Super SUVs and CUVs for Summer Travel

 Features  Comments Off on Super SUVs and CUVs for Summer Travel
Aug 092018
 

2018 BMW X3

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

Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

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

Chevy Equinox

Chevy MyLink

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

Lexus NX 300h

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

BMW X3 xDrive30i

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

orange ambient lighting

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

Volvo XC60 T6 Inscription

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

Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium

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

Ranger Rover Sport HSE

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


Infiniti QX80 4WD

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

Toyota Land Cruiser

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

*Driving impressions based on a 2017 model.

SUV Reviews: 2016 Lexus LX570 and Land Rover LR4 HSE LUX

 Land Rover, Lexus, Reviews  Comments Off on SUV Reviews: 2016 Lexus LX570 and Land Rover LR4 HSE LUX
Jul 252016
 

2015-11-03 Land-LR462016-05-10 LX570.lic

A premium sedan wows car buyers with a striking design, a plush interior, and exclusive technology. A premium sport utility vehicle (SUV) does the same thing, but with the added potential for rock climbing, should the urge strike. On recent test drives of the 2016 Land Rover LR4 HSE LUX and the 2016 Lexus LX570 for Latino Traffic Report, I fought the urge and stayed on-road, cruising in comfort and style.

While not direct competitors, these SUVs shared some similarities as well as unique attributes to sustain such an exclusive niche.

Tread Lightly

Some may confuse off-roading with rally racing but the two couldn’t be more opposed. A true enthusiast prefers to tread lightly, enjoying an intimacy with nature by driving rather than hiking on the trail.

LR4 center stack

LR4 center stack

To do this effectively requires basics, starting with full-time four-wheel drive (4WD), which they had, but both the LR4 and LX570 added technology that enhanced the ride.

For starters, they included knobs for selecting terrain challenges to fine tune off-roading functions—General, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud and Ruts, and Sand with the LR4’s Terrain Response System. The test model also came with the Heavy Duty Package that added the Rock Crawl mode, a two-speed transfer case,  active locking center and rear differentials, and a full-size spare tire. The LR4 improved on-road performance with the Command Shift transmission that included a choice among Normal, Sport, and Manual modes.

LX570 center console

LX570 Terrain Response System

Land Rover may have set the standard for luxury off-roading but Lexus stepped up with the Multi-Terrain Select system that offered Rock, Rock and Dirt, Mogul, Loose Rock, and Mud and Sand modes. To improve on-road performance, I had a choice among Comfort, ECO, Sport S and Sport S+ modes.

Suspensions also matter for on and off-road driving and both utilized adjustable suspension systems that lowered and raised the vehicle based on driving conditions.

Heart and Soul

Powered by a 5.7-liter V8 engine, the LX received a new eight-speed sequential shift automatic transmission for 2016, replacing the previous six-speed. The powertrain offered 383 horses and 403 lb.–ft. of torque. The LR4 also included an eight-speed transmission, but it was matched to a supercharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine with 340 horsepower and 332 lb.–ft. of torque.

LR4 seats.

LR4 seats.

As an SUV, towing is a consideration. LR4 owners can tow up to  7,716-lb, while the LX can pull 7,000 lbs. The standard panoramic view camera, new for 2016 on the LX, will help hitch and maneuver a trailer.

While both try to utilize technology to improve fuel economy, SUVs this size and weight make fuel economy a challenge. The average fuel economy is fairly similar for each, 15 miles per gallon (mpg) for the LX and 16 mpg for the LR4. I averaged 15.4 mpg and 16 mpg respectively.

The P in Premium

The experience inside of these vehicles accentuated their membership in the premium SUV segment. There were no cloth options for seating, just leather please, with real wood and aluminum accents. Heated front seats were standard on both, plus the seven-seat LR4 also included heated rear seats. The eight-seat LX test model included a heated second row via the Luxury Package ($1,190) that also added ventilated (cooled) front seats.

LX570 seats.

LX570 seats.

A 12.3-inch center display screen with a mouse in the center console, or Remote Touch Interface, to control the Lexus Enform infotainment system, navigation, and air conditioning distinguished the LX. Lexus Enform also enabled interactivity with smart phones.

The first time I ever noticed accent piping on leather seating was on a Land Rover. The array of knobs and levers for engaging different functions also stood out. The modern LR4 retained the awe factor inside, especially on the test model that included the HSE LUX Package ($10,200) with premium soft Windsor leather with twin-stitch detailing to the top of the dashboard and doors, armrest and grab handles and also around the instrument cluster. Its five-inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT) driver information LCD screen located within the instrument cluster, however, was a little less striking. The L

LX dash.

LX dash.

R4’s infotainment system, Land Rover InControl, can utilize apps downloaded from either the Apple App Store or Google Play to connect to a Smartphone. Oddly, Sirius/XM Satellite radio was added as an option; one would think it would be included, especially on the HSE LUX package.

Both test vehicles included a cooled storage unit for added convenience and a CD player.

LR4 cooled storage.

