Sports Car Review: Hyundai Veloster

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Mar 312020
Hyundai Veloster Turbo Ultimate

From coupes to convertibles, sports cars can be found in several automotive segments, but among three-door sport coupes, there’s only one option, the Hyundai Veloster. Redesigned for 2019, the more refined model bears a cleaner exterior design and improved engine choices. For 2020, the Veloster gains even more standard equipment. Latino Traffic Report recently zoomed about town in the Veloster Turbo Ultimate.

The Veloster’s third door.

There are six available trims and each comes in unique colors, materials, and accents. The redesign smartly included a two-tone exterior paint option reserved for the Turbo Ultimate trim. The test model came in a Chalk White body with a black roof.

While a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 147 horsepower and 132 lb.–ft. of torque matched to a six-speed manual powers the base model, the test model came with the turbo-charged 1.6-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine that produces 201 horses and 195 lb.–ft. of torque. It’s paired with a seven-speed dual clutch transmission with paddle shifters. A six-speed manual transmission had been available on the Turbo Ultimate, but not for 2020. That’s a shame because at the Veloster launch, where LTR drove both transmissions, the manual really ramped up the coupe’s sporty performance. The manual is also standard on the R-Spec trim.

 The automatic, however, will earn the best EPA estimated fuel economy of 28 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. During the test drive, it averaged 33.8 mpg.

To customize the driving experience, Drive Mode Select comes standard on all Velosters and offers three driver-selectable modes—Normal, Sport, and Smart. Left in Sport for most of the weeklong test, the ride was noticeably stiff and heavy. Active Engine Sound, standard on the R-Spec trim and above, allows the driver to adjust the engine rumble for a sportier effect.

The Veloster’s appeal may be connected to its sportiness but it is a hatch and as such, it offers something other sport coupes don’t, utility, namely 19.9 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second row seat and 44.5 cu. ft. with it folded flat.

Standard safety features on the Veloster include Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with autonomous braking, Lane Keep Assist, and a rear view camera with dynamic guidelines. One away from the top-of-the line trim, the Ultimate added Forward Collision-Avoidance with pedestrian detection and adaptive cruise control.

Features like Blind-Spot Collision and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Warning, as well as Blue Link, Hyundai’s onboard emergency, diagnostic, guidance service, are standard on all but the base trim.

Standard creature comforts include basics like air conditioning, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, a seven-inch display screen with AM/FM radio, dual USB ports, steering-wheel-mounted audio, Bluetooth, and cruse control, plus Apple CarPlay/Android Audio. Stepping up to the Turbo Ultimate brings fancier features like an eight-inch display with the Infiniti Premium audio system and navigation, a proximity key, leather seating with heated front seats with an orange accent stripe, a sunroof, and a heads-up display.

Pricing for the 2020 Veloster starts at $19,755. The as-tested price came to $29,440.

Si:  The three-door Veloster stands alone among sports coupes with its design and value.

No: The automatic transmission didn’t elevate the driving experience.

Sedan Review: 2019 Audi A7

 Audi, Reviews  Comments Off on Sedan Review: 2019 Audi A7
Dec 312019

Fans of the sedan need not despair. While domestic carmakers may have thrown in the towel, import brands, like Audi, remain loyal to them, even reconfiguring sedans to increase their appeal. Latino Traffic Report recently test drove the all-new 2019 Audi A7 quattro. It may be pricey but for those who can afford it, the A7 delivers the luxury and elegance expected of a premium sedan, with a twist.

The A7 is not the average midsize sedan. It reflects a more modern design concept, the sportback or five-door coupe, which is basically a sedan with a hatch rather than a traditional trunk. This gives the A7 a sleeker profile, with a sloping roofline, as well as enhanced versatility with 24.9 cubic feet of cargo room and a button for shutting the lid automatically, kinda like a tailgate.

Audi added a turbocharger to its 3.0-liter V6 engine that powers the 2019 A7, increasing performance to 335 horsepower and 369 lb.–ft. of torque. Matched to a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission, the A7 can accelerate from zero–60 miles per hour in 5.2 seconds.

