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2018 Honda Clarity PHEV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Honda enhances the dream of the future with its 2018 Clarity Plug-in Hybrid, latest in a triad of new electrified vehicles.

The future is electric power, alone or in conjunction with — at least for a while — fossil-fueled vehicles. With the introduction of this new Clarity, Honda has completed its initial quest.

Earlier, it introduced the hydrogen-powered Clarity, which uses the most abundant element in the universe to feed electric motors, although as of now the hydrogen must be manufactured from fossil fuels. The company also fields a pure electric Clarity.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

You could argue that there’s a fourth electrified vehicle that could be in the mix: a standard hybrid that runs on electricity and gasoline or diesel fuel. But a plug-in, left to its own devices without being plugged in, operates the same way. Moreover, the company has a hybrid version of its popular Honda Accord.

Honda’s goal is to sell around 75,000 Clarity sedans over the next four years, with electrified vehicles constituting two-thirds of its global sales by 2030. The effort is becoming widespread in the industry as other manufacturers also concentrate on electrified cars, crossovers, sport utility vehicles and trucks.

Like its siblings, the new Clarity Hybrid exhibits classy styling, though without what a few critics regard as excessive gingerbread on some Civic models. The rear-wheel cutouts give it a streamlined look and incorporate air ducts to cool the rear brakes. LED lights adorn both the front and rear.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

The powertrain consists of a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with 103 hp and 99 lb-ft of torque, mated to two electric motors. One delivers 181 hp and 212 lb-ft of torque for driving; the other generates electricity. The total system provides 212 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque.

Because electric motors deliver their maximum torque instantly when they are switched on, and the Clarity’s primary power is electric, there is no need for a conventional automatic transmission. It uses a fixed single-speed transmission.

Fully charged, the Clarity can be driven up to 47 miles on electricity alone. The range actually seems longer because the gasoline engine occasionally kicks on, saving battery power. The EPA rates city/highway/combined gasoline-only fuel economy at 44/40/42 mpg. Combined, the system is rated at the equivalent of 110 mpg.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

Built into the Clarity is a 6.6 kilowatt, 32-amp charger, which enables a full charge in 2.5 hours using a 240-volt outlet. If you simply plug it into a standard 120-volt household outlet, full charging takes 12 hours.

One of the advantages of a plug-in hybrid is that you don’t necessarily have to plug it in. The batteries never fully discharge but reach a low point where they don’t power the electric motor and the Clarity runs on its gasoline engine. You can recover some electric power with careful regenerative deceleration and braking.

All three Clarity models provide a surge of acceleration off the line — an observed zero-to-60 mph time of about seven seconds. The electric and hydrogen models feel a bit quicker than the hybrid because its gasoline engine gets involved.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

A pushbutton gets things going. Console-mounted buttons select Drive, Park and Neutral, and you pull up on one for Reverse. The selection system is becoming standard in Honda and Acura vehicles.

Cruising strictly on electric power is serene, with the only sounds intruding into the cabin coming from tires on the pavement. When the gasoline engine kicks on to boost the power, it engages so quietly and seamlessly that you barely know it’s there.

There are two versions of the Clarity PHEV, which stands for plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. The standard model, priced at $34,290, comes with Honda Sensing, a suite of safety technologies that includes collision and road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow and lane-keeping assist.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

Other equipment includes dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, Bluetooth connectivity, an eight-inch touch screen with a rear-view camera and Honda’s Lane Watch system, which shows a panoramic view of the right-side blind spot when the right turn signal is switched on.

Also available is the $37,490 Clarity PHEV Touring model, which adds a navigation system, leather-trimmed upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel, power front seats with memory and a fuzzy ultra-suede dashboard trim.

Clarity competitors include the Toyota Prius Prime, Chevrolet Volt and Ford Fusion PHEV.

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Honda Clarity Touring PHEV plug-in hybrid four-door sedan.
  • Engine and Motor: 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 103 hp, 99 lb-ft torque; electric motor, 181 hp, 212 lb-ft torque. Combined system hp, 212.
  • Transmission: Fixed single speed.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 102/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,059 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 44/40/42 mpg (gasoline only). System: 110 mpg equivalent.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,490.
  • Price as tested: $37,490.

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

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

Photos (c) Honda.

 

2018 Ford Mustang GT: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2018 Ford Mustang arrives with unprecedented power, lowdown styling, a new 10-speed automatic transmission and enough models and colors to satisfy any Mustang enthusiast.

There are 10 versions in all: Six fastback coupes and four convertibles with three engine and two transmission choices. All of them can deliver driving excitement and an adrenaline rush — even the tested model with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost (Ford’s synonym for turbocharged) four-cylinder, which makes 310 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque.

It now is the only alternative to the V8 engine in the Mustang GT. The previous V6 engine no longer is installed in the Mustang.

2018 Mustang Pony Package

The 5-0-liter V8 delivers 460 hp with 420 lb-ft of torque. Like other new Mustangs, it is available with a six-speed manual gearbox or the new 10-speed automatic transmission, which can be shifted manually with steering-wheel paddles.

Also offered are two fastback Shelby GT 5.0 V8 models with 526 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque. However, only Fastback 2.3-liter four-bangers and 5.0-liter GTs with performance packages were tested at the press introduction in the Malibu hills near Los Angeles, Calif. — the latter with both the six-speed manual and 10-speed automatic.

Dedicated enthusiasts likely will opt for the stick shift, which features a slick and positive linkage and easy clutch engagement. With all those horses pawing at the pavement, the GT manual can be driven in almost any gear in any circumstance. There’s enough power to tool around at modest speeds in 5th or 6th gear, and you can quickly get up to freeway speeds in first and second.

2018 Ford Mustang Interior

The 10-speed does as well, automatically. But it has a curious quirk. With the shift lever in “Drive,” it sometimes gets befuddled at modest speeds, hesitating then lurching. It overcomes that if you stomp on the throttle. The solution, Ford engineers said, is to drive it in the “Sport” mode. But then you have the engine on the boil constantly, with fuel-economy consequences.

However, that same transmission in Ford’s new aluminum-bodied 2018 Expedition full-size sport utility vehicle shifts almost as smoothly as a fidget spinner. Likely it uses different software, which should be adapted to the Mustang’s “Drive” mode.

The 10-speed’s paddle shifters are there for the entertainment value. But modern, computer-controlled automatic transmissions handle the shifts with more dexterity than humans. Even professional drivers on road-racing courses now often allow the computer to determine the shifting, especially when driving cars with rev-matching on downshifts. The GT has both rev-matching and drag-strip launch control.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

In spite of the GT’s zero-to-60 mph sprint at a hair shy of four seconds and a top speed of 155 miles an hour, the 2.3-liter is no slouch. It can reach 60 miles an hour in 5.9 seconds, with a top speed of around 140, and still manages a city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 21/32/25 mpg compared to the GT’s 15/25/18. Premium gasoline is required for both engines.

Some enthusiasts might even prefer the 2.3 because its lighter front end delivers better cornering balance on curving mountain roads. But that’s at speeds of 40, 50 and 60 mph, dictated by the tightness of the turns. On a road racing course with long straightaways, you’d obviously prefer the GT for its massive power, or even one of the Shelby variants.

The Mustang’s membership in the high performance and handling club do not bar it from the grand touring class. With comfortable and supportive front seats, it celebrates long-distance motoring for two. Anyone relegated to the difficult to access back seats, however, will rebel.

2018 Ford Mustang Interior

Besides its slicker profile, the 2018 Mustang, depending on the model, comes with full safety equipment, including lane-keeping assist and a pre-collision system that can detect pedestrians. Other features include LED headlights, a dozen wheel options, 11 colors, customizable instrument cluster, and even an “active valve performance exhaust system” that allows you to drive your Mustang in quiet mode or bellowing like an agitated moose.

None of this, of course, comes cheap. The GT had a base price of US $39,095 and, with options, a bottom line of US $53,160.

The 2.3-liter Fastback Premium, also with the 10-speed, started at $30,600 and topped out at $39,880.

The Mustang has now been with us for nearly the double nickel — 55 yearsn— a long ways from the original 1965 model, introduced in 1964, with a 101-hp, 2.8-liter six-cylinder engine and a three-speed floor-mounted gearshift. Ain’t evolution great?

2018 Ford Mustang

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Ford Mustang Fastback Premium two-door coupe.
  • Engine: 2.3-liter four-cylinder, 310 hp, 350 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 85/24 cubic feet
  • Weight: 3,535 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/32/24 mpg. Premium recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,500.
  • Price as tested: $39,880.

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

Photos (c) Ford.

2018 Ford Mustang

2018 Kia Stinger GT AWD: A DriveWays Review

by Frank A. Aukofer

It is rare, but occasionally something like the 2018 Kia Stinger appears and rides through a process of imprinting itself on the public consciousness — first with insiders and enthusiasts, and eventually with everyone else.

