Sleek and Efficient

By Derek Price

The new-generation Lexus ES makes the case that “all new” doesn’t have to mean “very different.”
The 2019 version of Lexus’ pantry-staple executive sedan offers one surprise — its sleeker, bolder, and mildly polarizing design — while delivering more of what makes it perennially popular with buyers.
When a new-generation car is introduced, manufacturers often take the opportunity to choose a new direction for it. That was the case with the car I drove last week — the 2019 Kia K900 — which made the startling shift from smooth boulevard cruiser to sharp-edged sports sedan. It’s also the path Toyota chose with the newest Camry, taking it in a thrilling visual direction and offering a more heart-rate-jolting feel from the driver’s seat on certain trim levels.
The new ES, in contrast, charts a steady course.
Yes, it looks quite different, with a lower, wider and longer shape that mimics the fresh Avalon platform upon which it’s based. For a traditionally conservative car from a traditionally conservative brand, at least, the dramatic iteration of Lexus’ spindle grille injects a serious dose of adrenaline.

The Lexus ES gets a new design that keeps it true to its roots while adding a sleeker, more aggressive look than ever before.

Beyond that, the new generation takes everything that was great about the old ES and cranks the volume knob to 11.
Its ride remains smooth and silent, even more so than in the past. Its lower, wider stance improves the feel in corners, too, without sacrificing its trademark comfy highway experience.
While the most driving enjoyment would come from the revised 3.5-liter, 302-horsepower V6 engine and eight-speed transmission on the ES 350, my tester was the slower but more practical hybrid flavor.
Between its four-cylinder engine and two electric motors, the ES 300h makes a combined 215 horsepower while delivering 43 mpg in the city and 45 on the highway, according to government ratings. That’s both more powerful and more efficient than the 2018 model.
It has the comforting, smooth feel of Toyota’s contemporary hybrid system, too. This hybrid drivetrain, which uses the gasoline engine and regenerative braking to recharge its battery, is one of the most transparent and refined on the market. The transition between low-speed electric power and higher-speed gasoline power is almost imperceptible.
The interior is redesigned to add much of the driver-focused feel of its big brother, the LS. The driving position feels more natural than before, with a lower seating height and adjusted pedal and steering wheel angles that — for my average size, at least — fit like a glove.
It also implements my one complaint about the LC and LS: the awkward touchpad interface near the center armrest.
Much like laptop computers, the ES uses a sensitive touchpad that allows your finger to control functions on a digital screen. It doesn’t bother me when at a complete stop, but I never can seem to get comfortable using it while driving.
This system, Remote Touch Interface, feels fussy and too sensitive while in motion, when every bump or turn makes your finger move. I prefer simple touchscreens but might one day get used to this Lexus interface, and perhaps even grow to love it, if given enough time.

The ES joins two of Lexus top-tier models, the LS and LC, with the brand’s most driver-focused cabin. Dominated by a huge digital display, it’s meant to put all the important controls and information within convenient reach.

Other than than the goofy touchpad, the cabin is a heavenly place to spend time. All the controls and information are instantly accessible for the driver, with an easy-to-use button and knob layout that other luxury cars would be wise to imitate. And in typical Lexus fashion, its materials and construction are top-notch, with that glorious combination of supple, smooth leather, rich wood trim and granite-like solidity.
Lexus is also rolling out something new that seems to match its swept-back bodywork: an F SPORT package with a more aggressive look and feel.
Pricing starts at $39,600 for the ES 350 or $41,410 for the hybrid ES 300h. It tops out at $45,060, before options, for the Ultra Luxury hybrid trim.
The F SPORT version, with its head-turning styling and Adaptive Variable Suspension, is priced at $44,135.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Lexus ES 300h Ultra Lux ($44,960). Options: Blind spot monitor package ($1,900), wireless charger ($75) 18-inch wheels ($950), 10.2-inch HUD ($500), navigation package ($1,920), heated steering wheel package ($480), illuminated door sills ($379), carpet trunk mat ($105). Price as tested (including $1,025 destination charge): $52,294
Wheelbase: 113 in.
Length: 195.9 in.
Width: 73.4 in.
Height: 56.9 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder with hybrid electric motor (215 total system horsepower)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 43 city, 45 highway

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

Why buy it? 
A new-generation design makes it catch the eye better than ever before without sacrificing its smooth, silent, practical, comfortable demeanor.

Posted in Lexus

K900 Makes Sporty Shift

By Derek Price
The original K900 was designed to do one thing: prove Kia can build a luxury car.
Now completely redesigned for the first time ever and released as a 2019 model, the second-generation K900 is moving its goalposts.
It seems to be aiming not just for luxury, but world-class luxury. It also has made an impossible-to-miss shift to sportiness that’s a stark turnaround from the outgoing K900, a spacious, soft-riding boulevard cruiser.
Built alongside Kia’s spectacular Stinger sports sedan in Sohari, South Korea, the new K900 shares a distinctly BMW-like driving feel. That’s no surprise considering a longtime BMW alumnus and former head of the M performance division, Albert Biermann, led the development of its handling.
It shows an attention to detail and feeling of solidity over the road that’s rare outside pricey German competitors.

Kia’s top-of-the-line luxury model gets an all-new design for 2019. Built on the same assembly line as the Stinger, the K900 also now shares its exciting-to-drive mission.

