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japanese crossovers

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

2020 Acura MDX AWD A-Spec: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

To paraphrase Erasmus: in the land of multiplying bitty crossovers, the luxury 2020 Acura MDX still reigns.

Desiderius Erasmus, in the 15th or 16th century, famously wrote, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

The maxim is interpreted to mean that even someone with limited abilities or opportunities can be dominant over and considered special by those who have fewer abilities and opportunities.

Front 3q Left WhiteIt is apt when considering the new MDX, and other luxury crossover SUVs, awash in a flood of subcompact, compact and midsize crossovers.

Many of the newer small crossovers have much to recommend them: low prices, practicality over any four-door sedan, good performance and handling, and decent fuel economy.

They are named Kicks, Corsair, GLA, C-HR, Venue, Enclave, QX-30, HR-V, Niro, Kona, X1, Renegade, Seltos, CX-3 and Trax, among others. Some are luxury; most are popular priced.

Front 3q Right RedAs good as most of them are, many buyers aspire to something bigger, more luxurious and comfortable, with better performance and, important to some, reputation and presence. Those sentiments are what gave rise to luxury crossovers — at a time when truck-based SUVs like the Ford Explorer and Jeep Wagoneer of the last century dominated what then was a tiny slice of the market.

Mercedes-Benz was the first to introduce a luxury SUV, the ML-320 in 1998, though then it was not a crossover but a proper body-on-frame hauler built like a truck. It was followed in short order by the Lexus RX and the Acura MDX, both built with unit-body construction like automobiles, which the ML-320 also morphed into. The MDX distinguished itself by starting out as the first three-row, seven-passenger crossover SUV.

DashIt remains that way in 2020 and fits the interpretation of the famed Erasmus admonition. It is not a perfect vehicle, meaning it has some limitations, but it has been dominant in the marketplace.

Acura brags that it was the retail sales champ among three-row luxury competitors in 2019, beating Lexus, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Infiniti, Tesla and Volvo then and in every year since 2010. The claim gets some argument because it counts only sales to individual buyers and ignores fleet sales.

Nevertheless, Acura also says the MDX is the best selling three-row luxury SUV of all time, and has completed its eighth straight year of sales higher than 50,000.

Center ConsoleNo vehicle is perfect and the MDX A-Spec tested for this review is no exception, fitting the Erasmus definition of limited capabilities in some areas. The most obvious: It seats seven passengers, but only four of them comfortably.

The front bucket seats, done up in suede-like Alcantara cloth with leather trim, are supportive and comfortable for both long-distance cruising and challenging mountain curves. The same goes for the outboard rear seats.

Unaccountably, however, the center-rear seat, despite a flat floor, has a hard, uncompromising cushion that would be torture on a long trip. The second-row seats can be adjusted as much as five inches fore and aft, but there’s no way to divide the knee room to prove space for second- and third-row passengers.

2020 Acura MDX A-Spec

The third row is tiny, difficult to access for all but athletic youngsters, and without decent space for adults. So it’s best to think of the MDX as a two-row crossover with the third row folded to open a giant cargo area, usable mainly for extra passengers in emergencies.

So much for the MDX’s limited capabilities. In other respects, especially the driving experience, it is a superb performer despite its two-ton heft and length of 16 feet 4 inches.

WheelThere’s an old adage that says small vehicles should drive big and big vehicles drive small. The MDX, for all of its bulk, drives small. On curving roads, the MDX feels soft and flexible while also clipping corners with the composure of a smaller vehicle tuned for sporty handling.

Buttressing the handling is Acura’s integrated Dynamics System, which provides driver-adjustable settings for steering effort, throttle responses and, with SH-AWD (super-handling all-wheel drive), torque vectoring to tighten cornering. Settings are Comfort, Normal and Sport, but the differences are small and handling remains confident.

Under the hood lies Acura’s 3.5-liter V6 engine, as smooth a power plant as you can find anywhere. It makes 290 hp with 267 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, delivered to Acura’s SH-AWD through a nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual shifting mode. It’s a personality any driver would embrace.

RearSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Acura MDX AWD A-Spec four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 290 hp, 267 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 138/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,303 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/25/21 mpg. Premium fuel.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $55,895.
  • Price as tested: $55,895.

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

Rear 3q Left WhitePhotos (c) Acura

2020 Mazda CX30 AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Not only does the all-new 2020 Mazda CX-30 get an extra digit in its model number, it apparently plugs a hole in the Mazda lineup that nobody noticed.

