The Kia Niro electric vehicle can be powered by a gasoline engine or as a PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle). The Niro is an effective electric vehicle; with 239 miles of range, there is little anxiety about finding a recharging station. (My commute is about 100 total miles and, using a combination of available Level II charging and my house current in the evening, the Niro always had plenty of range.) Recharging is best performed with Level II or Level III (fast charging). Level III fast charging can bring the battery to about 80% capacity in about an hour; Level II charging requires about 9 hours to fully recharge a depleted battery. Although the Niro has 117-volt convenience charging, it could take several days to fully recharge a depleted battery with typical house current.
The electric motor produces 201 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque. This translates into a sprightly performance that rivals most gasoline vehicles of this size. The overall driving experience is good: handling is stable and secure, and the ride is comfortable. On the road, the best performance comes out on the highway, and acceleration from 40 to 65 mph is surprisingly quick and effortless. While the Niro looks like a small station wagon or SUV, it doesn’t have all-wheel drive and the suspension is designed for on-road, not off-road travel.
The interior is comfortable with easy-to-use controls. The shifter is a simple rotary knob: click to the right for Drive, click to the left for Reverse and push down for Park. There are well-designed knobs and buttons for the infotainment system and climate control, and a large navigation system display. Connecting a smart phone to take advantage of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is easy. The sound system in our EV was a premium version with great sound.
The front seats were quite comfortable, and the upright seating position gives a nice unobstructed view of the road. The rear seat, headroom and legroom are pretty good, but the floor is raised slightly. While not uncomfortable, it just feels a bit odd. Storage is quite good with about 19 cubic feet of cargo space, 50 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. Our premium trim Niro had all the latest comfort and safety features such as heated and cooled front seats, wireless phone charging, automatic climate control, lane centering, adaptive cruise control and great performing LED headlights. There is a mix of top-quality materials and maybe a bit too much hard plastic, but overall the Niro competes well with other vehicles in its class.
The Niro EV is a slightly boring, unremarkable vehicle that is very good at what it does. For many drivers, the Niro could easily complete the majority of their driving tasks. If you are specifically looking for an electric car — or just replacing a gasoline car — the Niro is worth a look.
Fuel economy: 239e
Price as tested: $47,500
Crash test: TBD
The 2020 Kia Soul is completely redesigned with a new more powerful base engine and updated exterior. The Kia Soul is a subcompact boxy crossover vehicle, but, unlike many vehicles in this class, only has front-wheel drive. The Soul is available in two engines: a 1.6-liter 201-horsepower turbocharged engine, and a 2.0-liter base engine. There are three transmissions (manual, automatic and direct-shift automatic) and several trim levels: the LX base with a manual transmission, S, EX, GT-Line (2.0 liter engine), GT-Line (1.6 engine) and — the subject of our test drive — the X-Line. Our vehicle had a standard 2.0-liter, 147-horsepower, four-cylinder engine with a conventional automatic transmission.
The interior of the Soul is both functional and comfortable. The cloth front seats were supportive and offered enough adjustments to find a comfortable seating position. The front seats are raised up and offer good overall visibility. At six feet tall, I had plenty of head and legroom, and taller drivers should find plenty of space. The tilt/telescoping steering wheel helps with the overall driving position. The additional controls such as wipers, lights and cruise control are simple and uncluttered. The infotainment system is basic but can connect with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to maximize the driver experience. The system uses a combination of touch screen, buttons and steering wheel controls. The large climate control knobs are easy to use, even with gloves. The interior quality was quite good and nicer than the price would generally dictate. Our X-Line version was equipped with cross-traffic alert and blind-spot collision warning. There is a bit of a blind spot to the rear, but with the combination of rearview camera and cross-traffic alert, was never an issue. A pair of cup holders, storage bins/cubbies and well-sized glove compartment rounded out the interior storage. The rear seat can truly accommodate three adults in reasonable comfort. The rear cargo area makes this small vehicle such a great all-purpose car, with 24 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat up, and 62 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.
Base engine performance was more than sufficient, with plenty of power to feel nimble and quick around town but easily handling highway speeds. The steering was quick and the ride firm but comfortable. This translates into a vehicle that is more fun to drive than its quirky look would lead you to believe. I experienced fuel economy of 31 mpg according to the onboard computer display.
The Kia Soul is a funky vehicle that works well. With its combination of good fuel economy, useful interior and nimble manners, the Soul is a good value for consumers.
Base price: $17,490
Crash test: TBD
The Acura RDX is a compact luxury SUV with a sporty high-tech look and feel, powered by a 2.0 turbo-charged, 272-horsepower, four-cylinder engine connected to a 10-speed automatic transmission. Our test drive made use of all four wheels through Acura’s SH-AWD system. There is a large panoramic sunroof, an upgraded 710-watt sound system, and a full suite of safety features such as lane departure warning, lane centering, automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert and front and rear parking systems.
Many vehicles today incorporate various controls to allow easy use of the navigation and sound system. Acura uses what they call a True-Touchpad interface. This touch pad - mounted on the center console - mimics a display screen. When you touch the bottom left of the touch pad, you are manipulating the bottom left of the display screen, when you touch the bottom right the cursor moves to the bottom right, and so on. There is also a “write on” pad for entering information. This touch system eliminates the need for a mouse-style cursor and is designed to minimize distractions. Although better than most, this system still requires too much of the driver’s attention. The 710-watt sound system is as good as any found in top-of-the line luxury sedans.
The front and rear seats are comfortable and should be great for long distance cruising. There are plenty of charging ports for mobile phones and other electronic devices. Storage is quite good with plenty of cubbies, cupholders and underfloor cargo storage. The ride is a nice combination of sporty/firm while still softening our less-than-perfect Northeast roads. The electronic power steering may be one of the best in recent memory, with a nice balance of driver feedback at all speeds. The 272 horsepower four-cylinder engine feels more powerful than the previous V-6 due to the increased torque. The 10-speed transmission seems to be a perfect match to the overall performance of the engine and the all-wheel-drive system is completely seamless. There is a knob on the dash that controls sportiness of the RDX from Snow to Sport+ settings. The normal setting seemed best for my driving, with Sport adding a bit more response. In my opinion, Sport+ just made the RDX feel harsh. Like most vehicles today, there is a feature which shuts off the engine when stopped in traffic. In this model, in addition to a switch on the dash, drivers can choose to allow the engine to shut down by pushing a bit harder on the brake pedal. Fuel economy during my time with the RDX averaged 25.5 mpg.
The RDX combines good looks, advanced safety features, reasonable fuel economy and a comfortable ride that, when asked, rivals the handling of a decent sports sedan. If you are looking at a small luxury SUV and appreciate technology, the Acura RDX should be at the top of your list.
Price as tested: $48,395
EPA fuel mileage: 21/27
Engine: turbo-charged four-cylinder
It’s been a while since I drove a Buick station wagon, and I was pleasantly surprised at all the 2019 Buick Regal TourX has to offer. The TourX is a mid-size wagon with standard all-wheel drive, but don’t confuse it with an SUV. The all-wheel drive provides stability and traction but isn’t designed for off-road travel. This Buick is also quite stylish — not the boxy wagon of the 1970s but definitely European. Power comes from a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 250 horsepower. The transmission is an 8-speed automatic and power is divided evenly between the front and rear wheels.
The TourX is available in three trim levels. I drove the well-equipped Essence trim, which had quality components and switches throughout the interior. Like many new cars today, a lot of the controls are part of the infotainment system, but Buick did keep a few buttons and switches to help minimize distraction. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and the tilt and telescoping steering wheel makes it easy for drivers to find a comfortable position. Overall, visibility is good and there is plenty of headroom, even with a large sunroof. While not as tall as an SUV, the TourX is easy to get into and out of. The cabin felt comfortable and roomy despite its sloping rear roofline. The cargo area is not quite as spacious as a mid-size SUV, but the flat-folding rear seats will easily accommodate trips to the home improvement store or a weekend of camping, fishing or antiquing.
Our top-of-the line TourX came with the latest advanced driver assistance systems, such as automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and correction, and smart/advanced cruise control. The collision warning will even detect a pedestrian that is crossing into the street. Our TourX also had a heated steering wheel, heated seats and remote start — a perfect combination for cold mornings.
I wouldn’t call the TourX a sport wagon, but it is comfortable with secure handling on the road. The ride is biased toward comfort, but that “big boat” ride of old Buick models has been replaced with a package that feels confident but not harsh. I don’t often drive General Motors cars, but the steering in this Buick is nicely balanced: light at low speeds and firming up nicely at higher speeds. The eight-speed transmission shifts smoothly and is in perfect harmony with the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. Fuel economy during my road test averaged 27 mpg according the onboard computer system. For the best performance and mileage, premium fuel is recommended.
The Buick Regal TourX is a nice alternative to an SUV and European competitors. With its upscale interior, stylish good looks and versatility, buyers should give this some consideration.
Mileage: 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway
The new Chrysler Pacifica minivan is available in several trim levels — including a plug-in hybrid, which was the subject of my review. The 3.6-liter, V-6 gasoline engine connects to a pair of electric motors which, when combined, provides 260 horsepower. While this may not sound like much when compared with today’s high horsepower engines, the instant torque of the two electric motors provides quick acceleration. The EPA rates the hybrid Pacifica at a combined 84 MPGe. The Pacifica can operate for 33 miles on a fully charged battery and then switch over to a more conventional hybrid operation. According to the onboard computer, I averaged about 30 mpg once the battery was exhausted.
Like nearly every new vehicle on the road today, the gasoline engine shuts off at a stop. Operation is seamless and the ride is quiet. Only during hard acceleration can you hear engine noise. The ride is comfortable and the handling is surprisingly good for a minivan — due in part to the heavier hybrid batteries that help smooth and dampen the ride. The brakes are powerful.
The cabin of our Chrysler Pacifica was decked out with all the latest features. There was a large infotainment screen that worked better than most to minimize distraction. The knobs for the volume and tuning controls were decently sized. The touch screen itself had larger digital buttons that made navigation through the various touch-screen systems easier. Our Pacifica was also equipped with remote start, heated and cooled seats and a heated steering wheel — perfect for cold weather. The leather seating was comfortable and supportive, and overall fit and finish was as nice as most luxury cars. The second-row seating is comfortable for two adults, but the third row is cramped. Cargo area ranges from about 32 cubic feet with all the seats in place to 140 cubic feet with the second row removed and the third row folded. (Unlike the conventional Pacifica that has the “Fold and Go” second row seats, this model requires you to remove the rather heavy seats and store them elsewhere for maximum space.)
Safety is addressed with technology now standard in most new vehicles: rear camera, blind spot monitors, cross-traffic alert and parking sensors. Our premium model also had automatic high beam headlights, parking assist, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking.
If you are looking for a minivan and want to be a bit kinder to the environment, the Pacifica hybrid is a good choice. Chrysler did a nice job combining functionality, a quality interior, and ride and handling — making the Pacifica a great long-distance cruiser or a daily commuter.
Base price: (hybrid) $39,995
EPA mileage: 84e (combined electric/gas)
The Dodge Durango is a three-row SUV that is available in several options: five trim levels, rear- or all-wheel drive, a V-6 engine or a choice of two V-8 engines. Our road test was in the high-performance SRT version, complete with a 475-horsepower, 6.2.-liter Hemi V-8 engine.
The cabin of the Durango is nicely finished in comfortable and supportive seats which were both heated and cooled. Our test vehicle also had a heated steering wheel. When combined with a remote start, these features provided a welcome package on chilly mornings. The controls are simple to use with a combination of a large touch screen and rotary knobs. While I’m not a typically a fan of touch screens, the Durango has one of the better designs and offers minimal distraction. The middle row had comfortable bucket-style seats, with a nice third-row bench in the rear. The interior is more spacious than other three-row SUVs in this class. Entry and exit are easy with wide-opening front and rear doors. Visibility is good throughout with a limited number of blind spots. While the third-row head restraints block some rearward visibility, they can be lowered remotely when not in use. A full suite of safety equipment is available, including semi-autonomous features such as automatic emergency braking.
