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
Rare is the sports sedan, or any car, that makes you giggle when you tromp on its gas pedal. Rare too is a car that makes your friends envious.
Corvettes have become too common, Jaguars too mainstream, BMWs too numerous. No, for something special you want an Italian sports car, preferably in red and preferably with a sexy sounding name. You want something not everyone of a certain economic standing has.
Today, that car is an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. That’s Giulia, as in the woman’s name, Julia. And the Quadrifoglio? Well, that means four-leaf clover, which is emblazoned on the car’s front quarter panels. More on that in a bit.
Alfa Romeo embodies Italian car history, especially its racing history. It’s who Enzo Ferrari worked for, or with, before Ferrari became Ferrari. Despite its long history the Italian make pulled out of the U.S. market in 1995 and only recently, along with its parent, Fiat, has come back.
Giulia is the car it needs to regain a foothold in the American market and from a performance standpoint it is an absolute home run. Or in the sporting vernacular of its homeland, GOOOOOOOAL!
With any sports car, or sports sedan, one must start with the power plant. Alfa snags a 2.9-liter bi-turbo V6 created by Ferrari and it is magnifico! It’s strong and sings like one of the Three Tenors, a thing of beauty. Read more
Jeep has remade its Compass and moved it from near the bottom of the small crossover sport-utility list to much nearer the top.
The former Compass didn’t impress in any way, while the new Compass starts by looking like a miniature Jeep Grand Cherokee with a handsome 7-bar grille and well-proportioned profile. But it’s much more refined than its predecessor with a quiet and roomy interior and good behavior over the road, plus some ability to go off road, if needed.
Compass slots between the small, but cute, Renegade and the handsome more futuristic looking Cherokee. That means the interior is more people friendly too, and, somewhat ironically, the new Compass has more cargo room behind the rear seat than the Cherokee. It’s simply a pleasant vehicle to drive and ride in.
If shopping right now, be aware there may be some confusion if you go to a dealer asking simply for a 2017 model. Both the old, and new Compass models are being sold as 2017s. Make sure you try the newer version, although the former models should be on deep clearance.
Mine was the Latitude with 4-wheel drive. Here the power comes from a 2.4-liter, Multi-Air I4 that creates a healthy 180 horsepower. Not fast, but sufficient for all city and highway driving. A 6-speed manual transmission comes standard on Compass, a rarity in today’s market. But the bright red test vehicle added a 9-sped automatic for $1,500. Shifts were smooth, but acceleration is modest as the new tranny works to save fuel, and it does a great job of that. I got 27.4 miles per gallon in a week’s drive and spent about 60% of my time on the highway. The EPA rates the Compass at 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. Both numbers seem achievable. The Compass also features stop-start technology to save gas while the vehicle is at rest. Read more
The new MINI Cooper Countryman goes too far, but maybe that’s what U.S. buyers want.
It’s the biggest MINI yet. I know that sounds contradictory for the small British-born make now made by BMW. But it’s true. This is MINI’s version of a crossover or small sport-ute with a longer and wider body, plus ALL4, its all-wheel-drive system is available.
It also appears to be less MINI in styling as it looks more bulky than cute. Think of that cute guy/girl in high school that packed on a few pounds by the 10-year reunion. In fact, the Countryman is just short of 500 lbs. heavier than the MINI Clubman that I enjoyed last year.
To put it nicely, the Countryman feels more substantial than earlier models and obviously is designed to accommodate larger U.S. passengers. The Countryman gains four inches of rear seat legroom compared to its predecessor and being a 4-door it’s easy to load five people aboard. I did it on a lunch run and one of the riders was a 6-footer.
So while the MINI-ness of the Countryman seems a bit of a stretch (pun intended), the usefulness of it should make it more attractive to folks who intend to actually haul a family in it on a trip. Another family plus? The rear seats fold down flat in a 40/20/40 split to expand the generous 17.6 cubic feet of cargo space, but allow rear seat riders. Likewise the seats will recline slightly and the entire rear seat will slide forward a couple inches if you’re simply carrying cargo, not rear seat passengers. Read more
Few cars are pure joy to drive, yet cost less than $30,000. I’d put the Mazda Miata at the top of those, and a few models of the Mini Cooper would slot into this price range. But Fiat’s 500 Abarth is a relative newcomer and blows the others away on price.
