We came here to get a look at the 2021 Kia Seltos, and to test drive it too. Kia gave us a lot of fluff about the Seltos being refined and right sized. They told us that it was slotted between the Sportage and the Soul. Eh, nope. Here’s the deal. The Soul is in a class by itself. We don’t even consider it a sport utility, a crossover utility or any other kind of utility. It is special and that is in a good way. We’ll leave it at that. Well, not quite. Kia officials consider the Soul more car than utility vehicle. What’s more, in roughly three years Kia has transformed itself from a company dependent on cars to one full of utility vehicles. Counting the Seltos, they have the Sportage, the Sorento, the Niro and the Telluride. That’s five; one for just about every pocketbook out there. As the market veers heavily towards utility vehicles, the Kia Seltos is the automaker’s way of expanding its offerings based on what buyers are craving, utility vehicles. The Seltos, it seems to us, rounds out Kia’s utility lineup. The Telluride is full-sized, the Sportage and Sorento are mid-sized and now the Seltos is small-sized. In other words, Kia now has a utility lineup that meets the needs of those who want a utility versus a car, and there are a lot of them, and their numbers are growing.
Volvo may have outdone itself with the 2020 XC90 T8-AWD Inscription. This mid-size sport utility was luxurious, powerful and functional. The T8 Twin Engine Volvo, that’s what the automaker is branding this plug-in hybrid, had two power sources. A 313 horsepower four-cylinder engine provided the gasoline kick and it was supplemented by an 87-horsepower electric motor mounted on the rear axle. Together they were rated at 400 horsepower and a hefty 472 lb.-ft. of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission transferred that power to the pavement, and it did so smoothly. The T8 had an EPA rating of 20 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined. On the way here, we gassed up in Indiana where petrol is cheaper, about 50 miles away from our destination. The XC90 T8 had used a little more than half of its 18.5-gallon fuel capacity. We didn’t think that was bad.
Toyota’s RAV4 literally invented the compact crossover segment and after more than 20 years, it continues to dominate. It went through a thorough makeover last year. It looked more muscular, got more angles in the sheet metal, basically, it is no longer a soft looking vehicle. It got bigger too. It was longer, lower and wider. We spent a week test driving the RAV4 Hybrid Limited all-wheel drive. It was powered by a 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine and combined with electric motors on the axles made 219 horsepower. There was what Toyota is branding an electronic continuous variable transmission.
We came to this suburb just west of Detroit to test drive the all-new 2020 Nissan Sentra. We found that it had grown, equipment and its road manners had gotten better. The Sentra has been the best-selling Nissan model in the U.S. since it went on sale in the 1982 model year. More than six million have been sold. This is the 8thgeneration of the compact sedan. It now shares the angular design of other Nissan sedans. The 2020 Sentra was more muscular and sportier than the car that it replaced. Nissan spent a lot of time and some decent dollars on upgrading its bread and butter car. They gave the engine more oomph. The 2.0-liter four cylinder’s horsepower was bumped up 20 percent to 149 and the torque increased 17 percent to an almost matching 144 pound-feet at 4,400 rpm. There was a continuously variable transmission.
Test driving the 2020 Volvo S90 AWD R-Design was like motoring in two different cars and both were more than adequate. First let’s deal with the S90 itself. This is the Swedish automaker’s flagship full size sedan. In the era of utility vehicles, Volvo only produces two sedans and this one was the R-Design, which in a word meant sport. But performance can be and was combined with a bit of luxury. This car was the S90 T6, it was powered by a 2.0-liter direct injected four-cylinder engine that had a super charger and a turbocharger working in unison. The combination gave the car 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.
The 2020 Toyota Avalon was one smooth hybrid. The sedan had surprising power, it handled effortlessly, and it had all the right creature comforts. Let’s start with the power. The car had a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that made 176 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque at a relatively low 3,500 rpms to 5,200 rpms. Couple that with two electric motor generators. One handles the generator, engine starter and charges the Nickle-Metal Hydride battery. The second generator drives the front wheels and handles regeneration during braking.
There is no way around it. The Lexus GX 460 is a throwback to the time when big, powerful, body on frame sport utilities were aspirational vehicles. During that era, it seems like the clarion call was the bigger the better. The GX can carry up to seven passengers. Our three-rowed luxury sport utility had captain’s chairs in the second row with heated seats and dual video screens attached to the back of the front seats.
This review of the 2020 Lexus NX 300h started in Houston. We landed and picked up the luxury crossover at airport parking and headed here, no stops, no visiting friends, no nothing. We got on state highway 59 South headed for I-610 East that would take us to I-10 East. Houston is big, we’re talking more than 600 square miles big. The fact that it took us roughly 20 minutes to get to the main road that would bring us here was a relatively quick ride. But on this short stretch we learned that the Lexus NX 300h was quick enough to deal with Texas expressway traffic. It had a 2.5-liter hybrid engine which supplied a total of 194 horsepower. The engine was mated to an electronic continuously variable transmission and of course there were electric motors. Our test vehicle had all wheel drive. We’ve never liked CVTs and we were not that thrilled with this one either. But it did the job. When we needed to do a quick lane change, the 2020 Lexus NX 300h had enough oomph to do it quickly. The crossover had blind spot alert and it was needed. The closeness of cities is often transmitted to its expressways and it was no different in Houston. It was essential to know what vehicles were near and there were a lot of them. Braking was good on the NXh. Cars and trucks were doing quick lane changes, evidently to get off at the right exit as well as to get on the right road. Not only were the regenerative brakes good but handling was better than average. There was no play in the steering, the crossover went where we steered it without hesitation.
The 2019 Honda Passport was a refined crossover with a rugged look. Inside it had what seemed like the width of a pickup truck, with a wide center console. However, it did not ride like a pickup truck. In fact, it had four ride modes: normal, snow, mud and sand. And there was a fifth, eco mode. Powered by a 3.5-liter direct injected V6, our test vehicle made 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission which transferred that power to the pavement smoothly.
When it comes to the 2020 Acura RDX, let’s get right to it. These week-long test drives are supposed to give the reader via the reviewer a real-world perspective of the vehicle being tested. Sometimes though the real world can get really real. We got the Acura RDX on a Friday and were able to enjoy it over the weekend on dry pavement. And then Monday, our world got really real with roughly 10-inches of snow followed by single digit temperatures the next day. Without checking the specs, we got in the RDX and thought it had a much larger engine than it did. It was quick with a bunch of oomph. We were surprised to learn that it had a direct injected 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. It made 272 horsepower ad 280 pound-feet of torque which was available from 1,600 to 4,500 rpm. It got 21 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined. This engine replaced a 3.5-liter V6 and had a 40 percent increase in low in torque which is where oomph comes from. We don’t think Acura, or its parent company get enough credit for their engineering chops. Anyway, the powerplant was mated to a 10-speed smooth shifting automatic transmission. There was no way we would have known that the RDX had that many gears without reading it, the shifts were that imperceptible.