Tag Archives: CVT

2022 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL 2.5 S-AWC

Nissan partnership helps upgrade Outlander, fuel sales …

Pardon Mitsubishi if it feels like strutting a bit, chest out, chin up, wide grin.

You see, the Japanese automaker is on a roll, recording its eighth straight year of upwardly mobile sales in the giant U.S. market and its fourth in a row of 100,000+ sales. That’s still tiny by comparison with, well, just about any other make. But it’s still party time for a company with just four vehicles in its U.S. lineup.

Mitsubishi sells well around the world, but it has struggled over the past 20 years in the U.S. market until this recent uptick. Its products all have improved substantially in that period as the parent company has hooked up with Nissan to share platforms and hardware.

That brings us to the extremely attractive, new, and slightly larger 2022 Outlander SEL that will soon be Mitsubishi’s No. 1 seller. It rides on the Nissan Rogue chassis and features its powertrain. Rogue, by the way, is Nissan’s sales leader.

Using the Rogue as a platform for success while going ooh-la-la on the nose styling featuring giant three-tier headlights below slim modern slit headlights is bound to push Outlander far forward in the sales sector. Folks notice this one and the nose is a primary reason although the profile is smoothed and modern and the tail as handsome as SUV tails ever are.

Looks certainly can’t hurt, ask a Kardashian. But solid mechanicals and useful family transport are what will fuel word-of-mouth consumer cred. The Outlander has all that.

Its 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine supplies ample power to the 3,681-pound SUV. Acceleration is smooth and satisfying for entering a highway, the automatic CVT doing a nice job of imitating a direct-shift model with 8 pre-programmed steps to mimic the feel of what we all think of as normal transmission shifts.

While not overly stout, the Mitsubishi will still tow 2,000 pounds of trailer and without the weight of a V6 the Outlander delivers excellent fuel economy. The EPA rates this at 24 mpg city and 30 highway and I can confirm the upper end as I cruised the highway about 80% of the time and logged 30.2 mpg.

This one will go off road some too, if needed. There’s 8.4 inches of ground clearance and 6 drive modes (Normal, Tarmac, Snow, Mud, Gravel and Eco), so slopping around a bit is acceptable. That Tarmac setting appears to be a Sport mod that stiffens the steering effort and aids low-end acceleration. Fine if you need it, but mostly you won’t.

Handling is easy and just responsive enough to feel well suited to either city or highway driving. The SUV is easy to keep in its lane on the highway, even on a blustery summer day. And while there is a wee bit of lean in turns the body remains well centered and the SUV simple to control.

Ride is quite pleasant on the highway but can be a bit stiff on bumpy city side streets. Never a severe ride, there is a bit of jiggle on big pot holes and pavement creases.

Yet the interior is so comfy and quiet that the family won’t squawk much.

The test SUV was a bright Alloy Silver Metallic with a light gray semi-aniline leather interior that looks fancier than the pricing indicates. The seats and door panels are quilted with a soft diamond patterned leather. That and the double-pane side front window glass help cut road noise and create a hushed quality to the interior.

The dash and door tops are black and there are brushed chrome look door releases, trim and air vent covers. A carbon fiber-look trim tops the door arm rests, along with more leather and there’s a tweed textured chrome trim and gloss black atop the console, which is a little wider than most so you may find yourself leaning your accelerator leg against it regularly.

Seats are well shaped and soft so quite comfy too, especially on a highway drive. The front seats also are heated.

Front and second row space is generous, plus there’s a third row seat for short hops with small ones snuggled in back. That third row neatly folds down into the cargo floor to create generous storage space and while row three may help for around town trips, it’s not really for a lengthy road romp. Loading cargo is easy as the SEL comes with a power hatch and there are remote seatback releases in back too.

Other interior details to consider?

  • The driver’s seat is powered and there are two seat position memory buttons on the driver’s door.
  • The shift knob on the console is quite wide and includes a push button for Park. And there’s a wireless phone charger in front of that, under the center stack.
  • This top-end SEL upgrades the standard 8-inch infotainment screen to a 9-incher. That seems just the right size and this one was easy to operate while driving.
  • Climate controls are handled with two large knobs and then buttons for fan speed and directional adjustments.
Quilted leather inserts soften the door panels.

About the only thing lacking here is a sunroof. Many utes and crossovers now offer panoramic ones standard on top-level trims. One is an option here as part of the $2,700 Touring package. That adds a head-up display, manual rear side sun shades, a Bose premium audio system with 10 speakers and heated steering wheel. Up to you Rockefeller.

Mitsubishi smartly includes its Mi-Pilot safety package as standard on all Outlanders. That packs a smart cruise control system, lane keep assist and lane centering, road sign recognition and a Stop & Go system to aid fuel economy.

The SEL also adds automatic high beam headlights, blind-spot warning and lane change assist, front parking sensors, driver attention alert, and rear cross-traffic alert and emergency braking.

More good news comes from the marketing department, in that Mitsubishi keeps Outlander affordable and a high-value family friendly small SUV. The base ES starts at $27,290 including delivery while this high-end SEL with AWD lists at $34,940. That’s still way below the average new vehicle starting price these days.

The test unit added just a Welcome package that includes carpeted floor mats, a touch-up paint pen, and a console tray mat) for $160, and a retractable cargo cover for $195 to end up at $35,295. That’s a bargain, especially considering Mitsubishi’s 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

For the record there are currently 7 trims for Outlander and all are standard with front-wheel-drive. Adding AWD is a $2,000 option. A plug-in hybrid is available too, but is a carryover of the former Outlander model, at least for now.

FAST STATS: 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL 2.5 S-AWC

Hits: Sharp looks, especially the nose, plus AWD, good power and easy handling. Pleasant highway cruiser with good MPG and a third row seat. Roomy interior, big info screen, 6 drive modes for off-roading, dual climate controls, heated front seats, supportive seats with quilted leather, wireless phone charger, power rear hatch plus good standard safety devices.

Misses: No sunroof, ride can seem stiff on bumpy side streets and console is wide.

Snazzy wheels here!

Made in: Okazaki, Japan

Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, 181 hp/181 torque

Transmission: CVT automatic w/Sport

Weight: 3,681 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.5 in.

Length: 185.4 in.

Cargo: 33.5-63.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 24/30

MPG: 30.2 (tested)

Base Price: $34,940 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $34,502

Major Options:

Welcome package (carpeted floor mats, touch-up paint pen, console tray mat), $160

            Cargo cover, $195

Test vehicle: $35,295

Sources: Mitsubishi, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV FWD

Plug-in hybrid saves oodles of gas, I spent less than $5 in a week …

If Ford’s plug-in hybrid Escape was any more middle of the road it would have a white stripe painted down its centerline.

Escape is a fine family of four crossover with sufficient power, easy handling and good passenger and cargo room inside. It’s pleasant looking. In fact, its nose resembles a much pricier and sportier Porsche Macan, so maybe you can fool a few neighbors.

Considering the average price of a new vehicle now is pressing $46,000 it’s nice to know a family could still escape in this Ford for $26,800, including delivery, at its base front-drive level. That packs just a 1.5-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder engine that still makes a healthy 180 horsepower.

Naturally there are varying trims and options for that gas-only powered model, plus a standard hybrid where battery power is added via regenerative braking, but the tested plug-in hybrid model starts at a still family friendly $35,185 in SE trim, and $37,920 in the preferred SEL trim.

The test crossover was the top-level Titanium model starting at $40,130 but it crept up to $43,025 with its fancy Rapid Red Metallic paint ($395) and a Titanium preferred package, including a dual-pane sunroof, wireless charging and fancy floor mats, for $2,500.

Even at that, the test Escape is below the going rate for new wheels in our supply-chain challenged world.

Yet there’s one feature that sets this Escape apart in this middlers paradise, its plug-in charging system. While standard hybrid technology has been around for a couple decades now, the plug-in system is more a past 5-year phenomenon. With a plug-in, a cord with pistol grip plug connects to an outlet in the Escape’s front left fender (looks like a fuel door) and then connects to any outlet, 120- or 240-volt that is available, usually in your garage.

At 120 volts it takes roughly 8-10 hours for a full charge that nets the Escape about 35 miles of electric charge. If you have a partial charge already, it can take just 2 to 4 hours for a full charge. If you have a 240-volt charger (like you would for a dryer) a charge takes about half as long.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV FWD – YouTube

This is perfect for folks commuting less than 30 miles daily roundtrip to work or running errands. In my week’s drive I never fully used the battery charge, so ended up needing only 0.8 gallons of gas, or just short of $4. Imagine that for a week’s driving of roughly 200 miles.

My calculations put my fuel economy at 208.1 mpge and 41.75 mpg for the gas only. The key here is running on the electric charge as much as possible. I have no cost figures for my evening charges for the crossover’s battery, but one suspects it would be several dollars as opposed to $20-30 for equivalent gas. Reducing emissions, naturally, is the big-picture advantage.

A side note here. The Escape offers four battery use driving methods via a button on the console. One is for electric driving only, another is Automatic so chooses gas or electric as the power system computer deems appropriate, another allows you to run on gas while you maintain whatever battery charge you have. This makes sense to save the battery power for city stop-and-go driving where the electric is most efficient. The final setting allows the engine and regenerative braking to help boost battery life, although I didn’t find it helped much more than the Automatic setting.

All this is a long way of saying the plug-in system works well and is easy, provided you have a garage or indoor place to plug in regularly. It makes daily driving much more economical, especially with today’s higher gas prices.

For the record, the hybrid system works in conjunction with a 2.5-liter I4 engine and makes up to 221 horsepower while the standard hybrid system packs 200 horsepower. The transmission is a CVT, so smooth, but not peppy.

Acceleration is pretty mild, but due to the electric power it comes instantly so pulling away from a stoplight feels quicker than one might expect in a compact crossover.

