Dec 312017
 

Sales figures affirm Subaru’s appeal to car buyers—December marked the seventy-third consecutive month of yearly month-over-month growth for the company. So what does Subaru offer that others don’t? Perhaps it’s the standard symmetrical all-wheel-drive (AWD)? Or the consistent high marks in consumer publications? Or could it be those Subaru ads about love? On a recent test drive for Latino Traffic Report, the Impreza 2.0i Sport sedan offered clues by living up to its name with impressive new technology and performance.

According to the automaker, 2017 was the ninth consecutive year of record sales for Subaru of America and the tenth consecutive year of sales increases, assisted in part by the Impreza’s popularity. For 2017, the manufacturer redesigned its stalwart compact sedan and hatchback, and to mark the occasion moved Impreza production to the United States, specifically, its Lafayette, IN plant.

On the outside, the Impreza sports Subaru’s new design DNA, namely, the hexagonal grille and hawk-eye headlights. Black cloth seats with red accent stitching, simulated carbon fiber trim, aluminum pedals, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift handle, and a CVT shift boot, accentuated the interior on the this trim.

The compact segment excels at economy and fuel efficiency, but the Impreza did have fun-to-drive moments as well, assisted in part by 70-percent increased rigidity and a lower center of gravity.

The new and improved 2.0-liter four-cylinder Boxer engine with direct fuel injection that now produces 152 horses and 145 lb.–ft. of torque, also helped. It’s matched to a Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) with a seven-speed manual mode function with steering wheel paddle shifters. While I didn’t test it, I was happy to find that a five-speed manual is standard on the Base and Sport trim levels. The Impreza should achieve an EPA estimated fuel economy of 28 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. The Sport model I tested should achieve a little less. I averaged 29.8 mpg during the weeklong test drive.

Subaru ramps up its competitiveness with standard entertainment features like Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Aha and Pandora, a multi-function display with fuel economy information, the Starlink multimedia system with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth wireless capability, iPod control, and smartphone integration. Standard convenience features include a 60/40-split rear seat, cruise control, keyless access as well as an AM/FM stereo and single disc CD player. The test model added, heated front seats, push-button start and an 8.0-inch touchscreen for the Starlink multimedia system.

Standard safety features include, Vehicle Dynamics Control, symmetrical AWD, 24-hour roadside assistance, and a rear vision camera.
The test model also included the available four-way tire pressure monitoring system, a one-year subscription to STARLINK Safety Plus package, EyeSight driver assist technology ($2,945) with adaptive cruise control, automatic pre-collision braking, blind spot detection, and rear cross traffic alert as well as a moonroof and the Harman/Kardon audio system,

Available in four trim levels—Base, Premium, Sport and Limited—pricing for the 2018 Impreza starts at $19,355. The as-tested pricing came to $26,550.

Sí the Impreza offers a great value in the segment, starting with the standard symmetrical AWD.

No: Acceleration is a little sluggish and I would like more than eighteen presets for the radio.

Dec 052017
 

 

As 2017 comes to a close, so does the fifty-first anniversary year of the Toyota Corolla. The revolutionary compact sedan continues to evolve from basic transportation to a sporty competitor in its segment, like the 2017 Corolla XSE, recently tested by Latino Traffic Report.

Production on the first Corolla began in November of 1966, eventually crossing the Pacific for its debut in the United States in 1968. It would become the “best selling nameplate of all time,” according to the manufacturer. It has also been one of the top sellers to Latinos car buyers as well.

Initially, it’s fuel efficiency and affordability set it apart. According to Toyota: “When the first Corolla arrived in the U.S., gasoline cost about 25 cents per gallon (the equivalent of about $1.75 in 2016). Many American drivers saw the long-term value in higher fuel economy and chose Corolla for that reason.”

Growing competition has forced Toyota to improve the Corolla’s other attributes, like performance and looks. For its fiftieth anniversary, the Corolla got refreshed styling with a sportier bent, from the new front grille and LED headlamps, as well as a special edition in 2017, the Corolla SE, with a special paint color, Black Cherry Pearl. The test model came in Blue Crush Metallic, and with blue accent stitching on the Softex seating and blue ambient lighting on the door sills.