Think Chevrolet Corvette in 1954. Ford Mustang in 1964. BMW 1600 in 1967. Volkswagen Beetle and British Mini in mid-20th century. Honda Accord in 1976.  Mazda MX-5 Miata in 1990. And now the upstart Kia Stinger.

The examples will prompt arguments. You could add the Tucker Torpedo of 1948, but it died in infancy. Or even the Acura Legend in 1986. But we’re talking here mostly about affordable cars that became highly prized and survived for a long time.

2018 Kia Stinger GT2 RWD & 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 AWD

Usually it starts with surprise, morphs into appreciation and desire, and settles into a long-term relationship analogous to the St. Patrick’s Day stereotype, when everybody is either Irish or wants to be.

The word is not yet widespread about the Kia Stinger, and most observers are surprised that it was conceived by the South Korean company, originally known for sometimes shoddy economy cars. But it will achieve status because the company has finessed its way to the top on quality, styling, durability and performance with a full line of cars, crossover sport utility vehicles and even a minivan. There’s not a bad apple in the barrel.

The Stinger shines as a multi-purpose car: High performance across seven versions with style and luxury-car features, two engine choices, family practicality and prices that are doable for middle-income Americans.

Full disclosure: The Stinger is a hatchback. But it is nowhere near what U.S. buyers rejected for many years and now are tentatively embracing. No, it is more accurate to compare it to German high-performance luxury cars, and particularly the new Audi A7 and Audi A5 Sportbacks, both stunners with hatchbacks, high content and price tags to match.        The first impression is that the Stinger mimics the A7: low-down and sexy. But depending on the model, it matches up against both the nearly $70,000 A7 and the $52,000 A5.

2018 Stinger GT2 RWD
2018 Stinger GT2 RWD

Closest to the A7 — here we’re comparing to the 2017 model, not the recently announced 2018 — is the most exalted Stinger, the GT2, which carried a $52,300 sticker as tested for this review. The tester had the optional all-wheel drive (available for $2,200 on all Stingers), while the A7 comes with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive.

Side by side, the A7 is seven inches longer than the Stinger, yet they have similar interior space: passenger/cargo volume of 94/25 cubic feet in the A7; 94/23 in the Stinger. The Audi, at 4,234 pounds, is lighter than the Stinger’s 4,515 pounds, but the Stinger has more power: 365-horsepower, turbocharged 3.3-liter V6 with 376 pound-feet of torque versus the A7’s 340-horsepower, supercharged V6 with 325 pound feet of torque.

The Stinger GT2’s extra power is canceled out by the A7’s lighter weight so the acceleration of each car to 60 miles an hour is rated by its manufacturer at 4.7 seconds. Both cars have eight-speed automatic transmissions with manual-shift modes.

At the other end of the comparison is the $32,800 rear-wheel drive Stinger 2.0T, which contains a 255-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine with 260 pound-feet of torque. It matches up with the new $52,100 Audi A5 Quattro, which is four inches shorter and smaller inside by four cubic feet. Its 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine delivers 252-horspower and 273 pound-feet of torque.

2018 Kia Stinger Blue - GT2 AWD

The Stinger 2.0T uses an eight-speed automatic transmission while the A5 is equipped with a snappy seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. It is about 100 pounds heavier than the 3,650-pound Stinger but has a slight edge in acceleration: 5.3 seconds against 5.9 for the Stinger.

The numbers are important, of course, though the proof is in the driving experience. Truth is, any of these four cars — Audi A7 and A5, and Stinger GT2 and 2.0T — would stir the soul of any driving enthusiast. They deliver exciting, right-now acceleration, fuss-free flat cornering and handling at speed, outstanding braking, comfortable and supportive seats, room for four adults (five in an emergency), and generous cargo space that can be expanded by folding the rear seatbacks.

The big difference is the Kia’s more tolerable prices and one of the best warranties anywhere. For some, the Audi’s reputation and prestige trump every other consideration. But it’s worth noting that Consumer Reports now ranks Kia No. 3 in reliability, based on owner reports. Audi is No. 4.

2018 Stinger GT2 RWD

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Kia Stinger GT2 four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Engine: 3.3-liter V6, twin turbochargers, 365 hp, 376 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 94/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,032 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/25/21. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $50,100.
  • Price as tested: $52,300.

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.

2018 Kia Stinger GT2 AWD
2018 Kia Stinger GT2 AWD

Photos (c) Kia Motors America.

2018 Audi SQ5 3.0T Quattro: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As if their customers weren’t already spending plenty on perfectly good vehicles like the Audi Q5, there’s a recurring imperative among luxury manufacturers to deliver ever more powerful, luxurious and expensive models.

