Making a Statement

By Derek Price

Volvo has spent the last few years releasing an onslaught of vehicles for people who want a full-blown, design-driven luxury experience, not only the most safety gadgets.
Perhaps no Volvo represents this shift in product philosophy more than this one, its S90 flagship sedan.
Yes, the spacious, solid-feeling S90 is available with the kinds of mind-bending safety tech on which this brand has long hung its hat. It has automatic braking and collision avoidance capability. If it senses you’re going to leave the roadway, it can take over the steering wheel to keep you on pavement.
It has the best self-driving capability of any car today, outside of Tesla and one expensive Cadillac model. It even has sensors that — I’m not kidding — will detect a moose in the road.
But my biggest impression after driving the S90 isn’t centered around the moose-sensing, life-saving safety gizmos. To me, the current S90 is more about the statement it makes through elegant design and the serene presence it creates as you drive it, two things that have eluded Volvo’s cars until recently.

The Volvo S90 has a sleek roofline and narrow grille that emphasizes its width, something very different from the trend of gaping noses on today’s luxury cars.

Few large sedans are as visually striking as this one, owing both to a conservative design backlash following the 2008 market crash and the luxury segment’s habit of playing “follow the Germans.”
To be fair, the S90 tries to emulate the best attributes of the big-boy German sedans. Its bank-vault cabin approaches the silence and peace of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and its grippy all-wheel-drive handling seems inspired by the sparkling high-end BMWs.
Stylistically, though, it’s speaking its own language.
This is a car that while surprisingly large and high — including an extended-wheelbase version this year — looks sleek, low-slung and almost coupe-like.
Its front end has a wide, narrow grille that draws your eye horizontally, something very different from most contemporary luxury cars. Gaping, garish, almost comically huge grilles seem to be in fashion right now, but the Volvo stands apart with its sleeker, more pencil-tipped nose.
Inside, it gets even better.
I’m not sure where Volvo finds their interior designers, but they’re doing some of the best work on the planet right now. The materials, construction and carefully drawn lines make this one of the most pleasant cabins I’ve ever enjoyed in a car priced under $100,000.
You have to sit in an S90 to get the full experience because it envelops all your senses. It looks peaceful and relaxing, something you can see in pictures of its open-pore wood, supple leather and sculpture like metal accents.

The S90’s cabin is a peaceful place to spend time. Design, materials and construction give it a sense of spa-like relaxation.

Images can’t convey the scents and tactile variety that make this car so relaxing, though. The cold touch of real metal, naturally rough feeling of the wood and almost unimaginable smoothness of the leather make you feel wrapped in a cocoon of perfection, isolated from the gritty real world.
Power in my tester came from a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that’s both turbocharged and supercharged to generate 316 horsepower, an eye-popping size-to-power ratio. It felt like ample power, but I admit missing the rumble and grunt of a V8 in this class of car.
If you want a more V8-like experience, oddly enough, you’ll need to choose the new plug-in hybrid version of the S90. It makes 400 horsepower and offers the best performance.
Pricing starts at a reasonable $48,100 for the S90 Momentum or $58,600 for the more upscale Inscription. The T8 plug-in hybrid  starts at $63,650.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Volvo S90 T6 AWD ($54,100). Options: Inscription features ($4,500), convenience package ($2,550), metallic paint ($595), head-up display ($900), 20-inch wheels with summer tires ($800), Bowers and Wilkins premium sound ($3,200), heated steering wheel ($300), premium rear air suspension ($1,200). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $69,140
Wheelbase: 120.5 in.
Length: 200.1 in.
Width: 79.5 in.
Height: 57.1 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder, supercharged and turbocharged (318 hp, 295 lb.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 22 city, 31 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It’s a serene, elegant, visually striking sedan that happens to offer some of the most advanced safety technology ever offered on a car.

Posted in Volvo

Comfortable and Practical

By Derek Price

In a relatively short period of time, the Hyundai Elantra has risen from a cheaply built economy car to one of the most refined in its competitive class.
In fact, if you drive it back-to-back with its American and Japanese rivals, it’s hard to find any of the glaring shortfalls that were so obvious in its ancestors. The materials and design feel surprisingly nice for its low price, starting at $16,950, and its driving feel is perfectly pleasant.
The Elantra’s suspension favors comfort over handling. This isn’t a car that begs to be pushed hard through corners, preferring to float in a straight line down the boulevards and highways, making it an ideal machine for commuters but not necessarily enthusiasts.
Where this car excels is in value and versatility.
On the value front, it’s priced aggressively to offer a lot of content per dollar at the top, middle and bottom of its trim levels. After being fully redesigned as a 2017 model, the 2018 Elantra reshuffles its lineup to drive home the value equation even more forcefully.

The Hyundai Elantra is focused on delivering a strong value and comfortable ride. This generation is in its second year on sale after a complete redesign in 2017.

New this year is the SEL trim, meant to be the high-volume version with the features most buyers are looking for. Priced at $18,850, the SEL comes with blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert, a 7-inch digital display for the audio system, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, 16-inch wheels, automatic headlights and a 3.5-inch digital driver information display behind the steering wheel.
That’s just one of six trim levels, though, ranging from the base SE to the leather-clad Limited at $22,100. There’s also a more powerful, edgier feeling Sport model with a 201-horsepower, turbocharged engine priced at $21,800.
As if that’s not enough choices, Hyundai offers the Elantra GT hatchback that’s lower, wider and more European-inspired.
While its measurements make it technically a midsize car according to the federal government, the Elantra sedan feels more like a competitor of the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus. It aims for affordability and efficiency, including a 38-mpg rating for highway driving.

A roomy front seat and stylish, practical cabin make the Elantra stand out.