It’s powered by a 1.5-cylinder four-cylinder engine that produces 132 horsepower and matched to a Continuously Variable Transmission with intelligence and a sport mode to enhance its performance. Despite its size, the engine had a louder than average rumble. The test model had an EPA estimated fuel economy of 28 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. I averaged 29.5 mpg on the weeklong test drive.

All Corollas now come with a backup camera, plus the advanced Toyota Safety Sense-P technology, that bundles the pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, dynamic radar cruise control, and automatic high beams. A blind spot monitor, however, is not available.

Like the Corolla’s performance and exterior, its feature package has also evolved beyond a simple AM radio. Standard fun features on all Corollas in 2017 include Bluetooth, the Entune infotainment system, air conditioning, cruise control, 60/40-split rear seat, and a manual tilting telescopic steering wheel. Each trim level adds more features culminating in the top of top-of-the-line XSE, like the test model that brought driver and front passenger heated seats, a Smart Key with push button start, Entune Audio Plus with Connected Navigation and a seven-inch touchscreen, AM/FM CD player, auxiliary audio jack, USB 2.0 port with iPod connectivity and control, and SiriusXM Satellite Radio.

The test model added stand-alone options like Entune Premium Audio ($525), mudguards ($129), and TRD Performance Exhaust ($649) and air filter ($80).

Pricing for the 2017 Corolla starts at $19,445. The As-tested pricing came to $26,288.

SI: Sporty and stylish, the Corolla offers good value and fuel economy plus you can still get a CD player.

No: The new exterior design does add sportiness but I’m not a fan of the gaping grille, plus a blind spot monitor should at least be available.

 

Nov 242017
 

At Latino Traffic Report (LTR), the chance for a back-to-back comparison of automotive competitors is rare, but sometimes, lightning strikes. Such was the case with the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox and the 2017 Nissan Rogue. Sharing a similar shade of exterior paint (Cajun Red and Palatial Ruby, respectively), they looked like brothers from another mother, but they were not. They were rivals that distinguished themselves in several ways.

Testaments to the increasing popularity of the small SUV segment, both models are top sellers for their brands. Equinox sales have reached nearly two million units since its launch and it is Chevrolet’s second-best selling vehicle overall, after the Silverado. Similarly, new sales records designate the Rogue as Nissan’s top-selling vehicle in the United States.

The two were nimble for city driving but the redesigned Equinox, also lighter by 400 pounds, felt much smaller compared to the outgoing model. It arrived in the mid-range LT trim as opposed to the Rogue, which came in the top-of-the-line SL AWD trim.

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). I drove the 2.0-liter with 252 horsepower and 260 lb.–ft. of torque.

Rogue SL seats

The Rogue can be equipped with a choice of two four-cylinder engines, a 2.0-liter on the hybrid or a 2.5-liter matched to the Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission with Sport and Eco mode switches. I drove the latter that produced 170 horses and 175 lb.–ft. of torque, giving the Equinox the power advantage. The Rogue, however, should have been more fuel efficient, with an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy rating of 25/32 mpg compared to the Equinox’s 22/29 mpg rating. But I averaged 25.4 mpg with the Rogue and 26.7 mpg with the Equinox.

Equinox LT seats.

An SUV earns its stripes with utility, beginning with seating and cargo capacity. Both offer seating for five but the Rogue can also seat seven on lower trim levels with an optional third row. On the test model, the heated, two-tone leather seats elevated the Rogue’s interior, while the Equinox had quilted cloth seats. Both have 60/40 split second-row seats that fold flat. Inside, the Equinox there’s up to 63.5 cubic feet of maximum cargo space with the second row folded but the advantage goes to the Rogue with 70 cu. ft. of cargo room.

These family vehicles are not without safety innovations. Both SUVs equip all trim levels with rearview cameras but the Rogue tops that with its optional and innovative around view monitor on the SL trim. For the 2018 model year, a blind spot monitor will be standard on the Rogue but not on current models.

