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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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2019 Honda HR-V Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Like a fast-moving epidemic, subcompact crossover sport utility vehicles like the 2019 Honda HR-V are infecting the consciousness of buyers everywhere.

Compared to their compact brethren like the best-selling Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, they are but a blip on the monitor so far. But they are coming on strong, as witness the increasing numbers of nameplates.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

The HR-V arrived on the automotive scene in 2016, at a time when there were only a few other subcompact crossovers like the Jeep Renegade and Chevrolet Trax. Now there are many, including the Toyota C-HR, Nissan Kicks, Kia Niro, Mazda CX-3, Ford EcoSport, Fiat 500X, and the Hyundai Kona, voted 2019 North American Utility of the Year by an independent jury of automotive journalists.

Leading the cadre in 2018 sales was the Subaru Crosstrek, though the others are poised to strengthen as the automotive-buying public continues to abandon traditional sedans in favor of small crossovers because of their practicality, low prices and decent fuel economy.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

The 2019 Honda HR-V embodies those virtues. In a tidy package just 14 feet 3 inches long, it houses 100 cubic feet of space for passengers with 24 cubic feet for cargo — more than that of some midsize sedans. For example, the best-selling midsize 2018 Toyota Camry, at 16 feet long, has 99 cubic feet for passengers and 15 cubic feet of trunk space.

Moreover, with its utilitarian design, the HR-V’s rear seatbacks fold to expand the cargo-carrying capacity to 59 cubic feet. Of course, that eliminates seats for three in back, which is unusually spacious for a small crossover, with generous head and knee room. However, as is usual in nearly every sedan or SUV nowadays, the HR-V’s center-rear passenger gets a hard perch while the outboard riders sit comfortably.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

There are nine versions of the 2019 HR-V across five trim lines. All but the top-of-the-line Touring version are available with standard front-wheel drive or optional ($1,400) all-wheel drive. The Touring comes standard with all-wheel drive.

Prices range from $21,565, including the destination charge, for the base front-drive LX model to $29,585 for the Touring. Other trim levels are the Sport, EX and EX-L. Power comes from a 141 hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with 127 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission available is a continuously variable automatic (CVT). All trim levels have EPA combined city/highway mileage ratings of 28 to 30 mpg.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

Driven for this review was the $24,665 all-wheel drive Sport model, which essentially is a base LX gussied up to make it sportier and attractive. Of all the HR-V versions, it is the only one with classy 18-inch alloy wheels and lower profile tires. All of the others have 17-inch alloy wheels.

The Sport also comes with quicker steering, clever multi-adjustable cup holder, electric parking brake, cruise control, air conditioning, audio system, fog lights, sport pedals, leather-covered steering wheel and shift knob, roof rails, and gloss black outside mirrors and underbody spoilers. Basic safety equipment, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, is part of the package.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

But the Sport does not include: collision mitigation braking, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, road departure mitigation, blind-spot warning or Honda’s Lane Watch, which displays a picture of the right-side blind spot on the center screen. Also missing are pushbutton start, automatic climate control and SXM radio.

The HR-V Sport’s strong suit is chasing around in urban environments. Handling in traffic is almost intuitive, and the suspension and tires deliver a decent ride on all but the roughest surfaces. Acceleration from rest is not blistering but more than adequate for stoplight sprints and freeway merging. For a quicker launch, the CVT can be shifted manually with steering-wheel paddles to mimic a seven-speed transmission.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

The surprise is the HR-V’s long-distance cruising. With cloth seats that are unusually supportive and comfortable, especially up front, there were no aches, pains or fatigue over a hundred miles or more.

But highway cruising also elicits the HR-V’s main fault. At 55 to 70-plus mph on Florida freeways, where most of the test was conducted, the combination of wind and road noise was so loud it overpowered the audio system.

Fortunately for customers who do a lot of long-distance driving, the HR-V’s upper trim levels contain additional insulation and other sound-deadening materials. So, it makes sense to pay a bit more for a quieter ride with the EX, EX-L and Touring models.

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Honda HR-V Sport four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.8-liter four-cylinder; 141 horsepower, 127 pound-feet torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 100/24 cubic feet. (59)
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • Weight: 3,096 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/31/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $24,665
  • Price as tested: $24,665.

