Chaparro Joins Lexus Team

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May 272021
 

Latino Traffic Report (LTR) has learned that Adelmo Chaparro was named Lexus Southern vehicle operations manager where he oversees vehicle sales, distribution, marketing and product training and engagement for the 68 Lexus dealers in 11 states that his area office.

“I am excited to join the Lexus Southern Area and work closely with our team members,” says Chaparro. “It’s been an incredible journey working for Toyota and Lexus over the past 15 years, and those experiences have helped prepare me for this new role. The future is very bright for Lexus, and I look forward to working hard to support our dealerships and their continued success.”

Before joining Lexus in September, 2020, Chaparro was the MDRP at Toyota Motor North America’s (TMNA) headquarters in Plano, Texas, where he rotated through positions in Guest Experience and Retention, Demand and Supply Management, and Toyota Sales Operations. Born in Venezuela and raised in Evansville, Indiana, he has worked at TMNA since 2006.

At LTR, we applaud efforts in the auto industry to hire and promote Latinos.

LTR’s SUV Sampler

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Dec 312020
 
Toyota Highlander

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

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

Toyota Highlander Platinum AWD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyundai Santa Fe Limited 2.0T FWD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lexus RX 450hL Luxury AWD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sedan Appeal: New Models Help Sustain the Segment

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Apr 292020
 
Volvo S60

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

Toyota Avalon Hybrid XSE

Toyota Avalon Hybrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volvo S60 T6 Inscription

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

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

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

The S60’s 12.3″ digital driver display.

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

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

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

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

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

Kia K900 Luxury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lexus LS 500

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

LS 500 sliding gauge cluster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sporty by Nature

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Sep 012019
 

Daily Drives that Perform

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

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

Toyota Corolla Hatchback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mazda Miata MX-5

MX-5 Miata Thirtieth Anniversary edition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subaru Crosstrek

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lexus IS 300

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ford Edge ST

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luxury Sedan Review: 2018 Lexus ES 350

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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.

Super SUVs and CUVs for Summer Travel

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Aug 092018
 

2018 BMW X3

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

Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

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

Chevy Equinox

Chevy MyLink

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

Lexus NX 300h

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

BMW X3 xDrive30i

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

orange ambient lighting

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

Volvo XC60 T6 Inscription

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

Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium

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

Ranger Rover Sport HSE

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


Infiniti QX80 4WD

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

Toyota Land Cruiser

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

*Driving impressions based on a 2017 model.

Car Review: Lexus IS 350

 Lexus, Reviews  Comments Off on Car Review: Lexus IS 350
Jan 292018
 

The Lexus IS 350 in Wimberley, TX.

Launched in 1989, Lexus easily carved out a niche in the premium segment with its reliability and exceptional customer service. But while it was upscale, it wasn’t sexy. Sporting a new design DNA, Lexus has clearly evolved from bland to brilliant. Sitting on Rioja Red leather seats, I recently drove the Lexis IS 350 during a weeklong test for Latino Traffic Report.

For some, the new face of Lexus, led by the signature spindle grille, can be polarizing, but it definitely has fans. According to Lexus, when the second-generation IS took on the new Lexus look in 2013, it became so popular that the restyled 2017 version only involved minor adjustments to its exterior appearance.

The third generation IS originally came in three trim levels but for 2018, that was reduced to two available trim levels, the 300 (200t is now the 300) and 350 that I tested. Horsepower increases by five in 2018 across all powertrains, including the specially tuned 3.5-liter V6 on the 350 that now produces 311 horsepower and 277 lb.–ft. of peak torque and is matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It responded with instant speed, accelerating from zero to 60 miles per hour in 5.6 seconds. While all-wheel drive is available, I drove the rear-wheel-drive model with the eight-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic transmission. Additional powertrains include a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder matched to an eight speed multi-mode automatic or the 3.5-liter matched to a six-speed automatic.

A sporty car should hug the road not float above it, especially on curves, plus the steering should be tight and responsive. Lexus achieves this with the Drive Mode Select system, standard on all IS trims. This technology comes with Eco, Normal, Snow, and Sport modes to customize the ride and handling. To save gas, select Eco, but for a sportier experience, select Sport. For an additional $3,155, the test model included the F Sport package, ramping up its sportiness further with Sport S/S+ mode which I engaged for tighter handling on a curvy road on the way to Wimberley, TX.

While the IS 350 should achieve and EPA estimated fuel economy of 19 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, I averaged 21.9 mpg.

The IS also included safety features, starting with the standard Lexus Safety System+ that included advanced technology like the pre-collision warning system, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, and High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. However, I was surprised to find that the blind spot warning system was a stand-alone option for $600. At this price point it should be standard. For 2018, however, the Enform Safety and Service Connect systems are complimentary for the first ten years.