Reigning among them is 2018 Audi SQ5, continuing as a member of a class that includes AMG models from Mercedes-Benz, BMW’s M performance variants, V versions from Cadillac and Quadrifoglio (Four-leaf Clover) models from Alfa Romeo.

Small-2018-Audi-SQ5-2821The Q5 and its SQ5 sibling account for a quarter of all Audi sales in the U.S., no surprise given the current buyer infatuation with crossover sport utilities of all sizes in every price class.

With Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive and a full complement of safety, comfort and convenience features, the Q5 is the sort of vehicle that could satisfy a broad range of buyers seeking a two-row compact or midsize crossover.

It is powered by a 252-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a snap-shifting dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission. With modern computerized technology, this 2.0-liter turbo, along with others like it that are becoming ubiquitous, has enough hustle to get you arrested anywhere.

The starting price tag is $42,475 and, with the sorts of options ordered by folks who shop in this price range, can top out at $52,700. That gets you a tasteful, luxurious, comfortable and quiet interior that almost anyone would welcome for a day-long drive, along with most of the convenience and infotainment functions most buyers want these days.

Small-2018-Audi-SQ5-2818But no. That’s not enough karma for some customers with deep pockets. So, Audi obliges with the SQ5, which is way over the top for any driving on the public highways. It is the same size as its Q5 garage mate with 102 cubic feet of space for passengers — about what you get with a midsize sedan — plus a cargo area behind the back seat of 27 cubic feet, or about double that of a midsize sedan trunk.

It is listed as a five-passenger crossover. But that’s optimistic because the center-rear seat is compromised by a hard cushion, a hidden pull-down center armrest and a giant, square floor hump. The outboard seats, however, are fine and nearly as comfortable as the front seats.

Under the SQ5’s hood lurks a 354-horsepower, turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine that delivers 369 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

That and a bunch of other high-performance stuff bumps the SQ5’s base price to $55,275, or $12,800 more than the Q5. With options, the SQ5 driven for this review had a bottom-line price of $65,800.

2018-Audi-SQ5
2018-Audi-SQ5

According to Audi, that gets you a zero-to-60 time of 5.1 seconds, or eight-tenths of one second quicker than the A5’s 5.9-second time. That’s a bunch of bucks that won’t amount to much of a difference in daily driving.

In Drive, there’s a slight bit of hesitation off the line as the turbocharger spools up. It goes away if you tap the shifter into Sport. There, the SQ5 feels even faster than it is, delivering that rush of excitement that devotees presumably covet.

Start-stop technology, which thankfully can be switched off, contributes to decent SQ5 city/highway/combined fuel economy of 19/24/21 mpg. However, the Q5 saves some bucks with a rating of 23/27/25.

Of course, the SQ5’s higher sticker price also confers bragging rights about how much you can afford to pay for your compact crossover SUV. And the options cover a lot of nifty stuff: air suspension system, torque-vectoring sport rear differential, performance brakes with red calipers, Nappa leather upholstery, 21-inch wheels with sticky summer tires, and Bang & Olufsen audio with 3D sound and a head-up display.

2018-Audi-SQ5
2018-Audi-SQ5

That’s in addition to the standard full safety equipment, rear-view camera, LED headlights and taillights, three-zone climate control, rear-view camera and SXM satellite radio. Curiously for a vehicle in this category, the test car did not have adaptive cruise control.

Also, though the tested SQ5 came with a roof-size panoramic sunroof, the sunshade was made of a perforated cloth that admitted too much sunlight. Sunshades should be opaque.

The SQ5’s tidy size — 15 feet four inches long — and the air suspension system contribute to sporty handling on twisting roads. There are selectable driving modes that adjust performance parameters but most owners likely will stick with the comfort setting, which is fine for daily motoring. However, the dynamic mode awaits for hustling around curves.

Small-2018-Audi-SQ5-2782Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Audi SQ5 3.0T Quattro four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.0-liter V6, turbocharged; 354 hp, 369 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 102/27 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,430 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $55,275.
  • Price as tested: $65,800.

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.

Photos (c) Audi USA.

Small-2018-Audi-SQ5-2830

2018 Cadillac XT5 Test Drive and Review: Holiday Road

by Tod Mesirow

It’s not much of a challenge in word association to say turkey during the holidays.  The same holds true for car manufacturers when you say the word crossover. They’re busy giving thanks for a category that since 2000 has continued its upward climb to one step from the top, in a tight race with sedans. Crossovers are barely edged out 35% to 35.8% for sedans, according Stephanie Brinley, Senior Analyst at IHS Markit.