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

Photos (c) Honda

2019 Honda Passport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In the ongoing struggle for supremacy on the crossover sport utility battlefield, Honda re-enlists a veteran name for an all-new combatant, the 2019 Passport.

It has not been around for 17 years, having left the market after the 2002 model year. The original Passport was the result of a partnership with Isuzu, another Japanese manufacturer, which re-badged its Rodeo SUV as the Passport.

The 2019 Passport goes on sale Feb 4

The other half of the equation was that Honda re-badged its Odyssey minivan as an Isuzu Oasis.

That first Passport was an SUV of its time, built like a truck with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, a five-speed manual gearbox and a 120-hp, 2.6-liter four-cylinder engine. A 3.2-liter V6 with 175 hp and a four-speed automatic transmission was optional.

Though there still are truck-based SUVs around, crossover sales have been exploding, dominating sales of traditional sedans. In 2018, crossovers achieved a 38% share of the vehicle market compared to 31% for cars. Crossover SUVs are built like cars, with unit bodies and, usually, front-wheel drive with optional all-wheel drive.

2019 Honda Passport

Though justifiably proud of its sedans, Honda is a captive of the trend. In 2018, the company sold 624,122 crossovers — the small HR-V, compact CR-V and three-row Pilot. The number does not include its Odyssey minivan or Ridgeline pickup truck, both classified as light trucks.

In the same year, Honda sold a total of 684,815 cars, including five models: the compact Civic, midsize Accord, subcompact Fit, hybrid Insight and the Clarity, available as an electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen-fueled electric.

Honda claims supremacy in sales for its Civic and Accord. But unlike other makes, it counts only retail sales to individuals, not fleet sales to rental car and other multiple-unit buyers.

2019 Honda Passport

With the 2019 Passport, Honda’s offerings likely will soon tilt in favor of crossovers over cars, no matter how they are counted. That’s because the Passport plugs a gap in the company’s crossover lineup.

It’s a midsize, based on and slotted just below the three-row Pilot and above the compact CR-V and entry-level HR-V, which is marketed as a subcompact but is so roomy it would be considered midsize if it were a car. The U.S. government classifies cars by interior volume as subcompact, compact, midsize and large. Crossovers are classified by whatever you think.

The new Passport is nothing like its predecessor. Its wheelbase — the distance between the centers of its front and rear wheels — is the same as the larger Pilot but it is 6.2 inches shorter overall. Front and rear overhangs are tidier, giving the Passport better approach, departure and break-over angles for off-roading.

2019 Honda Passport

Of course, no crossover can rival a properly-equipped Jeep or Land Rover dedicated for off-roading. But the Passport acquitted itself well at the national introduction on unpaved roads in gorgeous but desolate areas surrounding Moab, Utah, including the spectacular Arches National Park.

As Johnny Cash’s song, “A Boy Named Sue” told it, the Passport handles competently in the “mud, the blood and the beer,” with Honda’s torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system. It can send up to 70% of the torque — or twisting force — to the rear wheels and 100% to the left or right wheels.

2019 Honda Passport

The tested Passport Elite, pushed too fast on a pockmarked unpaved road, went airborne over a sharp berm and seemed destined for a front-to-rear somersault, yet crunched smartly to a landing on all four wheels. Whew.

But the Passport is a slick piece of work on paved highways as well. In an era when 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines, both naturally aspirated and turbocharged, are becoming standard in luxury as well as popular-priced vehicles, the Passport comes with a tried-and-true Honda and Acura 3.5-liter V6 engine that exhibits the relaxed confidence of a great athlete coach trotting along with a group of marathon-wannabe pre-teens.

2019 Honda Passport

The V6 delivers 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque to the front or all four wheels with a nine-speed automatic transmission controlled by the Honda/Acura console-mounted pushbutton control. The system has been faulted by some critics, but not here. It is simple and intuitive: one-finger push for “drive” and “park,” pull for “reverse.”

There are four Passport trim levels, starting with the front-drive Sport at $33,045, including the destination charge. Others are the EX-L at $37,455 and Touring at $40,325. Tack on $1,900 for all-wheel drive. The tested top-line Elite, priced at $44,725, comes standard with all-wheel drive.

Can’t get no satisfaction? Give the Passport a try.