This much power, plus the standard quattro all-wheel-drive, will detract from fuel economy but the stop-start technology (less jarring than on other vehicles) at traffic stops helps the A7 achieve an EPA estimated fuel economy of 22 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. It achieved 22.7 on the test drive.

Standard features on the A7 include Audi advanced key, Sirius/XM Satellite Radio with a 90-day free trial, Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto, regular cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, and Audi’s MMI navigation plus system.

Inside, the test model got an upgrade from the Prestige Package that added more than $8,000 in exclusive features, including the Bang and Olufsen premium sound system, a full-color head-up display, heated and ventilated front seats, a rear sunshade, and wireless charging.

Additional safety features like Audi side assist, rear cross traffic alert, a top view camera, Audi pre-sense rear collision alert, and adaptive cruise control, were also included with the test model.

Every new A7 also features Audi’s all-new MMI touch response system9 that replaces the rotary dial and the conventional buttons and controls of the previous model with two large, high-resolution touch displays. While haptic and acoustic feedbacks help users hear and feel a click as confirmation when their finger triggers a function, the lack of knobs makes the system less intuitive and a little distracting.

Starting price for the 2019 A7 is $68,975 and $69,975 in 2020. The as-tested pricing came to $85,240.

Sí: The A7’s distinctive sportback design adds luxury and versatility.

No: The MMI touch response system9 was clunky to operate and there was very little storage capacity in the center console.

Electric Vehicle Review: 2019 Kia Niro EV

 Kia, Reviews  Comments Off on Electric Vehicle Review: 2019 Kia Niro EV
Nov 252019

Not satisfied with reversing nearly every clean air and water regulation enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since its inception in 1970, the federal government has decided to take on California’s clean air laws. Despite these efforts, new and improved electric vehicles (EVs) will keep rolling off production lines, due in large part to California’s successful emissions standards.

Initially, EVs did present certain challenges. With minimal electric ranges, the first EV models helped coin a new phrase, “range anxiety.” Tesla reversed that with ranges of 300-plus miles and other manufactures followed suit. Latino Traffic Report (LTR) recently tested the 2019 Kia Niro EV EX Premium and its range of 200-plus miles will set minds at ease.

Kia first introduced the gasoline-electric hybrid version of the Niro in 2017. It was followed by the Niro PHEV plug-in hybrid in 2018 and in 2019, the Niro EV completed the lineup.

Knowing that this vehicle uses no gasoline is a thrill, but that it does it without immediately losing power or range elevates the experience. Powered by a 201-horsepower electric motor with 291 lb.–ft. of torque, lithium ion polymer battery and assisted by an onboard charger and adjustable regenerative braking via paddle shifters, the Niro EV has an estimated electric range of 239 miles.

When testing other EVs, LTR has seen the starting range quickly evaporate once the throttle or any other function like air conditioning was engaged, but not on the Niro. After charging overnight on a 120-volt plug in the garage, the range read 263–285 miles and dissipated at a normal rate, much more like gasoline, even with the air conditioning running. Of the four drive modes that come standard, Normal, Sport, Eco + and Eco, most of the test drive was conducted in the latter.

On the outside, it stands out from its siblings with a unique front fascia with a closed off grille for improved aerodynamics. It stands out among EVs with a Combined Charging System (CCS) DC fast-charge plug located in the front of the vehicle.

Early electric vehicles were small and light to help extend the range but the Niro brings the convenience of a crossover utility vehicle with seating for five and a rear seat that folds flat to expose 53 cubic feet of cargo room.

It’s also loaded with standard features, like a blind spot monitor, that help justify its starting price. Technology like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, smart cruise control, forward collision warning, rear cross traffic alert (essential in any parking lot and assisted by a whirring sound so that it can be heard by pedestrians), a smart key with push-button start, and AM/FM/MP3/SiriusXM audio system are all standard.

As the premium trim, the test model also included more exclusive features like a power sunroof, heated and ventilated leather front seats, Harmon Kardon premium audio, navigation with an eight-inch touchscreen, and a rear parking sensor.

Pricing for the Niro EV starts at $39,545. The as-tested pricing came to $47,155.