Rogue dash.

Chevy, however, offers its own signature safety technology, starting with Teen Driver (standard) that allows parents to set controls in order to encourage safe driving habits, even when they are not in the vehicle. The optional and improved Safety Alert seat on the test Equinox buzzed the left or right upper thigh as a warning and the available Rear Seat Reminder, also on the test model, pinged when the ignition was turned off to remind me to check the back seat before locking the SUV.

Equinox dash.

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 touchscreen, included on the test model via the Sun and Infotainment Package ($1,995). Other convenience features included cruise control, air conditioning, and keyless start. The Confidence and Convenience Package ($1,945) added a power liftgate, heated front seats, and side blind zone alert.

Nissan Connect with Navigation was included on the Rogue SL along with a seven-inch display, Nissan Voice Recognition for navigation and audio, and a motion activated tailgate. The SL Premium Package ($2,020) added a panoramic sunroof, and the Platinum Package ($770) added intelligent cruise control, among other features.

Available in four trim levels, and FWD or all wheel drive (AWD) combinations, pricing for the next-generation 2018 Equinox starts at $24,525. The as-tested price came to $34,375. The Rogue comes with three trims as well as a hybrid and the all-new Rogue Sport and a choice of FWD or AWD. Pricing starts at $24,795. The as-tested pricing came to $31,365.

Sí The Equinox included innovative safety technology like Teen Safety, OnStar, and Rear Seat Reminder.

The Rogue offered better value, with seating versatility, five or seven, as well as convenience technology like a power liftgate, plus a blind spot monitor that will soon be standard.

No: Important safety technology, like a blind spot monitor, was unavailable on the base trim levels of the Equinox.

The Rogue was less fuel-efficient than expected.

 

 

Nov 232017
 

From features to specs, the first in class sets a new benchmark in the auto industry and that’s usually a good thing for consumers. Introduced in 2016, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid goes where no minivan has gone before. On a recent test drive of the Pacifica Platinum for Latino Traffic Report, it did indeed go much farther while using less gas.

The Pacifica stirred controversy when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) opted to resurrect its name for the Chrysler minivan, replacing the Town and Country. Once introduced, however, it quickly made amends, named the 2017 North American Sport Utility Vehicle at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. A trailblazer in the minivan segment, FCA US added 37 minivan firsts to its portfolio for a total of 115 innovations in the segment.

With plug-ins, however, there’s a trade-off—the longer the electric range, the longer it takes to recharge, especially using a 120-volt outlet in the garage. On paper the Pacifica’s all-electric range of 30–33 miles on electric energy seemed limited, but the minivan recharged overnight and on the test drive, the range didn’t dissipate as soon as I pressed the gas, as others have. It held true and on some occasions recharged to extend the range so that the Pacifica rarely needed to switch to gasoline power.

The plug-in should earn an EPA estimated combined fuel economy of 32 miles per gallon (mpg) and 84 mpge using electric power. I averaged 37.2 mpg and during the test-drive.

Its powertrain consists of a dual-motor eFlite electrically variable transmission (EVT) with two electric motors matched to a modified version of the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 gasoline engine. Rather than take up cargo space, the 16-kWh battery pack is stored under the second-row floor. Setting itself apart from other hybrids, the Pacifica uses a one-way clutch that allows the motor, typically used only as a generator, to deliver torque to the wheels, depending on driving conditions.

Standard safety features add value on family vehicles. On the Pacifica plug-in hybrid they include three of my favorites­—a blind-spot monitor, rear park assist with stop, and a rear backup camera. The Platinum that I drove added forward collision warning-plus, adaptive cruise control, and a 360-degree Surround View camera, among other features.

Standard created comforts begin with a beautifully appointed interior inspired by Juneau, Alaska with ivory leather seats, blue accent stitching and black piping, heated front seats, remote start, three-zone climate control, a seven-inch full color customizable driver information display, and the Uconnect infotainment system with an 8.4-inch touchscreen.

The test model was the Platinum top-of-the-line trim (trims change for 2018 to Touring Plus, Touring L, and Limited) and included a rear entertainment system, ventilated front seats, the available tri-pane panoramic sunroof ($1,795), and a handsfree power tailgate and power sliding doors, On the down side, the captains chairs did not fold flat into the floor like the innovative Stow N’Go third-row seat, limiting cargo carrying ability.

Pricing for the 2017 Pacifica plug-in hybrid starts at $43,090 but it also qualifies for a full $7,500 federal tax credit. The as-tested pricing came to $47,885.

Sí: The Pacifica plug-In hybrid is a great step forward in the minivan segment plus the battery holds the electric charge better than others.

No: Seating is heavy and clunky to maneuver, and even if the second row seats are removed, that solution is super outdated.

 

Nov 082017
 

At Latino Traffic Report (LTR), we celebrate advancement by Latinos in the auto industry. Most car buyers know Infiniti as Nissan’s premium brand but for Latinos, it has special significance. Every model bears the mark of senior vice president for Nissan Global Design and chief creative officer, Alfonso Albaisa, one of the highest-ranking Latino executives in the auto industry. Since 2013, Albaisa has made sure each Infiniti model combines provocative looks with luxury and technology, like the 2017 QX30 Premium AWD, that I recently test-drove.

“The category defying design of the QX30 stays true to the inspiration behind the daring QX30 Concept,” says Albaisa. “Its mix of artistry in the flowing lines, and power in the elevated stance and confident look, makes a bold visual statement and challenges current preconceptions of what a crossover should look like.”

Unique design cues, like the signature crescent or boomerang shape repeated throughout, like on the C-pillar and the front grille, also set the QX30 apart in a crowded segment.

To help buyers choose the model that suits their needs, it’s available in six trim levels: QX30, QX30 Luxury, QX30 Premium, QX30 Sport, QX30 Luxury all-wheel drive (AWD), and the top-of-the-line QX30 Premium AWD that I drove. The wide range of trim levels, however, results in a price difference of nearly $10,000 between the base and top-trim level, before adding optional packages.

Infiniti’s around-view monitor in the rain.

Impressive technology includes the new Intelligent Park Assist system that uses twelve sensors to park itself in parallel and reverse-in spots, available as part of the Technology Package ($2,200) or standard on the Sport trim. Happily, the test model came with this package that also included blind spot and lane departure warning systems, intelligent cruise control, an around view monitor, and forward emergency braking.

Powered by the standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine with 208 horsepower and 258 lb.–ft. of torque matched to a seven-speed automatic dual clutch transmission, it should earn an EPA estimated fuel economy of 21 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 30 mpg for the AWD. I averaged 27 mpg during the weeklong test drive. The front-wheel drive should achieve three more city/highway mpgs.

The Intelligent AWD also included a drive mode selector to customize the ride and handling. For increased fuel efficiency, I chose the Economy mode and for tighter steering on Austin’s curviest road, FM 2222, I selected the Sport mode.

Inside, the QX30 showcases premium materials selected by Infiniti designers. The test model included the optional Café Teak Theme Package ($1,750) featuring brown Nappa leather seating and accent pieces, the Dinamica headliner, and genuine wood trim. Navigation was also added as part of a package ($1,850), which also added front and rear parking sensors.

Standard creature comforts on all QX30s include Intelligent Key, a rearview monitor, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control with rear seat vents, Infiniti InTouch with a seven-inch screen, and HD radio.

The QX30 Premium grade I drove added a Bose ten-speaker premium audio system, a rain-sensing windshield wiper with heated washers, the around view monitor, LED fog lamps, chrome trunk finisher, and aluminum kickplates. Oddly, neither the tilting telescopic steering wheel nor the tailgate were automatic.

Pricing for the 2017 QX30 starts at $30,945. The as-tested pricing came to $48,035.

Sî: The QX30 Premium is one of the sleekest crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) in its segment, favored by beautiful design.

No: The need to purchase packages to get features like a blind spot monitor and navigation in a premium segment was disappointing.

Note: Nissan is recalling 2017-2018 Infiniti QX30 vehicles. The driver’s air bag may unexpectedly deploy due to insufficient grounding of the steering components if an electrostatic discharge occurs and the air bag clockspring is broken. Owners may contact Infiniti customer service at 1-800-622-6200, option 7 or go to www.safercar.gov.
Oct 302017
 

The Sportage, Kia Motors America’s longest-running nameplate, got a redesign for 2017. On a recent test-drive for Latino Traffic Report in Austin, TX, the compact crossover utility vehicle (CUV), specifically the Sportage SX AWD, impressed with its standard and available technology, setting it apart in the segment.

The European-looking Sportage inspires a comparison to other European brands—I found myself referring to it as the “baby (Porsche) Cayenne.” The signature tiger nose grille, however, confirms that it’s a Kia.

Driving along FM 2222, Austin’s curviest road, the Sportage handled the twists and turns solidly, enhanced by the Driver Select Mode set in Sport. Other modes include Normal and Eco. The improved ride and handling comes from a stiffer structure, new suspension, and advanced driver assistance systems. Included on the test model, the available intelligent all-wheel drive (AWD) can be added to every trim ($1500) and features a 50/50 locking center differential.

Offered in three trim levels (LX, EX, and SX Turbo), the Sportage can be powered by a choice of two four-cylinder engines—a 2.4-liter engine that produces 181 horsepower and 175 lb.–ft. of torque or a 2.0-liter inline-four turbo with 240 horsepower (237 on AWD models) and 260 lb.–ft. of torque, that powered the test model. Both engines have been retuned for better fuel efficiency and are matched to an updated six-speed automatic transmission.

The 2.0-liter turbo should get an estimated city/highway fuel economy of 20 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. I averaged 24.7 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.

Longer by 1.6 inches, the new Sportage has a roomier interior with seating for five. It’s also available with additional appointments for a more luxurious cabin and a range of technologies including UVO eServices and telematics, AppleCar Play, and Android Auto matched to a seven- or an eight-inch touchscreen.

Thanks to an innovative dual-level cargo floor and a widened luggage area, cargo capacity behind the second row has grown from 26.1 cu.-ft. to 30.7 cu.-ft. The 60/40-split second row also folds flat and reclines for added convenience.

The SX test model included leather seating with ventilated and heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, Harmon Kardon audio with Clari-Fi (rare features for this trim level), dual-zone climate control, an eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, and a panoramic sunroof with an opening that is 4.1 inches longer than the outgoing model’s.

The top-of-the-line SX also included the latest safety technology, like a blind spot monitor, front and rear parking assist, and rear cross traffic alert. While these features are not available on the base model, LX, they can be added to the mid-range EX.

The base model includes a rearview camera, air conditioning, a five-inch color touchscreen AM/FM/MP3/SiriusXM (three-month subscription) audio system, Bluetooth, hands-free phone operation and streaming audio, and USB auxiliary input jacks.

Panoramic sunroof.

Convenience features like cargo net hooks, remote keyless entry, and steering wheel mounted audio and cruise controls are also standard. The SX added a smart power tailgate that opened automatically when it sensed the key fob.
Pricing for the 2017 Kia Sportage starts at $24,095. The as-tested pricing for the SX AWD came to $34,895.

Sí: The Sportage offers added value with features you wouldn’t find in this segment.

No: Fuel economy is fairly unimpressive, especially for a turbo-charged compact CUV.

 

Oct 042017
 

BMW X4 M40i at the Salt Lick Restaurant in Driftwood, Texas.

In 2008 BMW redefined the meaning of a coupe, sedan, and sport utility vehicle (SUV) when it introduced the X6 sport activity coupe (pronounced coup-ee). Hoping to appeal to buyers with a need for utility as well as speed, apparently, the gamble paid off because BMW added the new X4, a smaller version of the X6, to the segment last year. I recently drove the sporty 2017 X4 M40i trim level for Latino Traffic Report and found it to be the perfect vehicle for a road trip.