It slots in the Japanese manufacturer’s crossover sport utility vehicle lineup between the slightly smaller CX-3 and the slightly larger CX-5. The question is why. The answer lies somewhere among Mazda’s marketing mavens.

2020-Mazda-CX-30_001Consider: The CX-30 is 14 feet 5 inches long with 94 cubic feet of passenger volume and 20 cubic feet of cargo space.

The smaller CX-3 is five inches shorter, at 14 feet long, with about half the cargo space and eight cubic feet less for passengers: 86 cubic feet and 10-12 cubic feet for cargo, depending on the trim level.

The larger CX-5 is six inches longer than the CX-30, at 14 feet 11 inches long with 102 cubic feet of space for passengers and 31 cubic feet for stuff. We’ll see which of the three models buyers prefer.

2020-Mazda-CX-30_003The CX-30 also is a ‘tweener on engine power and fuel economy. In most respects, it resembles the Mazda3, which is built as a four-door hatchback or conventional four-door sedan. They share the same engine — a 186-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 186 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force.

If you’re the sporting type who likes manual gearboxes, your only choice is a front-drive Mazda3 Hatchback. The four-door comes only with the six-speed automatic transmission, the same as the all-wheel drive 3 hatchback and the CX-30.

With similar power, prices, appointments and underpinnings, both models fit Mazda’s current campaign to take its entire lineup more upscale. It shows in the CX-30’s interior, done up with quality materials and workmanship. The CX-30 has the same cargo space of 20 cubic feet as the 3 and just three cubic feet more for passengers.

2020-Mazda-CX-30_013The main difference between the two is the CX-30’s taller crossover profile, which is not a demerit. Its 5 feet 2 inch height doesn’t feel like it causes much perceptible disadvantage in ordinary handling. Curving roads are easily conquered with little body lean and good steering feedback.

At 2.5 liters, the engine is large for a four-cylinder. But it’s naturally aspirated, meaning no turbocharger, which in turn means no dreaded turbo lag, that hesitation while the turbo spools up after you mash the accelerator pedal.

Throttle response on the CX-30 is prompt, both off the line and in passing, with a zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time in the seven-second range, almost the same as the 3 hatchback. The six-speed automatic transmission transfers the power to the wheels with no hiccups. If you don’t want to be shiftless, steering wheel paddles enable you to shift for yourself.

2020-Mazda-CX-30_004Freeway merging poses no problems and the CX-30 has long-distance comfort, although you have to put up with engine drone at cruising speeds. Though it’s not fatiguing, you always know the engine is working. It’s not unlike some European luxury cars, which always seem to announce the presence of an internal combustion power plant under the hood.

The front seats have good support and plenty of bolstering for spirited driving on curving mountain roads. The outboard back seats are similarly accommodating though a bit tight on space for anyone nearing six feet tall. As usual these days, the occasional passenger who gets exiled to the center-rear position is punished by a hard cushion, big floor hump and intrusion of the front console.

2020_Mazda_CX-30_Interior_11With front-wheel drive, the base CX-30 has a starting price of $22,945, including the destination charge. Tested for this review was the  premium all-wheel drive version. It had a starting price of $30,645 and, with options, a bottom-line sticker of $31,670.

Yet it was as well equipped as almost anyone would specify for new wheels. It included modern safety equipment: adaptive radar cruise control with stop and go, rear cross traffic alert, blind-spot warning, tire pressure monitoring and smart brake support with collision warning and pedestrian detection.

2020_Mazda_CX-30_Interior_5The smart brake support comes coupled with Mazda’s Distance Recognition Support System (DRSS) that displays the distance to the vehicle ahead. In addition, the system includes a warning alarm of the risk of a collision with the car ahead, helping a driver maintain a safe following distance.

There’s modern infotainment from Apple Car Play and Android Auto, navigation system, motorized glass sunroof, power rear lift gate, heated front seats, power driver’s seat with memory, and LED lighting.

2020_Mazda_CX-30_Interior_1Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Mazda CX30 AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 186 hp, 186 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 94/20 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,390 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/32/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,645.
  • Price as tested: $31,670.

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

2020-Mazda-CX-30_005Photos (c) Mazda

2020 Toyota C-HR Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though almost anyone would classify the 2020 Toyota C-HR as a crossover sport utility vehicle, the company prefers to refer to it as a designer blend of a sport coupe, hatchback and compact crossover.