Large cup holders, bins, seat pockets and a good-sized glove compartment provide plenty of storage options. Even with all three seating rows in use, the cargo area is sizeable; with the second and third rows folded it provides 85 cubic feet of space. The front passenger seat can fold flat to further optimize cargo carrying ability.
The ride was a bit firm in our test vehicle but never harsh, and handling was impressive. Some vehicles seem to drive smaller or bigger than their actual size; the Durango feels like a larger vehicle, especially when parking. Engine performance was outstanding, but fuel economy only averaged 15 mpg, even when driving conservatively. Steering was light at low speeds but firmed up nicely at higher speeds. The exhaust had a muscular rumble, differentiating the Durango from other SUVs.
The Dodge Durango has full-sized features and capabilities packed into a mid-sized model. A high-performance V-8 engine might not be for everyone, but the Durango is a great fit if you’re looking for quick responsiveness. And, if functionality is more important than performance, Dodge has an engine to satisfy just about every driver. The Durango should be at the top of the list for anyone looking for a thoughtfully designed three-row SUV.
Engine: 8-cylinder, 475 horsepower
Fuel economy: 13 city, 19 highway
Base price (SRT): $62,995
While most SUVs seem to be be getting larger, Ford is building the EcoSport, the smallest in their line of SUVs. The EcoSport comes in four trim levels and front- or all-wheel drive. Each comes with a choice of engine: a 1-liter, turbo-charged three-cylinder, 123-horsepower engine, or the more powerful 2-liter, four-cylinder 166horsepower engine. I drove both models but found neither to be particularly quick. Certainly, there is enough power for day-to-day driving, but I found myself pushing the accelerator to the floor more often than with other vehicles.
Base models come well-equipped with remote keyless entry, cruise control, steering wheel controls for the audio system, and automatic door locks. Upgraded models include everything from heated seats and steering wheel to automatic temperature control and touch-screen navigation.
The ride was stiff and a bit choppy over rough roads. The handling was average, with some body roll on quick turns. The steering was at highway speeds, and I found myself constantly making slight corrections on otherwise straight roads. The brakes were firm and powerful; I was easily able to stop this petite SUV in short order. Fuel economy was a bit of a disappointment for a small vehicle, as I averaged just about 25 mpg in mostly highway driving.
I found the front seats uncomfortable. There was plenty of head and legroom but after a couple of hours behind the wheel, I started to feel achy. The high seating position offers good visibility once you get used to the wide windshield pillars. Although designed for younger buyers, older drivers may appreciate the EcoSport’s height, which allows for easy entry and exit. The rear seats are reasonably comfortable with good headroom although long-legged passengers might feel a bit cramped. The surprisingly large rear doors make for easy entry. There is about 20 cubic feet of cargo space, although the tailgate is hinged on the side, which is an odd, slightly dated design.
The controls were simple to operate. Our test model had Ford Sync, an integrated communications and entertainment system – which seems to improve each time I use it. Our upscale model also had a heated steering wheel and seats.
The EcoSport has some great features like flexible seating, decent cargo space and up to date technology. The real problem is the EcoSport doesn’t stand out in any one area and it performs poorly in others. The ride and handling could be better, and the fuel economy and engine performance need an upgrade. If you want a small, unique looking SUV the EcoSport is a good choice, but the reality is there are better choices in the class.
Base price: $19,995
Overall crash test score: 4 stars
Fuel Mileage: 23 City, 29 Highway
Honda has introduced a new vehicle — the Passport — sized between the smaller CR-V and larger Pilot. With room for five and powered by a 3.5-liter, 280-horsepower V-6 engine, the Passport hits the mark for buyers looking for a combination of off-road adventure and highway cruising. This vehicle comes in four trim levels, with all but the top level available in front-wheel drive. Our road test was conducted in the top-of-the-line Elite version, in which all-wheel drive comes standard. This Elite also had a full suite of safety equipment, including lane departure warning and correction, collision warning and automatic emergency braking. Like the larger Pilot, the Passport uses a nine-speed automatic transmission.
The Passport rides well and handles even better. There is a bit more ground clearance than the bigger Pilot, but the handling is more responsive. Performance from the engine is strong and should be able to easily conquer off-road travel. For drivers looking for a tow vehicle, the Passport has a 5,000-lb towing capacity. This Honda has settings for specific terrain, which provides drama-free travel in snow, mud and sand. The transmission shifts smoothly and confidently. With its steep approach, departure angle and increased ground clearance, the Passport is the most capable off-road vehicle from Honda to date. There is a manual paddle shift for drivers looking for more control, although I was content leaving the shift in drive. The shift is a bit odd, with an awkward push-button arrangement. If the Passport is your only vehicle, this would likely become intuitive, but it is a bit clumsy compared to other vehicles.
The engine uses cylinder deactivation to help improve fuel economy. During my time with the vehicle, the six-cylinder engine ran on just three cylinders. Fuel economy was good; I averaged 25 mpg according to the onboard computer system. The brakes are firm and powerful, but the automatic emergency braking system seemed overly sensitive, and even activated a warning for a dip in the road. The other systems — blind spot warning, smart cruise control, back-up warning and camera — worked as expected.
The seating is comfortable, supportive and roomy. The instrument panel and most controls are simple and easy to use. This year, Honda added a volume knob to the infotainment system, but it is still missing a channel selection knob. Our Elite model had heated/cooled seats and steering wheel, and a remote start feature. Behind the comfortable and roomy rear seats is a fully carpeted cargo area with 41 cubic feet of space (expanding to 79 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down). There is also a roomy center console and storage under the rear deck. There are plenty of cup holders and bins, and the Elite came with a wireless charging pad for compatible phones.
The all-new Honda Passport offers stylish good looks, plenty of room and the ability to go just about anywhere — making it a great choice for a mid-size SUV.
Base price: $32,990
EPA fuel economy: 19 city, 24 highway
Crash test: TBD
The Infiniti QX50 is a compact luxury SUV that comes in three trim levels – Pure, Luxe and Essential – with optional all-wheel drive. All models are powered by the same 2.0-liter turbo-charged four-cylinder engine. I conducted my road test in the nicely equipped Luxe version with front-wheel drive. The turbo-charged, 268-horsepower four-cylinder engine is not as powerful as some of the competitors but is certainly more than adequate and the trade-off is good fuel economy. When pushed hard, the engine sounds a bit coarse, due in part to the continuously variable transmission (CVT). One other important note is that the turbo-charged engine requires 91 octane premium fuel.
The QX50 interior is nicely appointed with soft-touch materials throughout. This completely updated model dispels the criticism of previous models that the car’s interior is not luxurious. This model includes comfortable front seats –the seating area feels a bit more “cozy” than other vehicles in this class – and a straightforward instrument panel and control system. I would prefer an actual tuning knob for the radio. The two display screens ask far too much of the driver’s attention and are just confusing and distracting – one screen would be sufficient.
The shift is an electronic toggle style which takes a little getting used to, and the park button is oddly situated on the console. There is plenty of interior storage, a small glove compartment and a large center console. The rear seating area is comfortable although taller passengers may want a bit more headroom. Three adults will feel somewhat cramped, but three kids will have plenty of room. Our model also had a large sunroof that added to the open-air feel. There is a good amount of cargo space behind the rear seat that expands to a little over 61 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.
The on-board computer system indicated an average of 26 mpg. The ride is controlled and does a nice job of soaking up the bumps and potholes. The steering is smooth with a comfortable on-center feel, which seems natural. Overall handling is good with a minimal amount of body roll. The suspension setup is aimed at comfort rather than sharp handling, which most buyers would probably prefer. Safety is addressed with a combination of advanced driver assistance systems that use a variety of technology, including forward collision braking with pedestrian detection, predictive forward collision warning, and blind spot warning.
The Infiniti QX50 has been completely redesigned and is much better than its predecessors. However, it still may not be good enough. This latest model is ultra-quiet and extremely stylish but other models in this segment have better handling, come equipped with more power, and deliver better fuel economy.
Base price: $36,550
Fuel mileage: 24 city, 31 highway
Crash test: TBD
Choices abound in the 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Available in three trim levels (Sport, Sahara and Rubicon), the Wrangler offers both two-door and four-door configurations with soft and hardtop versions. The standard engine is a 3.6-liter V-6 and can be paired to either a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic transmission. An optional 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder hybrid is paired with the 8-speed automatic transmission that saves fuel and offers instant torque on startup.
Our test drive was in the Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited, with a decidedly upscale look and feel, pleasant interior and controls with large buttons and knobs that are easy to use. The interior has been upgraded over the years, with hard plastic surfaces replaced by more contemporary functional materials. Some other optional highlights include automatic temperature controls, heated premium leather seats, power mirrors and steering wheel controls. There are 12-volt accessory outlets and USB ports, and even a 115-volt AC outlet to power small home electronics. Many Jeep owners like to remove the vehicle doors in the warm weather; to make it easier and more convenient, our test model came with a standard tool kit with all the appropriate tools (ratchet wrench and Torx bits). The rear seating area in our four-door model was fairly roomy for two adults (three in a pinch), and the cargo area was adequate with 31 cubic feet of room behind the rear seat.
The Rubicon has everything you need for an off-road adventure: super heavy-duty axles, extra low gearing, both front- and rear-locking differentials and even a push-button detachable sway bar. This combination makes the Wrangler Rubicon nearly unstoppable in just about any condition.
On the road, the Jeep shows a bit of its age. The handling isn’t bad but isn’t as precise as some other SUVs. The cabin is quieter than older model Jeeps but can get a little tiring after a full day of highway driving. The suspension feels solid and comfortable, even over potholes. In the past, the Jeep Wrangler was not a great choice as an everyday vehicle — but this latest model is one you can drive daily. Any handling issues are an easy trade-off for how well the Wrangler deals with winter conditions and “the road less traveled.”
The V-6 engine performed well, reaching 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds. The downside is that this capability comes with so-so fuel economy. During my time driving the Wrangler, I averaged about 21 mpg in a mix of mostly highway driving.
The bottom line: The Jeep Wrangler is a truly unique vehicle and the spiritual successor to the original “Willys Jeep” —the original mass-produced Jeep of WWII. With its potent V-6 engine, legendary off-road ability, classic style and modern features, this latest model is still a winner today.
Base price: $39,576
EPA MPG: 17/23
Engine: 3.6 V-6
The all new Lincoln Nautilus replaces last year’s MKX model. This five-seat Nautilus comes in four trim levels: Base, Select, Reserve and -- the subject of our road test – the top-of-the line Black Label edition. The Base trim comes with a 250-horsepower four-cylinder engine; other trim levels also have a 350-horsepower turbo-charged V-6 option. The performance from the twin turbo-charged 2.7-liter V-6 engine is very good and nicely matches the characteristics of the eight-speed transmission. All models of the Nautilus are available with all-wheel drive, which is biased to the front wheel but works smoothly and transparently when needed.
The transmission uses a push-button arrangement on the dash, which at first, I found awkward, but quickly became second nature. The Nautilus is equipped with the latest advanced driver assistance features. Our edition had park assist, a 360-degree camera, front and rear parking sensors, lane keeping assistant with adaptive steering, blind spot detection and automatic emergency braking. The interior of our Black Label edition was luxurious, with extremely comfortable, 22-way power adjustable front seating with massage function. With the tilt and telescopic steering, drivers of any size can find a comfortable seating position for long drives. The heated seats/steering wheel and remote start feature are nice options on cold wintery mornings. The dash design appears a bit busy at first, but the combination of voice command, touch screen, knobs and buttons minimize distractions. The 19-speaker sound system had a crisp sound and should satisfy even fussy audiophiles. The heated rear seats accommodate three adults comfortably, and a panoramic sunroof brightens up the interior and adds an airy feel. With the rear seats in place, the cargo area has about 36 feet of cargo space; this expands to almost 70 cubic feet with the power rear seats folded. There is a good-sized glove compartment, a roomy center console and several bins and cup holders. The power rear hatch opens with the push of a button on the remote or by waving your foot under the bumper.
