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2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE Td6: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

More than anything, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport imparts a feeling of superiority.

It’s not unlike imagining yourself in an episode of “The Crown,” with the trappings of Buckingham Palace. Or living in “Downton Abbey,” though more like Lady Edith Grantham instead of cook Beryl Patmore.

RangeRoverSportTd6048The superior feelings arise from the storied reputation of Great Britain’ s Land Rovers — and their Range Rover offspring — which are among the most capable passenger vehicles anywhere.

Obviously, there are others with the competences to evoke similar emotions, notably America’s Jeep. But Jeep produces workmanlike and middle-class vehicles, like the go-anywhere Wrangler and even high-performance versions of the Grand Cherokee.

Land Rover hews to the luxury side of the road in its modern iterations. It was not always so. After the company started in the wake of World War II, its vehicles were ubiquitous in rugged, road-less areas in Africa and elsewhere in the world.

RangeRoverSportTd6051Now you’re as likely to see a Land Rover or Range Rover parked next to high-end designer stores as negotiating the desert terrain of Moab, Utah.

Driven for this review was the 2017 Range Rover Sport HSE Td6, a midsize, two-row sport utility vehicle. It is the direct descendant of the Land Rovers of the 1950s and 1960s, including the 88 Series made famous in the movie, “The Gods Must Be Crazy.” The Sport can even be ordered with diesel power — a $1,500 option — like many of its predecessors.

RangeRoverSportTd6077Though it can be equipped with a winch like the one that hauled the movie’s 88 up into a tree, the new Sport is as well outfitted as any luxury car. Amenities include automatic climate control, perforated leather seats, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, touch-screen infotainment interface with a navigation system, hands-free power tailgate, rear-view camera, rain-sensing windshield wipers and a panoramic sunroof.

With all that, the tested Sport likely is as capable off-road as any of its progenitors because it came with a powerful diesel engine and modern, computer-controlled off-road driver assists. Chief among them is Land Rover’s Terrain Response system, which adjusts drivetrain components with driver-selectable settings for normal use, snow, mud and sand.

RangeRoverSportTd6083There’s also hill-descent control, emergency-brake assist, hill-start assist, low-traction launch and trailer stability control. The Sport can tow a load that weighs more than 7,700 pounds.

As a high-end HSE model, the tested Sport arrived with plenty of standard equipment and a long list of options, including quad-zone climate control, blind spot warning, adaptive cruise control, reverse traffic detection, lane keeping assist and adaptive headlights. All of this added up to a suggested delivered price of $86,445.

RangeRoverSportTd6103It is powered by a 254-hp turbocharged V6 diesel engine that develops a mighty 440 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, that likely could pull an elephant out of a mud hole — if one could be found on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles. Urea injection is used for pollution control.

Power gets to all four wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. A single-speed electronic transfer case apportions the power.

The main thing you notice about the Sport HSE Td6 is what you don’t notice: Cabin noise. Land Rover’s designers and engineers have so muffled the diesel engine sounds that most people would be hard-pressed to guess that it is a compression-ignition oil burner.

RangeRoverSportTd6111What it delivers — as most diesels do — is improved fuel economy. The city/highway/combined fuel consumption of the tested Sport comes to 22/28/24 mpg — exceptional for a bulky vehicle that weighs 5,335 lbs.

On the road, however, you barely notice the bulk. The Sport has a hefty feel from its electric power steering and tracks well in a straight line. The air suspension system soaks up road irregularities.

A few quibbles are in order. The panoramic sunroof has a cheesy, perforated sunshade that admits too much sunlight. Sunshades should be opaque. Also, the sun visors do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sun from the sides.

Visibility to the rear is restricted by large, back seat headrests, the collision warning sometimes voices false alarms and setting radio presets is needlessly complicated. On the plus side, if the driver forgets to shift out of “drive” when shutting off the engine, the transmission automatically shifts to “park.”

None of the quibbles, however, impinge much on the feeling of superiority.

RangeRoverSportTd6044Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Range Rover Sport HSE Td6 four-door sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter diesel V6, turbocharged, 254 hp, 440 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 108/28 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,335 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,715 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/28/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $73,645.
  • Price as tested: $86,445.

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

RangeRoverSportTd6063Photos (c) Land Rover.

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2017 BMW 540i xDrive: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer 

BMW rides the crest of the crossover sport utility wave, but persists in making certain it continues to anchor at least one model in nearly every market cove, as witness the 2017 BMW 540i xDrive sedan.

It is an expensive midsize four-door, nearly full-size by the government’s description, that has been substantially revamped to hang on in the face of declining sales — some of them lost to BMW’s own lineup of crossover SUVs.

P90237218_highResOverall, the Bavarian Motor Works offers six sedans and coupes, five crossovers, two sports cars — one of them a hybrid — and an electric car, the i3, with an optional gasoline range extender. Different trim levels and power trains broaden the choices.