2019 Honda Passport

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Honda Passport Elite four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 280 hp, 262 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 11 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 115/41 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,237 pounds.
  • Maximum towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $44,725.
  • Price as tested: $44,725.

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

2019 Honda Passport

Photos (c) Honda

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In an era when some vehicle designers equate complexity with desirability, the 2019 Mazda CX-5 rolls onstage as an easygoing, friendly travel companion.

Almost everything about it feels familiar, as if you’ve already had a relationship. It has comfort and available luxury, but without a goofy shift lever or an infotainment system where annoying fiddling is required just to set favorite radio stations.

2019_mazda_cx-5-6Climb aboard. In the tested top-of-the-line Signature model, you sit in a comfortable, well-bolstered perforated leather seat, heated and ventilated. Through the steering wheel you view bright white-on-black easy-to-read analog instruments.

The shifter has a traditional PRND shift pattern, though there’s a sideways M setting for manual shifting of the six-speed automatic transmission. Nearby is a switch for the parking brake — up for park, down for driving — next to a toggle switch that engages the sport driving mode, which enhances throttle response. You don’t have to look to operate them. Same for the radio volume knob.

2019-mazda-cx-5-signature-04-intStraight ahead, in your line of vision, is the head-up display. It delivers information about speed, road signs and the adaptive cruise control, which is easily engaged with buttons on the steering wheel.

In the center, at the top of the dash, is the infotainment screen. Sure, it’s small, not gigantic like the one on the Tesla Model 3. But it’s right where you can see with a quick glance what’s going on. No peering at it for anxious seconds.

2019-mazda-cx-5-signature-09-detailFunctions are operated by a knob on the console, which is more complicated than a touch screen but doesn’t require as much focused attention to the screen. Simple console buttons change what’s displayed.

The word for this is ergonomics, the science that seeks to adapt working conditions to the worker. It also applies to making the driving experience intuitive and transparent. Good ergonomics, of course, is not exclusive to Mazda. But the CX-5 is a particularly fine example of thoughtful design.

Yet for all of its old-shoe friendliness, the CX-5 is a thoroughly modern Millie. It is a compact crossover sport utility vehicle competing in a class that includes the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, and Chevrolet Equinox.

Because of Mazda’s current effort to move its models upscale, the CX-5, particularly in its luxury-equipped Signature version, sells for a few thousands of dollars more than the top-line CR-V and RAV4 models.

The tested CX-5 Signature had a base price of $37,885 and, with a few options, had a bottom-line sticker of $39,030. But its equipment and features rivaled those of luxury crossovers like the Cadillac XT4 and Infiniti QX50, both of which are more expensive, well into the mid-$50,000 range.

2019_mazda_cx-5-1Mazda is not a huge player among manufacturers, not even in the compact crossover category. Yet as part of the current onrushing trend toward crossovers, the CX-5 is Mazda’s best seller in the U.S., totaling more sales than all of the company’s other models combined.

Aware of its lagging sales compared to its competitive set, Mazda has set out to distinguish the CX-5 in multiple ways that contribute to the driving experience. In that, performance enhances ergonomics.

There are five trim levels, starting with the Sport at $25,345. Others are the Touring, Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve and the tested Signature. Only the last two get Mazda’s new 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which makes 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. The others use a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter four-banger with 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque.

cx9engine-201-1The turbo motor delivers enough grunt to accelerate the Signature model to 60 mph in slightly over six seconds — more than respectable in this era. Though it can be accomplished simply by punching the pedal to the floor, the Sport mode facilitates it by holding the shifts to higher revs. You can shift manually but only with the shift lever. There are no paddles on the steering wheel.

Handling is sedan-like with no apparent lean on curves. Straight-line driving requires few steering corrections and the CX-5 cruises quietly with a bit of engine noise only on acceleration. With the suspension system biased toward handling, the ride gets a bit choppy on rough roads.

There’s plenty of head and knee room for four persons, though the fifth center-rear position is impossibly cramped. The rear seatbacks are split in three and fold nearly flat to almost double the cargo space of 31 to 60 cubic feet.

2019-mazda-cx-5-signature-02-extSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; turbocharged, 227 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 11 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 102/31 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,825 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/27/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,885.
  • Price as tested: $39,030.