The ride is smooth; potholes, pavement breaks and frost heaves were masked by the suspension system. The steering and handling are good but not a standout when compared to some of the competition. Taking a quick turn at higher speeds produces a fair amount of body roll that is not alarming but likely a trade-off for the comfortable ride. Fuel economy during my road test average a respectable 22.8 mpg according to the vehicle computer system.
The Lincoln Nautilus is definitely a step up from the previous MKX and is a very good mid-sized luxury SUV. However, in a crowded segment, “very good” may not be enough.
Base Price (Black Label): $59,390
Crash Test: TBD
EPA Mileage: TBD
The Lexus RX 350 has always been the standard by which I judged all mid-sized luxury SUVs, despite only having seating for five. This has now changed with the “L” model, adding two more seats by stretching the body length about 4.5 inches. Now the RX350 competes with other seven-passenger SUVs, such as the Acura MDX and the Volvo XC90.
The RX 350 L is available in two trim levels with front-wheel or all-wheel-drive configurations. The 290-hp V-6 engine is connected to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Our road test was in the all-wheel drive Base version.
In the era of high horsepower engines, 290 horsepower sounds a bit lacking, but it easily takes this 4600-pound SUV to 60 mph in about 8 seconds. The overall handling has not changed in the slightly longer version of the RX. Even on faster turns, this SUV feels well connected to the road. The steering is light enough without feeling artificial. This is one of the quietest SUVs I have ever driven, with very little road or wind noise in the cabin. Fuel averaged about 22 mpg in a 70/30 mix of highway and city driving, respectively. The front 10-way power seats are wide and quite comfortable, staying that way even after a long road trip. The heated seats and steering wheel were a nice touch on a recent 10-degree morning. Second-row seats were also comfortable for two or even three adults. The third row is a bit awkward to get to and a bit short on padding -- but can accommodate kids or even adults for short trips. The infotainment system was an upgraded 15-speaker audio system with a 12.3-inch display. The controls are less dependent on the infotainment screen and utilize a simple cross-section of buttons and knobs. Overall, this is an SUV that would provide comfort and tireless driving needed for a long road trip.
Safety is well addressed with standard lane keeping assistant, pedestrian detection, smart cruise control, rain sensing wipers, 10 air bags and some of the best headlights in recent memory. The optional triple-beam LED headlights on this RX350L were bright and well-focused, without annoying other drivers. Our test vehicle also had optional features of blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, and a cold weather package that includes headlight cleaners and windshield de-icer.
Fans of the previous RX350 who needed more passenger room now have the vehicle they always wanted.
Base price: $49,070
Overall crash test score: TBD
Fuel Mileage: 18 City, 25 Highway
The Mazda 3 is all new for 2019. This five-passenger compact car comes as a four-door sedan or hatchback and is available in four trim levels: Base, Select, Preferred and Premium. With the exception of the Base model, all trim levels can be ordered with all-wheel drive. Power is provided by a 2.5-liter, 186-horsepower four-cylinder engine that can be matched with a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Our road test was in the top-of-the-line Premium hatchback version with all-wheel drive.
The interior of the Mazda 3 is well-thought-out, with most controls easily accessible. This compact car has many optional features found in luxury cars, such as a large 8.8-inch center display, push-button ignition, dual-zone climate control, heated seats, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, automatic wipers, navigation, Bose premium sound system and even a heads-up display. Safety is addressed with the lane departure warning system and lane-keep assist, blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, automatic emergency braking and advanced cruise control. The optional heads-up display projects pertinent information on the windshield, helping minimize distractions by allowing the driver to keep their eyes more focused on the road.
Seating is comfortable and roomy; this is a compact car but five adults can travel together. Front seating is generally comfortable but if you are taller than six-feet, headroom becomes a bit tight. Rear seating room is adequate, but legroom gets cramped if the front seats are pushed all the way back. The hatchback model I tested had an impressive 20 cubic feet of cargo space and, with the rear seats folded, could easily handle longer items. There was also a glove compartment and center console that was decently sized.
The four-cylinder 186-horsepower engine provides quick acceleration. This is partially due to the 186 pound-feet of torque which gives the Mazda 3 its spirited performance feel. The combination of this willing four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission turns this compact hatchback into a car that’s fun to drive. Our test car had the optional all-wheel drive, which was completely transparent in its operation. During my time with the Mazda 3, I drove in very heavy rain and the all-wheel drive offered a more sure-footed feel. The handling is quite good, but Mazda didn’t sacrifice ride quality. The all new suspension system provides a smoother, quieter ride and overall a better driving experience. This translates into a car that is comfortable for commuting or driving on a twisty two-lane road. During my time with the Mazda 3, I averaged about 30 mpg according to the onboard computer. Mazda uses a cylinder deactivation system to help maximize fuel economy while still delivering good performance.
The Mazda 3 is one of the best compact vehicles that I have driven. With its combination of stylish good looks, sporty performance, available all-wheel drive, upscale features and comfortable interior, the Mazda 3 is a winner.
Base price: $23,600
Fuel economy (with AWD): 24 city/32 highway
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class cars were completely redesigned a few years ago – the 2019 E450 replaces the old E400 model. There are four trim levels of the E-Class vehicles: E300, E450, E53 and E63. The E450 and E53 cars can be ordered in coupe, wagon and convertible versions. Each designation gets a significant change in horsepower and handling. The base model uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that makes 241 horsepower; the E450 is powered by a V-6 twin turbo-charged engine that makes 362 horsepower. The AMG performance versions up the horsepower to 429 and 603, respectively. Our road test was with the E450 4MATIC with a host of appearance, comfort, technology and safety options.
This mid-sized sedan is silky smooth and very quiet. This is due in part to the acoustic comfort package that adds increased insulation and special acoustic membrane glass. The ride is optimized with the air suspension and low-noise performance tires. The handling inspires confidence with very little body roll. The steering has a nice balance of assist at low speeds and road feel at higher speeds. With a push of a button, the suspension and overall characteristics of the car can be changed from eco to sporty, although to me, the normal setting provided the best overall balance. The performance from the 362 horsepower V-6 engine is very good, providing smooth, quiet power. Fuel economy during my road test averaged 23 mpg in an even mix of city and highway miles, although premium fuel is required. The adjustable front seats offer almost unlimited adjustments and drivers of just about any size should find a comfortable position. The optional heated and ventilated seats were nice on cold mornings. Mercedes also adds heat to the center console cover and arm-rest, which adds to the luxury feel. The pulsating massage setting is ideal for those long days behind the wheel. The climate control system had a built-in fragrance dispenser which seemed a bit over the top.
Safety is addressed with a suite of advanced driver assistance features. Included in the optional driver assistance package is smart cruise control with steering assistance, active lane change assist, rear end collision protection and route-based speed adaptation. These features are interesting and can be somewhat surprising. If you want to change lanes with cruise control engaged on the highway, this vehicle will do it hands-free. These systems show that self-driving cars are coming, but also demonstrate the driver needs to be fully engaged behind the wheel. During my time with the E450, I stopped somewhat quickly and the driver behind me did as well. The car, anticipating a crash, “snapped” the seatbelt tight which was both startling and unnecessary in this situation.
The latest E450 from Mercedes-Benz should satisfy any driver looking for a solid luxury mid-sized car loaded with the latest technology.
Base price: $59,900
EPA mpg:20 city, 28 highway
Crash test: TBD
The MINI Cooper Countryman is available in several variations: Base model, S, SE and the performance John Cooper (JC) Works version. All models are available with all-wheel drive. My road test was conducted in the plug-in hybrid SE version with all-wheel drive. When fully charged, this model can operate for about 12 miles solely on battery. The standard hybrid uses a 1.5-liter, three-cylinder gasoline turbocharged engine and an 87-horsepower electric motor. This results in a healthy 221 horsepower.
The MINI Cooper Countryman is a fun performance-oriented vehicle. There was always plenty of power on tap, whether from a standing stop or when passing a slower moving vehicle. The automatic transmission has manual controls for drivers looking for more control. Fuel economy with a fully charged battery had the potential of 65 mpg. When the plug-in battery was depleted, I averaged a so-so 24 mpg. The gasoline engine powers the front wheels, while the electric motor powers the rear wheels. The combination is seamless and feels very conventional. All MINI Cooper models are fun to drive, and this larger Countryman has go-kart-like handling and precise steering. The ride is a bit on the firm side, due in part to sporty suspension, but remained comfortable over all but the worst roads.
Our test car was dressed in the JC Works trim that adds 18-inch wheels, a rear spoiler and additional sporty touches. The interior was nicely appointed with comfortable and supportive front seats. The rear seats were a bit firm but even a six-footer will find enough legroom. Headroom — both front and rear — was generous. The controls are logically designed; our model had a rotary knob in front of the shifter for easy scrolling through navigation and Apple CarPlay menus. Interestingly, there is a toggle switch used for the keyless ignition rather than a more conventional push button. This setup baffled at least one valet at a function I attended. Interior storage is good; I found plenty of bins and cubbies throughout. The cargo area offers about 13 feet of cargo space; with the rear seat folded that expands to a little more than 40 cubic feet.
The MINI Cooper Countryman hybrid SE model is different than most hybrids. It is a sporty car that happens to have an electric motor but doesn’t compromise performance and handling. With the availability of all-wheel drive and a set of winter tires, this Countryman should be able to handle the worst weather in the Northeast. In a sea of small SUVs that all look alike, the Countryman by MINI Cooper stands apart from the crowd.
Base price (SE): $36,900
EPA MPG (charged battery): 27 mpg (conventional hybrid)/65mpge (combined)
The 2019 Nissan Altima is all-new this year and – for the first time – available in all-wheel-drive ($1350 option). Buyers have a choice of two engines: a 2.0-liter turbo-charged (replacing the previous V-6 engine) that is available in three trim levels; or a 2.5-liter, base engine version that comes in five trim levels (S, SR, SV, SL and Platinum).
My road test was conducted in the 2.5 liter Platinum edition with all-wheel drive. The four-cylinder engine, couple with CVT (continuously variable transmission) work well together and felt smooth and refined. The new Altima does a very good job of quieting engine and road noise. The ride is firm but not uncomfortable, and the steering delivered enough feedback to avoid feeling vague. The all-wheel drive (a first for Nissan sedans) was completely transparent, adding extra grip when needed.
It’s been a while since I drove an Altima, and I remember it as more of a compact car. This new vehicle is a true mid-size, with plenty of interior room. The front seats felt firm initially but seemed to lose a bit of support after an hour or so of driving. The controls in our top-of-the line Platinum addition worked well. The infotainment (which includes Android-Auto and Apple CarPlay) and climate control systems used a combination of buttons, knobs, touch screen and redundant controls on the steering wheel. Overall the major functions are simple and minimally distracting. Rear seat room is quite good; even with the front seat pushed back there was a good amount of leg and headroom. The trunk opening is small, but the trunk is quite deep; the rear seats fold down to further expand the space.
Our Altima came with a complete lineup of advanced driver assistance systems that was once only found in the best luxury cars. The Nissan ProPilot Assist system has lane centering, lane departure warning, cross traffic alert, emergency braking, rear emergency braking and smart cruise control, which keeps a safe distance between you and other vehicles even if speeds vary. While the system worked well, some functions were limited by worn lane marketing and heavy precipitation.
Fuel economy during my road test averaged 30 mpg on 87-octane fuel. The previous generation Altima was a good car, but never a great car. The latest Altima with upgraded engines, nicer interior, quieter ride and the optional all-wheel-drive makes a convincing argument to put the Altima at the top of your shopping list.
