Tag Archives: small crossover

2023 Honda HR-V AWD EX-L

Larger platform, refined styling make HR-V a better family car choice …

Surprises can be pleasing or concerning, something to celebrate or something to require pulling the bedspread up over your noggin.

Honda’s new 2023 HR-V, its small SUV/crossover, is full of the former, yet seeing a starting price of $24,895 I had concerns. I anticipated a homely yet efficient box on wheels, as per the first gen model that debuted as a 2016 model, a real party animal if you’re a family of accountants.

But nooooo, the restyled, redesigned HR-V now rides on Honda’s larger Civic platform, not the former’s Fit chassis. It’s longer, lower and wider, all good things for performance, while remaining svelte at just over 3,200 pounds.

The styling leans toward sleek with a roofline that elegantly sweeps down in back and a new nose and tail that look as modern as any competitor. Additional sound deadening, an active noise cancellation system, and acoustic glass make it quieter inside too.

But the big deal is a multi-link rear suspension to replace the former torsion beam, improving ride quality to the point of HR-V not feeling so small. It corners with confidence and the steering is lively too.

Power also increases from 141 horses to 158 from the new 2.0-liter I4. No turbo here, but that would make it a blast. Still, at this weight and with this crossover’s handling ability the HR-V seems perky and peppy and downright fun to drive, much like Mazda’s CX-30, almost.

The automatic continuously variable transmission is super smooth too, giving the HR-V solid off-the-line performance, almost like a regular variable gear tranny.

Watch Mark’s video: 2023 Honda HR V AWD EX L review by Mark Savage – YouTube

Honda equips the crossover with three drive mode toggles too, Normal, Eco and Snow, the latter being something us northern states folks appreciate. No Sport mode here to pump up the power, but I didn’t miss it, much. Yet Honda does include as standard a hill descent button on the console in case you get off road and need to slowly creep down an incline while retaining good traction.

Make no mistake, this new HR-V has no business going off-roading, but the tested EX-L model included AWD that will help traction in winter slop. AWD costs $1,500 on all three trims.

Honda is also generous with safety equipment with the base LX model featuring forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, smart cruise control and automatic high beams. The tested EX-L adds low-speed braking control, parking sensors, driver attention monitor, and blind-spot warning too.

Slip inside the HR-V (still a less than inspired name) and the interior looks and feels roomy, but also more upscale than one might expect in this price range.

The Nordic Forest Metallic (a snazzy blue-gray that costs $395 extra) sported a black leather interior and black to gunmetal honeycomb dash trim that reflects that of the nose’s grille. This is real metal, if that matters to you, and adds a bit of youthfulness to a car aimed at – you guessed it – young buyers.

Incredibly the door panels, arm rests and any area where an elbow may touch are well padded to create a luxury feel. Remember the cheap hard plastic of previous value models? Not in this Honda.

The steering wheel is leather-wrapped and the EX-L model upgrades the info screen from the standard 7-incher to a 9-inch touchscreen that’s simple to use and see. There also are dual climate control dials below the screen and a wireless phone charger tucked under the center stack.

Honda includes a power driver’s seat here and both front seats are heated and well contoured. Honda redesigned its seats for the HR-V to create more support and that’s obvious for the lower back and hips. Front and rear seats also are roomy so four adults could easily take a trip in this crossover.

Lots of cargo room behind the split folding rear seats too. Gone are the former folding “magic seats”, but these seats fold flat and create a cavernous cargo hold if the rear seats are lowered. One thing you don’t get is a power rear hatch, but then this is a high value model and really, it’s not difficult to close a small crossover’s rear hatch.

I like the traditional console-mounted stick shift too because it’s simple to grasp and does not require you look down at the console as so many of today’s buttons and rotary knobs do.

OMG, a shifter you can actually get ahold of!

Did I mention the small sunroof? No, but you get that standard on the EX-L, along with a 180-watt 8-speaker audio system.

And all this costs just $30,195, including delivery, for the AWD-equipped EX-L. The test car added only the handsome blue-gray paint scheme, so listed at $30,590. As mentioned earlier the base LX starts at $24,895 and a well-equipped Sport model starts at $26,895.