After driving the Cadillac XT5 with three adult passengers on a holiday journey, it’s easy to see why the category is so appealing. This stellar example of the breed combines equal measures of comfort, style, form and function. XT5 has become Cadillac’s global best seller.

Starting out in New York City the day before a holiday can be a challenge.  I went to a garage to pick up the car, trying to beat the traffic rush getting out of town.  As I walked around the car, it struck me as more understated in its stance than big brother Escalade. There was no doubt XT5 was a Cadillac, with the signature grille on the front, but it wasn’t screaming at me. It was inviting me to enjoy the more curved lines, swept back from the front roof peak, and the gentle hint of expanded curves over the wheels.  The XT5 was definitely shorter and smaller than the Escalade, but not diminutive like some of the smaller Crossovers. My AWD 3.6-liter version with DI (direct injection) and VVT (variable valve timing) is rated at 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.  I was about to do a little of one, and more of the other, as we made our way from the heart of NYC to the bucolic Massachusetts college town of Northampton.

There’s some sort of space-related magic or sleight of hand that car designers have mastered it seems. Getting in to the XT5 felt like getting in to a much bigger vehicle than I had imagined I was getting in to. Maybe it’s the sweeping curve of the leather dashboard and comfy seats. Or the panoramic moonroof that provides a ton of light streaming in, if one wants it opened. While it’s true that the cargo area behind the back row is not as cavernous as an SUV, there was plenty of room for four adults to stash their luggage, as well as a few extraneous bags of food and drink.

Out on the road, the driver assistance systems kick in. The XT5 has a back-up camera of course – it seems mandatory – with the virtual overhead view which always feels weird, but makes some sense to help people orient themselves in space. Cars have been edging their way towards airplanes in this regard – they’re becoming almost IFR capable. IFR is instrument flight rules – which means you essentially rely on the instruments to guide your actions as you fly. You’re not actually looking where you’re going – you’re only looking at the instruments and reacting accordingly.

Another automatic system the XT5 comes with is automatic parking. While driving down a street, the driver hits a button, which alerts the car to search for a parking space. When it finds one, it takes over control of the car, and by all accounts, works perfectly, like another magic trick. Except I was in NY, and after a few searches up and down and around the block, I stopped the car from looking for a space. I will admit to a certain amount of age-related crankiness about a car that parks itself. My feeling is that if you own or lease a car, it’s incumbent upon you to know how to drive the car, and that includes parallel parking it in New York City. And yes, this crankiness is based on the fact that I expended a bit of effort mastering the skill of parking a car in New York City, back in the days when I actually lived there. One can’t park a car without having a sense of where the four edges of the car are, which is also kind of paramount to operating it successfully and safely on the road. So, consider parallel parking a kind of litmus test of how well one knows the car one is driving.

With the Cadillac XT5, however, the driver assistance systems don’t end with back-up cameras and self-parking modes.  Out on the highway, the XT5, with 310 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque, has the power to get up and go. Time to get from zero to sixty is reported to be 6.4 seconds.  I didn’t time it, but I believe it. Speed can be fun, but driving on the highway, it can also be an important safety consideration. Sometimes being able to get out of the way in a hurry is critical to avoiding an incident.

Holiday traffic being what it is, of course, meant a ping ponging of traveling at full highway speeds and slowdowns due to the number of cars, and over the course of the three plus hour trip a variety of traffic accidents — precisely the kind of driving Adaptive Cruise Control was made for. Instead of having to constantly brake and gas, brake and gas, I was able to choose from three different distances at which I felt comfortable following the car in front of me, and enter the maximum speed I wanted to travel. After that, my job as driver was to steer the car. And also, these technologies being somewhat new, and not 100% full proof, a bit of attention to the Adaptive Cruise Control is of course called for. Over the course of the journey it worked really well, with the one or two times when I wasn’t sure it was going to stop, and it did. It’s not Super Cruise (offered on the 2018 Cadillac CT6) which has received high marks from a few writers, but it’s a welcome addition.

Road noise inside the cabin was minimal. The controls worked pretty easily as one would desire – a large touchscreen placed at the correct angle for visibility without sacrificing any forward view. Unlike some vehicles, the touchscreen is integrated in to the dash design, and not stuck on like a tablet, the way some manufacturers do. The heated seats – with three levels – came in super handy as the temperatures dropped in to the 30s. Sound system provided the lush touches to the road trip environment.