Base Price: $24,645
Fuel Economy: 26 city, 36 highway
Engine: 2.5 liter four-cylinder
The Nissan 370Z Roadster comes in six trim levels, three of which are convertibles/roadsters. All but one is powered by a 332-horsepower V-6 engine. The NISMO® performance version gets a bump in horsepower and torque. Transmissions are a seven-speed automatic or six-speed manual. The Roadster Sport Touring – the subject of our road test – only comes with an automatic transmission.
To me, the difference between a sports car and a sporty car is where the drive wheels are located. There are fun, sporty cars with front-wheel drive, but a sports car needs to be rear-wheel drive. That’s the case with the Nissan 370Z roadster. The performance from the 332-horsepower engine is quite good and provides quick acceleration. The engine sounds a bit coarse under hard acceleration, and I would have liked to hear just a bit more exhaust tone. The 7-speed automatic transmission is nicely matched to the performance characteristics of the engine. Our model had paddle shifters for more control and sporty fun. The ride is stiff, without being punishing. The cabin is fairly quiet with the top up or down. The steering is responsive with just enough of a weighty feel to remind you this is a sports car. Like all convertibles, there is a fair amount of blind spots with the top up, but they disappear with the top stowed. Driving with the top down is comfortable, with only moderate wind buffeting inside the cabin at highway speeds.
The interior of this this Z-Car is a bit tight; storage is limited with a glove compartment that barely holds the owner’s manual. There is a small center console and a single cup holder. The trunk is also small, at just over four cubic feet. In spite of its tight cabin, the seats were fairly wide, nicely bolstered and supportive. Our Sport Touring edition added heated and cooled seats, navigation and a sound system upgrade. The gauges are large and easy to read, but like most convertibles, the displays tend to wash out in bright sunlight. The touchscreen and controls work fine but feel a bit dated. Compared to other 2019 models, there aren’t many advanced safety features such as smart cruise control or automatic emergency braking. The 370Z does have ABS brakes, traction control and a back-up camera.
Should you be interested in fuel economy in this sports car, the 270X averaged a respectable 22 mpg during my road test. The powerful engine is quick and produces strong acceleration, but overall it is just starting to feel a bit dated both inside and out. The Nissan 370Z is a true sports car, but its age is starting to catch up with it.
Price as tested: $50,980
Fuel economy: 18 city, 25 highway
The Ram 1500 pickup truck has been completely updated for 2019, and is available in short- and long-wheelbase models — with two four-door cab configurations. Six trim levels with four-wheel drive is offered in each model. This results in 29 different available configurations of the Ram 1500 pickup. Our road test was in the two-wheel drive Big Horn Sport Quad Cab, with the 5.7-liter mild hybrid, V-8 engine.
Our well-equipped model included remote start, large infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, adjustable pedals, power sliding rear window and a host of other features. The V-8 engine provides plenty of power while returning good fuel economy for a full-size truck. The eTorque mild hybrid technology offers seamless idle stop and start, making this sometimes annoying feature almost undetectable. The eTorque system also offers a bit of extra torque and regenerative braking to recharge the 48-volt hybrid battery. The V-8 engine also has cylinder deactivation to help improve fuel economy.
I averaged 22 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving. The eight-speed automatic transmission is nicely matched to this 395-horsepower engine, delivering smooth, crisp shifts in every driving situation. The ride was quiet and comfortable, with the suspension soaking up bumps and pavement breaks. The handling was also quite good, and the electric power steering had a very positive feel both at low and high speeds.
The cab is comfortable with wide and supportive front seats. Shorter passengers may find entry and exit a bit challenging, even with grab handles. (Drivers and passengers under 5’5” may want to consider adding running boards.) This truck had a very simple rotary transmission shifter knob that more manufacturers should adopt. There is a huge center console, two small glove compartments, plenty of cup holders and bins, and 12-volt and USB power points for phone integration. The rear seating can accommodate adults, but the seat cushions are a bit short. Legroom is tight if the front seats are pushed to their rearmost position. The rear seat cushions flip up to provide additional storage for large items. The cargo bed had a nice spray-on liner that looked great and kept items from sliding around. Our test truck also had an optional folding cargo cover which provided a weather-tight seal. A nice addition is LED bed lights to help find items in the covered bed while dark.
With all the improvements and options, the 2019 Ram pickup may sway the truck buying masses away from Ford and Chevrolet. Buyers looking for a full-size truck should take a look at the all new RAM 1500.
Price as tested: $47,335
Fuel economy: 17 city, 23 highway
Engine: 5.7-liter V-8
I reviewed the 2019 Subaru Crosstrek, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) that, with its fully recharged high-capacity battery, can run exclusively on electricity. The end result is a vehicle that can travel up to 65 mpg in full electric mode for about 17 miles of gasoline-free driving. Although this doesn’t sound like much, it might be just enough for a variety of local trips for many drivers. This combination of battery and gasoline power is good for 148 combined horsepower. The Crosstrek hybrid features a new design that integrates a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine and two electric motors. Like nearly every Subaru, this PHEV Crosstrek is all-wheel drive. Unlike some other plug-in hybrids, one of the motors acts as the engine starter motor but can also function as a generator to recharge the hybrid battery. The second motor powers the engine in hybrid mode but also helps charge the battery during braking.
Recharging the battery takes about two hours using 240 volts and about five hours on 120-volt household current. While performance from this hybrid drivetrain is sufficient for most driving situations, it isn’t exactly a hot rod. Overall, the drivetrain is a bit noisy under hard acceleration and also while the battery is being recharged when slowing down.
Safety is addressed with a standard suite of technology, including Subaru’s EyeSight system. This system includes pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure and lane keeping assist. The Subaru also had headlights that turn slightly to better illuminate the road on curvy roadways. Many vehicles have cross-traffic alert systems to warn drivers of vehicles that can’t be seen when backing up; this Crosstrek can also apply the brakes in reverse to prevent a collision. Furthermore, the Crosstrek has seven airbags to protect passengers in the event of a crash.
During my review of the Crosstrek, I was in the driver’s seat for about five hours and remained comfortable. Storage was addressed with a good-sized center console, door pockets, bins and cup holders. The rear seat may be a little tight for adults when the front seats are occupied with a tall driver and passenger. Our vehicle came with an optional sunroof that reduced the headroom a bit but added an open-air feel. However, taller drivers should have enough headroom even with the sunroof added. Due to the larger hybrid battery, cargo storage is tight at just 16 cubic feet. When the rear seat is folded, that expands to 43 cubic feet. The battery also raises the cargo floor height by a few inches. The infotainment and climate control systems are simple to use; knobs and buttons make for less distractive operation.
The Crosstrek has an EPA combined fuel economy rating of 90 mpg. When the hybrid battery becomes depleted after 17 miles of driving, I averaged just about 36 mpg in a 50/50 mix of city and highway driving. This Subaru offers the safety and security of an all-wheel drive vehicle in an environmental package. For buyers who like outdoor adventure on roads less traveled but want to be “green,” the Crosstrek PHEV might be the perfect vehicle.
Base price: $35,970
EPA mileage: 90e/35 average
The Subaru Forester continues to be one of the best compact SUVs available today. It is available in five trim levels: Base, Premium, Sport, Touring and – the subject of our road test – the Limited. All models use the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and transmission. The engine provides plenty of power, although drivers used to a V6 or turbo-charged four-cylinder might find it a bit lacking. Like almost every Subaru, this Forester is all-wheel drive and uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The trade-off for zippy performance is good fuel economy. I averaged about 31 mpg in a mixture of city and highway driving.
The steering had a nice positive feel and got a little lighter at low speeds for easy parking. The ride was controlled and comfortable, soaking up all but the worst potholes with ease. The handling was also surprisingly good. Our Limited model was equipped with the optional X-Drive system, which changes the all-wheel drive characteristics for snow, sand and other challenging terrain. The Forester also has a surprising 8.7 inches of ground clearance, making this a capable off-road vehicle.
Safety was well addressed in our Limited, using Subaru’s EyeSight® system, which is standard on all Forester models. EyeSight continually looks at traffic, adds advanced features to the cruise control, and warns the driver when they stray from the lane. If a driver takes no action when a vehicle in front slows, the EyeSight system will limit throttle response and apply brake pressure as needed, to minimize or prevent a crash. The 2019 Forester also features a new driver distraction system that monitors the driver and warns them when they are not paying attention or if they become drowsy.
Additional advanced driver assistance systems on the Limited include adaptive LED headlights, push button start, dual-zone climate control, blind-spot detection and cross-traffic alert. As with nearly all of these systems, their effectiveness can be limited by heavy rain or snow, or even worn pavement markings.
The interior of the Forester is roomy and uses better materials than their older models. The heated seats were comfortable and supportive, and the heated steering wheel helps make Northeast winters more tolerable. The infotainment system uses a nice combination of large buttons to switch between sound system sources, navigation and on-board applications. The rear seating area was comfortable for two adults and could accommodate three if needed. Overall interior storage was good; the cargo area has also can expand to 76.1 cubic feet of space. The wide rear gate allows easy loading of bulky items and the split fold rear seat gives the Forester extra versatility.
The addition of the EyeSight system and other advanced driver assistance systems make the Forester a top pick for anyone looking at a compact SUV.
Base price: $24,295
Crash test: TBD
Fuel economy: 26 city 33 highway
The new Lexus IS 350 is a compact sports sedan rivalling the BMW 3 series and Audi A4. The IS 350 can be ordered in rear-wheel or — in the case of our test car — all-wheel drive. (Our vehicle also had the optional F-Sport package that improves handling and adds a bit more style.) The IS 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter, 311-horsepower V-6 engine. The all-wheel drive uses a six-speed automatic transmission; the rear-wheel drive version has an 8-speed transmission. Paddle shifters are available for drivers looking for more control.
Driving the IS 350 is a pleasant experience. The engine provides plenty of power with a bit of a throaty performance exhaust note. From a standing start the IS 350 feels quite fast, but mid-range acceleration (going from 40 to 60 mph, for example) doesn’t have the same quick feel. The transmission shifts crisply and is nicely matched to the engine. The paddle shifts add to the sporty feel, but I was fine leaving the shifter in drive. There is a knob that can “dial-up” the sportiness of the car. Lexus did a nice job of combining sporty handling with a comfortable ride. The cabin is nicely isolated from the outside world, quieting most road and wind noise. Fuel economy during my test drive averaged about 25 mpg. Our test car came standard with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and mitigation, automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control — all standard. Optional on our car was blind spot warning and cross-traffic alert.
The cabin is nicely appointed, although the front seats feel a bit cozy — due in part to a wide transmission tunnel that intrudes into the footwell area and instrument panel design. Overall the instrument panel seems a little busy. There is a mouse-style controller to navigate the infotainment system, and proper knobs for volume and channel selection. The front seats are supportive and comfortable. Even when driven “enthusiastically” the seats have enough bolstering to hold you in place. There are a couple of oddly positioned cup holders and a small glove compartment and center console. Our test car also had heated seats and steering wheel which are nice on cold days.
Rear seating — like all cars in this class — is a bit tight when the front seats are pushed all the way back, and the middle seats were not designed for adults. Entry and exit are a bit awkward, even with the steering column in its highest position; every time I got in the car I hit my thigh on the steering wheel. The trunk is a bit tight compared to the competition, but the rear seats fold to accommodate longer items. The overall fit and finish is quite nice with a good mix of luxury materials used throughout.
The Lexus IS 350 has improved over the years and, while not the best in its class, is still very good. If you are looking for a quiet, dependable car that is sporty enough to be fun to drive, take a look at the IS 350 by Lexus.
Fuel economy: 19 city, 26 highway
Crash test: 5 stars
Base price: $42,030
When it comes to vehicles that seat five adults, SUVs and minivans come to mind. However, the Toyota Avalon is one full-sized sedan that can accommodate this and is also economical to own. The front-wheel drive Avalon is available in seven trim levels, three of which are hybrids. Non-hybrid Avalons are powered by a 301 horsepower V-6 engine. My road test was done in the hybrid XSE model, powered by a four-cylinder gas engine and two electric motors. Combined, the vehicle has 215 horsepower.
