Quick Review: 2017 Toyota 4Runner

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2017 Toyota 4Runner

If you’re in the market for a mid-sized SUV and you’re trying to figure out if you should consider buying a 2017 Toyota 4Runner, answer this question:

When you drive down a road and reach the end of the pavement, what do you do? If you turn around and go back, skip the 4Runner. If you view the dirt path ahead of you as a chance for adventure the 4Runner is your kind of SUV.

2017 Toyota 4Runner
2017 Toyota 4Runner

The 4Runner is stuck in the past which is both good and bad. While most other SUVs are built on a car chassis for a smoother ride, the 4Runner is still built on a truck chassis. For those who want modern refinements, you’d best look elsewhere.  You won’t find newfangled technology like adaptive cruise control or lane keeper assist. Heck, even the key is old school. It actually looks like a key.

The 4Runner focuses its effort on getting you there no matter what kind of terrain you have to traverse. If you buy the 4×4, that’s what you get. It’s not an all-wheel drive SUV, it’s a four-wheel drive. It has a big manly looking shift knob for engaging both axles. The 4Runner has a 270 horsepower four-cylinder engine. While that’s a fair amount of power, you won’t feel it if you punch the throttle on the highway. The 4Runner is geared differently to give you power off the main roads. Mileage is nothing to brag about. My test car was the four-wheel version and it is rated for 17 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway. I averaged 18 mpg during my test week which matches the EPA’s combined number.

2017 Toyota 4Runner
Big and Bold Up Front

The styling is also a bit of a throwback. It’s got a great muscular grill up front, but Toyota hasn’t tried very hard to give it subtle curves or sleek styling. It’s brutish, and that’s fine. Even the interior is old school. Where a lot of dashboards are getting a smoother refined look, this one has a lot of jutting edges.

Don’t get me wrong, the 4Runner’s lack of styling flair doesn’t bother me. It’s refreshing to see a vehicle that understands its place in the world.

2017 Toyota 4Runner Interior
Nothing bad, just not cutting edge

My test vehicle was the 2017 4×4 TRD Off-Road Premium edition which stickered at $42,202. The base price for a 2018 model is $34,410. That gets you a two-wheel drive SR5 model. You may not need the Premium edition, but you should at least spend a couple thousand more to get the four-wheel drive model. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Of course, that assumes that you the type that didn’t turn around when the pavement ran out of room.

Car Review: Mazda CX-5

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2017 Mazda CX-5
2017 Mazda CX-5

Looking for a success story? How about the Mazda CX-5? Ever since it debuted with the 2013 model its sales have grown by big leaps in the United States. So how do you improve on that?

2017 Mazda CX-5
2017 Mazda CX-5

Meet the all new 2017 Mazda CX-5. Completely redesigned and ready to continue Mazda’s growth.

Mazda builds three SUVs. There’s the sub-compact CX-3 and the mid-sized CX-9. Not surprisingly, the CX-5 slots right in the middle. Think of it as competition for Toyota’s RAV4, Honda’s CR-V, Chevy’s Equinox, Ford’s Escape or the Nissan Rogue (with plenty of other compact SUVs thrown in).

2016-17 Mazda CX-5 comparison
2017 on top, 2016 below. Notice the nose.

The redesign adds plenty of new bits and pieces. From a re-engineered chassis to enhancing something Mazda calls G-Vectoring Control vehicle dynamics (it uses engine timing to control chassis dynamics – which means better handling). The most obvious thing for buyers will be the restyled body. Mazda has decided to go bolder up front. The last generation had a grill that sloped gently backwards. The new snout is more up-right.  On the CX-9 it looks huge. It’s not quite as big on it’s smaller brother, but it still stands out. It definitely changes the look of the car giving it a stronger appearance.

Up front you have one – and only one – engine choice. It’s a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that puts out 187 horsepower. Some compact SUVs have base engines that offer less, other models have upgraded models that offer more. 187 horses is enough to get you around town comfortably. You can choose either the normal of the sport mode to control the car’s feel. It’s mated to a six-speed transmission that does just fine. The mileage isn’t especially impressive. It’s rated at 23 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway with a combined number of 26 mpg. During my week with the CX-5 I averaged a little under 24 mpg. Compare that to the Honda CR-V, and it’s a little low.

2017 Mazda CX-5
Sharper styling up front

If there is one place where the CX-5 shines, it’s in the handling department. Mazda has always bragged that it builds cars for people who drive. Review after review will talk about how nimble this car feels on the road. There are two ways of looking at that. First, most people have no idea whether their car is nimble or not. They rarely accelerate through windy canyon roads. They’re not going to notice the chassis refinements on their way to work each morning. On the other hand, and this is a really important other hand, a better handling car is safer. When something jumps in front of your vehicle and you suddenly have to swerve around it, that handling will make a difference. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with other cars, but just don’t discount the added safety value of a car that drives well.

Speaking of safety, my test CX-5 also had adaptive cruise control (which keeps the distance between you and the car ahead constant) and lane keeper assist. Mazda’s version will gently tug you back into your lane if you begin to veer. I’d rate it as OK. I’ve driven some that are better, but I’ve also driven worse.

2016-17 Mazda CX-5 Interior comparison
Nice update on the CX-5 Interior. 2016 above, 2017 below.

The interior has also been redesigned and is both attractive and comfortable. The design of the previous model pulled everything to the center. The new version has a slightly flatter feel. Mazda likes to put the display high on the dash. While that’s better from a safety standpoint (it keeps your eyes closer to the road), it also ends up looking like an after thought.

Speaking about the display, I’ve never been a fan of the Mazda interface. It’s confusing and complicated to use. Having said that, I read a review last night from someone who loved it. As always, try it out and figure out it fits your needs.

2017 Mazda CX-5 Rear Cargo Area
Those Rear Seats Fold Flat

One big change in the interior is the way the back seat folds down. In the earlier version, the seats couldn’t fold flat. As a result, it impacted the kinds of things you could load into the back. The new CX-5 allows the seats to lay flat which will make plenty of folks happy. As for legroom in the back, it’s right in the middle of the pack. A little less than the CR-V but more than Escape.

My test car was the Grand Touring All-Wheel-Drive edition. With plenty of upgrades the final sticker came in at $34,085. The base model starts at about $10,000 less.

Mazda has a long way to go before it knocks off the class leader in the compact SUV world. The Toyota RAV4 sold more than three times as many so far in 2017 and its sales grew by an even larger percentage. Still, the newly redesigned CX-5 is moving in the right direction for Mazda and is building a solid following.

 

Car Review: 2017 Mazda MX5

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2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata

What do you do when you’re the most successful open top roadster in history?

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF
2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

That was exactly the challenge facing Mazda and its MX-5 Miata. On April 22, 2016 the company sold its one millionth edition of the tiny drop-top sports car. It already had a hard-top convertible. There had been talk of a coupe or a hatchback version, but Mazda opted for a fastback… with a twist. It’s a convertible fastback.

Officially it’s called the MX-5 Miata RF. The RF stands for retractable fastback. Look at it from the side and the sloping roofline makes it significantly different from other Miatas. The hard-top roof flows right to the back of the car for a coupe effect. But in just 13 seconds that coupe top can fold neatly into space just ahead of the trunk. A display on the dash let’s you watch its progress. Once down, you’re back to classic MX-5 Miata driving fun.

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF
The Fastback Look Was Easy to Create

If you live in a place where a cloth-top is going to take a beating from the weather, the RF is a great alternative. To be honest, it doesn’t seem particularly quiet with the top up, although I’m sure it must be slightly less noisy than the version. But even if it isn’t I’d consider the car just for the looks alone.

Once you move past the top, the car is a classic Miata. That means it’s a fun car to drive. While its four-cylinder 2.0 liter engine only produces 155 horsepower, you get to enjoy ever single one if you have the six speed manual transmission. In some cars that kind of power would leave you wanting, but that’s not the case in the MX-5 Miata. Don’t get me wrong, there are other high-horsepower cars that will slam you back in your seat. But the MX-5 Miata you’re an active part of a great performance package. Use the engine’s power curve and torque range. Use the sport suspension. Fling it into turns and you’ll feel the rewards every day.

Am I actually gushing?

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Interior
The Interior Will Fit You LIke A Glove

So what’s the downside? The Mx-5 Miata is small. Really small. If you’re too big you either won’t fit or you won’t be comfortable. There’s even less room on the passenger side. And the trunk is barely big enough to call a trunk. But then, those aren’t the reasons you buy an MX-5 Miata. You buy it because you want to enjoy driving.