Though BMW has always emphasized performance and handling, this new machine tilts more toward extravagance than some of its predecessors. It is quiet and lavishly appointed, though it retains power and solid driving dynamics.

BMW calls the 540i xDrive a “business sedan.” But it is a business steeped in comfort and luxury. With 98 cubic feet of passenger volume, there’s plenty of stretch space for four people in the front and back. A seatbelt is installed for a center-rear passenger but, as with most vehicles these days, the position is compromised by a hard cushion and floor hump.

P90237212_highResOut back, there’s a trunk of 19 cubic feet that would do justice to a larger car. It can easily swallow luggage for a long trip or golf bags for a foursome.

The engine is a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder that makes 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque, delivered to all four wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles mounted on the steering wheel.

The 540i xDrive has both Sport and Comfort modes that alter suspension settings and shock absorbers automatically depending on inputs from the driver. Slow and easy activates the comfort setting; it switches to Sport when the driving is aggressive.

P90237235_highResIn keeping with its German heritage, the 540i xDrive oozes electronic and engineering wizardry, including a launch control system that enabled Car and Driver Magazine to record a zero-to-60 mph acceleration time of 4.5 seconds. Top speed is governed at 128 mph.

If that’s not enough, BMW is releasing the 2018 M550i xDrive model  in the second half of 2017. It is powered by a twin-turbo V8 engine that delivers 445 hp and 456 lb-ft of torque. BMW says the M550i will get you to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds — six-tenths of a second quicker than the 540i xDrive. But its starting price is more than $13,000 higher.

P90237271_highResIn keeping with BMW practice, an extensive options list augments standard safety and convenience equipment. Some of it, including automatic evasive steering, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and collision mitigation, brings the 540i xDrive closer to the eventual goal of the self-driving car. That prompted Consumer Reports to include an alert to buyers to make certain they heed all warnings and keep their hands on the wheel.

The tested 540i xDrive had a starting sticker price of $59,745, including the destination charge. Options tacked on an additional $22,615 for a bottom line price of $82,360. More than $8,000 of the options related to driver assistance and handling functions.

Another option, priced at $750, allows for remote control parking. It only works in straight-line forward and back movements, as in backing into a parking space or garage. The driver controls the movements from outside with a special remote control. It is mainly useful in a space so narrow a driver would not be able exit or enter the car.

P90237268_highResFor another $190, tested 540i came with gesture control, which enables the use of gestures, as well as a controller and voice commands, to activate various functions.

At the higher end of the options spectrum, the test car was equipped with a Bowers & Wilkins high-performance audio system with a price tag of $4,200. An M-Sport package, at $2,600, included suspension system modifications and appearance items.

With a curb weight of more than two tons, the 540i has the heft and feel common to expensive luxury sedans. That, of course, goes to the bottom line of fuel economy. Its city/highway/combined gasoline consumption, as published by the EPA, works out to 20/29/23 mpg — not daunting for anyone who can pay the price or make the lease payments.

P90237216_highResSpecifications

  • Model: 2017 BMW 540i xDrive four-door sedan.
  • Engine:0-liter six-cylinder, turbocharged, 335 hp, 332 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 98/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,170 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/29/23 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $59,745.
  • Price as tested: $82,360.

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

P90237229_highResPhotos (c) BMW.

2017 Ford Fusion V6 Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Because Ford’s forte tilts toward trucks, people sometimes forget that it builds some impressive performance cars, including hopped-up versions of standard fare like the 2017 Fusion V6 Sport.

Its hottest piece of performance machinery is the GT, a purpose-built super car that can be driven on the track or street. But it is intended for racing conglomerates or enthusiasts with mega-bucks, given its price tag north of $450,000.

17FusionSport_35_HRNo, we’re talking here about pavement and boondocks blasters that real people can buy — or at least finance for longer than it will take to get their kids through graduate school: Things like the Ford Raptor, a monster off-road truck intended for places like the Baja 1000 in Mexico’s lower California.

More to the point here, there’s the Ford Focus RS, a plebian hot rod that can rocket to 60 mph in less than five seconds thanks to its all-wheel drive, six-speed manual gearbox and 350-hp 2.3-liter 4-cylinder turbo engine — all at a price between $37,000 and $40,000.

Though affordable for many enthusiasts, it is rude and crude, something like the Harley-Davidson of hatchbacks. There likely are those who would appreciate a bit more refinement, which is where the new Fusion V6 sport slots in.

17FusionSport_14_HRIt uses the same twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 engine that also powers some versions of the Ford F-150 pickup truck, which is way bigger and heavier. In the Fusion, it delivers 325 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque funneled through a beefy 6-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.

Using all four wheels to deliver power is a fine idea. Sending all that grunt just to the front wheels likely would fry those tires and result in such heavy torque steer that it would rip the steering wheel out of the driver’s hands.