The Abarth starts at about $21 grand, including delivery, and that’s down about $2,500 from a year ago. That doesn’t happen often!
But in its size, like the Miata, lies the Fiat’s fun, nimbleness and, well, joy.
In its lower lines, the Pop and Lounge models, the 500 carries a mild 1.4-liter Multi-Air I4 that generates just 101 horsepower, leading to superb gas mileage. Well, the racier Abarth, which Fiat says is pronounced AH-bart, bumps that up substantially to 160 horses thanks to dual intercoolers, turbos.
Now you have some pop when you slip the 5-speed manual through the gears. Second and third punch up the torque (a 170 rating) and by fourth you feel like you’ve had a little mini vacation. Five speeds keeps it all simple, but adding a sixth would allow its small engine to bring the revs down and quiet the interior some.
Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed the grumbling burble of this little turbo as it was amplified via dual exhausts. But I kept wanting to shift to sixth on the freeway as its continued grumble made listening to the radio nigh to impossible. Read more
Volkswagen brings a little fun to the small wagon market, which is a niche of a niche these days, but certainly compares well with small crossovers.
But instead of a tall boxy AWD vehicle, the Golf Alltrack is a decidedly leaner machine that looks downright sporty compared to a crossover. In fact, the Golf Alltrack is an offshoot of the Golf SportWagon, same basic vehicle, but raised a seemingly minor 0.6 inches for a 6.9-inch ground clearance and uses VW’s fine 4Motion system for grip.
The silver test wagon, which VW aims to compete with Subaru’s Outback and Crosstrek, was the mid-level SE model. The S with manual transmission starts at $26,670, while the test unit listed at $30,530 with no options and an $895 delivery charge.
What you get is a dandy handling, light and quick wagon that will haul quite a lot. Like most crossovers and such, it could go on minor-league muddy, rutty, non-paved surfaces, but really is aimed at on-road use. That’s thanks to the 4Motion system that runs the car at 90% front-wheel drive and 10% of the power in back most of the time. Once slippage is sensed, it splits the power 50/50. Read more
Mention the Subaru WRX in front of young adult males and you’re likely to become the most interesting man, or woman, in the world.
Subaru devotees are a, well, devoted lot and WRX fans are darn near rabid. Face it, some folks, especially young males, love speed and yet their wallets aren’t fat enough to go Corvette or BMW shopping and their egos or tastes may not desire a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. So it comes down to two cars really, the race-ready Ford Focus RS I drove a month or so back, and Subie’s WRX.
Lucky for Subie followers, the WRX just happens to be revamped for 2018 already. But to my way of thinking it blends in too much, not a problem with the winged Focus. WRX needs a more muscular look than just its shallow lower body cladding, splitter on the lower nose and gaping air scoop on the hood. It really doesn’t look fast at all. And don’t get me started on the rear spoiler. It’s virtually non-existent on the tested Premium model.
Several co-workers asked if I had a new Corolla to test drive for the week – really!
Yet the tested bright blue WRX still has the guts that its young, mostly male, audience desires.
Subaru’s well-tested 2.0-liter, direct-injected, turbo, Boxer 4-cylinder pumps an awesome 268 horsepower and 258 ft.-lbs. of torque. It flat out flies after second gear. There’s some turbo lag to be sure, but even if you ease into the throttle from second to third gear it’ll slam you back in the seat and take off like an F-16. Read more
A Dream Day for driving
As members of the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) Mark and I make the trip to Road America where we get to drive new cars from the manufacturers. This year, we drove the Ford Focus ST, BMW M40i, Dodge Challenger Hellcat, and GT, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, Lexus RC F, Alfa Romeo Giulia, and Chevy Bolt. What fun. Below are videos from some of the drives.