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2018 Kia Rio EX hatch

Cute Rio hatchback a sporty low-cost option …2018 Kia Rio hatchback

I liked the high-value Hyundai Accent sedan a week ago, so it stands to reason I’d like its cousin, the sportier looking Kia Rio hatchback this week.

Accent no longer comes in a hatch, so if you prefer this body style, which I do, the Rio is your low-cost, high-value option for this lineup. Although it should be noted that Rio also comes in a sedan, like the Accent.

I drove a metallic gray Rio EX hatchback, the top level as opposed to the entry-level Accent SE I tested last week. The price difference is minor, but significant if you’re looking for low cost transportation. Yet the EX comes with more comfort and safety features than the base Accent did.

Let’s start with what’s in the Rio for a still low price of $20,225.2018 Kia Rio hatchback

First, the car is a bit longer, lower and wider than its predecessor. That translates to a bit roomier and a handsome, yet sporty look.

Rio has the same engine as Accent, a 1.6-liter direct-injected I4 that creates 130 horsepower. No pocket rocket, the Rio still gets up to highway speeds fairly easily and much more readily when the Sport mode button is depressed on the console, just in front of the shift lever. Continue reading 2018 Kia Rio EX hatch

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2017 Toyota Corolla XSE

Toyota Corolla still running strong 50 years on …2017 Toyota Corolla

Like Energizer’s bunny, Toyota’s Corolla just keeps on running through the generations and has succeeded like no other car model. It’s now 50-year run has resulted in more than 40 million Corollas being sold, most of any model.

That’s more than the VW Beetle, the other long-term, low-cost people’s car. Corolla really owns that title now. Everyone has either owned one, or had a kid that owned one, or an aunt, uncle, step-child or, well, a family member that has owned one.

Full disclosure, our family bought a new Corolla in 1983 when we had a 2-year-old and a second child on the way. It was reliable (we wisely decided against a Chrysler K car and Renault Alliance), economical, came with a stick-shift to help us save fuel and had a big enough trunk to hold a highchair and loads of diapers for trips to the grandparents.

Today’s new Corolla furthers that high value statement while remaining highly reliable and actually a bit more stylish than in years past. Toyota has put some effort into styling the last few years and so the 2017 Corolla is more than just an econobox. It looks good and drives well while remaining affordable and economical to run.2017 Toyota Corolla

Let’s start with price. That’s what most of us think of as relating to value.

A base Corolla L starts at $19,365 and the tested top-level XSE lists at $22,680, plus $865 delivery. A few other brands have similarly priced models that drive a bit sportier, but Corolla comes with most everything a buyer would want, plus is laden with the latest safety equipment. Continue reading 2017 Toyota Corolla XSE

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

New Santa Fe seats 7, looks better, roomier2017 Hyundai Santa Fe

Hyundai developed its Santa Fe into two vehicles a couple of years ago, the Sport which has a midsize 106-inch wheelbase and the straight-up Santa Fe that’ll seat seven with its longer 110.2-inch wheelbase and more interior room.

The 2017 Santa Fe looks even better than its predecessor and now adds more features to make it even more attractive and a strong competitor with the likes of Honda’s popular Pilot. But it has the misfortune of also going up against the brand new Mazda CX-9 reviewed last week and the new segment leader.

That’s not to say the tested big Santa Fe is a slouch in any way.

2017 Hyundai Santa FeIts power is first-rate with a 3.3-liter V6 that creates 290 horsepower with 252 lb.-ft. of torque. The Hyundai also offers drive select mode to emphasize power or economy. In Normal mode the Santa Fe has good power that is well used by its six-speed automatic. There is some lag to the acceleration, but the crossover gets up to highway speeds easily.

Naturally Eco saves gas, but Sport delivers the most oomph when it comes to acceleration. In Sport mode the Santa Fe feels much livelier than most large crossovers. Continue reading 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

2015 Dodge Dart SXT Rallye

Dodge Dart SXT sharp looker, affordabledart1

I’ve always liked the lightly regarded Dodge Dart because it’s a sporty looking entry-level car with a low price tag. It’s affordable and doesn’t look like a cheap econobox.

I gave it my Zoomie Car of the Year award in 2013.

So I was a bit surprised I wasn’t as impressed with the tested SXT Rallye as I’d anticipated. But the Dart is on it fourth model year and while still a high-value car and a sharp looker, much of the competition has caught up and I’m afraid that has raised my expectations.