That’s understandable. There’s little question that it is a stylish upgrade of a small wagon that does not exactly fit a crossover definition because it lacks an all-wheel drive option.

2020_Toyota_CHR_02It’s a trend. The C-HR, which was introduced as a 2018 model, competes now against at least three other front-wheel drive nameplates that are marketed as small crossover SUVs: The Kia Niro, Nissan Kicks and Hyundai Venue.

Others that offer all-wheel drive as well as front-drive include the Chevrolet Trax, Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Mazda CX-3 and CX-30, and the Honda HR-V. They are all part of a movement away from traditional subcompact and compact sedans toward more practical crossover-type vehicles that resemble hatchbacks or tall station wagons.

2020_Toyota_CHR_01The invention of the crossover was a futuristic marketing ploy by manufacturers. American buyers disdained hatchbacks and station wagons so the manufacturers simply gave their hatches a higher profile, added optional all-wheel drive, called them crossover SUVs and now they’re threatening to overwhelm the market—and not only in economy models. There’s no category that is immune — from the C-HR category to Bentley and Rolls-Royce.

The C-HR — it stands for Coupe/High Rider—was introduced as a 2018 model, mainly to compete with Honda’s HR-V, which unlike the C-HR does offer an all-wheel drive option. Though it has four doors, the C-HR mimics a coupe-like profile by mounting the outside rear door handles high up in the door frame.

2019_Toyota_CHR_08_5D136A3A848C374977E705590CB469C99A9FCCA1But the design has a downside. The funky styling, similar to Toyota’s Prius Prime hybrid, results in a sloping coupe-like roof that dictates small side windows for the back seat. Combine that with large headrests on the front seats and the rear-seat passengers may imagine they’re spelunking in the cutout of a cave.

Back seat denizens can barely see out of their dark quarters, and getting in and out takes some torso twisting. Commendably, however, they do have decent head and knee room except for the poor center-rear passenger, who must contend with a high, hard cushion, a floor hump and intrusion of the front console.

2018_Toyota_CHR_RCode_33_A41762A49FDD63D1B895CFE0084833CDED3C0C9AFor 2020, the snazzy millennial looks get complemented by a re-styled front fascia, LED lights and special wheels for different trim levels. There are three: LE, XLE and the tested top-line Limited, which also sported “Supersonic Red” paint two-toned with a black roof. The combination tacked $945 onto the base price of $27,740, which gave the test car some of the aura of high-end European luxury cars, which typically extort extra dollars for special paint jobs.

Other than looks, however, the C-HR rolls on much as it did when it was a newborn. The 144-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine still makes 139 lb-ft of torque with an identical city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of  27/31/29 mpg.

2018_Toyota_CHR_RCode_08_BFFE72057860224A1DCEDDFD07A89763BC1E1826With a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the C-HR won’t win too many stoplight drag races. However, it is eagerly responsive and feels a lot quicker off the line and in passing than the numbers would indicate. For control-freak drivers, there’s a quick-shifting mode that mimics a seven-speed manual. There are no steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters; you must use the console shift lever, which actually is more engaging.

Engaged drivers likely will select the Sport driving mode, which enhances throttle responsiveness and holds the CVT’s simulated upshifts to higher revs to enhance acceleration. Blasting off from a ramp onto a fast-moving freeway to meld with the traffic is a breeze but pay attention to merging.

2019_Toyota_CHR_RCode_32_EBA46173FCDFFB8258B0792DB829027B582ED459In keeping with Toyota’s current attention to safety, all trim levels get full basic safety equipment, including pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive radar cruise control.        Moreover, even the lower trim levels come equipped with SXM satellite radio along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Other enhancements on the tested Limited included voice recognition, Bluetooth streaming and phone connectivity, and WiFi hotspot.

Though the C-HR’s cargo area is compromised somewhat by a high load floor to accommodate the full-size temporary spare wheel and tire, its 19 cubic feet of space exceeds that of many midsize sedans. It’s part of the reason that these agile little vehicles, with their low prices and high fuel economy, are taking over.

2018_Toyota_C_HR_19_79571FFC21B5C321825CAB95FDDAA9B8068E9AD4Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Toyota C-HR Limited four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 144 hp, 139 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 86/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,300 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/31/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,470.
  • Price as tested: $28,860.

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

2020_Toyota_CHR_04Photos (c) Toyota

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 Subaru Outback Onyx: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The granddaddy of crossover sport utility vehicles, the Subaru Outback, rolls into 2020 with a host of enhancements, including a new Onyx model aimed at outdoors-oriented customers.

It was in 1994 when Subaru, witnessing the trend to truck-based SUVs but without a competitive product, recast its Legacy station wagon as a special edition called the Outback, which later was defined as a car-based crossover.

GREEN_SURF_CF027673Other manufacturers followed and now crossovers of every size and price have eclipsed traditional sedans as the overwhelming favorite vehicle. Subaru has sold more than two million examples of Outback.

The designers resisted any urge to make the new Outback look more like a traditional tall SUV. Built on a new global platform, it still looks more like a modern station wagon and, of course, like an Outback. Subaru says its customers preferred the traditional styling.

The 2020 Outback comes in seven trim levels with two different horizontally-opposed engines, also called “boxer” or “flat” engines because the cylinders lie on both sides of the crankshaft, feet-to-feet, instead of standing upright or leaning as in a V engine.

23._2020_OutbackWith their vertically squished profile, boxer engines enable a lower center of gravity and a tidy way to add all-wheel drive to a front-wheel drive vehicle, as well as a natural balance. Subaru is the only manufacturer that uses boxer engines exclusively and makes all-wheel drive standard on every model except the rear-drive BRZ sports coupe, also manufactured and sold as the Toyota 86.

The 2020 Outback’s engines are a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque, and a new turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 260 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque.

Equipped with the standard engine are the base Outback with a starting price of $27,655, Premium at $29,905, Limited at $34,455 and Touring at $38,355. Turbocharged models, designated XT, are the Onyx at $35,905, Limited $38,755 and Touring $40,705. Prices include the destination charge.

17._2020_OutbackThe transmission is Subaru’s continuously variable automatic (CVT), which also can mimic a stepped eight-speed automatic for manual shifting with paddles mounted on the steering wheel.

Subaru delivers its EyeSight suite of safety features as standard equipment on every Outback model. Cameras mounted inside on both sides of the inside rear-view mirror monitor traffic ahead and activate pre-collision emergency braking and throttle management. Adaptive cruise control maintains a pre-set distance from the car ahead, and lane keeping assist keeps the Outback centered in its lane.

11._2020_OutbackThe system also uses an infrared camera with facial recognition technology to monitor the driver and identify any sign of distraction or fatigue, when it provides visual and audio alerts. Also available are automatic reverse braking, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and a head-up display.

Models with both engines were driven for this review. The conclusion was that the standard engine would satisfy the majority of Outback buyers. With car-like handling and ride, it also has enough power to hold its own on any road or traffic condition.

20TDI_OBKpl029But the focus here is on the Onyx XT with the turbo motor, which delivers more rapid acceleration and passing power, though as might be expected lower fuel economy. Its EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 23/30/26 mpg compared to 26/33/29 for the standard engine.

The Onyx comes with a new polyurethane-based faux leather upholstery that the company says cleans easily and is more comfortable in heat and cold than vinyl-based seat coverings. Because the model is aimed at customers who spend time in the outdoors, the Onyx also comes with Subaru’s dual-mode X-Mode system that enhances off-road performance, including automatic hill descent control. There are settings for snow, dirt and mud.

20TDI_OBKpl010Other Onyx equipment includes 18-inch black aluminum wheels, black exterior trim, a 180-degree front-view monitor, full-size spare wheel and tire, hands-free power rear tailgate and dual exhaust pipes. The tester also had a $1,845 option package that included a motorized sunroof, reverse automatic braking and Subaru’s Starlink navigation system with an 11.6-inch center screen.

On both paved highways and rutted forest roads, the Outback Onyx demonstrated stellar performance. It was fast, comfortable and handled competently on twisting northern California highways, aided by brake-based torque vectoring for the rear wheels.

Off-road, its 8.7-inch ground clearance enabled it to traverse deep and steep holes that would have trapped many other vehicles. The hill descent control took the anxiety out of steep downhill grades.

Gotta love it.

20TDI_OBKpl006Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx XT four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.4-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 260 hp, 277 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with eight-speed manual-shift mode and full-time all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 11 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 106/33 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,884 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 3,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/30/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,905
  • Price as tested: $37,750.

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

GREEN_SURF_CAT2718Photos (c) Subaru

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

You might come up short with a big family, but the 2019 Mazda CX-9 works smartly for a couple of couples on a cross-state jaunt of hundreds of miles and many hours behind the wheel.