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

2017-mazda-cx-5-grand-touring-5Photos (c) Mazda

2019 Toyota RAV4 XLE: A DriveWays Review…

byFrank A. Aukofer

There’s no better indication of the relentless onslaught by crossover utility vehicles than the 2019 Toyota RAV4, which arrives with a medley of 13 stylish versions, including gasoline and hybrid powertrains with all-wheel or front-wheel drive.

As it teases the public with the all-new 2020 Toyota Corolla sedan — the company’s all-time best-seller with 45 million copies sold since its introduction in 1966 — the RAV4 has muscled its way to the top of the compact crossover category.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_02Last year it outsold the Corolla and the company’s onetime best-seller, the midsize Camry sedan. In 2018, the RAV4 is selling at an annual rate of about 424,000, outpacing the Camry’s 348,000 and the Corolla’s 309,000. The latter includes the new 2019 Corolla Hatchback.

With the buying public’s appetite for crossovers, that should continue for the foreseeable future. The RAV4’s major competitors — the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Ford Escape — will be in the chase, though the Rogue is an anomaly because Nissan lumps two different vehicles — the Rogue and Rogue Sport — into a single sales statistic.

Other competitors, including the Subaru Forester, Mazda CX-5, Chevrolet Equinox, Jeep Compass, Dodge Journey, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, should continue strong but with lower numbers.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Group_04The array of new RAV4 models starts with the front-wheel drive LE trim level at $26,545 and ranges up to the all-wheel drive Hybrid Limited with a base price of $36,745. However, options increase the prices on all versions, up to $40,375 for the top-line Hybrid Limited. Prices include a $1,045 destination charge.

All RAV4 trim levels come with Toyota’s second-generation Safety Sense suite of active safety capabilities and technologies, including pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive radar cruise control, automatic headlight high beams, lane-departure warning and mitigation, and lane tracing and road sign assists.

Also standard on all RAV4s is Toyota’s Entune 3.0 multimedia system, which includes Wi-Fi with capabilities for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as Apple Car Play compatibility. The system uses a seven-inch touch screen.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_45Of the 13 RAV4 versions, four are hybrids: LE, XLE, sporty XSE and Limited. There also are four gasoline-engine models with front-wheel drive: LE, XLE, XLE Premium and Limited. The remaining nine versions, including all of the hybrids, come with all-wheel drive. That includes a separate, gasoline-only Adventure with a price tag of $33,945 that can tow up to 3,500 pounds.

Gasoline models are powered by a new 203-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 184 lb-ft of torque. They come with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Hybrids use a different tune of the 2.5-liter engine with 176 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque working with an electric motor. Combined, the system delivers 219 horsepower. The transmission is a continuously-variable automatic. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 41/37/39 mpg.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_59Though other models were driven, the focus of this review is on the more economically-priced but well equipped XLE model with front-wheel drive. It has an EPA fuel economy rating of 27/34/29 mpg. The starting price is $28,345 and options boost the sticker to $31,545.

Standard equipment included a motorized sunroof, power rear lift gate, folding outside power mirrors with blind spot warning, Bluetooth connectivity, LED outside lights, dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton starting and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Option packages provided an upgraded Entune system with SXM satellite radio, eight-inch touch screen, eight-way power driver’s seat, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated steering wheel and front seats, and five USB ports.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_47The RAV4 has passenger space that rivals that of a midsize sedan along with 38 cubic feet for cargo. The back seats are split 60-40 and recline as well as fold for additional cargo.

Inside, the tester delivered long-distance comfort and space for four passengers. The fifth person in the center-rear has a less comfortable seat but OK head and knee room. Seats all-around were upholstered in sturdy cloth with contrasting stitching. Armrests and trim were of soft-touch material.

On the road, the tested RAV4 exhibited more than adequate acceleration in passing, abetting an unscientific estimate of a zero to 60 mph acceleration time in the neighborhood of eight seconds. The more powerful hybrid was a bit quicker.

The cabin was quiet with little intrusion of mechanical or road noise on smooth roads, though rough pavement sounds reverberated inside. Handling was secure around curves with steady tracking in straight-line driving. The brake pedal felt a bit soft, especially on hybrid models, but stopping was not affected.

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_08Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Toyota RAV4 XLE four-door crossover utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 203 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 99/38 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,380 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/34/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,345.
  • Price as tested: $31,545.