Moreover, the Fusion Sport also has (guess what?) a sport mode. A simple button resides in the center of the rotary knob on the center console that controls the transmission. Select “drive” and you still can hammer the throttle to send the Fusion to 60 mph in around five seconds.

17FusionSport_10_HRBut push that S button and a bunch of things happen. The automatically adaptive shock absorbers tighten up, the steering takes more effort, the engine reacts more quickly to throttle inputs and the 6-speed automatic transmission keeps the engine on the boil by shifting at higher rpms.

If you choose, you also can use the steering wheel paddles to shift for yourself — but the system doesn’t trust you. Keep your foot in it too long and it will shift anyway to avoid triggering a power shutoff. But on up-and-down twisting mountain curves, it usually will hold the gear you select.

Even in the Sport mode, however, the Fusion has a settled and flexible ride so you can tool around the city and suburbs in comfort, thanks to that adaptive damping.

17FusionSport_09_HROther sport-oriented cars have selectable driving modes, so some enthusiasts might not cotton to the Fusion’s system, which packages all the good stuff in one small button. But it means you don’t have to try to figure out what you want while underway. It’s the full gorilla without distraction.

Obviously, this doesn’t come cheap. But the Fusion Sport actually is not all that expensive given its performance. The base price of the tester was $34,350, which is about average price of new cars these days. With options, it topped out at $41,350.

That encompassed a full suite of safety and driving assists: automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, rear-view camera, lane-keeping assist, automatic high-beam headlights, automatic parallel or perpendicular parking, voice-activated navigation with an eight-inch center touch screen, Apple Car Play and Android Auto.

17FusionSport_31_HRThere’s plenty of comfort for four. But the center-rear seat, as in most sedans these days, is compromised by a hard cushion and restricted head and foot space.

A welcome safety feature that is receiving increased attention: If you inadvertently leave the Fusion Sport in “Drive” when you turn off the engine, it automatically kicks the transmission into “Park.” Some other vehicles simply roll away.

One cool thing about the Fusion Sport is that it is a stealth car. It doesn’t have a spoiler or badges that scream performance. The main tip-off is the shiny black grille with a chrome frame. But only the cognoscenti will notice that. You can surprise some lead-foots in the stoplight sprints.

17FusionSport_41_HRSpecifications

  • Model: 2017 Ford Fusion V6 Sport four-door sedan.
  • Engine:7-liter V6, twin turbochargers, 325 hp, 380 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 106/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,130 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/26/20 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $34,350.
  • Price as tested: $41,350.

Disclaimer: This test drive was based on a loan of the vehicle from the manufacturer. It was driven by the author in circumstances similar to everyday driving by consumers.

17FusionSport_42_HRPhotos (c) Ford.

2017 Kia Soul Exclaim: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer 

Always a good and faithful servant, the 2017 Kia Soul gets some fire in the belly.

It comes in the guise of a 201-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 195 pound-feet of torque. It is the most power ever in the Soul’s brief history as a mainstay of the South Korean manufacturer’s lineup of sedans, hatchbacks, crossover sport utility vehicles and the Sedona minivan.

2017 Soul Turbo

But it’s going about its new role in a covert way. It is not a separate Soul. Rather, it is one of a trinity of trims. The $16,950 base version comes with a 130-horsepower, naturally-aspirated 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. The midlevel $20,650 Plus has a 161-horsepower, 2.0-liter four.

To get the turbo engine, you must order the top-line Exclaim, which Kia identifies simply with an exclamation point (!). In an expression of modesty—or perhaps cachet for the cognoscenti—the Exclaim carries no turbo identification badges. So it could surprise some lead foots in stoplight sprints.

Unfortunately for enthusiasts with limited bucks, the Exclaim does not offer a manual gearbox. The easy-shifting six-speed stick comes only on the base Soul. A six-speed automatic transmission costs an extra $1,600 on the base model and is standard on the Plus.

2017 Soul Turbo
2017 Soul Turbo

Order the turbo Exclaim and the only transmission is a performance-oriented seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which delivers snappy shifts and a manual mode to shift for yourself, though there are no steering-wheel shift paddles. If you must have a manual gearbox, Kia will happily direct you to its Forte 5 hatchback, offered with the six-speed stick or seven-speed twin-clutch automatic.

Kia likes to refer to the Soul as a crossover SUV. Strictly speaking, however, it doesn’t fit the definition because it has front-wheel drive and does not offer all-wheel drive. In that respect, it is similar to the new Toyota C-HR and Kia Niro, both of which are front-drive only.

2017 Soul Turbo

But the Soul does qualify as unique in the marketplace, though it used to have competition from the Nissan Cube and now-defunct Scion xB, both of which were squared-off hatchbacks.

Since its introduction in 2009, the Soul has been an unqualified success for Kia. When 2017 closes out, it will be on the threshold of a million sales in the United States. The new Exclaim turbo likely will contribute substantially to that milestone.