Sí: The Niro EV beckons to the open road with an impressive range and with a quick charger that extends electric power.

No: Already a bit pricey, not sure the added features for the Premium trim warrant more than $10,000 extra from the base.

CUV Review: 2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

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Jul 162019

2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

Like the celestial phenomenon for which it’s named, the Mitsubishi Eclipse has appeared and disappeared over time. It emerged as a sport coupe in 1989 but left in 2012. Last year, however, it re-emerged to join the growing crossover utility vehicle (CUV) segment as the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross. Latino Traffic Report recently test drove the 2019 Eclipse Cross SEL S-AWC and while some may miss the sport coupe, others will appreciate the added convenience and versatility of the new CUV.

While Mitsubishi would like the Cross to be known as a “Coupe SUV,” it really leans more toward a CUV in its design. It has a hint of sportiness on the outside with a sculpted form, wedge-shaped profile, and strong beltline. The front fascia reflects the Mitsubishi modern DNA, specifically on the grille, but it stands out at the back with a forward-raked rear window and angular rear gate that some might say looks akin to the Pontiac Aztek’s but much improved and without the polarizing effect. The test model also included the latest trend for two-tone exteriors with a black roof and Pearl White body at an added cost of $295.

LCD color multi-information display.

A 1.5-liter four-cylinder turbo engine with direct injection, 152 horsepower, and 184 lb.–ft. of torque powers all Eclipse Crosses, It’s matched to an eight-speed continuously variable automatic transmission with a Sport mode. All but the base model also come with Mitsubishi’s all-wheel-drive technology or Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC).

The EPA estimated fuel economy for the test model was 25 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. It averaged 19.1 mpg on the test drive.

With six trim levels to choose from, the test SEL model also included the Touring Package, making it a top-of-the-line model. As such, it came equipped with higher-end features and technology, like a blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert (also standard on the SE trim), adaptive cruise control, heated front seats, forward collision mitigation, and lane departure warning.

Rear seats folded flat.

All Crosses come with a fold-flat rear seat that exposes 48.9 cubic feet of cargo room, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel with audio controls, a seven-inch touch screen, a rearview camera, and an Eco indicator in the LCD color multi-information display within the gauge cluster.

Standard features on the top-of-the-line test model included paddle shifters, leather seats with orange accent stitching, a multiview backup camera, and a head-up display that reflected driving information on a plastic flap above the dash. The Touring package ($2,500) added a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, a heated steering wheel and rear seats, and the Rockford Fosgate premium audio sound system. Interaction with the infotainment system included a touch pad on the center console that appeared to be inspired by Lexus, but setting presets for FM and XM satellite radio (standard at this level) was a little clunky.

Still, the Cross was fun to drive and efficient at its purposes of scooting around town, with passengers and/or cargo, and along curves if necessary.

Pricing for the 2019 Mitsubishi Cross starts at $24,690. The as-tested price came to $33,305.

Sí: The new styling is modern and on trend, plus the added convenience with a CUV is always appreciated

No: Fuel economy, especially with a turbo engine and on the highway, is subpar. Also, not the best “new car” smell.

Fiat 500L vs. MINI Countryman

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Jun 122019
Fiat 500L
MINI Cooper Countryman

Known for fuel economy and affordability, compact cars do have one disadvantage, versatility. Their size can limit cargo room and comfortable seating for passengers. Fiat and MINI took this into consideration and decided to stretch their subcompacts, the 500 and Cooper, creating the MINI Cooper Countryman and Fiat 500L. Latino Traffic Report recently test drove both of these competitors, specifically the MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 (plug-in hybrid) and the Fiat 500L Trekking. Here’s how they compared.

Countryman cargo room
500L cargo room

For starters, they may not seem to be competitors, one is a hybrid, the other is not, but they certainly appear to be and both were created to navigate an urban setting with ease. On these models, designers took the cartoonish looks of their smaller siblings, i.e. rounded headlamps, squat stances, and smiling grilles, and elongated them, stretching the headlamps to an elliptical shape and rooflines to wagon-like silhouettes.  