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

2019_Toyota_RAV4_Limited_FWD_MagneticGrayMetallic_06Photos (c) Toyota

2019 Infiniti QX50 Essential: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Think of the 2019 Infiniti QX50 as Nissan’s significant other. The two-row luxury crossover SUV, like its cousin the midsize Nissan Altima sedan, gets its power from the automotive world’s first variable compression engine.

It is a design and engineering tour de force, developed in cooperation with Germany’s Daimler AG, parent company of Mercedes-Benz. Internal mechanical wizardry automatically varies the piston travel and cylinder volume by a small amount to enable the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine to operate at compression ratios ranging from 8:1 for high performance to 14:1 for maximum efficiency.

2019 INFINITI QX50

Looking at a cutaway demonstration model, you get the feeling that you’re witnessing a contraption by famed cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who dreamed up impossibly complicated gadgets to perform simple operations.

Called the VC-Turbo or simply VC-T, the new engine also is turbocharged. Tuned for premium gasoline, the QX50’s engine makes 268 hp (compared to 248 hp in the Altima, which runs on regular fuel). Both engines deliver 280 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force.

The QX50’s sends the power to the front wheels or all four wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which uses belts and pulleys to multiply the engine’s power.

2019 INFINITI QX50

Ordinarily, CVTs have no shift points but because that bothers some drivers who are used to feeling automatic transmissions shifting through the gears, the QX50’s CVT uses computer software to mimic shift points. The transmission also can be manually shifted with paddles on the steering wheel as if it were an eight-speed automatic.

With its all-new basic architecture (called a platform in the industry), the QX50 transitions from its previous rear-wheel drive to front- or all-wheel drive. Luxury compact crossover competitors include the new 2019 Cadillac XT4, Acura RDX, Mercedes GLC, Jaguar E-Pace, BMW X3, Lexus RX and NX, and Audi Q5.

2019 INFINITI QX50

It’s a tough playground but the QX50 exhibits the sort of array expected by customers who can spend upwards of $50,000 on their rides. Though the QX50 starts at $37,545 the tested front-drive Essential topped out at $55,385. All-wheel drive is a $1,800 option on all versions.

Exterior styling is handsome, though not especially head-turning — given the limitations of what is essentially a tall station wagon.

The interior is similarly attractive with quality materials and workmanship, especially on the upper trim lines. Overhead on the tested QX50 Essential was a panoramic glass sunroof with one-touch operation for the glass and sunshade. Thankfully, the sunshade was opaque instead of the perforated cheesecloth-like sunshades on too many luxury vehicles.

All-new INFINITI QX50

Front seats are supportive and comfortable, and the outboard rear seats have ample head and knee room with adjustable fore and aft travel and seatbacks that recline for comfort. Even the center-rear seat has decent knee and headroom, though it is compromised by a small, hard cushion and a prominent floor hump.

Cargo space is a generous 31 cubic feet and the rear seats fold nearly flat for bigger loads. On the tested Essential version, there was no spare wheel or tire. Instead, it rode on hard-rubber run-flat tires, which likely contributed to the stiff, choppy ride. Hammering over some rough surfaces, it felt as if the suspension system was bottoming out.

2019 INFINITI QX50

Other than that, the QX50 delivered capable handling given its tall profile, as well as a reasonably comfortable ride on smooth roads. It cruised quietly with little intrusion of wind and road noise, and only some minor engine drone because of the CVT.

There are four driver-selectable driving modes: Eco for leisurely acceleration and fuel economy; Sport for rapid throttle response (called throttle tip-in); Standard for comfort, and Personal, which allows the driver to choose a mix of settings.

2019 INFINITI QX50

There’s some slight turbo lag off the line before the VC-T comes on with a vengeance, especially in the Sport mode. Zero-to-60-mph acceleration arrives in the six to seven second range. Under hard acceleration, the engine announces itself with a satisfying growl.

The QX50 comes with Nissan’s semiautonomous ProPilot driver assist, which includes adaptive cruise control, automatic lane centering, forward collision warning, backup emergency braking, blind-spot warning and a backup camera with overhead surround-view monitor.

Though there is no Wi-Fi, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, dual center screens handle navigation and infotainment functions, including apps, vehicle settings, audio controls and phone pairing. Buttons handle some of the chores as well, including climate control settings.