And that raises the most interesting question about the K900: Will it sell?
After moving nearly 4,000 units over its first two years of production, the first-gen K900’s U.S. sales dwindled from small to nearly imperceptible. Sales totaled just 354 last year, not enough to keep it viable as a mass-market product.
German luxury buyers are, if you believe the stereotypes, decidedly brand-conscious. Part of their appeal is the badge on the hood, so it’s interesting that Kia — which also sells the Rio starting a hair over $15,000 — would aim the $59,900 K900 squarely at the pricey Germans, which is what they’re doing.
Will following BMW’s sporty-handling playbook turn that trend around? And will keeping the K900 and Stinger under the Kia banner, not spinning them off into a luxury division that can be marketed as such, work in America? There are more questions about this car than there are answers.
Many American buyers would be surprised to learn Kia even sells a full-blown luxury car in the United States, still thinking of Kia as a bargain brand from decades past. Its cousin, Hyundai, has decided to spin off luxury models under a separate brand, called Genesis, which follows the well-trod path of Toyota spinning off Lexus, Honda spinning off Acura, et al.
A week driving it has me convinced that this new K900, in everything but the badge, carries enough prestige to win over buyers from deeply established competitors.
While its sparkling handling is its top selling point — brilliantly blending silence, poise, feedback from the road and excitement in corners — its stunningly designed cabin is a close second.

Crisp, clear, fast-responding digital screens behind the steering wheel and in the center of the dash run Kia’s UVO digital interface, one of the best in the automotive industry.

Sitting in this car feels special. You’re surrounded by leather, open-pore wood, aluminum trim and well-thought-out technology, including a 12.3-inch touchscreen that runs one of the best infotainment interfaces for sale today.
In terms of technology, I actually prefer the K900 to the last $100,000-plus Lexus I drove. It comes standard with a system that lets you start the car and set the cabin temperature remotely from a smartphone or computer, for example, and emphasizes speed and simplicity over flashy graphics and fussy touchpads. To me, good design is the ultimate indulgence.
For people looking to avoid luxury-brand stereotypes, the K900 provides a fascinating mix. It’s the best Kia I’ve ever driven, by far, providing the same features and refinement as expensive German and Japanese competitors but without a whiff of their name-brand arrogance.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Kia K900 Luxury ($59,900). Options: VIP package ($4,000), . Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $64,895
Wheelbase: 122.2 in.
Length: 201.6 in.
Width: 75.4 in.
Height: 58.7 in.
Engine: 3.3-liter twin turbo V6 (365 hp, 376 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 18 city, 25 highway

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

Why buy it? 
This new-generation car has spectacular, BMW-like handling. It drives with the prestige and refinement of a German sports sedan, but at a bargain price and without the name-brand baggage.

Posted in Kia

Veloster More Dynamic

By Derek Price

Equal parts practical, fun and funky, the asymmetrical Hyundai Veloster gets an all-new design for 2019.
It returns with its same oddball layout — a long, coupe-like door on the left side and two stubby, sedan-like doors on the right — while adding a lot more satisfaction for the driver.
The driving enhancements were instantly apparent in my Veloster Turbo tester with the most powerful (for now) engine in the lineup, a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes a meaty 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque.
The high-performance Veloster N, with a ridiculous 275 horsepower and track-tuned suspension, is expected later this year.
Still, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had from the Turbo model already available at your local Hyundai dealer. It’s rewarding enough that maybe, just maybe, people shopping for a Honda Civic Si or Volkswagen GTI should give it a look, if they can put brand loyalty aside.
With a precise feeling dual-clutch transmission, ample grip in corners, firm handling and high-feedback steering, the Veloster Turbo is the kind of car that could help build loyalty among enthusiasts. It’s legit.

The Hyundai Veloster has one of the more unusual layouts of any car for sale today, with one door on the left side and two on the right.

People shopping for more practical reasons will find a lot to love about the Veloster, too, including on the base model. It comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both easy to use on the 7-inch standard display, and is powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes a respectable 147 horsepower.
Available tech upgrades include a bigger 8-inch display, satellite radio, wireless charging for smartphones in the center console and a premium Infinity sound system with a subwoofer and brains that make compressed digital music sound better.
Keeping with the times, the 2019 Veloster includes standard forward collision warning assist and lane keep assist that gently tugs the steering wheel toward the center of the lane.
My favorite thing about the Veloster, though, is what people find most polarizing about it: the unusual door layout.
On the driver’s side, the Veloster looks like a coupe, with a wide-swinging door that makes it simple for the driver to slide into the low-slung, sporty-looking car.
On the passenger side, the two narrow doors provide ease of entry to the back seat, much like a sedan. It’s a best-of-both-worlds approach that allows for the sleek, sexy look of a coupe with the kid-friendly packaging of a sedan.
Two things I wish were better are the back seat roominess and storage capacity in the rear cargo area. Both are compromised to create the Veloster’s signature, sloping look — the price you must pay to keep it from looking bulbous or boxy.

The sporty styling with narrow back windows also hurts rear visibility. Fortunately, the Veloster comes standard with a great rearview camera that uses dynamic guidelines to show where the car will be moving as you back up.

A 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard in the new-for-2019 Hyundai Veloster.

Pricing starts at $18,500 for the base model with a manual transmission, something I didn’t get to experience but think would be fantastic in a fun car like this. An automatic starts at $19,500, or $22,750 for the upmarket Premium trim.
The Turbo starts at $22,900 for the manual-transmission R-Spec — the version I’d be most tempted to buy — and ranges up to $28,150 for the Ultimate trim with the slick and quick dual-clutch transmission.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Hyundai Veloster Ultimate ($26,650). Options: 7-speed dual-clutch transmission ($1,500), carpeted floor mats ($125). Price as tested (including $920 destination charge): $29,195
Wheelbase: 104.3 in.
Length: 166.9 in.
Width: 70.9 in.
Height: 55.1 in.
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged four cylinder (201 hp, 195 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel economy: 28 city, 34 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It offers spunky styling, efficiency, practicality and outstanding driving dynamics after a total redesign for 2019.

Posted in Hyundai