Roughly once a year a test car knocks my socks off, trips my trigger, simply surprises the heck out of me and this week’s Kia Niro Touring has me amazed.
Looking at it you’ll say that’s no car, that’s a crossover vehicle. And that’s what Kia wants you to say. The styling is typical Kia wonderful with good looking nose, tail and beautifully proportioned profile. It has a taller stance like a crossover, but (and this is one of at least two surprises) it is front-wheel drive, and as of now AWD is not an option.
Second surprise, from a driving standpoint, this little beauty is a hybrid.
Sure, left in Normal drive mode the acceleration here is (yawn), shall we say, modest. But simply by sliding the 6-speed Sportronic gear lever to the left into Sport mode the Niro jumps to life. Acceleration is quick and quiet as the electric motor propels this honey to normal city cruising speed.
I found myself leaving the shifter in normal mode, which is the most economical way to go, and then slipping it into Sport at stoplights. Fun, and zippy! Read more
Young folks wanting a Jeep for its looks and rugged personality, but who are on an entry-level budget and prefer comfort to mudding ability can find refuge in Jeep’s Renegade.
This is a multi-trim model that ranges from $20 grand, including delivery, up to $30 grand for an off-roading version. Renegade is built on the Fiat 500X chassis in Italy, so quite a ways from Toledo, Ohio, the spiritual home of Jeep and its predecessor, Willys.
But Renegade, despite being a downsized Jeep offers much more civility for daily driving, plus that low-ball entry price. Mine was a near fluorescent neon green (dubbed Bright Hypergreen) that seemed to glow in the parking lot like one of those radioactive bars that Homer Simpson gets stuck in his pocket.
Folks at the office taunted me about the color, but it turns out to be quite fun to drive around in such a glow stick and was incredibly easy to find in any parking lot.
It’s the civility that strikes me most about Renegade. Ride is downright comfortable and tame, not the usual don’t-come-knocking-when-this-baby-is-rockin’ ride of its original off-roading cousin, the roughhewn Wrangler. Even on Wisconsin’s crumbling roads the Renegade delivered a relatively well-controlled an smooth ride, no small accomplishment for a vehicle riding on just a 101.2-inch wheelbase. Read more
If looks are important to you, styling that will get you noticed or at least be recognized as a non-generic luxury car, then Jaguar’s new entry-level luxury sedan, the XE, should have your name printed on its title.
The new small Jag has dashing looks that communicate immediately that it’s a Jaguar. Oh there’s the leaping animal’s silhouette on the trunk lid and steering wheel, but it’s the car’s lean looks, long hood and big chrome grille that tell folks this is a Jaguar.
That’s all well and good, plus Jaguar offers nearly as many model choices as do the domestic pickups. The XE comes in 19 models, all the way from a rear-drive 25T model to a 35T First Edition with all-wheel drive. The vast numbers come from all trim levels coming in either rear- or all-wheel-drive and offering three engine choices.
The base model in each trim, including Premium, Prestige and R-Sport, is the 25T with a 2.0-liter, I4 turbo generating 240 horsepower and 251 lb.-ft. of torque. A 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo diesel also is available. It cranks 180 horsepower but features a tremendous 318 torque rating. The tested supercharged 3.0-liter V6 delivers a healthy 340 horsepower and 332 lb.-ft. of torque.
Confused? Well, there also are a couple First Edition models, but we’ll let the dealers explain all that to you.
For now, let’s focus on the pretty white test car, the XE 35t Prestige. Its targets include the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes E Class, Audi A4 and possibly the Lexus IS. Each has their advantages, and the Jaguar’s is its looks. Read more
When Toyota launched Lexus in 1989, its first sedans impersonated Mercedes-Benz models, but cost a lot less. Now Hyundai has launched its impressive new Genesis luxury car lineup with two models and the top-level G90 looks like a Bentley. Even its logo resembles that of the British make.
Again the formula is to create a car that visually screams luxury while undercutting the original by thousands of dollars. To be sure the new G90 competes mostly with the large Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Lexus and Cadillac sedans. But if you could convince your neighbors you were driving a Bentley, yet only spent $70 grand or so, well, you just might try.
Certainly the G90 is impressive and dressed in Caspian Black, a metallic black paint job, the tested rear-drive Ultimate model turned heads. People asked what it was. Genesis didn’t ring any bells.
But it may soon. Along with this 5.0-liter, 420-horse, V6-powered G90 Genesis offers the G80 with a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 that creates a substantial 365 horsepower. Both models are rear-wheel drive, but offer all-wheel-drive versions too. Read more
Honda’s Accord is a car that’s hard not to like. It’s comfortable, handles well and provides a first rate ride. There’s room for four or five adults and the trunk is sufficiently large. Sexy it ain’t.
Now add a hybrid power system and well, for many, yawning will ensue.
