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2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As other manufacturers have done, Hyundai has designed its compact Elantra to bridge the divide between buyers looking for economy with comfort and those more focused on entertainment and sport.

The former is represented quite capably with the 2019 Elantra Limited four-door sedan and the latter by the 2019 Elantra GT N-Line four-door hatchback.

Large-34143-2019ElantraFor reference, think of the Volkswagen Golf and Volkswagen GTI. Or the Honda Civic and Civic Si or R-Type. In both cases, the base cars are oriented toward economy and everyday duty, while the others promise excitement.

Usually, the base cars come with less powerful engines and automatic transmissions while the performance variants are equipped with manual gearboxes exclusively or a choice of automatic or manual.

Both Elantra versions were driven for this review at the annual Spring Rally of the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) at the Road America racetrack in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Manufacturers provided 80 cars and light trucks for driving by about 100 automotive journalists. Some vehicles were designated for track use and autocross; others for street driving and off-roading.

Large-34144-2019ElantraThe Hyundai Elantra Limited four-door is powered by a 147-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 136 lb-ft of torque. It acquitted itself well as an economical and comfortable tourer that never felt short of passing power. Quiet on smooth asphalt highways, road noise intruded on rougher surfaces. It rode comfortably but needed frequent steering corrections.

Averaging 43.8 mpg of regular gasoline over 140 miles of highway driving at speeds up to 75 mph, the tester beat its EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 28/37/32 mpg.

It had a base price of $23,485, including the destination charge. The price included forward collision and blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and lane keeping assist, as well as dual-zone automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, Android Auto and Apple Car Play, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, leather upholstery with heated front seats and hands-free trunk opening.

Large-33684-2019ElantraThe tester also came with a $3,350 option package that included adaptive cruise control, navigation system, collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, motorized sunroof, and memory settings for outside mirrors and driver’s seat. All that brought the bottom-line tested price to $26,960, or about $10,000 less than the current average price of a new car.

Though marketed as a compact, the Elantra sedan qualifies as a midsize according to the EPA’s definition, though just barely. The back seat is a bit tight but can accommodate two average-sized adults. However, the center-rear fifth passenger sits on a cramped and uncomfortable perch.

At the other end of the Elantra spectrum is the N-line. Hyundai has chosen N as the designation for its line of high-performance variants, not unlike BMW’s M vehicles or the AMG models from Mercedes-Benz. The N badge comes from Hyundai’s research and development facility in Namyang, South Korea, and also refers to its testing at the famed Nürburgring track in Germany.

Large-33665-2019ElantraAs a four-door hatchback, the 2019 Elantra N-Line is nine inches shorter than the sedan but has more room inside: 97 cubic feet for passengers and 25 cubic feet for cargo under the hatch, compared to 96 cubic feet for passengers and a trunk of 14 cubic feet in the sedan.

The N-Line also has a smaller 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, more powerful than the base 2.0-liter at 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque because it is turbocharged. It comes standard with a slick, easy-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, though a dual-clutch automatic is optional.

Equipped with full basic safety equipment but few of the frills on the Limited sedan, the Elantra N had a bottom-line sticker price of $24,195, or $2,775 lower than the Limited. For any enthusiast, what’s not to like?

Large-33966-2019ElantraThe base price included heated sport seats upholstered in sturdy cloth that hold the torso in place in hard cornering, pushbutton starting, dual-zone automatic climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels with summer performance tires, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, LED headlights and taillights, audio system with SXM satellite radio, and Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity.

Some estimates put the number of U.S. drivers who know how to shift for themselves at something like 2%. It’s a shame because that other 98% would not experience the joy of driving the Elantra GT N-Line or, for that matter, a stick-shift Mazda3, Volkswagen GTI or Honda Civic Si.

The shift linkage of the Elantra N-Line’s six-speed gearbox and clutch action are so easy-going that shifts up and down seem to happen almost by thought control.

Large-33686-2019ElantraSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 147 hp, 136 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,844 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/37/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $23,485.
  • Price as tested: $26,960.

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

Large-34119-2019ElantraPhotos (c) Hyundai

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2019 Nissan Maxima and Murano: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Even when you are fundamentally healthy like Nissan’s 2019 Maxima sedan and Murano crossover SUV, it never hurts to add some bling to enhance your appeal.

Usually it happens midway through a model run. In the automobile biz, they call it a refresh — changes that present a new face and personality to prospective customers.

2019 Nissan Maxima-7Both the sport- and luxury-oriented Maxima sedan and the Murano midsize crossover are marketed by Nissan as top-of-the line flagships. Though they do not compete in the luxury segment — that’s the job of the company’s Infiniti brand — the 2019 designs nudge them closer. They are intended to appeal to buyers who want luxury content without big price tags.

Of the two, the Maxima needs the most help. Reflecting the nation-wide trend among buyers toward crossovers and away from sedans, the Maxima’s sales have dropped precipitously in 2018. The Murano, on the other hand, is on a path to increase sales.

MikeDitzPhoto.com

The Maxima competes in the near-luxury, large car class, although like Toyota’s Avalon, it actually is classified by the government as a midsize car.

From a performance standpoint, the Maxima doesn’t need a thing. It is powered by a 300-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine with 261 lb-ft of torque delivered to the front wheels through Nissan’s Xtronic continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). The combination earns a city/highway/combined fuel economy of 20/30/24 mpg.

Some critics deride CVTs, which have no shift points, as noisy and sluggish. But Nissan arguably has more experience with them than any manufacturer and it shows on the Maxima. Throttle response is quick, smooth and powerful. Also, the Maxima handles curving roads like a sports sedan. Straight-line cruising is quiet and effortless with few steering corrections needed.

2019 Nissan Maxima-16The new appeal is mostly about appearances, especially on the tested top-line Maxima Platinum with the Reserve package, though there are safety enhancements as well. With a bottom-line sticker of $43,835, it was loaded with the full 2019 package of safety and luxury enhancements.

One is Nissan’s new rear door alert. The system notes if you open a rear door to stash a package — or a child — in the back seat. At the end of the trip, if you leave without re-opening the back door, it will sound the horn.

Other freshening included Nissan’s V-Motion styling, which sends body lines flowing from the distinctive grille up and over the body. LED headlights and taillights punctuate the styling and augment interior color schemes and accents. The taillights give the impression of width and streamlining.

2019 Nissan Maxima-13The Maxima’s Reserve package, with a $1,140 price tag, includes heated rear seats, 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels, “Rakuda tan” leather upholstery with diamond-quilted seating areas, two-tone leather covered steering wheel, charcoal headliner and pillars, and satin bronze interior trim.

Similarly, the Murano moves closer to luxury territory with new colors like its rusty-shiny “Sunset Drift Chromaflair.”  Along with the Maxima, it also incorporates the company’s Safety Shield 360, which includes automatic emergency braking, rear braking, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-sport warning. One apparent shortcoming: there’s no mention of lane-departure assist.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-10Though not as powerful as its sibling Maxima, the Murano contains enough oomph to avoid embarrassment in the stoplight sprints or on the freeways. Its 3.5-liter V6 engine makes 260 hp with 240 lb-ft of torque, delivered to the front wheels or all four wheels through the Xtronic CVT.

The version tested for this review was the mid-priced SV trim level with front-wheel drive. It had a base price of $35,485 and, with a modest list of options, checked in at $39,230. Add $1,600 if you want all-wheel drive. Fuel economy is rated by the EPA at 20/28/23 mpg.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-24Handling, of course, is not as crisp as the Maxima’s but the Murano acquits itself well, with little body roll, on twisting mountain roads. Its forte, however, is more attuned to quiet, straight-line cruising with the audio cranked up and the kids on their video games with earphones.

The SV trim eschews leather upholstery in favor of a sturdy embossed cloth, which to some people — including this critic — is more comfortable over a wide range of temperatures than leather. On the Murano, the cloth covers a supportive seat structure that takes the fatigue out of long-distance cruising.

A nearly flat floor should enhance comfort in the center-rear seating position. Unfortunately, the cushion is high and hard, and knee room is compromised by intrusion of the center console.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-11Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Maxima Platinum Reserve four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 300 hp, 261 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,676 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/30/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $42,335.
  • Price as tested: $43,835.

*   *   *

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Murano SV four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 260 hp, 240 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 103/31 cubic feet. (65)
  • Weight: 3,837 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/28/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,485
  • Price as tested: $39,230.

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

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-5Photos (c) Nissan

2019 Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Now rounding out its lineup with the 2019 Volvo S60 sedan and V60 station wagon, the Swedish manufacturer likely has never seen an era when its name was more appropriate. In Latin, the word “volvo” means “I roll.”

Starting with its full-size XC90 three-seat crossover sport utility vehicle in 2016, Volvo is nearing completion of its plan to field a full line of new sedans, station wagons, crossover SUVs and hybrid models. There are now 10, from compact through midsize and large, plus different trim levels.

S60R-Design05The company also has set a goal of selling one million electrified vehicles by 2025. With the S60, it means all-wheel-drive T8 plug-in hybrid models with gasoline engines up front and electric motors at the rear wheels. As with all of its other vehicles, Volvo is sticking with 2.0-liter gasoline engines in various tunes with turbochargers and turbo/supercharger combinations.

Volvo also is among a few manufacturers that are bravely bucking the American aversion to station wagons and preference for tall crossover SUVs. The V60 is a wagon version of the S60 that, for now, still is built in Sweden.

The S60, now in its third generation, marks a milestone. It is the first Volvo ever built in the United States, in a new plant in Ridgeville, South Carolina, near Charleston. With 2.3 million square feet of space on a 1,600-acre campus, it represents a $1.8 billion investment and can produce up to 150,000 cars a year.

S60R-Design04As a premium brand, the S60 competes with the compact BMW 3-Series, Infiniti Q50, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus IS and Audi A4. The starting price of the base front-drive T5 Momentum model is $36,795.

Its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, delivered through an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. Volvo says it will accelerate to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds and deliver city/highway/combined fuel economy of 24/36/28 mpg on premium gasoline.

It is equipped with full modern safety equipment — a Volvo tradition — including oncoming lane collision and run-off road mitigation, automatic braking with pedestrian, cyclist and animal detection, and lane-keeping assist.

S60R-DesignInterior05Like all S60 sedans, the Momentum model comes with a panoramic sunroof as standard equipment, along with leatherette upholstery, audio system with SXM satellite radio, automatic climate control, power front seats and power-folding rear-seat headrests.

However, there are a couple of imperatives that Volvo has not adopted. The sun visors on the S60 and other Volvo models do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sunlight from the sides. And the sunshade for the panoramic sunroof, following a current cliché on luxury vehicles, is made of a flimsy perforated cheesecloth-like material that admits too much sunlight onto passengers’ heads. Sunshades should be opaque.

If your need or preference points toward all-wheel drive, add $4,500 to the price equation. The T6 Momentum AWD model starts at $41,295. The other two trim levels are the R-Design and Inscription.

S60R-DesignInterior08Driven for this review were two S60 sedans: T6 R-Design with all-wheel drive and T8 all-wheel drive Polestar. Also available was the V60 T6 Momentum all-wheel drive station wagon.

The first, the T6 all-wheel drive R-Design, came with a supercharged and turbocharged 316-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that made 295 lb-ft of torque. That’s good for a zero-to-60 acceleration time of 5.3 seconds and 21/32/25 mpg on premium gasoline. It started at $47,395 and, with options, had a $49,895 sticker.

Polestar Engineered is Volvo’s moniker for high performance machinery — in this case a hybrid gasoline/electric power train that includes the 2.0-liter four-banger, supercharged and turbocharged, with 328 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque, mated to an electric motor at the rear wheels.

New Volvo V60 exteriorTogether, they deliver 417 hp with a zero-to-60 acceleration time of 4.3 seconds, according to Volvo, with city/highway/combined fuel economy of 27/34/30 mpg. Also, as a plug-in hybrid, the Polestar Engineered S60 can run up to 21 miles on electric power alone.

The new Volvo S60 sedans and V60 wagons present an almost dizzying array of choices. What all three of those tested have in common are a solid, flex-free chassis and a supple, sporting suspension system for fuss-free cornering, and plenty of power to go wheel-to-wheel with their premium competitors.

Oh, make sure to check out the “city weave” seat covering in Momentum models. It’s a comfortable, classy cloth that, to this reviewer, is preferable to leather.

S60R-Design005Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volvo S60 T6 R-Design AWD four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged and supercharged; 316 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 94/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,780 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/32/25 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,395.
  • Price as tested: $49,895.

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

S60R-Design002Photos (c) Volvo

2019 Nissan Altima SR VC-Turbo: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With its groundbreaking new engine, all-wheel drive and other enhancements, the 2019 Nissan Altima bolsters the Big Three of Japan’s in-your-face challenge to the surging popularity of crossover sport utility vehicles.

Chevrolet, Ford and Fiat Chrysler of the USA are in the process of eliminating sedans from their lineups, betting on pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles, crossover SUVs and small numbers of sports cars as the wave of the future.

2019 Nissan Altima-1At the same time, Japan’s Toyota, Honda and Nissan are rolling out new and more desirable midsize sedans to continue offering full lines of vehicles. The Toyota Camry and Honda Accord were all-new for 2018 and now Nissan joins them with the 2019 Altima.

The company argues that sedans are far from becoming museum pieces. According to Nissan’s research, the annual U.S. market includes six million sedans, with two million of those midsize. That’s about 35% of the 17 million cars and light trucks sold in 2017.

Moreover, the company is targeting young professionals and calculates that 44% of generation Z customers (born between 1995 and 2010) intend to buy sedans while 18% will choose two-row SUVs and crossovers, and 11% will pick three-row crossovers and SUVs.

2019 Nissan Altima-11The numbers are different for generation Y millennial intenders (born between 1980 and the end of 1994), with 30% ripe to buy sedans, 27% two-row and 18% three-row SUVs and crossovers.

With such rosy assumptions, it’s no surprise that Nissan loaded the new Altima with its biggest investment in new basic architecture in the last 20 years and its highest-ever investment in a new powertrain, including two new engines.

The most radical, state-of-the art engine is the all-new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with variable compression, called the VC-Turbo. It’s a world first in a production car. The technology continuously changes the engine’s compression ratio while underway anywhere from 8:1 for high performance and 14:1 for maximum efficiency.

2019 Nissan Altima-19The VC-Turbo makes 248 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque while delivering city/highway/combined fuel economy of 25/34/29 mpg on regular gasoline. Power gets to the front wheels via Nissan’s continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). The VC-Turbo replaces the Altima’s previous 3.5-liter V6 engine.

Though the VC-Turbo is the star, there’s a second new engine — a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder that is expected to power the highest number of sales of the new Altima. With direct fuel injection, it makes 179 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque.

2019 Nissan Altima-20For the first time, the Altima will be offered with all-wheel drive for an extra $1,350, but for now only with the 2.5-liter engine. Nissan did not rule out all-wheel drive for the VC-Turbo but for the time being it will be equipped only with front-wheel drive.

Fuel economy varies depending on the engine and trim level. There are five trim levels with the 2.5-liter engine: S, SR, SV, SL and Platinum. With the VC-Turbo there are three: SR, Platinum and Edition One. The last is a special introductory model limited to 3,900 copies.

Driven for this review were an all-wheel drive 2.5-liter Platinum and the front-drive VC-Turbo SR, with the focus on the latter with its all-new variable compression technology. The 2.5-liter had an EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 25/35/31 mpg; the V-Turbo SR was rated at 25/34/29.

2019 Nissan Altima-22Both versions displayed robust acceleration and secure handling, though the 3.5-liter exhibited a bit of body roll in rapid cornering. The V-Turbo was quicker off the line with sharper moves on twisting roads. Both were quiet cruisers though the VC-Turbo engine was a bit raucous under hard acceleration.

Nissan’s Intelligent CVT exhibited little of the droning and feeling of slipping exhibited by other CVTs as engine revolutions build. For years, Nissan has focused intensely on CVT development and builds some of the better units.

2019 Nissan Altima-21With Nissan’s so-called zero gravity seats and a supple ride, the new Altima is a serene cruiser. Front seats are supportive and long-distance comfortable. Outboard rear seats have plenty of knee and headroom, and even the center-rear position is spacious with a truncated but resilient cushion.

The new Altima is longer, lower and wider by one inch than its predecessor, though the flowing styling does not affect interior space.

Nissan has made what it views as a rational choice by investing in the Altima. With sales of 5.7 million overall and 254,996 in 2017, it continues in the top three in sales of midsize sedans. You could call it the company’s bread, butter and jam.

2019 Nissan Altima-15Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Altima SR V-Turbo four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter variable-compression four-cylinder, turbocharged; 248 hp, 280 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,418 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/34/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,045.
  • Price as tested: $30,045.

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

2019 Nissan Altima-6Photos (c) Nissan

2018 Mazda6 Signature: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Some cars deliver instant gratification the first time you get behind the wheel. The 2018 Mazda6 Signature is such a machine.

Barely a quarter of a mile underway, you already experience the palpable feedback from well-weighted steering, quick turn-in, supple suspension system, responsive throttle and solid brakes.

Mazda6_38There are many midsize sedans, most aimed at providing family transportation and at least a measure of performance. From its inception in 2002, the Mazda6 has been viewed as a sports sedan, not unlike some of its more expensive road companions from Acura, Cadillac, Infiniti and Lexus.

Though it won’t turn heads because it doesn’t look much different from its predecessor, the re-engineered 6 exhibits the currently fashionable near-fastback style that resembles cars like the Kia Stinger and Audi A5.

Despite the sleek roofline, there’s plenty of headroom front and back, as well as outboard back seats that can accommodate six-foot-plus humans. Unfortunately, as in most cars, the center-rear passenger is shortchanged with a high, hard cushion and large floor hump.

New_Mazda6_08The headline news for 2018 is the addition of a new powerplant for the 6. It is a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that was lifted from Mazda’s flagship CX-9 crossover sport utility vehicle. It runs on regular gasoline and makes 227 hp with 310 lb-ft of torque. Fill it with 93-octane premium and the horsepower jumps to 250.

Power makes its way to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted with paddles on the steering wheel. Shifts are crisp and rapid up or down and the 6 Signature exhibited no front-drive torque steer, that dreaded jerk of the steering wheel when you punch the pedal while turning.

The transmission came with a switchable Sport mode that changed the shift mapping to keep the engine at higher rpms in each gear. That’s the one you want when you want to grab the advantage in stoplight sprints.

2018_Mazda6-7It was the setup in the tested top-of-the-line Signature model, which, given the equipment and features, came with a reasonable base price of $33,860, including the inescapable destination charge. With a few minor options, the bottom-line sticker came to $36,040, which is only a bit more than the average price of a new car these days.

There are five trim levels, starting with the Sport model, stickered at $22,480 with a six-speed manual gearbox. It is the only manual-transmission model, which will disappoint enthusiasts who would appreciate it on the 2.5-liter turbo versions. Though the manual was not tested for this review, if it’s anything like its predecessors it is a pleasure to manipulate.

The difference is that the base Sport and Touring versions come with Mazda’s 187-hp non-turbo 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, which delivers 186 lb-ft of torque. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated by the EPA at 24/33/27 mpg for the manual and 26/35/29 for the automatic. The 2.5-liter turbo, which is designed for cylinder deactivation when cruising, gets 23/31/26 mpg.

Mazda6_28In addition to the tactile performance sensations in the cut and thrust of daily driving, the Mazda6 Signature delivers long-distance cruising comfort. The front seats, upholstered in perforated Nappa leather, with heat and cooling, coddle the lower back with welcome adjustable lumbar support, though the seatback bolsters are a bit truncated. Radar cruise control operates to a stop.

The Signature came with a full suite of safety equipment, including lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, a comprehensive head-up display with traffic-sign recognition, radar cruise control, blind-spot warning and a 360-degree rear camera.

It also came equipped with features one might expect on a luxury or near-luxury car, including dual-zone-climate control, Bose premium audio, navigation, motorized glass sunroof, eight-way power driver’s seat with two memory settings, six-way power front passenger seat, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated outside mirrors, and pushbutton starting with keyless entry.

Mazda6_30There’s an eight-inch center screen that displays navigation and audio functions operated by a control knob on the console, right next to the volume button for the audio system. The control takes a bit of learning but can be operated without looking, though the driver must still look at the screen. No system is completely eyes-free.

Out back, there’s a well-shaped and finished trunk that can accommodate 15 cubic feet of cargo. The trunk lid has C-shaped hinges  fully isolated from the contents.

Bottom line: If you seek sport driving as well as midsize family accommodations, the Mazda6 is worth serious consideration.

Mazda6_9Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Mazda6 Signature four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 227 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 100/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,560 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/31/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $33,860.
  • Price as tested: $36,040.

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

2018_Mazda6-2Photos (c) Mazda

2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer 

2017_Mazda3_57If the 2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring were a lot more expensive,  it likely would be regarded as an exclusive high-class sedan. 

A longstanding favorite of driving enthusiasts, the Mazda3 is a quality compact with exceptional overall performance and many desirable features. Yet in 2017, it came in 10th in sales against the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Kia Forte, Volkswagen Jetta and Subaru Impreza.

Total Mazda3 sales amounted to a respectable 75,018, which included both conventional sedans and hatchbacks. Leading the compact pack was the Honda Civic with 377,286 sold, or more than five times as many as the Mazda3. In 9th place was the Subaru Impreza, an exceptional compact in its own right with standard all-wheel drive, which totaled 86,043 sales.

2017_Mazda3_exterior_005Sedans and hatchbacks are losing ground to sport utility vehicles, especially the car-based crossovers. At Mazda, for example, the CX-5 midsize crossover outsells all of the Mazda cars, including the Mazda3, Mazda6 and the MX-5 Miata two-seat sports car.

Still, there’s a solid cadre of American customers who prefer sedans — especially those with some sporting credentials — for pure driving enjoyment. That’s where a car like the Mazda3 Grand Touring comes in.

2017_Mazda3_55There are two versions: a five-door hatchback and the subject here, the traditional four-door notchback sedan, which comes with a choice of two engines. The base model, which is no slouch, is equipped with a 155-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic transmission.

The Grand Touring model, the subject here, uses a 184-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 185 lb-ft of torque. It is the torque, or twisting force, that delivers the excitement of strong acceleration off the line. The Grand Touring moves to 60 mph in about seven seconds, more than respectable for a compact sedan in the Mazda3’s price range.

Autodesk VRED Design 2016 SR1-SP4

For enthusiasts who like to shift for themselves, the tested Grand Touring arrived with steering-wheel mounted paddles to manually shift the six-speed automatic transmission. Though the transmission did fine on its own, the paddles were useful for holding gears on twisting, hilly roads.

With a starting price of $25,070, the tested Grand Touring with its six-speed automatic transmission is a bit more expensive than some of its compact competitors. Spiffed up with a short list of options, it came with a $28,470 bottom-line sticker.

2017_Mazda3_51That’s roughly $5,000 less than the average price of a new car these days. Yet it’s a complete package, with a full suite of safety equipment, including lane keeping warning and assist; low-speed automatic collision braking; blind-spot warning; adaptive cruise control; rear cross-traffic alert, and tire-pressure monitoring.

One of the options deserves a separate mention. It is Mazda’s adjustable  head-up display, which uses a separate screen that rises up from the top of the dashboard into the driver’s line of sight. In addition to a digital speedometer, it also reads traffic signs like speed limits and shows other information.

A center-mounted seven-inch color touch screen displays navigation and an array of vehicle functions as well as satellite radio and other entertainment data. Selections can be made from the screen or by using a rotary knob mounted on the center console. 

2017_Mazda3_36The Grand Touring sedan’s exterior styling borders on the generic for compact sedans, handsome without being offbeat or offensive. Where it stands out is in the interior materials, design and execution. The heated leather-covered sport seats on the test car showed quality workmanship and offered long-distance support and comfort up front.

However, the back seat was tight on knee and headroom for average-sized humans. Though there were seatbelts for three, the center-rear position should be reserved for emergency situations. The small trunk’s exposed hinges could damage contents.

Desirable equipment, both standard and optional, included a motorized glass sunroof; dual-zone automatic climate control; LED headlights, fog lights and taillights; pushbutton starting; keyless locking, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

2017_Mazda3_37On the road, the test car cruised quietly except for engine noises that intruded under hard acceleration. The electric power steering felt nicely weighted and responsive around curves and maintained a strong line in straight freeway cruising. A supple suspension system, abetted by 18-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires, helped the handling without sacrificing ride quality.

