By on April 19, 2019

2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature front quarter

Does a crossover really need to be good to drive, or is mere competence good enough to win buyers? Most carmakers settle for “good enough,” and yet they keep selling.

Mazda, of course, doesn’t settle. Performance is baked into everything it offers. I’m certain that if Mazda offered a panel van, some fool out there would start racing a Mazda Los Pollos Hermanos truck.

Thus, I had high hopes when a turbocharged crossover was announced. Already the best-driving crossover available, the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature adds power and class to family hauling perfection.

(Read More…)

By on April 15, 2019

2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo front quarter

Hyundai turned itself into a successful brand by building sensible, reliable cars and crossovers that match up nicely with the competition. Where rival carmakers have a product, Hyundai has a very similar alternative. Making a sale by imitating the class leaders is generally a winning strategy.

And then you have the 2019 Hyundai Veloster Turbo – a car that really has no similar rival. No other automaker offers an asymmetrical three-door, sloped-rear-light hatchback. No matter how functional it is or how well it drives, all conversations about the Veloster start with its funky layout.

(Read More…)

By on April 12, 2019

2020 Range Rover Evoque

The script for the first-gen Range Rover Evoque included downsizing the Discovery luxury experience to a compact size and extending the distinct styling and off-road capability the brand is known for. The first-generation Evoque came in two-door and four-door variants, followed by a two-door cabrio version.

The second-gen Evoque follows the original script, but drops the three-door and cabrio versions. Land Rover will offer Evoque in six trim levels: S, SE, First Edition, R-Dynamic S, R-Dynamic SE, and R-Dynamic HSE. I tested several pilot-production 2020 European-spec SE trimmed Evoques during a media-launch program. In freakin’ Greece, of all places.

Over several days we were able to test the Evoque on-highway, off-road, and even suspended high in the air – more on that shortly. After all that extensive on-road driving and some mild-to-moderate difficulty wet/dry off-road driving, here’s what buyers can expect of the second-generation Evoque.

(Read More…)

By on April 11, 2019

2018 Hyundai Kona

One of my personal auto reviewer “rules” is that I try to test any vehicle I drove on a press junket later, at home, even if it’s months later (and even if it’s many months before I get around to writing about it). I do this because the potholed roads and unpredictable weather of the city I call home stand in stark contrast to the pleasant places where automakers hold their splashy first drive events.

I also do this because driving a car in normal grocery-getting duty is different than driving it hard on a twisty road, because I don’t always get to drive on the freeway on a junket, and because a car reveals things about itself over the course of several days or a week that it wouldn’t in just a few hours.

Enter the 2018 Hyundai Kona. Several months after driving it on the Big Island of Hawaii (not long before that volcano erupted — the same one I toured while there. Did I piss off the volcano gods somehow?), I took possession of one here in Chicago. Would I think differently about the Kona, in one way or another, after a week behind the wheel? Or would I just end up confirming my first-drive review?

Spoiler: It’s more the latter than the former.

(Read More…)

By on April 5, 2019

2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Today’s crossover craze may be in part a rebuke of minivans, but that hasn’t stopped Chrysler from putting effort into the class.

After all, if the company that more or less invented the modern version of the people-toting minivan was offering up a subpar effort in the class, that wouldn’t reflect well on it. Chrysler doesn’t have to worry about that, as its Pacifica minivan has fought the Honda Odyssey for top billing in the class seemingly since its launch.

One thing the Pacifica offers that the Odyssey doesn’t? A hybrid version.

(Read More…)

By on April 4, 2019

2019 Ford Transit Connect front quarter

Welcome to the least hip car segment – the minivan. It’s what our parents drove, right? Nobody wants to be as tragically uncool as their parents, even as they themselves become parents.

Might I, an experienced parent, suggest something to the millennials and hipsters who are starting to reproduce? Consider getting back to the minivan genre before it becomes cool again. Be the parent who values utility and comfort over the overstyled, overstuffed crossover that every other new parent rushes out to buy. The moment you ease a rear sliding door open with one hand while swinging the bucket-style baby carrier right into the seat with the other is a revelation, especially after dealing with narrow-opening traditional doors found on sedans and SUVs.

In other words, it’s van time. Be the envy of the other new parents. Be different. And take a good look at all your options, because beyond the usual suspects lies this 2019 Ford Transit Connect Wagon. It has some surprising features that make it stand out.

(Read More…)

By on April 3, 2019

2019 Lexus LS 500 front quarter

A big luxury sedan is sedate, ponderous, and numb. Insulation from everything outside the cockpit is paramount. Arriving refreshed and relaxed is the order of the day in this class of car.

The little F-Sport badge on the tail of this 2019 Lexus LS 500 changes everything. While one can still chauffeur grandma to church in class and comfort, after she’s been dropped off that drive can quickly change from refreshing to invigoration with a turn of a knob. The idea of a LS F-Sport is nearly as absurd as that of a Miata Brougham with a padded vinyl roof and opera windows. It’s a Brooks Brothers suit with a pair of Brooks running shoes.

It’s unexpected – but it works.

