All-new Elantra moves upmarket


Cargazing
By Derek Price

One of the toughest things about evaluating cars is resetting your expectations after each one.
For example, driving a new, $62,000 Lexus luxury SUV for a week and then hopping into a car that costs less than half as much — as I did this week with the 2017 Hyundai Elantra — I have to brace myself for a letdown. Otherwise, I could end up judging the cheaper car too harshly.
The strange thing about jumping from a luxury car into my Elantra tester, though, is that it didn’t feel like much of a drop.
This new-generation Hyundai sedan had a big, high-tech, touchscreen navigation system like the Lexus. It had radar cruise control and lane-keeping steering, so it could almost drive itself like the Lexus. It had comfy, heated leather seats in front and back, so it checked a lot of those same luxury-car boxes.
It even did something really cool to solve a first-world problem.
If you’ve got the air conditioner or heater blowing full blast and then start to make a phone call through the Bluetooth system, that usually makes it tough to hear the conversation. You probably know the feeling.
“Hello, can you hear me? … Wait, let me turn down the A/C.”

A handsome new body is one of many upgrades for the all-new 2017 Hyundai Elantra. With a quiet ride and upmarket features, it has luxury-car panache without the high price.

A handsome new body is one of many upgrades for the all-new 2017 Hyundai Elantra. With a quiet ride and upmarket features, it has luxury-car panache without the high price.

The new Elantra automatically turns the blower down a little bit so you can hear the phone better when you make a call. It’s one of those thoughtful features I like to see on cars to set them apart in a crowded, hyper-competitive market.
Putting upmarket features into an affordable car was one of Hyundai’s biggest goals when redesigning the Elantra, one of its most popular models.
Of course, offering nicer features on smaller cars has been a trend in the car industry for years, but this all-new Elantra takes it to a new level. Other than cooled seats — a must for those of us who drive in the South — I couldn’t find any important luxury features that would be missing compared to, say, a Mercedes-Benz. It’s blurring the lines between luxury-brand content and regular-brand content like few vehicles have done before.
Another thing that surprises me is how quiet and comfortable the cabin is. This new generation Elantra has a softer ride than before and apparently a lot more sound insulation to keep the road and engine noise out.
One noticeable downside, though, is mediocre acceleration from its 147-horsepower engine. It feels like it’s designed more for getting great gas mileage than for having fun, and you can see that in the numbers — 37 miles per gallon on the highway for my test car.
That’s good for saving money. Just don’t expect acceleration to be all that great.
Fortunately, the engine feels and sounds syrupy smooth, and the six-speed automatic transmission makes crisp, confident shifts. I did notice it hunting for the right gear a few times in my stint behind the wheel, but I suspect the issue stood out more because everything else on this car is so incredibly refined. The construction of the cabin, feel from the steering wheel and brake pedal, body styling and silent highway ride all seem so well sorted out that it makes the few picky imperfections more glaring.

A clear, easy-to-access 7-inch touchscreen puts new technology at your fingertips in the 2017 Elantra.

A clear, easy-to-access 7-inch touchscreen puts new technology at your fingertips in the 2017 Elantra.

I don’t have any complaints about the way it looks. The fresh styling does a good job straddling the razor-thin line between daring and tasteful, with a large hexagon grille, sculpted hood and dramatic LED foglights that sprinkle just a dash of supercar excitement onto the front end.
Any less and it would be boring. Any more and it would be ugly. To my eyes, it strikes that balance perfectly.
Finally, there’s the price.
While my loaded-up test Elantra rang up over $27,000, the base SE model starts around $17,000. The more luxurious Limited trim starts at $22,350 and gives you leather seats, more safety features — including blind spot detection, one of my favorites — a 7-inch touchscreen audio system and push-button start.
If you want to save even more at the gas pump, you can choose the efficient Eco model with a small turbocharged engine and dual-clutch transmission for $20,650. It’s rated for 32 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway, a bump of 3 mpg over the base Elantra.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited ($22,350). Options: Tech Package ($2,500), Ultimate Package ($1,900), carpeted floor mats ($125). Price as tested (including $835 destination charge): $27,710
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 179.9 in.
Width: 70.9 in.
Height: 56.5 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder (147 hp, 132 lb.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 28 city, 37 highway

RATINGS

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

Video Review:
2017 Hyundai Elantra
http://bit.ly/17elantra

Why buy it?
A complete redesign breathes new life into an already strong mid-size sedan contender. It offers luxury-level features at a price for people on a budget.

