The Honda CR-V was completely redesigned and reengineered for the 2017 model year. As competition heats up in the compact sport utility market, the Japanese automaker is intent on maintaining its status as the bestselling compact SUV on the market for the least 20 years. The fifth generation CR-V had its first ever turbocharged engine. It was a 1.5-liter four cylinder that made 190 horsepower and 179 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a continuously variable transmission. The combination had an EPA fuel rating of 27 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg combined.
We got into the 2017 Mazda3, put our foot on the brake pedal and turned the ignition key and nothing happened. We looked at the instruments for some sort of signal, nothing, so we did it again and got the same results. Then we noticed the gearshift and our eyes widened with anticipation. The car was a six-speed manual and we remembered that we had to press down on the clutch pedal too for it to start.
The importance of the Lexus NX 200t is often overlooked. Yes, it did add a much-needed small crossover to the lineup. But it was also a forerunner of the angular styling that has shaped the brand’s entire utility vehicle lineup. What’s more, the NX was the first vehicle in the lineup to get the 2.0-liter four cylinder turbocharged engine. It made a hefty 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque from 1,650 rpm to 4,000 rpm. That’s maximum torque at a fairly low rpm. It translated into the assertive acceleration we felt from just about any speed whether it was on the expressways or city streets. We were a bit surprised that the NX 200t had a six speed transmission. We thought more forward gears would have provided better gas mileage, not that the EPA numbers were bad. The NX 200t got 22 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg combined.
With the update of the 2017 Jeep Compass, now on sale, every Jeep has been remodeled. That is an indication that Jeep has no intention of resting on its laurels after seven consecutive years of sales growth. In 2010 the brand sold 400,000 copies, last year it sold 1.4 million. In Jeep-talk, the 2017 Compass leans towards the Grand Cherokee side of the brand in terms of design. It even looked like a smaller version of the Grand Cherokee with Jeep’s iconic seven slot grille. Basically, designers have sophisticated the Compass. It had a wide stance and substantial glass to wheel proportions, as Jeep called it. The slots in the grille had a gloss black field background with thin chrome frames for each of the slots. The Compass’ roofline was fast; it had muscular fenders and an available black roof. It was a good looking compact crossover utility vehicle with respectable off road capability. After all, it was a Jeep.
As soon as they dropped off the 2017 Mazda6, we were headed down Hwy 14 to connect with I-94 West and on to Chicago. Once we were clear of the expressway like traffic, we set the car’s adaptive cruise control on 78 mph and settled in for what turned out to be an uneventful drive. The Mazda6 had a 2.5-liter four cylinder engine that made 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Mazda says the car has a top speed of 137 mph and indeed it felt like we could have cruised at least 10 mph faster but we were content to maintain pace with other traffic. For 2017, automatic headlights had been added to our touring package as well as rain sensing windshield wipers and Smart City Brake Support. At speeds less than 20 mph a windshield mounted laser is able to sense when a car is in front of your Mazda. If there is a risk of collision, the brake system delivers emergency stop braking power if evasive action is not taken by the driver. As the brakes are applied engine output is also reduced to lessen the severity of the impact.
Infiniti has got something special in the 2017 QX30 Sport. It had a low slung roof, high stance and swerves and curves that distinguished it on the road. It had an air that smacked of luxury. There was a double arch grille with mesh draws that flowed into the headlights. And there was a double wave aluminum hood that flowed into the fenders and across the bodyline. The sheet metal looked as though it had been stretched over the frame. The C-pillar had a crescent design meant to emphasize motion. We don’t know about that but it did look good. And that crescent arch visually pulled the roof even lower. Under the hood was a 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine that made 208 horsepower. That may not sound like much but it made 256 pound-feet of torque from 1,200 to 4,400 rpm. That’s where the power came from; it moved the QX30 Sport assertively. Mated to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission, the QX30 Sport had an EPA fuel rating of 27 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 27 mpg combined. The QX30 was really fun to drive. Our test model was front-wheel-drive
Quietly, Hyundai has entered the world of electric vehicles. With its 2017 Sonata Plug-in Hybrid, the Korean automaker now offers what it called a class-leading 27 miles of electric-only range. The reason we say silent is that we haven’t heard much about the midsized front-wheel drive sedan. Hyundai said because of its extended electric only range, consumers will be able to complete their daily commutes without using any gasoline. The car had a total range of 590 miles. A large 9.8 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack gives the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid its extended estimated all-electric range. Hyundai said that’s more than any other PHEV sedan. And it takes less than three hours to charge with a 240V Level-Two charger. It takes less than nine hours to recharge with a standard 120V outlet.
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.
The Lexus ES 350 is a sleeper sedan. It is the kind of car that is just outside of the young active demographic that you see targeted in automobile commercials of all stripes. Yet the ES is important, it has a following and it is aimed at a mature driver, not old, who is stable and doesn’t spend money unwisely. Lexus restyled the almost full-size sedan for the 2015 model year and it continues to tweak the automobile. For 2017, the car has been given a bolder rendition of the spindle grille. The LED headlights were standard and it had upgraded interior finishes.
With its no-compromise combination of head turning style, cutting-edge technology, real-world utility and eye-popping fuel economy, the 2017 Kia Niro truly is a smarter kind of crossover. That’s how Kia described its new hybrid electric crossover in a welcome letter to reporters here for the media launch of the 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but the Kia Niro did look good. A static model was parked in front of the Hotel Emma and at a leisurely pace we saw that the crossover had short overhangs, aggressive headlights, and Kia’s tiger nose grille that seemed a little wider and black cladding that framed the edge of the vehicle’s lower body as well as its wheel wells. We particularly liked the trim bezel for the fog lamps and it also adorned the rear fascia.