You might find the suspension a bit on the stiff side. While that’s part of what makes it fun, it might also annoy people who are used to a cushier ride. During my test week I opted not to drive it on a brief 400 mile journey to the LA area. That’s just not what the MX-5 Miata is good for.

I’m also not a fan of the Mazda’s display interface that controls the radio and climate. It’s simply not easy to use. I’m sure owners will adapt, but I can’t figure out what those Mazda engineers are thinking with this solution.

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF
Looks Great With Top Up Or Down

Mileage is right where you’d expect to be. I averaged nearly 32 miles to the gallon during my test week and I wasn’t gentle at all. Officially Mazda says it’s good for 26 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway.

My test car was the Grand Touring Edition that had leather interior and safety goodies like a lane departure warning system. It basically gave a low rumble when you began to drift to the side.

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF
Not All Hardtop Convertibles Look This Good

The base MX-5 Miata starts at $24,915. The entry-level RF is the Club edition that comes out of the gate at $31,555. My RF Grand Touring edition only added a little with a starting price of $32,620.

Is the MX-5 Miata a beauty? Definitely. Does it have great performance? Absolutely. Will you enjoy every minute be hind the will. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Congratulations Mazda. You made a good thing even better.

 

Car Review: 2017 Honda Civic SI

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2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe
2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe

Years ago a group called The Tubes had a song called, “What Do You Want From Life?” I thought about that song as I was driving the 2017 Honda Civic Si. There are faster cars. And prettier cars. And bigger cars. But if you want life to give you a sporty coupe that delivers plenty of fun, just enough room and catches people’s attention, the Honda Civic Si might just be the answer.

2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe
2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe

First, let’s give a little history. The latest version of the Civic is the tenth generation since Honda first introduced it to the US back in 1972. The initial Si model appeared in 1985 with a 1.5 liter engine that pumped out a whopping 91 horsepower. While it sounds pretty anemic today, remember that we were just coming out of the era of darkness when performance was an afterthought. This was a start.

That start leads us to 2017 and the current Civic Si. Honda didn’t go crazy on horsepower. The Si has 205 ponies that come from a 1.5 liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Honda is quick to point out that while this generation engine has the same horsepower as the previous non-turbo motor, it comes on at a lower RPM and lasts over a broader range. What does that mean? It actually makes the six-speed manual transmission a little more civilized in city traffic. You don’t have to shift as much to keep it in the right RPM range. Of course, you can if you want to, but you won’t find it bogging down between traffic lights.

2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe Engine
1.5 Liter Engine Good For 205 Horsepower

Mileage is 38 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg in the city. Considering that’s just a single mpg short of what the standard coupe does on the highway, and equal in the city, those are pretty good numbers.

Of course getting that power to the ground is critical. The Si has a sport tuned suspension to accomplish that task. Compared to the standard civic, it has stiffer springs and stabilizer bars that are a little more rigid, but not enough to make for an uncomfortable ride. It even shares some tweaks with the Civic Type R. That’s the highest performance Civic. But before you think that’s what you need, remember the question: “What do you want from life?”

2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe
Slight Body Changes Give The Si Some Distinction

The Si is a Civic, but it also has some distinctive features. While the standard Civic has an aluminum colored bar stretching across the grill, the Si goes for the black-out style up front. The Si also has larger lower air intakes that sit just below. The result is an aggressive looking car. Throw in some 18 inch low profile tires with 5-spoke alloy wheels and the Si looks like it means business. Oh, and don’t forget that big wing on the back. More than a few people commented on the car’s looks during my test week.

2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe Interior
Comfortable and Sporty Inside

The great looks carry over to the interior as well. The seats have a racy look and there’s a red stitching that accents very nicely. It’s a two-door coupe, but you don’t feel cramped. The back seat isn’t very big, but then that’s not really why you’re buying the Si is it?

The display interface has some fun performance options. The 7-inch display can show throttle and brake input along with lap time and g-force. In other words, you can actually figure out  where the limit really is in the Si. Just do it safely, all right?

2017 Honda Civic Si Coupe
The Spoiler Shows It’s Sporty… Right?

Bottom line is that the 2017 Honda Si delivers plenty of performance and style with a price tag that starts at $24,100. Throw in the $875 destination and handling fee and the final price for my test car was $24,975. While that’s $5,000 more than the base coupe, you definitely feel like you’re driving something special.

Is it worth it? Just ask yourself that all important question: What do you want from life?

 

Genesis G80 Sport

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2017 Genesis G80
2017 Genesis G80

We weren’t in the 2018 Genesis G80 Sport more than 30 seconds before my wife said, “Why don’t we get one of these?”

2018 G80 Sport
2018 G80 Sport

It’s important to point out that, despite the fact that she married me, my wife has great taste. She can quickly size up quality and isn’t afraid to voice her opinion. In the Genesis G80 Sport, she liked what she saw and felt.

By now you should know that Genesis is its own brand. Just as Toyota spun off Lexus and Nissan created Infiniti, Hyundai realized it needed a separate division if it was going to nibble away at the luxury market. Since the Genesis name was reserved for the upper Hyundai range, it only made sense to spin it off as the luxury brand.

The Genesis G80 Sport isn’t going to knock Mercedes off of its lofty perch, but it is going to wreak havoc in the mid-range of the luxury world. Once again, Hyundai has packed a lot of car into a great price.

2018 G80 Sport
Just Sporty Enough

The first thing we need to do is make a distinction between the G80 and the G80 Sport. Not surprisingly, the G80 Sport is supposed to be the performance sedan of the Genesis range. Most reviewers have called it “Sport” with quotation marks, or “Sport-Light”. While it may be sportier, they don’t think it qualifies as a true performance car. The horsepower is fine, but some folks don’t think it would measure up in a slalom test. So here’s the thing to remember: are you ever going to run it through a slalom? If the most exciting driving you do is accelerating on the curve that merges on to the freeway, don’t worry about how many Gs it will handle. You want it to accelerate crisply, brake solidly and corner in such a way that you don’t feel like you’re drifting away. The G80 Sport does all those things well. Maybe not at Audi or BMW levels, but good enough for what most people want and need.

Genesis G80 Sport 3.3 Liter Engine
Genesis G80 Sport 3.3 Liter Engine

The Sport gets a 3.3-liter twin turbocharged V6 that gives 365 horsepower. If that’s not enough for you, there is a 5.0 liter V8 that will pump out 420 horsepower. That’s just not available in the Sport version. Frankly, 365 is plenty. Push the throttle and it comes to life very quickly. It’s mated to Hyundai’s second generation 8-speed transmission which shifts just fine. You have your choice of Eco, Normal, Sport and Snow modes.

To be honest, the G80 Sport’s weakest point is probably in the MPG department. Officially it’s good for 17 MPG in the city and 25 MPG on the high way with a combined number of 20 MPG. Frankly, I only managed about 17 MPG during my test week. It was nearly all city driving and I was pretty hard on the throttle, but it’s not as good as some sporty competitors.

Genesis G80 Sport Shifter
Shifter works great, but maybe a bit awkward.

The G80 uses shift-by-wire technology. In other words, the shifter on the center console no longer has a mechanical connection to the gear box. Various manufacturers have tried different systems. Genesis has a handle with a button on the side. Push the button with your thumb and nudge the handle forward and it goes into reverse. Pull it back and you’re in drive. The only awkward thing was the park button that is situated just in front of the shift handle. It works fine, but just seems to be out-of-place.

Genesis G80 2017-2018 comparison
Genesis G80 – 2017 on the left, 2018 on the right

This year the G80 got a mild face-lift. It has redesigned headlights along with a lower front grill. If you don’t like big grilles, you won’t like modern cars. Bigger is in, especially if the car is labeled Sport. I think the G80 grille is just right. Big without being overpowering. Overall, the G80 has an attractive, upscale look.

While it may not be a super Sport, driving the car is a great experience. It uses continuous damping control suspension to give a better ride. It’s also loaded with safety features like automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, driver attention alert and smart cruise control. I thought the thought the lane keeper assist worked very well. It gradually pushed me back into my line without being jerky.

Genesis G80 Sport Interior
Genesis G80 Sport Interior

Inside the G80 Sport gets a few special touches. It has dark chrome trim with carbon fiber along with copper contrast stitching on the leather surfaces. That copper matches the accents on the headlamps and wheels. The Sport edition comes with a Lexicon surround sound system that has 17 speakers. The display interface works well. Hyundai’s version is one of the best on the market. Easy to understand and no major glitches.

The seats were nice, but it’s the front legroom that is especially impressive. The G80 beats most of its competitors by three or four inches. Don’t need all that room up front? Fine, slide your seat forward and the folks in the back get extra room to stretch out.

Hyundai and Kia have always been big on value, and the Genesis line will carry that forward. For example, the 2018 G80 gives you 3 years/36,000 mile complimentary normally scheduled maintenance, Genesis Connected Services (which includes a suite of safety services), SiriusXM Travel Link (traffic data), and Map Care (annual navigation map updates).

2018 G80 Sport Dash
You know it’s a luxury car when it has an analog clock…

And then there’s the price. The base 2018 Genesis G80 starts at $41,750. My 3.3T Sport edition was priced at $56,225 and that included freight and handling. There were no options listed, and I can imagine that you’d really need any. Compare this to the other cars in the G80’s class and you’ll quickly realize you’re saving some serious cash.

The 2018 Genesis G80 Sport may not the pinnacle in road performance, but it’s still a strong package on just about every front and one you really need to consider if you’re looking for a luxury sedan. Besides, it only took my wife 30 seconds to figure out this car was a contender.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Cars to Have Fun With in 2018

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2018 Lexus LC 500
2018 Lexus LC 500

If you’re looking for five ways to have fun with the new 2018 cars here’s a quick list:

2018 Subaru Crosstrek
2018 Subaru Crosstrek

Subaru Crosstrek – Subaru generally makes homely cars, but this one is the exception. All wheel drive means you can go almost anywhere. Plus, there must be a reason Subaru owners are so darn loyal.

 

2018 Toyota C-HR
2018 Toyota C-HR

Toyota C-HR – This is brand new from Toyota. OK, it’s just another compact SUV. But it looks so darn cool people will just feel younger driving it.

 

2018 Ford Expedition
2018 Ford Expedition

 

Ford Expedition – So you’ve finally decided to take that cross-country trip to visit all the relatives who offered you a place to stay (OK, maybe then didn’t really mean it, but why not give it a shot). You could buy an RV, but it’s a pain to park and just so darn big. The Expedition is the perfect choice. It’s a big comfortable cruiser with plenty of luggage and people space that fits into (almost) any parking spot. And you could always tow a nice Airstream if the relatives rethink the invitation. 

2018 Kia Stinger
2018 Kia Stinger

Kia Stinger – To start with, it’s got a great name! If you’re used to mundane cars for South Korea, the Stinger will change your outlook. It’s aimed straight at cars like Audi and BMW with 365 horsepower and a chassis that loves windy roads.

2018 Lexus LC 500
2018 Lexus LC 500

 Lexus LC – You’ve always wanted a Ferrari but you’re never going to spend that much on a car. Any car. Check out the new Lexus RC. Amazing looks and spectacular performance with a sticker that starts below $100k. Sure it’s a lot of money, but the guy in the Lamborghini spent way more and the valet will park this car right next to his!

 

Car Review: 2017 Kia Niro

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2017 Kia Niro
2017 Kia Niro

For years the Toyota Prius has truly owned the hybrid market. Oh sure, there have been plenty of other hybrids on the streets and they while they may have gotten better mileage than their gas counterparts, they didn’t get killer Prius-like mileage.

It’s time for the Prius to put on a little body armor. The hybrid wars are hearing up. There are now several cars that are delivering mileage in the Prius range.

2017 Kia Niro
2017 Kia Niro

Take the 2017 Kia Niro. It costs less than a Prius and delivers mileage that is darn close. Let’s start with those mileage numbers. The Niro will get 51 mpg around town and 46 on the highway for a combined number of 49. That’s 3 mpg short of what the Prius will deliver, but it’s definitely in the ball park. (By the way, if you’re after mega mileage in a traditional hybrid, try the Hyundai Ioniq. Its combined number is 58.) My test car was the Niro Touring which is rated a little lower at 43 mpg combined. Still, I averaged about 46 mpg during my week without really trying to save fuel.

Niro Hybrid Engine
Niro Hybrid Engine

Power for the Niro comes from a 1.6 liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 104 horsepower. It also has a 43 horsepower electric motor fitted between the engine and transmission. Working in tandem with the gasoline engine they pump out 139 horsepower. It uses a six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission to get that power to the road.

Most people buying hybrids aren’t worried about 0-60 times. That’s just as well because the Niro is not especially impressive in that department. It gets you to freeway speed, but it’s not going to impress anyone along the way.

2017 Kia Niro
Taller than a car, shorter than most SUVs

Perhaps the biggest difference between the Prius and Niro is the styling. The Prius has that quirky hybrid look, while the Niro is an attractive SUV. To be honest, the Niro’s body is sort of a hybrid as well. It’s taller than a traditional car, but lower than what most folks would expect from an SUV. It’s smaller size also means limited cargo space as well, but then that’s the trade-off for the great mileage.

I love the fact that more and more cars are coming with a wider range of safety features. Depending upon options, the Niro has seven airbags, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Change Assist and Lane Departure Warning. Kia is also touting that the Niro chassis is 53 percent Advanced High Strength Steel, including reinforcing the roof pillars and roof rails which makes it both lighter and safer.

2017 Kia Niro
Nothing fancy, but comfortable and laid out well

The Niro has a comfortable interior. My touring edition was a little more upscale and included goodies like heated and cooled seats. I liked the instrument panel. On the right hand side is a speedometer, on the left side is the energy status. I liked the status view because it was kind of subtle. It doesn’t beat you over the head with hybrid high-techiness. I’m a fan of the Kia UVO control system. It’s easy to understand and works well. My test car also had Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. I’m convinced that’s the future of the connectable car.

Incidentally, considering its size the Niro has impressive back seat room. It will give you nearly four inches more than the Prius.

2017 Kia Niro
Base Price Starts At $22,890

The impressive thing about the Niro is the starting price. It begins at $22,890 and works its way up. My test car had the touring package which meant it was fully loaded (including a $1,900 advanced technology package). It stickered at $32,840. If you’re still making Prius comparisons the Niro starts out at nearly $1,800 less.

In the past you’d have to decide whether you wanted an SUV, or killer gas mileage. The Kia Niro gives you the chance to have both.

 

 

Car Review: 2017 Volvo S90

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2017 Volvo S90
2017 Volvo S90

There’s no question in my mind that if The Saint ever needed a car for an elegant evening on the town, he would have chosen the 2017 Volvo S90.

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD
2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD

OK, stick with me on this one.

The Saint was a TV show back in the 60s starring Roger Moore who played a thief who robbed from the really bad guys. He drove a Volvo P1800 which was a nice sporty-looking two-seater that, frankly, was more show than go. When The Saint was remade into a movie with Val Kilmer in 1997, he used a Volvo C70 coupe. Both great cars, but hardly something that would impress the valet at an upscale restaurant.

2017 Volvo S90
Simple and Elegant

The Volvo S90 could do just that. It’s brand new for 2017 and elegant from stem to stern. The clean body lines are only upstaged by the beautiful interior. Volvo claims it has invested $11 billion dollars over the last five years in developing its latest line of cars. One drive in the S90, and you’ll think it was money well spent.

Let’s start with the outside. It has clean, simple lines that just exude style. To be honest, the pictures you see don’t really even do the car justice. In person, it just looks better. The grille is typical Volvo styling flanked by a pair of headlights that Volvo refers to as “Thor’s Hammer”. The body has a slight rake that gives it just a hint of aggression. Volvo didn’t take the S90’s styling in a different direction than other luxury sedans, it just nailed the elegance of simplicity.

2017 Volvo S90 Interior
Did I mention how much I liked the interior?

I’m already gushing and I haven’t gotten to my favorite part: the interior. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more beautiful passenger compartment in any car. The top of the dash has a leather folio look with the perfect edge. My test car had wood trim on the dash and side panels. The seats were more than just comfortable, they were artistically sculpted. The center console is narrow without being too thin. It moves towards the dash where you’ll find a perfectly placed display interface.

Volvo S90 Dash and Display
Volvo S90 Dash and Display

That display is also interesting. It works like an iPad. You swipe between three screens. In the center is a list of your active apps, navigation and entertainment. Swipe to the left and you have all of the car’s functions, swipe to the right and you’ll find the audio controls. My test car had the Bowers and Wilkins sound system. It actually lets you choose what type of audio you’d like to hear. You can opt for studio, individual stage or concert hall. It really does make a difference. You can also  tune it to sound best for the driver, or all the passengers. Of course it’s a $2,650 option, but if you’re an audiophile you won’t be able to resist. To be totally honest, there were a few times when I found the display just a little glitchy. But overall it worked well.

Up-front in my test car was the 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 316 horsepower. Think about that for a moment. Four cylinders in less than 122 cubic inches with more than 300 horses. It’s mated up to an 8-speed transmission. It uses it’s power carefully. You’re not going to squeal away from the curbs but you’ll definitely get up to speed quickly. You can also opt for a 250 horsepower engine if you want to save some money. A hybrid gas/electric engine combo coming later this year is supposed to pump out closer to 400 horses.

Volvo Animal Detection
Volvo Safety Suite Will Even Spot A Moose.

It’s probably not a surprise that Volvo is embracing the car’s safety features like adaptive cruise control and lane keeper assist that gently nudges you back into your lean. Volvo proudly calls the S90 “semi-autonomous”. Best of all, this suite of safety features is standard. You even get Volvo’s City Safety technology that detects and warns the driver not just about other vehicles, but pedestrians and bicycles the occasional large animal as well to avoid a collision.

My test car was the S90 T6 All Wheel Drive model. The sticker started at $52,950 and went out the door at $66,105. While it’s pricy, it’s not bad compared with BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. It’s definitely a worthy option for anyone wanting something elegant that is also slightly different.

After all, if it’s good enough for The Saint, it will fit you just fine.

 

Car Review: 2017 Honda CR-V

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2017 Honda CR-V
2017 Honda CR-V

Several years ago I wrote about the Honda CR-V saying that while it was a great SUV in just about every area, it was a hard car to love. That’s because it was too smooth, too good. It just didn’t evoke much emotion.

2017 Honda CR-V
2017 Honda CR-V

Enter the newly redesigned 2017 Honda CR-V. And while it hasn’t exactly gone off the emotional edge, it’s definitely reaching into the feelings zone. Everything about the CR-V is better and frankly it’s just a little more likable. That’s important because the last generation CR-V was already a big seller for Honda. In 2016 one-quarter of all Hondas sold in the US were CR-Vs. In fact, according to Honda, the CR-V has been the best-selling SUV in America for the past 20 years, with total U.S. sales of nearly 4 million units since it was introduced in 1997. So when contemplating changes the company brass was likely holding its collective breath. They can let it go. The new CR-V is just fine.

2017 Honda CR-V
New Design For 2017

Let’s start with the outside. Honda styling hasn’t exactly been cutting edge over the last 15 years. Attractive? Yes. Forward thinking? Not really. This latest version of the CR-V takes a solid step into the current generation of automotive design. You could argue that this body style may even be a few years late, but at least it’s finally here.

2016-2017 CR-V Comparison
2016 CR-V on Left, 2017 CR-V on Right

The new look isn’t a radical departure, just a fresh restyling. Up front CR-V owners will be very comfortable with the same upward-sweep of the headlights. What they’ll also see is more bling with more chrome in the grille. And if it’s bling they want, they’ll love the rear hatch. A chrome bar stretches across and connects nicely with the bolder taillights. The side of the CR-V has a little more contouring as well which gives it a nicer look. Once again, it’s not a whole new direction, just a great update. Incidentally, Honda says the new body is more aerodynamic which will likely help fuel mileage.

2017 Honda CR-V Interior
2017 Honda CR-V Interior

The interior is a nice upgrade as well. It’s funny how one little thing can make a big difference, but that’s the case with the CR-V’s new center arm-rest. There’s a reason most manufacturers build them this way, and it was nice to see Honda jump in with something that does what driver’s actually want.

I like the new instrument display. Unlike some displays on other types of cars, the CR-V’s readout is constant. But that’s fine. It does just about everything you’ll need. There’s also a video display mounted on the dash. While it’s not the best integration I’ve seen, it’s definitely well done. The new Honda interface controls are better than the older version. The usual cluster of climate control buttons are immediately below. There’s a standard mechanical shift underneath that. None of that fancy fly-by-wire electronic stuff.

2017 Honda CR-V Engine
2017 Honda CR-V Engine

Under the hood, the Honda has given the CR-V its first turbocharged engine. It’s a 1.5 liter direct fuel injection four-cylinder good for 190 horsepower. Your other option is a 2.4 liter non-turbo engine that actually delivers only 184 horsepower. The smaller turbo engine on the all-wheel-drive model gets 27 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway for a combined total of 30 mpg. The non-turbo gets slightly less. During my week with the CR-V I didn’t do quite that well, but then mine was strictly city driving.

The only downside for me is the continuously variable transmission. They work great, but they aren’t exactly fun. Stepping on the throttle doesn’t give you very much kick. Granted, it’s only 190 horsepower, but CVT trannies never seem to be very enjoyable. But then, most folks simply want transportation not hard-core performance and the CR-V will deliver just fine.

