LTR’s SUV Sampler

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Dec 312020
 
Toyota Highlander

The Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) segment remains so viable that not even the COVID-19 pandemic could hurt its sales. According to the National Automobile Dealers Association: “Despite a decline for all car segments, sales of pickups, SUVs and crossovers all posted gains relative to this time last year. In the first three quarters or 2020, three out of every four vehicles sold were light trucks.”

Responding to the trend, domestic automakers killed off most of their car models, opting to focus on SUVs and trucks, while import brands just kept expanding their lineups further with more and more models, from crossover compacts to full-size SUVs. Here’s a sampling of the models Latino Traffic Report (LTR) got to drive in 2020. 

Toyota Highlander Platinum AWD

First introduced in 2001 the Toyota Highlander joined the lineup as the first midsize crossover SUV offered by the brand. Over time, the Highlander not only grew in size, it gained a third row and became the best-selling retail model in the segment since 2016.

Redesigned in 2020, the fourth-generation Highlander is still growing, which has translated into greater cargo volume, for a total of 84.3 cu. ft. with the second and third rows folded flat. It also gains more versatility with a second row that slides up an extra 1.2 inches, a handy shelf under the dash for extra storage, and maximum towing of 5,000-pounds.

While Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is standard on all models, more advanced safety technology, like the blind spot monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, comes standard on four of the five available grades. There is a recall on the 2020 Highlander due to a concern over seat trim covers.

LTR got to drive the top-of-the-line Platinum trim with all-wheel drive (AWD). Equipped with multiple drive modes, from Eco to Snow, maximized the performance from the AWD system.

A 3.5-liter V6 engine with 295 horsepower and 263 lb.–ft. of torque matched to a Direct Shift eight-speed automatic transmission powered the test model. It had an EPA estimated fuel economy of 20 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. It averaged 19.7 mpg on the test drive. The standard Stop and Start Engine System should have increase fuel economy although it fell short on the week-long test drive. Still, it engaged with minimal clunkiness.

All grades come standard with Apple Car Play, Android Auto, Alexa In-Car compatibility, Waze, SiriusXM, and WiFi connectivity.

Added features like the 12.3-inch touchscreen display rather than the standard eight-inch display helped the test model live up to its up level trim. The Platinum grade also comes with a Captain’s Chair second row with seating for seven.

The test model added heated and ventilated front seats and a heated second row, adaptive LED projector headlights, and a panoramic moonroof.

Pricing for the 2020 Highlander starts at $35,720. The as-tested price came to $51,112.

Hyundai Santa Fe Limited 2.0T FWD

Redesigned in 2019, the fourth-generation Hyundai Santa Fe became the brand’s best-selling SUV in America that year, with sales of more than 1.6 million units.

It will receive a freshened look for 2021, accentuated by a new grille more in line with Hyundai’s current DNA, but the 2020 model tested by LTR also included some refinements.

The Limited 2.0T front-wheel drive (FWD) test model was one away from the top-of-the-line trim, exceeded only by the AWD version of the Limited. That changes in 2021 when the Calligraphy trim will be top-of-the line.

While not standard on all trims, Smart Sense safety technologies like the blind spot monitor with a camera view displayed in the instrument cluster, forward-collision warning, and rear cross-traffic alert were included on the test model. It also had the optional Ultrasonic Rear Occupant Alert that reminds drivers to check the back seat for precious cargo before exiting.

Inside, the Santa Fe offers more cargo room behind the second-row seats and expands space behind the first row of seats with rear seats folded flat to 71.3 cubic feet. For added convenience, the second-row on the test model dropped down with the push of a button,

Hyundai offers two four-cylinder engine options on the Santa Fe. The test model came with the latter, producing 235 horses and 260 lb.–ft. of torque. It has an EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 20/27 mpg. It averaged 31.1 mpg on the test drive with a slight turbo lag. All engines are mated to a brand-new eight-speed automatic transmission. The test model also came with three drive modes, Normal, Sport, and Smart, for improved performance.

For owners of an Apple iPhone 8 and iPhone X as well as compatible Android devices, there’s an available Qi wireless charger.

During this test drive there was also a chance to test Hyundai’s 24-hour roadside assistance when the test model developed a flat. While the service was timely and did put on the spare, which was a temporary tire or donut.

Pricing for the 2020 Santa Fe starts at $27,415. The as-tested price came to $38.730.

Lexus RX 450hL Luxury AWD

Lexus ventured into the luxury hybrid SUV market with its RX model more than a decade ago. Refreshed in 2020, the RX 450hL tested by LTR included three rows of seating, improved performance, an updated Lexus Multimedia System, additional standard safety features, and a refreshed exterior design.

As a hybrid, it’s not only the top-of-the-line RX, it’s also the most fuel-efficient. Lexus pairs the fuel injected 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine with two high-torque electric drive motor-generators for strong acceleration and passing performance. The standard AWD system, or “all-weather” according to Lexus, employs a second, independent electric motor to drive the rear wheels when needed for optimal traction.

It has an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 29/28 mpg. It averaged 25 mpg on the test drive. A stiffer suspension design helped enhance its performance by reducing the noise and vibration from the road while four drive modes, from Sport to EV, should enhance fuel economy at slow speeds though that wasn’t reflected in the test drive.

Updates to the Lexus Multimedia System now include Apple CarPlay integration for an iPhone accessed through the RX’s standard eight-inch touchscreen dashboard display. The RX is also the first Lexus model to offer Android Auto integration.

Other standard luxury features on the test model included heated and ventilated front seats, as well as heated seats in the rear while the third row folded flat electronically.

While it’s the top-of-the-line model as a hybrid, many features remain optional, like the 12.3 touchscreen that comes with the Navigation Package ($3,365). The display was bright and engaging, especially when the navigation system was on view. The instrument cluster, however, was less vivacious.

New safety technology added to the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 includes daytime bicyclist detection and low-light pedestrian detection along with Road Sign Assist and Lane Tracing Assist.

The standard blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert was also upgraded on the test model to include Intuitive Parking Assist.

Pricing for the 2020 RX 450h starts at $48,845. The as-tested price came to $65,340.

Sedan Appeal: New Models Help Sustain the Segment

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Apr 292020
 
Volvo S60

Sedan sales may be down, but the segment is definitely not out. While domestic carmakers abandoned them, import carmakers continued to build them, including redesigns of existing nameplates. Latino Traffic Report (LTR) recently test-drove four very elegant 2020 models—the Kia K900, Toyota Avalon Hybrid, Volvo S60, and Lexus LS 500—that offered ample legroom and plenty of bells and whistles.

Toyota Avalon Hybrid XSE

Toyota Avalon Hybrid

Redesigned for 2019, the fifth-generation Avalon marked its twenty-fifth anniversary this year. As Toyota’s top-of-the-line sedan, it naturally elicits great expectations for its comfort and luxury but as a hybrid, the text model set hopes even higher for standard features and fuel economy.

Its interior roominess belied its midsize sedan designation. Toyota extended the rear cabin further by another seven inches so that rear legroom and trunk space measure 40.3 inches and 16.09 cu. ft., respectively and included numerous cubbies for storage.

At the heart of this hybrid is the 2.5-liter four-cylinder Toyota Hybrid System II with a 650-volt electric motor and Continuously-Variable Transmission (CVT). These elements combine to produce 176 horsepower and 163 lb.–ft. of torque. They also give the Avalon Hybrid an EPA estimated fuel efficiency of 43 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and on the highway. Utilizing the Eco and EV modes (Normal and Sport are also included) it achieved an average rating of 38.9 mpg during the weeklong test drive.

Standard safety features in the Toyota Safety Sense package include pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, and range dynamic cruise control among other features. The blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic detection and Safety Connect roadside assistance are also standard.

Creature comforts on all hybrids include dual-zone climate control, the Entune infotainment system with a nine-inch touch screen, access to Amazon Alexa and Apple Car Play, and a seven-inch display in the gauge cluster. For $1,720 more, the test model upgraded the stereo to the JBL Premium audio system with navigation.

On the plus side, the test model came loaded with standard features but on the downside, its exterior design may be polarizing. The blackened grille and rims helped a bit.

Pricing for the 2020 Avalon starts at $36,830. The as-tested price came to $42,259.

Volvo S60 T6 Inscription

According to AAA, Americans on average spend nearly an hour behind the wheel each day. Spending that time surrounded by a luxurious but functional interior can make time fly. Volvo has set the bar when it comes to design, inside and out, and its redesigned S60 is no exception.

LTR recently tested the S60 T6 AWD Inscription, a top-of-the-line trim, and while it included a healthy list of standard features, additional packages did escalate the price dramatically.

Bearing Volvo’s latest design DNA, the S60 sports a unique version of the Thor’s Hammer headlamp on the outside that first appeared on the redesigned XC90.

The S60’s 12.3″ digital driver display.

Inside, Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system sets off the interior design. Its tablet shape and function via the nine-inch touchscreen deliver a fairly intuitive interface for controlling multiple car functions from navigation to in-car entertainment applications (hint, go to Library to save radio presets). Less intuitive, however, was the adaptive cruise control. It increased speed by five miles per hour (mph) at each click rather than just one mph and it wasn’t clear how to reprogram it.

Wood inlays, leather seating with a backrest massage in the front seats (via the Luxury Seating Package $2,200), and a panoramic moonroof on the test model elevated the drive experience even further.

But the brand’s reputation stands on safety and the test model came equipped with several Volvo game changers like the blind spot information system with steer assist, cross traffic alert and autobraking, and low and hi-speed collision mitigation with cyclist, large animal, vehicle, and pedestrian detection, among other features.

In a bold move, Volvo bases its powertrain technology on turbocharged and twin engine super and turbocharged four-cylinders. The 2.0-liter version of the latter with 316 horsepower and 295 lb.–ft. of torque matched to an eight-speed Geartronic transmission powered the test model. It had an EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 21/32 mpg. It averaged 24.7 mpg during the weeklong test drive.

The 2020 S60 has a starting price of $37,045. With the extra packaging, the test model’s price came to $58,890.

Kia K900 Luxury

Equipped with suspensions that float like a boat, full-size sedans tend to get the “flagship” moniker. Redesigned for 2019 and with new technology, safety features, and premium touches, the Kia K900 easily lives up to that label. LTR recently test-drove the K900 Luxury, the only available trim.

Blind Spot View Monitor with camera image in the gauge cluster.

The second-generation K900 immediately scores points with its new streamlined exterior. It’s somewhat derivative of its competitors, especially on the inside, but still maintains enough Kia DNA, e.g. the tiger-nose grille with a Quadric pattern, to make it distinctive.

As the name implies, flagships should offer a suspension that fairly floats. Torsional stiffness on the new model, however, increased by 33 percent, gives the K900 a more solid and premium on-road feel. There are also four drive modes—Comfort, Sport, Eco, and Custom—to fine-tune the ride further.