Handling is fairly light and easy, so parking and lane maintenance are a breeze and cornering is good, especially at city speeds. Ride is decent too, not smooth, but not too abrupt on sharp city ruts and expansion joints.

Note too that the gas-powered and standard hybrid Escapes are available with AWD, but the plug-in is only a front-drive model.

The bright metallic red test crossover was attractive and featured a two-tone black and tan leatherette interior, the seats being tan with black trim and the dash and doors black. Ford opts for an inexpensive looking fake light wood look metal trim on the dash and doors that does not seem appropriate for a top trim level.

Attractive two-tone interior gives the Escape a handsome look inside.

Ford’s instrument panel and infotainment screen are easy to see, read, and use, although the infotainment screen is smaller than most these days. Still, functionality is good and all dash and steering wheel hub controls are simple.

This one also includes heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, plus power seats. However, the seat cushions are all relatively flat so provide very little hip and back support. That’s fine in town, but on a long drive could become tiring.

Nothing special here, but the screen, buttons and knobs are easy to see and use.

The giant sunroof overhead is nice, as is the wireless charging, both part of the Titanium option package.

Front and rear seats are roomy for four adults and there is plenty of cargo room under the power rear hatch. However, below the floor here there was a big gaping hole that housed a battery and should have had a spare tire, but none was there and the finish of that cargo hold under the floor looked straight out of the 1960s with no padding. This could be a one-off test car situation, but give a look at any Escape you are intending to buy to make sure this is not an issue.

This was rather odd, no spare tire and not much finishing under the cargo floor.

Standard safety equipment is well represented here with Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 system standard, including pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning and smart cruise control.

There’s also another safety device no doubt demanded by corporate lawyers, and this is becoming a major annoyance in more and more vehicles. It’s what I call the “Don’t Forget the Kid” warning for the rear seat. It beeps at you once the ignition is off and warns on the info screen, “Check Rear Seat for Occupant.”  You can press the OK button on the steering wheel hub to stop the beeping, but still, this is unnecessary for most drivers who have children.

Still, I suppose that’s family friendly, even if the beeping sends mom or dad into a frenzy as they try to get out of the car and into the mall, grocery store, or wherever, with a kid in tow.

Here’s a closer look at the main dash controls.

In general, fewer beeps and alarms in cars today would be a welcome change. Light up the warning on the screen if necessary to avoid lawsuits, but stop with the noise pollution.

Overall though the Escape is a middler’s dream, an inexpensive vehicle that can haul a family of four in relative comfort while also getting great fuel economy. Competitors include Toyota’s RAV4 Prime, the new Hyundai Tucson, and the Subaru Crosstrek. All come with AWD.

FAST STATS: 2021 Ford Escape Titanium PHEV FWD

Hits: Plug-in hybrid provides 35 miles of electric charge, comfy family crossover with easy handling, simple dash controls and fabulous mileage if fully charged. Heated seats and wheel, good safety equipment, 4 choices of battery power use, wireless charger, dual sunroofs, power hatch and fair ride.

Misses: Plug-in only available with front-wheel drive, annoying alarm every time you turn off ignition warning “Check Rear Seat for Occupant,” poor finish and no spare tire under cargo floor, seats are flat with little support.

Made in: Louisville, Ky.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4 hybrid, 221 hp

Transmission: CVT automatic

Weight: 3,870 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.7 in.

Length: 180.5 in.

Cargo: 34-61 cu.ft.

Tow: 1,500 lbs.

MPG: 105 (gas-electric), 40 (gas)

MPGe: 208.1 (tested), 41.75 mpg (gas only)

Base Price: $40,130 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $38,863

Major Options:

Rapid Red Metallic paint, $395

Titanium premium pkg. (floor mats, panoramic sunroof, wireless charging), $2,500

Test vehicle: $43,025

Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Toyota Sienna XSE AWD

Sienna still a fine people mover, now a hybrid with AWD …

Minivans come and minivans go, but do you feel you could love one? I think you could.

Toyota has been making its Sienna minivan for nearly 25 years and let’s be honest, it still looks like a minivan. That’s the rub for all minivans, they are utilitarian family movers, excelling at the job. Those two sliding side doors make it super easy to load kids into car seats. The third row allows a family to carry up to eight passengers. That huge cargo bay in back will lug a ton of boxes, suitcases, soccer equipment or Pack n Plays.

So why doesn’t everyone with a family of five or more own one?

Image!

Kia’s new Carnival (reviewed in August) tries to spiff that image up. But face it, short of adding wings and fireworks (not a great idea for a vehicle) a minivan is still a minivan. Toyota knows it is utility that sells its product, but image does play a role. No, Toyota isn’t adding wings to the 2022 Sienna, it’s going all-in on hybrid power and all-wheel-drive safety. Few minivans offer both, but some (Carnival) offer neither.

Toyota is banking on families wanting to help the environment, of being more socially conscious than, say, pickup buyers. So instead of offering a gas-only version and a hybrid, the Japanese firm, which builds its minivans in Indiana, only offers a 2.5-liter I4 hybrid power system with continuously variable transmission.

The result is an EPA gas mileage rating of 35 mpg city and 36 highway. I got 33.0 mpg in a fairly even mix. That’s impressive. I got just 22.6 mpg in the gas-only Carnival tested earlier.

So Sienna is roomy, has a dependable repair record and good resale value, plus the hybrid system provides smooth operation. The CVT’s shifts are fairly seamless and the interior is nearly as quiet as that of a luxury vehicle.

The downside to the 245-horsepower hybrid system is that there’s just 176 lb.-ft. of torque so acceleration is moderate. To gain more oomph you may crunch the accelerator like a Packers lineman stepping on a defender’s toes, but the moan and groan during heavy acceleration is annoying and really the power modest.

No, this is a cruiser with moderately vague steering but decent ride, although the tested XSE AWD model is supposedly sportier than other versions of the van. C’mon!

Toyota claims the suspension has been firmed a bit, but certainly not so much as to disturb the ride, and toggling to the Sport drive mode is senseless. Like the suspension, that mode firms the steering just a smidge, while acceleration seems mostly unaffected. Oh, and the XSE also adds 20-inch alloy wheels if that twerks your chain.

Certainly it’s good news to have AWD for coping with Wisconsin’s slippery environment. That’s a major plus helping the Sienna stand out, along with the hybrid system.

But honestly the interior and safety features are what may sell a minivan as much as its drivability. Here’s what this Ruby Flare Pearl red ($425 extra) Sienna has to offer.

Safety is a strong point with standard features including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, active lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking and forward collision warning, plus automatic high beam headlights.

The tested XSE featured a dark and light gray interior, the seats being a mid-level gray leather-like Softex fabric with a rusty orange stitching to perk its look. That was on the seats and dash while there’s a gray ribbed top to the console, or flight deck. This thing is massive and wide open beneath, meaning a couple beach or diaper bags and/or beach balls could be stored there. Talk about family friendly.

Need a lot of coffee with all those kiddos climbing around and chattering in back? Well, that flight deck also includes four cup holders for the front seat game wardens. For the juice box crowd in rows two and three Toyota includes 14 more cup holders.

Check out the big flightdeck style console and padded armrests by the storage box.

That big console also is trimmed in leather arm rests on either side to aid adult comfort on long trips, while the tested van included a $1,415 HD entertainment center with 11.6-inch screen for the rear seats. It comes with two wireless headsets. You may need more.

Here’s another view of the elevated console with mega storage beneath.

Standard too are manual second row window sun screens, a benefit when coaxing a wee one to nap while heading to grandma’s house.

Overhead is a small sunroof, which is fine if you’re not trying to let a lot of daylight in. With that screen mounted in the roof a bigger sunroof isn’t even possible.

Toyota’s dash is well arranged and includes a 9-inch info screen that’s simple to see and use. Seats are powered up front and heated, but not cooled. I also found the butt pocket on the driver’s seat a bit snug, and NO, I have not been gaining weight during the pandemic.

Oodles of room in the second row when the seats are all the way back. You’ll want them forward if someone is riding in the third row though.

Second row captain’s chairs will slide an incredible 25 inches for or aft to accommodate tall or short passengers, or large cargo. The second row will slide all the way back to the third row if no one is seated there. Naturally the third row is split and will fold down into the cargo hold in the rear floor, and the rear hatch is powered.

There are a few missing items though. Toyota doesn’t include a heated steering wheel or a 360-degree camera, which seems odd. And while the driver’s voice is picked up on a microphone and projected to the rear so kids know when parental units have had enough, the convex mirror used to spy on the kids is string-bikini thin, making it tough to see in back.

A closeup look at the touchscreen, its controls and the climate controls.

Things added, for a cost, include a 1500W inverter with two 120-volt outlets for $300, and the XSE package runs a grand. It includes a wireless phone charger conveniently on a shelf mid-dash, a premium audio system, the 9-inch info screen with navigation, 12 JBL speakers with subwoofer and amplifier, and black roof rails.

A few other minor options like a cargo net for $49 and mudguards for $149 push the base price of $44,075 (with delivery) to $47,942. For the record, that’s in the ballpark for a loaded minivan, no matter the manufacturer.

Pricing ranges from $35,775 for a base front-drive LE that seats eight all the way up to $51,935 for the Platinum version with AWD. That places the XSE midrange, as is the XLE Woodland Edition at $45,350. It rides ½-inch higher and includes AWD too.

If power ranks higher on your “must” list than hybrid efficiency consider Kia’s Carnival with 290 horsepower from its V6, or the Honda Odyssey with a 280-horse V6.

Chrysler’s Pacifica isn’t far behind, offering a plug-in hybrid V6 with 260 horses. Pacifica also is available with AWD, so can be equipped similarly to the Sienna. However Sienna wins on daily mpg efficiency and the fact its hybrid system does not require a plug-in charge. Regenerative braking keeps its electric batteries powered.