The extra room from their extended designs naturally converted into more cargo space, specifically 47.9 cu.ft. with the rear seats folded flat, and seating for five on the Countryman. A split rear door added convenience for loading and unloading cargo, i.e. groceries.

Introduced in 2015 for the 2016 model year, the 500L offered 42 percent more interior space than the 500 and 68 cu.ft. of cargo room with the rear seat folded flat (it did slam down so watch those fingernails) as well as seating for five.

First introduced in 2010, the 2011 Countryman (left) was considered an upscale model. For 2019, MINI added a panoramic sunroof, leatherette upholstery, keyless entry, and a rearview camera with rear parking sensors as standard features.

Similarly, the 500L included a rear backup camera and parking sensor, available ambient lighting as well as a leather steering wheel. For 2019, a universal garage door opener is now standard on Fiat 500L Trekking (left) and Lounge models. What set it apart, however, was the available Beats premium audio system that was included on the test model.

Both came with AppleCar Play  (the 500L also had Android Auto compatibility) to enable use of features like Google Maps via the seven-inch touchscreen on the 500L and 6.5-inch touchscreen on the Countryman. The test model Countryman also included heated front seats.

All 500Ls are powered by a 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder engine a 160-horsepower with 184 ft.–lb. of torque matched to a six-speed automatic transmission.

As a hybrid, the test model Countryman was powered by a three-cylinder twin turbo engine with 134 horsepower and an electric motor that added 87 more horses, a hybrid all-wheel-drive system with 221 horsepower and a lithium ion battery pack.  These were matched to a six speed automatic transmission. 

500L IP

One would expect the 500L to be outmatched by the hybrid Countryman on fuel economy but not so. While the Countryman offered an electric range of twelve miles and an estimated electric miles per gallon (mpg) of 65, the estimated combined fuel economy using gasoline was 27 mpg. For the 500L, the estimated average fuel economy was 25 mpg. On the test drive, however, the Countryman did excel, averaging 30 mpg to the 500L’s average of 24 mpg. It was difficult, however, to track the electric range on the display (below).

Countryman IP

Regarding safety features, neither included a blind spot monitor but the 500L did have a blind spot side view mirror on the driver’s side.

Pricing for the 2019 MINI Countryman and Fiat 500L starts at $26,900 and $21,064 respectively. The as-tested prices were $40,000 and $25,460, respectively.

Sí: The added cargo room and seating capacity on these models is a definite plus, though the 500L has the advantage, not just in cargo room but value.

No: It’s always a pleasure to drive without using gas but the Countryman’s electric range is fairly limited and at its price point, a blind spot monitor should be included. The 500L has a limited fuel economy despite its size.

Luxury SUV Review: Infiniti QX60

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Jan 132019
The Infiniti QX60 parked at the History Murals of Kerr County, TX.

Crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) rival minivans as the favored family car, especially for road trips. On a recent drive to Kerrville in the Texas Hill Country by Latino Traffic Report, the Infiniti QX60 CUV offered a cozy ride that fairly floated along Interstate 10 West. The Infiniti QX60 capitalizes on luxury and comfort for a premium ride.

The QX60 at Stonehenge II in Ingram, TX.

Refreshed in 2016, the QX60 bears a handsome sculpted exterior, distinguished by chevron or boomerang design cues on the grille and rear side windows. Its plush interior includes standard quilted leather seating with heated seats in the front, a welcome feature in the winter, even in Texas. When temperatures rise, cooled or ventilated front seats, included on the test model, as well as a heated steering wheel, maple wood accents, and the Around View Monitor that offers a bird’s eye view around the CUV for improved safety and parking ease, are also available.

Big changes in 2019 include making safety features like Forward Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection and Predictive Forward Collision Warning standard on all grade levels.

With three rows of seating, the QX60 can seat up to seven. The split second and third rows also fold flat to create 75.8 cubic feet of cargo room. Adding convenience, the second row moves forward for easier access to the third row that returns upright automatically with the push of a button. A new innovation for 2018 included the standard Rear Door Alert that reminds an owner, with a series of distinctive honks, to check the back row before locking the vehicle.