Tallying up the experience, the XT5 fares well against its somewhat crowded field of competitors like the Audi Q5, the BMW X3, Lexus RX, Mercedes GLC class. We’ve entered a time where we’re approaching Peak Automobile – which in some ways feels like the end of an era, as we move from cars we drive to cars that drive us, as the Autonomous Automobile age is upon us. And at this stage, no one makes a bad car. In fact, you would have to work really hard to find a bad car to buy. What makes the difference between various versions of a category like crossovers is more about style, and the splitting of hairs among accessories and systems like Adaptive Cruise Control and things like touchscreen placement. Price is one key differentiator as well – the Platinum level XT5 I drove comes in just over $67,000 – but again, over the course of four-year loan, or two-year lease, the monthly difference of even a $5,000 price variance is not that great.

The holiday itself arrived. Family and friends dined on the traditional feast, with a few vegan additions thrown in as we expand our approach to food into new quarters. The turkey was tasty, and even though we didn’t find the wishbone, my wish did come true – we made it safely and comfortably to our holiday destination thanks to the 2018 Cadillac XT5 crossover.

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

See Tod’s video review of the 2018 Cadillac XT5 on YouTube. 

Photos (c) Tod Mesirow.

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.

2018 Honda Odyssey Elite: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2018 Honda Odyssey elevates the family minivan to a lofty level of efficiency and comfort.

Minivans are the most useful vehicles you can find for mom, pop, and the kids. More than any conveyance, they accommodate people and their stuff in customized ways while delivering entertainment and car-like performance.

Though dwindling popularity has reduced choices to only a few — the Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, Chrysler Pacifica, Kia Sedona and the waning Dodge Grand Caravan — they endure and likely will grow somewhat, even faced with the juggernaut of crossover sport utility vehicles.

2018 Honda Odyssey

Because all have a similar configuration, minivan competitiveness distills to features both practical and desirable, as well as finer points like serenity, security and comfort. Thus, the Pacifica, for example, touts its Stow ‘n’ Go second-row seats, which fold into the floor for extra cargo space.

The 2018 Odyssey doesn’t have that. But it arguably offers something better. It is an eight-passenger vehicle with a “Magic Slide” second row that accommodates three. A small seat in the middle can hold a rear-facing child seat and moves fore-and-aft so parents up front can check on the infant.

Outboard are two captain’s chairs that also move back and forth, and flip forward for access to the third row. But remove the center seat and the outboard seats can be effortlessly moved sideways as well, kept separate or pushed together on the right, left or in the middle for even easier access to the third row.

2018 Honda Odyssey

To keep tabs on the sprouts in back, the Odyssey incorporates “CabinWatch,” an overhead camera that focuses on the second and third rows and displays the view on the multi-purpose center screen up front. “CabinTalk,” allows the parents to interrupt whatever the children are watching and listening to, much like an airline pilot stopping the entertainment for announcements. “CabinControl,” enables control of onboard apps from a smart phone.

There’s an overhead screen that serves both the second and third rows, along with wireless headphones for the second row and jacks in the third row for wired headphones.

2018 Honda Odyssey

Other minivans incorporate dual rear seat screens so passengers can independently watch different programs or movies. Honda opted for the single screen to promote more family togetherness — which individual buyers may or may not like.

The Odyssey has an array of peace-of-mind features, including the Honda Sensing safety array with automatic braking for collision mitigation. Also: 4G-LTE WiFi Hotspot, SXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Siri Eyes Free, content streaming to the rear entertainment system from Smart TV or wireless Android devices, walk-away automatic door locking, power hands-free tailgate, motorized side doors and sunroof, wireless smart phone charging and Honda’s pioneering onboard vacuum cleaner.

Obviously, not all of this stuff is fitted to every Odyssey. Just as obviously, Honda put its best package forward, the Odyssey Elite, at the national press introduction on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was fully optioned with a suggested delivered price of a whopping $47,610, which is encroaching on luxury-car territory.

2018 Honda Odyssey

However, there are a total of five other trim levels, starting with the base LX at $30,930, including the destination charge, so customers can pick and choose to fit budgets. Others are the EX at $34,800, EX-L (with leather upholstery and other upgrades) at $38,300, EX with navigation and rear entertainment, $40,300, and Touring at $45,450.

All Odysseys come equipped with Honda’s 280-hp V6 engine, which delivers 262 lb-ft of torque and features cylinder deactivation for highway cruising, a stop-start system and an Econ mode for improved fuel economy. The EPA rates the city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 19/28/22 mpg.

LX and EX models get the power to the front wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission. Touring and Elite models have an all-new 10-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles mounted on the steering wheel.