FAST STATS: 2022 Toyota Sienna XSE AWD

Hits: Roomy, dependable, comfortable ride, smooth operation, quiet interior, great hybrid gas mileage and AWD. Loaded with safety equipment, sunroof, heated seats, sliding side doors, huge storage under tall console, third row folds into floor, video screen for rear seats, rear window sunshades.

Misses: Moderate power, engine groan under heavy acceleration, no heated steering wheel, sunroof is tiny, no 360-degree camera, tiny rearview mirror to see kids, unnecessary Sport mode, front seats have tight butt pocket.

Made in: Princeton, Ind.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4, hybrid, 245hp

Transmission: CVT

Weight: 4,610 lbs.

Wheelbase: 120.5 in.

Length: 203.7 in.

Cargo: 33.5-101 cu.ft.

Tow: 3,500 lbs.

MPG: 35/36

MPG: 33.0 (tested)

Base Price: $44,075 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $40,821

Major Options:

Rear seat entertainment system (HD entertainment center w/11.6-inch screen, remote, two headphones), $1,415

1500W inverter w/two 120V outlets, $300

XSE package (wireless charger, black roof rails, premium audio, 9-in. touchscreen w/nav, 12 JBL speakers w/subwoofer, amplifier), $1,000

Ruby Flare Pearl paint, $425

All-weather floor liners, $220

Door sill protectors, $40

Rear bumper applique, $69

Cargo net, $49

Mudguards, $149

Crossbars, $200

Test vehicle: $47,942

Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Hyundai Kona Ltd. AWD

New Kona ups the power, yet remains cute high-value crossover …

Roughly three years had passed since I last tested Hyundai’s small crossover, the Kona. I’d almost forgotten just how much fun it is.

That can’t be said for all the little crossovers, plus Kona offers AWD and remains friendly to your bank account.

For 2022 Kona’s chassis and rear suspension are strengthened, which helps ride, and the crossover grows by 1.6 inches while its exterior styling is freshened a bit. That’s sort of like giving the cutest kid in your class a new doo or cooler glasses. Kona was already a cute ute, offering a two-tone paint scheme like Mini. It comes in some fun colors too. My tester was a bright Teal Isle blue reminiscent of a toddler’s plastic wading pool.

This time I drove the top-level Limited with AWD, which ensured the Kona packed more power, not that its base 147-horse 2.0-liter I4 is a sissy. It’ll move in Sport mode.

SWEEEET! That’s what Kona is. It’s like eating dessert before dinner!

But this top-end model packs a 1.6-liter turbocharged I4 that delivers 195 horses with an identical torque rating. That’s 20 more horses than the 2021 model. The upshot? Kona sprints away from stoplights well in Normal drive mode (one of three), but turns into a party cart in Sport mode when the shift patterns emphasize low-end power.

Yet the engine, even with an AWD system to support, gets respectable gas mileage. The EPA rates this turbo at 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. I got 27 mpg in about 80% city driving.

Aiding Kona’s pep is its 7-speed Ecoshift dual clutch transmission, which makes good use of the power, giving the Hyundai smooth yet zippy acceleration and a quality feel. Lower trim levels now use a CVT with the 2.0-liter engine.

Beyond the welcomed power boost, everything Kona had going for it three years ago remains.

Handling is quick and easy with little lean in turns. Parking is a breeze and slipping in and out of tight highway traffic feels like blasting around a slot car track. Traction is stout with the AWD and Goodyear R19 rubber underneath. Smaller tires are standard on lower trims. Note too that AWD is $1,500 extra on the SEL and higher trim levels.

With Kona you feel you control the car, not the other way round. It helps that its lane departure system can be disengaged with the press of a button too to stop an irritating chime. Yet the crossover still pushes some back toward the lane’s center due to that system. I’d prefer the driver be given full control via that on-off button.

Ride is decent for a short-wheelbase crossover, with that strengthened rear multi-link suspension doing a solid job of handling southeast Wisconsin’s crumbling roads and jarring expansion joints. In town and on railroad tracks you’ll feel those bumps, but they don’t pound the interior occupants as in some small vehicles.

Also, unlike some small crossovers, Kona manages to be high-value, but never feels cheap.

A simple elegance creates a highly functional and attractive interior.

The interior is fairly quiet for its size and price, so you can hear the fancy Harmon Kardon stereo that’s standard in this Limited model. There’s some wind noise, but road noise is well dampened.

Kona’s cockpit also is simply elegant while being highly functional.

The Limited comes with twin 10.25-inch screens, one a digital number for the instrument panel and the other rising out of the dash’s center for infotainment purposes. It’s a touchscreen and simple enough to use, plus features navigation so you don’t have to futz with hooking up your cell’s GPS.

There’s a wireless phone charger too in a cubby at the base of the center stack. It’s a bit touchy, so be sure the light there comes on to signal you’re actually charging the phone.