Larger than a sedan but smaller than an SUV, it offers the best attributes of both—positioning the driver higher in the driver’s seat for a better vantage while handling more like a sports car than an SUV. Its size also expanded the cargo room to 49.4 cubic feet with the second-row seat folded flat for added versatility.

“We started the segment in 2008 with the X6 Sports Activity Coupe, a unique design concept and driving dynamics never seen before, ideal for people who are searching for the added space and practicality of an SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle, i.e. X3, X5) but also crave the aesthetics and dynamic driving experience of a coupe,” explains Hector Arellano-Belloc, BMW product and technology spokesperson. “Like its larger sibling, the BMW X6, the X4 offers the unique blend of style, driving dynamics and all-road capability that can only be offered by a BMW Sports Activity Coupe.”

The M performance classification on the test model brought sport performance specifications starting with the new TwinPower Turbo inline six-cylinder gasoline engine that delivered 355 horsepower and a maximum torque of 343 lb.–ft. It’s matched to an eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel for added sportiness. This combination gives the X4 M40i a best-in-class zero–60 miles per hour acceleration of 4.7 seconds.

M performance also added suspension technology that included four driving modes, Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+, for added performance. Along the drive, I tested all four and found that the Sport+ really boosted power and steering tightness along curvy roads. Though not as much fun, the Eco Pro mode did help make the X4 M40i more fuel efficient, a rare attribute for a performance vehicle. At the end of a weeklong test drive, I averaged 22.5 miles per gallon (mpg) above the EPA estimated average fuel economy of 21 mpg.

The X4 M40i matched a handsome exterior with an elegant interior that included Nevada leather seating, real wood trim, the Harman Kardon surround sound stereo system, a moonroof, a leather steering wheel, keyless entry with a push button start, and a one-year subscription to satellite radio. The stereo system even included a CD-player.

The X4 M40i that I tested did come up a little short on safety features, e.g. it lacked a blind spot monitor. I also found it odd that a rearview camera, something many premium brands include as standard, cost an additional $400.

The X4 M40i did include intelligent BMW xDrive all-wheel drive that improved traction, especially in rainy conditions, Park Distance Control parking sensors in the front and rear, and Intelligent Emergency Call that can be engaged manually or automatically in an emergency.

Pricing for the 2017 X4 starts at $46,550 including destination fees. The test model included several optional packages, like the Cold Weather Package ($950) that added a heated steering wheel and heated seats in the front and back, and the Technology Package ($2,750) that added navigation, a head-up display, and BMW Online and Apps. Even the distinctive exterior shade of Melbourne Red Metallic cost $700 extra. This brought the as-tested pricing for the 2017 X4 M40i to $67,495.

The 2017 X4 M40i at the LBJ Ranch in Johnson City, TX.

: Great styling, performance, and versatility for a performance vehicle.

No: Packages that add features normally found on a premium vehicle, like navigation and a back-up camera, escalate pricing dramatically.

 

 

Sep 062017
 

On an off-road course, like Moab, UT or California’s Rubicon Trail, Jeep’s reign supreme. Every Jeep offered has the ability to climb rocks, but some are more suited to city driving, like the Compass.

Redesigned for 2017, the small SUV brings more convenience features and an improved on-road experience as well. I recently test drove the 2017 Compass Sport FWD for Latino Traffic Report, and while it didn’t climb any rocks, it did get me through at least one on-road challenge.

The Compass Sport I drove was practically a base model, with a few optional packages. One option I would have passed up, and the most expensive one at $1500, was the six-speed automatic transmission. I would have preferred the standard six-speed manual transmission on the Compact Sport. Jeep also offers a nine-speed automatic for some 4×4 models.

While these transmissions could be matched to a choice of five engines worldwide, in North America, the 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder powers the Compass. The test model had an EPA estimated fuel economy of 22 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. I averaged 25.9 mpg during the weeklong test drive. To stretch fuel efficiency further, the engine cuts off at idle but it also tends to weaken the air conditioning.

