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2020 Fiat 500X Trekking AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Whether someone becomes a fan of the 2020 Fiat 500X depends more on what the customer wants than the vehicle itself.

If the person’s orientation is toward a small crossover sport utility vehicle with some Italian styling panache, the 500X — especially in the Trekking trim tested for this review — would be a decent starting point.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

If, on the other hand, the customer is seeking a small crossover with more versatility, including moderate off-road capabilities, the choice likely would be the 500X’s fraternal twin: the Jeep Renegade.

If off-roading, or even all-wheel drive, are not in the equation, there are many small crossovers at reasonable prices to check out, including the Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V, Buick Encore, Subaru Crosstrek, Nissan Kicks and Rogue Sport, Hyundai Kona and Venue, Kia Niro and Seltos, and Mazda CX-3 and CX-30.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

The Renegade and 500X, products of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, share engines and transmissions, and are built in an FCA factory in Melfi, Italy. They also are similarly priced, though the Jeep is a bit more expensive because of its all-terrain equipment.

But the 500X, depending on the trim level, is not a bargain either. There are four trim levels: Pop, Trekking, Sport and Trekking plus. Tested for this review was the Trekking, which had a starting price of $27,490, including the destination charge. With options, it topped out at $34,550. Other models’ base prices range from $26,085 to $30,990.

1.3-liter direct-injection turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine 

All use the same engine and transmission combination: a small displacement, 1.3-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that nevertheless makes 177 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is standard, with a nine-speed automatic transmission — the same as the Jeep Renegade.

For such a tiny mill, the tested 500X felt strong on acceleration, though it was an illusion. There was some turbo hesitation off the line even with the standard idle stop-start turned off. Independent tests put the zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration in the eight-second range.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

Not particularly porky at 3,505 lbs, the 500X Trekking had respectable, though not outstanding, city/highway/combined fuel economy of 24/30/26 mpg.

With a fairly stiff suspension system and three adjustable modes — Auto, Sport and Low Traction — for  light off-roading, the 500X Trekking cruises fairly quietly on the public roads. But the ride is choppy unless the highway surface is pool-table smooth. However, the rigid underpinnings help the handling somewhat around curves.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

There was no opportunity to evaluate the 500X Trekking off-road, though the all-wheel drive would come in handy in wintry and other nasty weather. However, the 500X doesn’t come across as an ideal road car for a long trip. The front seats are hard, with little bolstering and aggressive seatback cushions that could contribute to driver fatigue.

Outboard seating in back has adequate headroom for average-sized adults, although knee room is in short supply. As with many modern vehicles, the center-rear seat is a hard, uncomfortable perch compromised by intrusion of the front console and a prominent floor hump that leaves no space for feet so they must be widely splayed.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

Behind the rear seat is a cargo area that is small even by subcompact crossover standards. It measures just 14 cubic feet, about the same size as the trunks in some compact sedans. However, folding the rear seatbacks nearly flat expands the area to 32 cubic feet. Rear seatbacks are divided two-thirds and one-third.

The tested 500X came with an optional double-pane glass sunroof. However, following a current fad even in some expensive European cars, the sunroof shade was made of a sort of perforated cheesecloth, which allowed the admission of too much hot sunlight. Sunroof shades should be opaque.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking

As it should be for its $34,550 sticker, which included a pricey $1,495 destination charge, the tested 500X Trekking came with a high equipment level. Standard items included SXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, FCA’s U-Connect infotainment system with a seven-inch center screen, Bluetooth connectivity with voice command, passenger-seat height adjuster (it pleases shorter companions), automatic headlights and fog lights.

Options included a $1,395 an advanced driver assistance group with forward collision avoidance, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, cross-path warning, rain-sensing windshield wipers, front and rear parking assist and automatic high headlight beams.

Italian cars have always come with a certain indefinable appeal, more traced to styling and flair than deadbolt reliability. Most of the world’s renowned super cars — Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Alfa-Romeo — come from the land of pizza, gelato and Vespa motor scooters.

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Fiat 500X Trekking AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.3-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 177 hp, 210 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 100/14 cubic feet. (32)
  • Weight: 3,505 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/30/26 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,490.
  • Price as tested: $34,550.

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

2020 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

Photos (c) FCA

2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the Underdog Hybrid

by Jason Fogelson

Every time I spend time in a Mitsubishi, I emerge perplexed. I pride myself on my ability to put aside my preconceived notions, and evaluate each vehicle I drive on its own merits. I don’t worry about brand, or market position, or any other external factor until I have given the vehicle a fair shake. That’s why the 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GT S-AWC that I drove recently left me in a cloud.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

On paper, Outlander PHEV should be a winner. It has a long list of impressive standard features, from comfort and convenience to safety and performance. It has a sophisticated hybrid gasoline/electric drivetrain that uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and a pair of electric motors, one on each axle for all-wheel drive. The EPA rates it at 74 mpg-e combined city/highway in hybrid operation, and 25 mpg in gasoline-only. It comes with a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, 7-year/100,000-mile anti-corrosion/perforation warranty and 5 years/unlimited miles of roadside assistance.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Outlander’s 12 kWh Lithium-ion battery pack can be charged from empty in 8.0 to 13.0 hours at 120 volts, 3.4 hours at 240 volts, or up to 80% charge in as little as 25 minutes via its built-in  CHAdeMO DC Fastcharge port. EV range is estimated at 22 miles. Outlander PHEV gets a five-star overall vehicle safety rating from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

With a suggested list price of $41,495 ($43,600 as tested), Outlander PHEV currently qualifies for a $5,836 Federal tax credit, and may qualify for state and local credits as well, depending on where you live.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

So, why was I perplexed?

It seems like Outlander PHEV is just what people are looking for – a stylish, efficient PHEV two-row SUV with tons of extras. There isn’t a lot of direct competition in the price range yet. There are plenty of hybrids, but not plug-in hybrids.

I can only guess that Mitsubishi’s struggles in the United States over the past decade or more have sapped buyer confidence. Mitsubishi has been expending great effort to rebuild its dealer network, and that will help.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Additionally, Mitsubishi has been caught up in the debacle of Carlos Ghosn’s dethroning and flight from the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi Alliance, which Mitsubishi had only recently joined. Until those webs are untangled, uncertainty reigns over all three of the aligned companies.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

But I wasn’t thinking about that history while I was driving the Outlander PHEV. I was feeling the vehicle around me, and it didn’t have the rock-solid feel that I like in an SUV. In the process of designing an efficient SUV that is relatively light for its size at 4,222 lbs, Mitsubishi came up with an SUV that feels a little flimsy to me. The doors don’t close with a solid “thunk;” the touchpoints feel a little hollow. And despite that, the gasoline engine is a bit anemic at 117 hp and 137 lb-ft of torque. Hook that up to a single-speed gear box, and you’ve got a powertrain that sounds like it’s straining off the line.

Mitsubishi is definitely an underdog right now, and Outlander PHEV is arguably their flagship model. As much as I’m inclined to root for the underdog, I can’t recommend the 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GT S-AWC.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

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

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Photos (c) Mitsubishi

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

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall length: 16 feet 7 inches.

Height: 5 feet 8 inches.

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

Weight: 4,383 pounds.

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

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

Price as tested: $46,660.

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

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

 

2019 Buick Envision: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Some potential customers might hesitate because the 2019 Buick Envision is, in fact, a Chinese-made crossover sport utility vehicle with 86% of its parts made in China, not a quintessentially American vehicle.

Nowadays, almost everything you pick up is made in China: shoes, clothing, appliances, you name it. We haven’t minded much, even when the quality may not be great, because the prices are competitive. There’s also a soft spot because China was our ally in WWII, though not in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

2019 Buick Envision

It’s an old story. After World War II, Japanese products started coming into the U.S. They were widely derided — cheap but of poor quality. Later, after the American reconstruction of Japan, the situation reversed, especially with automobiles, when Japanese cars like Toyota and Honda became quality benchmarks.

In recent years, South Korea followed Japan and delivers high quality cars and crossovers from Hyundai and Kia.

Now we’re seeing increasing numbers of vehicles made in China, which has become the world’s biggest market for cars and light trucks. In 2018, sales in China totaled more than 23 million, compared to more than 17 million in the United States. Chinese manufacturers are exploring exporting vehicles here.