Pricing for the 2018 Lexus IS starts at $38,820. The as-tested price, including the blind spot monitor, came to $49,530.

Sí: The Lexus IS 350 embraces its sportiness, enhanced by exceptional technology plus the red leather seats were gorgeous.

No: While an affordable option, a blind spot monitor should be a standard feature on a premium brand.

Lexus Recalls Certain 2017 ES 350 Sedans

 Recalls  Comments Off on Lexus Recalls Certain 2017 ES 350 Sedans
Jul 182017
 

Latino Traffic Report has learned that Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing (Toyota)/Lexus is recalling approximately 1,760  2017 Lexus ES 350 vehicles. The right-hand side tie rod lock nut may loosen over time. If the lock nut loosens, the tie rod may separate causing a loss of steering and increasing the risk of a crash.

Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the lock nut and, if it is found loose, replace the lock nut, steering gear assembly, and tie rod assembly, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on July 17, 2017. Owners may contact Toyota customer service at 1-800-331-4331. Toyota’s number for this recall is HLC. For the most up-to-date Safety Recall information on Lexus, Toyota, and Scion customers should check their vehicle’s status by visiting http://www.toyota.com/recall and entering their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).

Owners may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

Super Sedans Improve Regular Commutes

 Features  Comments Off on Super Sedans Improve Regular Commutes
Mar 142017
 

Chevy Cruze

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

Chevy Cruze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Toyota Camry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Kia Optima

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

Optima rear view camera with multiple angles.

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

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

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

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

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

Acura ILX

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Volkswagen Passat

Passat 1.8T SE

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

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

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

Passat SEL Premium

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Audi A3

Audi A3 Sedan

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

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

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

Audi A3 Cabriolet

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

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

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

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

 

Lexus GS F

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hybrid Review: 2016 Lexus ES 300h

 Lexus, Reviews  Comments Off on Hybrid Review: 2016 Lexus ES 300h
Dec 082016
 

What Toyota began with its first hybrid, the Prius, it has taken to a whole new level with Lexus. Considered up-level models for most segments, hybrids would seem to provide a natural incentive for luxury brands to dive into the green pool. Lexus led the way in 2005 when it introduced the RX 400h. I recently drove the 2016 ES 300h, one of a family of six Lexus hybrid models, for Latino Traffic Report. As expected, it saves gas but with added style and grace.

Refreshed for 2016, the ES 300h sports a design makeover that includes a new, bolder spindle grille, built from a one-piece version and framed by a satin chrome trim. Also fully redesigned, the front fascia puts the fog lights at the corners to accentuate the wide stance.

The signature hybrid system combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine with an electric motor to generate 200 total system horsepower. It runs on an electric motor or gas engine alone, or a combination of both, depending on the driving situation. Like most hybrids, it gives the driver a real-time view of its functionality with the Hybrid System Indicator. The display can also encourage fuel-efficient driving habits.

The electronic continuously variable transmission further enhances the hybrid’s performance with a drive mode option that allows the driver to choose among four modes: Normal, Sport, Eco and EV. The hybrid does lack oomph, however, even in Sport mode.

No review of a hybrid can ignore fuel economy. The ES 300h has EPA estimated fuel economy ratings of 40 miles per gallon in the city and 39 mpg on the highway. I achieved an average fuel economy of 36.9 mpg.

The test model came well-equipped with safety features, but at a price. Most of the them were optional, starting with the Lexus Safety System+ Package ($1,015) that included the Pre-Collision System, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Intelligent High Beam, and High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

The Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert is a stand alone option and well worth the extra $500. Still, at this price point, it would be nice if more of these features were included as standard equipment. Apparently, Lexus thought so too and for 2017, the Lexus Safety System+ will be standard.

Happily Lexus Enform Safety Connect, is standard on all 2016 Lexus vehicles, with access to Lexus Enform response centers 24/7/365.

Standard creature features included a ten-way adjustable power front seat, automatic dual-zone climate control, NuLuxe perforated upholstery, a power tilt-and-slide moonroof, Smart Access door unlock with push button start, a premium audio system with a CD player, Bluetooth, and Siri Eyes-free Mode. Added options included a heated wood and leather steering wheel ($450), Intuitive Parking Assist ($500), and the nifty one touch power trunk ($400), similar to a power liftgate.

The optional navigation system ($2,650) also added an eight-inch display audio screen as well as the Lexus Enform App Suite that uses voice-enabled apps to search the Internet.

Pricing for the 2017 Lexus ES 300h starts at $42,795. The as-tested price came to 49,410.

 

Sí: The ES 300h brings Lexus premium appeal to the hybrid driving experience.

No: While offering some safety features as stand alone options makes them a little more accessible, some of them should be standard on a premium vehicle.