Talk about more than enough, the GMC Yukon XL 4WD SLT certainly filled the bill. Where to begin? Let’s start under the hood. We had the Graphite Performance Edition. That means that the 5.3-liter V8 for a normal Yukon got bumped up to 6.2-liters and 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque with cylinder deactivation. There was a 10-speed automatic transmission, a 3.23 axle ratio and a two-speed active transfer case and magnetic ride control. This engine moved the Yukon XL, which weighed almost three tons, with ease. We didn’t sense any cylinder deactivation. Gearshifts were silky smooth and the suspension managed to kill most of the truck-like ride on this body on frame three-row sport utility. It had an independent coil-over shock, magnetic ride control with the graphite performance package front suspension. In the rear was a solid axle with five-link location and coil springs, magnetic ride control and the graphite performance package. This package included black 22-inch machined wheels with carbon flash metallic pockets, black assist steps with gloss black accents, black chrome grille mesh insert and fog lamp surrounds, body-colored grille surround, gloss black beltline moldings and additional trim, the Z85 suspension package. This was a menacing looking vehicle and we mean that in a good way. About the only thing that was missing were LED headlights. The halogen lamps seemed like they were from another planet. And there wasn’t a moonroof. Still, this GMC Yukon was well equipped. It was the XL Yukon. It had a wheelbase that was 14 inches longer than a normal Yukon and it was almost two-feet longer overall with more than twice the cargo space behind the third row seats.
BANFF, Alberta, Canada, — We came here to see some of the product highlights that Volvo has planned for the 2020 model year. We also heard about how the company is doing. The short story is that sales are up in the U.S. even though the market is down from last year. Global sales are up too. The name of the auto game is product, product, and product. And Volvo has been rolling out top notch vehicles for the last four years. You need look no further than the new crossovers, sedans and wagons the company has been churning out to pinpoint the cause of its sales increase. Specifically, we were going to drive the new XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered, the new Volvo V60 Cross Country and the refreshed 2020 Volvo T8 Twin Engine Plug-In Hybrid. It had 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque. Among the tweaks for the XC90 was a new color, Birch Light Metallic, and third row seats. Depending on the second row configuration, the 2020 XC90 can now be configured for four, six or seven passengers. Volvo staffers said the addition was made because American consumers wanted a third row. And Volvo promised easy access to that row. Alas, we just didn’t get the chance to check it out; even though the XC90 T8 was the first vehicle we put on the road. We had the six-seat model. Volvo had a pretty long list of tweaks for the XC90 in the upcoming model year. Among them were a new concave front grille design, restyled front and rear bumpers, a new gloss black theme for the R-Design trim and all new wheel designs. Volvo said the electric motor sits on the rear axle of the T8s and provides 87 hp driving the rear wheels. The placement allows room for a large electric motor, which is useful in stop-and-go city traffic. The rear placement also makes all-wheel drive more efficient by providing the rear axle with an independent power source. The XC90 T8 comes with what Volvo calls a TurboCord, which is a dual voltage (110v & 220v) charging cable. This allows customers to charge at home using a standard 110v or 220v wall outlet. The flexibility of the vehicle’s industry standard J1772 connectors means customers can recharge their vehicle at thousands of public charging stations. With a 200v power source, the T8 can fully recharge in 2.5 hours.
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.
Kia starting rolling out its models for 2020 recently and there were two new lines. We had the 2020 Soul X-Line; a more or less basic model. But basic does not mean what it used to years ago. First, the Soul mystique was present. The test vehicle had that squared look with that slightly slanted roof that makes the Soul look as though it was cutting through the wind. Under the hood was a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that made 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to what Kia called an Intelligent Variable Transmission, the automaker’s in-house version of a continuously variable transmission. This combination gave the car plenty of power. It was smart, snappy and it had a little oomph. What’s more, we were hard pressed to tell that the transmission was a CVT of sorts. The Soul X-Line was a pleasure to drive it featured body cladding; overfenders for a chunkier look, offroad-inspired accents, unique 18-inch alloy wheels, roof rail inspired accents, optional two-tone paint (ours was white) and fog lights. In some sense, it was a throwback. This Soul had an actual key. There was a fob to lock and unlock the door, but there was no push button on the door nor to start or stop the car. We had to put the key in the ignition and turn the switch to start it. But once we did there was a certain verve to this Soul X-Line no matter the trim line. Handling was surprisingly agile. Steering was very responsive to driver input, as a colleague used to say. Soul handling mirrored that of a Go-Kart. It took just a little turn of the steering wheel for the car to in another direction. Cornering was excellent and lane changes were effortless. The ride was firm without being harsh. The suspension took minor lumps and bumps out of the rode. And the car was quiet; road noise was left outside and at times we could not hear the engine at all.