The Avalon has changed over the years, and is now longer, wider and handles better. What hasn’t changed is the comfortable ride. The Avalon will never be confused with a high-performance sports sedan but has a controlled feel. With only 215 horsepower some may think the Avalon lacks performance; but the electric motors provide instant torque, making it feel quite sprightly. The Avalon is one of the quietest cars that I have tested. Even under hard acceleration, the drivetrain is muted and never intrudes on the quiet cabin. Fuel economy during my road test averaged a very respectable 41 mpg.
The interior of our XSE is very well appointed, with a nice mix of soft-touch plastics, leather and metallic trim. Visibility is very good, and the vehicle has a suite of safety features such as lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, and blind spot warning.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive, although I would prefer a longer lower seat cushion. The wide center console detracts from the overall spacious feel. The controls are simple and easy to operate with a large infotainment screen. The 2019 Avalon has Apple CarPlay, which allows Apple users to add their smartphone features to the display. This was a handy feature since the Avalon lacked a navigation system. There are plenty of bins for storage, decent cupholders, and power ports for electronic accessories. The climate control system was dual zone, and the heated seats were nice on cold mornings. The rear seating area easily accommodates three adults and offers plenty of head and legroom. The fold-down center console added to the rear seat luxury car feel. The trunk is generous at 16 cubic feet.
The Avalon by Toyota manages to combine a comfortable ride, good handling, reasonable performance and great fuel economy in one attractive package.
Base price: $35,500
Crash test: 5 stars
Fuel economy: (hybrid) 43 city/43 highway
The 2019 Toyota Corolla hatchback isn’t exactly new - it is basically a reimagined version of the Toyota iM (which was once the Scion iM). I drove the SE model, which is powered by a new 168-horsepower 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine, about 20% higher than the previous iM model. It came with a continuous variable transmission (CVT), but a six-speed manual is available. While I’m not usually a fan of CVT transmissions, this one didn’t suffer from the same odd characteristics of some other manufacturers’ models. This model offers paddle shifting for drivers looking for more control. Performance from the 168-horsepower engine is not exactly sporty but more than enough power for any driving conditions. The engine stayed quiet and only got a bit thrashy when pushed hard. Overall ride and handling are good, only getting a bit unsettled over poorly maintained roads. I made some long highway drives with this Corolla and, according to the on-board computer system, I averaged a very impressive 43 mpg.
The controls for the climate control and sound system relied less on the touch screen and more on buttons and knobs, making this vehicle less distracting to drive. The overall dashboard layout had a contemporary look and was very functional. Apple CarPlay - in addition to Toyota’s own smartphone app - is included in the 2019 models, bringing all the features of your smartphone to the dash of this economy car. There is a decent-sized center console, a glove compartment and bins for storage, as well as cup holders and door pocket storage.
The cloth-covered seats were supportive and comfortable with plenty of head and leg room. The rear seat can accommodate two adults, three in a pinch. Entry and exit from the rear seat for taller passengers is a bit of a challenge due to the low roof line but, once seated, even a six-footer will have enough headroom. There is a good-sized cargo area for a smaller car – about 17 cubic feet, which doubles with the rear seats folded. Safety is addressed with a full suite of standard features such as electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist to help you stop if you are not paying attention. There is also a lane departure warning system, steering assist and automatic high-beam headlights. Our test model came with LED headlights which were great at night without being harsh to oncoming traffic.
The affordable Toyota Corolla has a decent price without feeling cheap. Fit and finish is quite good, and the ride and handling are as good or better than the competition. The Corolla may not be the most fun or powerful in its class, but this Corolla is a perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
Price as tested: $21,090
Fuel economy: mpg 32/42
The midsized Volvo S60 has been completely redesigned for 2019. The S60 is available in both front-wheel and all-wheel drive versions with a choice of engine power. The front-wheel drive T5 version has a 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine that develops 250 horsepower. The all-wheel drive T6 version uses the same turbo-charged four-cylinder engine but adds a supercharger to boost horsepower to 316. A plug-in hybrid T8 model that tops out at 400 horsepower is also available. Our road test was in the T-6 version of the S60 with the R-Design options.
The R-Design adds a sporty look and feel to the S60. The performance from the turbo/supercharged four-cylinder engine was very good. This combination of systems delivers smooth, strong throttle response from a stop to highway speeds. Fuel economy during my time with the S60 averaged about 24 mpg per the on-board computer system. The steering was precise and the handling was very good, although the ride in our sporty sedan could get harsh over pavement breaks and other road imperfections. This model also has a control to optimize ride handling or fuel economy; even in the comfort setting, the ride was quite firm. Safety is addressed with a full complement of semi-autonomous safety features, such as automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and correction, smart cruise control and pedestrian and vehicle detection. The trunk space in the S60 has always been tighter than other mid-sized sedans and that hasn’t changed. This S60 tops out at just 15.5 cubic feet.
The interior is luxurious with high-quality finishes used throughout. The front seats have plenty of adjustments and are designed to hug the occupants and hold them in place during spirited driving. There are plenty of bins, cupholders and a decent-sized glove compartment for storage. The controls are a combination of touch screen and buttons, but some functions require too much focus on screen swiping and scrolling – which takes attention off the road.
The fit and finish of the S60 is quite good, and the lack of road noise makes the cabin a great place to spend an extended drive. The Volvo S60 is getting better all the time and now competes with the best of German vehicles. If you can live with a bit of a firm ride and want the latest safety features, the Volvo S60 is worth a look.
Base Price: $36,800
Fuel Economy: 24 city, 26 highway
Crash Test: 5 stars
The BMW i3 is a compact four-passenger, four-door electric car. It comes in a base model with a 170-horsepower engine, or a sportier i3s model (with 184 horsepower), both of which can be optioned with a range extender. The range extender is a small two-cylinder gasoline engine designed to add about 60 additional miles to the electric motor. A range extender helps eliminate the fear of running out of power and not having a place to recharge. Our road test was in the i3s with the range extender.
The electric motor provides good acceleration (BMW claims 0-60 mpg in 7 seconds), and it has several settings to maximize the motor’s performance or range. When fully charged, the i3 can travel about 120 miles; a full gas tank offers another 60-70 miles. The range extender only has a two-gallon gasoline capacity but can power the electric motor even if its battery has been exhausted. It’s a bit noisy, especially compared to the quiet of the electric motor. Recharging the battery from a 240-volt outlet takes 5-7 hours; a 110-volt outlet will require an entire day. If you can find a level 3 fast charger, the battery will increase to 80% in about 20 minutes.
The handling of this small car is surprisingly good, but the ride over choppy roads gets tiring and noisy. With its small size and tight steering, this is a great car to maneuver through city streets — and it cruises well at highway speeds.
The car is unique with large front doors and clamshell-style rear doors (similar to a pickup truck). The attractive cabin is open and airy with comfortable and supportive front seats. At six-feet tall, I had plenty of head and legroom. If the front seats are pushed all the way back, the rear seats are tight.
The push button start and odd shifter arrangement can be strange at first but are easily mastered. Controls for the radio, climate control, and seat heaters are simple and easy to use. This car also had BMW’s iDrive system, which might provide additional driver distraction. There is a small center console, glove box, two cup holders and a few power points. Even though the i3 is small, there are plenty of safety features, some of which are optional. Our car had optional smart cruise control, which added forward collision warning and pedestrian detection.
The BMW i3 is a hip, stylish and eco-friendly vehicle. The biggest problem with the i3 is that at its price, it competes with “pure” electric vehicles that offer longer range, such as the Tesla Model 3 and the Chevrolet Bolt. If you can live with a bit shorter range, there are very few vehicles that have the polarizing look of the i3.
Price as tested: $54,100
Fuel economy: 109 mpg
The BMW 530e is a mid-sized- sports sedan that just so happens to be a plug-in hybrid. The 530e is powered by a 2.0 liter, four-cylinder engine that when combined with the electric motor develops 248 horsepower and 348 foot pounds of torque. In today’s crazy high horsepower world 248 horsepower doesn’t sound like much but it is enough to push this 4200 pound sedan to 60 miles per hour in six seconds. Fuel economy is rated at 67 miles per gallon combined electric and gasoline operation and 28 miles per gallon on gasoline only. This plugin hybrid also has a pure electric range of about 30 miles but really think about the battery as a method to improve overall fuel economy.
BMW sedans are known for their superior handling and sophisticated road manners and this plug in hybrid is no exception. On the road the ride is European firm without being harsh. The handling is confidence inspiring with very little body roll on fast turns. The steering is firm, accurate without feeling too heavy. Now does this BMW handle as well as its other stablemates, not quite, but still very good. On the highway there is a general absence of wind and road noise, although what I do miss is a sporty sound, the engine just sounds a bit too plain. Our test drive also happened to be the all-wheel-drive version that when equipped with winter tires should be handle the worst of the Northeast’s winters. The front seats are comfortable with plenty of head and legroom. The rear seat has seat belts for three but is better suited for two adults. The controls are generally well laid out but the infotainment system offers too much distraction to operate all of it is features. Safety is addressed with several semi-autonomous features such as lane centering, lane departure warning and correction and automatic emergency braking. The overall interior is what you would expect from a luxury car, nicely finished with quality materials. The BMW 530iperformance with all-wheel-drive continues to prove that hybrids don’t have to be boring.
Engine 2.0 liter plug in hybrid
Fuel economy 67 MPGe (gas/electric
28 MPG Gasoline only
Price as tested $68,760
“Something wicked this way comes.” When it comes to sports sedans, one name that always comes to mind is BMW. One of the ultimate models is the M5, the highest-performance version of the 5 Series sedans. The 2018 M5 is powered by a twin-turbo, 4.4-liter V-8 engine that produces a ridiculous 600 horsepower and 552 lb-ft of torque. This potent engine is connected to an 8-speed automatic transmission (no manual transmission is offered) that powers all four wheels. Or, if the driver chooses, just the rear wheels can be used for traditional sports sedan performance (with the push of a button).
The interior of this 5-Series sedan is very comfortable. The 20-way driver’s seat has almost too many adjustments. The front seats are ventilated and have a massage function. There is a heated steering wheel and both front and back seats are heated as well. The controls are typical BMW: a bit frustrating and distracting. The shifter is electronic and has a bit of a learning curve to get accustomed to. Dash functions are controlled by the iDrive system, which has, in my opinion, developed from the worst technology to now some of the best. Large gauges are easy to see and read, the HUD (head-up-display) works well, and the climate control works quickly and efficiently. Just about every form of technology is in this vehicle: blind spot monitors, lane departure warning and correction, active suspension, active cruise control and surround-view cameras with parking assist.
The M5 contains the performance and handling features BMW models are known for. The turbo engine rockets this sedan to 60 mph in about three seconds, which is very impressive for a 4,400-pound car that comfortably carries four adults. There are settings that change the characteristics of the 600-horsepower engine from tame to wild. There is also a button on the dash that quiets the engine, although I typically left it on the louder setting. The ride can be adjusted from “comfort,” which is still firm, to “very firm.” The ride, performance and handling can all be adjusted and preset with the touch of a button. In fact, there are two buttons on the steering wheel that can program the car completely differently. I had one set for the highest performance, and one set for the best ride and fuel economy. Should you worry about fuel economy with a car like this, be aware the M5 requires premium fuel, averages about 19 mpg and comes with a $1,000 gas guzzler tax. The brakes are carbon ceramic and are extremely powerful and a bit touchy. The carbon ceramic brakes were an $8,500 option on our test car and in my opinion are not necessary, unless you drive on a track.
The 3, 5 and even 7 series sedans were always the standard against which other luxury car makers competed. If you have questioned whether BMW lost its way in the very competitive sports sedan landscape, all you need to do is take the M5 out for a spin. The car is fast, handles great and is very comfortable.