The front-wheel-drive test model did not offer Compass’s best-in-class 4×4 off-road ability, but it did have some of the new features for 2017, like a 3.5-inch LED driver information display (DID) instrument cluster, Uconnect 5.0—one of four new Uconnect infotainment systems—displayed on a rather diminutive touch screen, a capless fuel filler, push button start, ParkView Backup camera, and Remote Keyless Entry.

Of the more than 70 available safety features on the new Compass, like electronic stability control, roll mitigation, and traction control, it was the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) and tire service kit that really impressed me.

While driving around town, the TPMS warning light appeared. Some TPMS systems just show the alert icon, forcing the driver to guess which tire is low, but the  DID on the Compass displayed PSI levels for all four tires so that I was able to monitor the leak. Upon returning home, I could hear the sound of air hissing from the left rear tire and by the next day, Sunday, it was flat. With plans to fly out of Austin on Monday, I had to find a quick fix.

Checking the trunk for a spare tire, I found the tire service kit that included sealant and a pump. With a little help from a friend, we injected the tire with the sealant and while the leak persisted it did slow down. The electronic air pump helped assure me that I could refill the tire upon my return. After a few days, it had lost some air but the pump, which plugs into one of two 12-volt auxiliary ports, was quick and easy to use.

The test model also included the Technology Group ($495) with the Park Sense rear park assist system and Sport Appearance Group ($595) with 16-inch wheels and tinted glass. It did not, however, come with a blind spot monitor or forward collision warning technology, nor are these technologies available on this trim level.

Pricing for the Jeep Compass starts at $22,090. The as-tested price came to $24,680.

: The 2017 Jeep Compass offers segment-leading off-road capability, a manual transmission on the base model, and improved fuel economy.

No: The as-tested Compass Sport FWD lacked the ability to add important safety technology like a blind spot monitor, plus the engine stop-start technology weakened the air conditioning.

Aug 122017
 

How do you redesign one of your all time best-selling models? Hyundai chose to add new features and technology to the all-new 2017 Elantra while dropping the starting price by $100. Having attended the regional launch last year, I recently drove the Limited or top-of-the-line Elantra trim level in a week-long test, for Latino Traffic Report and was reminded of the value Hyundai continues to reflect in its lineup.

As the word implies, a redesign starts on the outside. Defined by Hyundai’s signature hexagonal grille, the new Elantra also has smoother contoured lines that enhance its aerodynamics. The redesign also includes equipment firsts like the available HID headlights with Dynamic Bending Lights, unique vertical LED daytime running lights, the LED door handle approach lights, and LED taillights.

The Elantra comes with two available powertrains, a 1.4-liter turbocharged GDI four-cylinder engine matched to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that’s reserved for the Eco trim level. The Limited and base model SE are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 147 horses and 132 lbs.–ft. of torque. It’s matched to a six-speed automatic Shiftronic transmission with the Active ECO System on the Limited, which also includes Drive Mode Select that allows the driver to choose between a Sport, Eco, or Normal setting to further enhance its performance. I kept it in the Eco mode for most of the drive to conserve fuel. The Limited, with its 17-inch wheels, has an EPA estimated fuel economy of 28 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. I averaged 35 mpg during the test drive.

Stepping up to the Limited trim level brings many more advantages, particularly when it comes to safety features. Standard advanced safety features include a rearview camera, Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross-traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist. Surprisingly, some premium brands still include a blind spot monitor on an optional package so I’m always happy to find this critical safety feature included as standard equipment. Still, I would like to see it available throughout the lineup but it’s not available on the base SE with a six-speed manual transmission, it comes with a blind spot mirror on the driver’s side instead.

The Limited is the only trim with leather seating throughout, the Blue Link Connected Car system and a three-month trial of Blue Link Connected Care. The Limited trim also includes heated front seats and offers heated rear seats not found among its competitors.

Segment firsts include premium features like s a hands-free Smart Trunk (standard on the Limited)—there’s no need to swipe a foot under the bumper, just approach with keys in your pocket and in a few seconds, the trunk will open.

