Supra Gets Faster, Slower

By Derek Price

There’s a risk to building a gorgeous car: it’s got to live up to the hype.
The sexy lines of the car I’m driving this week, the new Toyota Supra, do a brilliant job hyping up what to expect as you walk toward it. The long hood, sensual roof and swept-back side profile give all the right cues to create heart palpitations in those of us who love two-seat, rear-wheel-drive sports cars.
Therein lies a problem. The Supra may look too gorgeous for its own good, at least in the new four-cylinder version I tested. My eyes saw the godlike immortality of a supercar, but my senses felt the sting of four-cylinder mortality under the hood that left me wanting more in several key areas: more power, more sound and more bang for the buck.
Fortunately, a six-cylinder Supra exists to solve all three of those issues, and it’s the one I’d recommend.
The more powerful Supra, priced from around $51,000, makes a thrilling 382 horsepower from its BMW-derived, turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine. That’s a serious boost in power over last year when buyers had to settle for a still impressive 335 horsepower.

Invoking a legendary name in the Toyota lineup, the latest Supra is one of the prettiest cars for sale today. It reinterprets the classic, low-slung sports-car shape in a contemporary way.

The four-cylinder engine in my tester, though, generates 255 horsepower with a starting price around $43,000.
Normally, as a longtime Mazda Miata owner and enthusiast, this less powerful version would be my dream Supra, one more about balance, lightness and handling than the muscle-car speed of its gaudy, six-cylinder sibling.
In its role as a tossable sports car, the four-cylinder Supra really does excel. The driving experience on winding roads borders on spiritual. Steering, braking and handling all sparkle like they should.
The cabin feels futuristic and distinctive, something unusual in the current climate of lookalike dashes dominated by tacky but practical touchscreens. It evokes a hint of the “Tron” vibe of 1980s Supras without being obnoxious.
Still, I wouldn’t buy the four-cylinder version for several reasons.
One, the brilliant Toyota 86 fulfills that same connected-to-the-road mission for considerably less money, starting around $27,000.
Two, you can’t get a Supra with a manual transmission, which I think is bonkers if you’re trying to summon the sensual pleasures of pure driving, which is the whole point of a car like this.
And three, the Supra’s gorgeous body screams of power. It looks more mean than cute, and meanness requires a minimum of 300 horsepower, according to my off-the-cuff gearhead calculus.

The Supra’s two-seat cabin feels cozy and spacious at the same time. It’s designed in a way that makes the driver and passenger feel wrapped in their own pods, but its wide stance allows enough space to avoid the cramped feeling of some competitors.

The V6, on the other hand, fits the mission of this vehicle much better. It’s numerically and emotionally the one to pick and worth every cent of its premium over the base model, as I see it.
Still, despite my puritanical sports-car ranting, it’s impressive that Toyota offers two entirely legitimate contenders in this rare and low-selling category. As much as I love them, let’s get real. Sports cars are expensive to create and tend to move off dealer lots slower than a tortoise on Ambien.
If you want a four-cylinder Toyota sports car, the 86 with a manual transmission is breathtakingly fun to drive. If you want a powerful, thrilling, exotic Toyota sports car, the six-cylinder Supra is your match.
And if you still pine for a four-cylinder Supra, at least you’ll be driving one of the prettiest cars in the world.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2021 Toyota GR Supra 2.0 ($42,990). Options: Safety and technology package ($3,485). Price as tested (including $1,045 destination charge): $47,520
Wheelbase: 97.2 in.
Length: 172.5 in.
Width: 73 in.
Height: 50.9 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder (255 hp, 295 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Style: 10
Performance: 7
Price: 5
Handling: 9
Ride: 7
Comfort: 6
Quality: 8
Overall: 7

Why buy it?
It’s a gorgeous sports car with spectacular handling. It reinvents the Supra for a new generation.

Posted in Toyota

500X Ups Its Appeal

By Derek Price
Nearly a decade ago, Fiat revived its sales in America with a car that was distinctly un-American in nature: the adorable 500.
While it was always lovable — especially in the fun-to-drive, powerful and loud Abarth version — it also never was a perfect fit for this country. As American vehicle sales tilted more strongly in favor of trucks and SUVs in ensuing years, the cute 500 fell so out of favor with buyers that Fiat decided to axe the model after 2019.
Fiat’s American lineup is now down to just three vehicles: the 124 Spider two-seat sports car based around the Mazda Miata; the roomy but bland 500L; and the brand’s best shot at success in America, the 500X crossover.
I just spent a week driving the 500X, and it’s worth a close look for people who like the styling. While the lines evoke the same huggable personality as the 500 coupe (may it rest in peace), the X offers considerably more practicality with four doors, a roomier cabin, extra cargo capacity and higher ride height.
If Americans’ choices were limited to Italian cars, the 500X would be a no-brainer. But as it is, with so many strong competitors from Japanese, Korean and domestic manufacturers, the 500X struggles to stand out for anything other than looks and gas mileage.

Fiat added a new Sport model to the 500X line for 2020. It has a distinct fascia with body-color trim and dark accents.

Fiat helps its case with the new Sport model that ups its appeal both inside and out. It has different fascias in front and back, body-color trim, dark accents and a sporty cabin, including Alcantra inserts on the seats.
Optional black paint on the roof helps the 500X Sport stand out even more. Its standard all-wheel drive, adaptive cruise control and long list of safety features add to the intrigue. It’s priced at $26,895, or about $2,000 more than the base model.
Will that be enough to help it find success in a crowded market? My week-long drive left me without a clear answer to that question.
The 500X has three strong points in its favor: the classic Italian looks, standard all-wheel drive across the lineup, and good fuel economy. A 1.3-liter turbocharged engine is the only offering, and it’s rated for 30 mpg in highway driving — phenomenal for any vehicle with traction at all four wheels.
Beyond that, it’s hard to find reasons to pick it over a slew of strong competitors.
Pricing is on the high end for a subcompact crossover — although incentives are sure to drive the out-the-door price lower — and its cabin and equipment don’t seem to justify a premium price in the same way that, say, the BMW-built Mini Cooper lineup does.

The new trim level’s interior has a sporty look with a dark headliner, new finishes and red stitching on the upholstery.

The handling is reasonably enjoyable, tuned for a mix of comfort and fun. Enthusiasts would be happier with the crisp-driving Mazda CX-3 ($20,640) or the tossable Hyundai Kona ($20,400). Neither of those prices include all-wheel drive that the 500X comes standard with, though, making the Fiat’s pricing slightly more palatable.
While its 7-inch size is starting to feel dated, the touchscreen infotainment system performs as well as any on the market. It runs Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for smartphone integration, along with satellite navigation and easy-to-use controls for the sound system.
Pricing starts at $24,590 for the Pop trim, which includes remote start and a security system. Other models include the more rugged looking Trekking ($25,995) and feature-packed Trekking Plus ($29,495).

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Fiat 500X Sport AWD ($26,895). Options: Sport leather-trimmed bucket seats ($995), premium group ($1,695), cold weather group ($295), comfort group ($795), advanced driver assistance group ($1,395), driver assistance group ($895), black painted accent roof ($445), compact spare tire ($295), UConnect 4 Nav ($695). Price as tested (including $1,495 destination charge): $35,895
Wheelbase: 101.2 in.
Length: 167.2 in.
Width: 79.7 in.
Height: 63.7 in.
Engine: 1.3-liter turbocharged four cylinder (177 hp, 210 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 24 city, 30 highway

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

Why buy it?
It has a cute European look, standard all-wheel drive and impressive fuel economy from its small turbocharged engine.
Posted in Fiat

Seltos Aims for Value

By Derek Price

Kia aims to continue its momentum in the SUV market with an all-new vehicle called the Seltos.
Slotting just above the small, square Soul in Kia’s lineup and just below the more traditional-looking Sportage, the Seltos fills an infinitesimal gap in dealer showrooms. It’s a slightly different flavor of small SUV: one that looks rugged and truck-like on the outside but drives, performs and is priced more like a compact car.
Kia is quick to point out similarities between the Seltos and the Telluride, the brand’s spectacular hit in the marketplace that’s much larger and more sophisticated. The Telluride is one of a handful of vehicles actually selling better this year than it did in 2019, despite the pandemic.
There are some resemblances between the Telluride and the Seltos, both inside and out. But if the Telluride is a home run, the Seltos is more of a solid double, as I see it.
The upright, muscular, squared-off shape is one of the similarities. The Seltos manages to successfully walk a tightrope between old-school, truck-like looks and a sleek, sporty, contemporary shape. It’s eye-catching without being off-putting.
The interior design is another. Like the Telluride, the Seltos has an easy-to-use infotainment system accessed through a large touchscreen mounted at the top center of the dash. It also has physical buttons for redundant controls, making it easy to do things like change the radio station or adjust the temperature without traversing through the digital wilderness of a touchscreen.

The Kia Seltos has some styling influence from its larger sibling, the Telluride. This new-for-2021 vehicle intends to deliver a good value to SUV shoppers.

Unfortunately, that’s where the similarities stop.
Kia says the Seltos’ “on-road experience harkens to Telluride levels of refinement,” but that’s a gross exaggeration. The bigger, pricier Kia SUV legitimately drives like an expensive luxury SUV, which is why it’s selling briskly even in the toughest new-car market in more than a decade.
The Seltos drives more like a competent small to mid-size car. The experience is above average, especially with the 175-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbocharged engine upgrade that’s paired with a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission, but it’s not luxury-car smooth.
If you like a responsive drivetrain in a small SUV, this is one of the best. If you like fast acceleration, though, it feels merely adequate, not quite matching the body’s muscular looks.
The base engine — a naturally aspirated, 146-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder mated to a continuously variable transmission — is slower. Fuel economy is rated at 29 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway.
Still, the engine I’d pick is the turbo. Even with all-wheel drive, it manages to hit 30 mpg on the highway, according to government testing. That’s a good balance of efficiency, speed and practicality.
The Seltos also aims to deliver impressive bang for the buck, and you can see that in the equipment included at every price point. With all the goodies added, it tops out around $30,000. It starts under $22,000 for bargain hunters, but I actually think the higher-end trims are the better deal. It packs a lot of content per dollar.

The Seltos’ modern interior is punctuated by a large touchscreen mounted above the center stack. Kia’s infotainment system is impressively easy to use.

Some examples are the eight-speaker Bose sound system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless charging for your smartphone, and a long list of active safety features. It can apply the brakes to discourage you from hitting another car in your blind spot, for example, and use sensors to follow lanes and adjust with the speed of traffic. Its semi-autonomous driving system is one of the most refined I’ve driven in an affordable vehicle.
Pricing starts at $21,990 for the S grade with front-wheel drive or the more stripped-down LX grade with all-wheel drive. It’s your choice for the same price.
The EX trim hits the sweet spot of the market at $25,290 with a long list of included equipment. To get the best engine, though — the 1.6 turbo — pricing starts at $25,490 for the S model and tops out at $27,890 for the more fully equipped SX.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo AWD ($27,890). Options: Premium paint ($345), carpeted floor mats ($130). Price as tested (including $1,120 destination charge): $29,485
Wheelbase: 103.5 in.
Length: 172 in.
Width: 70.9 in.
Height: 64.2 in.
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged four cylinder (175 hp, 195 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel economy: 25 city, 30 highway

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

Why buy it?
It has an ideal mixture of rugged looks, desirable equipment and affordable pricing. Its optional seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission gives it a responsive driving feel.

Posted in Kia