Price as tested: $129,795
Fuel mileage: 15 city, 21 highway
Engine: 4.4-liter twin-turbo
The Ford Fusion Energi is a plugin hybrid electric vehicle. Today in many cases you can buy a car with an internal combustion engine, hybrid-gas electric powerplant and the case of our road test plug-in hybrid. A plug-in hybrid has a larger battery that when fully charged will power a vehicle without gasoline. In the case the Fusion you can drive for 21 miles and then at that point the Fusion Energi performs like a conventional hybrid with a combined total range of 610 miles.
From a visual standpoint the Ford Fusion may be one of the most stylish four-door sedans sold today. Unlike some other hybrids the Fusion comes in three trim level from well-equipped to luxurious. The interior is well crafted and very comfortable. The controls are simple and although the rotary shift knob takes a little to get used to works well when mastered. The infotainment system overall with the latest level of Sync was quite good but I found the navigation system a bit slow to update. The front seats were very comfortable with plenty of adjustments and even drives as tall as six-foot-four will find enough head and legroom. The rear seat can accommodate three adults in reasonable comfort. The truck space is a bit tight at 8.2 cubic feet due to the larger battery pack, groceries bags will fit fine, but larger items will need to go in the back seat.
Performance from the 188-horsepower hybrid powerplant is more than adequate and allows for easy merging with fast moving traffic while still returning very good fuel economy. During my road test I averaged 42 miles per gallon in an even mix of city and highway driving and that was after 21 miles of electric propulsion. Braking was good but the pedal was a bit touchy/grabby due to the regenerative (battery recharging) brake function. The ride was very smooth and the cabin quiet, Ford did a great job of isolating the passengers from the outside world. The steering and overall handling were about average, blending ride and handling typical of a family sedan.
Plug-in hybrids are perfect vehicles for those drivers who like the idea of an electric car but don’t want to worry about range anxiety. Add in the fact the Ford Fusion is a comfortable great looking car it should be on the top of your “green-car” list.
Engine four-cylinder plug-in hybrid
Fuel economy 43 city 42 highway
Price as tested $32,305
The Hyundai Elantra GT is a five-door front wheel drive hatchback powered by a 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine that develops 161 horsepower. Transmission choices are a six speed manual or a six speed automatic. In addition to the standard GT there is the Elantra GT Sport which ups the performance by adding a turbo-charged 1.6 liter engine that develops 201 horsepower. The Sport model also has true four-wheel independent suspension creating a better handling package. The Sport model also has a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission for an even more athletic feel. Our road test was in the standard model of the Elantra GT with some notable features. There is a huge glass moon-roof, LED headlights/taillights and keyless entry/starting.
The Elantra GT has an athletic look, although in my opinion the chassis has been tuned toward comfort rather than sports sedan handling. The bottom line is, the handling is good but unlike some other hatchbacks, this Elantra GT doesn’t ask to be pushed hard. Performance from the 2.0 liter engine is smooth and responsive, although the engine does get a bit noisy under hard acceleration. The steering is quite good without the artificial feel that can happen with electric power steering. Out on the open road or even on city streets the cabin of the Elantra is pleasant and quiet with little road or wind noise. Safety is addressed with a full complement of air bags, including a knee airbag, blind spot monitors and cross traffic alert.
The interior of this Elantra GT is comfortable with plenty of head and legroom. The seats are supportive and stay comfortable even after several hours behind the wheel. The dual zone climate control and heated and cooled seats were also a nice touch. The huge moon-roof adds to the open and roomy feel of this compact hatchback. Cargo capacity is very good with just over 55 cubic feet with the rear seats folded; this is competitive with some small SUVs. The controls are okay, there are steering wheel mounted buttons to control some functions and some are controlled on the touch screen. Still some of controls will cause a bit of distraction.
The latest Hyundai Elantra GT is a superior version of the previous model. If a four-door hatchback fits your needs and you don’t want the typical models from Europe take a look at the latest from Hyundai, you won’t be disappointed.
Price as Tested $27,460
Engine 4 Cylinder 2.0 liter 161 HP
Fuel Economy 24 City 34 Highway
The Kona is the latest subcompact SUV from Hyundai and comes in four trim levels: SE, SEL, Limited and Ultimate. All models are offered in front- or all-wheel drive. Power is supplied by a base 2.0-liter engine that develops 147 horsepower, or the optional 1.6-liter turbocharged engine that makes 175 horsepower. My road test was in the fully loaded Ultimate edition with all-wheel drive.
The 175-horsepower turbocharged engine provides strong acceleration. The engine can get a bit raucous when pushed hard but is otherwise fairly quiet. The 7-speed dual-clutch transmission shifted so smoothly that I thought this automatic-shifting manual transmission was a conventional automatic transmission. Handling is nimble and predictable. The cabin is quiet on the highway with a minimal amount of road and wind noise.
Our Kona was loaded with the latest safety technology and included a heads-up display, which allows the driver to stay visually focused on the road while still being able to see the vehicle speed, navigation commands and other information. Lane departure warning, driver attention warning and lane centering rounded out the technology package. The lane keeping assistance technology helps keep the vehicle in the lane even if the driver’s hands are not on the wheel. Included in this package was forward collision assist with pedestrian detection. Visibility is good with minimal blind spots.
Creature comforts included keyless push button start, heated seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers, LED headlights and tail lights, and a good-sized sunroof. Most drivers will be able to find a comfortable seating position due to the combination of the eight-way power driver’s seat and tilt/telescoping steering wheel. The controls are straightforward and easy to use, and the infotainment system is less distracting than some. The Kona also comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for seamless, smart phone integration. The rear seats can accommodate adults with reasonable comfort, although tall passengers will find headroom a bit tight. Storage with all the seats in use is good for a subcompact SUV. With the rear seat folded there is a reasonable 48 cubic feet of storage space. A handy storage tray under the rear deck keeps small items organized.
The Hyundai Kona is a practical compact SUV that is easy to drive and gets good fuel mileage. During my test drive, fuel economy averaged about 31 mpg. If you’re looking to downsize from a large SUV or are in search of a small practical all-weather vehicle, Hyundai’s Kona is a great choice.
Price as tested: $29,805
Engine: 4-cylinder turbocharged
Fuel economy: 26 city, 29 highway
The Hyundai Sante Fe, not to be confused with the Sante-Fe Sport is a three row SUV that can seat up to seven occupants. The first two rows of seats are very comfortable, but the third row is better suited to kids or shorter adults. Cargo area is very good unless all three rows of seats are in use. With all the seats folded, there is a very impressive 80 cubic feet of cargo volume, this drops down to diminutive 13.5 cubic feet when all the seats are in use. The controls are nicely arranged with decent size knobs and buttons for the major controls as well as some redundant steering wheel mounted controls. The Sante-Fe comes in three trim levels SE, SE Limited and the subject of our road test, the Limited Ultra with all-wheel-drive. There were luxury features throughout, with heated and cooled leather seats, large screen navigation, premium sound system and real wood accents. The standard panoramic sunroof also helps to open up the interior.
All models of the Sante Fe are powered by the same 3.3 liter V-6 engine that develops 290 horsepower, connected to a six-speed automatic transmission, front wheel drive and all-wheel-drive models are available. The ride is smooth and quiet with good isolation from rough roads. Performance from the V-6 engine is quite good, although fuel economy is lower than I would have expected. The EPA rates the mileage at 17 MPG in the city and 22 MPG on the highway. During my road test, according to the on-board computer I have been averaging about 20 miles per gallon in an even mix of city and highway driving. Safety is addressed with a full complement of airbags; automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and dynamic bending HID (high intensity discharge) headlights.
There once was a time where I would just recommend Hyundai vehicles because of the excellent warranty and overall a good value proposition, today Hyundai competes with any brand. The Sante-Fe doesn’t excel in any one area but as a sum of its parts is a very good vehicle. If you are shopping for a mid-sized three row SUV the Sante-Fe certainly is one vehicle to consider.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee TrackHawk is the most stupid or most brilliant vehicle ever made. The TrackHawk is a luxurious Grand Cherokee-family style SUV with the addition of a 707-horsepower engine taken out of a Dodge HellCat. This translates into a sprint to 60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds. This is faster to 60 miles per hour than a Jaguar F-Type R coupe or a Mercedes Benz S65 AMG coupe. The handling was a surprise that it was so good, now of course I wasn’t on a road racing course but in day-to-day driving and a little more enthusiastically this Family cruiser was very well planted to the ground. So what kind of fuel economy does a 707 horsepower, $90,000 vehicle get and should you even care? The EPA has rated TrackHawk at 11 miles per gallon around town and 17 miles per gallon on the highway. The fuel economy in my opinion is really determined by the driver’s right foot. Once the acceleration novelty wore off I was averaging about 16 miles per gallon—about the same as my old 2003 Kia Sorento with a V-6 engine. The TrackHawk when driven in a reasonable manner is a true sleeper, a sheep in wolf’s clothing. The TrackHawk feels like any other Grand Cherokee then you accelerate and is turns into a fire breathing monster.
The interior of the Grand Cherokee is well thought out, comfortable seats, plenty of room, to me a nearly perfect sized SUV. Technology is well represented with all the latest safety systems such as automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitors and self-parking. I was demonstrating the self-parking system to someone and their comment was if was cool but seemed slow. The braking system was powerful with huge brakes calipers even as big and heavy as the Grand Cherokee is stopped remarkably well.
I have said this before about a few vehicles there is no reason that any company should build a vehicle like this, but I’m glad they did.
Engine 8 cylinder
EPA 11 city 17 highway
Price as tested $88,000
The all new Kia Rio comes in both a four—door sedan and a hatchback; there are three trim levels the LX, EX and S. All models are powered by the same 130 horsepower four-cylinder engine. Manual and automatic transmissions are available in all trim levels. Our road test was in the EX hatchback version with the automatic transmission. In these days where even minivans have engines that develop nearly 300 horsepower the Kia Rio with only 130 horsepower may sound underpowered but it actually performs quite well. On city streets or out on the highway up to legal speeds the Rio does well. On the highway the Rio does a nice job of isolating its passengers from the world around them, for an economy car the Rio is reasonably quiet. The seats are comfortable, supportive and even with their somewhat thin padding remained comfortable for several hours’ worth of driving. At six-feet tall I had plenty of head and legroom in this subcompact car. The controls are straightforward and simple to use with large buttons, knobs and a simple touchscreen. Our test car also had Android Auto and Apple CarPlay which allowed me to use my phone seamlessly as a music player and navigation system. The rear seat has seatbelts for three but only two adults will be comfortable and in my opinion only for a limited period of time. The rear seat-back in our test model was a split folding style so longer items could be carried along with one rear seat passenger. With the rear seat folded cargo storage is pretty good for a small car and even with all the seats in use there is still nearly 14 cubic feet of cargo space. Fuel economy is also competitive for this category of vehicle with the EPA rating the Rio at 29 miles per gallon in the city and 37 miles per gallon on the highway. Using the onboard trip computer I have been averaging 35.5 miles per gallon.
The Kia Rio stacks up well against the subcompact competition such as the Honda FIT and Ford Fiesta. Add in Kia’s impressive warranty and overall price the Rio is a car you should be looking at.
Base Price $13,900 as tested $18,700
Kia has been making some interesting products in the past few years but the all new five-door Stinger may be the best vehicle the Kia has made to date. The four-door hatchback Stinger comes in five trim levels, with two engine choices a 2.0 liter turbo-charged four-cylinder producing 255 horsepower and the 3.3 liter V-6 turbo charged engine that develops 365 horsepower and 376 foot-pounds of torque. To add to the competiveness in this segment the Stinger is offered in both rear-wheel and all-wheel-drive variants. Our road test was in the Stinger GT2.
The interior of the Stinger is delightful, with luxury touches throughout. The interior materials are a combination of high quality leather and soft-touch plastics. The front seats are spacious comfortable and supportive. The rear seating is also quite good but headroom gets a bit tight for taller passengers due to the sloping roofline. The hatchback, although a bit unusual in many vehicles todays works quite well and offers 23 cubic feet of cargo space. The controls are logical and well positioned for the driver and overall the interior looks as good as any premium car with accent lighting that only further complements the car. Safety is addressed with the latest features, intelligent cruise control, lane positioning, forward collision control and even driver monitoring, that warns the driver if it is time to take a break.
