 55 cubic feet.

On the road, the Venza feels strong under acceleration, though there’s some growling from the gasoline engine when you get your foot heavily into the throttle. Once settled on the highway, the ambiance mostly becomes quiet.

For a vehicle that leans toward luxury, the Venza has some sporting road manners. Select the Sport driving mode and it handles curving roads with aplomb as the ECVT transmission keeps the engine on the boil. Not bad for a machine that can deliver 40 mpg.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Toyota Venza Limited four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 176 hp; with three electric motors; 219 combined system hp.
  • Transmission: Electronic continuously variable automatic (ECVT) with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches. 
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 95/29 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,880 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 40/37/39 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,975.
  • Price as tested: $43,525.

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

Photos (c) Toyota

2021 Lexus NX 300h Luxury: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Driving alone is one of those pleasant outings you can experience during the coronavirus pandemic, and even more so if your ride is the 2021 Lexus NX 300h crossover sport utility vehicle.

You don’t have to wear a mask and you can settle into and ogle the pleasant, quality interior, set off as in the tested NX with crème perforated leather upholstery and black accents. And even if you decide not to drive, you can simply sit in the comfortable, well bolstered seats, leave the automatic climate control running, keep the doors locked, lower the power seatbacks and maybe even take a nap.

In that case your fuel economy would be dragged down a bit from the NX’s excellent city/highway/combined EPA rating of 33/30/31 mpg — one result of the vast, established hybrid experience of luxury Lexus’s parent company, Toyota.

On the NX, it consists of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine mated to three electric motors dancing together to drive all four wheels through a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). As many people now are aware, CVTs are smooth, smooth, with no shift points.

However, in case the NX owner wants a bit more verve, an easy selection of the Sport driving mode triggers an onboard computer that mimics a six-speed automatic’s shift points, controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. So you don’t have to be shiftless, although the system doesn’t entirely trust you and will shift for you if you butcher it.

Positioned a notch above the smaller entry-level Lexus UX SUV, the NX is a luxury competitor and is priced accordingly. In common parlance, it is referred to as a compact crossover. However, in the often confusing vehicle size designations it has the interior space of a midsize sedan. Competitors include the Acura RDX, BMW X1, Volvo XC40, Audi Q3, Cadillac XT4 and Mercedes-Benz GLB.

The tested NX 300h Luxury version came with a base price of $47,535, including the destination charge. With a fairly short list of options, the bottom line sticker price came to $52,434. With that, it had the stones of safety and luxury to match almost any luxury automobile.

Safety: Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, panoramic backup camera, lane-tracing with steering assist, road-sign detection, rain-sensing windshield wipers, all-speed dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high beam headlights.

Luxury: Perforated leather heated and ventilated front seats with memory, navigation system, premium Mark Levinson surround-sound audio, heated power-adjustable steering wheel, auto-dimming and heated outside mirrors, power motorized glass sunroof, power rear tailgate, SXM satellite radio, voice command with Siri Eyes Free and Google Voice, and Android Auto and Apple Car Play connectivity. 

The NX is not the quickest kid on the block. The total gasoline/electric system horsepower is 194, with 152 lb-ft of torque. Lexus lists the zero to 60 acceleration time at 9.1 seconds with a top speed of 112. But punch in the Sport mode and it feels faster than that. You’ll not be embarrassed at stop lights or freeway on-ramps.

It’s a quiet, comfortable long-distance runner, though you quickly realize that the suspension system delivers a stiff ride—no doubt because the engineers decided to dial in some extra handling prowess. On curving roads, it is stable at speeds with little body lean.

The windshield side pillars (called A-pillars in the industry) are cleverly angled so that the driver, with little effort on a two-lane tight corner, can see around the left one to check if a vehicle is coming in the opposite direction.

There is a bit of a visibility problem in back, however. The rear seat headrests are large and block part of the view to the rear. But there’s a thoughtful fix. The seatbacks on the tested NX Luxury are powered and can be dropped nearly flat with the touch of buttons—two in the cargo compartment and two on the dash, so a lone driver can fold them without leaving the front seat. However, they will not fold if the NX is moving.

Even with the seatbacks folded, the wide rear D-pillars block some of the rear view. The tester came with blind-spot warning but it’s still best to adjust the outside mirrors out far enough to enable a 180-degree  view to the rear. Outside mirrors are the original blind-spot warning but seldom are correctly adjusted.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Lexus NX 300h Luxury four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motors: 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline; three hybrid electric motors; total system output: 194 hp, 152 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single speed continuously-variable automatic with stepped manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 97/17 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 4,180 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 33/30/31 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,535.
  • Price as tested: $52,434.

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

Photos (c) Lexus

Attracting Xennials in the 2020 Lexus UX 250h

by Jason Fogelson

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

Profile Right

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

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

Dash

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

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

Rear 3q Left

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

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

Rear

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

Photos (c) Lexus

 

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The Honda CR-V has had an enviable run for nearly a quarter of a century as a premier crossover sport utility vehicle. But the 2020 CR-V Hybrid, the first time it has arrived with gasoline-electric power, contends as the best ever.

Though it has slipped over the last three years in its annual sales battle with the Toyota RAV4, also a compact crossover SUV, Honda has sold more than five million CR-Vs in the US since its introduction in 1997. Toyota had a head start in 1996, but through 2019 the RAV 4 came up short of the CR-V with 4.2 million sales.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

The RAV4 also started with a hybrid power train in 2015, which boosted sales considerably. Now, with electrification the buzz word everywhere in the vehicle industry, the CR-V should get a boost as well.

With all-wheel drive, the CR-V Hybrid uses a hybrid system similar to that on the front-drive Honda Accord. It consists of a 2.0-liter gasoline engine that delivers 143 hp and 129 lb-ft of torque connected to an electric motor. Another electric motor connects to the rear differential. Combined, the three power sources make 212 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Though the primary reason for a hybrid is fuel economy, this Honda system also gives solid performance — more than any other model in the CR-V lineup. The zero-to-60-mph acceleration time is in the seven-second range, but it feels faster.

It is an amiable companion in any driving situation. With good insulation and noise-canceling technology, it’s quiet on the highway, with the substantial road feel of a more expensive performance SUV. It is responsive to steering inputs and tracks capably on curving roads.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

There are three selectable drive modes: Sport, Econ and EV. The last, pure electric drive, is not often available — and then only for a few miles when the battery pack gets fully charged by the gasoline engine. Mostly, the hybrid system switches so seamlessly among the power sources that you’re barely aware that you’re driving a hybrid.

Sport mode is the most engaging. It tightens the suspension system and steering, giving up some ride quality but better overall feel. Econ slows things down but you can defeat some of that by simply flooring the brash pedal.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

The downside of the hybrid power train is its battery location under the rear cargo floor. Though it doesn’t wipe out any cargo space, it eliminates space for the spare wheel and tire. Honda substitutes a so-called tire repair kit and roadside service. The kit might help with a leak but is useless for a blowout.

There are four hybrid trim levels, starting with the LX, priced at $28,870, and followed by the EX at $31,380, EX-L which adds leather upholstery and a power tailgate. The top-of-the-line Touring tested here had a sticker price of $37,070. Prices include the destination charge.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

All versions come equipped with Honda Sensing, a suite of active driver aids. They include collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind spot warning and traffic-sign recognition.

The Touring CR-V Hybrid, in keeping with Honda’s tradition of avoiding long lists of options, comes as fully equipped as any buyer might want. Among the features: Dual-zone automatic climate control with air filtration, automatic walk-away locking, power tail gate, navigation system with voice recognition, premium audio with SXM satellite and HD radio, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, multi-view rear camera, Bluetooth connectivity, wireless smart phone charging, heated front seats and steering wheel, and motorized glass sunroof, among others.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Though classified as a compact crossover, the CR-V Hybrid has the interior space of a large sedan — a total of 136 cubic feet, or 16 more than the government’s definition of a large car at 120 cubic feet. Passenger space rivals that of a midsize car while the 33 cubic feet for cargo is way above any sedan.

There’s plenty of  elbow and knee room inside for five passengers, although as usual the poor soul in the center-rear space gets disrespected with a high perch and a hard cushion. Front seats and outboard rear seats, upholstered on the tested Touring in perforated leather, are well bolstered and supportive for long-distance drives.

Bottom line, there’s little question that this fully developed and sophisticated crossover enhances the CR-V’s already recognized reputation.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid Touring four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motors: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 143 hp, 129 lb-ft torque; two electric motors; combined 212 hp, 232 lb-ft torque. 1.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
  • Transmission: Single-speed direct with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 103/33 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,763 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 40/35/38 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,070.
  • Price as tested: $37,070.

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

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Photos (c) Honda

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