One downside, for now, there is no hybrid model. Yet for a gas-only crossover the HR-V is rated at a solid 25 mpg city and 30 highway. The front-drive models get just a bit better mileage and I managed 30.6 in about 70% highway driving with up to four folks aboard.

Seems hard to beat this feature-packed small crossover considering Honda’s fine reliability record. Other challengers in this market include the sporty Mazda CX-30 and Subaru CrossTrek that feature AWD standard. The Toyota C-HR, Hyundai Kona and Kia Seltos also are solid competitors.

Don’t let anyone tell you there are no good cars/crossovers for $30 grand or less!

FAST STATS: 2023 Honda HR-V AWD EX-L

Hits: Confident handling, peppy power, good ride and AWD. Fine MPG, roomy and quiet interior, small sunroof, and wireless phone charger, plus 9-inch info screen, dual climate controls, power driver’s seat, well contoured seats, heated front seats and normal stick shift. Full range of safety features standard along with hill descent control.

Misses: No Sport mode among toggle drive-mode selections, no power hatch.

Made in: Mexico

Engine: 2.0-liter I4, 158 horsepower/138 torque

Transmission: CVT automatic

Weight: 3,219 lbs.

Length: 179.8 in.

Wheelbase: 104.5 in.

Cargo: 24-55.1 cu.ft.

MPG: 25/30

MPG: 30.6 (tested)

Base Price: $30,195 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Option: Nordic Forest paint, $395

Test vehicle: $30,590

Sources: Honda, kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2022 Lexus NX 350 F Sport

Restyled NX puts emphasis on tech and sassy performance …

            Small, sassy and techy, that’s Lexus restyled NX 350, a compact crossover aimed directly at the better-off retiree or suburban family with no more than two kids.

            I suppose I think of NX being aimed at newly retired Boomers because of its luxury price tag that can hit $60,000. Seems a family with two pre-teens might not be able to swing that kinda car loan.

            But in any case, Lexus has massaged the NX’s styling, quieted it’s interior further, added a more solid driving feel and now offers four powertrains to fit various wallets and energy-consciousness levels.

Oh, and let’s get this up front, that darned Lexus touchpad on the console to control the infotainment screen is GONE. Praise be!

First the basics starting with trims and powertrains. NX is available in 12, that’s right, a dozen trim levels. The base NX 250 with a 203-horse 2.5-liter I4 is the only one without AWD standard, but it’s an option.

Starting with the NX 350h and 350 (no h), AWD is standard. The 350h is a hybrid coupling two electric motors with the 2.5-liter I4 to create 239 horsepower, adding a bit more oomph while improving gas mileage. This is the same system found in sister brand Toyota’s RAV4, and which has drawn raves from me and other auto pilots.

The NX 350 (stay with me here) touts a 2.4-liter turbo I4 that jumps power up to 275 horses and a torque rating of 317 lb.-ft. Turbos always cram more torque into a powerplant so it’ll accelerate quicker and that’s what the tested NX 350 F Sport that I tested was packing. Power off the line is considerable and gives the NX a sportier feel than one might expect from a Lexus. And while the cabin is relatively quiet, there is some engine chatter when tromping the accelerator.

More on performance in a second, but lastly there’s a plug-in hybrid model too, the NX 450h that creates 302 horsepower and a 0-60 mph time of 6 seconds flat. That’s hustling for a crossover.

Its plug-in charge reportedly lasts about 36 miles and this upper-end model starts at $57,800 with delivery, and the F Sport model pushing that even higher. Note though that there’s a $7,500 tax credit on the plug-ins.

If you’ve stuck with me through all that, you deserve to hear more about the tested 350 F Sport.

Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2022 Lexus NX350 F Sport – YouTube

It’s perky with quick giddyup due to that turbo, and the steering is fairly quick too, so an aggressive driver can push it into turns for a sport-oriented drive. The F Sport Handling feature on this model tunes the suspension for a sportier feel with front and rear shock performance dampers and adaptive variable suspension.

