Tag Archives: Subaru Crosstrek

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

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 Volkswagen Taos SE

Taos another newcomer in expanding small crossover market …

Oh my, the burgeoning small crossover market just added another competitor, the Volkswagen Taos (rhymes with House), and if value is your main shopping criteria the Taos should be near the center of your bull’s-eye.

Just in the last year I’ve reviewed the following tiny crossover competitors, Mazda CX-30 (2 versions), Hyundai Venue, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Kia Seltos, Chevy Trailblazer, Nissan Kicks and Subaru Crosstrek. There were others earlier as this segment has been swelling like an anaconda swallowing a warthog.

But back to Taos (not New Mexico), VW’s smallest crossover that rides on a 105.9-inch wheelbase with a potentially powerful 1.5-liter turbocharged I4 that makes 158 horsepower, 11 horses more than VW’s Jetta. That figure is near the top of this segment’s power rankings, except for the over-endowed Mazda CX-30 with its 2.5-liter turbo I4 that makes 227 to 250 hp, depending on gas selection. It’s a riot!

For VW this new engine is an efficient and torque-happy number with 184 pound-feet of oomph. Sadly, the test vehicle had the worst case of turbo-lag that I can recall in several years. It hesitated at every chance to accelerate. Pull from the drive, push the accelerator, and wait. Traffic light turns green, push the accelerator, and wait. Turn a corner or head onto a highway ramp, push the accelerator, and wait. Ugh!

If you want power quickly you must mash the accelerator and then there’s still a wait before that turbo launches the VW to excellent highway speeds. The waiting, followed by over-accelerating became tedious.

Too bad, because Taos seems solid and handles well. Steering is light and easy and the crossover corners with little hint of body roll. This could be sporty and fun. Plus Taos is light, just 3,175 pounds. My mid-level SE model was front-drive and I suspect the 4Motion (AWD) would give it even better traction and handling. AWD costs $1,500 extra on all three trim levels.

Ride? Well, this is a short wheelbase crossover with struts up front but just a torsion beam rear suspension, so ride is pretty firm. The potholes weren’t as disturbing as the raised pavement hoo-has. Taos seemed to jump a bit sideways at times on those sharp spots.

Note that the AWD models feature a multi-link rear suspension which may help ride quality some and is the system used by most vehicles these days.

An 8-speed automatic tranny handles the shifts and is aimed at fuel savings. Too bad there are no drive mode selections here to add power or maybe smooth out the performance a bit in a comfort mode. Eco seems to be where the Taos is aimed and it features strong EPA numbers. The estimates there are 28 mpg city and 36 highway. I got a fine 29.4 mpg in about 80% highway driving.

By comparison, the Trailblazer with AWD that I tested posted 32 mpg, the Mazda CX-30 with the turbo managed 26.6 and the Crosstrek posted 25.4 mpg.

Plenty of safety systems are in place, with VW’s Intelligent Crash Response System and automatic post-collision braking, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, a blind-spot monitor, and rear traffic alert being standard.

The test crossover added the IQ Drive SE package with Travel Assist (VW’s semi-autonomous driving system), smart cruise control, the Stop & Go system, and lane assist, for $895. The Travel Assist worked fine, but seemed a bit over anxious, as some of these do, pushing the car back toward the center or side lines harder than need be. This becomes concerning in construction zones and I could find no way to turn the system off as I dodged Wisconsin’s many orange barrels and cones.

Inside the King’s Red Metallic ($395 extra, and worth it) test vehicle was a fine interior. The SE trim upgrades cloth seats to something called CloudTex synthetic seats. This is a combo of cloth feel and faux leather, which is tough and easy to clean.

The test Taos featured gray seats with white stitching and the doors were two-tone gray while the dash was mostly dark gray with a bluish trim on some plastic bits. The console was flat black, ending sunny day reflection worries.

The SE model upgrades from the standard 6.5-inch info screen to an 8-inch touchscreen that was fairly easy to adjust. Below that are three large climate control knobs, so easy to adjust.

A nice sized screen on the new Taos.

However, during my drive Wisconsin was sweating through a spate of muggy upper-80s days and I had to crank the climate system’s fan to its top-level to get enough cooling and leave it there for about 10 minutes. Then I slowly dialed the speed back. Air was plenty cold from the system, but it took a while to cool the interior and there is no automatic climate setting, again keeping costs down for Taos.