2019 Buick Envision

We can visualize the Envision, Buick’s luxury compact crossover, as a bellwether for vehicles to come. Moreover, it is well designed and  has earned good quality and reliability ratings.

Tested for this review was the all-wheel drive Premium II trim level. It had a base price of $44,795 and, with options, a not-inexpensive sticker of $48,435.

It came with full safety equipment, some optional. Included were automatic collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, surround-vision rear camera, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and a head-up display.

2019 Buick Envision

A full suite of connectivity features included OnStar services and Buick Infotainment with an eight-inch center screen, navigation with voice recognition, Bluetooth audio streaming, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and SXM satellite radio.

Though some other modern luxury cars have systems that are irritatingly complex, the Envision keeps things simple. For example, instead of going through a series of annoying steps to pre-set radio and satellite stations, in the Envision you simply find the station and touch the screen to save it.

Comfort and convenience features included tri-zone climate control, power tailgate, perforated leather upholstery with heated and cooled front seats, heated outboard back seats, memory settings for front seats and outside mirrors, panoramic sunroof with opaque sunshade and one-touch operation, and a Bose premium audio system.

2019 Buick Envision

The tested Envision was powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 252 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque A nine-speed automatic transmission sends the power to the pavement. A stop-start system contributes to city/highway/combined fuel economy of 20/25/22 mpg.

Though not as luxurious as some competitors like the Acura RDX and the as-yet untested 2020 Lincoln Corsair, the Envision has a well-designed interior. Front seats and outboard back seats are comfortable but without much bolstering. The floor is flat in back, but the center-rear seat has a hard cushion.

Outside mirrors are mounted on the doors with a small window pane forward so shorter drivers can see curbs and other obstacles. A nice touch: all four outside door handles have lock/unlock buttons.

2019 Buick Envision

Controls are intuitive and white on black backlighted instruments are easy to see and comprehend. One shortcoming: the nine-speed automatic transmission can be shifted manually but with a dinky button on the side of the shift lever. There are no steering-wheel paddles or a separate slot on the shift gate.

On the road, the Envision comports itself capably but without any sporting pretensions. The ride is compliant and comfortable, and the steering and handling feel secure under most circumstances, though you would not want to chase somebody in a sports sedan on twisting mountain roads.

2019 Buick Envision

The turbo engine delivers acceleration that will not be embarrassing in the urban stoplight sprints. Punch the pedal to the floor and you could hit 60 mph in the neighborhood of seven seconds. But the Envision is more endearing as a comfortable around-town and freeway cruiser, as befits its luxury orientation.

In the end, with this entry in the compact luxury crossover category, design and features trump country of origin. It may be built in China with Chinese parts but the Envision is a modern Buick through and through.

2019 Buick Envision

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Buick Envision AWD Premium II four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 252 hp, 295 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/27 cubic feet. (57)
  • Weight: 4,083 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/25/22 mpg.
  • Based price, including destination charge: $44,795.
  • Price as tested: $48,435.

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

2019 Buick Envision

Photos (c) Buick

2019 Honda HR-V Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

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

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

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

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

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

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

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

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

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

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

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

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

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

Specifications

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

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

2019 Honda HR-V Sport

Photos (c) Honda

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

by Frank A. Aukofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 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.

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  • 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 Jaguar E-Pace and I-Pace: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

You’re forgiven if you haven’t figured out the 2019 Jaguar E-Pace and its sibling, the I-Pace.

Contrary to initial knee-jerk reactions, the E-Pace is not electric, and the I-Pace is not the ghost of past BMW i cars. Nope, in this case the I-Pace is the 100% electric and the E-Pace is merely the little brother of the F-Pace.

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2019 Jaguar E-Pace

In a sense, they are the offspring of the F-Pace, in 2017 the first luxury crossover sport utility from the storied British sports car manufacturer. Now they are three. Next thing you know Jaguar will come out with a big three-row SUV.

Wait. That likely won’t happen because Jaguar is the conjoined fraternal twin of Britain’s Land Rover, which specializes in luxury SUVs. Both are now owned by Tata of India.