Tied to that are five drive modes from Eco to Sport+ which is the high-performance setting. That makes for a stiffer ride and handling, plus more aggressive acceleration via the 8-speed automatic.

Ride is well controlled in any case, but remains on the firmer side. Braking also is massive considering the vehicle’s size and weight. Lexus uses 12.9-inch vented discs up front and 12.5-inch vented rear discs. Stopping comes quickly.

A reminder that AWD is standard.

Outside, the NX 350 reminds me of the Mazda CX-5 and CX-30 crossovers with sizeable grilles and a beaklike nose where the hood extends out a tad over the grille. I like the look, although some folks consider the Lexus grille a bit much. I defend it as so many other makes have followed suit of late, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. The crossover’s tail is distinctive too with a light bar across the hatch.

Inside, the Redline (bright red) test NX featured stunning red and black perforated leather seats along with red leather on the doors and console. The dash top is black and there’s gloss black trim by the giant 14-inch screen and edges of the console.

That monster screen is certainly easy to see and without that annoying touch pad that adorned past Lexus consoles it’s a vast improvement, because it’s a touchscreen, and also can be controlled via the Intelligent Assistant. No, that’s not a family member that rides along, but the AI voice recognition system that responds to “Hey Lexus.” A warning here, you WILL say Alexa to it at least a couple times.

The touchscreen is not hard to use, but I’d like to see some real knobs and buttons, especially dedicated Home, Radio and Map buttons to get you quickly where you want to go. I say this, knowing my voice can tell the computer, but old habits die hard. Still, kudos to Lexus for finally replacing the touch pad.

Rest of the dash is fine and easy to see, plus there are good sightlines to the side as the NX allows some space between the side mirrors and A-pillars to improve visibility.

Seating is sport-oriented too with fabulous lower back and kidney support as the seats wrap around and caress the back and sides. Power seats of course, along with heated front seats (cooled is optional). A Cold Package ($250) adds a heated steering wheel along with heated wipers and deicer system plus a PTC heater for quicker heating.

There’s also an F Sport Luxury package for $2,200 that upgrades to that 14-inch screen for one that’s just short of 10 inches. The package also delivers that Hey Lexus system, ambient lighting, the cooled front seats, a special nav system and park assist, along with a power hatch activated by swinging your foot beneath the rear bumper.

Lexus goes with a big touchscreen, eliminating its annoying console touchpad.

Sunroof fans will love the panoramic moonroof that covers front and back seats. It costs $1,600 extra. A fine Mark Levinson premium audio system with 17 speakers (8.5 for each ear) is $1,020 extra too.

Four more options on the test NX pushed it from a $47,725 starting price (with delivery) to $55,325, which seems high for this size vehicle. But be assured NX is a high-tech tour de force.

For safety there’s the usual systems like rear cross-traffic, a 360-camera, blind-spot warning and lane departure. Lexus also adds road sign assist, smart cruise, intelligent high-beams, and curve speed management.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard as is a safety connect system to call for help and Wi-Fi connect too.

The steering column is a power tilt/telescope model but it’s disappointing that Lexus still doesn’t add a flat-bottom steering wheel to its F Sport models. That makes no sense.

There is, however, a wireless charging system and push-button door releases. Those seem gimmicky, although they worked fine. For safety’s sake you also can pull them back like a normal lever to release the door. The push-button system seems like technology solving a non-existent problem.

Rear seats will fold flat manually to extend the cargo area, but that space is pretty generous as is, plus there’s hidden storage under the rear floor. Reportedly the hybrid versions have the same cargo space, meaning batteries don’t cut into the cargo area.

Gas mileage is OK. I got 22.2 mpg in about 70% highway driving and the EPA rates this at 22 mpg city and 28 highway. The real hurt is that premium fuel is recommended. Ouch!

But again, this is a small luxury crossover, so you’re expecting some premium costs. Note though that with some option restraint an NX 350 or 350h can be had for $41,700 to $45 grand or so. That’s the entry-level luxury range now.

