RDX Brings Back Fun

By Derek Price

When Acura’s product planners sat down with a blank sheet of paper to re-cast the RDX for a third generation, they had a critical choice to make.
Should they make it sporty and exhilarating, like the first-generation version? Or should they make it more boring and comfortable, like the second-gen RDX that sold in greater numbers?
A quick drive is all it takes to see their choice was unequivocal: Acura picked “sporty.”
With a completely new design for 2019, the RDX’s emphasis on performance is evident everywhere you look, starting under the hood.
Acura opted for a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine — just like many of its luxury-brand competitors, including the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC and Volvo XC60 — but tuned it to produce more power and torque than any of those. It makes 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, a dramatic jump in output that propels its lighter, more rigid body with gusto.
Tight steering, an engaging suspension feel and wider stance make it handle better than ever, especially when fitted with Acura’s impressive all-wheel drive system that can route up to 70 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels.
What excites me the most about this new RDX isn’t the fact that it comes with a 10-speed automatic transmission — cars have been on a gear-count race for years — but just how perfectly suited that transmission feels for sporty driving. Shifts are fast,  precise and decisive, never fishing around to find the correct gear.

Acura’s popular RDX gets an all-new design for 2019. It seems to draw inspiration from the NSX supercar, both from its aggressively drawn body lines and its sense of mechanical connection to the road.

To drive home the sporty message, the new body is more aggressive than ever with sharp, angular creases and Acura’s new face that it deems a “diamond pentagon grille.” I think it’s subtly attractive and far less polarizing than the brand’s previous slab-of-chrome noses.
To be fair, the new RDX isn’t entirely about looking and feeling more exciting. That, to me, feels like 80 percent of the emphasis. The remainder went into some practical features that help with day-to-day driving.
One is its size. The new RDX is bigger in virtually every dimension, making its cabin feel impressively roomy in front and rear, with a decent amount of space left for cargo in the back. Combined with solid construction and premium materials, the overall impression is snazzy, especially for the price.
Another is fuel economy. Despite being significantly faster and more powerful, lightweight construction and a well-engineered powertrain mean the gas mileage ratings are up by as much as 11 percent.

The RDX’s cabin is noticeably larger now. It has a premium feel not just from the sense of spaciousness, but also from the solid construction and upscale material choices.

The big question in my mind is whether I could ever completely get comfortable with Acura’s digital interface in this vehicle. It uses a touchpad on the center console to control a screen mounted high on the dash.
The basic idea makes perfect sense. The screen is up high where visibility is best, and the controls are down low where it’s most comfortable for your hand to move. But in reality, I found it a bit fussy to use and struggled to get the interface to react the way I wanted, even after a week of playing with it.
Just like on new Lexus models that are trying the same idea, I still prefer an easy-to-use touchscreen over a clunky, separate control for my hand.
That said, the technology in the RDX is first rate. It uses the Android operating system to run the large 10.2-inch screen, with beautiful graphics, a logical design and extremely fast response to commands.
Pricing starts at $37,300 for the front-wheel-drive RDX and ranges up to $47,400 for the all-wheel-drive version with the Advance Package.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2019 Acura RDX AWD Advance ($47,400). Options: None. Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $48,395
Wheelbase: 108.3 in.
Length: 186.8 in.
Width: 74.8 in.
Height: 65.7 in.
Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder (272 hp, 280 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 22 city, 28 highway

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

Why buy it? 
A completely new design for 2019 makes the RDX roomier, faster, more efficient and dramatically more engaging to drive.

Posted in Acura

GTI Gets a Boost

By Derek Price

Today’s cars have improved in a lot of ways. Reliability, technology and fuel efficiency are at the top of that list.
One area in which they seem to be falling behind, though, is personality.
That’s something the Volkswagen Golf GTI has in spades, and thank goodness.
Ever since it hit U.S. shores in 1983, the GTI has enjoyed a cult following among enthusiasts for its mixture of spunky style, everyday practicality and — above all — spirited performance.
It’s the performance aspect that sees the biggest change for 2018, as the GTI’s standard turbocharged engine gets a boost in output to 220 horsepower, up 10 from last year. It also makes the monster brakes from the Golf R and torque-sensing limited-slip differential standard on SE and Autobahn trims.

Thin red accents make the fast, powerful Golf GTI stand out while giving a nod to its history. Large wheels, a lower ride height and lower front fascia also set it apart from the more mundane Golf.

While that much power makes the small, lightweight GTI a quick car, raw speed isn’t its strong suit. Instead, it’s much more about balance and dynamics, the way it feels and responds while putting all that power to good use.
Rarely do I enjoy driving cars as much as I did in my week behind the wheel of an SE trim GTI with its engaging suspension and telepathic steering. It’s a car that practically begs to be pushed hard, a big part of its engaging personality.
The other aspect is its one-of-a-kind sense of style. Unmistakable red accents on the body, a low-slung look — it rides more than half an inch lower than the standard Golf — and LED lighting give it a good mixture of contemporary modernism and knowing nods to its history for insiders.
The interior follows the same theme with the added benefit of soft materials and solid construction that evoke the feelings you get in more expensive German sedans. Red lighting mirrors the sleek body accents, and it comes with my favorite funky GTI feature of all: standard plaid cloth seats.