LR4 cooled storage.

Safety First

Stepping up to a premium SUV brings expectations for an extensive list of standard features, including safety. This can also be where these SUVs fall short.

Airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control make-up the technology that’s expected. But some innovations like a blind-spot monitor, pre-collision mitigation, rear cross traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control should also be included. They were on the LX but not on the LR4.

2015-11-03 LR4-rear2016-05-10 LXreare2The as-tested pricing for the 2016  Land Rover LR4 came to $66,570, while as-tested pricing for the 2016 Lexus LX570 came to $97,405.

: Both of these premium SUVs offer what the segment requires, great styling, interior plushness, and off-road capability.

No: While the LR4 fell short on standard safety technology, the LX570 placed quite a premium on including them with pricing that approached six figures.

Sports Car Test Drive Extravaganza

 Features  Comments Off on Sports Car Test Drive Extravaganza
Sep 132015
 

2015-05-19 MB.E-400topPowerful, nimble, and fast, sports cars embody the meaning of “fun to drive.” Not limited to a certain segment, however, these models can be found throughout any lineup, making them available in a wide price range. Here’s an overview of vehicles driven by Latino Traffic Report that meet as well as defy expectations of what a sports car should or can be.

 

2015-05-19 MB-E400.licMercedes Benz E400 Cabriolet

A Mercedes-Benz can’t help but “look” sporty. Happily, the E400 Cabriolet brings power under its sheet metal, namely a 3.0-liter biturbo V6 matched to a seven-speed automatic transmission, to support that impression.

Oh yeah, it accelerates from zero–60 miles per hour (mph) in 6.3 seconds.

The two-door cabriolet (convertible) version of the E400 (it’s also available in a hardtop) can accommodate four, technically, with seating made of topstitched leather fitted by hand in any of 16 leathers and a choice of eight colors, like the optional Red and Black Nappa leather on the test model. The triple-layer fabric top reclined with the push of a button in about 28 seconds on the test drive.2015-05-19 MB-E400.seats

Sustainably forested, hand‑finished wood trim accents the dash, doors and console. The E400 also came with dual-zone climate control and heated front seats, among other features.

While nice to look at, sit in, and drive, the E400 places a premium on technology.

Equipment usually included at this price point, like a blind spot monitor or rearview camera, were optional. In fact, there were five option packages on this model that added $10,510 to the base price of $62,275.

The as-tested price for the 2015 E400 Cabriolet came to $76,225.

2015-03-25 lr-rangerover

Range Rover Sport HSE

Land Rover first introduced this trim level in 2005 as a sporty alternative to its iconic Range Rover. Why would someone want a sporty SUV, one might ask? The simple answer is, why not?

Redesigned in 2014, the new Sport model reflects an 800-pound-cutting process to lighten the new model for better on-road agility, performance and fuel economy, from the new suspension to the aluminum unibody architecture.

Equipped with the second generation Terrain Response System that allows the driver to choose among five settings depending on road conditions, full-time four-wheel drive, and enhanced electronic air suspension, the Range Rover Sport also retains its off-road capability.

The supercharged 3.0-liter V6 engine with 340 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque gives it more oomph, with a zero-to-60 mph acceleration of 6.9 seconds. A supercharged V8 is also available.2015-03-25 lr.license

The EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy is 17/22 mpg. I averaged 20.8 mpg.

This trim level adds $5,145 to the price tag as well as additional luxury features like Oxford perforated leather with heated and ventilated fronts seats, a sliding panoramic sunroof, 20-inch split spoke alloy wheels, Shadow Zebrano wood trim, and branded aluminum tread plates.

As tested pricing on the 2015 Range Rover Sport HSE came to $82,027.

2015-07-07 lex.rc350 front

Lexus RC 350 F Sport

Diving deeper into the sport sedan market, Lexus introduced the RC 350 for 2015.

The rear-wheel drive (RWD) two-door coupe bears a resemblance to the latest design DNA from Lexus, including the spindle grille, but with a more aggressive, lower stance as if ready to pounce.

As an F Sport trim level, the test-vehicle took the sporty experience even further.

Engineered as a stand-alone model, rather than as a two-door derivative of a sedan, it’s powered by a standard 306 horsepower 3.5-liter V6 paired with an eight-speed automatic with steering wheel shift paddles. It has an EPA estimated fuel economy of 19 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. I averaged 23.8 mpg.

2015-07-07 lex.rc350dashThe transmission also includes Sport, Normal, and Manual modes to improve performance, plus a Drive Mode Select dial for setting the suspension, steering wheel, powertrain, and air conditioning response to better suit a driver’s preference, including Normal, Eco, Sport S and Sport S+ on the F Sport for maximum handling performance.

Aside from performance technology, the F Sport package ($3,985) also adds a blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, and ventilated front leather seats. On the test model they were a beautiful shade of burgundy.

Pricing for the 2015 RC 350 starts at $43,715. The as-tested price came to $54,220.

2014-12-31 Genesis3

Hyundai Genesis 5.0

Winning the North American Car of the Year accolade when it was introduced in 2009, the Hyundai Genesis gets redesigned for 2015 and the second generation is just as bold as the first.

With a refined version of Hyundai’s fluidic sculpture design DNA on the outside, the Genesis reaffirms its sporty intentions with a RWD configuration. For the first time, however, an all-wheel-drive version is also available.

The spacious interior affords the Genesis best-in-class front headroom and rear shoulder room.

2014-12-31 genesisdashWhat’s more impressive, however, is the suite of features included on the Genesis 5.0, from the panoramic sunroof to the smart cruise control with stop and start capability. I especially appreciated the haptic warning in the steering wheel as part of the blind spot and lane departure warning systems.

Powered by a 5.0-liter V8 with 420 horses and 383 lb–ft of torque mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic simulated manual shifting and steering wheel paddle shifters, the Genesis performed like a champ. A 3.8-liter V6 is also available.

Continuous Damping Control suspension, included on the test model, allows drivers to choose between Sport and Normal modes to increase control of body motions and body roll, allowing sportier road holding.

Pricing for the 2015 Genesis starts at $38,950. The as-tested price came to $55,700.

2014-12-16 tlx2

Acura TLX 2.4L Tech

All new for 2015, the Acura TLX replaces the TL. Part of Acura’s re-envisioned performance-luxury sedan lineup, the TLX fulfills its objective via two available engines, two new transmissions, and new technology to improve ride and handling.

The test model came equipped with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder matched to an eight-speed dual clutch transmission. A 3.5-liter V6 matched to a nine-speed transmission is also available. It was also upgraded with the Technology Package that included navigation, the Acura-link Communication System, premium audio with haptic touch, perforated leather seats, a rear cross traffic monitor, forward collision warning, and a blind spot monitor among other features. Oddly, there was no parking sensor.

Precision All-Wheel Steer improved handling while the Integrated Dynamics System and paddle shifters improved performance.2014-12-16 tlx.lic

As an added bonus, the four-cylinder improves fuel economy with an EPA estimated city/highway mpg of 24/35. I averaged 26.5 mpg.

Standard features include a moonroof, dual-zone climate control, keyless access with smart entry, heated front seats, a multiview rear camera, and push button start.

Offering one of the best bangs for the buck in its segment, pricing for the 2015 Acura TLX starts at $32,340. The as-tested pricing for the Acura TLX 2.4L Tech came to $35,920.

2015-05-03 mini3

MINI Cooper S Hardtop 4 Door

The MINI Cooper has been bringing smiles to anyone who drives it since it first crossed the pond in 2002, I mean, just look a that front fascia, it’s a cutie patootie! Many models have tried to emulate it ever since.

The Cooper S adds another dimension to this diminutive hatchback, sportiness, while the all-new 4 Door adds roominess and versatility.

The specially tuned suspension and engine give the Cooper S improved performance and acceleration.

The 2.0-liter twin turbo four-cylinder that powers the Cooper S produces 189 horses and 207 lb–ft of torque. This engine plus a six-speed manual transmission made the Cooper S exceptionally fun to drive. A six-speed automatic is available.2015-05-06 minidash

The added power, however, doesn’t come at the cost of fuel economy. The EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy is 24/34 mpg. I averaged 32 mpg. You can also choose among Mid, Green, or Sport mode for a more customized performance.

All new for 2015, the 4 Door’s oversized circular center display is now devoted to the infotainment system rather than the speedometer on previous MINIs, which just makes more sense.

Equipped with multiple packages added sport striping across the top of the car, 17-inch alloy wheels, a rearview camera, and a panoramic sunroof.

Pricing for the 2015 MINI Cooper starts at $21,550. The as-tested pricing came to $34,350.

 

2015-05-13 08.challenger

Dodge Challenger SXT

Muscle car enthusiasts heralded the return of the Dodge Challenger in 2008. The retro styling only added to the excitement.

Redesigned for 2015, Dodge decided not to mess with a good thing, opting to simply tweak the look by splitting the tail lamps and front grille.

The Challenger derives its power from a roaring 24-valve 3.6-liter V6 engine that generates 305 horses and 268 lb–ft of torque. Matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission helps push city/highway fuel economy to an estimated 19/30 mpg. I averaged 22.1 mpg.

This muscle car also offers a choice of two HEMI V8 engines, a 5.7-liter and 6.4-liter.

2015-05-13 chall.licSelecting the Sport mode can further enhance the sport suspension and ride.

With eight available trim levels, there are sportier Challenger models available, e.g. R/T, R/T Scat Pack, but even the base model that I drove reflected its performance DNA. I would pass, however, on the dull as dishwater Granite Crystal Metallic exterior paint.

Added equipment from the Sound Group ($495) and the Super Sport Group ($1,400) included 20-inch Satin Carbon Aluminum Wheels, steering wheel paddle shifters, a body color rear spoiler, and performance brakes.

Pricing for the 2015 Challenger starts at $27,990. The as-tested price came to $29,885.