FAST STATS: 2022 Lexus NX 350 F Sport

Hits: Distinctive styling, good power, nice handling, controlled ride and AWD. Stellar interior design, big touchscreen, massive sunroof, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, heated/cooled seats, super contoured seats, 5 drive modes, wireless charger, good sight lines.

Misses: Needs flat-bottom steering wheel, more knobs to simplify using touchscreen, and push-button door releases feel gimmicky. Also needs premium fuel, ouch! 

Made in: Miyawaka, Fukuoka, Japan

Engine: 2.4-liter turbo I4, 275 hp/317 torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic, AWD

Weight: 4,035 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.9 in.

Length: 183.5 in.

Cargo: 22.7 – 46.9 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/28

MPG: 22.2 (tested)

Base Price: $47,725 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $44,695

Major Options:

Cold package (heated steering wheel, heated wiper/window deicer, PTC heater), $250

Triple beam headlamps w/washers, cornering lamps, $850

F Sport Luxury (14-inch touchscreen, Drive Connect w/Cloud navigation, Intelligent Assistant (Hey, Lexus), destination assist, ambient lighting, power rear hatch w/kick sensor, cooled front seats, intelligent park assist), $2,200

Mark Levinson premium audio w/17 speakers, $1,020

Panoramic moonroof, $1,600

Panoramic view monitor, lane change assist, front cross-traffic alert, $1,070

Towing package, $160

Smart phone convenience package, $450

Test vehicle: $55,325

Sources: Lexus, 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 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic (AWD)

Mercedes delivers a sporty small crossover with its GLA250 …

Life is getting harder for premium brands.

For instance the small crossover market is flooded with snazzy options, the Lexus UX, Volvo XC40 being two I’ve tested, while the pressure is coming from the likes of Mazda’s near perfect CX-30 along with Subaru’s Forester.

Into this market plops this week’s tester, the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic. It’s similar in size and performance to those mentioned above, also packing all-wheel drive. Oh it’s sporty looking and performs well, but is on the higher end of starting prices compared with the others and sadly the test crossover was saddled with 18 options. That’s right, 18!

Those took what started as a moderate entry-level crossover of $39,280 up to a premium mid-size crossover or SUV price of $55,585.

But let’s move behind price as you could scrimp by adding just a couple options, maybe.

Power is good and handling is light and sporty. The GLA is Mercedes’ smallest crossover but handles like one of its higher-end cousins. Toss it into tight winding turns out near Holy Hill locally and it behaves like a small sport sedan.

Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 (very common now) that pumps out 221 horses and is rated 258 for torque. Quite respectable! A driver can add some oomph by adjusting to the Sport drive mode from Comfort. Power increases and steering effort firms. Ride is already pretty firm and with a short wheelbase can become a bit jiggly at times.

Watch Mark’s review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMWkEhVjU-M

By comparison, the luxurious Volvo XC40 has 248 horsepower and the modest cost Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus tested earlier this year knocks out 227-250 horses depending on what octane fuel you use. Both handle well, like the Mercedes.

GLA uses a fine 8-speed automatic to engage that engine and the 4Matic AWD system provides good traction putting 80% of the power to the front wheels in Comfort and Eco drive modes. Sport shifts 30% of the power to the rear.

At just 3,494 lbs. the Mercedes feels light and nimble.

Braking is excellent with big drilled rotors up front, a part of the AMG line package that adds $2,240 to the price tag. If you are into performance this may be worth it. It also adds an AMG diamond block grille and some AMG styling touches to the body for spiffiness purposes.

From a looks standpoint the AMG black multi-spoke 20-inch wheels certainly looked great too on the white tester. Note only black and white paint are standard, all other shades add $720. The fancy wheels are $1,050, but again, if style matters as much as performance, a reasonable add-on.

The tested GLA250 also added a Night package to make the grille trim a high-gloss black, and likewise the outside mirror covers and window trim. Cost is $400.

Inside the small Mercedes was sharply styled with five round satin chrome air vents spread across the lean dash. Seating was a titanium gray leather with similar black to gray dash and door trim. Natural grain black linden wood trim spiffed the dash and doors too, a $325 addition. Trim is mostly satin chrome and gloss black around the 20-inch wide instrument panel and info screen, looking much like a giant cell phone. I like the look, but that leather is a $1,450 option.