Plaid seat cloth may be unusual in 2018, but that’s one of the endearingly quirky reasons the Golf GTI is popular with enthusiasts. This classic hot hatch also has a unique sense of style.

One of this car’s most appealing aspects is that it’s extremely fun and eminently practical, an unusual mixture. The cargo space is as generous as some small crossover vehicles, and its fuel economy ratings of 25 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway are downright miserly for a car that feels so fast when you stomp the gas pedal.
Also noteworthy on a practical basis is the GTI’s warranty. Volkswagen offers a six-year, 72,000-mile, bumper-to-bumper warranty that beats its competitors in both years and mileage.
While ordering a GTI with anything other than its heavenly six-speed manual transmission would be sacrilege, its quick-shifting DSG is one of the best automatics in the world. If you’re going to commit sacrilege, this is the way to do it.
Pricing starts at $26,415, making it a fantastic bargain for a performance car at the entry level. Adding performance and luxury features raises the price considerably, up to $30,470 for the SE trim or $35,070 for the lineup-topping Autobahn version.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T SE ($30,470). Options: Leather package ($695). Price as tested (including $850 destination charge): $32,015
Wheelbase: 103.6 in.
Length: 168 in.
Width: 70.8 in.
Height: 57.8 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder (220 hp, 258 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy: 25 city, 33 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It’s clearly built by drivers, for drivers. It’s invigorating to drive with sparkling handling, incredible brakes and steering, and far more than adequate power with 220 horses under foot.

Posted in Volkswagen

Insight Drops Weirdness

By Derek Price
To re-introduce itself for 2019, the Honda Insight is eschewing something it embraced from its inception: funky styling.
Whether it was to eke out slightly better gas mileage from its sleek, aerodynamically slippery shape or — more likely — to grab attention as a futuristic, forward-looking vehicle, the Insight hybrid always had a bit of an unusual body.
Not this time.
The all-new 2019 Insight looks more conventional than ever, despite being more radically efficient than any point in its history. Its two-motor hybrid system earns it a 55-mpg city fuel economy rating, and it does so without feeling underpowered or unrefined — the one-two punch that caused the previous Insight’s sales to spiral lower until it was discontinued after 2014.
The new Insight combines a 1.5-liter gasoline engine with an electric motor and lithium ion battery pack, and it feels surprisingly aggressive at the throttle. It’s a car that responds quickly to driver input, a yin to the Toyota Prius’ soft-riding, slow-responding yang.
Honda emphasizes this with a “sport” driving mode on the Insight. It draws more power from the battery to accelerate faster and feel more enjoyable when the driver wants it. For the opposite experience, “econ” mode smoothes the throttle response and optimizes fuel efficiency.

The Honda Insight is back, and it looks more conventional than ever before. This two-motor hybrid is positioned as a premium compact car between the Civic and the Accord in Honda’s lineup.

Unlike the previous Insight, which was priced under $20,000 and aimed for hybrid bargain hunters, the new version is aimed at a more premium market between the Civic and the Accord in Honda’s lineup.What’s most remarkable about it is how normal it looks and feels.
The body is sleek and contemporary, but it lacks the space-age strangeness that defined its ancestors. The driving experience is likewise impressively similar to non-hybrid, gasoline-only cars, with a transition to and from electric power so smooth it’s barely perceptible.
Honda has packed the new Insight with today’s must-have technology, including the standard Honda Sensing safety suite with forward collision warning, lane keeping assistance, adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition.
It’s also available with the ingenious LaneWatch camera on the passenger-side mirror, which lets the driver see a video feed of the car’s blind spot when changing lanes. Every time I use it, I’m amazed that more car brands haven’t jumped on the bandwagon and offered the same feature. It’s that good. LaneWatch is standard on EX and Touring trims.

The Insight’s cabin is a marvel of sport packaging. It makes the most use of its space and keeps the battery pack and drivetrain components from intruding on the passenger compartment or trunk.

More importantly, the new Insight has a cabin befitting its premium-compact aspirations. It does a good job keeping wind and road noise out of the car, and it’s designed in a way that makes it feel roomier on the inside than its body dimensions would suggest. A spacious trunk and ample leg, knee and hip room mean it doesn’t suffer from the minor packaging drawbacks that hybrid cars traditionally require.
Pricing starts at $22,830 for the base LX trim and tops out at $28,090 for the Touring model.

At A Glance
What was tested?
2019 Honda Insight Touring ($28,090). Options: None. Price as tested (including $895 destination charge): $28,985
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 183.6 in.
Width: 71.6 in.
Height: 55.6 in.
Powertrain: 1.5-liter engine and 96-killowatt electric motor (151 total system hp)
Transmission: Drive force transfer
Fuel economy: 55 city, 49 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It looks and drives like less of an oddball hybrid after being completely redesigned for 2019. It has great cabin packaging, enjoyable driving dynamics and still comes with an impressive fuel-economy rating of 55 mpg in the city.

Posted in Honda