Mazda has long touted its SkyActiv technology, a holistic approach that covers every aspect of vehicle design, no matter how tiny. When you sweat the small stuff, you get something like the Mazda3 Grand Touring.

2017_Mazda3_56Specifications

    • Model: 2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring four-door sedan.
    • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder, 184 hp, 185 lb-ft torque.
    • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
    • Overall length: 15 feet.
    • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/12 cubic feet.
    • Weight: 3,100 pounds.
    • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/36/30 mpg.
    • Base price, including destination charge: $25,070.
    • Price as tested: $28,470.

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

2017_Mazda3_27.jpgPhotos (c) Mazda.

 

2019 Toyota Avalon XLE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer 

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_01_5CF27B2780DED002CBCEA6227F0A922FBEB5CE66Where once it was Toyota’s flagship cruiser, the 2019 Avalon presents itself as more of a sleek and agile littoral combat ship. 

A flagship, of course, need not be a leviathan. It is wherever the admiral chooses to hang his gold-braided cap — just as Air Force One is whatever aircraft the president happens to be traveling in.

The Avalon, introduced in 1994, for many years was a large car, sometimes described as Toyota’s Buick. It had the distinction of being the only modern sedan that could seat three passengers comfortably in the back seat, with a flat floor and proper cushions. 

In 2013, it was downsized to its current state as a midsize car. It continues in that configuration for 2019, now barely larger than its popular — and lower-priced — sibling, the Toyota Camry.

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_04_273E4BB13CD0F09E282FFAADB0DA5E06642C627AA perennial best-seller, the Camry nests neatly in the midsize class with 114 cubic feet of interior volume, divided 99 for passengers and 15 in the trunk. The 2019 Avalon has but five cubic feet more: 103 for passengers and 16 in the trunk. It also is four inches longer than the Camry.

Distinctions come in appointments and equipment. The Camry can be outfitted like a near-luxury premium sedan, while the Avalon has higher, Lexus-like aspirations, though it has joined the crowd with a center-rear seat that is little more than an uncomfortable perch. Outboard back seats, however, offer plenty of head and knee room.

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_05_6BA11AEFE2642816FE3E96BB928D5E51B3596371For 2019, its fifth-generation iteration, the Avalon, in the words of group vice-president Ed Laukes, “was re-created from the ground up.” It is longer, lower and wider than its predecessor and sports new exterior and interior styling. There’s LED lighting all around, an adaptive suspension system, distinctively different grilles for sport and luxury-oriented models, and seven trim levels.

They are the XLE, the focus here, and the Limited, whose grilles are filled with horizontal bars; the sport-oriented XSE and Touring, with gleaming, piano-black mesh grilles, and three Hybrid models in XLE, XSE and Limited Trim. Prices, exclusive of options, range from $36,395 to $43,395, including destination charges.

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_19_51745B7A0870921B0D7C6E518F76F20092194C49In a move that should win more economy-oriented customers, Hybrid models cost just $1,000 more than their gasoline counterparts in all trim levels. EPA city/highway/combined XLE Hybrid fuel economy is rated at 43/44/44 mpg. XSE and Limited get 43/43/43. Moreover, the Hybrid now has the same trunk size as the non-hybrids.

Though all versions were available, the lowest-price XLE gasoline model was chosen for this review because comes with all basic Avalon goodness. The test car did not arrive with a navigation system, so you must use your smart phone’s. But there are USB power ports for everybody to constantly navigate if they wish.

The XLE also lacks frosting that comes on other trim levels. Among the missing: Leather upholstery, genuine wood interior trim, paddle shifters, acoustic windshield and side glass up front, head-up display, rear cross-traffic braking and a birds-eye view rear camera.

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_15_89A8C9A4A12D0FFB4CC16984BC3740355DF2C43ABut the XLE does have Toyota’s manufactured Softex upholstery; Entune infotainment system with Apple Car Play, Bluetooth and SXM satellite radio; three-mode drive system (Eco, Normal, Sport) and Toyota’s Safety Sense system, which includes pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptable radar cruise control, lane departure mitigation and blind-spot detection.

All non-hybrid versions share a new 301-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine that delivers 267 lb-ft of torque. It is connected to the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The combination provides a smooth, quiet surge of power that never feels out of breath.

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_20_66CD41A099F8726F2D9F9D4A7BC0F8EE224DAFCCOn the road, the XLE test car cruised serenely with no intrusion of mechanical or wind noise, and only minimal sounds from the tires on rough pavement. The front seats were comfortable on the artificial Softex surface, with good seatback bolstering for cornering. 

A touch of a button selects Eco, Normal and Sport settings, which adjust shift points, ride comfort, steering and suspension settings. 

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_22_DFC1F2E8E1D17C5746E64E55E9847033D876711FThe tested XLE came with a suggested delivered price of $36,395. It had two options: a $1,000 motorized sunroof and a $680 upgraded JBL audio system for a total sticker price of $38,075, which is only about $3,500 more than the average transaction price of a new car in this era.