Those bigger screens cost extra too. A 7-incher is standard for the touchscreen, but the Premium package boosts that to 10.25-inch info and instrument cluster screens, merged as one unit. The $1,750 package also includes a Keyless-Go package, auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors that will fold flat against the doors.

Dash buttons and the screens are simple enough to use as there generally are two or three ways to engage the radio, navigation system, etc. A touchpad on the console replaces the former clumsy knob there. The pad is slightly easier to use, but not while driving. Many buttons are on the steering wheel hub to access these functions too, but that and its leather covering cost $360 extra.

There’s a big 10.5-inch screen above those three air vents and climate toggles.

An Alexa-like system that the driver must address as Hey Mercedes, will answer your time and temperature questions, among others, just like Alexa. I stumped her as often as not, or had to rephrase my questions. Still, it can be fun to play with this on a long drive. On the electronics front, an SOS emergency system is mounted overhead.

Seating is firm (one friend called it hard), but well-shaped for hip and lower back support, and I like that Mercedes puts the seat adjustments on the door. Very easy to reach! The power lumbar button is still on the driver’s seat side, and the seats feature a lower-cushion extension for long-legged driver. That extension’s control knob beneath the cushion sticks out a bit far though. Seats here were heated too, a $500 option. As our climate warms it would make sense to have cooled seats, especially with leather surfaces.

The GLA250 has a sharp-looking cockpit with a flat-bottom wheel.

Other goodies on the tested GLA250 included a panoramic sunroof ($1,500), Sirius XM radio ($460), a laudable Burmester surround sound system ($850), wireless phone charging ($200) and a cool 64-color interior ambient lighting system ($310) that is adjusted through the info screen. I liked the indigo lighting for the dash trim and air vents, very relaxing and classy!

The new GLA’s interior is roomy too, easily carrying four adults. The redesign for 2021 lengthened the wheelbase by an inch, boosted rear seat legroom by 4.5 inches and raised the roofline by 3.5 inches to maximize front seat headroom. Tall drivers fit well.

Likewise there’s more cargo room under the power hatch. With seats in place it’s 15.4 cubic feet and with the rear seats folded flat it grows to 50.5 cubic feet. The seats also include a fold-down pass-through for folks carrying skis or other long thin items.

Here’s as good a spot as any to mention that the power hatch did not always latch properly. It seemed to, but once the vehicle was started a tiny red light flashes for the hatch area and the rear-view camera will not engage. So, climb out and manually re-latch the hatch. Might be a problem only on the tester, but still.

A few other glitches or things I question, include an odd feature where a front-view camera engages at intersections. It only seemed to turn on if there were other cars coming at you from the opposite direction. Since a driver can clearly see out the front window I’m not sure of its purpose as the screen is obviously smaller than the real view out the windshield. The screen  also makes the vehicles coming at you appear much further away.

I also found the lane departure assist system quite abrupt. If I let the GLA fade to the center or road’s shoulder lines the crossover would brake and groan much harder than any other vehicle I’ve tested. Most tug at the wheel to re-center the vehicle in its lane and do not brake or groan.

Snazzy looking taillights here!

And this is just a heads up, but the slim transmission shift lever extends from the right of the steering column. That’s an unusual location as of the past 25 years or so. This is where one usually finds the wiper lever. So if you purchase, just be aware you’ll need to retrain yourself as to the shifter’s location.

Speaking of safety, the majority of safety features here were included in option packages. I won’t repeat them all as they are in the stat box below, but everything from blind-spot assist to adaptive high-beams and the navigation system are in packages totaling $3,895.

Which brings us to gas mileage, something of concern as $3 a gallon gas is pretty much the norm now. I managed an excellent 28.2 mpg in about a 50-50 mix of city and highway driving with up to four aboard, and I didn’t go easy on the throttle a lot either. High octane fuel is preferred and the EPA rates the GLA250 at 24 mpg city and 33 highway.

Spiffy black wheels with Mercedes logos!