Jaguar could hardly have done differently. Truck-based SUVs and car-based crossovers have become so popular across the board that even Bentley and Rolls-Royce build them.

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2019 Jaguar I-Pace

With these crossovers, the affinity of Jaguar with Land Rover becomes more obvious. The center-screen infotainment systems in both the E-Pace and I-Pace are similar in befuddlement to those in Range Rovers and Land Rovers. Also, the nomenclature of HSE for certain models now is common to both the Land Rover and Jaguar brands.

Because the E-Pace was introduced as a 2018 model, the I-Pace electric is the new kid in the family. It also is the most interesting, exciting and expensive of the three, and the less expensive main competitor to Tesla’s Model X75D crossover.

Jaguar I-PACE Global Drive, Portugal, 2018
2019 Jaguar I-Pace

The I-Pace’s power comes from two electric motors — one each for the front wheels and rear wheels, giving it automatic all-wheel drive. In easy cruising, it switches to rear drive for economy. The all-wheel drive is mainly important for foul weather than actual off-roading. There are numerous Land Rovers for customers interested in that sort of thing.

The two electric motors combined make 394 hp and 512 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. Because electric motors deliver maximum torque instantly, the I-Pace rewards the driver with an exhilarating jump off the line, reaching 60 mph in slightly more than four seconds with its single-speed automatic transmission.

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2019 Jaguar I-Pace

Of course, doing that habitually will cripple the manufacturer’s claimed range of 234 miles and a city/highway/combined consumption of 80/72/76 MPGe, or miles per gallon equivalent. But it might be worth it for some hot-shoe owners.

The I-Pace uses regenerative braking to help keep the batteries topped up. It is so aggressive in slowing the vehicle that it should enable so-called one-pedal driving, as with the BMW i3. But it cuts out at about six mph, so the driver still must use the brake pedal to stop.

Handling is sharp and the steering responsive, abetted by an air suspension system and brake-induced torque vectoring. But the emphasis on handling compromises the ride on rough roads.

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2019 Jaguar I-Pace

Front seats are supportive but not plush and the outboard rear seats have plenty of head and knee room. The center-rear position is compromised by tight space, a hard cushion and big floor hump. Because of the sloped roof, there’s only 26 cubic feet for cargo, which expands to 51 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.

A negative comfort note: There’s a full panoramic sunroof that does not open and does not have a sunshade. It darkens in bright light but on bright sunny days the glass gets so hot it radiates heat uncomfortably into the cabin and defeats the air conditioning in some areas.

With a bottom-line sticker of $88,840 on the test car, the I-Pace is uncommonly well equipped with state-of-the-art safety and convenience equipment.

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2019 Jaguar E-Pace

But if you don’t hanker to sample the electric future and still crave a Jaguar experience, there’s the E-Pace, which has a $53,845 price tag and a sportier personality. It is a subcompact crossover, 14 feet 5 inches long and a shade over 5 feet tall.

Surprisingly, despite a tight back seat, it offers nearly as much passenger and cargo space as the I-Pace — a total of 117 cubic feet versus 122 cubic feet.

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2019 Jaguar E-Pace

Power comes from a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, a configuration that is taking over the motoring world. In this installation,  it delivers 246 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque.

Well-equipped, the E-Pace has the entertaining handling expected of a Jaguar, though its aggressive and erratic lane-keeping assist  should be simply turned off.

Oh, and by the way, it bucks the luxury cliché of perforated cheesecloth in favor of an effective, opaque sunshade for the sunroof.

jagepace18myonroaddynamic13071713
2019 Jaguar E-Pace

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Jaguar E-Pace R-Dynamic HSE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 246 hp, 269 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 93/24 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,225 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,653 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/27/13 mpg (premium fuel).
  • Base price, including destination charge: $53,845.
  • Price as tested: $53,845.

 

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2019 Jaguar E-Pace

*    *   *

  • Model: 2019 Jaguar I-Pace EV400HSE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Motors: Twin electric-powered; combined 394 hp, 512 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 96/26 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,790 pounds.
  • City/highway/combined fuel consumption: 80/72/76 MPGe.
  • Range: 234 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $81,495.
  • Price as tested: $88,840.

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

Jaguar I-PACE Global Drive, Portugal, 2018
2019 Jaguar I-Pace

Photos (c) Jaguar Land Rover

2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Q: When is an Eclipse not an Eclipse? A: When it’s a 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross.

Okay. It has nothing to do with the eclipse of the sun that plunged parts of the United States into total darkness on Aug. 21, 2017.

Nope. It’s about an all-new crossover sport utility vehicle from  Mitsubishi of Japan that reprises a name from the past but on a completely different vehicle.

2018 Eclipse Cross

The original Eclipse was a sports coupe and convertible marketed in four different versions over 22 years from 1990 to 2012. For some of that time, Mitsubishi had a relationship with Chrysler, and the Eclipse also was rebadged as the Eagle Talon and Plymouth Laser.
Resurrecting the Eclipse name injects a dose of familiarity into a new vehicle that aims to take advantage of the stampede of buyers to crossovers — at the expense of traditional sedans and station wagons.

Some crossovers are little more than jacked-up hatchbacks with a bit of extra ground clearance and, in most cases, optional all-wheel drive. That’s not the case with the Eclipse Cross, which was designed from the get-go as a crossover with front- or all-wheel drive.

2018 Eclipse Cross

It is slightly smaller than popular compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, competing more directly against the likes of the Mazda CX-3, Buick Encore, Subaru Crosstrek, Kia Niro, Nissan Rogue Sport and Hyundai Kona.

As such, it is an affordable vehicle for singles, couples and small families who seek low-cost wheels with decent cargo space. It also is a tidy package for parking and negotiating urban traffic.

The Eclipse Cross is 14 feet 5 inches long with 95 cubic feet of space for passengers and 23 cubic feet for cargo behind the second-row seats. It has edgy styling, especially when viewed from the rear, which dictates a split tailgate window.

Though that restricts rear vision somewhat, the designers made up for it by installing rear headrests that slide up for passengers and down for a better view behind. The rear seats can be adjusted fore and aft to divvy space between passengers and cargo, and the backs fold nearly flat to expand the cargo area. The cargo floor, which is a tad high, hides a full-size temporary spare wheel and tire.

2018 Eclipse Cross

There are five trim levels, ranging from the front-drive ES at $24,900 to the SEL Touring at $31,390. The base price of the tested SE model with Mitsubishi’s S-AWC electronically controlled all-wheel drive  was $27,390. (The S-AWC, which stands for Super All-Wheel Control, has driver selectable adjustments for snow, gravel and automatic operation). With a few minor options, the tested price came to $27,715.

Power comes from a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 152 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a continuously variable automatic (CVT) with a manual-shift mode.

With such a small engine, expectations were not high. But the combination delivers a strong and sprightly surge off the line, making the Eclipse Cross feel faster than it actually is. Though many critics deride CVTs for a sensation that the transmission is slipping, this one has very little of that. The small crossover cruises happily at freeway-plus speeds, though city/highway/combined fuel economy is just 25/26/25 mpg — likely because the little engine has to work hard.

2018 Eclipse Cross

Inside, comfort is first rate. The SE model came with heated and  luxurious cloth seats that were relaxing and supportive, with prominent seatback bolsters to coddle the torso. Seat adjustments were manual but allowed fine tuning. Outboard seats in back are similarly accommodating and even the center-rear position, though less comfortable, is at least usable.

Equipment included blind-spot warning, lane departure assist and rear cross-traffic alert; heated and automatic folding outside mirrors;  dual-zone automatic climate control; pushbutton starting, electric parking brake, rain-sensing windshield wipers; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; fog lights, and HD and SXM satellite radio.

The center touchscreen controls were not intuitive and required close attention to operate, so would be distracting to a driver trying to make adjustments while underway. Better to get things set up before moving off. Though there were remote audio buttons on the steering wheel, there was no volume control knob.

Despite its minor faults and Mitsubishi’s relatively low profile in the U.S., the new Eclipse Cross deserves a look for anyone seeking an entertaining and inexpensive crossover.

2018 Eclipse Cross

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 152 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 95/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,550 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/26/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,390.
  • Price as tested: $27,715.

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

2018 Eclipse Cross

Photos (c) Mitsubishi.

 

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