For added convenience, the rear seat is split 60/40, folding forward for additional cargo volume. Classified as a midsize sedan by the EPA. The Elantra already offers class-above total interior volume with 110.2 cu. ft. Cargo volume in the trunk reaches 14.4 cu. ft.

The test model also added the Tech Package ($2,500) that included navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the Infinity Premium audio system, and the Ultimate Package ($1,900) with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian protection, Lane Keep Assist, and smart cruise control, among other features.

Pricing for the 2017 Elantra Limited starts at $23,185. The as-tested pricing came to $27,710.

Sí: The Elantra Limited offers great value with impressive standard features like the blind spot warning system.

No: Important safety technology should not be reserved for the top-of-the-line trim but should be available across the lineup.

Jul 302017
 

Despite predictions to the contrary, gasoline-electric hybrids have carved a niche in the automotive industry. According to hybridcars.com, the first to market in the United States in this segment was Honda with the 1999 Insight. Since then, the Insight has come and gone, twice, but Honda continues to bring hybrids to the lineup. I spent three months in the 2017 Accord Hybrid Touring for Latino Traffic Report and the most important thing to know is that this hybrid saves gas, in fact it’s the best in the segment.

Long-term test drives beg for a car to be driven, so I did, more than 5,000 miles over Texas highways, to small towns, like Burnet and Bryan, and big cities, like Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. It’s a comfy ride over the long haul and nimble enough to scoot through traffic.

While its fuel economy is stellar, the hybrid’s styling also deserves a mention. Redesigned for 2016, the Accord took on a more sculpted, angular appearance, Marking the Accord’s fortieth anniversary, Honda introduced its sibling, the hybrid that benefits from the Accord’s new look while adding enhancements under the hood.

At the heart of its fuel saving ability is its two-motor hybrid system combined with an ultra-efficient 2.0-liter i-VTEC Atkinson Cycle engine and matched to an electric continuously variable transmission. It achieves a peak-combined output of 212 horsepower, the highest of any midsize hybrid sedan.

Initially, the test model proved to be more fuel efficient in cities than on highways, which is as is should be according to its EPA estimated fuel economy rating of 49 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 47 mpg on the highway. Over time, however, fuel economy on the highway also improved, especially with cruise control engaged. I averaged about 48.5 mpg in three months—city and highway combined. When it comes to cost, I spent more than $300 on gasoline.

I engaged the Econ button that can be used at all times, as well as an EV button that operates the hybrid on electric power for small distances, to maximize efficiency. For more power, I pushed the Sport mode button that gave the hybrid better acceleration.

Displays in the instrument cluster and center stack, including a seven-inch touchscreen, helped me maintain gas saving driving habits, like coasting and accelerating smoothly from a stop. While I found them to be helpful, they also raised a little anxiety when the fuel economy slipped.

All Accord Hybrids come with Honda Sensing, a suite of safety features with advanced technology like forward collision warning, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control that allows the driver to set a distance behind a vehicle that cruise control maintains, automatically.

I never grew accustomed to Honda’s LaneWatch camera, also standard, that can be engaged with the turn signal to view the blind spot on the right. The picture wasn’t that clear, especially at night, and focusing made it distracting. A blind spot monitor, available on other Honda models, would be preferable.

Creature comforts included Ivory leather seats, with heated seats in the front and back, navigation, dual-zone climate control (Honda seems to have addressed the air conditioning system’s habit of fading at stops in previous hybrids), a moonroof, and a multi-view back-up camera. I got used to the lack of knobs for volume control and put the CD player and the MP3 USB port to good use on several road trips.

Pricing for the Accord starts at $30,480. Pricing for the as-tested 2017 Accord Hybrid was $36,790.

Sí: The Accord Hybrid Touring achieved what’s expected of a hybrid, it saved gas, but it also came in a handsome package with nice creature comforts.

No: Honda LaneWatch just doesn’t have the intuitiveness of a blind spot warning system and the lack of clarity on the screen is distracting.