 

Posted in Hyundai

A one-off vehicle


Cargazing
By Derek Price

In more than 15 years of writing about cars, I’ve never had a twist as strange as this week’s test drive.
Here I am, evaluating a car that doesn’t exist from a brand that’s about to disappear.
The car that doesn’t exist is the Mazda2 sedan, which isn’t available in America despite being a spectacularly fun and solid vehicle for a bargain price in other parts of the globe.
How am I driving one, legally, on the streets of Texas? Well, Scion did us Americans a favor and started selling the Mazda2 under its own name, basically slapping their logo onto the Mazda and putting it in their showrooms.
There are some minor differences, like the front fascia, taillights and headlights, but my first impression upon sitting in the driver’s seat was, “Whoa, this is a Mazda.” They didn’t even try to hide it.

Only available for one year, the Scion iA is a fun-to-drive, efficient car that’s based on the Mazda2 sedan. Great chassis engineering and tuning make it feel faster than expected from its 1.5-liter engine.

Only available for one year, the Scion iA is a fun-to-drive, efficient car that’s based on the Mazda2 sedan. Great chassis engineering and tuning make it feel faster than expected from its 1.5-liter engine.

That’s not such a bad thing, either. Mazda is making some of my favorite sedans lately — mysteriously combining a fast-feeling chassis with great fuel economy in a way that other brands just aren’t able to match — and the Scionized Mazda falls right into that category.
Called the iA, it has all the best parts of the Mazda brand, including its digital entertainment system that’s one of the fastest and most intuitive on the market. And, of course, there’s the 1.5-liter engine that gives it a zippy feeling at stoplights but still returns EPA fuel economy ratings of 33 mpg in the city and 42 on the highway — eye-popping numbers that will help it sell like crazy whenever gas prices rise back to historical norms.
Then there’s the weirdest thing about this car: the fact that the Scion brand is disappearing entirely next year.
Scion launched in 2003 as a way for Toyota to sell more cars to young people. They made several noteworthy vehicles through the years, my favorites being the funky, practical and extremely boxy xB and the super-fun FR-S sports car, but they never caught on with young people in the way that Toyota had hoped.
Toyota announced that the Scion brand would be shuttering for good after this year, meaning the Scion iA is only going to exist as a one-off model and will be sold under the Toyota brand in 2017.
Could that make it a collector’s item? I can imagine a world, decades from now, when the geekiest car collectors would clamor to own this odd Mazda-but-not-a-Mazda that was only built for one year. It’ll make a nice trivia piece for the Barrett-Jackson auction broadcasters in 2066.

The iA’s interior feels solid and surprisingly classy for its low price, with some soft-touch materials, chrome trim and a standard seven-inch digital display up high on the dash.

The iA’s interior feels solid and surprisingly classy for its low price, with some soft-touch materials, chrome trim and a standard seven-inch digital display up high on the dash.

Today, though, it’s just a good car with a very unusual backstory.
Pricing starts under $16,000 with a manual transmission, something that’s a perfect fit for a sporty, compact car like the iA. You can get it with a six-speed automatic for an extra $1,100.
Even at that low price, it doesn’t feel like a stripped-down economy car. The iA tester I drove was one of the most affordable cars I’ve driven within the past year, ringing up at $16,495 including the destination charge, but it still had a seven-inch digital display, push-button start, keyless entry and a cabin with nicer materials than I expected at that price.
The chrome accents and some soft-touch trim in the cabin give it a slightly premium feel, and there are a lot of free amenities that some of its competitors charge for: power windows, mirrors and locks, cruise control, Bluetooth wireless connectivity and a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes.
Interestingly, you can’t luxe up this car like you can some of its competitors. I’ve driven a few “economy cars” with prices that get jacked up close to $30,000 once you add Lexus-like options — air-conditioned seats, radar cruise control and high-end sound systems, for example.
The iA seems more targeted at value shoppers. Even choosing all the options on Scion’s online configurator, I was barely able to get the price past $18 grand because it’s only sold in this one reasonably well-equipped trim level.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2016 Scion iA ($15,700). Options: None. Price as tested (including $795 destination charge): $16,495
Wheelbase: 101.2 in.
Length: 171.7 in.
Width: 66.7 in.
Height: 58.5 in.
Powertrain: 1.5-liter I-4 (106 hp, 103 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
EPA Mileage: 33 city, 42 highway

RATINGS

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

Video Review:
2016 Scion iA
http://bit.ly/2016ia

Why buy it?
It has a sporty look and feel, letting you get your hands on a car that previously was unavailable in the United States: the Mazda2 sedan. It offers a lot of standard features and a nice cabin for a low price.