The full-time rear biased and electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system adds to its sure-footedness.

It’s also slightly longer and wider than the outgoing model for rear legroom and trunk space that measure 36.6 inches and 15.3 cu. ft. respectively. For added convenience, the trunk comes with a button to close automatically.

Metal veneers (first spotted by LTR on the Volvo S90) combined with a choice of four matte wood options and quilted Nappa leather enrich the interior. The test model also included a surround sound stereo, a 12.3-inch touchscreen with navigation, wireless charging (for Qi compatible mobile phones, e.g. iPhone 8, Samsung S7), a blindspot monitor with collision warning, adaptive cruise control, and a parking sensor, among other features. The VIP package ($4,400) added a 12.3-inch LCD instrument cluster, tri-zone climate control, power adjustable and ventilated rear seats, and a rear phone charger.

The K900 shares the same engine that powers the sporty Kia Stinger, a 3.3-liter twin turbo V6 with 365 hp and 376 lb.–ft. of torque matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It should achieve a city/highway fuel economy of 18/25 mpg. It achieved 21.8 mpg during the test drive.

Pricing for the 2020 K900 starts at $60,935. The as-tested pricing came to $64,895.

Lexus LS 500

Considered a flagship by Lexus, this four-door sedan, redesigned in 2018, bears a striking exterior design and comes stocked with bells and whistles. The Lexus LS 500 recently tested by LTR, used additional pricey packages to elevate those features.

LS 500 sliding gauge cluster.

It’s powered by an all-new 3.5-liter, twin turbocharged V6 that delivers 416 horsepower and 442 lb.–ft. of torque, matched to a ten-speed automatic transmission. It has an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 19/30 mpg. It averaged 22.6 mpg during the weeklong test drive.

The chrome grille and 20-inch alloy spoke wheels with Vapor Chrome finish accentuated the LS’s premium look, while wood panels, a rear power sunshade, and its twelve-inch touchscreen as part of the Enform infotainment system made the experience inside visibly plush. The Enform system was less intuitive to program than similar systems, however.

Many features like a blind spot monitor and pre-collision system were standard but Lexus added packages to enhance these features, like the Safety System +A ($3,000) that gave the pre-collision system active braking and steering, pedestrian alert, front cross traffic alert, and lane change assist. The Interior Upgrade Package ($3,730) added a massage function in the front seats as well as quilted and perforated leather seating and heated rear seats. Even the trunk received an upgrade with a carpeted mat ($105).

With 38.9 inches of legroom and 16.95 cu. ft. of truck space, the full-size sedan managed to fit in the garage with about an inch to spare.

Finally, run-flat tires on the LS were put to good use during the test drive when the right front tire took on a screw and didn’t flatten until after returning home. Enform Safety Connect with roadside assistance, complimentary for ten years, came to the rescue, loading the LS on a flatbed and delivering it to a Lexus dealership for a replacement tire.

Pricing for the 2020 LS 500 starts at $76,475. The as-tested price came to $94,075.

The Third Annual LTR Truck Guide

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Mar 042020
 
Chevy Silverado

For the last two years, Latino Traffic Report (LTR) has produced a truck guide, recognizing the appeal pickups hold, not just in the state of Texas, the number-one truck market, but also among Latinos. For 2020, we present our third installment. This guide includes models test-driven for at least a week by LTR and offers an overview, not a ranking, of what they offer or lack. For additional truck info or to compare and contrast, check out last year’s guide as well as the original.

Nissan Frontier

Coasting on a redesign that’s fifteen years old, the Nissan Frontier continues to offer utility and off-road capability, plus the lowest starting price in its segment.

Rumors of a redesign for the Frontier had been circulating for years but nothing definitive was announced, until this year at the Chicago Auto Show. According to Tiago Castro, director, Commercial Vehicle Business Unit, Nissan North America, Inc., there will be an all-new Frontier in 2021 and while 2020 will be the final year of this generation, it will include the 2021’s powertrain, an all-new 3.8-liter V6 engine matched to a nine-speed transmission.

Last year the Frontier was the most-affordable pickup in its class, with a starting price of $18,990, excluding destination fees, but the test model, Frontier SV Crew Cab SWB 4×4, sat well above the base.

The list of optional features included on the test model began with the powertrain, namely the 4.0-liter V6 with 261 horsepower and 281 lb.­–ft. of torque. It will be replaced later this year by the previously mentioned V6. It was matched to a five-speed automatic transmission and included a two-speed transfer case with 4Hi and 4Lo options for off-road capability.

Functionality sells trucks and the test model offered a maximum towing capacity of 6,380 lbs. as well as 60/40 split rear seats that flipped up, as well as down, to reveal added storage.

On the drive, however, the Frontier was capable but clearly outdated, especially on the inside. The Value Truck Package ($1,890) added upgrades like a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a rear sonar for parking, a factory-applied spray on bed liner, and sliding bed extender, among several features, bringing the as-tested price to $33,560. But it lacked basic new technology like a blind spot monitor or navigation.

The 2020 Frontier will go on sale this spring.

Ford Ranger

Like the Frontier, the Ranger remained unchanged for many years before it disappeared in 2011. But in 2019, Ford also decided to re-enter the midsize truck segment by bringing back its venerated “little” truck. The new version, however, joins its enlarged competition, measuring 210.8 inches in length.

Toyota Tacoma

On the outside, it appeared to borrow design cues from the Toyota Tacoma. Can you tell which is which? While it borrowed some design cues from the Tacoma, it didn’t adopt one of its best, a dampened tailgate.

When LTR last tested the Ranger, before the redesign, it too suffered from being dated as well as guzzling gas. The new model, however, included the 2.3-liter EcoBoost inline four-cylinder with 270 horsepower and 310 lb.–ft. of torque matched to a ten-speed automatic transmission, giving it an improved EPA estimated fuel economy of 20 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway. The as-tested fuel economy came to an average of 22 mpg.

The Ranger has a maximum towing of 7,500 on all trims but payload varies and the test model had the lowest figure of 1,560 lbs.

Priced above the Frontier, the test model also included popular technology that its competitor did not, like a blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot, a digital TFT in the instrument cluster with an average fuel economy calculator among other features, and an eight-inch touch screen in the center stack to display navigation or audio information, or both with a split screen option.

Like the Frontier the test model included heated front seats, a leather wrapped steering wheel, satellite radio, a spray-in bed liner, and dual-zone climate control but the Ranger added leather seating.

Pricing for the 2020 Ranger starts at $25,605. The as-tested price, including the FX4 Off-Road Package ($1,295) came to $44,960.

Chevrolet Silverado

For 2019 Chevrolet completely redesigned, the Silverado and entered the market with a range of eight models and six engine/transmission choices. The test model was the two-wheel drive double cab RST trim, powered by the turbocharged 2.7-liter inline four-cylinder (I4).

The real competition for trucks happens under the hood and Chevy’s range of engines, from the four-cylinder to a diesel, gives it a definite advantage.

Matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the I4 should produce 310 horsepower and 348 lb.­–ft. of torque. Maximum tow rating for the Silverado is 13,400 lbs. with the V8 but maximum towing for the test model came to 7,000 lbs.

Body-color trim, full LED lighting (foglamps, headlamps and taillamps) and up to 22-inch wheels distinguish the RST trim from the others. The test model, however, included 18-inch bright silver painted aluminum wheels.

With redesigns, the focus begins with the exterior and in the case of the new Silverado, at first glance, its features can be polarizing compared to the clean lines of its predecessor, but it does improve on closer inspection. The new pickup is also 1.6 inches longer and has a bed that’s seven inches wider giving it a best-in-class cargo volume starting with the short box’s 63 cubic feet. Maximum payload on the test model came to 2,190 lbs.

The test model also included Active Fuel management to give it an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 20/23 mpg respectively. During the test drive, it achieved an average range of 23.2 in the city and up to 32.4 mpg on the highway.

The test model did include signature GM technology like Stabilitrak, OnStar, Teen Driver, a rear seat reminder to encourage drivers to check the back seat before locking the vehicle, and a dampened tailgate that releases with the push of a button.

Pricing for the 2020 Silverado starts at $29,795. The as-tested pricing included multiple packages from Convenience with Bucket Seats ($1,655) to Safety ($890), which brought the price up to $47,795.

Ford F-250

The Ford’s F-Series has held the top-selling vehicle title for 42 years. The F-150 has made-up the bulk of these sales but it’s bulkier super duty siblings, the F-250, F-350, and F-450 provide the utility that work truck buyers demand. LTR recently drove the F-250 SRW 4×4 Crew Cab Limited.

Best in class achievements help super duties stand out in this highly competitive segment. For 2020, the F-250 will offer a choice of three engines including an all-new 7.3-liter V8 with best-in-class 430 horsepower and best-in-class 475 lbs.–ft. of torque. The third-generation 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel V8 powered the test model. For 2020 it has been upgraded to deliver best-in-class 475 horsepower and best-in-class 1,050 ft.–lbs. of torque. A 6.2-liter V8 is the F-250’s standard gas engine. While the 6.7-liter diesel on the test model was matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, an all-new ten-speed heavy-duty TorqShift automatic transmission is standard with the 7.3-liter V8 and 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel V8 for 2020.

Technology on a work truck is essential and as a Limited trim level, the test model added FordPass Connect, embedded 4G LTE modem with Wi-Fi access for up to ten devices and charge up with wireless charging and USB-C ports as well as the Ultimate Trailer Tow Camera. The test model also included a tailgate step, ambient lighting, voice activated navigation, and adaptive cruise control. Capacity specs for the F-250 test model maxed out at 19,100 1bs. towing and 3,470 lbs. payload.

While fuel efficiency ratings are not required for super duties, the text model achieved an average fuel economy of 15.5–16.6 mpg during the drive.

Pricing for the 2020 F250 starts at $35,300. The as-tested price came to $84,500, including extra charges for a gooseneck hitch kit, 3.55 electronic locking axle, a fifth-wheel hitch prep package and a bed spray-in bed liner.

Sporty by Nature

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Sep 012019
 

Daily Drives that Perform

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

Sports cars attract a singular buyer because that level of performance comes at a high price, but what about the rest of us? Happily, nearly every automotive brand offers at least one sporty option in their lineup that won’t break the bank. For those who’d like a little more performance in their daily drives, Latino Traffic Report (LTR) recently tested the following options.

Toyota Corolla Hatchback

Originally called a liftback, the Corolla Hatchback is back as an official member of the lineup for 2019. LTR recently tested the 2019 Corolla XSE (above), one of two available trims and the sportiest with standard 18-inch wheels, LED fog lights, and a chrome front grille surround. The test model also came in a special Blue Flame exterior paint.