Honda though has tweaked its 2017 Accord to cut a few pounds, add a little overall length, which aids trunk space, and given it a 16-horsepower boost. Refinement defines the Accord, which has been around now for 40 years. Accord never has been about sexy, it has been about service. Owners get their money’s worth in fuel and design efficiency.
The new Accord hybrid punches up its pony power by 16, now at 212 horses, but still with a modest 129 ft.-lbs. of torque. The tested dark red Accord features a 2.0-liter i-VTEC 4-cylinder gas engine along with a hybrid electric system. Power is applied smoothly via the electronic CVT (continuously variable transmission), and the car is exceedingly quiet, inside and out.
But while the Accord cruises like a champ, it’s still fairly slow away from a stoplight and takes a while to wind up to highway speeds. There’s an Econ button to further slow the shifts to save fuel, but I left the test car in normal mode just for the small boost of power it provided. That said, there IS a Sport button on the console that actually gives the Accord more power away from a stop. You’ll want it engaged, a lot! Read more
My Navy son had a Nissan Pathfinder years ago and it was a true sport-utility truck, built on a truck chassis and able to go off-roading with the other utes of the day.
Pathfinder has been around now for 30 years, but those trucklike days are gone as more utes convert to crossover vehicles built on car platforms. That’s what the 2017 Pathfinder rides on. That makes for a more comfortable ride and more civilized vehicle.
The tested gold Pathfinder Platinum was the top-shelf model though, with a 4-wheel-drive system. Still, at nearly $45 grand I’m not sure I’d slop it through much mud and muck. That’s OK though, because precious few buyers ever took SUVs off-road, which has led us to the ever expanding crossover market. It makes sense to give drivers a vehicle more suited to 99.99% of their driving.
Pathfinder’s new styling looks less boxy and trucky. It rides on a 114.2-inch wheelbase and feels as refined as any of its competitors, such models as Toyota’s Highlander, Honda’s Pilot or Hyundai’s Santa Fe. The interior is quiet and lathered in leather.
But it’s the Pathfinder’s power that’ll get your attention once you sit inside the roomy interior that will seat seven because of its third-row seat. Read more
Driving similar cars back to back puts both into perspective, an unfortunate turn for the sporty Infiniti Q60.
I’d driven the Mercedes-Benz C300 coupe with 4Matic, its all-wheel-drive system, the week before I slipped behind the wheel of the new Q60, which replaces the fine G37 in Infiniti’s lineup.
The Benz and Infiniti are nearly identical in profile, length and wheelbase. But the Infiniti’s ride, no matter the Drive Mode, was inferior, and by that I mean harsh. The Infiniti felt like I was driving on square tires from time to time when the road surfaces turned crumbly. If you live in a southern clime, or California, where smooth blacktop is prevalent, this wouldn’t be an issue. In the Midwest it’s an issue.
Like the Mercedes, the Infiniti is strong on power and handling. This is a luxury sport coupe with the emphasis on sport, so it actually feels sportier than the Benz. It packs more punch with its 3.0-liter V6 with twin turbos. It’ll crank 300 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. It feels powerful from the get-go and will zip away from a stoplight with help from its 7-speed automatic that allows for rev-matching manual downshifts. The Infiniti is fun from a performance aspect.
Handling likewise is fairly firm in all modes and precise so the driver feels in total control. There’s even an all-wheel-drive system on the Premium model I drove, or you can go with the standard rear-drive. This AWD system did not seem to keep the car from spinning its wheels under heavy power on wet pavement as well as the C300 though. Read more
Mercedes-Benz is on a roll. Not only has its Formula 1 racing team dominated for three straight years, now its street cars are back on top of their game.
A couple years ago I sort of fell for the C300 sedan and now, in the dead of winter I get to drive the C300 coupe with 4Matic, Mercedes’ all-wheel-drive system. Glad I had the extra grip as we had snow and slush and sloppy roads during the test.
This model features slimming sporty coupe lines that make it stand out among today’s usual humdrum car designs. And while it leans heavily toward sport, the luxury and pleasantness of the sedan are ever present.
As in the sedan Mercedes delivers a scrumptious blend of sporty power, the eager 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 that kicks out 241 horses, and comfort. All that starts with a silky 7-speed automatic transmission that easily harnesses the turbo’s 273 ft-lbs. of torque, and cushions the ride with independent suspension at all four corners.
Ride is absolutely stellar, controlled and easy on the occupants, but still responsive enough to be sporty. Cornering is smooth and as precise as you want it to be courtesy of Mercedes’ Agility Select system that allows the driver to toggle through four settings, from Eco, to Comfort to Sport to Sport+. Read more
Back when I was kid in the 1960s and ‘70s a large luxury sedan meant a Buick, Lincoln, or certainly a Cadillac.
Today, nearly every car maker has a large luxury model, some on the sporty side, but more favoring the luxury end, emphasizing smoothness and quietness. As us Boomers age, both sound pretty good. But we’ve been smitten with SUVs and crossovers, so the big sedan market has languished, shrunk like cotton elephant bell jeans that went through the wash too many times.
Into this market Kia re-introduces its Cadenza, a large luxury sedan that falls between its even larger K900 and its popular mid-size Optima. Competitors include the likes of Chevy’s Impala, Toyota’s Avalon, Ford’s Taurus and Dodge’s Charger, one that definitely falls more in the sport sedan category.
I praised the first gen Cadenza for nearly everything but its ride. Consumers met it with a yawn. The revamped 2017 model should receive cheers from Boomers who like soft leather seats, a supple ride, excellent power and all the electronics we’ve grown to expect in a car, especially one starting north of $40 grand.
Before that figure scares you off, consider the base Premium model (see what they did there with naming?) starts at a reasonable $32,890 and the Technology model at $39,890. Both include delivery and both have all the same mechanicals as the tested top-level Limited, which lists at $45,290 with only a pittance of options even available beyond that. Read more
Like Energizer’s bunny, Toyota’s Corolla just keeps on running through the generations and has succeeded like no other car model. It’s now 50-year run has resulted in more than 40 million Corollas being sold, most of any model.
That’s more than the VW Beetle, the other long-term, low-cost people’s car. Corolla really owns that title now. Everyone has either owned one, or had a kid that owned one, or an aunt, uncle, step-child or, well, a family member that has owned one.
Full disclosure, our family bought a new Corolla in 1983 when we had a 2-year-old and a second child on the way. It was reliable (we wisely decided against a Chrysler K car and Renault Alliance), economical, came with a stick-shift to help us save fuel and had a big enough trunk to hold a highchair and loads of diapers for trips to the grandparents.
Today’s new Corolla furthers that high value statement while remaining highly reliable and actually a bit more stylish than in years past. Toyota has put some effort into styling the last few years and so the 2017 Corolla is more than just an econobox. It looks good and drives well while remaining affordable and economical to run.
Let’s start with price. That’s what most of us think of as relating to value.
A base Corolla L starts at $19,365 and the tested top-level XSE lists at $22,680, plus $865 delivery. A few other brands have similarly priced models that drive a bit sportier, but Corolla comes with most everything a buyer would want, plus is laden with the latest safety equipment. Read more
There are many truly wonderful mid-size, luxury, sport sedans, both heavy on the sport and heavy on the luxury. Few blend the two as well as the new Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription.
The S90 may be the best driving car I’ve tested this past year.
There’s irony though, because the Volvo, like an increasing number of luxury sport sedans is loaded down with a gaggle of electronic goodies aimed at nearly driving the car for you. It’s no secret that autonomous cars are just around the corner and the Volvo proves that.
Each year our vehicles have more safety and driving aids and the S90 has plenty.
But first let’s consider how much fun the Volvo is to drive.
The S90 rides on a 115.8-inch wheelbase and features a double wishbone suspension front and rear. The result is a smooth yet athletic ride that makes the car feel one with the road, but not so glued to it that every crease and bump disturbs its occupants. The Volvo had one of the best rides I’ve experienced this year.
Even more amazing is the power. A hot little 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 is under its long lean hood. Oh, and it’s also supercharged. That pumps the power to 316 horses with a torque rating of 295 ft.-lbs. The car leaps to life in Comfort driving mode and yet (wait for it) there is a Dynamic mode that turns the S90 decidedly racy. The lower gears are held longer, and there are plenty of those with an 8-speed Geartronic automatic standard on all models. Read more
I’m always thankful to get an early crack at a new vehicle to market, and that’s what I had with an early release 2017 Nissan Rogue SL hybrid.
Nissan has revamped the popular Rogue for 2017 with a new gloss black V-Motion grille, wider headlights and restyled taillights to freshen its look. Inside there’s a D-shaped steering wheel and now a hybrid model to put Nissan solidly in the hybrid market.
Rogue along with Altima are Nissan’s top-selling vehicles and Rogue has been a fine gas-powered model for years with its 2.5-liter I4 creating 170 horses and earning a reasonable 25 mpg in the city and 32 mpg highway.
The hybrid model, which had not even had its price set when I drove it, features a 141-horse 2.0-liter I4 coupled with a 30 kW electric motor to create 176 horsepower. Nissan says its hybrid system will turn off the gasoline engine and run in electric mode even while on the highway if you keep accelerator pressure constant. With a slight increase of pressure the gas engine kicks back in.
An Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) is linked to the hybrid system aiming to further increase gas mileage. Preliminary EPA numbers put the hybrid Rogue at 31 mpg city and 34 mpg highway, right in line with a primary competitor, the Toyota RAV4 hybrid, which I drove earlier this year.
Still, here’s the main difference I found. The RAV4 feels peppy and eager to go, especially in its Sport mode, while the Rogue felt lackluster upon acceleration, even using its Sport mode. Never mind both have and Eco mode, as that further weakens acceleration to the point of stirring road rage from drivers behind you at you leave a stoplight. Read more