It has been more than 20 years since Toyota’s RAV4 hit this market. And case you’ve forgotten the vehicle was one of the first crossovers, thus it one of the founders of the segment. It is also a sales leader. With more and more crossovers entering the market, Toyota has made every attempt to keep the RAV4 out front. It has been redesigned; given spiffy new technology, a better engine, more creature comforts and new sheet metal. We thought the new 2.5-liter engine sounded a little wimpy upon start up. But there was nothing lacking in its performance. This power plant made a healthy 203 horsepower and-184 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The combination got 25mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined. That mileage is for the all-wheel-drive model that we had. There is a front-wheel-drive version of the RAV4 as well as a first-ever hybrid. We thought the transmission could be a little slippery. Let up a bit on the accelerator while cruising and then press on it and you kind of caught the gearbox off guard and that could make the direct shift transmission hesitant. Still, the 2019 Toyota RAV4 handled well. Acceleration was excellent. Sight lines were great. The suspension was capable of smoothing out the road. Cornering was good too. The RAV4 was relatively quiet. There were six drive modes to select from: eco, normal, sport, mud and sand, rock and dirt and snow. The compact crossover was bigger, it had a more muscled look and it featured some attributes of edge design. At one point, coming out of the fitness center we thought someone had hit our test vehicle. The creases around the pocket for the parking lights and beside the grille were so pronounced we thought the new RAV4 had been crunched.
The Hyundai Elantra Sport was a great car. Never mind its 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that made 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Never mind that it had a smooth shifting six-speed manual transmission. And never mind it had one of the funkiest sets of 18-inch alloy wheels that we’ve seen in a while. What made the compact sedan great was that its USB jack worked without the engine running. In other words, just plug in your smartphone and it will start charging without turning on the ignition. That makes a big difference when the power is out and stays out for three days. The car had LED daytime running lights as well as full LED headlights and there was a moon-roof too. We had the Elantra Sport. The car was smooth, the gear-shift had just enough torque to give a sense of being attached to the car, but it was not like we had to wrestle. It was an easy driving car. The 2019 Hyundai Elantra cornered well, it rode well and because of the manual transmission, it had some spunk. We climbed inside and found a sporty interior that was all black with red stitching. The perforated seats were not power but the front set was heated. They had fixed bladders for the thighs and the sides, which made the seats very comfortable. The sportiness of the 2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport went right down to the floor with the aluminum and rubber studded peddles and foot-stop. A three-dial climate control system dominated even though there was a touch infotainment screen atop the dash. From that screen Apple CarPlay and Android Auto could be engaged and controlled. The car also had satellite radio, voice controls, Bluetooth, and a SiriusXM Data portal with weather, sports, stocks, fuel prices and movies. The flat bottom steering wheel was wrapped, stitched and sporty. It had a really nice feel. There were power windows but only the driver’s was completely automatic.
Detroit – The Lexus IS was one of the first models from the Japanese luxury brand that demonstrated it was serious about changing its image. Don’t get it twisted. From its start, Lexus always produced first rate products. But they were known for their reliability and quality more so than for their styling. That all changed with the IS. The spindle grille was in full bloom on this car. There were striking headlamps, large air intakes in the front bumper and accent creases on the side that made the compact sedan seem like it was hugging the ground. The hood had a raised center point indicating the power underneath it. LED headlamps were standard, and it had L-shaped LED daytime running lights. On the IS F Sport, which is the model we had, the grille had a three dimensional F-mesh pattern At the rear, the “L” theme continued. LED taillights were triple layered within the taillight housing. Rectangular chrome exhaust tips accentuated the performance accent. There were split five spoke 18-inch wheels. Under the hood was a 3.5-liter V6 that had been tweaked up to 311 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. In addition to its looks, the IS 350 that we tested had all-wheel-drive and handled like the sports sedan that it was. Acceleration was better than average, the car managed the ends and outs of urban traffic without a hitch and the multidimensional suspension smoothed out the roads. The interior was inspired by the brand’s LFA supercar, which is no longer in production. There was NuLuxe trimmed seating, 10-way power front sport seats, a high-efficiency dual-zone automatic climate control system with touch-sensitive controls, power moonroof, and what Lexus has branded SmartAccess with pushbutton start. The climate-control panel, analog clock and steering wheel switches in the black interior were enhanced with stitching. The speedometer and tachometer, as well as the stitching atop the gauge hood, gave the cockpit an austere but sporty feel. The car had the Lexus Remote Touch Interface (RTI) multi-function control device. The RTI is the go-to control for the audio system, driver’s phone, navigation system and more. In essence it is your basic mouse. It was available in conjunction with the navigation system; there was an 835, watt 15-speaker premium sound system. “Enter” buttons on either side of the RTI on the center console helped make the system easier to use, as did a larger leather-wrapped palm rest. During our week-long test drive, family matters took us to New England where we landed in Boston, picked up a Lexus ES 350 Ultra Luxury sedan and motored to Providence, RI.
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.
Detroit – Mazda continues to evolve its Kodo design language and the results are impressive. We didn’t think it possible but the 2019 Mazda3 sedan looked longer, wider and lower. It took its design cues from Mazda’s Vision Concept which was first shown at the Los Angeles Auto Show a couple of years ago. Some aspect of the design made into the production car and others did not. But overall the Mazda3 sedan is the first production model which has taken on the new look that Mazda called a matured Kodo design language: a lower hood, a more refined cabin and a shorter rump which concealed a huge trunk 13.2 cu. ft. which expands to 20 cu. ft. with the back seats folded. Under the hood was a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that made 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. Yes, the engine is a carryover but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The four-cylinder was mated to a six-speed transmission with manual shift capabilities and paddle shifters. And lest I forget, the Mazda3 Premium Package had cylinder reactivation. The Mazda3 sedan featured standard G-Vectoring and all-wheel-drive. It got 25 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined. This engine always sounds a little wimpy when it starts up but once it comes to life it has more than enough oomph to get the job down. Mazda said the top speed is 130 mph. It was a snappy snazzy little sedan that got a lot of attention because of its styling. Handling was precise, acceleration was good, the suspension was up to the challenge of city roads and it confronted the ends and outs of urban traffic with no problems. LED headlights and taillights are now standard. The suspension used MacPherson struts in the front and a newly developed torsion beam setup in the rear. The internal structure of the bushings adopted a new spherical shape and updated suspension geometry to help realize lag-free transmission and linear action. The car was smooth running and riding. Inside is where designers really upped the quality and the style of the Mazda3. They set the infotainment screen back atop the dash/. It is still a floating fixture but it was too far back to be reached with ease. Thus, it is no longer a touch screen.
I had completely forgotten that the Kia Niro being delivered was an EV; that is an electric vehicle. It wasn’t a hybrid or a plugin hybrid; both have gasoline engines that work in tandem with electricity generating batteries. The Kia EV had no gasoline engine, it was completely electric. I was scheduled to go to Chelsea in a couple of days. That’s about 60 miles from here. Now I’ve written about range anxiety, I’ve theorized about it and I’ve participated in panel discussions on the subject. But for the first time I experienced it and the feeling was almost immediate. At the heart of the Niro EV were the 64 KWh liquid-cooled Lithium ion Polymer battery and the electric motor that made 201 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque. The Kia Niro doesn’t come with a charger but for peace of mind and practicality you would be wise to get one to go with this car. And whether you like it or not, you’re going to have to know or to learn a little bit about electricity. It takes 60 minutes to charge the battery to 80 percent of its capacity with a DC fast (100kW) charge. A DC 50 kW charge will do the job in 75 minutes. A 240v (Level 1) will take 9 hours and 35 minutes for a full charge and 120 v (Level 1) will take 59 hours. Really, that is what the media information said. Just plug the Kia Niro EV in, the plugs in the front of the crossover. But the settings have to be right to match the current flowing into the car. I opted not to call and get the right settings for my 120v outside socket. Besides I didn’t know whether eight or nine hours charging overnight with 120v would be of any use. And I thought it might not be a bad thing if I could say that I drove Kia Niro for a week and didn’t charge it. It had a range of 257 mile; officially it is 239 miles, when I started the test drive. There was one full day and 97 miles left when I wrote this review. That wasn’t bad, I drove about 160 miles. Beyond the silence, there wasn’t that much difference in the electric driven Kia EV and a gasoline engine powered car. Kia said the Niro EV makes a whir to alert pedestrians but I never heard it; of course I was inside the car. The Kia EV was silent but the everyday sounds of driving with windows down created the connection needed between movement and the crossover.