A 2.0-liter Dynamic-Force direct-injection inline four-cylinder engine with 168 horsepower and 151 lb.­­–ft. of torque powers all Corolla Hatchbacks. While a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is available, the test model came with the six-speed manual transmission combined with a multi-link suspension with a stabilizer bar, and updated shock absorbers and springs that added sportiness and lots of fun to the drive.

The EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy was 28/37 miles per gallon (mpg). The test model averaged 31.5 mpg.

Sitting in the hatchback, it felt finished and a bit upscale, that’s because the XSE grade added fancy standard features, including dual-zone climate control, two-tone combination leather seating, and heated front seats. Unique stitching on its instrument panel and doors, the multifunction steering wheel and a seven-inch TFT Multi-Information Display (MID) that showed vehicle information like turn-by-turn navigation and a new feature, Road Sign Assist, set it even further apart.

Toyota’s infotainment system, the Entune 3.0 Audio Plus, is standard on the XSE and features Sirius/XM satellite radio and a high-resolution eight-inch multimedia touchscreen. Apple Car Play is standard on all Corolla Hatchbacks.

Standard semi-autonomous features included Lane Departure Alert, Lane Tracing Assist, a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, and adaptive cruise control. My favorite safety feature, the Blind Spot Monitor, was also standard on the XSE.

Pricing for the 2019 Corolla Hatchback starts at $20,910. The as-tested price came to $23,910.

Mazda Miata MX-5

MX-5 Miata Thirtieth Anniversary edition.

Since its introduction 30 years ago, the Mazda Miata combined a striking design, nimble performance, and a drop top with a surprisingly affordable price. LTR recently tested the 2019 Miata MX-5 Grand Touring soft top and happily, not much has changed to lessen its appeal. Indeed, when the thirtieth anniversary edition was unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show this year, the 500 anniversary models set aside for sales in the United States sold out in four hours.

The modern Miata is sleeker but its agility will still make its owners smile. A sport-tuned suspension and Bilstein shock absorbers enhanced handling further on the test model.

Formerly the top-of-the-line trim out of three until the anniversary edition was introduced this year, the Grand Touring trim comes equipped with posh features like, heated leather seats, automatic air conditioning, and Mazda navigation with traffic sign recognition. The blind spot monitor becomes a standard feature on the Club trim, one below the Grand Touring, so it was included as well.

All Miatas are powered by 2.0-liter four-cylinder Skyactiv engine with 181 horsepower and 151 of lb.–ft. of torque. While an automatic transmission is available, thankfully the test model came with a six-speed manual transmission that elevated the driving experience. Fuel economy is also an added plus with an EPA estimated city/highway rating of 26 mpg and 34 mpg respectively. It earned an average of 34.1 mpg on the test drive.

The canvas top remains manually operated but it can literally be done while siting in the car with one hand. A retractable hardtop version is also available.

Pricing for the 2019 Miata MX-5 starts at $26,625. The as tested price came to $33,050.

Subaru Crosstrek

In the car world “sporty” almost always describes a performance or sports car. But for this list, we broadened the definition of sporty to include off-road performers as well. With its symmetrical all-wheel drive (AWD), the Subaru Crosstrek can handle the outdoors for owners who want to take it there, but it also has sporty qualities that set it apart in its segment.

The tested model was the Crostrek 2.0i Limited with EyeSight Driver Assist Technology (right)—a suite of autonomous safety features, from pre-collision braking to adaptive cruise control. For 2019, it’s now available on all 2019 Crosstrek trim levels.

All Crosstreks are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder Subaru Boxer engine that delivers 152-hp and 145 lb.–ft. of torque. Transmissions do vary, however, starting with a six-speed manual. The tested model, however, included a CVT with a seven-speed manual mode function and steering wheel paddle shifters for those who want the performance of a manual transmission but without the clutch. Not only did the CVT offer the better fuel economy, with an average of 29 mpg, it added muscle as well with an X-MODE and Hill Descent Control for better traction off-road. The test model also included 18-inch alloy wheels in black with a machine finish.

Some call it a wagon, others a compact SUV but either way, the Crosstrek offers the convenience of both with a rear seat that folds to expose 55.3 cubic feet of cargo room.

As the top-of-the-line trim, the test model also included convenience features like an eight-inch touchscreen with voice-activated controls, Keyless Access with Push-Button Start, Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

Pricing for the 2019 Subaru Crosstrek starts at $22,870. The as-tested price came to $28,170.

Lexus IS 300

For its entry-level offering, Lexus introduced the 2001 IS compact sport sedan in 2000, allowing more buyers to step up to the brand with the added plus of performance.

The test model on this drive was the IS 300, the most affordable IS, powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine with 241 horsepower and 258 lb.–ft. of torque.  In 2018, the entire lineup received a five horsepower increase.

It was matched to an eight-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel and Eco, Normal, Snow, and Sport drive modes to customize the ride and handling further. The city/highway EPA estimated fuel economy for the test model was 22/32 mpg. It averaged 24 mpg on the test drive, mostly in Eco mode.

Available with all-wheel-drive (AWD), the test model stuck to its sporty intentions with rear-wheel-drive, improved for 2019 for better performance. Ramping up performance further, the test model included the F-Sport package ($3,195) with a unique bumper and spindle grill, 18-inch split five-spoke wheels, a sport suspension, and aluminum pedals.

As a Lexus, luxury features like NuLuxe trimmed seating, ten-way power front sport seats, a dual-zone automatic climate control system with touch-sensitive controls, a power moonroof, SmartAccess with push button start and adaptive cruise control come standard.  The available blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, was also included on the test model for no charge. While a seven-inch touch screen is standard, the test model included the available 10.3-inch display for entertainment and climate control interplay, heated and cooled leather seats, and a leather steering wheel.

Pricing for the 2019 IS 300 starts at $39,585. The as-tested price came to $46,395.

Ford Edge ST

Combining functionality with versatility, the midsize SUV market shows no sign of slowing in popularity, so it behooves automakers to forward products that stand out. Ford added the first performance SUV to its lineup for 2019, the Edge ST. LTR recently tested the sportier Edge equipped with standard AWD.

At first glance, the Edge ST signals its performance nature with design cues like a wide mesh grille for optimal cooling, deep side skirts and dual-exhaust outlets. The test model also included the available 21-inch wheels with darkened rims that come with the Performance Brake Package ($2,695). Interior design cues included badging on the steering wheel, seat backs, and scuff plates.

Tuned by the Ford Performance team, the Edge ST gains a sport suspension, Sport Mode, a new quick-shifting eight-speed transmission, and a powerful V6 engine with 335 horsepower and 380 lb.­–ft. of torque.

Where there’s power, there’s less fuel economy, however, even with the standard Auto Start-Stop technology to help save gas at idle that managed to fade the air conditioning at times. The EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy for the Edge ST is 19/26 mpg. It averaged 22.4 mpg on the test drive.

The Edge ST also maintains the standard for convenience expected of SUVs in this class by offering seating for five and a 60/40-split folding rear seat. It deploys easily with the push of a button to expose 73.4 cu. ft. of cargo space. For a modern touch, the Edge ST includes a Wi-Fi hotspot for Internet access via FordPass Connect, standard on all 2019 Edges.

Pricing for the 2019 Edge ST starts at $31,090. The as-tested price came to $52,325.

A Rogue of Many Colors

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Apr 282019
 

With competition among sport utility vehicles (SUVs) neck and neck, it helps to have a winner, or two, in the lineup. Introduced in 2008, the Nissan Rogue, and its sibling, the Rogue Sport, have been Nissan’s top-selling nameplate in both calendar year 2017 and model year 2018. Latino Traffic Report (LTR) received four models to test drive in the past year, offering an extended experience in the Rogue and a chance for greater evaluation and appreciation.

Rogue Palatial Ruby
Rogue Sport Magnetic Black
Rogue Sport Gun Metallic

While all test models were the top-of-the-line SL trim equipped with all-wheel-drive (AWD), each included different packages and interior appointments so that not one shared the same MSRP.

Tested colors included Magnetic Black Pearl, Palatial Ruby, Gun Metallic, and Monarch Orange (top). All included leather seating but the seats on the Rogue in Monarch Orange featured the Platinum Package with Premium Tan seats and distinctive quilting on the inserts as well as a heated steering wheel. The black and/or beige leather seating in the other models was perforated.

Platinum Package seating.

A 2.5-liter four-cylinder matched to the Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with Sport and Eco modes, powers all Rogues, and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with the Xtronic CVT and Eco mode, powers all Rogue Sports. The 2.5-liter can produce 170 horsepower and 175 lb.–ft. of torque and achieve an EPA estimated fuel economy of 25 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 32 mpg on the highway with AWD. The 2.0-liter offered 141 horses, 147 lb.­–ft. of torque, and an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 24/30 mpg with AWD. During the test-drive, the 2.5 and 2.0 averaged a city/highway mpg of 17/28 and 25/31, respectively.

In an urban setting, the Rogue stood out for its convenience, versatility, and maneuverability. Convenience features included a standard back-up camera (around view on the SL), easy to fold seats, Nissan’s easy tire fill alert, and maximum cargo room of 70 cu. ft. on the Rogue and 53.3 cu. ft. on the Sport (61.1 cu. ft. on the base S model). Both offered seating for five but the Rogue Sport has a 2.3-inch shorter wheelbase and a 12.1-inch shorter overall length than Rogue for better maneuverability.

All Rogues come with satellite radio (sans the subscription), a CD player, Apple Car Play and Android Auto,  cruise control, and a blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert. The SL trim level included more luxury features like heated front seats, Nissan Connect with navigation, and intelligent cruise control that can be programmed to maintain a set distance from the lead vehicle. Programming preset radio and XM channels, however, was a little difficult to do via the touchscreen, which began to lead to distracted driving.

For 2019 the standard features list expands to include Rear Automatic Braking and a Rear Sonar System on SV and SL trims, Rear Door Alert on all grade levels and ProPILOT Assist for semi-autonomous driving and 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels on the SL grade.

At the 2019 Chicago Auto Show, Nissan unveiled a refreshed version of the Rogue Sport for 2020, with new front fascia features, hood, Vmotion grille, and bumper. Improvements for 2019 include the available ProPILOT Assist, Nissan Safety Shield 360 that includes a blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert, an updated audio system with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the availability of the Bose Audio System with nine speakers.

Pricing for the 2019 Rogue Sport and Rogue starts at $23,385 and $26,065, respectively. Stepping up to the SL trim will be costly. The as-tested prices ranged from $31,365—$36,915.

Super SUVs and CUVs for Summer Travel

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Aug 092018
 

2018 BMW X3

Summer’s heating up as families hit the road for vacation. There’s no question that sport and crossover utility vehicles (SUVs and CUVs) have claimed the family car market, but happily, the supply and variety from which to choose is incredibly healthy. Here’s an overview of some of the models tested by Latino Traffic Report (LTR).

Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

Mazda’s best-selling vehicle in the United States, the CX-5, stands out in a crowded segment with its design, including the signature Soul Red Crystal premium exterior paint ($595) on the test model. For 2018, this compact CUV moves ahead of the pack by making the blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert a standard feature on all CX-5s, something even premium compact CUVs and SUVs don’t do. Also added to the standard features list for 2018 are a leather-wrapped steering wheel and new cylinder-deactivation technology; Mazda is the only automaker to offer this technology on a four-cylinder engine in North America.
The test model, CX-5 Grand Touring AWD, also included the i-ACTIVSENSE suite with High Beam Control, Lane Departure Warning, Lane-Keep Assist, and Mazda Radar Cruise Control with Stop and Go function.
Powered by a 2.5-liter engine that delivers 187 horsepower and 186 lb.–ft. of torque with cylinder deactivation for better fuel economy and matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, the CX-5 should achieve an EPA estimated fuel economy of 24 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. It averaged 28.5 mpg on the test drive.
On road trips, entertainment features come in handy and Mazda’s infotainment system centers around Mazda CONNECT with a seven-inch touch screen, Bluetooth audio streaming, and phone pairing. While it took four steps to set presets, there appeared to be no limit to the number allowed, from AM to SiriusXM Satellite radio.
With seating for five and 59.6 cubic feet (cu. ft.) of cargo room with the second-row seats folded, the 2018 Mazda CX-5 has a starting price of $25,125. The as-tested price came to $34,685.

Chevy Equinox

Chevy MyLink

Since its launch in 2005, the Equinox has been Chevrolet’s second-best selling vehicle overall, after the Silverado. It includes what families want, convenience and versatility, plus a few other features that other small SUVs don’t.
Under the hood, the Equinox offers three engine choices, all turbos—a 1.5-liter, 2.0-liter, and a 1.6-liter turbo diesel (a segment exclusive). LTR drove the 2.0-liter with 252 horsepower and 260 lb.–ft. of torque. The Equinox test model had an EPA city/highway estimated fuel rating of 22/28 mpg. It averaged 26.7 mpg on the test drive.
Inside, the Equinox there’s up to 63.5 cu. ft. of maximum cargo space with the second row folded flat. During the test, the seats were heavy and slammed down when deployed.
Certain brands may have created a reputation for safety but Chevy offers its own signature safety technology, starting with Teen Driver (standard) that allows parents to set controls and review driving history in order to encourage safe driving habits, even when they are not in the vehicle. The available Rear Seat Reminder, also on the test model, pings when the ignition is turned off to remind the driver to check the back seat before locking the SUV.
The standard MyLink infotainment system on the Equinox that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as the OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, can be matched to a standard seven- or an available eight-inch-diagonal color touch screen.
Available in four trim levels, and front wheel or all wheel drive (FWD or AWD) combinations, pricing for the next-generation 2018 Equinox starts at $24,525. The as-tested price came to $43,050.

Lexus NX 300h

For road trips, fuel economy, comfort, and cargo carrying matter. The Lexus NX 300h hybrid competes handily in these areas. The test model also included the Lexus navigation package ($1,815), another road trip essential.
Lexus excels at comfort and luxury and the NX 300h test model was no exception. Enhanced by the Luxury Package ($4,545), it included buttery beige leather seating with heated and ventilated seats in the front. The second row also included a power button ($400) for folding the seats flat and exposing 53.7 cu. ft. of cargo room.
Powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a small high-torque electric motor through its electronically controlled continuously variable transmission, it has an EPA estimated fuel economy of 33 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. It averaged 28.4 mpg on the test drive. The engine lacked a little power but the Sport mode, part of the standard Drive Mode Select system, gave it some oomph. Normal and Eco modes are also available as well as an EV mode for full electric power at speeds below 25 miles per hour (mph). Regenerative braking charges the electric motor to a generator that captures the kinetic energy of the wheels when the brake is applied, storing it in the nickel-metal hydride hybrid battery pack.
Semi-autonomous features like adaptive cruise control are standard but the blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert was added to the test model ($660).
Other standard features included a backup camera, dual-zone climate control, Lexus Enform safety connect, and a power tilt and telescopic steering column.
For 2018 it gets a refreshed exterior and improved handling.
Pricing for the 2018 NX 300h starts at $39,330. The as-tested pricing came to $51,683.*

BMW X3 xDrive30i

All new for 2018, the BMW X3 brings a sporty element to the premium compact SUV segment (or Sports Activity Vehicle according to BMW), making it a bit more fun to drive than its competitors. Like its siblings, the X4, X5, and X6, the X3 is built at BMW’s plant in Spartanburg, SC where 70 percent of BMW vehicles exported to 140 markets worldwide are produced.
The third-generation sports new fascia features including a three-dimensional kidney grille and fog lights featuring a hexagonal design. It’s also the first X3 to offer a factory installed trailer hitch.
A twin-power turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder inline gasoline engine that produces 248 horses and 258 lb.–ft. of torque powered the X3 xDrive30i test model, matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission with shift paddles and xDrive all-wheel drive (AWD). It had an EPA estimated fuel economy of 22 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. It earned 24.1 mpg on the test drive.
Four drive modes, Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+, helped customize the ride and handling and overcome a slight turbo lag.

orange ambient lighting

Adding to that was the new 50:50 weight distribution between the front and rear axle.
Standard features on the test model included tri-zone climate control, a 40/20/40 split folding rear seat that can be released from the rear to expose 62.7 cu. ft. of cargo room, WiFi hotspot, and power tailgate. The test model, X3 also included multiple packages—Convenience ($2,850), Driving Assistance ($900), Dynamic Handling ($1,400), Parking Assistance ($1,300), and Premium ($3,300)—that added features like a panoramic sunroof, variable sport steering, and oddly, a rearview camera—it’s standard on most vehicles these days.
Pricing for the 2018 BMW X3 starts at $42,450. The as-tested pricing came to $57,470.

Volvo XC60 T6 Inscription

Safety is paramount to Volvo so it’s no wonder that the redesigned 2018 version of the XC60 adds Oncoming Lane Mitigation to its list of standard collision avoidance safety features, plus advancements to two available features—the Blind Spot Information System with steering assistance, part of the Vision Package ($1,100), and Pilot Assist, a semi-autonomous feature from Volvo, included on the test model with the Convenience Package ($2,000). It helped with steering, braking, and acceleration on roads at speeds up to 80 mph, like adaptive cruise control but without needing a car in front of it to follow.
Two remarkable four-cylinder engines power the new XC60, a turbo 2.0-liter with 250 horsepower and 258 ft.–lb. of torque on the T5 base and a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter with 315 horsepower and 295 lb.–ft. of torque on the T6 Inscription test model. It had an EPA estimated fuel economy of 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. It averaged 22.1 mpg during the test drive.
Blessed with Scandinavian design, inside and out, the T6 test model standard creature comforts included leather seats, a beautiful dash intricately trimmed with driftwood-inspired wood accents, a nine-inch Sensus Connect touch screen that provided a clear vantage when utilizing the standard backup camera, a panoramic sunroof, multi-zone climate control, and 4G LTE connectivity with in-car Wi-Fi hotspot. It offered seating for five and 63.3 cu. ft. of cargo with the rear seats folded, a loss of about four inches from the previous XC60.
The Luxury Package ($3,000) added heated and ventilated Nappa leather seats and the Advanced Package ($1,900) added a 360-degree backup camera, among other features.
Representing 30 percent of Volvo’s global sales, the 2018 XC60 has a starting price of $42,495. The as-tested pricing was $63,290.

Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium

Built in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the seven-passenger Atlas is a new entry into the midsize SUV market for Volkswagen. It offers utility with three rows of seats, including second and third rows that can fold flat to provide a maximum cargo volume of 96.8 cu. ft. behind the front-row seats. The seats on the test model, however, were heavy and slammed down when deployed.
The digital 12.3-inch TFT display in the instrument panel can also be customized, a feature usually reserved for premium vehicles.
While a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 235 horsepower and 258 lb.–ft. of torque is available, the test model, Atlas SEL Premium, is only powered by a 3.6-liter V6 that delivers 276 horses and 266 lb.–ft. of torque and is matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The maximum towing for the V6 is 5,000 lbs. with a factory-installed hitch.
The standard Start/Stop technology that cuts the engine off at a stop also helps conserve gas and while noticeable, it was less jarring than other systems. That said, the test model had an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy rating of 17/23 mpg. The test model, equipped with 4Motion all-wheel drive, averaged 17.2 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. Four Motion also included Active Control with Eco, Individual, Normal, and Sport driving modes but power was noticeably lost in the Eco mode.
The test model also had three-zone climate control, leather seating with heated and ventilated seats in the front, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, a front and rear parking monitor, blind spot monitor, Fender audio, and eight-inch touch screen with navigation, and a CD player.
Pricing for the 2018 Atlas starts at $31,745. The as-tested pricing came to $49,415.

Ranger Rover Sport HSE

Some SUVs stand out for plushness, others for their off-road capability, and some, like the Ranger Rover Sport, for both. The test model, Range Rover Sport HSE Td6 doubled down on these attributes.
Piling tons of off-road capability onto a fancy SUV may seem at cross-purposes but the Land Rover’s brand legacy demands it. While most owners will keep their nearly six-figure SUV on the road, if they want to climb rocks, they can in the Range Rover Sport. Rather than drive modes, the Sport included off-road modes via the Terrain Response System—General, Snow, Mud and Sand.
The test model, however, stayed on the road, powered by the available 3.0-liter V6 diesel that produced 254 horsepower and 443 lb.–ft. of torque. Matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission, it had an EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 22/28 mpg. It surpassed expectations during the test drive, achieving an average of 32.7 mpg.
Additional features affecting performance included Intelligent Stop/Start and full-time four-wheel drive (4WD). While the Sport version is supposed to be the more nimble Range Rover, it still felt heavy and at times, difficult to maneuver.
Of the multiple interior tech features, the stand out was the 10.2-inch InControl Touch Pro infotainment four-panel display for selecting navigation, entertainment, climate control, and Bluetooth functions. Other posh features on the test model included a panoramic sunroof, Oxford perforated leather seats (heated and ventilated in the front), a TFT virtual instrument panel, Head-up Display, and a heated steering wheel. For 2018, the Range Rover Sport gets a refreshed exterior and new version of the InControl Touch Pro.
The test model was also equipped with advanced safety features like a blind spot monitor, adaptive cruise control, and parking assistance. Pricing for the 2018 Range Rover Sport starts at $67,745. The as-tested price came to $73,645.*


Infiniti QX80 4WD

It takes special needs to step up to the big boys in the SUV segment, e.g. lots of capacity and versatility. Luxury and comfort also enhance a vessel like the 2018 Infiniti QX80 full-size premium SUV, or as Infiniti’s press release says: “It will appeal to a buyer that wants for nothing.”
A 5.6-liter V8 engine with 400 horses and 413 lb.–ft. of torque matched to a seven-speed automatic transmission propelled the massive seven-seater (or eight-seater with the second-row bench instead of captain’s chairs) along the highway. The test model, equipped with computer-controlled 4WD and Drive Mode Selector (Snow and Tow), had an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 13/19 mpg and a maximum towing capacity of 8,500 lbs. It averaged 15.3 mpg on the test drive.
Interior features on the test model testified to its unique craftsmanship, like real wood accents, illuminated doorsills, Infiniti’s InTouch eight-inch touch screen, and the Bose premium audio system with SiriusXM Satellite radio and two USB ports. While all QX80s come with leather seating, the test model stepped it up a notch with the semi-aniline leather (made from the most desirable portion of the animal’s hide) with contrasting stitching and piping, part of the Deluxe Technology Package ($5,700).
Additional features on the test model included the Theater Package ($2,450) with eight-inch monitors in the front headrests and heated second-row seats, and the Driver Assistance Package ($2,900) that included advanced safety technology like the blind spot monitor, adaptive cruise control, and back-up collision warning, among other features.
Pricing for the 2018 QX80 starts at $66,045. The as-tested pricing came to $84,660.

Toyota Land Cruiser

In 1957 the Toyota Land Cruiser was among the first Toyota vehicles sold in the U.S. Toyota’s oldest SUV currently on the market has evolved into a premium full-size SUV with refined good looks and advanced off-road capability.
The number eight figures prominently in the 2018 Land Cruiser, with seating for eight and a powertrain that includes a 5.7-liter V8 matched to an eight-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. The V8 produces 381 horsepower and 401 lb.–ft. of torque and has a maximum towing capacity of 8,100 pounds.
It has an EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 13/18 mpg. It averaged 15.2 mpg on the test drive.
Safety advancements on this family vehicle include the standard Toyota Safety Sense-P (TSS-P) system, with a pre-collision warning system with pedestrian detection, dynamic radar cruise control, and automatic high beams among other features. Stepping up to the 4WD version, like the as-tested model, brought technology like a blind spot monitor, a front and rear parking sensor, and rear cross traffic alert.
While the seats are split 60/40 in the second-row and 50/50 in the third-row, they were heavy and a little awkward to deploy. Once folded flat, however, the cargo room expanded to 81.7 cu. ft.
Entertainment and convenience features on the test model included four-zone climate control, JBL audio with navigation and a CD player, a nine-inch touchscreen, and a cooler box in the center console.
Toyota has reserved its premium products for Lexus, but the Land Cruiser is an exception. Pricing for the 2018 Land Cruiser starts at $84,960. The as-tested price, with the rear entertainment system ($2,220) came to $87,180.

*Driving impressions based on a 2017 model.

The LTR Second Annual Truck Guide

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Apr 032018
 

Nissan Titan XD Single Cab

Based in the Lone Star State, home to the top truck market in the country, the Latino Traffic Report (LTR) team appreciates a nice pickup. A voting member of the Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA), LTR’s editor also helps choose the Truck of Texas each year—the Ford F-150 is the current winner. Each year we offer an overview of the trucks we test. Here’s the list for 2018.

GMC Canyon Denali

Denali doesn’t just refer to a mountain in Alaska. It’s also the name of GMC’s top-of-the-line trim and as such, expectations can be high.

GMC returned to the midsize truck market with the 2015 Canyon. It added a diesel engine in 2016 and the Denali trim for 2017. LTR recently tested the 2018 Canyon Denali Crew Cab.

On the outside, a unique chrome grille and 20-inch aluminum wheels distinguish the Canyon Denali. Though they were a nice idea, the standard chrome running boards were unnecessary considering that the Canyon sits lower than a half-ton. All Canyon’s include convenience features like a sidestep in the bumper and a locking tailgate.

Fancy features inside the test model included leather seating with heated and cooled front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a Bose stereo system, a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, the GMC Intellilink infotainment system with navigation, and an eight-inch touchscreen.

Capability on the truck came from the 2.8-liter Duramax turbo diesel engine with 181 horsepower and 369 lb.–ft. of torque, matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. This powertrain has a maximum tow rating of 7,700 lbs. and during the test; the 5.2-foot bed proved to be the right size to carry a lawnmower that needed repair. A 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder is the base engine and a 3.6-liter V6 and six-speed manual transmission are also available.

Few trucks can claim bragging rights for fuel economy but the Canyon’s diesel powertrain helps enhance its performance. The two-wheel-drive (2WD) model offers a segment best fuel economy of 31 miles per gallon (mpg) on the highway, while the four-wheel-drive (4WD) has an EPA estimated city/highway rating of 20/29 mpg. The 4WD test model achieved a city/highway average fuel economy of 21/25.5 mpg.

GM safety features included signature tech like the rear seat reminder—it chimes when the ignition’s turned off to remind the driver to check the rear seat—Onstar, and Teen Driver. But the lack of a blind spot warning system was a noticeable exclusion, particularly on a Denali.

Pricing for the 2018 Canyon starts at $22,095. The as-tested price of $48,190 included options like the engine and transmission that cost more than $4,000.

Toyota Tundra TRD Pro*

Hecho en San Antonio, Texas, the Toyota Tundra comes in more than four-dozen possible configurations. LTR tested the Tundra Limited with the TRD Pro 4×4 package built for the off-road enthusiast. For 2018, the TRD Sport Package gets new distinctive exterior design cues including a body-color surround for the honeycomb-style grille, 20-inch silver-painted aluminum alloy wheels with black accents, and the TRD Pro bedside graphic.

When it comes to functionality, the test Tundra had a towing capacity of up to 9,800 pounds and payload capacity of up to 1,560 pounds. During the weeklong test, the TRD Pro exhibited that capacity by helping out Cine Las Americas during the nonprofit’s annual film festival, and delivering a truckload of donated Dos Equis. Maximum towing and payload on the Tundra when properly equipped can reach 10,200 and 1,730 pounds, respectively.

All Tundra’s are powered by either of two V8 engines. The test model came with the 5.7-liter i-Force V8 engine, with 381 horsepower and 401 lb.–ft. of torque matched to a six speed automatic transmission. It had an EPA estimated fuel rating of 13 mpg in the city and 17 mpg on the highway. It averaged 14.7 mpg during the weeklong test.

While most Tundras come with three cab styles and three bed sizes, the TRD Pro is available only in Double Cab and Crew Max models. LTR tested the latter matched to the shorter 5.5-foot bed.

The test drive remained on road, but the TRD Pro did demonstrate its off-road capability at last year’s TAWA Truck Rodeo. Tundra 4X4 models use the electronically controlled 4WDemand part-time 4WD system with 4×2, 4×4 Hi, and 4×4 Lo ranges.

For added climbing ability, the TRD Pro sits two-inches higher than its siblings and lacks running boards. While that enhances ground clearance, it can be hard to climb onboard, especially for the vertically challenged.

All Tundra models come standard with a backup camera, essential equipment on a truck, and Toyota Star Safety is now standard for 2018. The test model added a blind spot monitor and parking sensor as part of the Entune Premium package ($785).

Pricing for the 2018 Tundra starts at $35,395. The as-tested pricing came to $51,589.

 

RAM 1500 Lone Star

Recognizing the top position that Texas holds in national truck sales, Ram created the Lone Star package in 2002, specifically for the Texas market. Not surprisingly, it’s become the top-selling Ram model in Texas and the Ram 1500 earned the Truck of Texas title for 2013 and 2014 from TAWA.

With eleven possible models, the Lone Star sits in the middle of the lineup along with the Big Horn, so that it includes additional features beyond its distinctive badging, like dual-zone climate control, a front and rear parking sensor, a 60/40-split folding rear bench seat with underseat storage, and fold-flat load floor storage.

The test model, Ram 1500 SLT 4×2, also included welcome features like a rearview camera (standard on all 2018 Rams), and Uconnect infotainment and GPS navigation with an 8.4-inch touchscreen ($795).

Powered by the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine, with 395 horsepower and 410 lb.–ft. of torque, the Ram has an estimated EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 15/22 mpg. It achieved an average fuel economy of 20.3 mpg during the weeklong test drive. The Hemi and eight-speed transmission on the test model added around $2,000 to the price. A 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 and 3.6-liter V6 are also available.

Some folks prefer an open bed on a truck, others like a lid. The test model came with the latter, specifically a three-fold tonneau cover ($595) to shield the 5.7-foot bed. It proved useful while moving my nephew to San Antonio for the summer. The load included cargo that presented a flight risk, even if strapped down, so while the tonneau may limit cargo height, it was perfect for our needs and easy to maneuver. The bed also included the innovative Ram Box Cargo Management System ($1,295).

Towing and payload capacity for the test model topped out at 10,330 and 1,700 lbs., respectively.

While leather seats may reflect a premium status, cloth seats can make more sense on a truck, plus the standard cloth seats on the Lone Star showed some attention to detail.

With a Ram redesign on the horizon for 2019, there’s still time to grab a Ram with the current look, particularly for fans of the crosshair grille.

Pricing for the 2018 Ram starts at $27,990. The as-tested pricing came to $45,760.

 

Nissan Titan XD Single Cab**

Blazing a new trail in the truck market, Nissan positioned its Titan XD (all-new for 2016) between a half-ton and super duty. It did so by giving it more capability by virtue of its 5.0-liter V8 Cummins turbo diesel engine that produces 310 horsepower and 555 lb.-ft. of torque. The move so impressed TAWA members that it named it the 2016 Truck of Texas. For 2018, a factory-authorized suspension lift kit will be offered on select models of the TITAN and TITAN XD.

The Cummins is matched to a six-speed automatic transmission but a seven-speed automatic is available on the 5.6-liter V8. The unique position the XD holds also excludes it from fuel economy ratings by the EPA but on the test drive, it averaged 14.3 mpg.

Available in three cab configurations, Single, Crew, or King, the Single is the newest and was featured on the test model, as well as an eight-foot bed, one of two available bed sizes on the Titan. Built to appeal to entrepreneurs, the Single Cab earned the TAWA 2017 Commercial Truck of Texas title in 2016. It has a payload capacity of 2,910 lbs., a maximum towing capacity of 12,640 lbs. (when properly equipped), and a super dampened tailgate that practically lifts with one finger.

The understated interior on the test model included cloth seats, a tiny display for the AM/FM/CD stereo. As a single cab, interior storage was limited but there was seat back and underseat storage in the rear.

The test model, Titan XD SV, was also equipped with 4WD, remote keyless entry with push button start, plus the SV Comfort and Convenience Package ($1,360) that added a rear view monitor and parking sensors, dual air conditioning, a blind spot warning system with rear cross traffic alert, running boards, and 20-inch alloy wheels.

All Titan XDs are covered by Nissan’s “America’s Best Truck Warranty” featuring bumper-to-bumper coverage for five-years/100,000-miles, whichever comes first.

Pricing for the 2018 Titan XD Single Cab starts at $33,335. The as-tested pricing came to $46,625.

With redesigns on the way for the Ram, Chevrolet Silverado, and GMC Sierra, 2019 will be a model year for trucks. A new Truck of Texas could be in the mix.

Note: All prices include destination fees.
*Toyota recently announced separate safety recalls in the United States of approximately 8,800 Model Year 2017 Tundra and approximately 65,000 Model Year 2018 Sequoia and Tundra vehicles. For more information, go to toyota.com/recall and enter the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).  Safety Recall inquiry by individual VIN is also available at the NHTSA site: nhtsa.gov/recalls.

**Nissan North America, Inc. (Nissan) is recalling certain 2016-2018 Nissan Titan, 2016 and 2018 Nissan Titan XD vehicles. The recall is expected to begin on June 16, 2018. Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-867-7669 or NHTSA at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

Click here to find past recall notices posted by LTR.

Top Automotive Picks for Latinas

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Sep 282017
 

In the words of The Big Bang Theory’s Amy Farrah Fowler, “I’m a girl.” I’ve also been writing about cars for the last eighteen years and as such, I’ve tested several. This year I’ve decided to write my first Top Picks story for Latino Traffic Report on vehicles for Latinas, based on cars I’ve driven and tested. They will appeal to women at different stages of life, with different needs, priorities, goals, and income. Some, however, are just damn cute!

Cars for Girls

Younger women may have greater financial constraints when car shopping, but that doesn’t mean the choices need be lackluster. These shoppers can sacrifice utility for fun, if need be, which brings me to my first selection.

Fiat 500c Lounge Cabriolet

For 2017, all Fiat 500 models can be ordered as a cabrio for an extra $1,495, and what could be more fun than a convertible? The folding roof opens with the push of a button as much or as little as you like although less than fully opened will produce tons of wind noise.

The diminutive little convertible also offers respectable fuel economy, with an EPA estimated 27 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. I averaged 24.9 mpg on the test drive. Don’t expect a lot of oomph, however, from the 500c’s 1.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine with 101 horses, even when you select the Sport mode

The test model came in Celeste Blu on the outside, one of fifteen special shades, with similar toned accents on the inside, and for $250 more, Ivory leather-trimmed bucket seats. The combination gave it an upscale feel.

It’s two-tone interior also included some fancy features like a 5.0-inch Uconnect touchscreen, a seven-inch thin-film transistor cluster display, a USB port in the glove box, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. It included a parking assist system but no back-up camera, nor is one available, or push button start.

Optional equipment added as part of the Customer Preferred Package, included GPS Navigation ($495). One option on the test model that I wouldn’t go for was the six-speed automatic transmission ($695). The five-speed manual would have certainly ramped-up this car’s performance and fun factor.

Granted, its cuteness may be its best selling point but it made me smile each time I saw it and for a prospective owner, that effect can be priceless.

Hecho en Toluca, México, pricing for the 2017 500c starts at $14,995. The as-tested price came to $23,420.

Kia Soul! Turbo

While the cuteness factor still applies to the Kia Soul, it gets more oomph for 2017 from an all-new 1.6-liter turbo engine with 201 horsepower. The test model, the Soul Exclaim (!), arrived in a Wild Orange shade that blended well in the Burnt Orange home of the Texas Longhorns.

Matched to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (an exclusive feature on the Exclaim trim), the Turbo did exhibit extra pep, but not without a little turbo lag. It has a combined EPA estimated fuel economy of 28 mpg. I averaged 33.3 mpg during the weeklong test drive. There is a six-speed manual version but only on the base model.

Well suited for city driving, the Soul offers extra versatility with its folding seats that produce 61.3 cu. ft. of cargo space with the rear seat folded, as well as an expansive glove box. To enhance the driving experience, it comes with a choice of two driving modes, Normal, and Sport.

The navigation system was relegated to Apple Car Play, which worked well but does eat up data. Creature comforts included AM/FM/MP3 with a seven-inch touchscreen, push button start, Bluetooth wireless technology, leather seats with cloth inserts, a leather wrapped steering wheel, and the UVO infotainment system.

While a blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert systems were not included on the test model, they are available on the Exclaim and Plus trim levels. Standard safety features on all models include electronic stability control and Hill Start Assist.

Pricing for the 2017 Soul starts at $16,995. The as-tested pricing came to $23,620.

 

VW Golf SportWagen TSI S

I love a manual transmission, which is why I had to include this model, but it had me stymied over listing it under Cars for Girls or Cars for Moms on the Go but since most moms have their hands full, I decided that the enterprising millennial interested in learning a new skill might find this wagon appealing.

I tested the 2017 VW Golf SportWagen TSI S with a five-speed manual transmission matched to a peppy 1.8-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine with 170 horsepower and 199 lb.–ft. of torque. The manual transmission added tons of fun plus it helped with fuel efficiency. The EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy is 25/35 mpg, the best of all three trim levels. I achieved an average of 32.8 mpg at the end of a week.

The SportWagen combines fun and utility with the extra cargo-carrying ability of a wagon. The rear seats fold flat easily to offer 66.5 cu. ft. of volume.

As expected with the base model, the interior was a little plain, but it did include a few conveniences like cruse control, App Connect for smartphone integration (which I used for navigation), a leather-trimmed steering wheel, brake lever, and shift knob, an AM/FM/HD/CD stereo with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, a CD player, and illuminated vanity mirrors.

It also came with a few safety features like a rearview camera, Automatic Post-Collision Braking and Intelligent Crash Response systems.

Not offered on base model, forward collision warning,  a blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control, are available on the SE trim and standard on the top-of-the-line SEL trim level.

Pricing for the 2017 Golf SportWagen starts at $22,400, which was also the as-tested pricing. A six-speed automatic transmission is available for an additional $1,100.

 

Cars (and a Pickup) for Moms on the Go

Honda Ridgeline AWD RTL-E

Named the 2017 North American Truck of the Year by a jury of automotive journalists, the 2017 Honda Ridgeline, with its 64-inch bed, maximum payload of 1,584 lbs. and available in-bed trunk that can double as an 82 qt. cooler, offers Latinas a vehicle with greater capability than a sedan or wagon.

Redesigned for 2017, Honda gave the Ridgeline a truck profile, replacing the previous side panel with one that has an integrated truss, while retaining its unibody construction and smooth ride. Additionally, every Ridgeline has four doors and seating for five.

Powered by a more powerful and efficient direct-injected 3.5-liter V6 engine matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, the Ridgeline two-wheel drive (2WD) has an EPA estimated fuel economy of 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. The all-wheel-drive (AWD) model, like the one I drove, loses one city/highway mpg. I averaged 23.9 mpg after a week.

The test model included Ridgeline’s Intelligent Traction Management System that enhances off-road capability with drive modes for different conditions—Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand on the AWD. The 2WD includes Normal and Snow. Towing on the AWD maxes out at 5,000 lbs.

While the multi-angle rearview camera and push button start are standard on all models, a blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert only come with the top trim levels.

The test model also included available technology like an eight-inch Display Audio touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, a new generation of the Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System, Smart Entry, a power sliding rear window, and Remote Engine Start. Creature comforts included heated seats, adaptive cruise control, and a moonroof.

All these fun features, however, ain’t cheap. Starting price on the 2017 Ridgeline is $30,415. The as-tested pricing came to $42,270.

 

Toyota Highlander SE

Crossover utility vehicles have become the new family car and one of the leaders in the segment is the Toyota Highlander. It doesn’t pretend to have an SUV’s off-road bravado but it does offer families the versatility and convenience they’re after.

Powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the Highlander has a city/highway EPA estimated fuel economy of 21/27 mpg. I averaged 20.4 mpg on the test drive. A 2.7-liter four-cylinder is the base engine.

Offered in five trim levels, the SE FWD I drove is the second from the top-of-the-line model. Standard features included leather seating and heated front seats, a backup camera with an eight-inch display, five USB ports, integrated side window shades, Toyota Safety Sense with a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Entune infotainment. The intuitive system also made it easy for me to expand preset channels for a total of 36.

Safety features carry particular clout on a family vehicle. The Highlander includes its signature Star Safety System with traction control and anti-lock braking, plus a backup camera and Hill Start Assist Control. The test model also included a blind spot monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and rear parking sonar that are not offered on lower level trims.

The versatile SUV can seat up to eight or seven and the rear seats are split to fold flat for an expanded cargo carrying space of 83.7 cu. ft.

Optional equipment included a rear seat Blue Ray DVD entertainment system with a nine-inch display ($1,810).

Pricing for the 2017 Highlander starts at $31,390. The as-tested pricing came to $42,440.

Cars for Posh Latinas

BMW i3

Brand conscious Latinas will gravitate to BMW, it’s just a natural instinct, but for those who would also like to save the planet, the i3 serves a dual purpose.

Powered by a synchronous electric motor with 170 horsepower and 184 lbs.–ft. of torque, available as soon as the electric motor begins to turn, and a lithium high-voltage battery, it produces an electric range of approximately 114 miles when fully charged. The test model also included the Range Extender, a two-cylinder gasoline engine that helps alleviate range anxiety. It switches on once the battery is depleted to 6.5 percent state of charge and provides an additional range thanks to a larger fuel tank (2.4 gallons).

While it arrived with a full gas tank, the i3 test model had no charge. It does have quick charge capability but it took three days to charge fully in my garage using the standard occasional use cable for connecting to a domestic power socket. According the i3’s onboard system, I had an estimated electric range of 130 miles, but that number dropped sharply within minutes of getting on the road. Still, I managed to power the car exclusively on electricity for the remaining four days of the test drive and avoiding gasoline was a welcome experience.

The inside of the i3 also deserves a mention. It reminded me of a first class club at the airport, very airy, clean and green with the available unbleached light eucalyptus wood trim. Other creature comforts included automatic climate control, and Dynamic Cruise Control. The i3 did lack a blind spot monitor but it did have a rear parking camera and sensors.

Pricing for the 2017 BMW i3 starts at $45,445, excluding tax credits. The as-tested price came to $54,295.

 

Infiniti Q70

Infiniti’s striking curviness sets its lineup apart in the luxury performance segment. The 2017 Q70, its flagship sedan, embodies the brand’s sensuality.

Available in a long-wheelbase version, for Latinas who really need legroom, as well as AWD, the test model I drove was the rear-wheel drive Q70 5.6 with the standard wheelbase and the Sport Package.

Powered by two available engines, the test model came fully loaded with 420 horsepower and 417 lbs.–ft. of torque via its 5.6-liter V8 engine. Adding even more sportiness was the seven-speed transmission with a manual shift mode and Infiniti Drive Mode Selector that added four more modes—Standard, Sport, Eco, and Snow. With this much power, fuel economy was the trade off but I managed an average of 19 mpg.

Inside, I found more sexy features, starting with the curves on the binnacle brow (that overhang that shades the instrument cluster from the sun’s glare), or in this case, binnacle bra. Expected creature comforts at this price point, like leather seating throughout and heated and cooled seats in the front, dual-zone climate control, a heated, power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, navigation with traffic and weather information, an eight-inch infotainment screen, an around-view camera, and a Bose stereo, were included.

While the test model came equipped with the Premium Package, it did add two more, rather pricey packages, to bring features like a blind spot monitor, intelligent cruise control, forward emergency braking to avoid a collision per the Technology Package, ($3,300). The Sport Package ($4,900) added sport suspension, magnesium paddle shifters, Bose Studio Surround 16-speaker premium audio system, among other features.

Despite the need for additional pricey packages, the Q70 is still a beautiful sedan for the posh Latina who can afford it.

Pricing for the 2017 Q70 starts at $51,295. The as-tested pricing came to $72,720.

It’s been well documented that women make 85 percent of household buying decisions. Of all the cars to choose from, this list is but a sampling for Latinas to consider and savor.

Super Sedans Improve Regular Commutes

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Mar 142017
 

Chevy Cruze

Available at all ends of the price spectrum, the ubiquitous sedan comes in an assortment of incarnations, from a comfortable, affordable commuter to a sumptuous performance machine. Here’s an overview of the sedans tested by Latino Traffic Report (LTR) and what makes them stand out in a crowded field.

Chevy Cruze

Redesigned in 2016, the Chevy Cruze compact sedan continues to compete in one of the toughest automotive segments by ramping up both its style and amenities.

For starters, the new version is larger and lighter, increasing its EPA estimated fuel economy to 30 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

The new 1.4-liter inline four-cylinder turbo engine with 153 horses is matched to a six-speed manual or available six-speed automatic transmission (North America). I drove the automatic and earned an average 35 mpg. A diesel engine becomes available in the spring of 2017.

As mentioned, it comes with a healthy list of standard features including keyless entry, XM Satellite radio (three months), OnStar (six months), OnStar Basic Plan (five years), and a rearview camera. New available features include wireless phone charging, heated rear seats and heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Happily, I drove the Premier or top-of-the-line model that included the available OnStar 4G LTE with Wi-Fi hotspot and keyless start plus all the above via the Enhanced Convenience Package ($865), as well as the Driver Convenience Package ($790) that added essentials like rear park assist, forward collision, rear cross traffic, and lane change alert with a blind zone warning. Oddly, neither a sunroof nor leather seats are available.

Still, the fit and finish inside this model was quite impressive, definitely a step up from the outgoing model.

The as-tested pricing for the Cruze Premier came to $26,045.

 

Toyota Camry

The Camry is a top seller among Latinos as well as the nation. It’s been a leader in the midsize segment for the last 14 years. So if it ain’t broke, perhaps the task for Toyota is just to make more versions? The LTR test drive featured the Camry SE Special Edition. While many manufacturers have joined the darkened trend for special editions, Toyota chose to go blue.

Powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder matched to six-speed automatic transmission, it should achieve an impressive EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 25/35 mpg. I averaged 26.3 mpg. A 3.5-liter V6 is available on other Camrys.

Toyota applied the Special Edition to the SE trim as it’s already distinguished by a sporty design, from the grille to the suspension. On the inside, the sport fabric Softex seats featured blue accent stitching and blue seat inserts. Blue accents were also included in the gauge cluster, as well as a power moonroof.

Specific technology on this trim included a Smart Key System and Qi wireless charging for compatible smart phones, enabling navigation from a smart phone.

Exclusive design features include a smoked treatment on the taillights and 18-inch alloy wheels in a machined finish and gloss black-painted accents. For a mere $525, the Camry also included a ramped up Entune premium audio with navigation, a seven-inch high-resolution touch screen with split-screen display, and a CD player.

While a redesigned 2018 version of the Camry is currently touring auto shows, there’s still time to grab the current generation.

The as-tested Camry Special Edition pricing came to $27,075.

 

 

Kia Optima

Kia ramped up the 2016 version of the Optima with a redesign, giving its top-selling nameplate a more refined exterior look, new technology, and creature comforts offered at the same starting price as the outgoing model. The 2017 model receives a few tweaks and upgraded trims.

Optima rear view camera with multiple angles.

There are three available four-cylinder engines to power the Optima, distributed among five trim levels. The test model, Optima SX Turbo, came equipped with 2.0-liter turbo-powered four-cylinder engine matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. A seven-speed dual clutch transmission is also available.

All three engines include the Active Eco System and Driver Mode Select with an Eco option to conserve gas. The EPA estimated fuel economy for the test model is 22 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. I averaged 31 mpg.

As a midsize sedan, Kia competes in a tough segment. It has an edge, however, with an exceptional bumper-to-bumper warranty (five years or 60,000 miles) and with a healthy list of standard features. Situated near the top of the line, second to the Optima SXL, the test model included extra technology and creature comforts. Standard features on the test model included dual-zone air conditioning, cruise control, AM/FM/MP3 audio unit with satellite radio, an eight-inch LCD rear-camera display, and Bluetooth.

Additionally, the test model added the SXT Premium Technology Package ($4,800) brought a slew of features like a panoramic sunroof, Harman Kardon Surround Sound system, heated and cooled front seats, Blind spot Detection and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

The as-tested price for the Optima, built in West Point, GA, was $35,315.

Acura ILX

Considered a gateway to the Acura brand, the ILX is the most affordable Acura model available. The test model, ILX Tech Plus A-SPEC, however, included multiple packages that ramped up its appeal and price.

The sporty ILX gets its oomph from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 201 horsepower and 180 lb.–ft. of torque. Matched to an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, the powertrain should achieve an EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 25/36 mpg. I averaged 29.9 mpg.

Expect to feel the road with the ILX which lacks adjustable drive mode select technology to adjust ride and handling.

With refreshed looks on the outside for 2016, including restyled front and rear fasciae, front grille, and rear LED combination lights, the A-SPEC package also added sporty side sill garnishes, a trunk spoiler, front fog lights, new 18-inch, ten-spoke machined alloy wheels, sport pedals, and sport seats with suede inserts.

As the name implied, the ILX Tech Plus A-SPEC was packed with packages that brought a long list of features starting with the Premium Package that included XM Satellite radio, a blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic monitor among other features. The Tech Package added navigation, multi-view rear camera, and the Acura ELS AM/FM/CD sound system. Finally, the Acura Watch Plus Package completed the picture with adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and braking among other features.

As tested pricing for the top-of-the-line ILX Tech Plus A-SPEC came to $35,810.

 

Volkswagen Passat

Passat 1.8T SE

With a base price of $23,260, the Passat is more affordable than expected for a European mid-size sedan, one that happens to be built at VW’s Chattanooga, TN plant. LTR tested two Passat trim levels, the sporty 1.8T SE with Technology and the SEL Premium.

Updated inside and out for 2016, the Passat remains understated but sophisticated in appearance.

Powered by the four-cylinder 1.8-liter turbocharged engine matched to a six-speed automatic transmission should help the Passat SE achieve an impressive EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 25/38 mpg. I averaged 27.4 mpg.

Passat SEL Premium

The more affordable trim level of the two I drove included important technology like the intelligent crash response system, but also comfort features like heated front seats and MIB II, the new generation of Volkswagen’s infotainment system, adaptive cruise control and a rearview camera for added convenience.

As the name implies the SEL Premium is the higher-end version of the Passat and replete with more bells and whistles that do come at a high price, nearly $10,000 more.

Powered by a 3.6-liter V6 and a six-speed transmission, it has an EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 20/28 mpg. I averaged 24.3 mpg.

It had heated front and rear leather seats, a Fender premium audio system, a power sunroof, parking sensor, and a blind spot monitor.

Both models had a massive truck with 15.9 cubic feet of storage and 60/40-split rear seat that easily deploys to expand cargo room inside.

As-tested pricing for the SE and SEL came to $28,195 and $37,655 respectively.

 

Audi A3

Audi A3 Sedan

Believe it or not, there’s actually an entry-level Audi and it’s called the A3. On this test for LTR, there were two models for review, the Sedan and the Cabriolet (convertible).

The Sedan offers three engine options and the Cabriolet two. Both test models shared the same one, a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine that produced 220 horsepower and 258 lb.–ft. of torque matched to a six-speed S tronic transmission. Both also came with quattro all-wheel drive, but the sedan should manage to achieve one more mile per gallon in the city and highway, with an EPA estimated fuel economy of 24/33 mpg. I averaged 23.7 mpg with the Sedan and 21.4 mpg with the Cabriolet.

What the Cabriolet did excel at was fun, starting with the canvas top that deployed with the push of a button at speeds of up to 31 mph and, ideally, in 18 seconds—it took 24 seconds when I tried.

Audi A3 Cabriolet

Standard safety technology on all A3s includes, a rear view camera, and parking system. To get advanced systems like Audi Side Assist (blind spot warning) requires purchasing the Technology Package ($2,700), which also adds a CD/DVD player, Audi MMI touch, and navigation, among other features.

The A3 may be considered “entry level” but it’s still an Audi, and as such, standard creature comforts include dual-zone climate control, leather seating, and SiriusXM Satellite radio. The sedan also came with a panoramic sunroof.

Both added extra packages to get features like heated front seats, Audi advanced Key, and Audi music interface with iPod cable.

As tested pricing for the Sedan came to $41,325 and $46,500 for the Cabriolet.

 

Lexus GS F

Lexus’s new design DNA, including the signature spindle grille, signaled a new focus on sportiness. The manufacturer even created a special performance lineup under the F brand. New for 2016, the GS F performance sedan leaves little doubt that it’s a Lexus, particularly with its premium appointments on the inside, but its sportiness is certainly sets it apart.

Exterior design features get bolder on F models, including the fascia with race-inspired functional air inlets, triple-beam headlamps, low-slung wide stance, large brake calipers, carbon-fiber rear spoiler, and quad exhaust rear diffuser.

To show it means business, Lexus powers the GS F with a 5.0-liter V8 with 467 horses and 389 lb.–ft. of torque. It’s matched to an eight-speed Sport Direct Shift Automatic Transmission with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.

Fuel economy will not be its strongest feature but it is respectable. The EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy is 16/24 mpg. I averaged 17.7 mpg.

For better performance and handling, the GS F sits on a double-wishbone in the front and rear multi-link suspension. Lexus adds Brembo disc brakes and Active Sound Control, to increase throatiness and rumble to the engine and exhaust notes. Drive Mode Select control further enhances performance by giving the driver the following options—NORMAL, ECO, SPORT S, SPORT S+—while Torque Vectoring Differential helps the GS F hug the road.