Kona’s dash matches the dark gray perforated leather seats and most trim is a flat or non-glare gray. That’s great on the console as it removes the threat of sun reflecting off a chrome surface. The trim extends to the door panels while a gloss black trim surrounds the info screen and the air vents at each end of the dash feature satin chrome, same as the door releases.

Apple Car Play and Android Auto also are standard.

Despite being an entry-level vehicle Hyundai doesn’t chintz on safety equipment. The SEL, Limited and N Line models come with a full safety suite. That includes front collision avoidance assist, lane keeping with lane follow, blind-spot collision avoidance assist, safe exit warning, downhill brake control, hill start assist, tire pressure monitor and driver attention warning. Similar features still cost extra in some vehicles, including a few luxury models. Sight lines also are good here with a very airy feeling cockpit.

Smart cruise control is standard on the Limited, as are heated front seats. Speaking of which, these seats are shaped to give reasonable side and hip support, but do feel a tad hard, so might be a little tough on a long trip, depending on your tooshie’s cushioning.

Rear seat headroom is fine and legroom not bad for average size adults. Taller folks may find legroom a bit tight, but Hyundai did manage to find an additional half-inch of rear legroom for 2022 models.

I make no secret of my love for hatchbacks and, well, crossovers are basically taller hatchbacks. This hatch is manual, to keep costs down, and includes a rear window wiper, a must for Wisconsin winters.

Hatchbacks rock, like rock candy!

Cargo space behind the split, fold-down rear seats is reasonable at 19.2 cubic feet. Remember that many mid-size and smaller sedans often only offer 14-16 cubic feet of trunk room. Fold the rear seats down and there’s 45.8 cubic feet of space, about enough to hold a college dorm room worth of stuff.

Pricing is impressive still for Kona. A base SE model starting at $22,175, including delivery. Again, that gets you the less powerful engine, but it can still be fun in Sport mode.

Move up to the SEL model, an attractively equipped mid-level offering and the price is $23,975. Remember you can add AWD for $1,500. The SEL improves tire size from 16 to 17 inches, adds heated outside mirrors, rear privacy glass, satellite radio, and the safety suite.

Those are the trio of headlights below the thin running light up top!

The tested Limited AWD with its leather seats and fully loaded equipment level starts at $31,175 with delivery. This only added $155 worth of carpeted floor mats to register a $31,330 final sticker.

Folks aiming for a sportier model now can choose an N Line, starting at $28,085. It includes the same turbo I4 as in the Limited, 18-inch wheels, an 8-way power driver’s seat, wireless phone charger, the bigger screen, automatic climate controls and heated sport seats.

But don’t confuse it with the Kona N, which debuts this fall and packs a crazy 276-horsepower engine, an 8-speed automatic, Pirelli 19-inch performance tires, a special corner carving differential, active sport exhaust and electronically controlled suspension. Pricing is yet to be announced.

What we do know is it’ll be a rocket and we also know all Hyundai models include a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Even the taillights are specially styled here.

And if that’s not enough to consider, consider this. There’s a Kona Electric starting at $34,000, a price cut from last year. It has a range of 258 miles and the equivalent of 201 horsepower from its electric motor. It has been Kelly Blue Book’s EV of the Year since 2018 when it was launched. That’s a strong recommendation.

OK, that’s the skinny on the new Kona. The original was fun and this one’s funner, uh, more fun!

FAST STATS: 2022 Hyundai Kona Limited AWD

Hits: Sharp looks, peppy engine, good handling, AWD, 3 drive modes, and quiet interior. Fine digital instrument panel, big info screen, smart cruise control, sunroof, wireless phone charger, hatch with wiper, heated seats, fancy stereo, good sight lines and you can turn off lane departure assist.

Misses: Seats are a tad hard and tall folks may wish for more rear legroom, although it has improved slightly.

Made in: Ulsan, South Korea

Engine: 1.6-liter turbo I4, 195 hp

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Weight: 3,106 lbs.

Wheelbase: 102.4 in.

Length: 165.6 in.

Cargo: 19.2-45.8 cu.ft.

MPG: 27/32

MPG: 27.0 (tested)

Base Price: $31,175 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $29,544

Major Options: Carpeted floor mats, $155

Test vehicle: $31,330

Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum

New Rogue evolves back to top of market …

For the past century plus 20 or so years the auto market has seen fits and starts of revolution, but a whole lot of evolution.

Electric cars seem revolutionary now, just as hybrids were 20+ years ago. But when a carmaker has a winner, it often turns first to evolution to keep it selling like Minecraft games among pre-teens.

So it is with Nissan’s best-seller, the Rogue, a compact SUV or crossover, depending on who’s doing the defining. Look around at the next stoplight, or as you drive through your neighborhood. You’ll see a lot of Rogues.

That’s because Rogue has been a steady Eddie, an SUV that most families could afford and that delivered comfort, convenience, and reliability. It still does.

But for 2021 it has been upgraded, offering 11 more horsepower, much more cargo space, a skosh more rear seat room, a stiffer chassis, new rear suspension, upgraded seats and dash and a sharply restyled exterior. When you’re already prom queen all you probably need is a new bouquet. Rogue bought the florist.

