Big Genesis Aims for the Best

Cargazing
By Derek Price

If you think the roads are awash in too many copies of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series and Audi A8, here’s an interesting alternative: the Genesis G90.
The biggest, most feature-packed car from Hyundai’s upstart luxury brand aims straight for the heart of German luxury sedans at a price that’s hard to ignore — at least, if you’re in the market for this caliber of vehicle.
Priced from $72,950, the G90 starts a whopping $24,000 less than the venerable S-Class. The price difference alone is enough to buy a brand-new Toyota Camry, but does the Mercedes offer a Camry’s worth of advantages? That’s the question Genesis hopes its G90 shoppers are asking.
To be sure, the big Genesis doesn’t soak up bumps and noise quite as well as the magic-carpet Mercedes. But it’s close. And its cabin and feature set match up nicely with all the best German luxury cars.
It even beats them in some ways, including the passenger-side back seat that reclines into a first-class lounge at the touch of a button. Perfect for being chauffeured, or more realistically letting your spouse do the driving, the back seat of a G90 is an ideal place to lean back and take a nap. It even has controls and big digital screens to keep the back-seat passengers comfortable and connected.

 

A massive, diamond-shaped grille is an easily noticeable update to the Genesis G90 for 2020. Except for the roof and doors, every body panel was changed this year.

 

Updates this year were heavily focused on the G90’s styling, which is arguably its weakest point. From the start, it was designed to blend in more than stand out, but new lines on the 2020 version flip that formula.
At the forefront is a new grille design that’s so huge you can’t miss it. I thought the diamond-shaped grille looked garish and awkward in photos, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it in real life. It’s a design you have to see in person to appreciate.
My tester also came with a new 19-inch wheel design that’s as eye-catching as it is controversial. It looks like shiny spokes around a solid disk, a retro shape that reminds me of 1990s Buicks. It’s the most daring and inventive wheel choice I’ve seen on a premium car in years, designed to both reduce road noise and provide a big visual impact without resorting to the ridiculous 20- or 21-inch wheels I despise in cars like this. Personally, I think it’s brilliant and beautiful, but it’s also sure to generate debate.
The body changes are substantial. In addition to the flashy wheels and totally redrawn grille, every single body panel on the G90 was changed for 2020, with the exception of the doors and roof. Genesis is aiming for a look of “Athletic Elegance,” and I think it works — perhaps emphasizing the elegance side more than the athletic.

 

The G90’s cabin is spacious and nearly silent at highway speeds. It’s built to compete with expensive German luxury sedans in features, performance and comfort.

While it’s not changed much, the G90’s driving feel matches its elegant exterior. The 420-horsepower V8 engine in my tester seems like the perfect fit for it smoothness and silence, something increasingly hard to find even in expensive luxury cars. A buttery eight-speed automatic transmission sends all that power to the rear wheels or, optionally, all four on the AWD version.
One of its strongest selling points isn’t even on the vehicle. It’s the service and support behind it, something for which Genesis has been racking up awards recently. It comes with three years or 36,000 miles of complimentary scheduled maintenance with a Service Valet.
That means you can schedule your service appointment online or through an app, and a valet will pick up your car, take it in for service, and leave you a loaner to drive while the work is done. For busy people, that’s as important as the car itself.
Pricing for the G90 tops out around $80,000 with all-wheel drive and the fancy Ultimate package.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Genesis G90 RWD 5.0 Ultimate ($75,700). Options: None. Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $76,695
Wheelbase: 124.4 in.
Length: 204.9 in.
Width: 75.4 in.
Height: 58.9 in.
Engine: 5.0-liter V8 (420 hp, 383 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 16 city, 24 highway

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

Why buy it?
It’s a money-saving alternative to high-end German luxury cars. The back seat can recline like a first-class airline chair, and the driving feel is a mix of muscular and supple.

Posted in Hyundai

Mazda6 Still Wows

Cargazing
By Derek Price

The Mazda6 has only received minor, incremental updates since its new generation debuted in 2014.
What’s remarkable is that, even after six years of competitors getting stronger, it remains one of the very best mid-size sedans you can buy this year.
Whether that’s a credit to Mazda’s brilliant designers or an indictment of its long list of apathetic competitors is a matter of debate. Most car companies are pouring their resources into crossovers and trucks, giving up on sedans spiritually if not physically.
A quick drive in the Mazda6 is all it takes to see this sedan is an exception. It’s built by people who care deeply about the driving experience, something I can’t say about most affordable cars today, which tend to be rolling infotainment boxes rather than exercises in passion and feeling.

The 2020 Mazda6 remains one of the few affordable sedans that feels like it was built by and for enthusiasts.

Handling, steering and braking are so precise that a blindfolded driver could confuse it with a BMW. The 2.5-liter turbocharged engine in my tester is rated for 227 horsepower and, more importantly, 310 pound-feet of torque, which makes it feel like a rocket in everyday driving.
That leads to this car’s only obvious downside: the sporty ride isn’t ideal on the highway. It leads to a bit more bumpiness and road noise on long, straight-line road trips. But that’s the sacrifice you make for a car that’s dramatically more rewarding on twisty roads.
Better cabin insulation in the higher trim levels helps to solve that.
My tester, with the top-level Signature trim, makes me wonder why people pay more for a luxury brand, other than the prestige of the badge. The content, materials, quality and overall look of this car is spectacular, from the supple Nappa leather to the sophistication of its digital interface.
At every price point, the Mazda6 delivers a lot of value. The base model comes with radar cruise control, blind spot monitoring and lane keep assist, while the step-up Touring trim adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration along with leather-feel seats.

The Mazda6’s Signature trim offers a very light interior color called Parchment. It looks clean and modern, arguably even more so than many luxury-brand sedans.

Grand Touring and Grand Touring Reserve raise the bar further with better materials and more content, while the Signature model tops the lineup with its pull-out-all-the-stops approach. The almost-white colored interior that Mazda calls Parchment was easily one of the nicest looking and feeling cabins I’ve driven in a car under $50,000. It’s cool and sleek while still feeling welcoming.
Pricing starts at $24,000 for the Mazda6 Sport and $26,600 for the touring. The Grand Touring starts at $29,700, while the spectacular Signature version is priced at $35,300.
Buyers who don’t mind sacrificing some space can find a lot of the same sophistication and passion for driving in the newly redesigned Mazda3, which starts at $21,500.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Mazda6 Signature ($35,300). Options: Carpeted cargo mat ($100), premium paint ($300). Price as tested (including $920 destination charge): $36,620
Wheelbase: 111.4 in.
Length: 192.7 in.
Width: 72.4 in.
Height: 57.1 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged four cylinder (227 hp, 310 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 23 city, 31 highway

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

Why buy it?
It’s fun to drive and sophisticated for the money. The top-end trims rival luxury cars in content and appearance, and all versions offer thrilling, engaging feedback to the driver.

Posted in Mazda

Hybrid Makes a Leap

Cargazing
By Derek Price
Automotive improvements are usually incremental. Small tweaks over many years can add up, but it’s typically a gradual, glacial process.
With the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, though, there’s a giant leap this year.
After a total overhaul, the Highlander Hybrid’s combined fuel economy rating went up a whopping 24 percent, an almost unheard-of number in this competitive industry. Toyota estimates it at 36 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving.
If the Highlander Hybrid was a pro athlete, everyone would assume it’s using steroids.
The truth is much less salacious, though. After a complete redesign for 2020, the Highlander’s platform is designed from the ground up for better fuel economy. When the sleek, light, efficient new platform is fitted with a new generation of Toyota’s hybrid drivetrain, the numbers are eye-popping.
After driving it for a week, the best way to describe the Highlander Hybrid is invisible. That’s either a criticism or a compliment depending on how you look at it.
The hybrid drivetrain doesn’t draw attention to itself, either from the driver’s seat or from obnoxious badges. It drives a lot like any normal, gas-powered crossover vehicle.

The Toyota Highlander gets an all-new design this year, including a hybrid version that makes a dramatic jump in fuel economy.

While Toyota describes the new Highlander’s styling with the most over-used word of the past decade — “bold” — it’s not. It applies the fresh Camry-like face to the same predictable recipe that nearly every new crossover follows this year. It’s pleasant to look at but hardly revolutionary.
The same thing applies to its driving feel. It scoots along nicely with a combined 243 horsepower available between a four-cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motors that are recharged every time you brake. But it’s got a sedate, calm feeling when you mash the gas pedal, finally feeling competent when you push it hard.
Where the new Highlander shines isn’t in the driving sensations, but the logic. It’s not a race car. It’s not sexy. It’s extremely practical, though, with one of the best-designed cabins I’ve ever driven.
All the seats seem roomier than they should be. It almost feels like a full-size, American-style SUV on the inside, with plenty of head, hip and shoulder room that makes it seem palatial, at least in the first two rows.
Materials and construction are spectacular, too. If this Highlander came with a Lexus badge, I’d believe it. The Highlander is traditionally one of the most solid-feeling crossovers, and this generation lives up to the reputation.

The new Highlander’s cabin stands out for all the right reasons: practical layout, impressive content for the money, and solid-feeling construction that makes it seem like it’s built to endure.

There are three rows of seating inside, plus a reasonably roomy cargo area, something that makes its 36-mpg estimate all the more remarkable. The battery pack is small enough to fit under the back sears, so it doesn’t eat into cargo or passenger volume in a noticeable way.
Toyota also continues to aggressively compete with Korean and American brans at their own game: delivering a lot of content for the money.
This is especially noticeable in the safety features that are standard on every Highlander. It comes with adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist and the ability to read road signs. These were all pricey upgrades on luxury cars a few years ago, but they’re standard on the base Highlander this year.
Pricing for the new Highlander starts at $34,600. The hybrid version starts at $38,200 and tops out at $50,200 for the Platinum version I tested.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum-L4 AWD ($50,200). Options: Special color($425), carpet floor mats ($318), cargo cross bars ($350), universal tablet holder ($99). Price as tested (including $1,120 destination charge): $52,512
Wheelbase: 112.2 in.
Length: 194.9 in.
Width: 76 in.
Height: 68.1 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter four cylinder plus two electric motors (243 combined horsepower)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 35 city, 34 highway

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

Why buy it?
It’s competent in every way. A new hybrid version delivers good acceleration and responsiveness with the best gas mileage in this type of vehicle.

Posted in Toyota

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