A 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine makes 147 horsepower, which is adequate for highway on-ramps with the early and aggressive application of the gas pedal. It’s helped by a six-speed automatic transmission that — unlike some of its competitors with dreadful continuously variable transmissions — actually feels crisp and mechanically connected to the front wheels.
While the back seat can feel cozy for adults, the front buckets offer generous elbow, knee and hip room. Wide expanses of glass add to the airy feeling in front.
Swept headlights, an oversize grille and interesting hood creases keep the current generation Elantra looking fresh in its second year on the market. It doesn’t scream for attention, even with deep blue or red paint, opting for an overall look that’s inoffensive with just a hint of sportiness.
I also like all the thoughtfully designed, practical features in this car. Its trunk offers a roomy-for-its-class 14.1 cubic feet of volume with a low liftover height and wide opening, something a lot of sedans get wrong. The split folding rear seat helps when you need to haul bigger cargo, although hatchbacks or small crossovers still offer more stuff-carting potential than a sedan.
For drivers who want something efficient and affordable, but still place a premium on comfort — not necessarily handling and sportiness — the Elantra is one of the best options on the market today.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Hyundai Elantra SEL ($18,850). Options: Carpeted floor mats ($125). Price as tested (including $885 destination charge): $19,860
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 179.9 in.
Width: 70.9 in.
Height: 56.5 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder (147 hp, 132 lb.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 29 city, 38 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It’s an all-around solid, efficient sedan that’s perfect for commuting. Its ride is smoother and quieter than many competitors.


Posted in Hyundai, Uncategorized

Updated Looks, Equipment

By Derek Price

As America’s pickup truck wars reach a white-hot intensity this year, Toyota is making several changes to its aging but still impressive Tundra.
This full-size truck built in San Antonio, Texas, has long charted an independent course through a remarkably entrenched domestic pickup market. It’s only available with a V8 engine, for example, a decision that spits in the face of its highly splintered rivals with their turbocharged four-cylinders, V6s and small diesels, in addition to big V8s.
As of this year, the Tundra also is only available with four doors.
Toyota decided to drop the regular-cab model this year as buyers have shown an overwhelming preference for four-door trucks. You can still get a Tundra with a double cab or a roomy CrewMax cabin that feels more like an SUV than a pickup, but two-door models have passed on to that great ranch in the sky.
In addition to dropping the version hardly anyone was buying, Toyota made two key updates to keep its biggest truck competitive in a year with a vicious onslaught of updated and all-new models from competitors.

New front styling and standard safety features help the Toyota Tundra stand out in a year of intense competition from domestic-brand trucks.

One is making the Toyota Safety System-P standard equipment on every Tundra, including the base models. This system includes lane departure alert, radar cruise control, automatic high-beam headlights and sensors that can detect both pedestrians and vehicles, then automatically apply the brakes if needed. It’s a tremendous value on entry-level trucks and something that sets Toyota apart from other brands.
The other is updating the Tundra’s front styling. It looks sharper and more contemporary, helping it remain fresh looking amid the all-new trucks rolling off the General Motors and Ram assembly lines in recent weeks.
The SR and SR5 trim levels get an updated gray honeycomb grille, halogen headlights and LED daytime running lamps. The upscale Limited grade has a huge billet grille surrounded by chrome, using all LED lights. The Platinum looks more sophisticated with a black grille and body-color surround, also with entirely LED lights up front.
For drivers who want their truck to have a sporty look and feel, Toyota is adding a new TRD Sport package for 2018. In addition to eye-catching 20-inch wheels, it comes with a body-color hood scoop, mirrors and bumpers. Anti-sway bars and specially tuned Bilstein shocks give it a firmer, sportier feel than the standard Tundra.
My tester was a Western-themed 1794 Edition truck, the Tundra’s luxury trim that celebrates its Texas roots. It has exclusive saddle-brown leather and matching soft-touch materials on the door, giving it a cozy, homey, but still luxurious look. The overall feel is supple but not as over-the-top spectacular as the high-end trims of its Big Three domestic rivals, all of which top out at prices well above that of a loaded Toyota.

The Tundra is now only available in four-door models, something that reflects the longstanding trend of buyers preferring pickups with SUV-like cabins.

I loved the power and smoothness of the 5.7-liter V8 in my tester. I wasn’t a fan of its 4×4 fuel economy ratings of 13 mpg in city driving and 17 on the highway, though.
If your taste is on the elegant side, the Tundra’s Platinum trim matches the 1794 Edition’s features without the saddlery theme. It’s the more suave, less cowboy version of this truck.
Ultimately, though, the Tundra will live or die by one thing: the Toyota name. This Japanese brand’s reputation for longevity and excellent resale value translate into more sales than any feature of the truck itself.
Pricing for the Tundra starts at $31,120 for the base SR grade and tops out at $47,080 for the two luxury flavors, Platinum and 1794, before options.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Toyota Tundra 4×4 1794 Edition CrewMax ($50,130). Options: TRD Off-Road package ($850), TRD Performance dual exhaust ($1,100), TRD Performance air filter ($75), paint protection film ($395), center console storage tray ($85), bed mat ($139), TRD rear sway bar ($299), “Tundra” chrome tailgate insert ($99), spare tire lock ($75), alloy wheel locks ($80). Price as tested (including $1,295 destination charge): $54,721
Wheelbase: 145.7 in.
Length: 228.9 in.
Width: 79.9 in.
Height: 76.2 in.
Engine: 5.7-liter V8 (381 hp, 401 lb.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 13 city, 18 highway

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

Why buy it?
V8 power and a suite of safety equipment come standard on every model, including the base truck, to help the Tundra stand out. It’s a full-size pickup with Toyota’s reputation behind it.

Posted in Toyota