If 221 horses aren’t enough there are two other GLA models with more oomph. The GLA350 touts a horsier turbo 2.0 I4 at 302 horses from an AMG-tuned motor and the GLA450 delivers 382 horses. This engine is hand-built by Mercedes AMG performance factory.

Those models start at $47,550 and $54,500, respectively, and reflect mid-level luxury prices. Ironically the tester actually cost more than those horsier trims, once all its options were ladled on to this wundercar!

FAST STATS: 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic

Hits: Good power and sporty looks and handling, plus AWD. Mercedes version of Alexa, panoramic sunroof, heated seats, 5 round dash air vents, wireless charger, stereo upgrade, power hatch, 4 drive modes, 10.25-inch screen, SOS overhead, lower seat extensions and excellent braking.

Is it just me or does this remind you of a Star Wars stormtrooper?

Misses: Firm ride, power hatch doesn’t always latch properly, knob to release lower seat extension sticks out too far, odd front-view camera engages at intersections, console touchpad for screen adjustment, abrupt lane departure correction with braking, shift lever on right of steering column an unusual location.

Made in: Rastatt, Germany

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 221 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,494 lbs.

Wheelbase: 107.4 in.

Length: 173.6 in.

Cargo: 15.2-50.5 cu.ft.

MPG: 24/33

MPG: 28.2 (tested)

Base Price: $39,280 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Major Options:

Titanium gray/black leather interior, $1,450

Natural grain black linden wood trim, $325

Multi-function leather steering wheel, $360

20-inch black AMG multi-spoke wheels, $1,050

Panoramic sunroof, $1,500

Suspension w/adaptable damping, $990

Sirius XM radio, $460

Burmester surround sound system, $850

Heated front seats, $500

64-color interior ambient lighting, $310

Wireless charging, $200

USB-C adapter cable, $25

Driver assistance package (active brake assist w/cross-traffic function, distance assist, steering assist, blind-spot assist, lane-keeping assist, lane assist, speed limit assist, emergency stop assist, evasive steering assist, Pre-Safe Plus, route-based speed adaptation, extended restart in Stop-Go traffic), $1,700

Exterior lighting package (active LED headlights, adaptive high-beam assist), $900

Multi-media package (navigation and nav services, MBUX augmented reality nav, speed limit assist), $1,295

Night package (high-gloss black grille trim, exterior mirror covers, window trim), $400

AMG line (AMG body styling, perforated front discs, MB lettering, AMG diamond block grille), $2,240

Premium package (10.25-inch info screen, 10.25-digital instrument cluster, Keyless-Go package, auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors, power fold mirrors), $1,750

Test vehicle: $55,585

Sources: Mercedes-Benz, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo, Premium Plus, AWD

Already a winner, new turbo elevates CX-30 to top tier …

Earlier this year I named Mazda’s slick new small crossover, the CX-30, as my Zoomie 2021 Car of the Year. Little did I know then that it was gonna get better.

The original was sporty looking, featured responsive handling, a quiet near luxury interior and had good power. Now the power is outstanding.

Mazda, as it did with its sporty Mazda3 recently, has added a kicky turbo to its already solid 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G 4-cylinder. The result is a hoot a power rating between 227 and 250 horsepower. That’s up from 168 horses in the original CX-30.

Why, you ask, is there such a range of horsepower for this spiffy turbo?

Because if you’re cheap like me you can fill up with 87-octane fuel and still feel pretty peppy with the turbo delivering 227 horses, or spend a little more for 91 octane (or higher) premium gas and the horsepower jumps to 250. All this in a 3,472-lb. crossover on a short 104.5-inch wheelbase.

Yowza!

Acceleration is crazy quick with the CX-30 easily pressing triple digits down a highway entry ramp. Car and Driver magazine says the petite crossover will snap off 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and top speed is said to be 128 mph. Coupled with the all-wheel-drive system that’s standard on all turbo-equipped CX-30s and you’ve got the grip to use that power to your advantage, even if the road is a tad wet.