(Read More…)

By on April 2, 2019

2019 Volkswagen Jetta

Volkswagen’s latest iteration of the Jetta is a well-rounded commuter car, but a tad boring. VW had an easy fix for that in mind – just implant the heart of the GTI hot hatch along with some Golf R bits. Boom, instant sports sedan.

There’s been a GLI version of the Jetta since 1984, and every previous one I’ve driven has been a fun little hoot to drive; a way to put a little spice in the otherwise sorta bland Jetta recipe. This one, though, ups the ante. Instead of a nice little sprinkle of seasoning, someone in the kitchen doused it with cayenne pepper.

What you get here is not just a Jetta that’s more fun to drive, but a proper affordable sport sedan. (Read More…)

By on April 1, 2019

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Jeep engineers and PR folks wasted no time in telling media, assembled in Sacramento to drive the all-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator mid-size pickup, that this truck is more than just a Wrangler with a pickup bed slapped on the back.

Technically speaking, it’s true — there are key mechanical and structural differences. So no one who uttered this assertion was lying.

But while those mechanical differences are important, they don’t change the fact that the Gladiator still feels just like a Wrangler with a bed. No matter what anyone from Jeep tells you, the Gladiator is, in a way, a Wrangler with a bed.

And that will be a good thing for many, if not most, potential buyers.

(Read More…)

By on March 28, 2019

2019 Mazda CX-9 front quarter

Yet another three-row crossover. Yawn.

It’s even painted white, like the appliance it’s certain to be.

But people keep buying these things, like it or not. Since few want my ideal family hauler – the minivan – this genre is the best way to haul more than five people. And I’d argue that this 2019 Mazda CX-9 is the best of the breed.

(Read More…)

By on March 25, 2019

Earlier this year, Mazda showed off its all-new 3 sedan in Los Angeles. The new compact’s intent is to impress a revised, upscale image on the brand. While the 3 delivered in quality, overall refinement, and driving enjoyment, it managed only middling marks with regard to power.

Now, Mazda has upped its game with a more stylish hatchback variant and the additional capability of an all-wheel drive system. But do style and substance mesh in the more expensive hatchback? We went back to California to find out.

(Read More…)

By on March 22, 2019

2020 Kia Telluride

Life is often a matter of timing. Ask Kia about the difference between the 2020 Kia Telluride crossover and its last attempt at something similar – the Kia Borrego.

Remember the Borrego?

I do. That body-on-frame SUV wasn’t a poor vehicle – I drove one, briefly, and liked it – but it came to market right as the Great Recession and a rapid rise in gas prices were conspiring to work against expensive, gas-guzzling SUVs. Sure, plenty of nameplates survived the carnage, but a newcomer like the Borrego, produced by a brand once known for cheap compact cars, had no chance against those market headwinds.

Enter the Telluride, which is so different from the Borrego that about the only things they have in common are class, amount of seating rows, engine displacement, and door count. Unlike the body-on-frame Borrego, the unibody Telluride is entering a market where the winds are a bit more favorable – crossovers are still hot and there’s no sign of that changing anytime soon.

So Kia won’t have to worry about fighting an uphill battle, at least in terms of market forces. It’s going to be all about the product this time. And the product is quite good.

(Read More…)

By on March 19, 2019

 2018 Lexus NX 300h front quarter

The luxury crossover realm is a weird one. The market has been built on the age-old plan of taking a more basic model and adding profitable flash. The problem lies when the base model is good enough for most buyers.

Indeed, starting out with the best-selling non-truck in America means building something distinctive atop the platform is a challenge. Distinctive most certainly describes this Lexus NX 300h, in more ways than one. But beneath the surface lies a solid performer.

(Read More…)

By on March 12, 2019

2019 Nissan Frontier front quarter

Remember 2005? An old, ugly English prince marries for the second time. A hurricane devastates the U.S. Gulf Coast. Newlywed Chris signs a mortgage on a house and begins to prepare said house for the arrival of a newborn. And Nissan reveals the D40-chassis Frontier.

Fast forward. Charles wonders when his mom will give it up. New Orleans is still recovering. The house, the marriage, and the kid remain. And the 2019 Nissan Frontier continues on, relatively unchanged.

Stability is a good thing in life. Being able to rely upon trusted institutions is reassuring. Few passenger vehicles can be considered institutions – but the Frontier certainly qualifies.

(Read More…)

By on March 11, 2019

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback front quarter

Let’s face it. Most Toyotas are boring. Sure, enthusiasts get tossed the occasional bone – the 86 and the upcoming (controversial) Supra – but otherwise, the lineup doesn’t excite.

I believe that there are gearheads deep within the bowels of Toyota R&D, however. Those who recall the days when several proper performance cars shared a lot with the ubiquitous Camry.

Here is proof. No, this 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback isn’t a hardcore sportscar. It could certainly do with more power. But that Toyota brought out a new car – with an optional manual transmission, no less! – in a climate where the crossover dominates speaks volumes about the future of driving enthusiasm at one of the world’s biggest manufacturers. There is hope for drivers.

(Read More…)

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