It wasn’t 15 minutes after they dropped off the 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander that I was headed towards I-94 on my way to Chicago. During the week-long test drive I found the Outlander to be a very good crossover for both city and highway driving. A 2.4 liter four cylinder engine provided enough oomph for the Interstate. It made 168 horsepower and an almost matching 167 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a continuously variable transmission. CVTs are usually a little loud and seemingly a little slow but not on the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport GT AWC which is the trim line that I had. I cruised to the Windy City effortlessly, setting the cruise control just shy of 80 mph. Those times when I stopped at a rest area and then got back on the road, the Outlander’s acceleration was impressive – for a CVT. It was pretty quiet too. The 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport had a rating of 23 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg combined. In real world driving, I averaged 24.7 mpg combined and I averaged 37 mph for five days. I had the Sport model with GT trim. It had what Mitsubishi called the “Dynamic Shield” front design. I didn’t like the appearance; it made the Outlander look like it had half a grille. But that was the only thing I didn’t like.
It was 22 years ago that Toyota’s RAV4 first hit these shores. Now comes the fifth generation of the compact sport utility. It was the first such vehicle and it created the market we now know as crossover utility vehicles because if its uni-body construction. Not only was the RAV4 the first crossover, it is now the best-selling non-pickup truck in the country. In 2017, Toyota sold 408,000 RAV4s. What they’re trying to do with the new RAV4 is make it an all-round vehicle that can handle urban, suburban and the great outdoors driving. Another way of looking at it is that they want the 2019 RAV4 to be more utility like rather than car like. To make the 2019 RAV4 look tougher, designers have picked up some design cues from Toyota’s pickup trucks, especially the Tacoma. The front end and grille design was meant to give it an athletic look. Black cladding around the wheel arches appeared to lift the tires into a higher position much like a pickup truck. The lifted-up body was supposed to make the 2019 RAV4 look more capable. That was the idea. We were in a convenience store getting our lotto on the drive and an older RAV4 parked next to our test vehicle. The difference was visible immediately. Our RAV4 had a higher hood and a more muscular face. It was just huskier. Ground clearance was upped by more than a half inch over the model that it replaced. Even though it was higher Toyota said the step-in height remained comfortable. It was easy to get into and out of and the new RAV4 was comfortable.
I test drove something special a few weeks ago. It was a 2019 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody. According to Dodge, “it is a drag-oriented, street legal muscle car designed with the grassroots drag racer in mind.” Further, it had the body of the 717 horsepower Dodge Hellcat without the supercharger. That’s where the wide body moniker comes from. I’d say it was thick with oversized muscular body colored wheel flares, a black performance spoiler on the edge of the trunk, dual vents in the hood, a rocking mango paint job and 20-inch Devil’s rim forged aluminum (black) wheels. And that was for starters.
Lexus has literally added on to the most popular luxury CUV in the country, the RX 350L. They made it longer and gave it a third row of seats. I had the 2018 Lexus RX 350L AWD. It had bench seats in the second row, captain’s seats are available, and that meant it could carry seven people. Interestingly, it weighed 4,619 lbs. That’s bordering on hefty but it didn’t drive like an overweight vehicle. Undoubtedly the ease with which the 350L moved can be attributed in part to its suspension. It had a MacPherson strut and coil springs setup in the front and a double wishbone type and coil springs in the rear. But what really made this three-row CUV smooth was under the hood. The RX 350L was powered by a 3.5-liter normally aspirated V6 that made 290 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. The engine was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, This combination was velvety, almost as quiet as a hybrid and it had ample get up and go when needed. About the only thing to quibble about was the mileage. It wasn’t a guzzler but it wasn’t all that economical either.
We came here to test drive the next step in Hyundai’s future, the 2019 Veloster N. As one executive said, “it is a racing car that we’re trying to sell to the public.” What Hyundai is also doing is expanding and redefining its brand. The N logo is for the Korean automaker’s high performance models. Right now there are three: one is sold in Europe, one is sold in South Korea and the U.S. edition will be on sale by the end of the year. And let’s be clear, the N brand is more than a body kit. Hyundai didn’t create new parts but they took what was on their shelves and re-engineered the heck out of it. What they’ve got is a high performance Veloster that has a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 250 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Get this; when equipped with the optional performance package, engine output is upped to 275 horsepower with the same 260 pound-feet of torque from 1,450 thru 4,700 rpm. It was mated to a close-ratio, short-throw six-speed manual transmission with downshift rev-matching capability. The transmission used carbon-coated synchro rings and gear material reinforcement for smoother operation and lower overall shift force coupled with a positive engagement feel.
Lexus is a conservative auto brand but it seems to have thrown that philosophy out the door when it comes to its new UX small crossover. First the UX is the luxury brand’s fifth and smallest CUV. They account for almost 70 percent of its sales. Thus, creating another one for a market dominated by crossovers is not necessarily a risk. But very name badge denotes the target customer. U stands for urban and X denotes crossover. The two letters equal urban crossover. I don’t know of any luxury auto brand that so overtly goes after this market. To be candid, urban used to mean black and it used to mean poor but not anymore. Although they say they want to appeal to young buyers, Lexus wants the UX to be relevant to their lifestyles. That is psychographic and it means urban black, white and Spanish speaking buyers. That is unabashedly aggressive, open and it just might be really smart.
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.
Kia didn’t make many changes to the 2018 Cadenza. In a way, they didn’t need to; the mini full-size sedan didn’t need much. They did what they called some “minor packaging enhancements.” The V6 luxury package now includes the panoramic sunroof and interior LED lighting. I had that package. There was V6 the engine, it is the only engine available and my test car did have a panoramic (glass) roof. This engine was quiet and impressive. Once I parked, got out of the car and the engine was still running. It was that quiet. A couple of times, I had to check and make sure that I had turned it off after I parked, before I got out of the car. And it was a fairly potent power-plant.
The 2018 Hyundai Accent was a pleasant surprise. It was a subcompact sedan with a manual transmission. Normally, I’d say that would make it boring. But the Accent had some spunk. Powered by a 1.6-liter direct injected four cylinder engine that made 130 horsepower and 119 pound feet of torque, this car was actually fun to drive. That may have had something to do with the six-speed manual transmission that transferred power to the pavement.
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.