Art in Motion

By Derek Price

Cynics say creativity in the car industry is dead.
Whether because of strict safety regulations, the scourge of consumer focus groups or fear of critical backlash, today’s cars look more alike than ever before.
At least one car, though, has managed to escape the cycle of visual plagiarism: the Lexus LC.
While it’s expensive, with a starting price just under $93,000, it justifies that price as a piece of rolling artwork. It’s also more useful than the duct-taped banana that just sold for $120,000 at Art Basel in Miami.
The fact that the sleek, modern LC exists in a world of lookalike cars is surprising. That it came from Lexus — perhaps the most conservative, focus-group-led brand on the planet until recently — is even more remarkable and proof that, no matter the excuses, originality is still possible if the manufacturer has enough courage.
Make no mistake, it took guts to create this car.
Aside from the bold design choices — the headlights with their giant drooping tear ducts, the massive “spindle” grille that cascades down until it’s just barely above the pavement, the slits and flourishes that adorn its timeless sports-coupe shape — the LC also makes some serious concessions to practicality.

The Lexus LC sports coupe is one of the most beautiful and unusual cars for sale today. Its sleek body hides something rare these days: a naturally aspirated V8 engine.

The back seat is tiny with limited head room, making this realistically a two-seater. The front fascia extends so close to the ground that it feels at risk of scraping every pothole and speed bump. These are things that would make left-brained focus groups cringe, but a right-brained designer said, “So what?”
The result is a car that’s as drop-dead gorgeous as anything built in the last 20 years.
There’s no question it turns heads and is, to my eyes at least, absolutely beautiful. Whether the influence is real or imagined, it seems to have inherited the spirit of Constantin Brancusi’s “Bird in Space,” right down to the sweeping shape of its door handles. Just as that sculpture helped usher in the age of abstraction in the 1920s, the LC’s shape seems to be heralding a new era, bridging the gap to whatever comes next.
Making the driving experience match the spaceship looks is a challenge, and it’s interesting that Lexus picked a rather old-school engine — a naturally aspirated V8 — to power its most futuristic car. The contrast is ironic but also feels right, again linking the old to the new.
The 5.0-liter engine rumbles and roars as it sends 471 horsepower to the rear wheels, just as God intended.

The LC’s cabin is laid out in the classic two-plus-two format, combining spacious, comfortable front seats with a smaller back seat usable in a pinch.

It also does a spectacular job splitting its personalities between an intense sports-car mode and a more comfortable, smooth and relaxing comfort mode.
Changes for the latest car help deliver that breadth. The transmission shifts have been tweaked so they’re smoother at partial throttle and quicker — almost violently so — when you mash the gas pedal onto the floorboard.
The adaptive suspension also was changed to offer a wider range of responsiveness, making the switch in firmness between its softest and hardest settings more obvious.
The end result is a car with delightfully split personalities. It’s quiet, polite and refined when you want it to be, then goes wild when you turn a knob and put it in Sport+ mode.
Pricing starts at $92,950 for the V8-powered LC 500 or $97,460 for the hybrid version. If you want a drop-top version, Lexus recently announced that an LC convertible will be coming in 2021.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Lexus LC 500 ($92,950). Options: Flare yellow paint ($595), sport package with carbon roof ($2,960). Price as tested (including $1,025 destination charge): $97,530
Wheelbase: 113 in.
Length: 187.4 in.
Width: 75.6 in.
Height: 53 in.
Engine: 5.0-liter V8 (471 hp, 398 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 16 city, 26 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It’s fast, sophisticated and stunningly beautiful. It has the look and feel of an exotic car with the reliable reputation of a Lexus.

Posted in Lexus

Traction Without Penalties

By Derek Price
All-wheel-drive cars are great for getting you to your destination in all kinds of weather conditions, but they’re not so great on gas mileage.
Toyota is trying to change that with the introduction of an all-wheel-drive version of the Prius hybrid.
The federal government rates the new, all-weather Prius — called the AWD-e — at 52 mpg in city driving and 48 on the highway. While that’s a 2 mpg penalty compared to the ordinary, front-wheel-drive Prius, it’s also dramatically better than most other  cars that send power to all four wheels.
The Prius joins a chorus of sedans that are making AWD versions available this year, presumably because of the dramatic consumer shift toward crossover vehicles. Selling a sedan with better traction gives buyers one less reason to dump the traditional American family car for a brawny SUV.

The Toyota Prius’ familiar shape covers something new: an all-wheel-drive system that delivers better traction in rainy or icy weather.

In places where snow, rain and ice are common, AWD vehicles can be big sellers. That’s why there’s a newly available AWD version of the Mazda3 (33 highway mpg) and Nissan Altima (36 highway mpg), for example. And Subaru has been capitalizing on the benefits of all-wheel traction for years, leading to immense popularity in New England and the Pacific Northwest.
The new Prius is a good fit for people who need go-anywhere capability without the Earth-hating stigma and added fuel expense of an SUV.
Assuming you can look past its unusual styling, both inside and out, the current Prius is fairly mundane to drive. It wears its environmentalism on its sleeve with the classic hybrid shape and very digital-focused cabin, but it feels very similar to a normal gas-powered vehicle from the driver’s seat.
The ride is comfy and seating reasonably spacious, something that still surprises me every time I open the door and realize how big it is compared to how it looks in pictures.
The same thing applies to its cargo area. The Prius offers 27.4 cubic feet of volume in back, which compares favorably with a lot of small crossovers and SUVs. Fold the seats down, and a whopping 65.5 cubic feet is available for hauling stuff — again, a remarkable number for a car that looks small in pictures.
While the AWD-e version is the biggest and most surprising change, Toyota made several revisions to the Prius for the 2019 model year.

The Prius’ cabin is impressively roomy for both passengers and cargo capacity. It feels bigger than it looks in pictures.

It looks slightly different, for starters. It has a new look in front and back, including an all-new front bumper and a fresh style for its headlights and taillights. Inside, there are two more USB ports, a bigger wireless charging station for cell phones and a standard heated steering wheel on its higher-end trims.
The trim levels are changing, too, to fit in with the more typical Toyota naming scheme. Gone are the numeric trims for the Prius, replaced by the ascending L, LE, XLE and Limited grades that Toyota buyers already know.
It also comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense-P, a package that includes radar cruise control, steering assist to keep you centered in the lane, pedestrian detection and automatic high beams.
Pricing starts at $23,770 for the front-wheel-drive L Eco grade and climbs to $28,820 for the all-wheel-drive XLE loaded with luxury and convenience features. The fancy Limited grade, only available in front-wheel drive, tops the lineup at $32,200.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e Hybrid  ($28,820). Options: Advanced technology package ($800). Price as tested (including $930 destination charge): $30,550
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 180 in.
Width: 69.3 in.
Height: 58.1 in.
Powertrain: 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motors (121 combined system horsepower)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 52 city, 48 highway

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

Why buy it?
It remains one of the most fuel-efficient cars on the road, even when you opt for the extra traction of all-wheel drive.
Posted in Toyota

Logic Plus Emotion

By Derek Price

For people who need a new compact crossover for logical reasons but still want some emotional appeal, the Hyundai Kona checks the right boxes.
As an all-new vehicle introduced last year, the Kona satisfies all the boring, left-brain needs of car shoppers. It offers a terrific warranty, for example, for five years or 60,000 miles on the whole car and a decade or 100,000 miles on the powertrain.
It has a roomy cabin, especially in the front seats, and a more-than-reasonable 19.2 cubic feet of cargo volume in back. It also sips gas like a compact car, federally rated for 27 mpg in city driving snd 33 on the highway.
Where the Kona stands out, though, is not in the needs it satisfies, but the wants.
It looks better than most crossovers to my eyes, especially up front with its swept-back headlights and hood that seems unusually long and sleek for its class.
The Kona can come equipped with today’s newest safety and semi-autonomous-driving features such as Lane Keeping Assist, blind spot warnings and systems that can avoid accidents and sense pedestrians.
It also comes standard with a seven-inch “floating” touchscreen on the center of the dash, including both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity to keep your smartphone connected.

The Hyundai Kona looks sleeker than many of its crossover competitors, especially up front with its elongated headlights and large grille.

Its driving dynamics, while not exactly sports-sedan-like, still feel like a cut above most of its compact crossover competitors. It rides on an all-new platform designed not just to maximize interior space but to deliver enjoyable handling characteristics.
Its underfloor layout packages the all-wheel-drive and exhaust components in a way that reduces the intrusion of a central tunnel into occupant space, something that really makes a difference. The same thing applies to its rear suspension design, which is tucked down low to create the most back seat and cargo volume possible.
My tester was not the most fun-to-drive Kona. Its naturally aspirated, 2.0-liter engine and 17-inch wheels combined to make it feel surefooted and reasonably quick, but not as enjoyable as ones with the more driver-focused powertrain: a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine coupled to a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission.
Throw in some 18-inch wheels, and the turbocharged Kona — like the one I drove last year — feels dramatically more connected to the road and responsive than the 2.0-liter version. It’s a stunning difference, but not all drivers will need or even appreciate it.

Technology is easy to access in the Kona’s cabin. A seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto comes standard.

There were no substantial changes made, or needed, for 2019. It still feels very competent amid an ocean of well-engineered, heavily marketed crossover competitors.
One notable omission: the 2018 and 2019 Kona do not offer radar cruise control, an increasingly common feature even on compact cars. Hyundai will fix this starting in the 2020 model year with its newly developed Smart Cruise Control system, which uses radar sensors to maintain a set distance from the vehicle in front of you.
Pricing for the 2019 Kona starts just under $20,000. The turbocharged version starts at $25,550 with the front-wheel drive, or an additional $1,400 with all-wheel drive.
The lineup tops out with the special, well-equipped Iron Man edition at $31,950 including AWD and the turbocharged powertrain.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Hyundai Kona SEl AWD ($23,200). Options: Tech package ($1,600), carpeted floor mats ($125). Price as tested (including $1,045 destination charge): $25,970
Wheelbase: 102.4 in.
Length: 164 in.
Width: 70.9 in.
Height: 61 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder (147 hp, 132 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 25 city, 30 highway

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

Why buy it?
The Kona offers more style and driver-focused appeal than the average crossover, with a choice of two efficient powertrains. Its standard tech features are impressive for the price.

Posted in Hyundai