One engine powers the QX60, a 3.5-liter V6 with 295 horsepower, 270 lb.–ft., of torque and matched to an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission. The QX60 got a new engine in 2017, which increased performance more than ten percent, while retaining one of the best fuel economy figures in its class, an EPA estimated fuel economy of 26 miles per gallon (mpg) on the highway and 19 mpg in the city. On the test drive, the average fuel economy came to 18.3 mpg.

Infiniti simplifies the selection process by offering only two trim levels based on the QX60’s configuration, i.e. front-wheel or all-wheel drive (AWD). The test model came with the latter. For 2019, two new grade levels, Pure and Luxe, were also added, as well as additional packages.

AWD models also include the Drive Mode Selector that allows the driver to choose among Standard, Sport, Eco and Snow modes. While the Sport mode did add extra power for the hilly climb along the 65.5-mile drive to Kerrville from San Antonio, the power loss in Eco mode was quite dramatic.

The QX60 and Louise Hays Park, Kerrville, TX.

Standard entertainment features include Bluetooth, an AM/FM/CD stereo with an eight-inch touchscreen interface, and tri-zone air conditioning. Family essentials include eight cup holders, six bottle holders, and four USB ports.

While selecting a trim level may be simplified, selecting options, can be costly. Pricing for the 2019 Infiniti QX60 starts at $47,045, while the as-tested price came to $60,670.

Sí: The QX60 is quite plush, especially with the quilted seating and distinctive wood accents and adding the Blind Spot Monitor to all 2019 grades was an excellent move.

No: The loss of power in the Eco setting was substantial, making it practically unusable.

Luxury Sedan Review: 2018 Volvo S90

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Dec 282018

Competing in the premium segment, Volvo offers what no other manufacturer can, Scandinavian design that combines luxury with function. Latino Traffic Report recently took the 2018 S90 T6 Inscription on a road trip from Austin to Burnet, Texas. The redesigned 2018 S90 full-size sedan showcased the manufacturer’s best assets—design, technology, and safety.

Curb appeal for Volvo’s flagship sedan begins with distinctive design cues, specifically, all new taillights and the t-shape in the headlamps referred to as “Thor’s Hammer.” The luxury sedan also comes with leather seating, a power sunroof, a thirteen-inch digital instrument panel, and chunky real wood accents. In this segment, roominess has its advantages, particularly in the back. Rear legroom in the S90 reaches 35.9 inches.

Innovative technology on the inside includes the tablet-shaped nine-inch touchscreen that interfaces with the Sensus infotainment and navigation systems. To select a function, the driver can slide a finger to the left, right, up, and down. A cleaning cloth to remove fingerprints is included.

Despite its size, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder super and turbocharged engine produces a whopping 316 horsepower and 295 lb.–ft. of torque; it doesn’t sound like a four-cylinder either. Also equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission, the S90 T6 Inscription test model had an EPA estimated fuel economy of 22 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. On the test-drive, it averaged 26.9 mpg.

Volvo has committed to zero fatalities or serious injuries occurring in one of its vehicles by 2020. To do this requires new benchmarks for safety technology. With the S90, Volvo focused on avoiding large animal collisions, a serious driving concern in the Texas Hill Country. Included on the S90, Volvo’s latest technology, the Large Animal Detection system, uses radar to spot animals and trigger automatic braking.

Standard semi-autonomous technology on the S90 includes Pilot Assist. Akin to adaptive cruise control, it allows the vehicle to accelerate, decelerate, and come to a complete stop to maintain a safe distance from the car in front at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour.

Pricing for the 2018 Volvo S90 starts at $47,945. The as-tested pricing for the S90 T6 Inscription came to $69,140.

Sí: Beautiful inside and out, the S90 leaves no doubt of its flagship status.

No: Despite its innovation and beauty there are a couple anomalies, like the telescopic steering wheel that requires manual rather than automatic function to adjust.

