Category Archives: Car Reviews

2019 Kia Niro EV EX Premium

Kia’s electric crossover looks good, drives well …

Our electric car future receives another jolt of energy with the arrival of Kia’s Niro EV.

If you believe electrics are a fad or experiment and that internal combustion is the only way to go, well you’re in for a shock, ultimately. Because all the carmakers are rushing to get full electric cars and crossovers onto the highways as quickly as they can. Short-term the hybrids and plug-in hybrids are the way to go, but with mainstream cars like the Niro being electrified, it’s only a matter of time until one is in your driveway. Continue reading 2019 Kia Niro EV EX Premium

2020 Nissan Versa SR

New Versa SR proves you can get a lot for a little …

Bare bones cars are a rarity today as even the low-cost sedans that serve as entry-level vehicles for most car makes are far from what we would have called “basic transportation” just a decade or two ago when cars still had crank windows.

Take this week’s dandy little Nissan Versa SR for example. With a starting price of just $19,135, including delivery, you’d think this spiffy Electric Blue sedan would be about as bare bones as car makers go to satisfy the needs of the low-budget shopper. But you’d be wrong and the metallic blue paint job is only example one. Continue reading 2020 Nissan Versa SR

2020 Subaru Outback Touring XT

Subaru’s Outback just keeps getting better, and now it’s faster …

Subaru’s handsome Outback seems to have overrun southeastern Wisconsin roads and it makes sense. Outback is practical for families and also empty-nesters looking to travel in comfort and safety, all at a high value and with AWD.

Full disclosure, our family owns a 2017 Outback, so I knew what to expect when I test drove the 2020 line-topper, the Touring XT. But there were a few surprises. Continue reading 2020 Subaru Outback Touring XT

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4Matic

Mercedes GLC 300 a lively, luxury ride …

Coming off an underwhelming performance from a Ranger Rover Evoque, the new Mercedes-Benz GLC (great little crossover?) was an absolute dream to drive.

The Benz felt more lively with better power, better handling and a better ride than the Evoque, and while still pricey, it costs $4 grand less. Granted the Evoque is better looking than the staid, yet stately, Mercedes, but do you want looks or performance? Oh, and everything worked on the Mercedes in contrast with the Rover. Continue reading 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4Matic

2019 Hyundai Veloster N

Veloster N a hot hatchback, but avoid snow …

With apologies to the late Dr. John, I was in the right place, but it must have been the wrong time. … I been in the right trip, but I must have used the wrong car.

The day after Hyundai’s Racing Red Veloster N arrived, it snowed. I know, it’s too early, but it snowed. It was exactly the wrong time to have this peppy high-value street racer, this boy (and girl) toy that is perfectly aimed at the bullseye that is the youth market. Continue reading 2019 Hyundai Veloster N

2020 Lexus NX 300 AWD F Sport

Lexus NX 300 a small ute with style . . .

2020 Lexus NX 300 F Sport

Small SUVs and crossovers are nearly as thick these days as political pundits, so it takes some effort to separate one from the mob of little tall wagons.

Lexus tries, with some success, with its NX 300, based on the previous generation Toyota RAV4 platform. As in much earlier times, Toyota tries with styling. The big deal here is its giant spindle grille and fancy 3-dimensional taillights outside, and its multicolored interior, even though the colors are black and white, and some folks will argue that black is the lack of color. Continue reading 2020 Lexus NX 300 AWD F Sport

2020 Volvo S60 T8 E-AWD Inscription

 Oh my, Volvo’s S60 hybrid delivers blow like Thor’s Hammer …

You simply must admire the marketing genius of a car company that dubs its LED headlights as Thor’s Hammer.

Volvo wins that honor with several of its latest models. The powerful headlights project a T, hence the Thor nomenclature. The latest hammering of lights I witnessed was on a beautifully sculpted Volvo S60 sedan, but not just any such sedan.

No, Volvo is committed to going all electric sooner instead of later, so this was the S60 T8-AWD Inscription model. It’s Volvo’s top-of-the-heap hybrid touting a combined 400 horses from its 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged I4 engine and an 87-horse hybrid electric motor.

The sexy sparkling pearl white (that’s $645 extra) mid-size luxury sedan was a powerhouse jumping onto the freeway, or hustling away from a stoplight. No wheel chirp from the AWD system and there are four power modes to let a driver decide how much oomph is needed at a moment’s notice, or how much economizing. Adjustments are made on the console.

Pure hybrid delivers plenty of kick as the S60 hybrid is rated 295 ft.-lbs. of torque. It feels like much more though. And yes, the gas engine with its 313 horses of turbo and supercharged power kicks in to add more thrust. Think of it as Volvo’s Saturn V hooked up to all four wheels.

In case you don’t want to pay extra for the hybrid, nor like the idea of plugging your car into your garage outlet each evening, a standard S60 is available with just the 300+ horse turbo/super I4. A standard turbo I4 that makes 250 horsepower also is available. Costs are less for those than the hybrid.

But for now let’s focus on this hybrid rocket, which also handles like a fine sports sedan. While feeling substantial it also is light enough to whip through a serious series of S-curves with no tail-wagging or sway. A new double A-arm suspension up front and multi-link system with composite leaf spring in back do the trick. This Volvo handles.

Ride is as you’d expect, firm, sporty and well-controlled. Not smooth enough to be considered ultra-luxurious, but nearly as good as most German makes that purport to be ultimate sports sedans.

The Volvo also was a fine machine to have during one of our incredibly rainy fall weeks. Its traction was stout, never putting a wheel wrong even when pushed a little harder than might be wise in the wet, certainly on wet leaf coated streets.

A quick word here on the car’s svelte looks before we gaze inward. I like the S60’s lines, its lowered hoodline gives it a slim profile, yet it still sports a large Volvo grille with equally imposing Volvo badge that could nearly pass for a superhero’s shield. Thor maybe?

It’s also worth noting for the uninitiated that plug-in hybrids are simple to recharge as popping the trunk, removing the charger and cord, and plugging the charger into a port just in front of the driver’s door. Then plug the cord into a garage outlet. Even with a 110-line it only took 3-4 hours for a full charge, which got me about 25-30 miles of pure electric zoom.

Note the plug-in’s cap just in front of the driver’s door. It looks like a fuel filler door.

While in that mode I saw 53-58 MPGe, but running mostly on gas with a little electric help throughout the week I ended up at 37.5 mpg. It appears the key to stellar economy is regular evening recharges.

Inside, the car is extremely quiet, as are most hybrids because there’s not much engine noise. Sound deadening is good too, so road noise is minute.

This white sedan featured a two-tone dark brown and medium brown leather interior, the dash, doors and steering wheel being dark, the seats the milder shade, with contrasting stitching. There are driftwood inlays in the dash and doors, plus satin chrome trim on the dash, air vents, and door handles. Black gloss finish trims the large vertical infotainment screen and there’s a crystal-like shift knob that glows at night.

Seats are well-shaped and power up front, with the lower cushion able to be extended, a benefit to taller drivers. The front seats also are heated and cooled, plus add a massaging feature activated via a control at the front of the seats’ door-side panels, yet visually adjusted on the infotainment screen. All of those perks are part of a $2,200 leather seat package.

Meanwhile heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel add $750 to the price tag.

The S60’s interior is roomy too, certainly to haul four adults cross country, while the trunk is a bit limited at 11.6 cubic feet.

The 9-inch tall Sensus infotainment screen works well and is much like a smart phone, allowing the driver, or preferably a passenger, to slide the screen either direction to reveal many options. Sliding one way unveals 19 functions while the other reveals 22 apps. While it’s easy to figure out, it really is complex enough that safety dictates a second operator, or only making adjustments while the car is at rest.

The advantage of a large screen, naturally, is seeing its navigation map more easily. For the record, the test car’s stereo also was an audiophile’s, well, dream. The Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system adds $3,200 to the car’s cost, but it could melt your ear buds, and I mean that in a good way.

Other pluses include a large power sunroof, a head-up display, and all the safety devices we’ve come to expect, from parking sensors and blind-spot warning to emergency braking and pedestrian recognition systems. City Safety helps avoid low-speed accidents, smart cruise is standard as is auto high-beam headlights that bend around corners. And yes, that backup camera delivers a 360-degree view.

What doesn’t the S60 include? A wireless charging station. Plenty of places to hook in a power cord, but nothing cordless for your phone.

Then there was one more concerning oddity. Occasionally there was no heat from this South Carolina-built car. Maybe it thought only air conditioning would be required.

I set the temperature, even to HIGH, and pressed the Auto button to fire up the heat several mornings. Nothing, no fan noise, no nothing. Adjust the fan and the air pouring from the vents was only cold. Then, miraculously, two days before I returned the car the heat popped on and continued working the rest of the drive. Odd!

Figuring that if your car had such a glitch a sharp dealer would fix it, I’d have no trouble buying a Volvo. At its base T5 Momentum level with the 250-horse turbo I4 the car’s a bargain starting at $36,795. And there are plenty of models to choose from between that and this top-line T8 hybrid.

The test car listed at $56,395, including delivery. With its various options this one settled at $64,190, including $800 for fancy wheels.

Bottom line? S60 is a lively hybrid that can increase your fuel economy substantially, while still providing a powerful, fun, sporty and safe drive. But check the heater before you drive off the lot.

FAST STATS: 2020 Volvo S60 T8 E-AWD Inscription

Hits: Sporty looking sedan, kick-butt power, sporty handling, AWD and with quiet, luxurious interior. Tall vertical infotainment screen, massaging front seats, 4 power modes, comfy seats, roomy interior, big sunroof, heated steering wheel and powerful great sounding stereo. Oh, and a plug-in hybrid so excellent mileage.

Misses: No wireless charging station and occasionally no heat, plus too much futzing with the multifunction info screen.

Made in: Ridgeville, S.C.

Engine: 2.0-liter super and turbocharged I4 & plug-in hybrid electric motor, 400 hp (combined)

Transmission: 8-speed Geartronic automatic

Wheelbase: 113.1 in.

Length: 187.4 in.

Cargo: 11.6 cu.ft.

MPG: 69 electric & gas / 30 gas only (EPA)

MPG: 37.5 (tested), 53-58 (when primarily electric)

Base Price: $56,395 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $53,071

Major Options:

Leather seating package (Nappa leather seats, ventilated front seats w/cushion extensions, power adjustable side support and backrest massage for front seats), $2,200

Heated rear seats and steering wheel, $750

Metallic paint, $645

Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system, $3,200

Park assist pilot, $200

19-inch Inscription alloy wheels, $800

Test vehicle: $64,190

Sources: Volvo, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage