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2017 Toyota 86

Toyota is billing its 86 as “the Affordable, Fun-damental Sports Car.” We can’t argue with that description. But first let’s be clear. The Toyota 86 used to be the Scion FR-S in this market. The 86 nameplate was used on the car in other markets, meaning other countries. Now, as Toyota terms it, the FR-S transitions back to the Toyota brand in this market. Translation, when Toyota discontinued the Scion brand because it had done its job, the company decided to keep most of its models. And in the case of the 86, fun loving drivers are better off because of the move. This car was a throwback. It mimics the small mostly British roadsters of the 1950s that had names like MG and Triumph. Those cars were small and had great weight to power ratios. And that meant oomph, not the blood curdling kind but they were quick and agile.

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2014 Audi A8 L TDI Quattro

Diesel used to be a dirty word in the American market. But spearheaded by the Volkswagen Group, oil burners have gained a foothold in this market and they are widening their footprint.

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2016 Mazda CX-3

Mazda is retooling its entire line-up with its SKYACTIV-G technology that reduces weight and improves performance as well as fuel economy. The 2016 CX-3 is the fifth Mazda equipped with the technology. The small crossover was a five-door hatchback that seated five (read four) people that weighed less than 3,000 lbs. That is light in the automotive world. Powered by a 2.0-liter four cylinder engine that made 146 horsepower and a matching 146 pound-feet of torque, the CX-3 had a six speed automatic transmission. That was enough oomph to deal with normal driving conditions. Fuel economy was pretty good for a gasoline powered car. The 2016 CX-3 was rated at 27 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg combine.

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2018 Mazda CX-3

Although it is early in this generation of the Mazda CX-3’s model cycle, the automaker made a few changes to keep the current rendition fresh in its offerings for the hot small crossover market. They made a lot of under the sheet-metal improvements. They added what they’ve branded Smart City Brake Support as standard equipment on all trim lines. Other improvements included Standard G-Vectoring control, automatic on/off headlights on some models, others got rain sensing windshield wipers, automatic climate controls and the GT premium package now includes six-way power seats, power driver lumbar supports, driver seat memory, heated steering wheel and traffic sign recognition.

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2019 Mazda CX-3

The 2019 Mazda CX-3 is a small crossover. It was so small it could do a good imitation of a big hatchback. We drove one here to scope out the auto show. On the way we encountered ice and sleet, then rain and then something akin to fog. The point is Mazda’s CX-3 handled it all relatively well. It was powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that made 148 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode and a sport mode. You don’t want to use the latter on an Interstate. It burns more gasoline because of the higher revolutions due to the gearing. The CX-3 was rated at 27 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg combined. I stopped to gas up a few miles before I crossed into Indiana. I didn’t have a full tank of fuel when I left and the smaller the vehicle the smaller the gas tank; 11.9 gallons on the all-wheel-drive version which is what I had.

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2016 Nissan Titan XD

Scottsdale, ARIZ., – Back in the day of really big ships one country developed what became known as pocket battleships, there may have been two. They were bigger than heavy cruisers though not as sizable as battleships but they were more technologically advanced than either. That seems to be the philosophy that Nissan has taken with its Titan XD.

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2018 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Inscription

I turned onto McNichols Street headed west quicker than I should have. A minivan coming my way was just too close, about a half block away, but I did it anyway. That’s because I knew my 2018 Volvo XC60 could get from a standstill to out of harm’s way quickly. With just a little prompting from me, the Swedish crossover was approaching 50 mph before I reached the next block. That’s what the Volvo XC60 T6 can do. In fact any Volvo with the T6 designation has a 2.0-liter four cylinder engine that is equipped with both supercharger and turbocharger. This combination of blowers produces 316 horsepower and 295 pound feet of torque at a relatively low 2,200 rpm.

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2018 Toyota Camry

The redo of the Toyota Camry is a big deal. This car has been the best-selling midsize sedan in the U.S. for 15 straight years. It has attained benchmark status and now it begins a new life cycle with the introduction of the 8th generation. Toyota’s product development cycle demanded that its best-selling car, a midsized sedan, be restyled in the middle of the hottest truck market in the history of the auto industry. Two-thirds of the vehicles sold are trucks of one sort or another and only one third are cars. Thus, in order to maintain the Camry’s sales volume in a shrinking car market, Toyota must increase its overall share of the midsize car segment. That is a tall order, even for a premier automaker because all the entrees are good cars.

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2019 Volvo S60

One of the first things a Volvo executive told us was that this is a “huge moment for us.” He was talking about the 2019 Volvo S60 luxury sports sedan. I could not agree more. Yes the car is important, particular in a market that is dominated by utility vehicles; an automaker must still have viable sedans for the buyers who go against the grain. The 2019 S60 updates Volvo’s offering in the luxury midsize sport sedan market.

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2015 GMC Canyon

Standing alone, the 2015 GMC Canyon looked like an ordinary pickup truck. But out on the road when a few full-size pickup trucks whizzed by, it was apparent that the Canyon was smaller. Not by much but still it was about two-thirds the size of a full-size pickup and that made it special.

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2019 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

The 2019 Toyota Avalon Hybrid is an awfully good midsize sedan. The brand’s flagship car was given a complete makeover that didn’t get that much attention in a world dominated by utility vehicles. Still, it should be noted that the 2019 Avalon Hybrid went from a fairly boring design to soothing akin to a snazzy design. The car had a new wide grille that was dominant. Overall the new Avalon was longer, lower and wider. That really gave it a sleek appearance, especially in dark colors. Our test vehicle was opulent amber. It looked black until the sun caught it. New stamping methods allowed for deep draw panels that expressed distinguishable sculpted forms. Complex surfaces could now be shaped, like the at Avalon’s door handles that coincided with its profile’s robust character line. A distinct, carved lower rocker panel behind the front wheels visually exemplified the benefits of its new global platform. We had the Limited Avalon Hybrid. It was the top-of-the-line and had all the bells and whistles as they say. There were slim LED headlights, three dimensional surfaces, an aluminum hood with longitudinal lines and the new grille had tangential vents at its lower portion for passing air across the front tires. Horizontal character lines were across the back, at the top, center, and lower portions of the car. The Avalon’s 72.8-in. width, in effect, was highlighted by the distinct sectioning. Connected LED tail lamps shaped in a three-dimensional, “aero fin” style differentiated the back from the last generation Avalon. They integrated the backup, stop, and turn lights into a single harmonious, fluid form. In short, the 2019 Avalon Hybrid looked good. The Avalon was what Toyota called a premium midsize sedan. But it looked full size. However, it didn’t handle like a big car. A new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine was more fuel efficient, ran cleaner, and was more powerful than previous iterations. The four-cylinder was married to an all-new Toyota Hybrid System II powertrain that was engineered for both spirited driving and fuel consciousness. The hybrid system’s net power output was 215 horsepower – up 15 horsepower versus the outgoing version.

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2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

DETROIT – The first thing we noticed when getting into the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid was that it had a range of 575 miles. That was simply astounding for a subcompact car with an 11.4 gallon fuel tank. But with a fuel rating of 53 mpg in the city, 52 mpg on the highway and 52 mpg combined it makes sense. The Corolla Hybrid had a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motors which produced a net of 121 horsepower. It was mated to a continuously variable transmission or CVT. Like most hybrids, the Toyota Corolla was smooth and quiet. And like most hybrids, acceleration was not its strong suit. Under normal circumstances the car was okay. When pulling away, the battery provided a subtle power boost in order to put less strain on the engine and eliminate the “rubber band” effect experienced with some hybrids. That’s what Toyota said. But when aggressive acceleration was needed it was really not there. The 2020 Corolla was definitely a car that needed to be understood and defensively driven. Hybrids have regenerative brakes capable of capturing kinetic energy and transferring it to the battery for charging. The Corolla had electronically controlled regenerative brakes and they could be aggressive, or biting we thought. A couple of times we found ourselves stopping short because we had not gotten use to the brake pedal feel. The brakes could also reduce driver pressure needed on the pedal to keep the Corolla stationary while waiting at a traffic light. When the accelerator was pressed, Brake Hold as Toyota has branded it, releases instantly. We never noticed it.

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2017 Genesis G90

Consumers will decide whether Hyundai has bitten off more than it can chew. In the wake of its success in the market here, the Korean automaker decided to break off its top of the line Genesis model and move it further upscale creating a new luxury brand in the process. There are pitfalls galore in this decision. In effect, Hyundai has to generate name recognition for a new brand and two new nameplates in a market that is inundated with them: Genesis the brand and the G-series which now consist of the G80 and the G90. Getting name recognition in a cluttered market is a tall order. Success depends on spending enough money to reach the right customers. But the most important component is, if the plan is to be successful, the car. And an initial report is that it appears that Hyundai got that right.

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2019 Genesis G70 AWD 3.3T

Switching from a trim line to a brand, especially a luxury brand, has proved to be a challenge for Genesis. The automaker started by launching luxury sedans when market tastes switched to crossover and utility vehicles. But Genesis had to follow its development plans and we’ve seen the launch of three top notch luxury sedans. What’s more the last one, the G70, may be the best of the lot. We had the 2019 G70 AWD 3.3T. This car will grow into the epitome of a luxury sport sedan. It was powered by a 3.3-liter dual turbocharged V6 that made 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque at 1,300 rpm. It was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and rev matching. The car was capable of getting from a standstill to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds. When dealing with speed, braking becomes even more important. The test car had a set of Brembo performance brakes. They had four-piston front and two-piston rear calipers, which gave the G70 great stopping power and good fade resistance, thanks to 13.8-inch ventilated front rotors. And speed and fuel efficiency don’t normally go together. The G70 AWD 3.3T got 18mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway and 20 mpg combined. This G70 was lightning fast and the brakes gripped with authority and slowed the car down in quick order. It had launch control, which went unused as did the drive modes; it stayed in comfort for most of the week-long test drive. There were five choices. The adjustable elements include: powertrain response, steering weight, engine sound, all-wheel drive torque distribution, and suspension firmness. Custom-drive mode further adjusted a variety of vehicle parameters to suit preferences or driving conditions. We noticed the suspension kept the G70 on track even in curves which we took at ever increasing speeds. There was rack and pinion power steering in the front and motor driven power steering in the rear. That meant four-wheel steering. All G70 models ride on a MacPherson multi-link front and multi-link rear suspensions with a performance-oriented geometry. The 3.3T model had a dynamic package that included a mechanical limited slip differential that improved traction by balancing torque distribution across the rear axle when wheel spin was detected. The G70 3.3T models also featured variable gear ratio steering. The car’s mass was managed by various aluminum components, including an aluminum hood. Handling was exceptional.

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2015 Toyota Yaris

Toyota’s move to more aggressive and stylish designs is not just limited to its midsize and compact cars, the automaker’s subcompact Yaris didn’t escape the stylists’ touch either. For 2015, the Toyota Yaris received an extensive exterior restyling.

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2019 Lincoln L Navigator 4X4 Black Label

Lincoln is crafting a new identity that just might lift it from the ranks of second tier luxury brands. We test drove the 2019 Lincoln L Navigator Black Label and were duly impressed. The question is not whether it was good but how good it was. Where to begin? From the distinctive honeycombed grille with the Lincoln badge in the center which is now the face of the brand, to the family of powerful V6 engines that propel Lincolns down the road, the brand has taken some impressive steps. A close inspection of the grille revealed the honeycombs to be outlines of Lincoln’s rectangular badge. The body on frame constructed Navigator was loaded with little details like that that illuminate a step up in thinking on the part of the brand’s engineers and designers. First of all, the 2019 Lincoln Navigator L was big. The wheelbase was 131.6 inches, compared to a regular Navigator at 122.5 inches. Overall length was 221.9 inches compared to a regular Navigator at 210 inches. But let’s be clear, the Navigator has left the realm of regular. The Navigator L 4X4 weighed three tons, 6,056 lbs. to be exact. It takes a lot of brute force to move that much weight. But Lincoln put the Navigator’s power in a velvet glove. Under the hood was a twin turbocharged 3.5 liter V6 that made 450 horsepower and a diesel-like 510 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 RPMs. The engine was mated to a ten-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and it could tow up 8,100 lbs. This powertrain moved the Navigator L with little or no effort. I never heard the engine. The vehicle had that force of personality that changes the natural inclination of the driver. There wasn’t much hard acceleration or powering through curves. It was quiet, the suspension certainly smoothed out the road, and there were drive modes to deal with all sorts of road conditions and the V6 when idling sounded like a V8.

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2020 Hyundai Palisade

In way, Hyundai is looking to re-assert itself as a premium brand; that is a tall order in a market chock full of different nameplates. But the 2020 Hyundai Palisade is a big step in that direction. The Palisade is a three row midsize premium crossover with a prominent grille, today’s ID badge in the automotive world. The cascading grille was wide, distinctive and clearly made to lay stake to a place in the market. Depending on trim, LED headlights and daytime running lights are available. Internals called the headlights crocodile lights, they seemingly were just above the sheet metal line. There was a vertical layout to the lights both fore and aft where too there were LED lights. There were also options for roof glass. A regular moonroof was available and so was a double glass roof. The pane in the front was movable while the pane covering the second and the third row was fixed. Hyundai said, “This design has aerodynamic benefits as well, with a 0.33 coefficient of drag (Cd). Palisade achieves this low drag coefficient with specific design cues that include a fast A-pillar angle, a rear spoiler side garnish, an optimized front cooling area with an extended internal air guide, aero underside panels, and rear wheel aero deflectors.” Sounds great but the proof of that was on the pavement. And it started with what was under the Palisade’s hood. The midsized crossover had a 3.8 liter V6 that made 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm. It was mated to an eight speed automatic transmission. In front-wheel drive mode it got 19 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined. In all-wheel-drive mode it got 19 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg combined. The short story is that this engine made the Palisade deceptively quick. Any number of times we found ourselves braking because we had come to a curve in the road a lot quicker than we thought.

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2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription

While at a gathering during our week-long test drive of the 2017 Volvo S90, a friend commented that he didn’t know that Volvo made cars like that. The “that” meant full size luxury sedans of the first order. Volvo’s new flagship reminded us of what a designer said years ago about automotive luxury. It’s conveyed in the interior of a car and Volvo certainly did that with the S90. Like Scandinavian design which is a minimalist philosophy, inside the Volvo S90 was awash in what the automaker called natural open pore walnut which was used as a design feature rather than because that’s what you do, use a dollop of wood to justify cost. It conveyed an air of luxury. The perforated leather of the seats, the front pair was heated and cooled while the back seats were heated, aided in conveying sumptuousness. Volvo has one of the best seat designs in the industry with safety being the prominent theme but the S90’s seats accentuated the luxurious ambience of the car too.

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2018 Mazda CX-5

The Mazda CX-5 is the automaker’s bestselling model and after a week test driving the 2018 version, it is easy to see why. The CX-5 is basic in what it does but it performed excellently. Acceleration was great. Under the hood was a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation. It made 186 horsepower and 187 lb.-ft. of torque. It was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The fuel rating was 24 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg combined. That wasn’t bad for all-wheel-drive; there is also a front-wheel-drive version of the CX-5. How does the fairy tell go? This engine was just right. The CX-5 had just enough power to push it passed wimpy. The 2.5-liter was quiet, the transmission was so smooth I couldn’t even feel it shift into higher gears beginning with fourth and it handled with rifle shot accuracy. Inside there was a simple, clean, comfortable layout. Mazda is one of the best at designing an uncluttered dash. About the only thing you could see was the climate controls and they were beneath the central vents. Everything else was controlled from the infotainment touch screen or discretely placed buttons like for the seat warmers.

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2015 Toyota Sienna

If ever there was a scourge of the auto industry, it is a minivan. Most people don’t want to be caught dead in one.