Bang for the Buck

By Derek Price

With the average price of a new vehicle climbing to around $37,000 last year, it’s not easy to find above-average fun for below-average cost.
That’s exactly what the Honda Civic Si is all about.
Priced at $24,300, the Si is no longer the fastest and most exciting Civic for sale. That crown was passed to the Civic Type R last year, which at $35,700 and 306 horsepower is the most thrilling compact car I’ve ever driven.
Other than the monumental horsepower, though, the Si delivers most of the same thrills for 32 percent less money.
Its engine is still overkill for a small, lightweight car, making 205 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque in a free-revving festival of fun. Its blistering sound and instant response practically beg you to hit its 6,500-RPM redline every chance you can get.
More importantly, it delivers sensations that let you feel every ounce of its performance.
It starts with a smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission, the only way I’d want to outfit this car. With a short throw and terrific mechanical feedback to the palm, it gives the driver a spiritual connection to the machine that no automatic can match.
A limited-slip differential, communicative steering, taut suspension and adaptive damper system all combine for a rewarding experience on winding roads.
This car gets several minor but notable improvements for 2019.

The Honda Civic Si, shown here in two-door Coupe form, is fast, fun and eye-catching with a reasonable starting price of $24,300.

Inside, it benefits from a revised display audio system with a volume knob and physical buttons for some key functions — a huge improvement over the touchscreen-only interface with no volume knob that plagued previous model years.
It also gets bigger cup holders, new steering wheel buttons, a revised switch for the electronic parking brake and real buttons to set the fan speed. The changes make it simpler and more intuitive to use.
Just like in past sport-tuned Civics, the seats offer deep side bolstering to hold you in place side-to-side. I found them supportive but not uncomfortable.
The Civic Si’s touchscreen responds quickly to inputs. It comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, making it stupid-simple to take advantage of smartphone technology while driving.
I also liked the customizable display behind the steering wheel. A G-force gauge and turbo boost meter add to the fun.
Red stitching on the steering wheel, seats and various soft trim pieces helps the Si feel special. I also liked the aluminum pedals and shift knob, even if it got searing-hot in the summertime Texas sun.

The Civic Si gets several upgrades in the cabin this year, including a display audio system with physical buttons and a real volume knob that’s simpler to use.

New colors include Platinum White Pearl and Tonic Yellow Pearl which is only available on the coupe. Be warned: the new yellow seems bright enough to burn your retina. It made my coupe tester feel obnoxiously conspicuous, like I was driving a safety vest, but also seemed to fit this car’s sporty, youthful, outgoing nature.
I like the look of the current Civic, especially in its exciting Si and Type R versions. It’s sleek and angular, with undulating character lines that keep it from looking too blocky.
In back, a center-mounted exhaust looks like it came from a video game, while 18-inch wheels and glossy black trim complete the sinister, aggressive package.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Honda Civic Si Two-Door ($24,300). Options: None. Price as tested (including $920 destination charge): $25,220
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 177.4 in.
Width: 70.8 in.
Height: 54.7 in.
Engine: 1.5-liter turbocharged four cylinder (205 hp, 192 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy: 28 city, 38 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 9
Price: 10
Handling: 10
Ride: 6
Comfort: 6
Quality: 8
Overall: 9

Why buy it? 
It’s a terrific amount of fun, performance and style for a reasonable price.

Posted in Honda

New Mazda3 Impresses

By Derek Price

If I made a checklist of what every car company should do to boost their sedan sales at a time of crossover-vehicle mania, it would look something like this:
“Give it a gorgeous cabin covered in soft-touch materials. Install a smartphone interface that’s incredibly easy to use. Pen it a sexy body. And to woo those crossover buyers, make it get noticeably better gas mileage than a similar sized CUV — plus offer it with all-wheel drive.”
The completely redesigned Mazda3 checks off all those boxes and more. It’s exactly what I think car manufacturers should be doing if they want to win a bigger piece of the shrinking four-door-sedan pie.
It starts with attacking competitors at their weakest points: styling and handling.
To my eyes, most of today’s sedans either look bland or ugly, with cookie-cutter shapes and “bold” grilles that seem more ridiculous than attractive. It’s no surprise when buyers pass them up for an equally dull CUV.
Mazda went a different direction with the new 3. The grille opening is sleek and low, a nice departure from the gaping maw that’s more common on new cars these days.

The Mazda3 gets an all-new design for 2019 that looks sleek and modern. It’s available with all-wheel drive for the first time this year.

While the sedan looks tastefully understated, like it could easily pass muster in a luxury showroom, it’s the hatchback that tugs at my heartstrings. Its low-slung, classically proportioned body reminds me of the Alfa Romeo GTV from the 1970s and the Volkswagen Scirocco from the 1980s, both hatchbacks that have aged well for the same reasons as this new Mazda3 hatch. Good style is timeless.
Its handling also stands out from the crowd. Communicative brake, suspension and steering tuning work in concert to make this car fun and rewarding in corners, a hallmark of the Mazda brand.
Inside, the new cabin is striking for its sophistication. Maybe it was the unusual choice of an impractical but beautiful color for the interior trim — white — but I thought the minimalist look of my tester’s cabin was the most original and beautiful design since I drove the BMW i3 electric car a few years ago.
On the downside, its climate control vents are noisy at high blower settings, probably due to their small size to fit the design aesthetic.
Technology in the new cabin is thoughtfully designed for ease of use. The 3 makes use of Mazda’s first 8.8-inch infotainment screen, which will soon be rolled out in other models. It’s mounted high on the dash for easy visibility for the driver, but more importantly, it’s controlled through a simple rotary dial on the center console. It’s comfortable, reliable, fast and intuitive — a lesson many other brands, and most luxury cars, haven’t quite mastered yet.
Also standard is a 7-inch reconfigurable display behind the steering wheel, LED headlights and taillights, two USB audio inputs, push-button ignition, knee airbags and Bluetooth phone pairing.