See Mark’s video review: https://youtu.be/daMiHWGAp6w

Note too there’s a Sport drive mode toggle on the console that will give the CX-30 more oomph as needed. It was much appreciated as I zipped away from bulky traffic jams at stoplights. Click it and leap away from the heavy metal beasts with bigger engines, then click it off and cruise. Sport mode helps Mazda’s six-speed automatic that’s designed for fuel economy to put the emphasis on low-end power for as long as you need it.

Likewise the Mazda handles well, not exactly sports car nimble, but quite responsive and easy to zip through tight corners and whip into cramped parking spaces in the city. No body lean or sway even on super windy days, which were plentiful during this drive.

Ride is much more sophisticated in the CX-30 than other short-wheelbase crossovers. Firm? Yes, the ride is, but so well controlled that you’ll feel you’re in a longer-wheelbase crossover costing much more. Sound deadening is awesome too, a quiet interior here insinuates luxury not found in the price tag.

This interior also helps Mazda establish itself as the maker of finer, near luxury, machines, not just another mainstream car maker trying to only compete with the Toyotas,  Hondas, and Nissans of the world.

Like the previous CX-30 I’d tested, this one had a gorgeous leather interior, creamy white seats and brown over black dash with soft brown door armrests and insert trim. That brown on the dash wraps into the door trim creating an especially snazzy look. Trim on the dash and door handles is satin chrome and Mazda includes a leather wrapped gear shift knob and steering wheel. Just wish the wheel was a racier flat-bottomed number.

High-quality interior puts this Mazda well above its competitors.

Those seats are well shaped and the surface feels soft and smooth, again more of a luxury feel than you’ll find in most mid-range crossovers. For the record, the entry level has cloth seats, the next level up gets leatherette and the Premium and Premium plus real leather.

Front seats are powered and have two memory settings for the driver’s seat and a power lumbar too. Front seats also have three-level heat and the steering wheel is heated in the tested Premium Plus model.

Head and legroom are good up front and moderate in back. If a driver or front seat passenger is tall then the foot and legroom becomes tight in back. Cargo room is generous behind the split fold-down rear seats and the hatch is powered.

Dash layout is clean and attractive with an 8.8-inch infotainment screen that’s tucked into an indent atop the dash’s center. I like it being high, but some riders said they’d prefer a lower position. Personal choice I’m sure!

Standard are dual climate controls, a sunroof and a handy 360-degree backup camera.

Safety systems are all standard too, including front and rear parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert and braking, blind-spot warning, lane departure and smart cruise control. The beeping from the blind-spot warning can be a bit startling the first couple times it goes off, but less so after you know what it’s warning you about.

Other goodies include a fine 12-speaker Bose stereo system, plus Android Auto and Apple Car Play. No wireless charger though. That’s still a $275 option. Outside mirrors also are heated, the wipers are rain-sensing, and front lights are adaptive.

I’d like to call this a perfect vehicle, but that’s not possible, ever. The automatic parking brake is irritating as it sets itself every time the ignition is turned off. No other tested vehicle does this. So each time you start to back up that brake engages to hold you back. You can either press the console’s button, or accelerate harder (not sure that’s wise) and it’ll overpower the brake and it will disengage.

Then there’s the central control knob on the console to adjust the info screen’s radio and navigation systems, etc. Once you play with it a while (several days) you’ll figure out how to get to the station list and change channels, but it’s not easy to do while driving. Saving favorites? The same. I beg Mazda to copy one of the easier systems found in most vehicles now.

But there’s so much else to love here. Sorry Subaru!

CX-30’s styling is leading edge, it’s noteworthy, it’s spectacular. The beak of the hood gives this crossover a nose to remember. Reminds me of the racy beak on 1960s and 1970s Eagle Indycar racers. The slits for headlights are equally appealing and the taillights also make a styling statement.

But all that aside, the Soul Red Metallic paint job is so stunning that it alone could sell someone on the CX-30. Soul Red is absolutely the best current paint color on any car on the market. Everyone commented on it. People asked about it at the gas station and in the driveway. It’ll cost you $595 extra, but is absolutely worth it.

