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.

DePerez Joins Hyundai Motor America

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Sep 022020
 

Latino Traffic Report (LTR) has learned that Hyundai Motor America has appointed Fred DePerez as the new vice president of Product Line Management and Sales Planning where he will oversee the current Product Line Management, Sales Planning, and Retail Operations teams. This newly created division will allow Hyundai to react more rapidly to market conditions and improve decision making across the enterprise. DePerez will report to Hyundai Motor North America president and CEO José Muñoz.

“Fred is a seasoned leader with an extensive background in understanding market conditions and delivering results,” said Muñoz. “Creating this new division will allow us to better leverage data and take full advantage of national and regional opportunities to increase profits and gain market share. We are excited he’s joined the Hyundai team.”

DePerez has 25 years of automotive experience. LTR first met him when he served as vice president of Nissan’s Northeast Region, also under Muñoz. He also spent six years at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles where he led Dodge brand operations and 11 years at Toyota Motor Sales USA in various sales and marketing positions.

Hyundai’s Product Line Management group focuses on ways to improve performance by analyzing target customers, segment dynamics and the dealer’s engagement level of each Hyundai vehicle. Sales Planning analyzes industry-wide trends and identifies national and regional growth opportunities for Hyundai. Retail Operations manages Hyundai’s national incentive spending, certified pre-owned programs and sales planning activities.

¡Felicidades Fred!

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.

Muñoz Heads to Hyundai

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Apr 242019
 

Latino Traffic Report (LTR) has just learned that Hyundai Motor Company has appointed José Muñoz, formerly with Nissan, as global chief operating officer. In this capacity, Muñoz will oversee global operations strategies and their implementation. His focus will be to deliver profitable growth and to improve overall performance of Hyundai Motor based on his decades of automotive and technology experience.

“José Muñoz has an impressive track record and is proven to be a visionary and motivational leader who is adept at all aspects of our business,” said Wonhee Lee, president of Hyundai Motor Company. “His decades of automotive and technology experience make him well suited for this new role as we move the company to the next step. We are looking forward to Muñoz joining the team, and will lean on his leadership skills and vision to achieve long-term sustainable growth and evolve into a Smart Mobility Solutions Provider.”

Muñoz is no stranger to LTR. I first met him when he joined Nissan in 2013 as senior vice president of sales and marketing for the United States and Canada. At the end of his tenure he was chief performance officer for Nissan Motor Corporation and the chairman of Nissan China, but he had also recruited several Latinos to the executive suite, including an LTR favorite, Fred Diaz, currently president and CEO, of Mitsubishi Motors North America. Muñoz was recruited from Nissan Mexicana, where he spent many years managing operations in Mexico and growing Nissan’s market share to 25 percent.

“I am excited to join Hyundai Motor at this vital time in its history,” said Muñoz. “My capabilities around delivering steady profitable growth, managing the entire supply chain, and working together with our dealer partners to find win-win solutions match up well with the opportunity here. I am eager to bring best global practices from the automobile and technology industries to my new role as COO of Hyundai Motor Company and am honored to join this esteemed corporation.”

Muñoz has also been named president and CEO of both Hyundai Motor North America and Hyundai Motor America. He will be responsible for the entire American market, including Hyundai Motor North, Central and South America, as the Head of Hyundai Motor Americas Region. Muñoz is an important hire in further solidifying Hyundai’s overseas business reorganization that was announced last year with the creation of Hyundai Motor North America, among other regional headquarters around the world.

A native of Spain, Muñoz earned his Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from Polytechnic University of Madrid and has an MBA from the Instituto de Empresa (IE) Business School in Madrid.

From LTR to you, ¡Felicidades señor!


Vehicle Launch: 2019 Hyundai Veloster

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Oct 092018
 

Veloster Turbo R-Spec

Despite what it says in the dictionary, two doors no longer do a coupe make. It has been redefined by automakers to refer to sporty vehicles and can include four doors, or even three, like the singular Hyundai Veloster sport coupe. Latino Traffic Report recently attended the launch of the all-new 2019 Veloster in Austin, TX. Its cleaner exterior design and improved engine choices will excite fans and attract new ones.