For that, you can buy premium surroundings, modern styling, strong performance and comfort in a flagship car that competes handily against the likes of the Buick La Crosse and Nissan Maxima — and, if you’re on a tight budget, maybe even a Lexus ES.  

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_03_540C6FDEA0A1B56E3465637BD7C81DC1CF458198Specifications

    • Model: 2019 Toyota Avalon XLE four-door sedan.
    • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 301 hp, 267 lb-ft torque.
    • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
    • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
    • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 103/16 cubic feet.
    • Weight: 3,560 pounds.
    • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/32/26 mpg.
    • Base price, including destination charge: $36,395.
    • Price as tested: $38,075.

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

2019_Toyota_Avalon_Touring_09_97C18ACC5684FA36FFE6C5D558CC0C5D83D1AD79Photos (c) Toyota.

2018 Honda Accord 2.0T Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Like the proverbial cup that runneth over, the 2018 Honda Accord oozes newness in practically every molecule of its mechanical being. The company touts it as “the most radical redesign of the Accord ever.” That covers a lot of territory, given its 42 years on the American scene, during which Accord has sold 13 million hatchbacks, coupes, sedans and station wagons — 11 million of them manufactured in the USA.

All but the four-door sedan are now gone, so Honda is counting on this new Accord to hold up against the midsize competition, particularly its perennial nemesis, the Toyota Camry, which also has an all-new, driver-oriented entry for 2018.

Both have been nominated for the North American Car of the Year award from an independent jury of 60 automotive journalists from all over the country, including this reviewer.

2018 Honda Accord Sport 2.0T

The Camry has been the best-selling midsize car for 15 years, though Honda argues that the Accord does better in direct sales to consumers, without depending on fleet sales.

Whatever, it’s certain to be a dogfight, even facing the fact that both cars have been lagging against the smothering onslaught of crossover sport utility vehicles.

To catalog all of the Accord’s new features would overwhelm the space allotted to a review like this. It includes a host of improvements, including a lower center of gravity, lighter weight, stiffer structure, suspension and steering enhancements, streamlined wind-cheating bodywork, improved visibility, more comfortable and supportive seats, quieter interior, bigger passenger space and trunk, and excellent interior design and ergonomics that includes radio knobs instead of Honda’s recent infatuation with touch screens.

2018 Honda Accord Sport 2.0T

The Accord drives like a big car, which it is. It is marketed as a midsize but its interior volume, depending on the trim, hovers fractionally on both sides of the government’s large-car designation of a minimum of 120 cubic feet of interior room. On the tested Touring, that was divided into 103 for passengers and 17 cubic feet in the trunk.

Any car is only as good as its powerplants. For the first time, the Accord has gone all-turbo with its engines: a 192-hp, 1.5-liter four-cylinder with 192 lb-ft of torque and a 252-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 273 lb-ft of torque.

Last year, neither Accord engine featured turbocharging. One was a 2.4-liter four-cylinder and the upgrade was a 3.5-liter V6 engine. Not long ago, Honda avoided turbo engines, but since has embraced them for their computer-manipulated power and fuel economy.

2018 Honda Accord Sport 2.0T

Tested for this review was the fully-equipped Accord Touring with the 2.0-liter engine and either a 10-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode or a six-speed manual gearbox. There’s also a 2.0 Sport version with the same transmission choices. The manual likely will give the Accord an edge among enthusiasts who like to shift for themselves.

The stick shift also is available on the 1.5-liter Sport model, which also offers a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). With that combination, the Accord gets a city/highway/combined fuel economy rating from the EPA of 30/38/33 mpg.

Not surprisingly, the powerful tested Touring model came with a lower rating of 23/34/29. But this is package will appeal to customers who enjoy a shot of adrenaline when they accelerate from a stoplight or cruise at high speeds on deserted freeways.

2018 Honda Accord Sport 2.0T

The Accord handles superbly on twisting or straight roads. It is anvil steady and library quiet, although the turbo 2.0-liter engine announces itself rudely under rapid acceleration. There’s generous space for four with well-bolstered seats up front, though the center-rear seat is compromised by a hard cushion and a floor hump.

The Touring features Honda’s new gear selector. It uses pushbuttons for all functions except Reverse, which is a pull-up button. There also are selectable drive modes, one of which enhances fuel economy. But the preference here is for the Sport setting, which unleashes a stampede of the horses under the hood.

At $36,675, the 2.0 Touring sits at the top of the line, not a minor achievement given the fact that it is close to the current average transaction price for a new car in the U.S. Yet it is equipped as well as some luxury cars, including adaptive shock absorbers, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, navigation, memory driver’s seat, head-up display, LED headlights, wireless smart phone charging, ventilated front seats and heated back seats, and the new Honda Link driver assist system that includes Wi-Fi and remote engine starting.

2018 Honda Accord Sport 2.0T

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Honda Accord 2.0T Touring four-door sedan.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 252 hp, 273 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 103/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,428 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/34/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,675.
  • Price as tested: $36,675.

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

2018 Honda Accord Sport 2.0T

Photos (c) Honda.