Seats were well-shaped giving good side and hip support and the driver’s seat was powered with a power lumbar support. The front passenger’s seat is manual. But legroom and headroom are good front and rear so it’s easy to load four to five adults in Taos, although five may prefer city jaunts to cross-country tours.

Seats are heated up front and the flat-bottomed steering wheel also is heated, a plus.

Another goodie was the huge panoramic sunroof, a $1,200 add-on. These are increasingly popular in crossovers, but this one was a monster with a gray screen over it to reduce summer sun. But it would be fun to open in spring and fall to be sure. Might not feel like a Jeep, but definitely brings the outside in!

Another plus, a wireless phone charger under the dash’s center stack and the fact that the driver can give the instrument panel multiple looks, adding or deleting various information on either side of the speedometer.

Good news too for those hauling a lot of gear, the VW offers a generous storage area behind the rear seats with 28.1 cubic feet of space. Fold the split rear seats down and that grows to a sizeable 66.3 cu.ft.

Now maybe the best news, pricing. VW starts with the S trim at $24,190 for front-drive and $1,500 more for AWD, known as 4Motion. The tested SE model lists at $28,440 and is FWD. A top-level SEL lists at $32,685 with AWD and a sunroof being the only options.

This Taos added 19-inch black alloy wheels with all-season tires for $395, giving the red crossover a snazzy look since it comes with black cladding over the wheel wells and front and rear fascias. Grand total here was $31,325.

That’s a bargain in today’s car world, although I’d think most Wisconsin drivers would want to add the AWD for traction and to possibly improve ride quality with the multi-link suspension.

Sharp taillights!

By comparison my vehicle of the year, the hot-looking CX-30 starts at $30,050 with delivery and AWD is standard. The tested Trailblazer that is awfully cute lists at $30,070 and includes AWD while the Crosstrek is a little more at $31,440 with AWD and heated and cooled seats, plus a fancy stereo.

As you can see, pricing in this segment is quite close, so test drive several small crossovers before you buy and compare them with like features. This is a well-stocked market with Taos being the new kid on the block!

FAST STATS: 2022 VW Taos SE

Hits: Light easy handling, huge panoramic sunroof, roomy interior, heated well-shaped seats, flat-bottom heated steering wheel, big storage area, wireless charger, multiple dash views, value pricing and good gas mileage.

Misses: Firm ride and concerning turbo lag on acceleration. Couldn’t turn off active lane control, no drive modes to boost acceleration, fan must be turned on top level for quite a while to cool crossover on hot day.

Fancy black wheels give Taos a sporty look.

Made in: Puebla, Mexico

Engine: 1.5-liter turbo I4, 158 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,175 lbs.

Wheelbase: 105.9 in.

Length: 175.8 in.

Cargo: 28.1/66.3 cu.ft.

MPG: 28/36

MPG: 29.4 (tested)

Base Price: $28,440

Invoice: $27,351

Major Options:

19-inch black alloy wheels w/all-season tires, $395

King’s Red metallic paint, $395

Power panoramic sunroof, $1,200

IQ Drive SE package (Travel Assist semi-autonomous drive assistance, adaptive cruise control, stop & go, lane assist, blind-spot monitor), $895

Test vehicle: $31,325

Sources: VW, www.kbb.com

Photos: Mark Savage

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

2018 Hyundai Kona SEL

Hyundai’s new Kona a cute value-minded crossover … 2018 Hyundai Kona

Kona’s cute, it’s inexpensive, it drives great, and like all vehicles that folks want to buy these days, it’s a crossover.

Frankly, it had me at cute, but the rest is like frosting on a gluten-free homemade cupcake. Continue reading 2018 Hyundai Kona SEL

2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium

Toyota C-HR takes cute, useful and fun to drive to a new level … 2018 Toyota C-HR

Mini has had cute pretty well sewed up among small cars with four doors, but now Toyota has stepped up to the plate with its latest C-HR crossover.

The tested C-HR (cute hot rod?) was the top-level XLE Premium model decked out in a  bright blue paint job with a bright white roof. It’s a fun, economical home run of a car! Continue reading 2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium