Competent in Every Way

By Derek Price

With so many competent mid-size crossovers for sale today, it’s easy to overlook this one, the Hyundai Santa Fe.
Ignoring it would be a mistake.
This isn’t a flashy, in-your-face vehicle that demands attention. You’re not likely to see it on the cover of car magazines, but it’s still one of the best vehicles in its class for a simple reason: it has no weaknesses.
To me, the Santa Fe feels like a 1990s Toyota, and I mean that in the best possible way. It stands out not for any one attribute — its styling, performance, gas mileage and spaciousness are all decent — but because it doesn’t have a single unforgivable weakness.
For many American families, it checks off all the right boxes: affordable, practical, efficient, comfortable and good-looking.

The Hyundai Santa Fe is one of the strongest all-around competitors in the hot mid-size crossover segment. It checks the right boxes for many American families.

Introduced as a completely new model for 2019, the 2020 version continues with a few tweaks. There are some new safety features available, including Blind-View Monitor and Rear Occupant Alert that draws attention when a child or pet could have accidentally been left in the back seat. Dark chrome exterior trim is now standard on all the Limited models, and some safety and tech features are now available on more trim levels.
Beyond that, the Santa Fe continues as its consistently competent self.
The 2019 redesign gave it a sharper body with sleeker lines and slim, modern-looking headlights, but the overall appearance is understated. It’s handsome, just not a vehicle you’d buy to turn heads.
If you want to get extremely picky, the performance is underwhelming with the base engine. It makes 185 horsepower, which is enough for the class but hardly exciting.
If you want a more thrilling feel from the gas pedal, a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is available. It makes 235 horsepower and — even more importantly — 260 pound-feet of torque for drivers who want the extra oomph.
The base engine is rated for 22 miles per gallon in city driving and 29 on the highway, which is good but not best-in-class. The turbo engine burns more fuel but not unreasonably so for the amount of power it generates, dropping the ratings down to 20 city and 25 highway.
All-wheel drive is available for people who appreciate the extra traction in icy or wet weather. It drops the fuel-economy ratings by 1 mpg on most models, not a bad tradeoff at all.

A complete redesign for 2019 gave the Santa Fe one of the nicest cabins in its highly competitive class. For 2020, more safety features are available, including the Blind-View Monitor.

As a small SUV-like vehicle, it’s also designed to do some towing. With the base engine, it can tow up to 2,000 pounds, or up to 3,500 on the turbo model.
Its real strength, though, is how it drives. The new generation Santa Fe is exceptionally quiet for the money, feeling just as smooth and well sorted on the highway as some luxury-brand competitors. An eight-speed automatic transmission makes crisp, well-timed shifts, and what little engine noise enters the cabin is buttery and inoffensive.
Pricing starts at $25,900 for the base SE trim with the 2.4-liter engine and front-wheel drive. The mid-trim SEL starts at $27,650, while the luxury-oriented Limited starts at $35,650.
The most affordable turbocharged model is the SEL with Convenience and Premium packages, priced at $34,500.
Pricing tops out at $39,200 for the Limited with all-wheel drive and the turbocharged engine.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited ($35,650). Options: Carpeted floor mats ($135). Price as tested (including $1,095 destination charge): $36,880
Wheelbase: 108.9 in.
Length: 187.8 in.
Width: 74.4 in.
Height: 66.1 in.
Engine: 2.4-liter four cylinder (185 hp, 178 lbs. ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 22 city, 29 highway

Style: 7
Performance: 6
Price: 9
Handling: 8
Ride: 8
Comfort: 7
Quality: 8
Overall: 8

Why buy it? 
It’s a safe choice in mid-size crossovers, with an all-around appeal that delivers a lot of practicality and comfort for the money.

Posted in Hyundai

In LX, Less is More

By Derek Price
For an over-the-top vehicle whose sole purpose seems to be offering “more,” the most noteworthy recent change for the Lexus LX is intriguing.
It’s offering less, specifically in the number of seats inside.
Lexus is now selling its gigantic, thirsty and pricey LX 570 SUV with only two rows of seating. Buyers can delete the third row if they want extra space for cargo instead of extra passengers.
The change makes sense for people who use their LX as a land yacht for long road trips, a task for which it’s perfectly suited despite its guise as an off-road machine.
Yes, it has crawl control, low-range gearing, customizable traction settings for different terrain, a stratospheric ride height and stout, truck-like frame, but I still can’t imagine too many people spending close to $90,000 for an SUV they plan to beat up on remote trails.
The appeal of Lexus’ biggest SUV — and close cousin to the legendary Toyota Land Cruiser — isn’t that you will climb the Rocky Mountains in it. It’s that you could if you wanted.
I spent a week driving the two-row LX, and the missing third-row seat had an odd way of making it feel more luxurious. Without the back seat hogging space, the rear cargo area feels big enough to park my Miata inside.
With all the seats in position, the two-row LX offers more than triple the cargo volume of the three-row version: 53.7 cubic feet compared to 16.3. It’s enough to hold massive amounts of luggage for lengthy road trips or, if you believe its off-road aspirations, several weeks worth of provisions in the wilderness.

The Lexus LX combines incredible off-road capability with a comfortable, silent, amenity-filled cabin. Its ability to tackle brutal trails in supreme comfort is rare.

While the LX is clearly aging — its naturally aspirated V8 engine stands out as a relic in a world of turbochargers, and its cabin lacks the pizazz of overwhelming digital screens and museum-quality trim in the brand’s newest cars — it retains a sense of rugged beauty that seems fitting for Lexus’ flagship SUV.
It’s also fitted with enough leather, wood and creature comforts to justify its steep price. An optional cool box in the center console keeps beverages chilled, while ambient lighting, including an “LX” logo projected onto the ground, makes it feel cool and sophisticated at night.
Its 5.7-liter, 383-horsepower V8 engine is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission to deliver effortless speed in the huge, heavy vehicle. It’s also rated to tow up to 7,000 pounds.
The drivetrain is a perfect fit for the LX. It has a smooth, buttery feel and never seems strained, even under heavy uphill acceleration. It’s proof of the old saying about big engines: there is no replacement for displacement.