Likely nobody buys a Soul for sport. Its essence, or soul if you will, is that of a roomy, comfortable and economical car with up-high seating and tidy exterior dimensions that make it easy to maneuver and park. The bonus is its interior volume of 125 cubic feet, which the government classifies as a large car.

2017 Soul Turbo

Twenty-four of those cubes await behind the second row seatback, which is about double what you get in a typical compact sedan. Fold the seatbacks, the space jumps to 61 cubic feet and the Soul becomes a small cargo truck with seats up front for two soul-mates.

That’s true of all Soul models, of course. What the Exclaim adds, though not without extra cost, is a sporting personality. With the snap-shifting twin-clutch automatic, it gets a solid leap off the line and nails 60 mph in a smidgen more than seven seconds, according to an instrumented test by Car and Driver Magazine. Top speed is 125 mph.

2017 Soul Turbo

The performance ingredient continues with handling and braking. Though the Soul would not be much of a challenge on twisting roads to some sports sedans and two-seaters, it hustles around curves confidently with little body lean.

Moreover, the Exclaim qualifies as frugal by modern standards. City/highway/combined EPA-certified fuel consumption works out to 26/31/28 mpg on regular gasoline. Its $23,500 base price is about 10 grand less than the average price of a new car these days. The tester was so well equipped that the only option in its $23,620 delivered price was $120 for carpeted floor mats.

2017 Soul Turbo

At that price, the Exclaim is uncommonly well equipped with features that cost extra even on some luxury cars, including: 18-inch alloy wheels, flat-bottom sport steering wheel, automatic climate control, stability management, hill-start assist, Android Auto and Apple Car Play, Bluetooth connectivity, SXM satellite radio, push-button starting with smart key, and power windows, locks and outside mirrors.

The fastest growing vehicles now are small crossover SUVs. Though they offer all-wheel drive, many are sold with front-drive. If that’s the choice, the Soul is a fine alternative.

2017 Soul Turbo

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Kia Soul Exclaim four-door hatchback.
  • Engine:6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 201 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/24 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,250 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/31/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $23,500.
  • Price as tested: $23,620.

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

2017 Soul Turbo

Photos (c) Kia.

2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Two common reactions emerge when people see the 2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible. If the person knows little about the brand or model, it’s “Wow.” One who is more informed asks, “Why?”

The latter folk recall the ill-fated Nissan Murano convertible, called the Cross Cabriolet, which was spun off in 2011 from the company’s midsize crossover sport utility vehicle. Its size and bulbous styling did not translate well into chop-top treatment and it vanished after the 2014 model year.

RREvoqueConvLADRAFTND058-resize-1024x683But the Evoque ragtop could soldier on despite total sales so far of about 1,200. For one thing, it is a British Land Rover, with all of the cachet of the storied brand. With America’s Jeep, it has earned world-wide renown for its go-anywhere capabilities.

But both companies have strayed. Some Jeep models, even with all-wheel drive, don’t measure up to purpose-built versions like the Wrangler and Unlimited.

Similarly, for all of its off-road heritage, the Range Rover Evoque is not as Serengeti-ready as its siblings. When introduced, the Land Rover trail masters had to remove the front bumpers from the test vehicles to improve the approach angle for off-road obstacles. It obviously was intended as a small luxury crossover SUV.

RREvoqueConvLADRAFTND046-resize-1024x683That orientation bleeds over to more adept Land and Range Rovers. Many of them spend their lifetimes in garages of luxury homes, parked in front of designer stores or tooling majestically around in swanky shopping centers.

The Evoque convertible fits that paradigm, especially in the tested top-of-the-line HSE Dynamic version, which arrived with a comprehensive suite of safety and luxury equipment, much of it standard, especially Land Rover’s sophisticated systems that augment the all-wheel drive.

Among them: terrain response adjustable for different conditions, special off-road antilock braking system, and roll-stability and hill-descent controls. Others enhance on-road performance: torque-vectoring control, cornering-brake control, emergency brake-assist and hill-start assist.

RREVQConvertibleStatic09111507-resize-1024x768The tested Evoque also came with blind-spot warning, leather upholstery, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, pushbutton starting, automatic stop-start system, 19-inch alloy wheels, power seats and keyless locking.

Though you might find a base SE model at $51,470 — by itself out of reach for many buyers — the tested HSE Dynamic came with a $58,270 price tag. Add its long list of extras and it topped out at $69,685.

lrevoqueconvertiblespotifyimage20091605-resize-1024x683Options included lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking, parallel parking assist, a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, surround-view camera, SXM satellite radio, folding rear armrest with a ski pass-through and a heated steering wheel.

However, there were a couple of negatives. The sun visors did not slide on their support rods to fully block sunlight from the side. And with the obtuse controls on the center screen, owners should carefully read the owner’s manual or they may spend frustrating hours trying to figure out how to re-set the trip odometers or save favorite radio stations.

lrevoqueconvertiblespotifyimage20091610-resize-1024x721The Evoque convertible is set up for four people, though the back seat is tight. Moreover, it doesn’t have enough space for everybody’s luggage. Its trunk measures less than nine cubic feet because the convertible top boot gobbled space. So, the shallow trunk is down low with a lid that sticks straight out when opened, requiring the loader to duck underneath. Awkward.

Dropping or raising the top, however, is a breeze. A single switch folds it in about 18 seconds, even moving at up to about 30 miles an hour. It nestles into its cubby and forms its own cover. Raising the top takes a few seconds longer. There’s a wind blocker stashed in the trunk that can be manually installed, but you mostly don’t need it.

RREVQConvertibleInterior09111506-resize-1024x948Road performance is so-so. The Evoque convertible uses the same turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that was developed when Ford owned Land Rover. It delivers 240 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque, sent to all four wheels through a 9-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

But at 4,525 pounds the convertible weighs about 400 pounds more than the two-door and four-door hardtop Evoque models. Though it boasts of a top speed of 130 mph, the zero to 60 mph acceleration time is more than eight seconds.

Of course, as a luxury convertible its orientation leans toward leisurely cruising on pleasant summer days. And it does have more off-road chops than other convertibles except for vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler or the fabled Land Rover Defender.

RREvoqueConvLADRAFTND007-resize-1024x683Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Range Rover Evoque HSE two-door convertible.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 240 hp, 250 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 87/9 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,525 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/28/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $58,270.
  • Price as tested: $69,685.

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

RREVQConvertibleDriving09111502-resize-1024x683Photos (c) Land Rover.

2017 Toyota Prius Three: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Although it continues to be a pokey performer against most other passenger cars, the 2017 Toyota Prius hybrid sparkles on ride and handling, safety, comfort and—most important to its buyers—fuel economy.

It is the most successful hybrid in history with more than 1.7 million sold in the United States since 1999. In 2016, sales totaled 136,632, down from 184,794 in 2015 as low gasoline prices prompted buyers to gravitate toward pickup trucks and more fuel-hungry automobiles.

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_02_54CECFE89DE5799B719C2EAF21ECC6C6629C98A8Manufacturers, however, know that the price pendulum is likely to swing back, so they continue to develop more fuel efficient vehicles—from installing small displacement gasoline engines with improved power to developing more hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric and even hydrogen-fueled cars.

Though it had a major overhaul a year ago, the 2017 model adds notable improvements that make it the best Prius ever. For one thing, it has a new independent rear suspension system that noticeably delivers a better ride and handling.

It also comes standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense package that includes forward collision warning with emergency braking and pedestrian detection, lane departure mitigation, adaptive radar cruise control and automatic headlight high beams.

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_01_AAF3DB5F2B355991BFED40260A08D0B3A9EFBED5Perhaps as important for anyone who has driven an earlier Prius with leisurely—some would say sluggish—acceleration, the tested 2017 Prius Three model comes with driver selectable motoring modes: Eco, Normal and Power.

Though the zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time hovers around the 10-second mark — nothing to brag about — punching the Power button changes the Prius’s personality. When you press the accelerator pedal, it focuses all the power from the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motor-generators on getting a quick leap off the line.

The gear-driven continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) feels more connected as it sends the combined gasoline-electric 121 hp to the front wheels. Though you likely could get the same acceleration in the Eco or Normal modes if you floored the gas pedal, the Power mode feels faster without that effort.

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_20_FEE01BFAD36558F540C52B796CBE1BF649CEFD85There are six trim levels: Prius Two; Two Eco; Three; Three Touring; and Four Touring. All arrive with the Toyota Safety Sense system as well as a rear-view camera, automatic climate control, keyless entry and starting, Bluetooth connectivity, voice recognition with Siri hands-free and a six-speaker audio system with a CD player.

The tested Three, with a base price of $27,600, also came with a wireless phone-charging pad, Toyota’s Entune infotainment system with a seven-inch touch screen, satellite and HD radio, and access to apps like Pandora and iHeart radio when paired with a smart phone.

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_23_BE7056CC857683DB0C36C4741BE0034035103CEFWith options that included a motorized glass sunroof, color head-up display, navigation system and a cargo net, the tester had a sticker price of $30,186.

In a clever bit of engineering and styling, the Three combined alloy wheels with plastic wheel covers that looked as if they were part of the wheel itself.

Inside, the tested Prius featured white accents and an attractive as well as comfortable textured cloth upholstery. Cloth seating surfaces are always the choice here because they offer cool seating in the summer and warmth in the winter, obviating the need for such expensive add-ons as the heated and cooled seats needed for perforated leather upholstery.

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_03_C1B3C5A53F5DE658B1632893021A0DC3BF624913With passenger space of 92 cubic feet and 25 cubic feet for cargo under the rear hatch — expandable to 66 cubic feet if the rear seatbacks are folded — the Prius Three is classified by the government as a midsize car. Up front, the seats are comfortable and supportive with enough manual adjustments, along with a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, to accommodate almost any driver. There’s also ample space and comfort in the outboard back seats. The center-rear position is hampered by a small floor hump and a high, hard cushion — though it is usable for short trips.

Though the Prius is unlikely to be bested in popularity any time soon because of its enviable record of durability and reliability, other automakers have mounted serious challenges. One of the more formidable is the all-new Hyundai Ioniq. It is shorter by three inches than the Prius but boasts slightly more interior room — a large-car total of 123 cubic feet versus the Prius’s 117 cubic feet — the Ioniq delivers 139 combined horsepower and slightly better city/highway/combined fuel economy: 55/54/55 compared to the tested Prius’s 54/50/52. However, the Prius Eco model is rated at 58/53/56.

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Toyota Prius Three hybrid four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine/Motors:8-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 95 hp, 105 lb-ft torque; two electric motor/generators; 121 hp combined. 0.7 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 92/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,120 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 54/50/52 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,600.
  • Price as tested: $30,186.

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

2016_Toyota_Prius_Four_Touring_10_AAE9E5026F0118D0FD09E2B9C088B827F27B8471Photos (c) Toyota.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel sedan, General Motors places a long-odds bet that oil-burning passenger vehicles have not met their end of days in the U.S. marketplace.

Except for heavy-duty trucks and long-distance 18-wheelers, Americans have never fully embraced diesels, remembering the days in the latter half of the 20th century when most diesels were smelly, slow and often wouldn’t start in cold weather.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel

Those negatives have gone away. Modern diesels, especially in luxury cars, behave unobtrusively and most drivers would be hard put to distinguish them from gasoline-engine automobiles.

Yet the old prejudices continue, now augmented by the scandal in which Volkswagen faked emissions tests for nearly 11 million diesel-engine vehicles world-wide, including about 500,000 in the U.S.

About half of the passenger vehicles in Europe use cheaper diesel fuel and get about a 30% improvement in mileage over comparable gas burners. They also get high marks for durability. But it is becoming increasingly expensive to scrub the foul emissions. The CEO of Sweden’s Volvo said recently that the company likely would not develop a new-generation diesel engine.

The 2017 Cruze Hatch offers the design, engineering and technological advancements of the 2016 Cruze sedan in a functional, sporty package with added cargo space.

Moreover, the mayors of Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have announced that they planned to ban diesel cars and vans from the centers of their cities by 2025 to reduce air pollution.

Cities in the U.S. have an easier clean-air pathway because only about 5.3 million of the 264 million passenger cars and light trucks on the road nation-wide are diesel-powered. In 2016, less than 1% of the total 17.5 million light vehicles sold were diesels.

It was a poor diesel sales year partly because of the Volkswagen scandal, which now has caused the German manufacturer to eschew diesels entirely in the U.S. That opens the way for Chevrolet and a few others to fill the gap for the remaining diesel enthusiasts, who might account for several hundred thousand annual sales.

cq5dam.web.1280.1280-2The Cruze is an ideal candidate for diesel power. It is a sedan (or hatchback) that resides in the compact class, just a few cubic feet shy of the interior space that would get it a midsize classification. Unlike its predecessors, the forgettable Cobalt and Cavalier, it was so carefully designed and engineered that it won one of the “10 Top Picks” in the Consumer Reports 2017 Annual Auto Issue.

Most impressive, according to CR, was that its testers managed 47 mpg in highway driving, though the EPA gave the Cruze a 42-mpg rating. That was with the standard 153-hp 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine with 177 lb-ft of torque.

The EPA rated the city/highway/combined mileage of the diesel Cruze tested here at 31/47/37 mpg. It is powered by a 137-hp 1.6-cylinder diesel (also turbocharged) that develops 240 lb-ft of torque.

The 2017 Cruze Hatch offers 47.2 cubic feet of rear cargo room with the back seats flipped down.

That number is what gives this Cruze a sense of performance in acceleration off the line because the torque, or twisting force, makes itself felt at lower engine revolutions than with the gasoline engine. A new nine-speed automatic transmission efficiently sends the power to the front wheels. (A more engaging six-speed manual gearbox costs $1,600 less).

But it’s no drag racer and it is encumbered somewhat by a mileage enhancing stop-start system, which builds in a bit of hesitation moving away from a stoplight. Unfortunately, it cannot be turned off but can be defeated by simply lifting a foot slightly off the brake pedal.

The first ever Cruze Hatch blends sporty design with the versatility of a hatch making it adaptable for urban to outdoor adventures.

There are other minor downsides to the Cruze diesel. Its engine noises are raucous—more so under hard acceleration. Its equipment is similar to the midlevel LT trim, which means it does not have automatic climate control or sun visors that slide on their support rods to adequately block sunlight from the side. That omission adds a couple of bucks to the profit margin, but why? Curiously, previous Cruze models did have a sliding sun visor—only on the driver’s side.