2016-2017 CR-V Rear Comparison
2016 CR-V on Left, 2017 CR-V on Right

The CR-V now also has the Honda Sensing suite of safety and driver-assisting technologies as standard equipment on EX and higher trims. High tech goodies like Road Departure Mitigation, Adaptive Cruise Control and Rear Cross Traffic Monitor will help keep you safe.

My test car was the Touring model with the 1.5 turbocharged engine. Nicely equipped, the final sticker price was $34,595.

The world of compact SUVs is very crowded. It’s impressive that the CR-V has dominated so well for so long. With a fresh look for 2017, it’s likely that Honda’s CR-V is poised to keep that string alive for years to come.

 

Car Review: 2017 Kia Cadenza

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2017 Cadenza
2017 Cadenza

The 2017 Kia Cadenza is going to leave stuck between the rock and the hard place.

2017 Cadenza
2017 Cadenza

On one side is the rock. A newly redesigned upscale sedan that does a lot of things right including a price that won’t force you to mortgage your home.

The hard place is the name. It’s a Kia. That’s not going to impress the gang down at the country club. They’re into BMWs and Audis. Oh sure, they’ll tell you how nice it looks, but inside they’ll be dismissing the pedestrian roots.

So which way do you go?

2017 Cadenza
Straight from the Kia California Design Studio

Let me make the case for the Cadenza. First, your friends who don’t know cars will never know it’s a Kia until you tell them. The newly redesigned exterior is a product of Kia’s California design studio. Chief Designer Peter Schreyer’s likes what he calls “the simplicity of the straight line.” That means one design feature that goes the length of the car giving it a sleeker profile.

The grille is an evolutionary step from Kia’s “tiger nose” concept. There are actually two different grills. Lower trim models get what Kia calls the “Diamond Butterfly” pattern. Upper trim gets the “Intaglio” look with vertical blades.

The 2017 Cadenza has the same overall length last year’s model, but it’s slightly wider and lower in height.  The wheelbase is a little longer which gives a little extra legroom for passenger in the back seat.

2017 Cadenza Engine
290 Horsepower is Just Right

Under the hood is a 3.3 liter V6 engine that delivers 290 horsepower without a turbo. The result is instant power right when you need it. Connected to an eight-speed gearbox you’ll find it hard not to like its performance. Mileage is rated at 20 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway with a combined number of 23 mpg. In fact, that’s exactly what I got during my test week.

Kia touts the Cadenza’s stronger, lighter and more rigid body structure. They say it all adds up to a more enjoyable driving experience. Overall, that’s very true. Just don’t expect a sports sedan. If you love zipping through canyons, you’re probably going to need a true sporty vehicle. Having said that, the Cadenza does a great job of comfortably getting around town.

2017 Cadenza Interior
Simple Elegance Inside

Once your friends are inside, they won’t know it’s not a true luxury marque. After all, it has the official sign of all upscale cars: an analog clock on the dash. OK, it’s more than just the clock. My test car had white Nappa leather seats that are both heated and vented. Portions were quilted to give it just the right touch. It even has one of those shades that rises up to block that nasty sun from glaring through the rear window.

The dash has a nice clean layout with the Kia/Hyundai Uvo display that controls just about everything. I’ve said before I’m a fan of their system because it’s easy to understand and use. I liked that the backup monitor also uses a 360 degree view so you have no excuse if you hit that trash can in your driveway. There’s a great phone compartment at the front of the center console with a wireless charging pad.

2017 Cadenza SXL
Your Friends Will Like the Extra Leg Room in the Back

But let’s get straight to the best part. The Kia Cadenza starts with a base price of $31,990. If you want the full upscale experience, you’ll want the Cadenza Limited which starts at $44,390. Throw in all the options necessary to impress your friend and you’ll spend… $44,390. My test car $45,290 because it included a $900 freight and handling fee. Don’t forget Kia’s 5 year/60,000 miles basic warranty and 10 year/100,000 mile limited powertrain warranty.

You’re going to be pretty hard pressed to buy any of those fancier names in this size of car for anywhere near this price. That’s why you’re stuck. Do you want upscale value or do you want a prestige name that delivers more sporty performance?

Here’s an easy way to decide. Check out the prices and just imagine how much fun you can have with all the money you’d save buying the 2017 Kia Cadenza. So much for the hard place.