The LX’s sheer size makes it feel opulent inside. Soft leather and warm, unusually detailed wood trim choices add to the luxurious atmosphere.

Buyers who don’t flinch at its $85,830 base price should be fine with its 13-mpg rating for city fuel economy. I find it hard to wrap my head around both those numbers, but I’m also clearly not in the demographic shopping for one, either.
Other competitors in this rarified segment include the Mercedes-Benz GLS ($75,200), Lincoln Navigator ($75,825), Cadillac Escalade ($75,195), Infiniti QX80 ($65,500) and — perhaps its most direct challenger — the Range Rover ($90,900).
The Lexus product stands out not just for its off-road capability, which is real and formidable, but also its reputation for reliability.
For people who want the three-row LX with seating for eight, pricing starts at $91,230.

At A Glance
What was tested? 2019 Lexus LX 570 ($85,830). Options: 21-inch wheels ($745), luxury package ($1,190), hated walnut steering wheel ($150). Price as tested (including $1,025 destination charge): $88,940
Wheelbase: 112.2 in.
Length: 200 in.
Width: 78 in.
Height: 75.2 in.
Engine: 5.7-liter V8 (383 hp, 403 lbs. ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 13 city, 18 highway

Style: 8
Performance: 9
Price: 4
Handling: 5
Ride: 6
Comfort: 9
Quality: 9
Overall: 8

Why buy it? 
It’s an iron fist in a velvet glove, offering serious off-road capability under a veneer of creature comforts and luxurious materials. With the third-row seat deleted, the cargo space is downright cavernous.


Posted in Lexus

Such Sweet Sorrow

By Derek Price

Although I was born in 1980, a full 42 years after the first Volkswagen rolled off the assembly line in Nazi Germany, I can’t help but feel a twinge of nostalgia as I write this.
It’s the end of the line for the Volkswagen Beetle.
After more than 80 years of production, one of the world’s most distinctive and memorable cars is about to disappear.
Like many contemporary small cars, the compact, two-door Beetle is falling victim to changing times. Spacious, family-friendly SUVs and crossovers are in style, and fun-to-drive compact cars are out, including adorably quirky ones like this.
The fact that the Beetle lasted this long is remarkable. The original Type 1 Beetle — the one kids call a “slug bug” when it drives by with its buzzy, air-cooled engine perched over the rear axle — resulted in 21 million sales before it finally ceased production in 2003.
The replacement New Beetle, with its more conventional water-cooled, front-engine layout and familiar bubble shape, had a remarkably good two-decade run of its own starting in 1999.

The Volkswagen Beetle is saying goodbye with a Final Edition for 2019. Despite its long history of fun, eyebrow-raising special editions, this one is remarkably understated.

All good things must end, though, which is how I find myself behind the wheel of a Beetle called the Final Edition.
For a car with a long history of fun and goofy special editions, from the striped GSR to the more recent version with pink paint and a hashtag for its name — #pinkbeetle — Volkswagen easily could have done something outlandish for this car’s last hurrah.
Instead, the changes are minimal and tasteful.
There’s a script “Beetle” badge where the “Turbo” normally goes on the go-fast models, plus 18-inch wheels and a nice level of standard equipment, including a punchy Fender-branded sound system.
The real selling point, though, is something a badge can’t convey: a sense of nostalgia for millions of people who have memories of VW bugs.
I loaded a hippie-tinged playlist while putting the top down on my convertible tester, remembering all the times a Beetle has played a role in my life.
I remembered driving several New Beetle testers through the years, each one putting a smile on my face as those same ‘60s tunes blared on the sound system.
I remembered teaching my teenage girl to drive a manual transmission in a Beetle.
I remembered the time my friend David was driving in front of me in his old, beloved, rust-red Beetle and swerved to miss a dog in the road, then rolled the car into a ditch right in front of me in the late 1990s. He climbed out of the wreckage and yelled, “My MiniDisc player didn’t skip!”

The Beetle Convertible looks almost as distinctive inside as it does outside, with colorful dash panels and a top that can lower at the touch of a button.

While my entire life represents just a sliver of this car’s long history, I still have enough emotional baggage around it to feel slightly teary-eyed while driving the Final Edition.
Yes, the reasons its sales have tapered off are all obvious. The cabin feels a bit cheap and dated. The back seat can seem small and annoying to access. Its powertrain isn’t as miserly as hybrids or forward-looking as electric cars.
The Beetle has always had its flaws, ever since Ferdinand Porsche first drew its curvaceous lines during World War II. Despite its flaws, though, it’s a car that always seemed to persist and even thrive, just like the best people I know.
And just like when good people leave us, the lingering memories that sting also have the power to soothe.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Volkswagen Beetle Final Edition SE ($27,295). Options: Premium package ($2,500). Price as tested (including $895 destination charge): $30,690
Wheelbase: 100.1 in.
Length: 168.8 in.
Width: 71.9 in.
Height: 58 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (174 hp, 184 lbs. ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy: 26 city, 33 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 6
Price: 7
Handling: 7
Ride: 6
Comfort: 6
Quality: 5
Overall: 6

Why buy it?
It’s your last chance to buy a brand-new Beetle at a Volkswagen dealer. This classic VW still turns heads and inspires smiles with its fun, quirky, distinctive design.

Posted in Volkswagen