Luxury Sedan Review: 2018 Lexus ES 350

 Lexus, Reviews  Comments Off on Luxury Sedan Review: 2018 Lexus ES 350
Dec 122018
Lexus ES 350                                                                                            Photos by Valerie Menard

When Lexus launched in 1989, its lineup included two models, the LS and ES sedans. Over the last 29 years, the ES has evolved to become a favorite of luxury car buyers, taking the number three spot of top-selling luxury cars in 2017, according to the New York Daily News. With the seventh generation coming in 2019, there’s still time to grab the 2018 model. Latino Traffic Report recently tested the 2018 ES 350. Here are some highlights.

Accessibility sets the ES 350 apart in its segment. While certain features are offered in pricey packages, Lexus makes particular features available as stand alone options on the ES, like the blind spot monitor ($500), One Touch Power Trunk (right)  ($400), and Intuitive Parking Assist ($500) that were added to the test model.

Matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, a 3.5-liter V6 engine with 268-horsepower and 248 lb.–ft. of torque powers every ES 350. For added convenience, it can run on regular-grade gas. The standard Drive Mode Select with Normal, Sport, and Eco modes also helps the ES achieve an EPA estimated fuel economy of 21 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. During the test-drive it earned an average of 21.8 mpg.

The standard Lexus Safety System includes semi-autonomous technology like High-speed Dynamic Cruise Control, a Pre-Collision and Pedestrian avoidance system, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, a.k.a. the ghost in the machine, and Intelligent High-Beam headlights that sense automatically when to turn on or off.

The subscription-based onboard emergency and information system, Lexus Enform Safety Connect and Enform Service Connect, are free for 2018 for the first ten years. The former provides access to Lexus Enform response centers 24/7/365 with a mobile connection, while the latter alerts the owner to specific factory-recommended maintenance while simultaneously alerting a preferred Lexus dealer.

Standard creature comforts include ten-way adjustable power front seats, automatic dual-zone climate control, NuLuxe perforated upholstery with Piano Black ornamentation, and a power tilt-and-slide moonroof.

The standard Lexus Display Audio system features an eight-inch screen and includes HD Radio, Bluetooth audio, a CD player, a vehicle information display, and complimentary traffic and weather data provided via HD Radio. The test model also included the Remote Touch Interface, part of the Navigation/Mark Levinson Package ($2,615) that included an intuitive mouse pad function in the center console to engage the infotainment system.

Additional options on the test model included the Ultra Luxury Package ($3,500) with wood interior trim, heated and ventilated front seats, and a panoramic glass roof, among other features.

Pricing for the 2018 ES 350 starts at $39,975. The as-tested price came to $49,255.

 Sí: Richly appointed, the ES 350 leaves little doubt that it belongs in the luxury sedan segment.

No: The redesign is just in time because this model, inside and out, did look a little long in the tooth.

SUV Review: 2018 Dodge Durango SRT

 Dodge, Reviews  Comments Off on SUV Review: 2018 Dodge Durango SRT
Dec 042018

Most Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) accentuate the U in SUV to appeal to consumers. For the first time, Dodge accentuates the S with the Durango full-size SUV Street and Racing Technology (SRT) trim. Latino Traffic Report recently drove the 2018 Durango SRT during a weeklong test drive. While the appeal for this model is fairly specific, Dodge apparently believes that sport car enthusiasts with cargo and towing needs will give the Durango SRT a look-see. As an added incentive, all new customers will get to push the sporty SUV to its limits with a free full-day session at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving.

The three-row SUV still offers the versatility of other SUVs with seating for six, 84.5 cu. ft. of cargo room with both rows folded flat, and has a best-in-class towing capability of 8,700 pounds. But what distinguishes this SUV is what’s under the hood, namely a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 with 475 horsepower and 470 lb.–ft. of torque that can accelerate from zero–60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds

This kind of power, however, does have one downside, namely fuel economy. Matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the V8 has an EPA city/highway fuel economy of 13/19 miles per gallon (mpg). On the test drive it averaged 12.9 mpg. Still, the buyer for this vehicle probably won’t be surprised by this news.

On the outside, the Durango SRT stands out among its siblings with a newly designed hood with a functional cold-air duct and heat extractors to cool the engine.

Adding to that is the new SRT seven-mode drive system that includes Auto, Sport, Track, Snow, Tow, Valet, and ECO, giving the driver the ability to customize drive settings. ON the test drive along FM 2222 in west Austin, one of the curviest local roads, standard paddle shifters improved handling.