2018 Honda Odyssey

As before, the Odyssey continues as an effortless performer with car-like handling, improved ride and fatigue-free long-distance cruising. For 2018, the experience is enhanced by a muted inside environment thanks to a host of sound-deadening materials. The main annoying sounds on a trip likely will come from the kids arguing.

Though it’s not exclusive to the Odyssey, one of the apps mimics airline screens that announce the distance and time traveled as well as what’s remaining. If the boys and girls in the Odyssey shout the traditional “Are we there yet?” just point them to the screen.

2018 Honda Odyssey

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Honda Odyssey Elite eight-passenger minivan.
  • Engine:5-liter V6, 280 hp, 262 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 160/37 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,593 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/28/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,610.
  • Price as tested: $47,610.

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

2018 Honda Odyssey

Photos (c) Honda.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas: A DriveWays Review

by Frank A. Aukofer

The Beetle builder goes big with the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas.

Though the Beetle’s sidekick — the famed VW microbus of the 1960s — could carry as many passengers, the Atlas is the biggest Volkswagen ever. Moreover, it was designed for American buyers and is built in the United States.

Of course, VW’s reputation was established with the Beetle, the sturdy two-door, rear-engine sedan that entranced buyers following World War II and into the mid-1970s.

2018_atlas_7017Nowadays, however, if you want to compete in the world-wide vehicle industry, you must field at least one crossover sport utility vehicle. Better yet, provide choices.

Compact and midsize crossovers are taking over the marketplace as buyers recognize the utility of a machine that carries big cargo loads and passengers, can be equipped with all-wheel drive for safety in foul weather, and deliver modest off-road performance.

Volkswagen already had two crossovers in its lineup: the compact Tiguan and the midsize Touareg. Both have two rows of seats to accommodate up to five passengers.

2018_atlas_7014But VW’s country of origin is Germany, where manufacturers like BMW are relentlessly trying to plug every market niche with their vehicle lineups, especially with crossovers. It was inevitable that Volkswagen, with its goal of becoming a full-line family-oriented automobile company, would deliver a full-size crossover that can carry up to seven passengers.

Moreover, the company is working hard to regain the trust of consumers in the wake of a scandal in which it admitted violations of federal anti-pollution laws by faking diesel engine emissions test results.

No surprise, there will be no diesel engine for the new Atlas. Two gasoline engines are offered: a 235-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, offered only in front-wheel drive models; and a 276-hp 3.6-liter V6, available with either front-drive or all-wheel drive. Both get the power to the pavement through an eight-speed automatic transmission.

2018_atlas_7009At the introduction, the tested Atlas crossovers were equipped with the V6 engine, most with all-wheel drive. The 2.0-liter four-banger will arrive later in the model year.

The Atlas enters the market against formidable odds. Among the proven competitors are the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, GMC Acadia, Ford Explorer, Dodge Durango, Mazda CX-9, Hyundai Santa Fe, Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse.

Starting prices for six trim levels of the Atlas, including an S launch model with the V6 engine and front- or all-wheel drive, range from $31,425 for the base four-cylinder S version to the top-line Atlas SEL Premium at $49,415. The latter was tested for this review. All prices include the $925 destination charge.

2018_atlas_6963The SEL Premium was as well equipped as almost anything you’d find in a showroom. In addition to the V6 engine and all-wheel drive, it comes with leather upholstery, three-zone automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, park assist, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, and a Fender premium audio system. The tested Atlas also had the optional second-row individual seats, which reduced the passenger accommodations from seven to six.

The captain’s chairs are slightly smaller than the front seats but offer support and comfort. They recline and feature about eight inches of fore and aft travel, which helps to divide the knee room between the second and third rows of seats. Head room is generous.

A minor complaint: the shade for the sunroof is made of a perforated cloth that allows too much sunlight to intrude into the passenger pod. This has unaccountably become a common feature on some luxury cars. Sunshades should be opaque.

2018_atlas_6969With either the second-row bench seat or the captain’s chairs, the Atlas maintains 21 cubic feet of space for cargo behind the third row, which can accommodate two average-sized adults, though they sit with their knees raised high. Fold the third row and the cargo space expands to nearly 56 cubic feet.

On the road, the Atlas has a substantial feel. It is a big vehicle — 16.5 feet long and weighing 4,502 lbs — and it feels big. It has plenty of power though it is not particularly nimble. But it tracks cleanly on the highway with few steering corrections needed. Cornering on twisting roads is capable as long as you don’t push it too hard.

The ride is comfortable and there’s little intrusion of wind and mechanical noise, though rough pavement elicited a harmonic thrum from the tires that made its way inside.

Like its competitors, the Atlas will please customers who want family space and comfort without resorting to a minivan.

2018_atlas_7004Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:6-liter VR6, 276 hp, 266 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 154/21 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,502 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/23/19 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $49,415.
  • Price as tested: $50,040.

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

2018_atlas_7020Photos (c) Volkswagen.

2017 BMW 330e iPerformance: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With European cities damning pollution from diesel-engine vehicles, manufacturers there are switching to gasoline/electric hybrids like the 2017 BMW 330e iPerformance sedan.

Currently, about half the automobiles in Europe come with diesels, which are more economical than gasoline engines but send more polluting gunk into the atmosphere. Paris, Madrid and Athens are taking actions to ban all diesel vehicles by 2025.

One result: European manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, BMW, Volkswagen and Audi are developing new hybrid vehicles. BMW’s new machine borrows technologies from the company’s i3 electric car and its hybrid super coupe, the i8.

P90208218-highResThe 330e is a plug-in hybrid, which enables limited travel on pure electric power. Standard hybrids like the popular Toyota Prius run the gasoline engine and electric motor together, which is the way the BMW 330e operates once you deplete the battery.

In almost every respect, this new four-door is a 3-Series BMW except that it has a port in the left-front fender to plug in the charger. On paper, it can travel up to 75 miles an hour on electricity alone. It also boasts of a range 14 electric miles with a fully charged battery — but you won’t get that if you put your foot in it.

Even driving carefully, you’re not likely to get the 14 miles unless you feather-foot the throttle and puddle along at sub-city speeds. Any time you punch the gas pedal, the gasoline engine kicks on. Because of that, it’s likely that some owners won’t even bother recharging the 330e. They’ll simply drive it like a standard hybrid.

P90208266-highResThe 330e is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine and an 87-horsepower electric motor-generator. A 5.7 kilowatt-hour battery nests beneath the trunk floor, cutting into the luggage space. The total system delivers 248 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel the 330e to 60 miles per hour in 5.9 seconds, according to BMW’s specifications, with a top speed of 140.

The power gets to the rear wheels through an unobtrusive but efficient eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode operated by paddles on the steering wheel. If you don’t care much about getting great gas mileage, the 330e comes on as a strong performer with precise handling, supple ride and a tactile steering feel.

Like other 3-Series BMWs, the 330e delivers exhilarating motoring. For the most enjoyment, simply forget that it’s a hybrid — plug-in or not — and drive the wheels off. It is responsive and so capable it inspires confidence.

P90208282-highResIf an owner decides to maximize fuel economy by plugging in, it takes about 2.5 hours to fully charge the 330e’s lithium ion battery from “empty” using a 240-volt charging system. If a standard household outlet is the only power source available, allow six to seven hours of charging time.

Charging consistently and driving carefully should deliver somewhere near the EPA’s 72 miles per gallon equivalent in city/highway driving. The combined mileage on gasoline power alone is rated at 31 miles per gallon, though it should do better because of the electric boost.

P90208267-highResThe plug-in hybrid system incorporates three driver-selectable modes: Auto eDrive maximizes electric driving up to 50 miles an hour; Max eDrive uses electric power exclusively up to 75 miles an hour; and the Save Battery mode uses the gasoline engine to maintain the battery pack’s charge at 50%.

An American Motors executive once famously said that U.S. motorists wanted fuel economy — and would pay anything to get it. Well, the BMW 330e fits that observation. It has a starting price of $45,095 and, with BMW’s long list of expensive options, the test car came with a bottom-line sticker price of $60,645.

P90208258-highResThat includes a navigation system that scans the surroundings and connects to the onboard computer to optimize the split between gasoline and electric power. It also covers full safety equipment, including adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning, rear and top view camera, head-up display, traction and stability control, and parking assist.

The 330e doesn’t stint on luxury — as long as you’re willing to lavishly check the options list. Among many features, you can have a motorized sunroof, soft leather upholstery, sunshades for the backlight and rear side windows, heated front and back seats, and SXM satellite radio.

Skip any of them and still enjoy the drive.

P90208227-highResSpecifications

  • Model: 2017 BMW 330e iPerformance four-door sedan.
  • Plug-in Hybrid Power: 2.0-liter gasoline four-cylinder, turbocharged; 87-hp electric motor/generator. Total system: 248 hp, 310 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode; rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 98/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,915 pounds.
  • EPA fuel consumption: 72 miles per gallon equivalent on gasoline/electric power in combined city/highway driving; 31 mpg combined on gasoline engine only.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,095.
  • Price as tested: $60,645.

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

P90208287-highResPhotos (c) BMW.

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