TORREY PINES, Calif., -- There was a 2018 Hyundai Sonata on display in front of the hotel here. We could tell it was a Sonata but it was crisper, sharper, and more contemporary than the current model. In their restyle of the Sonata, Hyundai’s designers gave it a cascading grille, what they called an assertive profile and an entirely new rear end that was rounded off with slimmer tail lights. They wanted to make a visual impact and the new midsized Sonata for 2018 sedan looked like they succeeded.
Toyota is billing its 86 as “the Affordable, Fun-damental Sports Car.” We can’t argue with that description. But first let’s be clear. The Toyota 86 used to be the Scion FR-S in this market. The 86 nameplate was used on the car in other markets, meaning other countries. Now, as Toyota terms it, the FR-S transitions back to the Toyota brand in this market. Translation, when Toyota discontinued the Scion brand because it had done its job, the company decided to keep most of its models. And in the case of the 86, fun loving drivers are better off because of the move. This car was a throwback. It mimics the small mostly British roadsters of the 1950s that had names like MG and Triumph. Those cars were small and had great weight to power ratios. And that meant oomph, not the blood curdling kind but they were quick and agile.
We were impressed when we arrived here for a quick four-day visit and they brought us a 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe. It was a three-row crossover chock-full of all sorts of creature comforts. Powered by a 3.3-liter direct injected V6 engine that made 290 horsepower, it moved the Santa Fe effortlessly. The six-speed automatic transmission transferred the 252 pound-feet of torque to pavement smoothly. Aggressive acceleration when getting on I-85/75, bumper to bumper traffic, whatever just didn’t matter; this powertrain was up to any task. Handling was great too. Although the Santa Fe had three rows of seats it didn’t drive big nor did it look big.
The redo of the Toyota Camry is a big deal. This car has been the best-selling midsize sedan in the U.S. for 15 straight years. It has attained benchmark status and now it begins a new life cycle with the introduction of the 8th generation. Toyota’s product development cycle demanded that its best-selling car, a midsized sedan, be restyled in the middle of the hottest truck market in the history of the auto industry. Two-thirds of the vehicles sold are trucks of one sort or another and only one third are cars. Thus, in order to maintain the Camry’s sales volume in a shrinking car market, Toyota must increase its overall share of the midsize car segment. That is a tall order, even for a premier automaker because all the entrees are good cars.
You usually don’t equate sportiness with a continuously variable transmission. It’s like trying to mix oil and water. The two just don’t go together smoothly. But that is not necessarily so with the 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Touring Sport. The four-cylinder car certainly did have a CVT but it also had a little spunk. First of all the five-door hatchback was aggressively styled from stem to stern. It had deep air ducts in the front, sleek headlights and a blacked out grille. In the rear it had a centered dual exhaust pipe. From whichever end you were looking at this car it had an aggressive appearance.
When it comes to Genesis, the glass is either half full or half empty. Luxury brands are defined by their sedans and no doubt that’s why Genesis has launched two and we’re here to test drive the third: the 2018 Genesis G80 Sport. However, this is sport utility market, with crossovers and all sorts of utility vehicles now accounting for more than half of new-car sales. Automakers are loathed to comment about future products unless they are on the launching pad. But the Korean automaker debuted a concept vehicle, the GV80 full size sport utility, at the New York Auto Show that was slick and well received. The head of Genesis design told us that the upcoming Genesis sport utility will not stray far from the concept in terms of styling. Until then, Genesis is introducing top notch luxury sedans and the 2018 G80 Sport is the latest. Under the hood was a 3.3-liter direct injected dual turbocharged V6 that made 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque from 1,300 rpm to 4,500 rpm with premium fuel. It was mated to a second generation eight-speed shift by wire automatic transmission with manual gear selection available through paddle shifters.
Toyota’s RAV4 is a benchmark in the compact sport utility market. And with time, it keeps getting better. For the 2017 model year the crossover gets some additions designed to make it better and that will surely keep pressure on its competitors. First, you can now purchase a RAV4 Hybrid. It combines output from a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine and a small high-torque electric motor through its unique transaxle. Total horsepower is 194. The Hybrid comes with all-wheel-drive and will direct torque to the rear wheels using the electric motor when needed. But the Hybrid is not the RAV4 that we tested. Instead, we drove the Platinum grade, which is now the top of the line. What’ve they’ve done is bestow on the RAV4 equipment normally found on premium and luxury models.
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.