Kia may have hit on the right product at the right time with its all-new 2020 Telluride, a midsize but large three rowed crossover. We came here to southwestern Colorado to put the Telluride through its paces. We went down Colorado 141 over the Dolores River which cuts through of course the Dolores River Canyon with its 1,200 foot red granite canyon walls. Look beyond and you can see 12,000 foot mountains all round. Kudos to Kia for picking this place; they could have found a much easier path. C141 is a narrow two-lane twisting affair. We climbed from our base camp, the Gateway Canyons Resort and Spa which was at 5,000 feet up to Telluride (yep, the vehicle is named after the town) which was at more than 9,000 ft. But I’m ahead of myself. The Telluride is the first SUV designed by Kia in the U.S. specifically for the U.S. market. It was styled in Irvine, California and will be built at Kia’s assembly plant in West Point, Georgia. It is indeed the company’s new flagship and they wanted it to be bold and boxy; their words not mine. It is the largest Kia ever built and it can seat seven or eight passengers, depending on whether the second row has captain’s seats or a bench seat. The Telluride had a long broad hood. The design made the tiger grille wider and taller. Dual headlights were stacked; it had inverted “L” taillights with LED stripes. The windshield was upright and the sides were smooth but bulging and that conveyed strength. And there were elongated nameplates on the edge of the hood and on the lip of the liftgate. This Kia was the real deal. It had skid plates with twin exhaust tips that let you know it can go off-road. Grab handles were integrated into the center console for such occasions. I passed up the off road course in favor of pushing back to basecamp. Under the hood was a 3.8-liter direct injection V6 that made 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque at 5,600 rpm. This engine was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It is the only engine available and it gets 20 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined for front wheel drive. All-wheel-drive gets 19 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg combined.
Trying to have a van for every need, Ford has significantly updated its Transit Connect cargo van. To be clear, the Transit Connect comes in two configurations. One is for cargo and the other can carry passengers. I had the model that was specifically for cargo. There is a bigger, Ford Transit and it too comes in either passenger or cargo configuration. The pitch to customers is that the Transit Connect can lower cost for personal and small business customers. And as not to get it twisted, this was not a minivan, there were no side windows, just panels. There are three trim levels of the Transit Connect: XL, XLT and Titanium. I had the XLT. It came with a 2.0-liter direct injected four cylinder engine that was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The combination made 140 horsepower and 144 pound-feet of torque and got 24 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg combined. There is also a 2.5-liter gasoline engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. This engine comes with a CNG/LPG gaseous fuel prep package. A 1.5 liter turbo diesel that Ford has branded EcoBlue will be available this spring. It too has an eight-speed transmission. There are two wheelbase choices that allow the passenger carrying Ford Transit Connect to accommodate five or seven passengers. As Ford said in its press material, “there’s a Transit Connect for everyone.”
DETROIT – I was really impressed by the 2019 Ford Edge. In a phrase, it has grown. I’m not talking about its size which looks about the same. I’m talking about stature and equipment and perception. I always thought the Ford Edge was a poor-man’s Ford Explorer but not anymore. I had the Titanium trim with all-wheel-drive. It came with what Ford has branded EcoBoost. In this case, that was a 2.0-liter twin scroll turbocharged engine. This engine made 250 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm. I would like to see that torque available at half the rpms but this was a very capable engine. It moved the 2019 Edge with authority, it provided plenty of oomph when needed and it was really quiet at low speeds. And it got 21 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined. I neglected to say that the 2019 Edge also had paddle shifters. I did not use them, but apparently enough drivers do because automakers keep equipping some vehicles with them. Anyway, I was mildly surprised that my test vehicle did not have drive-modes. But it really didn’t need them. It had a MacPherson strut front suspension and an independent integral link set up in the rear. Given that there were still some icy spots on the road, my driving was not all that aggressive. Still, the Edge’s ride was smooth and steady. Although it had that intangible heft that comes with a quality build, the midsize Edge did not have that bounce that comes with truck-based sport utilities; it had unibody construction.
If not for the Corolla Toyota may not have survived in the American car market. It was small, fuel- efficient and reliable which was just what the driving public wanted. More than 50 years later, 50 million plus copies have been sold worldwide, making the Corolla the best- selling car ever. And despite a market that has turned sharply towards crossovers and SUVs, Toyota vowed not to turn its back on sedans as it introduced here the 12 generation of the Corolla. Other than the wheelbase, which is still the same at 106.3 inches, everything else has changed. The car is wider. The front overhang has been shortened while the rear overhang has been lengthened; neither by much but enough to improve the overall balance of the car. For 2020, the Corolla is shorter overall, the hood has been lowered by 1.4 inches and the center of gravity has been lowered. They also lowered the side view mirrors and attached them to the front doors. What all this “lowering” has done is create an open airy passenger cabin. The front seats were redesigned and I found them very comfortable, sort of form fitting, especially around my lumbar. Even the backseats, traditionally a cramped area in compact cars, were relatively comfortable. I had a good bit of leg room as well as ample headroom. Toyota has created a Corolla for just about every driving appetite in the community. There were six trim lines and for the first time there is a hybrid.
There have been some big changes for the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe. The five-passenger Santa Fe Sport is now called Santa Fe. The current long wheelbase three-row, seven-passenger model called Santa Fe has been renamed Santa Fe XL. And an all-new three-row, eight-passenger SUV is currently under development and will carry an all-new name. What’s more, the Santa Fe crossover that I test drove had a bolder design, new safety, comfort and convenience technology, and better sight lines and cabin storage space. All of that is a long-winded way of saying the Santa Fe has been reworked for the better. The first thing I noticed about the 2019 Santa Fe was the quiet smoothness of the engine. Its ride was silky, much like an all-round air suspension. Instead, the 2019 Santa Fe had a multi-link with gas shock absorber and 24 mm stabilizer bar w/self-leveling suspension.
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.
Kia made some incremental yet substantial changes to the Kia Optima for 2019. We had the SX Turbo, which is the top of the line. It was powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that was mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The combination made 245 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The EPA fuel rating was 21 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg combined. Although Kia doesn’t say it, the SX is the sporty rendition of the Optima. My test car had paddle shifters, two-toned red bucket seats and as slick a set of 18-inch alloy wheels as I’ve seen in a while.
The first thing I noticed about the 2019 Lexus LS 500 when they dropped it off was that it seemed heavier than when I drove it in San Francisco during its launch. The feeling of being heavier didn’t mean that the car was sluggish, bigger or slower for that matter. It was powered by a new 3.5-liter twin turbo V6 that made 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a ten-speed automatic transmission. Not that it matters with a car that retails for $103,635 but mileage was not bad for a full-size sedan with this kind of power. The LS 500 AWD was rated at 18 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg combined. Lexus’s new flagship LS 500 had an all-new platform. That gave it a lower profile. It was longer, lower and sleeker with a longer wheel-base than the outgoing LS. The car had the brand’s signature spindle grille which looked even more prominent with the long hood and short trunk. Cold weather tends to slow traffic down, even on dry pavement. I didn’t do any hard accelerating, sharp cornering or stressed related braking. And the full size LS sedan had all the condiments that you’d expect in a full size luxury car. I’ll get into some of that a little bit later.
It was just last spring near Portland, Oregon, when Toyota launched the all new Toyota Camry. If you’ve ever been in that area of the country, it is loaded with trees and reportedly has more aggregate surfaced highways than anywhere else in the country. But what it didn’t have when I was there, was pothole, lots of traffic, urban expressways and noise. Well, in these parts all of that is prevalent and drivers must deal with it on a daily basis. I had the Toyota Camry XLE. It was powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that made 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. This combination got 22 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg combined.
Mazda is incrementally improving its midsize three row crossover vehicle the CX-9. But don’t get it twisted; this was a good crossover to begin with but now it can compete with top notch premium crossovers. Style is not a shortcoming with Mazda. The smooth lines of the company’s KODO soul of motion design have been transferred to the larger CX-9 nicely. The signature look; a long nose, short rump and arching curves over the wheel wells have been proportioned so that the CX-9 does not look like an oversized station wagon. When you start out with a good solid vehicle, incremental changes can seem like leaps forward. Externally, I thought the LED enhanced lighting that edged the bottom of the grille made the 2019 CX-9 look like a much more expensive vehicle.