2019 INFINITI QX50

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Infiniti QX50 Essential FWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter variable-compression four-cylinder, turbocharged with direct fuel injection; 268 hp, 280 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall Length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 102/31 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,950 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/31/27 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $44,345.
  • Price as tested: $55,385.

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

2019 INFINITI QX50

Photos (c) Infiniti

2019 Subaru Forester Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subaru2019Forester-29Specifications

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

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

Subaru2019Forester-4Photos (c) Subaru

2018 Subaru Crosstrek Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With a reservoir of affection from loyal fans, the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek boosts the Japanese company’s relentless climb up the staircase to automotive nirvana.

Few vehicle manufacturers have been as successful as Subaru since industry sales tanked in the 2007-2009 recession. When other nameplates sagged and struggled, Subaru surged. Starting in 2008, its sales increased every year until they reached 615,132 in 2016.

In 2012, Subaru introduced the Crosstrek XV, a small crossover sport utility vehicle based on the same platform as the Impreza sedan and hatchback. It, too, has succeeded with sales up every year since, reaching 99,677 in 2016.

18_Xtrek_Lmtd-Front_in_motionSubaru insiders credit a chunk of the success to an epiphany that many owners loved their cars for their durability and reliability, and expected them to last a long time. The company morphed those sentiments into advertising that equated ownership with love.

Crossovers like the Crosstrek are generally described as SUV-like vehicles built with unit bodies like cars, where traditional SUVs are built like trucks with body-on-frame construction. Usually, crossovers have front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive but all Subaru cars and crossovers, with the exception of the rear-drive BRZ sports coupe, come standard with all-wheel drive.

18_Xtrek_Lmtd_Red-FrontAs newer compact and subcompact crossovers threaten to engulf the marketplace, the 2018 Crosstrek (the SV designation has been dropped) is positioned to expand its reach as well.

In concept and size, the new generation Crosstrek is the same as the original, which made its debut as a 2013 model. But the 2018 is built on an all-new platform that will be used for Subaru vehicles world-wide and, according to company officials, it is 95% new with 80% new parts and a 70% more rigid structure.

A test drive fortified the claim. Though the original Crosstrek was a modestly capable vehicle, it did not have an overall aura of substance. In contrast, the new car has a rigid, solid feel. The steering, suspension system and tires contribute to confident handling and stable straight-line tracking. The Crosstrek also employs torque vectoring, which adjusts wheel speed in cornering.

18MY_Crosstrek_Lmtd-interior5The weak point is the power train, which despite a new 152-hp 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder engine, does not differ much from the 148-hp engine in the original Crosstrek.

With a horizontally opposed engine, also referred to as a boxer or flat engine, the cylinders lie supine on both sides of the crankshaft instead of leaning or standing upright as on V or in-line engines. The squat design results in a lower center of gravity for better control.

The Crosstrek’s relaxed power is not as noticeable with the continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT) as with the 6-speed manual gearbox.

18_Xtrek_Lmtd-interior_2toneOn modest uphill highway stretches with the manual transmission, the driver often finds that downshifts to as low as third gear are required as the engine struggles to supply enough power. It’s as if the drivetrain were designed to maximize fuel economy over performance.

The power shortage is not nearly as noticeable with the CVT, which uses belts and pulleys to seamlessly adjust engine revolutions as needed. There are two CVT versions. On lower trim levels, the CVT adjusts to enhance acceleration and off-road performance. On the Limited model tested here, the CVT came with a computerized 7-speed manual-shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel.

Although the Crosstrek is not designed as an all-out boondocks buddy, it does have enough ground clearance and capability to handle some off-road territory, as well as delivering confident performance in snow and other foul weather conditions.

18MY_Crosstrek_Lmtd-2tone_rear_seatWith the manual gearbox, the all-wheel drive system distributes power 50-50 to the front and rear wheels. If slippage occurs, it automatically transfers the power to the wheels with the most traction.

On CVT equipped models, the system automatically adjusts the torque distribution based on available traction, acceleration and deceleration. There’s also a hill-descent control to maintain traction at low speeds downhill.

18MY_Crosstrek-engineThe 2018 Crosstrek arrives with three trim levels: Base, at $22,710 including the destination charge; Premium, at $23,510; and Limited, at $27,210. Both the base and Premium versions come with the new 6-speed manual gearbox (up from a 5-speed before). The CVT is a $1,000 option, but is standard on the Limited.