Performance from the 3.3 liter V-6 engine is quite good, with an estimated 0-60 mile per hour time of 4.7 seconds. Our car had the optional all-wheel-drive system that when equipped with the proper tires should be able to handle even the worst weather. The automatic transmission has paddle shifters for the more enthusiastic driving experience. The GT versions of the Stinger also benefit high performance Brembo brakes, something found in high-performance vehicles throughout the world. The Stinger GT also benefits from electronically controlled suspension that can be tailored to comfort to sporty. The base model is a bit more traditional with suspension that balances handling and ride comfort. The steering is direct offering almost telepathic response rivalling some of the best in the world.
The Stinger by Kia has a starting price of $31,500 and our as tested price for the fully loaded Stinger GT2 was just over $50,000. Although $50,000 is not inexpensive this car easily compares to cars costing $20,000 more.
The LS 500 is the biggest, most luxurious four-door sedan offered by Lexus. The LS is available in three trim levels: LS 500, LS 500h (hybrid), and the one I tested - the LS 500 F. The LS 500 F is the sportiest version of this big luxury sedan, powered by a 3.5-liter, twin-turbo-charged V-6 engine that produces 416 horsepower. The engine is connected to a 10-speed automatic transmission that powers the rear wheels (all-wheel drive is optional).
There was a time when most big luxury sedans had a V-8 engine, but technology has developed to a point where a V-6 engine matches and even outperforms a V-8. The robust turbo-charged V-6 engine in this Lexus is quick, reaching 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds. Not bad for a 4,751-pound vehicle. The 10-speed automatic transmission is silky smooth and the brakes are powerful and predictable. The ride - even in the sport model - is very comfortable, soaking up bumps and pavement breaks. There are controls to change the characteristics of the ride from plush to very sporty. The steering is good, but not great; when switched to its sportiest mode it just feels too tight. This Lexus is very quiet on the road with little wind, road or engine noise: when you floor the accelerator, the exhaust tone turns sporty. Technology is well represented with 10 airbags, lane departure warning, smart cruise control, lane centering and blind spot warning.
The exterior of the Lexus LS is polarizing: people either love it or hate it. On the other hand, the interior is well-liked by everyone. The front seats are wide, comfortable and supportive. There is plenty of head and legroom, but the cabin has a bit of a narrow feel. There are enough adjustments with the seat and the tilt/telescoping wheel that drivers of any size and shape can find a comfortable seating position. The rear seat is also roomy and comfortable, with plenty of legroom even with the front seats in their rearmost position. Very tall passengers may find the headroom a bit tight. Overall though, this would be an ideal car for a long road trip.
The controls are a mixed bag. The shift lever has an odd pattern that takes a bit of time to master. The infotainment system is a bit finicky and distractive. Lexus added a touch pad in front of the shifter which in my opinion makes the system harder to master. Fortunately, the radio tuning and volume were operated with a knob and the climate control system had some buttons for less distractive operation. There is a large center storage console, a small glove compartment and cupholders. The trunk is a nice size with power open and close functions. The fit and finish is superb.
Fuel economy during my road test averaged 24.5 mpg in a mix of mostly highway driving. Premium fuel is required. The Lexus LS500 is a big, comfortable luxury vehicle that competes and even beats some of the European competitors in some areas. If you were a fan of previous versions of the LS, you will continue to be impressed with this latest LS 500.
Price as tested: $101,677
Fuel mileage: 19 city, 29 highway
Engine: Twin-turbo-charged V-6
The Lexus NX 300 is a compact and sporty luxury SUV, powered by a 235 horsepower, turbo-charged four-cylinder engine. The NX 300 is available in all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive, in base and F Sport trim levels. There is also a hybrid version of the NX 300h. I conducted this road test in the all-wheel drive base model with an additional luxury package (upgraded wheels/tires, heated and ventilated seats, power rear gate with kick sensor, leather seating, premium audio system and navigation).
The interior of this compact NX 300 is comfortable and cozy without feeling too tight. The front seats are supportive with plenty of adjustability. Most drivers should find a comfortable seating position with the combination of tilt and telescoping steering. The controls are fairly simple to operate. The infotainment system has a touch pad on the center console that allows easy access but provides too much distraction when driving. The rear seats are not nearly as padded or as comfortable as the front seats. Cabin storage is quite good with plenty of cup holders, large front seat door pockets, glove compartment and a center console with two USB ports. The cargo area is about 18 cubic feet with the seats up, but the roof and interior design makes the space feel tighter. With the rear seats folded, the space expands to nearly 55 cubic feet.
The NX 300 feels more like a sports sedan than an SUV. On the road, the turbo-charged four-cylinder engine feels more powerful than its 235 horsepower. During my time with the NX 300, fuel economy averaged 25 miles per gallon. The driver can change the characteristics of the engine and transmission, from economical to sporty, with a twist of a button.
There is very little road or wind noise that disrupts the quiet cabin. The handling is flat with very little body roll on tight turns. The ride is a bit stiff, but not uncomfortable. The all-wheel drive system should be able to handle winters in the Northeast; and when the going gets tough, there is a differential lock for getting through deep snow. The steering is light at low speeds and firms up nicely at highway speeds. Safety is addressed with blind spot monitors, cross-traffic alert and pre-collision system, and pedestrian detection. In addition, there is lane departure warning with steering assist.
The Lexus NX 300 is a bit of a compromise. The handling and sporty feel are quite good, the interior space is average, and the safety features are some of the best in the segment. If you enjoy a sporty driving experience the Lexus NX 300 is a good choice; if you routinely carry four adults or a lot of cargo there are better options.
MPG: 22 city, 28 highway
Engine: 4-cylinder 235 HP
Price as tested: $45,480
The Mazda CX-9 is the largest of the Mazda SUVs. This stylish model is available in four trim levels: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and Signature. Front-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is available in all trim levels. All CX-9 models are powered by the same 227-horsepower turbo-charged, four-cylinder engine, with a six-speed automatic transmission. This three-row SUV, like many of Mazda’s vehicles, handles surprising well. The ride is smooth and a bit firm but never jarring. While the CX-9 will never be confused with a sports sedan, it can be quite pleasing to drive on a twisty road.
Power from the 227-horsepower engine is quite good. In these days of 300-horsepower engines appearing in many vehicles, don’t be dissuaded by only having 227 horsepower on tap; there is more than enough power from this four-cylinder for any possible driving condition. Fuel economy during my test drive averaged about 25 mpg.
Safety is addressed with blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and low-speed automatic emergency braking, all as standard equipment. The cabin is quiet with an absence of road and wind noise. The interior of the top-trim model was comfortable, with quality materials used throughout. The first- and second-row seats were firm but comfortable. Adults will do fine in the second row. The third row, while better suited for kids, could accommodate adults for a short drive. The cabin itself is a bit narrow, having more of the cozy feel of a small SUV. With all seats in use there is only 14.4 cubic feet of cargo space, which increases to 38 cubic feet when the third row is folded. The controls are generally simple and easy to operate, but the infotainment system seems unnecessarily complex, taking too much attention away from driving.
The Mazda CX-9 is stylish, fairly fuel efficient and handles well. Although the CX-9 isn’t the most powerful vehicle or capable of carrying the most cargo in the three-row SUV segment, if you’re looking for a family-friendly SUV that doesn’t break the bank, the CX-9 is worth a look.
Price as tested: $42,270
Fuel Economy: 22 city, 28 highway
Engine: four-cylinder turbo-charged
The 2018 Mercedes Benz E400 coupe is one of just a few luxury coupes today. A coupe by definition has just two doors and because of that can be a bit of a compromise. The E400 Coupe is built from the E four-door platform although in this case it seats just four adults, in a smaller in size. One feature that is visual appealing is there is no post between the front and rear windows. Powered by a 3.0 liter V-6 twin turbocharged engine develops 329 horsepower. Performance is good but hardly breathtaking; a timed trip to 60 miles per hour takes about six seconds. This translates into a vehicle that makes merging with fast moving traffic effortless but not heart stopping. The transmission is smooth shifting and there are several shift modes. Sport, sport-plus, comfort and even an Eco-mode for those drivers trying to maximize fuel economy. I found myself staying in the comfort mode, that setting seemed to have the best balance of ride, handling and overall comfort. My test model happened to be all-wheel-drive which if experience proves out with winter tires this E400 Coupe will be able to handle just about any weather. Our test car had a $9300 option package which included among other things, smart cruise control, automatic emergency braking, LED intelligent light system, steering and lane change assistance.
The interior of this coupe is typical Mercedes Benz; quality throughout. The seats are comfortable and supportive with plenty of adjustments for drivers of just about any size. The controls are delightful and frustrating at the same time. The shifter is a small stalk on the right side of the steering wheel. Once you master the design it works well. The radio, navigation and other control use a combination of a center rotary knob, swipe surface and touch screen. All of this demonstrates how technologically advanced the car is but also how distracting the controls can be. The rear seating is a bit awkward to get into but is reasonably comfortable once you are there. The truck is smallish and there is no spare tire.
If you are looking for a very stylish coupe that during my road test turned heads wherever I drove it (the cardinal red metallic paint didn’t hurt. This isn’t in my opinion a sports car but a two-door luxury cruiser. As some automakers are moving away from luxury coupe, Mercedes Benz stepped up its game with this E400 Coupe.
Price as tested $77,400
Engine V-6 329 HP
EPA fuel economy TBD
The Nissan Armada is the largest of Nissan’s SUVs, powered by a 5.6-liter, 390-horsepower, V-8 engine connected to a 7-speed automatic transmission. It comes in rear- or all-wheel drive configurations. There are four trim levels: SV, SL, Platinum Reserve, and the one we tested – the all-wheel drive Platinum version.
This large, three-row SUV seats up to eight passengers. The first two rows of seats are comfortable and supportive; the third row is a bit short on padding, but during my time with the Armada, I had six adults in the vehicle and all seemed comfortable. While getting into the third row can be a challenge, there is plenty of head and legroom for the second-row occupants. The cargo area behind the third row is tight - only 16 cubic feet - but it expands to nearly 95 cubic feet with the seats folded.
The controls are well-arranged and rely more on knobs and buttons for the climate control and sound systems. The dual-zone climate control keeps all the passengers comfortable, and the front seats are both heated and cooled. Safety is addressed with a full suite of semi-autonomous features such as lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, back-up intervention and around view monitor. This model also had an intelligent rear-view mirror, which uses a rear-view camera connected to the mirror. This allows the driver to see the mirror even if cargo or passengers are blocking the traditional mirror view.
Performance from the 5.6-liter, V-8 engine is very good. For those buyers looking for a tow vehicle, the Armada can handle a rather substantial 8,500 pounds. Engine performance comes at a fuel economy penalty; during my time with the Armada, I averaged 14.5 mpg. Ride and handling are typical of a big SUV, with some body roll and slow steering. The ride is quite comfortable, with the Armada suspension soaking up the ruts and potholes. The brakes are firm and powerful, with good pedal feedback. The back-up intervention system allows for easier parallel parking by applying the brakes if you get too close to an object. The four-wheel drive system should be able to handle everything the weather in the Northeast can throw at it. Additionally, the Armada should be able provide off-road family adventures.
The Nissan Armada is not for everyone. But if you are looking for a stylish, powerful full-sized SUV, the Armada is a good choice. If you are willing to trade fuel economy for comfort, passenger space and technology, the Armada by Nissan should be at the top of your shopping list.
Price as tested: $66,696
Fuel Economy: 13 city, 18 highway
Engine: V-8 390 Horsepower
The Nissan Kicks is a front-wheel drive only, subcompact SUV that seats five. It’s powered by a 125-horsepower 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) comes standard along with a host of other features. The Kicks comes in three trim levels: S, SV and SR.