The 2019 Mazda3’s cabin design matches its contemporary body. White soft-touch trim seems especially modern and forward-looking.

A suite of active safety features, including blind spot monitoring, radar cruise control and lane-keep assist, comes standard as well.
All 2019 Mazdas are powered by the four-cylinder, 2.5-liter SKYACTIV-G engine that makes 186 horsepower. Most buyers will opt for a six-speed automatic transmission, but Mazda heroically offers a manual shifter on this car, too.
Fuel economy is rated at 27 mpg in the city and 36 on the highway.
Interestingly, Mazda’s revolutionary SKYACTIV-X engine is not available in the United States yet.
Pricing starts at $21,000 for the sedan and $23,600 for the hatchback. It tops out at $28,900 for a Premium hatchback with all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission, or $1,000 less for the sedan.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Mazda3 Sedan with Premium Package ($26,500). Options: Snowflake white paint ($200). Price as tested (including $895 destination charge): $27,595
Wheelbase: 107.3 in.
Length: 183.5 in.
Width: 70.7 in.
Height: 56.9 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder (186 hp, 186 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 27 city, 36 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It’s gorgeous to look at, engaging to drive and efficient. All-wheel-drive boosts confidence on slick roads.

Posted in Mazda

Passport Returns

By Derek Price

After a long absence, the Honda Passport is back as an all-new 2019 model.
While it comes with some styling differences — including black wheels and wheel arches, along with a sinister grille and smoky headlights — the new two-row Passport is essentially a shorter version of the three-row Pilot.
Assuming you don’t need the passenger capacity from the Pilot’s third row of seating, the Passport gets some key advantages that make it one of the best SUVs in its class.
For starters, because it comes with the same 3.5-liter, 280-horsepower V6 engine as the Pilot — but with less weight to lug around — the Passport is ridiculously quick. It feels wonderfully fast when you stomp on the gas pedal, making it feel more competent merging into freeway traffic than its many less powerful, four-cylinder competitors.
It also comes with the look, feel and practicality of a legitimate SUV.

The Honda Passport returns with an all-new design that borrows heavily from the bigger Pilot this year. Blacked-out trim and wheels hint at its off-road capability.

Inside, it’s luxuriously spacious. Not only do all five seats feel roomy and comfortable, if a bit firmly cushioned, but there are storage spaces hidden in every conceivable nook and cranny, a typical Honda trait. There are storage spots in the doors, in front of the gear selector and in a massive center console with a rolling lid.
Like the Pilot, the Passport can do some meaningful off-roading when called upon. It rides slightly higher than the Pilot, giving it more than eight inches of ground clearance along with approach and departure angles of 21.4 and 27.6. That means it’s designed for adventures, not just mildly rough dirt roads.
Its ride is comfortable on pavement, though, offering a soft, compliant feel that seems tailored more for highway cruising than crawling up trails.
The Passport’s cargo area is more like a mobile storage unit, with 41.2 cubic feet of volume to haul your stuff. If that’s not enough, there’s an additional storage area hidden under the floor.
The second row can also food flat, creating a total of 77.9 cubic feet, or enough to easily fit a bicycle.

The 2019 Honda Passport has a fresh, modern cabin with up-to-date technology available, including wireless phone charging, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

While other off-road-capable SUVs are showing their age in the cabin, the all-new Passport is fresh and modern. Soft materials, rock-solid construction and today’s best tech features are all available, including wireless phone charing, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The base Sport trim comes with a 5-inch display, while EX-L, Touring and Elite trims get a bigger 8-inch touchscreen on the center stack.
A 7-inch gauge cluster display offers an array of information directly in front of the driver — from phone calls and song details to maps and turn-by-turn directions — all easily accessible through buttons on the steering wheel. It’s one of the most intuitive such systems I’ve ever encountered.
Pricing starts at $31,990 for the two-wheel-drive Sport and ranges up to $43,680 for the Elite luxury trim, which comes standard with all-wheel drive.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Honda Passport AWD Elite ($43,680). Options: None. Price as tested (including $1,045 destination charge): $44,725
Wheelbase: 111 in.
Length: 190.5 in.
Width: 78.6 in.
Height: 72.2 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (280 hp, 262 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 19 city, 24 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 9
Price: 8
Handling: 7
Ride: 9
Comfort: 9
Quality: 10
Overall: 9

Why buy it? 
It combines Honda reputation and practicality with all the best attributes of legitimate SUVs: roomy seating, ample cargo space and off-road adventure capability.

Posted in Honda