See Mark’s video review: 2021 Nissan Rogue review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Let’s start with the outer appearance because Rogue got a lot of compliments at the gas station and from friends and neighbors. The body was tweaked to be pleasantly boxy (muscular in today’s vernacular), but with a two-tone paint option (black roof) and a perfect amount of chrome accents this silvery gold (Champagne) test vehicle absolutely sparkled in the driveway.

Nissan has added chrome to the tallish V-Motion grille, some new HD headlights and turn signal lenses up front, along with black cladding over the wheels and down the sides’ rocker panels, again with chrome accents, and chrome side window trim. The look is much ritzier than the previous model!

Nissan goes with a bold chrome V-Motion grille.

Functionally Rogue now features a unibody chassis that is stiffer than before, making it easier to tune the suspension. Speaking of which, there’s now a multi-link rear unit that will help in any off-road excursions.

Aluminum doors and front fenders save some weight too and a revised automatic CVT helps improve fuel economy. The tested Premium AWD model (top of the line) is rated at 25 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. I got 29.4 mpg in about 60% highway driving. Excellent for a gas-powered SUV.

It’s especially impressive considering Nissan eeked out a 10% horsepower gain to 181 horses from its stout 2.5-liter I4.

Plus you can select from five drive modes for slippery or off-road trundling. Automatic is the main setting, but there’s Sport to boost acceleration and firm steering effort, Eco to do the opposite and save fuel, plus Off-Road and Snow, the latter being a Wisconsin favorite. This model came with AWD to help full-time in sloppy conditions. That adds $1,400 to any trim level.

Power was good too, making a scramble onto the freeway simple and confident. Likewise the Rogue handles well, the chassis stiffening no doubt a factor there, so not much body lean even in high-speed sharp turns. Ride was ok, nothing special and felt firmer to me than my past test drives. That may relax a bit with a full load of passengers. I never had more than two aboard.

Safety is well considered here too with standard blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, rear automatic braking, a 360-degree camera, intelligent forward collision warning, intelligent lane intervention and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection.

The ProPilot semi-autonomous safety system has been upgraded too. That includes smart cruise control and steering assist to keep you in your lane. Plus now Nissan tells us, it’ll slow you by braking one inside wheel if you enter a turn too quickly and will automatically slow the Rogue on a highway off-ramp. Remember, GPS knows exactly where you are!

Inside, the Rogue is as handsome and comfortable as any compact SUV, the Premium model featuring thick leather seating, and dash and door trim. This one was black over a butterscotch brown with that orange-tinted brown for the quilted seats and tastefully trimmed in black. There’s a bit of fake wood facing on the passenger’s side dash, textured black trim on the console with brown sides and repeated on the door armrests. Satin chrome trims the dash and air vents and door release panels. This looks classy!

Talk about classy … check out this snazzy new interior look for the Rogue!

Rogue’s dash is pretty special too with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in front of the driver that is adjustable to show items most important to you. The Premium also includes a head-up display and a 9-inch infotainment screen that was extremely easy to see and use, including large volume and tuning knobs.

Below that screen are easily understood climate controls and two large temperature knobs for the dual system. Here’s where you’ll find the heated seat and steering wheel buttons too.

Nissan continues to offer a flat-bottomed steering wheel in Rogue, which makes entering and exiting just a tad easier for knees. Oh, and the five shift modes are managed simply via a knob on the console.

Love the flat-bottomed steering wheel. More vehicles need this!

There’s also a couple plug-in outlets below the center stack, and a wireless phone charger. This one didn’t work, but I read that some early models did not get this feature as there was a shortage of some electronics due to Covid-related work slowdowns. Wireless charging will be on future Platinum models.

Seats are NASA-inspired Zero Gravity shaped, which means comfy with good hip and back support. Powered front seats include a driver’s adjustable lumbar support and two memory buttons on the door. Rear seats are more comfortable than most with oodles of head and legroom and the cushions are a soft comfortable leather that feels rather cushy. Ahhh!

Even the door panels look upscale.

In back the storage space has grown from 32 to 36.5 cu.ft., with the rear seats in place, and 74.1 cu.ft. with those split rear seats lowered. That’s up from 70, so a nice gain. Also, there is a split cargo floor with storage under the covers. The hatch is powered too and can be activated by waving your foot beneath the rear bumper, nice if your arms are loaded with groceries, boxes or kids.

Speaking of which, Nissan offers a small-child friendly feature that rocks, 90-degree opening rear doors. They open so wide a parent can easily strap a wee one in a child’s car seat. Plus, there are manual sun shade for the rear windows to keep bright light out of Baby’s eyes. Brilliant!

Pricing remains broad and value-oriented enough that families should be able to find a Rogue to meet their budget. A base front-drive S starts at $26,745, including delivery. The popular SV model goes for $28,435 and adds ProPilot Assist, 18-inch alloy wheels, an 8-way power driver’s seat and Nissan Connect.