2018 Toyota Camry: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though it’s nothing like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, the 2018 Toyota Camry could perform a similar function.

It is an all-new four-door sedan that is intended to slow the tsunami of crossover sport utility vehicles that threaten to inundate the marketplace.

Sure, Toyota has plenty of its own SUVs and crossovers, including the truck-based Sequoia, Land Cruiser and 4Runner, and the crossover Highlander, RAV4 and C-HR to tantalize buyers. But it also has demonstrated strength with the Camry, the best-selling midsize sedan for 15 straight years.

2018_Toyota_Camry_LE_02_B20AA139B42DE10B882933077ECC41B939043174_lowThough it has declined recently as customers flock to crossovers and SUVs, it still is a giant in the marketplace. In 2015, Camry sales totaled 429,355. That dropped to 388,618 in 2016 and, in 2017, sales have been running at an annual rate of about 355,000.

So, there’s no hint that Toyota plans to ease off on its development of standard sedans, which once were the gold standard in the U.S.

In the mid-1980s, Ford’s Taurus owned the midsize sedan segment. But it eased off development of the brand to focus on its more profitable F-Series pickup trucks, which  became the all-time best seller. Meanwhile, the Taurus withered and died, though the name later was resurrected on other cars.

2018_Toyota_Camry_LE_01_D12DD6C73DE47B4C2ED8846274C98762B7FEFAE0_lowThere’s no way Toyota will let that happen to the Camry, even though the leadership there recognizes that it may not return to its past sales glory. Plus there’s the possibility that the crossover fad may fade.

Enter the 2018 Camry, which the company says is the best it has produced in the marque’s 33 year history. It is chockablock full of new styling, safety, entertainment and other innovations to tantalize buyers, many of whom are attracted to the name because of its enviable reputation for long-term durability and reliability.

2018_Toyota_Camry_XSE_09_AE8B0ED5B895414D0555DD4A239A2999ADC67F74_lowBut this Camry also has the looks, value and feel to appeal to a broad swath of the motoring public. There are 10 versions with three different power trains, two transmissions and starting prices that range from the base L at $24,380 to $35,835 for the XSE V6. There are three hybrid trim levels: HV LE at $28,685, HV SE at $30,385 and HV XLE at $33,235.

Four of the 10 were driven for this review: HV LE hybrid; SE four-cylinder; XSE V6; and LE four-cylinder. The last is likely to be the best seller. Like the other four-cylinder models, its 2.5-liter engine makes 203 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, which is more than adequate for any driving situation on public roads. Its city/highway/combined fuel consumption is EPA rated at 28/39/32 mpg.

2018_Toyota_Camry_XSE_21_17AE8D8EFBA9C2A3F36077CBDE608FAADE3F17DE_lowFor customers who seek more sporting sensations, Toyota offers the Camry S versions, which offer tighter steering, a slightly stiffer suspension system and more aggressive transmission shifting. There are four trim levels with hybrid, four-cylinder and V6 power trains.

Gasoline-engine models all get the power to the front wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission which can be manually shifted with steering wheel paddles on S models. Hybrids use a smooth gear-driven continuously variable automatic transmission.

2018_Toyota_Camry_XSE_28_D229B971678531D0B838E34892EBD78A38583C8E_lowIn the Camry tradition, all of the 2018 models display stylish interiors with quality trim and workmanship. The LE’s seats, covered in soft but durable cloth, are supportive and comfortable for long-distance cruising. The outboard back seats have abundant head and knee room, and the center-rear position, despite a hard cushion and floor hump, can accommodate an adult.

The steering is precise, with a good on-center feel. Along with the Camry’s new double-wishbone independent rear suspension system, it contributes to capable handling on twisting roads.

2018_Toyota_Camry_XSE_29_C882F1ECBF650B53C14056C4946BDD4CD3966813_lowThe ride is cushy without being mushy and the only noticeable intrusion is some engine noise under hard acceleration. If you’d like something quieter, you can order the gasoline-electric hybrid, which has a fuel economy rating of 51/53/52 mpg. But in LE trim, it costs $3,800 more.

Toyota’s Safety Sense is standard and includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, brake hold, hill-start assist and automatic headlight high beams. Other safety equipment, such as blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking, is standard on more expensive trim levels.

Two gripes: When the transmission is inadvertently left in “drive” and the engine is turned off, the Camry does not automatically shift into “park.” It rolls. And big C-hinges in the trunk are unprotected and could squish luggage.

Overall, however, this new Camry has the stuff to resist the crossover deluge.

2018_Toyota_Camry_XLE_07_3691F27FD618DAA4DAFBDC4B43CD3E0FBADC0D2B_lowSpecifications

  • Model: 2018 Toyota Camry LE four-door sedan.
  • Engine:5-liter four-cylinder, 203 hp, 184 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 16 feet.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 99/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,296 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 28/39/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $24,885.
  • Price as tested: $28,275.

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

2018_Toyota_Camry_SE_09_BCA4F22E6A0E552FA10C39DCBD381DA118C35E3D_lowPhotos (c) Toyota.

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