All new for 2016, improvements in 2017, like a new Linear Adaptive Variable Suspension, accentuate the positive, with more power and better responsiveness.

All this performance and power doesn’t come cheap. The as-tested pricing for the GS F was $87,175.

 

Favorite Family Vehicles, SUVs and CUVs Offer Versatility and Value

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Oct 242016
 

2016 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

2016 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

Sport and Crossover Utility Vehicles (SUVs and CUVs) claimed family vehicle status long ago, and sales reflect that. According to statistics published by The Wall Street Journal, while car sales dropped significantly in September, year-to-date (YTD), sales of CUVs and SUVs rose more than seven percent totaling nearly five million units. Compact or full size, these vehicles help families transport themselves and their cargo with varying ease. I test-drove several models for Latino Traffic Report this year. Here are snapshot reviews of seven of them.

Crossovers

Audi Q3 2.0T quattro Tiptronic

2015-10-20-audiq3Compact CUVs comprise one of the fastest growing segments. The smaller size may mean a sacrifice in cargo and people carrying but it’s replaced with better fuel economy and maneuverability in an urban landscape. Audi’s entry in this segment adds premium appeal, from seating to technology.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine and six-speed Tiptronic transmission should achieve 2015-10-20-audi-q3-dashan EPA estimated fuel economy of 20 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. I averaged 21.1 mpg.

The Audi Quattro signature all-wheel-drive (AWD) system was included on the test model, providing better grip on the road and improved handling.

All Q3s include standard heated leather front seating—on the test model, it was a delicious Chestnut Brown shade—a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, parking sensors, and a rearview camera. The test model added the Prestige package ($4,900) with navigation, Audi connect in-vehicle Wi-Fi, a power tailgate, and ventilated front seats.

2015-10-20-audi-q3The five-seater comes with a 60/40-split second row that folds flat automatically with the push of a button, no need to negotiate clunky levers. With the seats folded, cargo volume reaches 48.2 cubic feet (cu.ft.). Another striking touch was the interior lighting strips that changed color, from red to white to blue.

The digital instrument cluster can be configured to display different information and a seven-inch touch screen pops up from the center of the dashboard to reveal several functions, from audio to navigation. Audi’s combination of a dial and push buttons on the center stack for programming entertainment functions is a little labor intensive.

Pricing for the 2016 Q3 starts at $32,750. The as-tested pricing came to $41,975.

Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD

2016-03-29-santafefrontCrossovers are by far the most popular segment, selling more than three million YTD. Like Baby Bear’s porridge, the segment is just right for families.

The Hyundai Santa Fe offers various configurations so that it can meet its owner’s particular needs. It can be configured to seat five, seven, or six passengers like the test model that had the captains chairs rather than a second row bench. It also included Hyundai’s active on-demand AWD system.

Powered by a 3.3-liter V6 engine and a six-speed automatic Shiftronic transmission, it had an EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 17/22 mpg. It also had an Eco button to enhance fuel economy further. I took full advantage of it and averaged 19.2 mpg during the week-long test drive.

2016-03-29-santafe-rearAdvanced safety features, like a blind spot monitor, tend to be included in a package or more expensive trims and the Santa Fe is no exception. It was standard on the up-level Limited that I drove. All Santa Fes include remote keyless entry, a rearview camera, a roof rack with side rails, the Driver Selectable Steering Mode, and SiriusXM activation with a three-month trial subscription.

The test model added the Ultimate Package ($4,650) with a panoramic sunroof, ventilated/cooled front seats and heated rear seats, a rear parking sensor, and a heated steering wheel.

Pricing for the 2016 Santa Fe starts at $31,295. The as-tested pricing came to $42,385.

 

Highlander Limited Platinum AWD

2016-03-14-h-lander-fr-licIf the Highlander had sliding doors, it could be a minivan. But it’s not. It’s a crossover SUV and that only increases its appeal. Regarding capability, it doesn’t pretend to have an SUV’s off-road bravado but it does offer families the versatility and convenience they’re after.

Powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, the Highlander has a city/highway EPA estimated fuel economy of 18/24 mpg. I averaged 19 mpg on the test drive. A 2.7-liter four-cylinder is the base engine.2016-03-10-highl-camera

Offered in five trim levels, the Limited Platinum is the top-of-the-line model and as such, it includes a few striking features, like a panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade, heated and cooled leather front seats, heated second-row seats, the Driver Technology Package that includes a pre-collision system with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Entune cover art displays on the eight-inch entertainment touchscreen.2016-03-14-high-rear

Safety features carry particular clout on a family vehicle. The Highlander includes its signature Star Safety System with traction control, anti-lock braking, etc, plus a backup camera and Hill-start Assist Control. The Platinum test model also included a blind spot monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and rear parking sonar. It’s unfortunate that these features remain so exclusive.

The versatile SUV can seat up to eight or seven like the test vehicle, and the rear seats are split to fold flat for expanded cargo carrying space of 83.7 cu.ft.

Pricing for the 2016 Highlander starts at $31,390. The as-tested pricing came to $45,390.

Lexus RX 350 F Sport

2016-03-08-lex-rxsideWhen Lexus first introduced its RX premium CUV, some say the luxury CUV segment was born. Four generations later, Lexus redesigned the RX, now the RX 350, for 2016, in a big way. The new exterior adds style to what had been a fairly vanilla design.

Like its siblings, it bears the spindle grille, but the floating roof design is unique. On the inside, the attention to detail, enhanced further with the F Sport exclusive Rioja Red leather seats on the test model, an available 12.3”-display screen, a mouse control for selecting onboard functions like audio, navigation and others, set it apart.2016-03-08-lexusrxfrseats

It’s a five-seater but the seats are split 40/20/40 to fold flat for extra cargo room of 56.3 cu.ft.

Powered by a 3.5-liter V6 matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the test model had an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 19/26 mpg. I averaged 21.8 mpg on the test drive. Drive select modes also improve performance, allowing drivers to select among Sport, Eco, and Normal settings. The F Sport added the Sport+ mode and Adaptive Variable Suspension for better handling.

2016-03-08-lex-rxrear-licStandard safety features include a Smart Access Remote key, and Lexus Enform Safety Connect, the onboard emergency alert system. As we’ve seen, more advanced safety features tend to be grouped as a package but for a mere $500 extra, a blind spot monitor was included on the test model as a stand-alone option. Nice but at this price point, it should be standard.

Pricing for the 2016 RX 350 starts at $43,995. Equipped with AWD, the as-tested pricing came to $56,775.

 

SUVs

Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro

2016-04-05-4runner-licMidsize SUVs are far and away the most popular SUV segment, more than 700,000 had sold in September YTD according to The Wall Street Journal. The 4Runner emphasizes the sporting side of an SUV and the TRD Pro is the sportiest model of all. It easily takes to off-road challenges as well as cruising on city streets.

The test model came in a unique TRD shade for 2016, Quicksand, that many seemed to find attractive, based on the comments I received.

2016-04-05-4-runner-dash3Powered by a 4.0-liter V6 matched to a five-speed automatic transmission, the TRD has a maximum tow rating of 5,000 pounds. Happily, a tow hitch is included as a standard feature. Don’t expect fuel efficiency, however. I earned 17 mpg on the test drive.

Built for off-roading, the TRD offers plenty of ground clearance, assisted by its 17-inch wheels—it did make climbing in and out of it a bid challenging for the short statured like me. Off-roading equipment on the TRD included a part-time four-wheel–drive (4WD) system with Active Trac, a locking rear differential, Multi-Terrain Select, Crawl Control, and Hill-Start Assist. Besides the TRD badging,, the package included special shocks and stamped aluminum front skid plates.2016-04-05-4-runnerrear-lic

The 4Runner offers seating for five or seven and split second and third-row seats that fold flat for a maximum cargo capacity of 89.7 cubic feet.

Pricing for the 4Runner starts at $34,750. The as-tested price came to $42,800.

 

Dodge Durango R/T

2016-09-20-durango-fr2The Dodge Durango brings a sporty option to the large SUV segment and the R/T trim level takes that sportiness to the next level. Add to that its rear-wheel-drive configuration and the Radar Red Nappa leather seating on the test model that I drove, and the Durango R/T carries unique appeal.

Improved for 2016, the Durango achieves better fuel economy with engine stop-start technology on models with a 3.6-liter V6. Powered by the available 5.7-liter HEMI V8 that delivers 360 horsepower and 390 lb.-ft. of torque, the R/T zoomed through traffic and on the highway. 2016-09-20-duranago-seatsMated to an eight-speed automatic transmission it had a maximum towing capacity of 7,400 lbs. With an EPA city/highway estimated economy of 14/22 mpg for the R/T, fuel economy does suffer a bit. I averaged better than expected, however, earning 20 mpg in the city and 24.9 on the highway.

The R/T does come with a parking sensor and backup camera but more advanced safety features like a blind spot monitor and Cross Path Detection are grouped in the Customer Preferred Package ($1,995).

2016-09-20-durangorear-lic Standard creature comforts on the top-of-the-line R/T included heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, tri-zone air conditioning, and the Beats premium audio system. Additional options on the test model included a rear DVD entertainment system ($1995), second-row captains chairs and a third row of seating ($995), and a power sunroof ($1,195).

Pricing for the Durango starts at $31,490. The as-tested pricing was $49,170.

 

GMC Yukon Denali XL

2016-07-19-yukonThe Denali name stands for luxury throughout the GMC lineup. The brand’s largest offering, the Yukon XL, also stands at the top of the lineup when it comes to capability, including seating, cargo room, and maximum towing.

The trade-off will be fuel economy. Powered by a choice of two V8 engines, I drove the 6.2-liter version with 420 hp and 460 lb.–ft. of torque and matched to an eight-speed transmission. Available with 4WD and two-wheel-drive configurations, I drove the former with a maximum towing capability of 8,100 pounds when properly equipped. It has an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 14/20 mpg. I averaged 19.2 mpg.

2016-07-19-yukon-seats2As the top-of-the-line model, the Denali includes a healthy list of standard features, including advanced safety technology like a blind-spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, and my favorite GM innovation, the safety alert seat. It buzzes on the right or left of the seat to warn of potential danger, from lane drifting to a potential collision. The test model added more than $9,000 in additional packages and options, including GM’s signature Head-Up display ($425).

2016-07-19-yukon-rear2-licOne of the roomiest SUVs on the market, the XL stretches the wheelbase even further. It has seating for nine and both the second and third row fold flat to create 121.1 cubic inches of cargo room.

Pricing for the Yukon starts at $49,510. The as-tested pricing came to $81,045.

Family vehicles need to be tough and versatile to make the grade. This list meets that criteria, and in some cases, surpasses them.