My road test was conducted with the SR. Compared to other vehicles in its class, the four-cylinder engine of the Nissan Kicks trails in horsepower but gets the job done. Merging onto a busy highway requires a hard push on the accelerator but accelerating to highway speed is free of drama. The combination of a small engine and CVT transmission is quiet and gets raucous only under hard acceleration. During my time with the Kicks, the fuel economy averaged 36 mpg. Ride and handling are slightly better than what you would expect in an economy car. The electric power steering is quick, and the combination of a tight turning radius makes the Kicks easy to pilot around tight city streets. The ride is smooth on all but the worst roads. Visibility is generally very good to the front and rear, but I did have to make some careful mirror adjustments to fully eliminate blind spots to the side. Our test model came with blind spot warning as well as front collision warning systems.
The interior of the Kicks is a mixed bag. There are some hard plastic surfaces but overall fit and finish is pretty good. The front seats are a new design from Nissan and remain comfortable even after a couple of hours behind the wheel. There is good use of interior space with bins and cubbies. There are also several 12-volt power points and USB connections. Our test model had Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as push button start, keyless entry, remote start, and an upgraded sound system with satellite radio and Bluetooth connectivity. The controls are simple, intuitive and easy to master. Like many cars with infotainment systems there are some distracting features, but this vehicle is better than most. The rear seat can accommodate at least two adults in reasonable comfort, and the larger rear doors make for easy entry and exit. For a subcompact SUV there is pretty good cargo space; with all the seats in use there is about 25 cubic feet of cargo space, which doubles with the rear seats folded.
The Kicks is a friendly, fun to drive subcompact SUV that is comfortable, competent and returns very good fuel economy. If you can live without all-wheel drive and know you don’t have the quickest car on the block, the Kicks by Nissan is a good choice.
Price as tested: $21,630
Engine: 1.6 liter four-cylinder
Fuel Economy: 31 city, 38 highway
Nissan’s full-sized pickup truck, the Titan, comes in five trim levels, three cab configurations, two- and four-wheel drive and has diesel engine options. My road test was conducted in the gasoline powered, four-wheel drive Crew Cab SL Midnight Edition.
All models of the gasoline Titan are powered by Nissan’s 5.6-liter, with 390 horsepower and a V-8 engine. The engine is connected to a seven-speed automatic transmission. On the road, this full-sized truck feels big; tight maneuvers and parking can be a bit of a challenge if you are not use to a full-sized truck. Performance is outstanding though, with 390 horsepower on tap and 394 ft-lbs of torque. This Titan has the ability to tow up to 9,500 pounds and carry a payload of nearly 2,000 pounds — with more than enough power to accelerate from a full stop, or to merge with fast-moving traffic.
Fuel economy during our road test averaged just 18 mpg in a mix of mostly highway driving. There are other trucks in the market that can carry and tow more, but the Titan should be more than competent for most buyers. Nissan did a great job of combining comfort and capability. The ride is comfortable, smoothing out potholes and other road imperfections. Handling is surprisingly good with minimal body roll, and the cabin is quiet with little wind or road noise. Compared to other full-size trucks the Titan’s road manners are some of the best. The front seats are wide, fairly supportive and comfortable — making it a good long-distance cruiser. While perhaps a bit dated, the controls are simple and easy to use. Ample storage is provided with the large center console, with plenty of cup holders and a glove compartment of reasonable size. There are also plenty of 12-volt outlets and even a 117-volt outlet that can power small household devices. The rear seat in our Crew Cab Edition easily seats three adults with plenty of head and legroom — but seat comfort could be improved. The large door allows for easy entry and exit, and the running boards help shorter drivers and passengers get into this truck. The rear bed comes in 5.5-, 6.5- and 8-foot bed lengths, depending on the cab configuration. The 5.5-foot cargo bed on our test truck had a non-skid spray-on bed liner, an adjustable tie-down system and removeable/lockable side cargo boxes. The weatherproof cargo boxes can be used for both tool storage or as a cooler for food and drinks.
The Nissan Titian may be a bit dated compared to the competition, but that factor is offset by the Titan’s superior ride and handling.
Mileage: 15 city, 21 highway
Engine: V-8, 390 HP
Price as tested: $54,775
The Yaris is a subcompact hatchback that comes in two- or four-door configurations and three trim levels: L, LE and SE. The Yaris is powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that can be connected to a five-speed manual transmission or a conventional automatic transmission. My road test was conducted in the four-door automatic SE.
The Yaris isn’t exactly a hot rod, but the 106-horsepower engine is more than adequate for driving around town. The four-speed automatic transmission sounds a bit dated when compared to some more advanced 8-, 9- and even 10-speed transmissions, but it gets the job done. Highway driving in the Yaris isn’t challenging, but you do need to be aware of the engine’s limitations. Passing a slow-moving tractor-trailer or merging with fast-moving traffic requires a bit of thought. When pushing the Yaris, the engine does get noisy but not overly objectionable. The Yaris isn’t a class leader in fuel economy but is still quite good. I averaged 34 mpg on my test drive.
The ride is a bit choppy over bumps but never unsettled. Handling, on the other hand, is good — as is the overall maneuverability. Driving around tight city streets is where the Yaris performs best; the quick steering and tight turning radius makes it fun and easy to drive. The Yaris separates itself from its competitors in safety. Our version had automatic high beam headlights, lane departure warning, front collision warning, automatic emergency braking and nine air bags. In addition, the headlights in our Yaris SE were projector style — which did a great job illuminating some dark country roads. The LED daytime running lights provided additional visibility.
The cloth front seats are comfortable — and at six-feet tall, there was plenty of head and legroom. The 60/40 spilt rear seat is a bit tight for adults but is comfortable for short trips. The cargo area behind the rear seat in this little hatchback is about 15.6 cubic feet; it can accommodate larger bulky items with the rear seats folded. Interior controls are straightforward, with knobs and buttons for the radio and climate control rather than a distracting touch screen.
The Toyota Yaris gets good fuel economy and has a low starting price of $15,365. It’s not the best subcompact car on the market but it does offer a good value. If your priority is fuel economy, dependability and maneuverability over sportiness, the Yaris is a good choice.
Fuel economy: 30 city, 35 highway
Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder
Price as tested: $20,530
The new midsized Volkswagen Atlas is the first seven passenger, three-row SUV from Volkswagen. The Atlas is available in five trim levels and two engine choices: a 2.0 turbo-charged four-cylinder, or a 3.6-liter V6. It’s also available in front- or all-wheel drive. Our road test was in the Atlas S with front-wheel drive and the four-cylinder engine.
Performance from the 2.0-liter 235-horsepower engine is surprisingly good. Merging onto a busy highway or passing a slow-moving truck is free from drama. With 258 pound-feet of torque available at a relatively low speed, the four-cylinder engine is likely a good choice for many buyers — although towing capacity is only about 2,000 lbs. Those drivers wanting more power or needing to tow a 5,000-lb trailer will want to opt for the 276-horsepower V-6 engine. Both engines are connected to a smooth shifting, eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode for drivers looking for more control. Fuel economy during my time with the Atlas averaged 23 mpg. The steering and handling were quite good, more like a sedan than an SUV. The ride generally was favorable, but the Atlas can become a bit unsettled over a series of potholes or breaks/bumps in the pavement. The vehicle was quiet with little road or wind noise entering the cabin.
The interior of the Atlas S is basic but comfortable; cloth seats look nice and are comfortable. The manual driver’s seat offers enough adjustments for any driver to find a comfortable seating position. The passenger seat is a bit lacking; it can only be moved front to back, and the seat back tilts. The sliding second-row seating area is extremely spacious with plenty of head and legroom. The third-row seat is a bit tight but can accommodate adults (at least for shorter trips). With all the seats in use there is about 20 cubic feet of cargo space; with the second and third row folded there is nearly 96 cubic feet of cargo space, rivalling some full-size SUVs.
The controls are very straightforward: simple stalks, buttons and knobs are less distracting than a touch screen. Our Atlas did not have navigation but did have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, allowing most smartphones to seamlessly interface with the infotainment display. There is a good-sized glove compartment, large center console and bins, cup holders and large door pockets.
The Volkswagen Atlas is the midsized SUV that many buyers have been looking for. The seating is comfortable, the ride pleasant, and the interior space is versatile and roomy. If you are looking for a long-distance family cruiser, the Atlas by Volkswagen is certainly a vehicle that should be on your shopping list.
Price as tested: $31,675
Fuel economy: 22 city, 26 highway
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder
The latest Volkswagen Golf GTI is the car that originally started the designation as “hot hatch” (a fun to drive peppy great handling hatchback) and based on my road test the latest version may be the best. For 2018 the GTI is powered by a 220 horsepower turbo-charged four-cylinder engine. There are three trim levels, S, SE and Autobahn version, there are both a six-speed manual transmission as well as Volkswagen’s direct shift (DSG) automatic transmission. Our road test was in the SE trim with the manual transmission.
The GTI sits a bit lower than the standard Golf which improves the handling without any degradation to the overall ride. The steering which is specific to the GTI models is quicker than a standard Golf while still being very smooth, precise and nicely weighted throughout all speeds. Performance from the 220 horsepower engine is very good and perfectly matched to the six speed manual transmission. This may be one of the easiest to drive manual transmission vehicles that I have been in. Volkswagen also did a nice job with the exhaust tone, this GTI sounds great as you accelerate without be offensively loud. The brakes are as good as the performance from the rest of the car. In addition our test car had the latest technology such as forward collision warning, autonomous braking, pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring, back-up camera and LED headlights.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive with plenty of adjustments for drivers of all sizes, even those over six feet will find plenty of head and legroom. The controls are well laid out and seem to get better with age. The touch screen works well but also has knobs for major radio functions. All the controls are now more driver focused than in previous Golf models. The rear seats are also comfortable and can fold for additional storage totaling almost 58 cubic feet of cargo space, making this hatchback very useful for weekend errands. In fact with its almost flat floor this GTI can carry a full-sized bicycle.
There are more powerful and perhaps even better handling hatchbacks but this may be one of the best overall combinations of style, performance, comfort and economy.
Price as tested $31,165
EPA 25 city and 33 highway
The all new Volkswagen Tiguan has grown over the years and is one of the largest SUVS in the compact segment. The Tiguan comes in several trim levels as well as front or all-wheel drive. To put the Tiguan into perspective it is about four inches longer than the very popular Honda CR-V and 10 inches longer than the previous model. The latest Tiguan is powered by a 2.0 liter turbo-charged four cylinder engine, with an eight-speed automatic transmission connected to in the case of our test drive all four wheels. The front seats are comfortable and supportive and at six feet tall there was plenty of head and legroom. The rear seat was also surprising roomy even with the rear seats pushed to their rear most position. Unique for this segment is front wheel drive models can optioned with three rows of seating. With the rear seats folded cargo space is quite good rivaling some mid-sized SUVs. The controls were generally easy to use and like many vehicles today has smart phone integration with Apple Car Play and Android Auto. There were several bins for storage, decent cup holders, a reasonable sized glove compartment and small center console. On the road the 184 horsepower engine feels powerful enough to get the job done, shifting is smooth and precise with a general absence of engine noise. The all-wheel-drive system in the Tiguan has setting for snow and off-road improving the all-wheel-drive experience. There are also settings to maximize fuel economy as well as a sport mode. Fuel economy is rated at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 27 miles per gallon on the highway. These numbers are on the low side for vehicles in this class although my numbers according to the onboard computer were much better than advertised, averaging 33 miles per gallon on the highway. The Tiguan is a fairly quiet vehicle on the road with little wind or road noise entering the cabin. The overall ride seems biased toward ride comfort than handling which I prefer in a SUV. The steering has a nice feel to it, with good driver feedback at all speeds. The Tiguan by Volkswagen is a very competent SUV and although it doesn’t stand out in any one area as an overall package the Tiguan by Volkswagen is a vehicle worth looking at.
Price as Tested $31,775
MPG 21 city 27 highway