While theaters are bulging with “Star Wars,” auto dealer showrooms are embroiled in car wars as top-selling mid-size sedans butt heads with their latest models.
Top of the sales heap are the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, both of which have been revamped for 2018. But one of the sedans each of those has set its sights on is the already snazzy Mazda6. Mazda isn’t sitting still though, it will launch a new Mazda6 this spring, but its most updated model, the 2017.5 version is well worth a look now.
I visited family in the Las Vegas area last week and slipped behind the wheel of a Soul Red ($300 extra, and worth it) Mazda6, a muscular, sporty sedan that still is among this segment’s styling leaders. The sparkling metallic red test car was the top-level Grand Touring edition, so it was loaded.
But before you pooh-pooh it for fear its price is out of reach, consider that the GT starts at $31,570, including delivery, and even with options this one clocked in at $34,695. That’s below the average selling price for a new car and well below a crossover or sport-utility equipped this well.
First consider that all Mazda6 models come with what Mazda calls SkyActiv-G technology that delivers good power and excellent fuel economy. SkyActive-G is applied to Mazda’s 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and include a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission. This one came with paddle shifters too.
Weight remains moderate at 3,305 lbs. and the engine’s 184 horsepower is plenty perky when you tromp the accelerator to get on the highway. But, as with many cars today, Mazda includes a sport mode, this one activated by a toggle on the console. Boom! The tranny holds the lower gears longer to boost power and in this mode the Mazda races to highway speeds. Read more
Finally Honda has come out of its conservative styling funk to make its always solid Accord sedan look like more than a very reliable box.
The 2018 Accord is wider and lower than its predecessor and looks more muscular and exciting with a larger grille, snazzy taillights and a fastback profile that is more like a coupe. This isn’t your uncle Ed’s Accord anymore.
That alone makes the latest Accord worth a look, but as always, the car is solid from stem to stern. It has plenty of power, handles well and delivers a smooth sedan ride that will please any family of five or fewer.
First a few basics. Accord comes in five trim levels ranging from the LX at $24,460 to $36,690 for the Touring model that I tested. There are two new engines for 2018, a 1.5-liter turbocharged I4 that creates 192 horsepower and a 2.0-liter I4 turbo that cranks 252 horses. The smaller engine makes 7 hp more than the previous I4, while the 2.0-liter is down 26 horses from the earlier 3.5-liter V6.
A key reason for the change is gas mileage and the smaller engine tops the mid-size class with a combined 33 mpg rating. That’s 30 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. The tested 2.0-liter is rated 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. I tested the car during a frigid week with morning temps starting below zero, so I managed just 21.0 mpg.
Yet for those with sportier leanings the 2.0-liter turbo will be the winner. It’s a strong engine that actually spins the front tires on our salty streets when you hit the gas pedal with any muscle. Harnessing that power is a 10-speed automatic transmission. Amazing that we’ve gone from 6- to 8- and now 10-speed transmissions in less than 10 years. Read more
Like Porsche when it launched the unlikely Macan, its first sport-utility vehicle, Kia has crushed expectations by creating a premium level sports sedan with its 2018 Stinger.
Some folks likely were still stuck on the notion that the South Korean car firm only churned out econoboxes and low-cost mainstream vehicles. But they are living in the past.
Kia has broadened its lineup in the past decade and has been hitting home runs on initial quality, beating the competition on content and price and destroying it with styling that leads the industry. Its Optima is still the best-looking mainstream sedan on the market, and has been for going on 8 years.
But Stinger (a great name) takes Kia in a new direction, mainly into a head-to-head battle with German luxury sport sedan makers. It’s being compared with the Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe. That’s good company, and it’s winning those comparisons.
First, this is a luxury car to be sure, but one that pumps up the fun with distinctive sporty looks. Stinger comes in five trim levels too, and I tested the top-line GT2 with all-wheel-drive. It’s not inexpensive, but then neither are its competitors.
The base Stinger 2.0T packs a 255-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but the tested GT2 blows away the competition with a 3.3-liter turbo V6 that pumps an aggressive 365 horses. Read more
I liked the high-value Hyundai Accent sedan a week ago, so it stands to reason I’d like its cousin, the sportier looking Kia Rio hatchback this week.
Accent no longer comes in a hatch, so if you prefer this body style, which I do, the Rio is your low-cost, high-value option for this lineup. Although it should be noted that Rio also comes in a sedan, like the Accent.
I drove a metallic gray Rio EX hatchback, the top level as opposed to the entry-level Accent SE I tested last week. The price difference is minor, but significant if you’re looking for low cost transportation. Yet the EX comes with more comfort and safety features than the base Accent did.
First, the car is a bit longer, lower and wider than its predecessor. That translates to a bit roomier and a handsome, yet sporty look.
Rio has the same engine as Accent, a 1.6-liter direct-injected I4 that creates 130 horsepower. No pocket rocket, the Rio still gets up to highway speeds fairly easily and much more readily when the Sport mode button is depressed on the console, just in front of the shift lever. Read more
Need new wheels at a low price, but don’t want to look like you’re driving an econobox that could tip over in a heavy wind or snag a trophy at the ugliest car on the block contest?
Hyundai has an impressive answer for just such a buyer, it’s redesigned 2018 Accent sedan. This week I tested a “rental-car white” SE, the base model, with an automatic transmission. And get this, with delivery fee, the Accent was $16,985. That’s right, just under $17 grand and you have a new car with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
It has been a while since I tested an entry-level model and boy, was I pleasantly surprised. The Accent doesn’t feel cheap or look it. This is not bare bones by any means. Hyundai gave the Accent crisp body styling and a large grille to reflect the rest of the sharp-looking Hyundai lineup. Most entry-level cars appear squished, too narrow, and top-heavy. Or they simply are truncated and look out of proportion.
So, right off the bat, the Accent makes you feel you’re driving something a notch up from the price point where it starts. Read more
Sometimes the hardest reviews to write are those for vehicles I’ve really enjoyed, the ones that stand out among the 50+ vehicles I test in a year.
This week’s tester, the Volvo XC60 with the Inscription package shouldn’t be hard to ladle syrupy praise on. It’s just that great, comfortable and sporty just don’t seem thick enough.
I’ve driven plenty of Volvos through the years and many were fine, just often overpriced and not as comfortable or fun to drive as other makes. Well, the XC60 is fun, luxurious, nimble, exceedingly quiet and comfortable, and as stylish as any SUV or crossover today.
Price, well, that still is an issue to me, but more on that in a bit.
This Swedish-made crossover starts with a powerplant that boggles the mind, an engine, if you will, that seems outlandish in its design. First, it’s a 2.0-liter I4 much like you’d find in many small to mid-size utes and crossovers. Yes, it’s turbocharged to give it more power and keep its gas consumption at reasonable levels too.
Ah, but here’s the funky part, Volvo also supercharges its tiny 2.0-liter. What? Yes, it turbocharges and supercharges the four-banger to give this more kick than most crossovers, even the pricey luxury ones. The engine packs 316 horsepower and 295 ft.-lbs. of torque. If you consider this, because it has all-wheel-drive, a sport-utility vehicle, then by golly it delivers on the sport side. Read more
Mitsubishi continues to fly under the radar among the Japanese car makers in the U.S., with just a few models and those don’t change often.
But the Outlander Sport has been one of its success stories, as it spun off from the larger Outlander SUV a few years back. This is a small ute, or crossover, about a foot shorter in length than Outlander.
It’s handsome, easy to maneuver in a parking lot and an automotive bargain. But it’s no benchmark to be sure.
The body is tidy and looks a bit sportier than many mainline small utes. I tested a pretty metallic red almost top-level SEL with AWD. The later is a bit of a misnomer in that you must engage the 4-wheel-drive system while cars and wagons such as Subarus are AWD all the time. Still, that’s easy because there’s a big button on the console. Press it once and you go from 2WD to 4WD.
Price though is what sets it apart. You can easily pay $30-35 grand for a decent AWD crossover or small ute, but the SEL model starts at $26,835, including delivery. Even with its pricey Touring Package, a $2,000 option, the test vehicle checked in at just $29,110. That’s a certifiable bargain.
That AWD works fine once engaged, and the Outlander Sport SEL now comes with a bit horsier 2.4-liter I4 engine. This one has 168 horsepower compared with 148 in earlier models and lower cost trim levels. Read more
Hyundai’s Sonata is back on track to being a major challenger to the likes of Toyota’s Camry and others in the crowded mid-size sedan market.
Hyundai’s last generation Sonata wasn’t nearly as attractive as its predecessor. This one is a sharp looker with a distinctive nose and improved profile. That will snag buyers attention, but its new 8-speed automatic transmission and improved ride should seal the deal, along with price.
Always a high-value car, the 2018 Sonata has a lot going for it. Admittedly I tested the top-level Limited 2.0T that is heavy on sporty performance, and all the bells and whistles. But wait until you get a load of the price.
But first, the “Machine Gray” (metallic gray) Limited touts Hyundai’s strongest engine, a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 that delivers a peppy 245 horsepower and a 260 torque rating. As with many cars and crossovers today there are a number of drive modes for the driver to select.
There’s Eco, which garners the highest gas mileage at the cost of power, Comfort, which is the middle ground of handling, power and ride, and Sport, which firms the steering and pumps up the power. That was great for accelerating onto the highway or away from a crowded traffic light when a lane change was in order. Read more
If you can get beyond the new Honda Civic Si’s odd Transformer-ish rear-end you’ll find one of the finest, and most economical, sporty coupes on the market.
There’s a lot to like here, even if eye candy is not one of them.
The souped-up Si model has been missing from the Civic lineup for a couple years, so its return is welcomed by entry-level sporty car buyers whose options have been limited since the Si’s demise.
The Si links performance and economy unlike most other cars. It starts at a highly affordable $24,100 while boasting a turbocharged 1.5-liter I4 engine that creates a peppy 205 horsepower.
For a coupe weighing less than 3,000 lbs., that turbo will jack it up to highway speeds quite smartly. Firing up, or down, freeway entry ramps is fun and quick. There’s not much turbo lag with the Civic and its smooth shifting 6-speed manual allows the driver to put as much muscle into acceleration as needed, or desired.
A Sport mode button may help that a little, although I didn’t feel it was needed or provided much extra boost. Mainly the Sport mode firms up the steering wheel, or more to the point, makes steering effort much heavier than when that mode isn’t engaged. I found the normal driving mode just fine and steering response fairly precise without the added steering weight of Sport mode. Read more
Mazda’s power hardtop adds romance to Miata …
Love may be what makes a Subaru a Subaru, but Mazda’s MX-3 Miata has been luring drivers into its open-air summer of romance for 28 years, yet seems never to age.
That was with its soft-top model, but now comes its RF (retractable fastback) with power folding hardtop, and suddenly love turns to lust. While there has been a power hardtop model before, this one improves the Miata’s looks. Cosmetically it adds a Targa-like bar behind the cockpit that remains there after the roof has neatly folded down behind the seats. Think Porsche Targa profile, but much cuter and less costly.
Hold up a toggle on the center stack and in slightly more than 10 seconds the folding hardtop has powered down to transform the sporty metallic red roadster into a convertible. Where the old soft top let in a lot of wind and road noise, the hardtop muffles nearly all of it. Ah, you can cruise in style and listen to your stereo without straining an eardrum.
So the RF creates a quiet interior, resolving one of my few complaints of past Miata drives, plus creates a snazzier profile that had people asking me “What?” I was driving.
Still Mazda continues its mission of creating a simple car, a convertible that’s affordable, fun and won’t embarrass you at the gas pump. Mazda calls it zoom-zoom.
A couple years back Mazda slightly downsized the MX-5, a rare act in the car world. The goal was keeping it light and lively, not letting it take on a middle-agers’ weight around the beltline. Read more
Hybrids are beginning to come in all shapes and sizes. Toyota’s Prius remains the dominant player, but like a college football player moving up to the NFL, the Prius’ will be facing stiffer competition.
Now comes Hyundai to the hybrid big leagues with its Ioniq. It’s oddly named and spelled, but everything else about it is big league. Its styling is more sophisticated than the dowdy Prius, but not quite as sporty as its sporty cousin, the Kia Niro.
Ioniq is a small hatchback, but it’s loaded with all the goodies you’d ever want, plus gets dynamite fuel economy. In fact, it boasts the highest fuel economy rating of any hybrid at 57 mpg city and 59 mpg highway in its entry-level, eco-minded Blue model. The Limited, two models up, is rated 55 mpg city and 54 mpg highway. I managed 45.2 mpg, while the trip computer insisted it was 53.4. All models have aluminum hoods and hatches to keep weight down and improve gas mileage.
For the record, I had gotten a still good, but less impressive, 35.6 mpg in my Niro test drive. Niro, which looks more like a crossover also is about 150 lbs. heavier than the Ioniq. Meanwhile, when I tested the Prius Two Eco earlier this year I got a stellar 57.5 mpg. That’s hard to beat.
Ioniq though handles nicely with generally light steering effort and good cornering because it has a low center of gravity. In Sport mode the steering firms a bit too. Plus Hyundai tells us the Ioniq has the best drag coefficient of any car on the U.S. market. That means it cuts through the air more easily, which aids fuel efficiency. Mind you the differences in drag coefficients among most cars is small. Read more
Give Volvo credit for creating a high-end wagon that looks like no other. The V90 Cross Country is big and features a swoopy profile that looks downright slick.
The Cross Country part tells you the Volvo prefers to think of itself as a crossover, and it does have all-wheel drive and 8.3 inches of ground clearance. But it looks more like a wagon and feels absolutely enormous. It most reminds me of Chrysler’s former swoopy (in a different way) Magnum wagon.
That’s important because despite its weight advantage the 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged I4 doesn’t give it the pep I’d heard that the Volvo was to have. The I4 boasts 310 horsepower and a 295 torque rating, but there’s hesitation every time you get on the gas and the wagon simply feels heavy. Not sure if it’s the engine or the 8-speed automatic transmission that seems to make it hiccup when you first want the power. Read more
I’m used to getting questions about the test cars I drive, but few get as many comments as the Genesis G80 3.3T Sport I just drove.
Dressed in Caspian black, a deeply layered sparkling metallic black, the G80 oozes luxury and authority on the road. Old and young folks alike asked what it was, guessing everything from a new unmarked police car to a Bentley. What it is, is fantastic, and Bentley-like, but without the horrible price tag.
If you’re not a car geek you may be unfamiliar with Genesis, as were several of the questioners. It’s Hyundai’s new luxury brand. Think Toyota’s Lexus or Honda’s Acura.
Like those makes, it has invaded the luxury sedan market with a generously equipped model at a price that seriously undercuts the existing luxury brands. Its looks are a mix of BMW and Audi, and the badge on its nose and tail resembles the spread wings of a Bentley. Hyundai did its homework!
I consider this the best looking luxury sedan today, with the exception of Audi’s sleek A7 fastback.
A little more history. For 2018 the G80 line adds a Sport model with a new engine, a twin-turbo 3.3-liter V6 that cranks an amazing 365 horsepower with a torque rating of 376 lb.-ft. Some offer more, some less, but even weighing in at a solid 4,519 lbs., this new G80 will move. Read more
Coupes used to be a more plentiful subset of cars, but as cars become a smaller subset of vehicles the coupe appears closer and closer to extinction.
But Audi, for one, is committed to the segment and its A5 Coupe is a good example of how much pleasure can be derived from a coupe. It looks sharp, and melds sporty handling and power with a smooth-shifting 7-speed automatic transmission and 4-wheel drive, which Audi calls quattro.
The A5 does everything well, but is not a racer, nor a true family car, unless your little ones are in booster seats and can latch themselves in, or big enough to not need a booster, yet not too long-legged. Rear seat room is fairly cramped.
The silver test car ($575 extra for the paint job) came with Audi’s stout 2.0-liter turbo I4 that creates a spirited, if not rambunctious, 252 horsepower and 273 ft.-lbs. of torque. Turbo lag is non-existent, in fact, I looked under the hood to make sure there was a turbo. The power here comes on so smoothly and in such a linear manner that it’s not obvious that all this boost is from a turbo. Read more