Of course, that’s if you fold down the third-row seat to stash the luggage. If your couples came with a couple of kids to sit in that third row, there wouldn’t be room for but a few suitcases or carry-ons.

MY16 Mazda CX-9Such are the compromises inherent in the tested CX-9 Signature, Mazda’s top-of-the-line three-row crossover sport utility vehicle.

Though it has those three rows of seats for seven-passenger accommodations, it is smaller inside than similar brands. It has 135 cubic feet of space for passengers with just 14 cubic feet for cargo behind the third row — not enough with kids exported back there.

Fold that third row, as that couple of couples did for a trip across Wisconsin to the Green Bay Packers shrine at Lambeau Field, and you realize an ample 38 cubic feet of space for the baggage to carry home Wisconsin-only Spotted Cow beer, and green and gold clothing and artifacts from the Packers Pro Shop.

2016_cx9_016Now that we’ve established that the CX-9 can be useful for hauling half a dozen grade-school kids to soccer practice but would require a top carrier for a family beach outing, fairness demands an assessment of other attributes.

It turns out there are many, starting with the inescapable conclusion that this is what colleagues at the enthusiast magazines like to anoint as a driver’s car. The chassis is stiff, the electric power steering precise and responsive, the independent suspension system compliant, the turbo engine powerful and the six-speed automatic transmission unobtrusive.

About the only gripe heard on the trip came from one of the drivers, a large and muscular male who said the cockpit width at thigh level was uncomfortably narrow for his chunky legs. This reviewer had no problem.

CX9ENGINE-201The power train starts with a touch of a pushbutton to wake up the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It is turbocharged to deliver 227 hp and the surge of 310 lb-ft of torque, the twisting force that pins the spine against the seatback when you punch the pedal when the light changes.

That’s with Mazda’s recommendation to use regular 87-octane gasoline. If you are the sort who values a bit of extra punch, dump in premium fuel and you’ll get 250 hp, though the torque rating doesn’t change.

Either way, your zero-to-60 mph acceleration time will come up either slightly north or south of seven seconds, according to independent tests. Though there are any number of cars out there that could beat you in a drag race, that’s more than respectable for a crossover that measures 16 feet 7 inches long and weighs 4,383 lbs.

2019_-CX-9_US_IN_P7_20180719Moreover, the CX-9 manages the sprint effortlessly. The Mazda engineers have used their talents to wipe out any hint of the dreaded turbo lag, that hesitation that causes some turbo-engine cars to hiccup before they belch their power. City/highway/combined fuel economy is respectable at 20/26/23 mpg.

Though front-wheel drive is standard, the tested Signature model came with all-wheel drive, useful for areas with nasty weather. But if you don’t expect to battle snowstorms or visit ski areas you can operate nicely with the front-drive and save some money.

Mazda, the Japanese manufacturer that has given us exciting cars like the MX-5 Miata and the Mazda3 hatchback, has been on a campaign to upgrade its vehicles to premium and perhaps luxury status. It shows on the CX-9 Signature, with features a cut above the ordinary and a bottom-line sticker of $46,660.

2019_-CX-9_US_IN_P4_20180719Full safety equipment includes adaptive cruise control, brake assist, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking assist.

Inside, there’s three-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof to put wind in and sun on the hair, aluminum and wood trim, perforated leather upholstery with heated front seats, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, 12-speaker Bose audio system, an eight-inch touch screen that displays navigation, SXM satellite radio, HD radio, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth streaming audio, and apps for Pandora, Stitcher and Aha internet radio.

Exterior features, in addition to the attractive sheet metal, include 20-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, rain-sensing windshield wipers with windshield de-icer, power rear tailgate, heated and powered outside rear-view mirrors, and aluminum roof rails.

2019_-CX-9-16-G-US-LOC-004_R10_20170616Specifications

Model: 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.

Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 227 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.

Overall length: 16 feet 7 inches.

Height: 5 feet 8 inches.

EPA passenger/cargo volume: 135/14 cubic feet.

Weight: 4,383 pounds.

EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/26/23 mpg.

Base price, including destination charge: $46,360.

Price as tested: $46,660.

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

2019_-CX-9_Exterior_003-1_R5Photos:  Mazda

 

2019 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As a new trim level, the 2019 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek arrives as the least truck-like sport utility vehicle in the Pathfinder lineup during its more than three-decade history in the United States.

This is a fully realized midsized crossover SUV in the current idiom that leans more toward family transportation and long-distance cruising  than off-road bashing around in bush country. It is neither expensively luxurious nor barefoot economical but a decent performer at a competitive price.

Nissan at Chicago Auto Show

There are three rows of seats for seven passengers, so this Pathfinder can substitute for a minivan, though overall it is not as commodious, especially for beach-vacation cargo. The second-row seats slide fore-and-aft, allowing a division of knee room that enables third- and second-row adult passengers enough space for moderate comfort.

Original Pathfinders were built like Nissan’s Hard Body compact pickup trucks, with body-on-frame construction. As used vehicles, they were sought after by rock climbers and mountain bikers without the wherewithal to purchase expensive Jeeps or Land Rovers. Their main competitor was the Toyota 4Runner and the short-lived Isuzu Trooper.

Nissan at Chicago Auto Show

There was some indecision along the way. From 1996 to 2004, the Pathfinder became a crossover with unit-body construction, though it retained the looks of a truck. Then it was redesigned again as a body-on-frame SUV, where it remained until 2013, when it returned to a car-like unit-body.

Today, competitors include the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, GMC Acadia and Mazda CX-9.

Customers familiar with Washington, D.C., will immediately associate the Rock Creek Edition with the creek and park of the same name that runs up the spine of the city. But Nissan says the name was chosen to connect the vehicle’s rugged heritage to outdoor-adventure minded families.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-24-sourceThe Rock Creek Edition package is available on the Pathfinder’s midlevel SV and upscale SL trim levels, in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations. Tested for this review was the SV with all-wheel drive. It had a base price of $37,005 and, with the Rock Creek package and a few other options, topped out at $39,675. Both prices include the destination charge.

Rock Creek items include special tires on 18-inch alloy wheels with a smoky patina, and black mesh grille, roof rails, door handles, outside rearview mirrors and fender details. Inside are unique two-tone seats (upholstered with comfortable cloth on the SV tester), metallic trim and high-contrast stitching on seats, doors, console lid and steering wheel.

The Rock Creek comes with adaptive cruise control and safety equipment that includes automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert and tire-pressure monitoring along with basic traction control , rear camera and electronic brake-force distribution.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-20-sourceOptional equipment included Nissan Connect infotainment with a navigation system, SXM satellite radio, and heated front seats, outside rearview mirrors and steering wheel.

Controls are intuitive and consist of a touch screen, large knobs and buttons. There even are redundant radio pre-set buttons in addition to those on the screen. However, USB and charge ports are so far back in a center stack cubby they are nearly inaccessible. Fortunately, there are extras ports in the console.

The Pathfinder is powered by 284-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes 259 lb-ft of torque. On the tested all-wheel drive SV, the power travels to all four wheels via Nissan’s Xtronic continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). Both two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions can tow up to 6,000 pounds.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-8-sourceSome critics routinely bash CVTs, which multiply torque with systems of belts and pulleys or, in some cases, with gears. Their main characteristic is a lack of shift points, so acceleration is smooth and seamless. However, some CVTs feel and sound as if they are slipping.

That’s not the case with the Pathfinder and other CVTs from Nissan, which arguably has more experience with them than other manufacturers. Moreover, the transmission on the Pathfinder incorporates a kick-down passing gear that mimics a conventional automatic.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-12-sourceWith ample power from the smooth-running V6, the Rock Creek Pathfinder is an amiable highway companion. It cruises quietly and effortlessly with few steering corrections needed in straight-line driving. Of course, it is no sports sedan but handles curves capably as long as it’s not pushed too hard.

A twist knob allows the driver to select two-wheel drive for economy, automatic all-wheel drive and locking all-wheel drive for gooey or gravelly conditions. Though marketed as a rugged vehicle, the Pathfinder is not equipped for serious off-roading.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-19-sourceSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Pathfinder SV Rock Creek Edition four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 284 hp, 259 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nissan Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 138/16 (47, 80) cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,448 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/26/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,005.
  • Price as tested: $39,675.

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

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-21-sourcePhotos (c) Nissan

2019 Lexus RX 350L: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

When you produce the 2019 Lexus RX, the best-selling luxury crossover sport utility vehicle, it never hurts to up the ante.

