Hyundai Rethinks Sedan

By Derek Price

How many times have you seen this happen? The traffic light turns green, but a clueless driver is too busy staring at their phone to realize it.
A lot of frustration — along with honks and tasteless gestures — could be avoided if only those drivers were in the car I’m testing this week, the completely new 2020 Hyundai Sonata.
My Limited-grade tester came with an ingenious system that senses when the car stopped in front of you starts to move again, and it politely reminds you not to be an idiot with an audible “ding” and message that appears on the instrument cluster.
The technology behind such a feature isn’t that innovative. For years, cars have been fitted with sensors that can measure distance from objects and other vehicles for parking, adaptive cruise control or safety features such as automatic braking.
What Hyundai did, though, was take those existing technologies and rethink them in a way that helps with everyday life. It’s emblematic of what this all-new Sonata is trying to be: a sedan rethought for the modern driver.
Take another standout feature on my tester, the ability to move the car slowly in a parking lot without anyone being inside it. Using buttons on the remote key fob, you can inch the car forward or backward without anyone in the driver’s seat.

The Hyundai Sonata gets an all-new design for 2020 that makes it look sleeker and sportier than before, including a sloping, coupe-like rear roofline.

How does that help? It’s perfect for solving a bane of modern urban life, those tight parking garages with spots that are too narrow — or other drivers who park too sloppily — to let your doors open wide while parked.
In this Hyundai, though, you can hop out of the car and scoot it backward or forward by remote control. Problem solved. No more squeezing between parked cars like a contortionist.
Even the humble car key has been rethought in the new Sonata. If you want, you can leave the keys behind and use your smartphone instead. The Hyundai Digital Key — available only on Android phones for now — uses a smartphone app that lets you securely start and drive the car without the regular key. You can also grant and revoke access to other users by sharing the digital key with friends and family.
Yes, there are traditional sedan attributes that help the Sonata stand out, too.

Quality materials and tight construction make the new Sonata’s cabin feel more luxurious than most competitors. Huge digital screens deliver crisp, bright images.

Its body looks exciting again after each previous generation seemed to alternate between stunning and boring. I put this one in the stunning camp again thanks to its sloping, coupe-like roof, muscular fenders and rakish hood.
Same thing with the cabin. Its foot-wide digital instrument cluster and huge screen on the center of the dash make it feel thoroughly contemporary. Classy accent lighting, quality materials, tight construction and clean lines make it feel more like a luxury car than a family hauler — at least on my Limited-grade tester.
Power comes from your choice of four-cylinder engines: either a 2.5-liter or turbocharged 1.6-liter, both mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Bizarrely, the tiny 1.6-liter “upgrade” engine makes less horsepower and gets slightly worse gas mileage than the base 2.5-liter version. Other than an advantage in torque — 195 on the small turbo engine, versus 181 from the naturally aspirated 2.5 —I don’t see any upside to it. It’s an odd choice in an otherwise spectacularly thoughtful car.

Pricing starts at $23,600 for the well-equipped base SE trim, while the mid-grade SEL starts at $25,700. The luxury-oriented Limited starts at $33,300.

 At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited ($33,300). Options: Carpeted floor mats ($135). Price as tested (including $930 destination charge): $34,365
Wheelbase: 111.8 in.
Length: 192.9 in.
Width: 73.2 in.
Height: 56.9 in.
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged four cylinder (180 hp, 195 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 27 city, 36 highway

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

Why buy it?
It gets all the sedan basics right — quality construction, supple ride and good looks — plus adds thoughtful features designed for modern drivers.

Posted in Hyundai, Uncategorized

Titan Gets Big Upgrade

By Derek Price

Facing an onslaught of freshly designed pickup competitors, the Nissan Titan is aiming more intensely on the heart of the truck market this year.
A long list of changes for 2020 make the Titan more narrowly focused, which signals a strategic shift from Nissan.
At the bottom of the lineup, the Titan Single Cab no longer is available. At the top, the heavily-touted Cummins diesel engine is gone, a major departure from the American-style truck philosophy of building every kind of pickup for every kind of buyer.
What remains is a Titan that’s more competitive in the meat-and-potatoes segment: V8-powered trucks with two family-friendly rows of seating.
A new nine-speed transmission delivers seamless, silky shifts, which makes this truck feel noticeably more refined overall as it sends 400 horsepower to the pavement.
That’s an important number. The Titan’s powerful, 5.6-liter V8 edges out the standard eight-cylinder powerplants of all its competitors in both horsepower and torque. Its peak power tops the newest Toyota Tundra, Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado and Ram 1500 — at least in their base V8 configurations — a remarkable feat in today’s numbers-driven truck market.

The Nissan Titan gets a mid-cycle update for 2020 that aims it squarely at the heart of the American pickup market: V8-powered trucks with two rows of seating.

An updated body, especially on the front end, keeps the Titan looking sharp. A new grille is designed with several dramatically different versions, making each trim level look more unique.
The refreshed Titan also competes aggressively on content. Even the lowest-priced Titan comes from the factory with eight airbags, an 8-inch touchscreen that runs Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, blind spot sensors, rear automatic braking and more.
Unfortunately, it has to compete on content because its overall refinement doesn’t match some competitors. The ride is a bit rougher and interior is cheaper-feeling than the more recently redesigned trucks for sale today. This 2020 update is a major refresh for the Titan but not a complete overhaul.
One noteworthy upgrade inside, though, is a large, panoramic glass roof available on Crew Cab models. It lets sunlight flood in, something that makes the cabin feel more airy and luxurious.
If you need serious towing capability, the Titan XD remains a logical choice for people who want a not-quite-heavy-duty pickup. It can tow up to 10,880 pounds with a conventional trailer or 11,000 pounds with a gooseneck. That’s down from 12,710 pounds last year, when the Cummins diesel engine was available, but still stout.

Tim grades for the refreshed-for-2020 Titan look more unique now, each one with its own distinct style. A large, dual-panel sunroof is a new option this year.

At a drive event in North Texas, Nissan offered towing demonstrations of a 2020 XD, including one loaded near the max rating. It feels stable and inspires confidence when turning, accelerating and slowing as the beefed-up suspension, frame and brakes all work in tandem. It seems suited to the task.
The same can be said about the Titan’s built-for-off-roading version, the PRO-4X. With all-terrain tires, tough Bilstein shock absorbers, skid plates for protection and an electronic locking differential, it has serious capability without requiring warranty-voiding, aftermarket upgrades.
Pricing starts at $36,190 for the base S grade with a King Cab or $38,890 with the four-door Crew Cab layout. The 4×4 Crew Cab Platinum Reserve luxury truck tops the lineup at $58,690.
The PRO-4X off-road pickup is priced at $47,590 as a King Cab or $49,790 as a Crew Cab truck.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Nissan Titan Platinum Reserve Crew Cab 4×4 ($58,690). Options: Moonroof package ($1,490), Platinum Reserve utility package ($1,390). Price as tested (including $1,595 destination charge): $63,165
Wheelbase: 139.8 in.
Length: 228.2 in.
Width: 79.5 in.
Height: 76 in.
Engine: 5.6-liter V8 (400 hp, 413 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 15 city, 21 highway

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

Why buy it?
It offers more standard V8 power than any competitor and an overflowing list of standard technologies. Its new nine-speed transmission feels exceptionally refined.

Posted in Nissan

Escaping the Car World

By Derek Price

It’s been 20 years since Ford first introduced the Escape as one of the earliest crossovers, the vehicles that look like SUVs but drive more like traditional cars.
What started out as an experiment at replacing gas-guzzling, truck-based SUVs turned into an overwhelming success, so much so that Ford is now dropping most traditional cars from its lineup. Today’s buyers are picking small crossovers like the Escape over similar sized sedans and hatchbacks.
Whether Ford’s largely car-free future succeeds will rely on buyers continuing to prefer vehicles like this one: the completely redesigned Escape for 2020.
The new Escape is bigger and much sleeker looking than the old one. It ironically seems to be charting a path toward more car-like styling of the future rather than boxy shapes of the past, perhaps with the goal of winning over buyers who no longer will be able to pick the disappearing Focus, Fiesta, Fusion and Taurus.

The Ford Escape gets an all-new design for 2020 that makes it look more sleek and car-like, an interesting change at a time when Ford is dropping most cars from its lineup.

The new body is my favorite change for the Escape. It looks great from most angles, with swept-back headlight shapes, a sporty, sloping roofline and a low, purposeful stance. The lines are drawn in a way that is a bit deceiving, too, fooling the eye into seeing graceful curves when the actual shape remains utilitarian.
It’s brilliant visual trickery.
Unfortunately, the attractive new exterior set me up for disappointment when I first stepped inside. Cheap-feeling, textured plastics seem to cover most of the cabin, a noticeable downside in a cutthroat market.
On space and substance, though, the Escape is highly competitive.
Sliding second-row seats let you choose between extra passenger legroom or extra room for cargo in back. Driver assist features, including lane centering, adaptive cruise control, Active Park Assist and Evasive Steering, make it feel like it can almost drive itself for short periods of time.
Ford’s SYNC touchscreen system is improving with each passing generation, and it worked flawlessly while running Apple CarPlay connected to my iPhone X.
Four powertrain options, half of which are fuel-sipping hybrids, give the Escape a wider breadth of performance than most competitors.

The freshly redesigned Escape’s cabin features a touchscreen interface mounted high on the dash where it’s easy to use without the driver’s eyes veering too far from the road.

My tester came with the smallest of the engines, a 1.5-liter, turbocharged, three-cylinder unit that makes 180 horsepower. I was skeptical about the tiny engine being enough to pull the reasonably spacious, five-seat crossover up to freeway speeds, but it did an impressive job.
If you want more speed, a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbo engine makes 250 horsepower and — even more impressively — 275 pound-feet of torque, enough to make the new Escape one of the quickest vehicles in its class. It’s only available on the upper SEL and Titanium trim levels, though.
For ultimate fuel economy, two different hybrid variants give you options. Powered by electric motors and a 2.5-liter gasoline engine, the Escape Hybrid is rated for 37 mpg in the city and 44 on the highway, which is a huge improvement over the 31-mpg highway rating in my three-cylinder test vehicle.
A plug-in hybrid version is expected to have a range of “at least 30 miles in electric-only mode,” Ford claims. That means it can be used as an electric car for most daily around-town trips but will still have a gasoline engine that’s useful for longer hauls.
Pricing starts at $24,885 for the base S trim, while the SE Sport Hybrid starts at $28,255. The Titanium tops the lineup at $33,400.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Ford Escape SE AWD ($29,935). Options: Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist With Adaptive Cruise Control ($695). Price as tested (including $1,195 destination charge): $30,630
Wheelbase: 106.7 in.
Length: 180.5 in.
Width: 85.6 in.
Height: 68.6 in.
Engine: 1.5-liter turbocharged three cylinder (180 hp, 177 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 26 city, 31 highway

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

Why buy it?
It has a smartly designed cabin, sleek good looks and wide breadth of powertrain choices that let you pick from highly efficient to sublimely powerful.

Posted in Ford