Premium and Limited models can be equipped with Subaru’s optional EyeSight driver assist technology, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, pre-collision braking, blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert.

18_Xtrek_Lmtd-Rear_in_motionSpecifications

  • Model: 2018 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter 4-cylinder, 152 hp, 145 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with 7-speed manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 98/21 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,230 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/33/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,210.
  • Price as tested: $30,655.

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

18_Xtrek_Lmtd-wheelPhotos (c) Subaru.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Not only does the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport give its maker a promising addition to an extensive lineup of cars, trucks, crossovers and an SUV, it has the potential to boost the Rogue to the top of the sales heap.

All-new (to the U.S.), the crossover Sport is smaller than its compact sibling. Its length is a foot shorter, height six inches shorter and the interior volume is smaller by about nine cubic feet — almost all of it from the cargo area. It also is lighter by couple of hundred pounds and has a less powerful engine.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

The Rogue Sport has been sold as the Qashqai around the world since 2006. The name comes from an area in Iran and one source says it translates as “a horse with a white forehead.” Nissan Americanized it to bolster the Rogue lineup.

There’s the opportunity. Because it uses the same Rogue name, the Sport’s sales likely will be combined with the larger model. It would be as if the subcompact crossover Honda HR-V’s sales were lumped in with the best-selling compact CR-V.

In 2016, Honda CR-V sales totaled 357,335, compared to the Rogue’s 329,904. However, the Rogue, which is Nissan’s best seller, has been nipping away at the CR-V and passed it in the first quarter of 2017 with 101,421 sales compared to 94,057 for the CR-V.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

A quarter, of course, does not necessarily portend what will happen over an entire calendar year. But the addition of the Rogue Sport to the Rogue’s sales statistics enhances its prospects to overtake the leader.

It is possible that the Rogue and Rogue Sport numbers will be reported separately. But an analogous precedent could be the Hyundai Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport, whose sales are combined. The former is a large, three-row crossover and the latter is a midsize, two-row crossover.

However it is viewed, the new Rogue Sport is an intriguing vehicle. Its tidier dimensions and lighter weight make for nimble handling in urban traffic and clogged freeways. The 141-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, sending its power through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), provides decent acceleration off the line and good passing power thanks to Nissan’s D-Step tuning of the CVT, which mimics the kick-down passing gear of a standard automatic.

2017_Nissan_Rogue_Sport_18
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The Rogue Sport delivers spacious comfort up front with seats that offer support for long-distance driving. In back, the outboard seats have enough head and knee room for average-sized humans, though the center-rear position—as in most vehicles these days—is substantially less comfortable with foot room limited by a floor hump.

Out back, there’s a cargo area of 23 cubic feet, about double what you’d find in a compact sedan. Fold the rear seatbacks and the cargo area expands to 61 cubic feet.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

Like the Rogue itself, the Rogue Sport comes with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is available as a $1,350 option on all three trim levels: S, which starts at $22,380; SV at $23,980, and SL at $27,030. Tested for this review was an all-wheel drive SL with two options packages that brought its suggested delivered price to $31,365.

The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and CVT are standard on all models, as is a basic suite of safety equipment; a fully independent suspension system, and electric power steering with a sport setting. When the sport setting is engaged, it increases the steering effort, so slightly that it’s almost unnoticeable.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

With its options packages, the top-line SL came with adaptive cruise control, rear camera with around-view monitor, lane departure monitoring and prevention, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert.

SL equipment also included leather-appointed front seats, the Nissan Connect system with navigation, Sirius XM satellite radio and other services, a 7-inch color touch-screen display, remote engine starting, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, motorized glass sunroof, 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels, fog lights, heated outside mirrors, and leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

An innovative “Divide-N-Hide” rear cargo area uses a system where panels can be positioned upright to convert the area into compartments for securing grocery bags and other items.

With the addition of the Rogue Sport, Nissan fields a double-barreled approach to the burgeoning small and compact crossover SUV market segment. A Nissan engineer confided that if it was just her, she’d go for the Sport. But she has two kids and will stick with the regular Rogue.

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport SL four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, 141 hp, 147 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 91/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,415 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/30/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,380.
  • Price as tested: $31,365.

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

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Photos (c) Nissan.

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