Gas mileage dips a bit on the turbo, and I admit to abusing the Power mode button and having more fun than I likely am entitled. I still got 26.6 mpg as opposed to 31.7, which was amazing, on the original CX-30 with its more moderate power. The EPA estimates this model will get 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.

Best of all you won’t be paying a fortune for fun. The base turbo model starts at $30,050 and remember that includes AWD. A Premium model that would satisfy most of us goes for $32,450 and the tested Premium Plus lists at $35,000 including delivery. Non-turbo models with front-wheel-drive start at about $23,000, with AWD adding $1,400 to the price.

With its awesome red paint job and a few minor options the test crossover was $35,995, a bit less than the average price of a new car these days. Bravo!

CX-30 is a no-brainer if you’re in the small crossover market. It’s beautiful while also being a high-value hoot of a drive. Could it be the car of the year for two years in a row?

FAST STATS: 2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo, Premium Plus, AWD

Hits: Excellent turbo power, responsive handling, plus AWD. Sporty looks, leatherette interior feels luxurious, big screen, sunroof, heated steering wheel and front seats, 360-camera, smart cruise and safety systems, Bose stereo, comfy supportive front seats, power hatch. High value, fun drive.

Sexy beak and eyes!

Misses: Not a fan of the console-controlled info screen, and ride is firm, but well-controlled. The park brake sets itself every time the ignition is turned off, so annoying to disengage each time you drive the car. Wireless charging (optional) and flat-bottom steering wheel would be nice.

Made in: Salamanca, Mexico

Engine: 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G I4, turbo, 227-250 hp

Transmission: SkyActiv-drive 6-speed, automatic w/Sport mode

Weight: 3,472 lbs.

Wheelbase: 104.5 in.

Length: 173 in.

Cargo: 20.2 cu.ft.

MPG: 22/30

MPG: 26.6 (tested)

Base Price: $35,000 (includes delivery)

Invoice: N.A.

Options:

Soul Red Crystal paint, $595

Cargo cover, $150

All-weather floor mats, $125

Rear bumper guards, stainless, $125

Test vehicle: $35,995

Sources: Mazda, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium

Mazda’s sporty new CX-30 crossover a top choice …

If I were to vote on my car of the year today, it would be the Mazda CX-30, a new larger subcompact crossover, up a step from Mazda’s current CX-3.

This new crossover in the fastest growing part of that market is easily the most stylish, most luxuriously finished and most fun to drive to date. It’s a thing of beauty and performance. Continue reading 2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium

2020 Honda CR-V Touring

New CR-V worth the wait …

Seven years had passed since my last test of Honda’s hot-selling CR-V, its small sport-ute, but the wait was worth it.

I felt the 2013 model had fallen a bit behind the curve in the small ute market, but be assured Honda is back atop its game with the 2020 model. Mine was an Aegean blue metallic Touring model with all-wheel drive. That’s the top-level CR-V and it was fully equipped, so much so that there were no options. Continue reading 2020 Honda CR-V Touring

2020 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4GT AWC

New Outlander Sport a simple, effective, high-value crossover …

            Mitsubishi’s new Outlander Sport crossover is simple, yet effective.

By that I mean it’s nothing fancy, but it’s a solid family hauler with four-wheel-drive, enough safety equipment to satisfy most folks and a sporty new nose to refresh its looks so it doesn’t look like the styling fairy has passed it by. Continue reading 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4GT AWC

2019 Kia Niro EV EX Premium

Kia’s electric crossover looks good, drives well …

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

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

2019 Volvo XC40 AWD R-Design

Volvo XC40 a fun, sporty crossover … 2019 Volvo XC40 AWD R=Design

Volvo, the Chinese-owned luxury car maker that builds its cars in Sweden and Belgium, has been on a roll now for a couple years. Its lineup of crossovers, like its wagons of the past, are well designed, utilitarian, but with enough luxury to easily take on its luxury ute competitors from Europe and North America.

Now comes the Volvo XC40, its first small crossover. I drove a bright metallic white ($595 extra) model with black roof to accent the handsome crossover. The combo adds a little more flair and a sporty look, aided by this being the T5 R-Design model. Continue reading 2019 Volvo XC40 AWD R-Design