Posted in Mazda

Bold look, smooth ride


Cargazing
By Derek Price

In the space of a single year, the Lexus RX has gone from being one of the most innocuous, almost invisible SUVs to one of the most daring.
Check out its new nose. It looked so big, so aggressive and so over-the-top in photos that I was worried Lexus might have ruined the driving feel of this vehicle, long known for being soft, silent and inoffensive, with a body to match.
Driving the new RX for the first time, though, I was relieved to find it still had the smoothness and ultra-quiet ride of its ancestors. Given the dramatic new styling, I half expected it to have a wailing engine and sports-car suspension, but no. Thank goodness.
Its engine is still made of butter, and its shocks are still filled with angel food cake.
Granted, the RX I tested was a gas-electric hybrid called the 450h. If you want a more aggressive feel from the driver’s seat to match the wild body, you can get the F Sport package to add some spice with a louder exhaust and adjustable suspension to help it carve corners.

The all-new Lexus RX is raising eyebrows for its bold new look, particularly the gigantic “spindle grille” on the front end. It’s a dramatic change for this vehicle that previously had been one of the most conservative luxury crossovers.

The all-new Lexus RX is raising eyebrows for its bold new look, particularly the gigantic “spindle grille” on the front end. It’s a dramatic change for this vehicle that previously had been one of the most conservative luxury crossovers.

As I see it, though, choosing the sport package detracts from the ultimate mission of the RX: transporting you in a reliable, stylish and, above all, comfortable machine.
And comfort is what the RX excels at. Not only is it about roomy, easily adjustable seats and a syrupy highway ride, but it’s also the kind of comfort that makes you feel at home as soon as you step inside. There’s a familiar feel to most of the controls and not nearly as much weirdness as you find in some new luxury cars.
For example, the shifter is very traditional. It’s chunky, substantial and intuitive, something that flies in the face of other luxury vehicles that are switching to tiny electronic shifters that come with a slight learning curve and, from what I can tell, offer no practical advantage over the tried-and-true chunky levers. Sticking with a traditional shifter shows how Lexus emphasizes ease of use over silly trends.
One exception is the RX’s Remote Touch Interface, something I still haven’t gotten used to after years of steady improvements on Lexus vehicles. It uses a small joystick to let you move a computer-style cursor on the screen, which I find more distracting while driving than the simple touchscreen interaction you have with most of today’s cars. It takes a small slice of brainpower that I’d rather have focused on the road.
The screen it operates on, though, is gorgeous. There’s a standard 8-inch display and an optional, stunningly crisp 12.3-inch version that makes the cabin feel like a sci-fi movie studio. Between the giant screen in the center of the dash and the additional display behind the steering wheel, it almost seems like you’re driving a big-screen TV.
It also begs a question: How much is too much when it comes to screen size? It seems like today’s cars, and luxury cars in particular, are in an arms race to see who can install the largest screens in the dash.

A huge, optional 12.3-inch screen dominates the dashboard of the new RX. It offers a smart design that can be operated in split-screen mode and is located in the most logical spot for driving safety: up high, near the windshield.

A huge, optional 12.3-inch screen dominates the dashboard of the new RX. It offers a smart design that can be operated in split-screen mode and is located in the most logical spot for driving safety: up high, near the windshield.

Some cars, like Teslas and new Volvos, have vertical screens the size of an iPad, but I tend to like the horizontal layout in this Lexus better. It’s especially nice in a split-screen mode you can customize to show exactly the information you want, all while keeping your eyes close to the road.
Fuel economy is rated at 31 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway for my hybrid tester, which is pretty impressive for the size and performance you get from this machine. It feels quick when you pull away from stoplights and has a cargo area in back that rivals some huge, brawny, full-size SUVs, yet it gets the gas mileage of a mid-size sedan.
Its hybrid system is one of the best you can buy, too, with a steadier feel at the brake pedal and quieter stops and starts from the engine than most of its hybrid competitors.
Pricing starts at $41,900 for the RX 350 and ranges to $55,645 for the hybrid with the F Sport package.

At a Glance

What was tested?
2016 Lexus RX 450h ($52,235). Options: Blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert ($800), power folding and heated rear seats ($840), Lexus Safety System ($2,550), touch-free power rear door ($200), Luxury Package ($3,125), 12.-3-inch navigation system ($1,510). Price as tested (including $940 destination charge): $61,900
Wheelbase: 109.8 in.
Length: 192.5 in.
Width: 74.6 in.
Height: 67.7 in.
Powertrain: Electric motors and 3.5-liter V6 (308 total system hp)
Transmission: Electronic CVT
EPA Mileage: 31 city, 30 highway

RATINGS

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

Video Review:
2016 Lexus RX 450h
bit.ly/2016Lexus

Why buy it?
It has much more aggressive styling this year but still comes with a buttery smooth ride. The hybrid version offers an impressive mix of performance and fuel economy and feels more refined than most hybrids do.

Posted in Lexus

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