The new fascia resembles Hyundai’s current design DNA more faithfully than its predecessor. The grille is less cluttered and a darkened roof is standard on the top-of-the-line Turbo Ultimate trim, reflecting the current industry trend. While the two-tone look is not available across the lineup, each trim does come in unique colors, materials, and accents.

The Veloster’s appeal may be connected to its sportiness but it is a hatch and as such, it offers something other sport coupe’s don’t, utility, namely 19.9 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second row seat, more than Mini Cooper, Mini Clubman, and VW Beetle.

A 2.0-liter engine four-cylinder engine with 147 horsepower and 132 lb.–ft. of torque powers the base model. It’s matched to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission.

Dash on the Veloster Turbo R-Spec.

Ramping up the sportiness factor is the turbo-charged 1.6-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine on the Veloster Turbo and Turbo Ultimate that produces 201 horses and 195 lb.–ft. of torque. It’s paired with a six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed dual clutch transmission with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters and SHIFTRONIC transmission gear control. The automatic will earn the best EPA estimated fuel economy of 28 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. We drove both at the launch and clocked an average fuel economy of 32.9 mpg. While the manual may be slightly less fuel-efficient, it has a definite advantage when it comes to the driving experience, offering more power, responsiveness, and fun.

To customize the driving experience, Drive Mode Select is standard on all Velosters and offers three driver-selectable modes—Normal, Sport, and Smart. The cherry on top of every Veloster powertrain is Active Engine Sound that enhances that engine rumble that sports car enthusiasts crave.

Center stack on the Veloster Turbo.

Still mindful of the competitive advantage safety technology adds to any modern vehicle, the 2019 Veloster includes standard Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with autonomous braking to help the car detect and avoid an imminent collision, Lane Keeping Assist, and a rear view camera with dynamic guidelines.

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—it would be nice if these features were at least available on it. The base model does come with a blind spot mirror.

Seating on the Veloster Turbo.

Standard creature comforts include the basics like air conditioning, power windows, 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 2.0 Premium brings fancier features like an eight-inch display with the Infiniti Premium audio system and SiriusXM satellite radio, a proximity key, and heated front seats. The Turbos add a wide sunroof and leather seats to the list.

Hyundai likes to call the Veloster a “reverse halo” but if a halo car is one that attracts folks to a dealership, then the Veloster is simply a halo, no qualifiers necessary. Pricing for the 2019 Veloster starts at $19,385.

Veloster Turbo

Car Launch: 2018 Hyundai Sonata and Elantra GT

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Feb 082018
 

Auto shows may offer a first look, but automotive launches give journalists a first impression of a new or redesigned vehicle. At the recent launch of the redesigned 2018 Hyundai Sonata and all-new 2018 Elantra GT in Charleston, South Carolina, attended by Latino Traffic Report, two features made a big impression—the blind spot monitoring system and six-speed manual transmission.

Hyundai has been known to take risks to set itself apart from its competitors, like its five-year/60,000-mile, fully transferable bumper-to-bumper warranty. For the 2018 Sonata, Hyundai makes another bold move by adding a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert to the Sonata’s list of standard equipment, setting it apart in the midsize sedan segment. At the launch, John Shon, senior manager, Hyundai product planning, admitted that this is the most requested feature by customers.

Created at Hyundai’s California design studio, the 2018 Sonata improves on looks, accented by the new cascading grille, sculpted hood, LED daytime running lights, and catamaran shape on the lower bumper, as well as, essentials.

Choices abound when it comes to powertrains with three available engines and transmissions—a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission, a 2.4-liter gasoline direct injected engine matched to a six-speed automatic, and 1.6-liter turbo matched to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. All transmissions are include Shiftronic simulated manual shifting.

While a hybrid and plug-in hybrid will be available, the best fuel economy from the three powertrains mentioned, will be the 1.6-liter turbo unique to the Eco trim with an EPA estimated fuel economy of 28 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. Powered by the 2.0-liter turbo, the test model Sonata Limited at the launch averaged 28.8 mpg.

As for other new technology, a wireless charging pad for Android phones is available as is Lane Keep Assist with Driver Attention Alert, a heated steering wheel, and smart cruise control.

Built in the United States at the Alabama assembly plant, the 2018 Sonata has a starting price of $22,935.

 

Elantra GT

With a silhouette that bears more resemblance to a wagon than a hatch, the all-new five-door 2018 Elantra GT presents an interesting option in the compact segment. Even more refreshing, however, is that it also comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, and not just on the base trim.

If offered at all, most manual transmissions are used by manufacturers to lower the starting price on the base model, which is sold as-is, i.e. without the chance to add available options. Equipping both trims, the Elantra GT and GT Sport, with a manual transmission means that aficionados, like yours truly, can drive a stick with access to upgrades and features like a blind spot monitor (standard on the GT Sport) or smart cruise control. The GT Sport also gets a unique red shift knob.

The appeal for a hatch is convenience and the GT fulfills that expectation offering nearly 25 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seat and 55.1 cu. ft. with the 60/40- split rear seat folded flat.

Standard features include a rearview camera, eight-inch display audio with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, and individual tire pressure display, another great feature. Have you ever tried to figure out what tire needs air without it?

Interior, 2018 Elantra GT Sport.

Like the Sonata, the Elantra offers unique four cylinder powertrains for both trim levels. The 2.0-liter powers the GT with 161 horsepower and 150 ft.–lb. of torque. While the manual transmission is standard, a six-speed automatic is available. The GT Sport is powered by the 1.5-liter turbo with 201 peak horsepower, 195 ft.–lb. of torque and offers a seven-speed automatic as an option.

Fans of new technology will appreciate the new Blue Link skill for Amazon Alexa that links an Alexa-enabled device, like an Amazon Echo or Dot, to start the car.

Pricing for the 2018 Elantra GT starts at $20,235.

At the launch, both vehicles performed nicely and should attract buyer attention. Offered in a wide range of trim levels, the fact that all Sonatas now include the blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert creates a win-win, from the base to the top-of-the-line. The compact five-door segment offers versatility and economy. With a manual transmission available on both Elantra GTs, Hyundai’s five-door hatch surpasses expectations.

 

 

Ramirez Promoted to Senior Group Manager of Product Communications

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Sep 082017
 

Latino Traffic Report has learned that the communications team at Hyundai Motor America has added Hyundai veteran Brandon Ramirez as the senior group manager of Product Communications. In this role, Brandon is responsible for communicating the attributes of Hyundai’s entire product lineup to traditional and digital media. This includes auto show strategy, new vehicle launches and ongoing content creation for Hyundai vehicles. Brandon reports to Jim Trainor, director of Hyundai’s communications efforts in the United States.

Brandon is transitioning to the communications team from Hyundai’s product planning division, where he worked for the past thirteen years leading product development, market launches and lifecycle management for Hyundai’s lineup of cars, CUVs and alternative-powered vehicles.

BRANDON RAMIREZ

His expertise also includes target audience research, analyzing market trends, and serving as company spokesperson to media and other third parties. Brandon also has extensive multicultural experience serving as the chair of Hyundai’s internal “Amigos Unidos” employee group, which is tasked with community engagement and raising culture awareness at Hyundai.

“Brandon is the perfect fit in this role with his in-depth product and industry knowledge, experience as a media spokesperson and the relationships he has throughout the entire organization,” said Trainor. “The addition of Brandon completes the recent reorganization of the PR team that better aligns Hyundai communications with the evolving automotive business, media and digital landscape. We’ve built the communications team of the future that will be able to quickly adapt to changing consumer preferences and media habits, and can help us stay ahead of our competition.”

Prior to Hyundai, Brandon spent several years in product strategy at Mitsubishi Motors North America and was an acquisition analyst at Fairfield Investments. Brandon graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration and earned his Master of Business Administration from the University of San Diego.

Car Review: 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited

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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.

Vehicle Launch: 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid, Electric, and Plug-in Hybrid

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Jun 092017
 

Like it or not (Mr. President), the clean energy train has left the station, which means alternative fuel vehicles will continue to arrive at a dealership near you. This year Hyundai bolstered that prediction with the introduction of its all-new hybrid, the 2017 Ioniq. Latino Traffic Report recently attended the regional launch in Durham, North Carolina to drive not one, not two, but all three versions.

Rather than wait years to complete the lineup, Hyundai will build three powertrains on one dedicated platform, the Ioniq Hybrid, Electric (with a range of 124 miles), and a Plug-in Hybrid (available in 2018). All three were at the launch where they performed nicely, and like the name, a cross between “ion and unique,” the Ioniqs displayed distinctive good looks.

Ioniq Electric

I appreciated its sporty accents, like LED daytime running lights, and while the arched roofline may resemble that of other hybrids, it’s a functional necessity to maximize aerodynamics and achieve an industry-leading 0.24 coefficient of drag.

According to WardsAuto, in the United States, “Total EV sales grew to 79,915 units from 72,374 in 2015. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) sales, counted in a separate category, totaled 71,329 units, up 63 percent from 43,815 in 2015, and hybrid sales totaled 373,359 units in 2016, up from 341,792 in 2015.” Hyundai believes that millennials will energize the market further, increasing sales, according to Brandon Ramirez, senior group manager, product planning at Hyundai Motor America.

A recent addition to the segment, the Ioniq gets the benefit of bringing up the rear, improving on what the first hybrids started, like offering the best combined fuel economy in its class, 58 miles per gallon (mpg) with the Ioniq Blue trim (non-Blue trims should achieve 55 mpg combined). At the launch, I averaged 51 mpg with the Ioniq Hybrid Limited trim. A new 1.6-liter direct-injected Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine powers the Ioniq Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrids, delivering an estimated 104 horsepower and an estimated 109 lbs.–ft. of torque. On the Hybrid, it’s matched to a quick-shifting six-speed double-clutch transmission, an electric motor that delivers an estimated 43 horsepower with an estimated maximum torque of 125 lbs.–ft., and a 1.56 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery (with a lifetime warranty). With an 8.9 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery, the Plug-in Hybrid provides an all-electric range (before the gas-powered engine kicks in) of more than 27 miles while the Ioniq Electric offers an estimated driving range of 124 miles with a 28 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery . Mated to a single-speed reduction-gear transmission, the electric motor has a maximum output of 118 horsepower and 218 lbs.–ft. of torque. The Ioniq Electric has an EPA-estimated 136 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent (MPGe) rating, better than any electric vehicle sold in the U.S.

Range anxiety plus the length of time needed to charge can discourage potential buyers. The Ioniq may offer some solutions. Charging the Ioniq Electric to 80 percent should take approximately 23 minutes using an SAE Combo Level-3 DC, 100 kW fast charger. An integrated In-Cable Control Box also allows drivers to charge their Ioniq using a standard household electric socket.

Enhancing the car’s fuel efficiency and dynamic driving characteristics, the driver can select either SPORT or ECO modes. On the launch, the SPORT mode did add oomph but it was the Plug-in Hybrid and Electric models that offered noticeably smoother rides.

The Ioniq reflects a deeper commitment to green from Hyundai with its use of recycled or ecologically-sensitive materials, like interior door covers made of plastic combined with powdered wood and volcanic stone.

Innovations continue on the inside with a seven-inch TFT instrument cluster that displays all gauge functions and Hyundai’s Blue Link connected car system, which is standard on the Electric model for three years. Placing the battery underneath the rear seats also adds extra passenger space on the Ioniq hybrid, an estimated 122.7 cubic feet and best-in-class cargo of 26.5 cubic feet, plus it gives the Ioniq a lower center of gravity for better road hugging. Handy features, like a rearview camera are standard, but safety technology, like a blindspot warning system, remain optional, even on the more expensive Electric model.

Looking to the future, Hyundai and the all-new Ioniq will continue to attract consumers to the green car segment. Pricing for the Hybrid and Electric (pricing for the Plug-in was not available) models should start at $23,035 and $30,335 respectively, and the Electric will be eligible for government tax credits of $7,500, according to the IRS.  

Ioniq Hybrid

 

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.