Move up to the SL model and you get 19-inch wheels, a leather interior, panoramic sunroof, motion-activated hatch, tri-zone climate system, power passenger’s seat and memory function for the driver’s seat and steering wheel. List price is $33,095.

The tested Platinum model with virtually everything including AWD, lists at $37,925. This one added a two-tone paint job for $350, illuminated kick plates for $400, external ground lighting at $350, interior accent lighting for $350 and a frameless rearview mirror for $310. I could do without any of these add-ons, except maybe the paint scheme. Total was $39,685.

This is a crowded market with a lot of great choices from the Honda CR-V, Toyota Rav4, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe. But Rogue has put itself back near the top of the heap with its restyled, much-improved model.

FAST STATS: 2021 Nissan Rogue Platinum AWD

Hits: Sharply restyled, stylish interior, good power and handling, plus AWD. OK ride, roomy cargo area, easy to see 12-inch digital instrument cluster, 9-inch info screen, heated front and rear seats and steering wheel, 5 drive modes, flat-bottom steering wheel, solid standard safety equipment and ProPilot upgraded.

Snazzy new nose and headlight styling here.

Misses: Wireless phone charger didn’t work.

Made in: Smyrna, Tenn.

Engine: 2.5-liter I4, 181 hp / 181 torque

Transmission: XtronicCVT automatic

Weight: 3,371 lbs.

Wheelbase: 106.5 in.

Length: 183 in.

Cargo: 36.5-74.1 cu.ft.

Tow: 1,350 lbs.

MPG: 25/32

MPG: 29.4 (tested)

Base Price: $37,925 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

External ground lighting, $350

Two-tone paint, $350

Illuminated kick plates, $400

Interior accent lighting, $350

Frameless rearview mirror w/remote, $310

Test vehicle: $39,685

Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Honda Accord Touring Hybrid

Hybrid Accord feels familiar, consistently good …

Honda’s Accord hybrid is consistent, consistently good, just like the internal combustion version.

I suppose if you refined most products, constantly improved them, for 40+ years you’d end up with a diamond of sorts. Honda deserves a lot of credit though.

This week I slipped behind the wheel of a platinum (sparkly) white Accord Hybrid Touring, its top model, and it felt like returning home after a long vacation. Remember those? Continue reading 2021 Honda Accord Touring Hybrid

2021 Lexus NX 300h F Sport Black Line

Luxury NX 300h modest in size, price …

Luxury comes at a price. That’s not new.

On its face, the Lexus NX 300h F Sport Black Line, this week’s drive, is modest in size and price on the ever-expanding luxury scale. This edgy small crossover rides on but a 104.7-inch wheelbase, compact like the Acura RDX or Volvo XC40, both luxury makes, or, like the recently tested Subaru Crosstrek or Hyundai’s Tucson, not luxury makes.

Base price for a front-drive NX 300 with 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 gas engine is a reasonable $38,535, remembering that $40 grand is the average cost for a new vehicle these day. NX is available in six trims, some with AWD and some hybrids. The tested top level 300h F Sport Black Line, checks in at $47,835, including delivery. Continue reading 2021 Lexus NX 300h F Sport Black Line

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Ltd.

Crosstrek merges hatchback styling, crossover utility …

Mix a love of hatchbacks with a need for AWD and you have the recipe Subaru has nearly perfected in its 2021 Crosstrek.

I’ve loved hatches for years and really, if you think on it, isn’t that what all crossovers are? But crossovers aren’t very slick looking as a class, so thank goodness for Subaru and the tall hatchback design of its revamped Crosstrek, tested in its top-level Limited trim.

The first thing, beyond its sporty looks, that everyone should want to talk about for 2021 is its new engine that gives it 30 more horsepower. A little oomph is always welcome. The engine itself isn’t new, already powering Subaru’s Forester crossover, but it’s new to Crosstrek, now standard in its Sport and Limited trim levels. Continue reading 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Ltd.

2021 Toyota Corolla LE Hybrid

Corolla Hybrid simply fine, delivers stellar MPG … 

After weeks in high-powered muscle and sports cars it was refreshing to get back into an easy-driving sedan with simple controls and stellar gas mileage.

This, my friends, is the beauty of a Toyota Corolla LE Hybrid. Oh, it’s not exterior beauty as with the others. However, Toyota’s 2021 Corolla is pleasant enough looking.

No, this is simplicity and value delivered in a handsome package so you don’t feel like a geek driving an odd-shaped hybrid that garners road rage among those who prefer power over efficiency. Continue reading 2021 Toyota Corolla LE Hybrid

2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT

Outback Onyx Edition just another winning Subie wagon …

Subaru’s Outback is as close to a cult car for seniors as is it for middle-agers with a couple of teens still living at home. Its sales just continue to grow, resulting in one parked in nearly every other suburban driveway.

Spoiler alert, there’s a 2017 version in my driveway. Continue reading 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx Edition XT