That’s the reason for the RX 350 L model, a slightly stretched version of the original with three rows of seats. RX sales in 2018, including the L, totaled 111,641 nation-wide, more than any other luxury model and all of Land Rover’s or Cadillac’s SUVs.

2018_RX_350L_01_1854DDD44F40A20159D5FB2E679DBF11CF655689In the Lexus lineup, the RX — the name originally was intended to signify “Radiant Crossover”—slots dead center among the SUVs: above the subcompact UX and compact NX but below the GX and LX. The latter two are full-fledged SUVs, with truck-like body-on-frame construction. The others are crossovers, built with unit bodies like automobiles.

The 350 L is built on the same platform with the same wheelbase — the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels — as the standard RX. Overall, however, it is four inches longer.

That enabled the Lexus designers to squeeze in that third row, which ostensibly seats two. But it was not enough. Even though the second row has about eight inches of fore-and-aft travel, it’s not enough to divvy up and provide enough knee room for passengers in either the second or third rows.

2018_RX_350L_19_544D1BB8ACAB86AAC1D207684F272EE8A4395A5FAdjust the second row for decent space and the third row becomes a storage place for backpacks or watermelons. Moreover, even if you set it up for a teeny bit of knee room, it’s a chore to twist and turn to crawl back there. Forget grownups and reserve the area for agile small children.

With the second row all the way back, there’s sumptuous comfort for four. Both the front bucket seats and the outboard back seats are supportive with cozy bolstering. Upholstery is ventilated leather with the front seats heated and cooled, and the back seats heated.

As usual in almost every vehicle on the market, the center-rear passenger is disrespected, though in the RX 350 L, he or she need not be. The floor is flat, and the center console intrudes only slightly. But the seat cushion is high and hard.

2018_RX_350L_17_C591F9A39AAC9742668074F4D7B952976997110BThe classy surroundings include a wood and leather steering wheel and wood trim. A jewel-like analog clock resides in the center of the dash, topped by a large center screen that displays infotainment and other functions.

There is much that is familiar. The shift lever has traditional slots and the cruise control stalk on the lower right side of the steering wheel would be familiar to any Toyota or Lexus owner.

Shorter drivers will appreciate the Lexus decision to mount the outside mirrors on the doors. That leaves a small pane of glass forward of the mirrors, which enables a view of the ground and vehicles approaching from the sides.

2018_RX_350L_15_D8C0267CB3C528EA3342A7BBB82CD615B35826C9The RX 350 L is powered by a 290-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine that develops 267 lb-ft of torque, enough propel this luxury critter to 60 mph in less than eight seconds, which is respectable in any company. An eight-speed automatic transmission sends the power to all four wheels, which automatically adjust traction depending on conditions.

There are driver-selectable drive modes: eco, normal and sport. The modes adjust shock absorbers and shift mapping for fuel economy, more aggressive acceleration or everyday driving.

2018_RX_350L_21_EDEC9ADB65343041C6CD3386355726C32D9F2D53The normal setting will do fine for most drivers. This is not a vehicle for rapid flogging around hilly curves. Laid-back cruising in lavish surroundings with silent running exceeded only by an electric car is its forte.

Handling is capable, though not what any enthusiast would regard as sporting, and straight-line tracking is fatigue-free with minimal corrections needed. Augmenting the comfort equation is a supple suspension system that keeps everything planted and also delivers a creamy ride.

2018_RX_350L_12_34677EBDE98217061B58D281215B1EE07AD983BAStandard equipment, as part of the base $50,195 price, included pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, dynamic adaptive radar cruise control, lane-keeping assist, automatic headlight high beams, rain-sensing windshield wipers, tri-zone automatic climate control, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, memory settings for seats and outside mirrors, and SXM satellite radio.

Options on the tested RX 350 L included the wood and leather steering wheel, rear camera with a panoramic view, parking assist with automatic braking, blind-spot monitor, a color head-up display, touch-free power rear tailgate, navigation system, Mark Levinson 15-speaker premium audio package, auto-leveling LED headlights with washers, and LED turn signal lights and rear combination lights. All of that brought the suggested delivered price up to $60,579.

2018_RX_350L_20_BA2ADF9A8AE9C9310258B2970A2DB0685106A11ESpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Lexus RX 350L AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 290 hp, 267 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 121/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,387 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 3,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/25/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $50,195.
  • Price as tested: $60,579.

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

2018_RX_350L_08_CC77938F17406CC47991BE560BAC65BCCCDB53D6Photos (c) Lexus

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