The Durango’s all-wheel drive system has been performance tuned and a new exhaust system offers the deep, high-performance exhaust note modeled after the Dodge Charger SRT.

On the plush side, the SRT is a top-of-the-line trim, which means it offers a bigger list of creature comforts to complement the power under the hood, including a hand-wrapped instrument panel with silver accent stitching, an SRT flat-bottom performance steering wheel, and heated and ventilated front and heated second-row captain’s chairs with embossed SRT logos.

The standard seven-inch thin-film-transistor screen in the instrument cluster has been redesigned and can be customized, the 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen returns with navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, HD radio, downloadable apps, and a five-year trial of SiriusXM Travel Link and Traffic with a one-year trial subscription to SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Rounding out this list is the standard BeatsAudio premium sound system featuring nine speakers, subwoofer and 506-watt amplifier.

The test model also included the Technology Group ($2,495) that added forward collision warning with crash mitigation, adaptive cruise control with stop, and a blind-spot monitor and rear cross path detection.

Built in Detroit, pricing for the 2018 Dodge Durango starts at $61,900. The as-tested price came to $73,360.

Si: The Durango adds excitement to a fairly staid segment.

No: Low fuel economy is pretty unacceptable in this day and age, plus safety features at this price point should be more available if not standard.

Car Review: 2018 Honda Civic Hatchback

 Honda, Reviews  Comments Off on Car Review: 2018 Honda Civic Hatchback
Sep 182018

Traditionally, efficiency and affordability attracted buyers to the compact car segment, but advances in styling and technology have made many models much handsomer and much more fun to drive. The 2018 Honda Civic Hatchback is the latest example.

It’s been more than 25 years since the Civic offered a hatchback version but in 2017, one joined the tenth generation of the coupe and sedan (redesigned in 2016). Available in five trims, the top-of-the-line Sport Touring made its way to Austin for testing by Latino Traffic Report.

The five-door hatch offers more versatility than a coupe or sedan, including a cargo capacity of 46.2 cubic feet of room and an innovative cargo cover that retracts to the side rather than from the top for added convenience.

A 1.5-liter in-line four-cylinder turbo engine powered the test model. The horsepower jumps from 174 to 180 on the Sport and Sport Touring trims, as does the torque, from 167 to 180 lbs.–ft., on models equipped with a six-speed manual transmission. The test model, however, came with a Continuously Variable Transmission that normally offers the best city/highway fuel economy of 31/40 miles per gallon (mpg). Because the Sport Touring trim is specially tuned, the EPA estimated fuel economy for the test model dropped slightly to 30 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. It earned an average of 34.4 mpg on the test drive. Paddle shifters, standard on the Sport Touring model, enhanced its performance.

As the top-of-the-line trim, the test model included upgrades like Honda Sensing, a suite of safety and driver-assistive technologies like the Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Forward Collision Warning integrated with the CMBS, and Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow, plus 18-inch blackened alloy wheels.

The test model also included Honda’s version of a blind spot monitor or LaneWatch, standard on the EX trim and above, that displayed a live view of traffic on the seven-inch touch screen when I engaged the right turn signal. However, a traditional blind spot warning system, with audio and illuminated alerts on the side mirrors or A-pillars, is less distracting and as such, possibly more effective.

Still, standard features on all Civic hatchbacks include the Eco Assist system, ECON Mode Indicator, and ECON button to improve fuel economy, a multi-angle rearview camera with guidelines, cruise control, and a 60/40 split rear seat that folds down, among other features.

Creature comforts on the test model included heated front and outboard rear seats, a moonroof, rain-sensing wipers, a leather trimmed interior, Apple Carplay/Android Audio, and navigation.

Pricing for the 2018 Civic Hatchback starts at $21,045. The as-tested price, with no optional features or packages, came to $29,645.

Sí: The new Civic’s super sporty styling and competitive fuel efficiency increase its appeal.

No: While its interior styling reflects improved fit and finish, the knobless touchscreen added to driving distraction and a conventional blind spot monitor would be preferable to LaneWatch.