Other than that, the tester had a high level of equipment for its base price of $26,270. It included full safety equipment, pushbutton starting, air conditioning, a Wi-Fi hotspot, SXM satellite radio, navigation, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Options added lane departure and blind-spot warning, a motorized glass sunroof and leather upholstery for a $29,655 sticker.

Given the outstanding fuel economy of the gasoline Cruze, the question is whether buyers will spend the extra $2,795 for the diesel-engine model. But it’s there for those diesel devotees and others who might want one.

The first ever Cruze Hatch blends sporty design with the versatility of a hatch making it adaptable for urban to outdoor adventures.

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel four-door sedan.
  • Engine:6-liter four-cylinder diesel, turbocharged, 137 hp, 240 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 94/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,172 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 31/47/37 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $26,270.
  • Price as tested: $29,655.

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

cq5dam.web.1280.1280Photos (c) Chevrolet.

2017 Jaguar XE 20d AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The most compelling thing about the 2017 Jaguar XE 2.0 diesel is that it’s a Jaguar. That means it has style, emotion, a stiff structure, accurate steering and a hefty price tag.

JagLAMotorShow2015Image18111518-resize-1024x683But because it’s a diesel, even turbocharged, its orientation is toward fuel economy. Acceleration, not so much. Yet it works capably for both chasing around and highway cruising without undue spending at the fuel pumps.

That’s the point of a diesel, of course, and the XE delivers with a city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 30/40/34 mpg. You decide for yourself whether that’s enough of a return from a base price of $46,395 and, as tested for this review, $55,485.

JagXE17MYAWDDetailImage18111510-resize-1024x1536The monkey wrench in the gears is the current disenchantment with diesel engines, thanks to the scandal in which Volkswagen cheated on emissions tests for nearly 11 million diesel-engine vehicles world-wide, including about 500,000 in the United States.

If that’s not a concern, and you value the cachet of a British luxury sedan with superb handling, okay drivetrain performance, and exceptional fuel economy over blistering acceleration and autobahn no-limit cruising, the Jaguar XE 20d is worth a test drive.

It scores on styling, with clean lines outside and an unmistakable Jaguar look, as well as inside where there are luxury appointments and supportive comfort on seats covered in quality leather. Though it has seatbelts for five, figure on carrying only four medium to small adults.

Because of a smallish door opening, it takes effort to squeeze into the back seat, where there’s barely enough head and knee room for an average-sized human. Forget about the center-rear position, which is negated by a giant floor hump and a high, hard cushion.

JagXE17MYAWDDetailImage18111511-resize-1024x652Up front is way better, where power seats deliver a multitude of adjustments and the seatbacks have prominent bolsters to hold the torso in place during cornering.

Not all is well with the XE 2.0d. It has two shortcomings that should never be seen on a car in this price and performance category: a flimsy translucent cloth sunshade that allows too much sunlight through the sunroof and sun visors that do not extend to block sunlight from the side. Also, the tester lacked adaptive cruise control, common now on less expensive machinery.

Instruments and controls are highlighted by the characteristic Jaguar automatic transmission shifter, a yeasty knob that rises like a small cake from the center console. It works intuitively once you get used to it, and features both “drive” and “sport” modes. The latter mode recalibrates the eight-speed automatic transmission to shift at higher rpms.

JagXE17MYAWDDetailImage18111512-resize-1024x1536If manual shifting is your choice, paddles are mounted on the steering wheel. However, as with many of these units, the Jaguar version doesn’t trust the driver. If you hold onto a gear too long, the transmission will shift for you. That’s not necessarily bad. You’d hit a rev limiter in any case; otherwise you could trash the engine.

With some turbo lag, the best you can do with the XE 2.0d in the 0-to-60-mph sprint is in the mid-eight seconds, according to independent instrumented tests. Though the engine delivers 180 hp and 318 lb-ft of torque, the Jag’s nearly two-ton weight cannot be overcome.

Interestingly, the Jaguar XE 2.0d compares with the 2017 Subaru Impreza Sport, which at $23,615 costs less than half the money. They are both about the same size, within inches of overall length and a few cubic feet of interior space.

JagXE17MYAWDLocationImage18111508-resize-1024x397The Impreza is 15 feet 2 inches long — three inches shorter than the Jag. Passenger/trunk space is 100/12 cubic feet compared to the XE’s 92/15 cubic feet. But the XE weighs 3,945 pounds; the Impreza checks in at 3,179 — 766 pounds lighter.

That’s likely why the Impreza’s 0-to-60 acceleration time is nearly identical to the XE’s, despite the fact that its 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed gasoline engine is rated at 152 hp, 28 less than the Jag’s. But the Impreza lags in a comparison of fuel economy at 27/36/30 miles to the gallon.

Subaru likes to think of its vehicles as the low-calorie versions of Audi’s all-wheel-drive cars and crossovers. Every Subaru model comes with all-wheel drive standard. Likely it also could now compare its Impreza Sport with the Jaguar XE diesel.

But there are intangibles. The Jaguar XE 20d exudes that indefinable heft and feel common to quality luxury/sports sedans. You pay for it, but for some people that’s the clincher.

JAGUARXEGRAHAMBELL01-resize-1024x684Specifications:

  • Model: 2017 Jaguar XE 20d AWD Prestige four-door sedan.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder diesel, turbocharged, 180 hp, 318 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 92/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,945 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 30/40/34 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $46,395.
  • Price as tested: $55,485.

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

jagxemostbeautifulcarawardimage28011501Photos (c) Jaguar.

2017 Infiniti Q50 3.0t Sport AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2017 Infiniti Q50 3.0 Sport illustrates what can happen to a pioneering car that leads the race but others catch up.

When it was introduced as a 2014 model, the Q50, especially in its S, or Sport iteration with all-wheel drive, was in the vanguard with new technology that placed it on the threshold of a self-driving car.

2018 INFINITI Q50

In fact, with its radar cruise control and direct adaptive steering (DAS), working seamlessly with a lane control system, the Q50 could be driven on a freeway with the driver’s hands off the steering wheel and feet resting comfortably away from the pedals. In fact, a test car driven for the 2014 model’s DriveWays review functioned perfectly that way in more than 10 miles of freeway driving.

DAS uses a drive-by-wire technology that sends the driver’s inputs to the steering wheel directly to the rack that turns the front wheels. The lane control system uses sensors to read lines on the road. If the car drifts to the left or right, the DAS keeps it in the lane. It also works to keep the car tracking around curves.

At the time, the Q50 was the only car that steered back into the lane. Other manufacturers mainly used computerized selective wheel braking. Simultaneously, the radar cruise control maintained a distance from the car ahead, down to a stop.

2018 INFINITI Q50

Both of those enhancements continue on the 2017 Q50 3.0T Sport AWD. The difference is that its competitors, along with some less expensive automobiles, have caught up and now have similar systems. The Q50 also has predictive front collision warning that not only monitors the car ahead but the one in front of that. If it senses a possible collision, it will slam on the brakes to avoid the impact. It also will warn the driver and automatically apply the brakes when the car is moving in reverse and another vehicle crosses its path. Infiniti claims reverse braking as a world first technology.

One thing has changed on all cars with lane departure mitigation: If a driver now decides to try hands-free driving, he receives visual or aural warnings to get his hands back on the wheel. It’s an obvious safety feature, even on the 2017 Q50 Sport. So, there’s no opportunity now to let the car drive itself.

2018 INFINITI Q50

The 2017 Q50 Sport’s midsize package mimics the 2014 model. It is the same length with almost the same passenger and trunk space, seats four comfortably (the center-rear passenger is severely disrespected) and delivers comparable performance.

However, there’s a new engine: a 3.0-liter V6 with twin turbochargers that delivers 300 horsepower. That’s a bit less than the 2014’s 3.7-liter naturally aspirated V6, which had 328 horsepower. However, the fuel economy of the 2014 and 2017 models is identical at 19/27/22 miles to the gallon in city/highway/combined driving.

If you’re the sort of enthusiast who wants even more punch, Infiniti offers the Q50T Red Sport model, which squeezes 400 horsepower from the 3.0-liter V6.

2018 INFINITI Q50

As before, the transmission is a seven-speed automatic with a manual shift mode controlled by paddles mounted on the steering column — a superior setup to those on the steering wheel itself because the paddles are always in the same place no matter where the wheel is turned.

The price has dropped from the 2014 S model, which had a starting sticker of $49,905 and, with options, checked in at $56,545. For the 2017 Q50 Sport model, Infiniti suggests a starting price of $47,555. With options, the version tested for this review came to $55,520.

On the road, the midsize Q50T AWD performs competitively with other sports sedans in its class. Most are classified as compacts by the EPA and, like the Q50, have rear-wheel drive with optional all-wheel drive. Among them: Jaguar XE, BMW 330i, Mercedes-Benz C300 and Lexus IS. Others, which have front- or all-wheel drive, are the Acura TLX and Audi A4.

2018 INFINITI Q50

An entry luxury car, the 2017 Sport comes with a long list of standard equipment, including LED headlights, taillights and daytime running lights; dual-zone automatic climate control; leather upholstery; memory settings for the power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and power front seats; SXM satellite radio; rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a motorized glass sunroof.

Options included a rear camera with overhead viewing (which Infiniti was first to offer), radar cruise control, blind-spot warning, and the aforementioned lane departure mitigation and radar cruise control.

2018 INFINITI Q50 makes its North American debut at the 2017 New

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Infiniti Q50 3.0t Sport AWD four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6, twin turbochargers; 300 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 101/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,996 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/27/22 mpg. Premium required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,555.
  • Price as tested: $55,520.

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

2018 INFINITI Q50

Photos (c) Infiniti.

 

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