I have to give the Fiat-Chrysler folks credit because the Dart still offers you more choices than most entry-level sedans. There are five trim levels and three engine choices. With engines it’s usually one and done at this price point.

dart2But Dodge offers a 1.4-liter turbocharged I4 in the Aero high gas mileage model. That engine generates 160 horsepower and 184 ft.-lbs. of torque to make it fun and frugal, as it’s rated 28 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. The tested SXT model features the 2.4-liter MultiAir I4 that creates 184 horses and a 174 torque rating. The base SE model features a 2.0-liter I4 that still manages 160 horses, but just 148 ft.-lbs. of torque. Continue reading 2015 Dodge Dart SXT Rallye

2016 Honda Pilot Touring AWD

Restyled Honda Pilot roomier, improved overallhonda1

The Honda Pilot has been a reliable big box of a sport-utility vehicle for years, nothing fancy, but usual Honda quality and solid build.

For 2016 the Pilot is restyled and rounded to give it a smoother more refined look, one that might be confused with Buick’s Enclave. In fact, several folks asked me during my drive if this was a new Buick. Honda’s sales results will tell them if such confusion helps or hurts, but overall the look is an improvement.

That’s what you see on the surface, what’s inside and what’s changed makes the new Pilot more attractive both visually and functionally for large families needing space for their brood.

Overall the Pilot is 3.5 inches longer and rides on a 111-inch wheelbase that’s nearly two inches longer than the previous model. Pilot also has dropped 300 lbs.

honda2The result is a roomier interior with a third-row seat that isn’t as cramped, plus a vehicle with improved ride quality and handling ability. You wouldn’t call Pilot nimble, but the weight loss is noticeable and the steering has been tuned to feel more responsive giving the Pilot better road feel. Not much play in this wheel anymore.

Ride generally is fine, but still can be stiff over sharp road bumps of which we have plenty in southeast Wisconsin. I enjoyed my highway drives across town and the interior is extremely quiet. Continue reading 2016 Honda Pilot Touring AWD

2015 Honda Fit EX-L w/Nav

Honda Fit not a hit, just a basic entry-level car

Honda’s new 2015 Fit is larger inside than the previous model, but remains a basic entry-level car that delivers excellent gas mileage.Honda side

But it has its limitations, as all entry-level cars do.

Power is modest, the ride is rough and wind noise is fairly intrusive. This is not the tightly built, quiet muted engine of many previous Honda’s I’ve driven. I was a bit disappointed.

The 130-horse 1.5-liter direct-injection I4 with variable valve timing is a winner as far as gas consumption, but its acceleration is mild to lackluster. Press the ever-present green Eco button on the dash’s left side and torque drops further for less getaway power from a stop.

There is a bit of a solution. On the bright red tested EX-L model with a navigation system there also is a Sport setting for the floor-mounted Continuously Variable Transmission. That helped boost the oomph, but only mildly and turned the already groan prone engine into a big time groaner. The harder you accelerate, the noisier it gets.

With a 6-speed manual transmission it’s possible that the 130-horse I4 would be fairly peppy. But with this CVT it struggles to get out of following vehicles’ way. To be honest, this felt much like a hybrid in the acceleration department.

The upside, and it’s a big one, is gas mileage. Rated at 32 mpg city and 38 mpg highway I managed an impressive 41.6 mpg in about 60% highway driving, about half in the Eco mode and little in Sport.

Honda1Naturally many Fit buyers will be looking for economy, the base LX model starts at $16,315, so meets that need, and also has a 6-speed manual tranny. Move up to the automatic and you’re looking at $17,115, still quite a bargain in today’s market. The test car is near the top of the segment with navigation and heated front seats part of the EX-L package. Base price here is $20,800 and this added only delivery of $790 to hit $21,590. Continue reading 2015 Honda Fit EX-L w/Nav

2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD

Lackluster new RAV4 underwhelmingrav4a

Underwhelmed, that was how the new Toyota RAV4 left me.

Oh it looks fine, pretty much like every other compact ute out these days, and with all the features and electronic options and doodads you’d want. But given Toyota’s history, I was surprised by how lackluster it felt and it had fit and finish issues.

First, there was a small hole in the console. Was a button missing? And what would it have been for?

Second, there was an obvious and annoying squeak in the dash and it squeaked no matter what speed you were going, or how rough the road. The ute had only about 2,800 miles on it when I received it. I’d expect that squeak on my wife’s 12-year-old Camry because it has 100,000+ miles on the odometer. Actually, I think her car’s interior is quieter, which leads me to point three. The RAV4 interior is noisy, very echoey sounding.

Fourth, well, the 2.5-liter, I4 engine simply feels down on power. Maybe it’s the gearing, but acceleration is flat and dull. The engine is rated at 176 horsepower, but acceleration is lackluster. There’s an ECO button to give it better gas mileage and even less oomph, or a Sport button to give it more torque. That helps, but you still must mash the gas pedal to get that power, and at that point the power train whines and moans like it’s being tortured. Continue reading 2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD