Mazda6 Moves Up

By Derek Price

At a time when most manufacturers are pouring their development money into electric cars and endless iterations of crossover vehicles, Mazda still sees room to push the limits of what a four-door sedan can be.
Need proof? Take a drive in the heavily updated 2018 Mazda6.
This mid-size car was already one of my favorites thanks to the many things it does well: fuel efficiency, styling, cabin design and — above all else — driving dynamics that make it feel more like a pricey European sports sedan than an affordable family runabout.
Now it’s moving into two territories where family cars, especially ones at this price, rarely tread.
One is luxury, seen most clearly on the new Signature trim level I tested. With soft Nappa leather, supple UltraSuede inserts and gorgeous sen wood, a material used in Japanese drums, guitars and furniture because of its toughness and subtly beautiful grain, the top-end Mazda6 feels like it belongs in a luxury-brand showroom.

The Mazda6 gets a thorough update for 2018 with fresh technology, styling and trim levels, plus a potent turbocharged engine.

Of course, looking like a luxury product doesn’t matter if it doesn’t drive like one, too. The new Mazda6 has a long list of subtle changes that help to keep unwanted sounds and vibrations out of the cabin.
Thicker floor panels, smaller gaps in body panels, quieter tires and suspension tuning, laminated front glass and more carpeting and insulation all add up to a noticeably quieter highway ride. That fixes one of this car’s few weaknesses from last year.
The other new territory improves a strength: sporty handling.
Mazda, more than any other mainstream brand, aims to offer the same exciting, refined sensations you get from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi cars, only at a more attainable price.
Last year’s model already offered sparkling steering, brake and suspension feel, but this year there is a new engine choice that makes everything feel a notch better. The 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder — very similar to the engine that powers Mazda’s big, three-row CX-9 crossover — is now available in the much smaller, lighter Mazda6.
This new engine generates 250 horsepower and, more critically, 310 pound-feet of torque to make it move with sports-car quickness.

Nappa leather, UltraSuede inserts and Japanese sen wood give the Mazda6’s new Signature trim an upscale atmosphere.

Refreshed technology keeps things interesting in the cabin. While I’m personally most excited about the availability of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for connecting smartphones, other available changes include:
— A new Mazda Connect infotainment system with an eight-inch touchscreen display.
— Ventilated front seats to keep the surfaces cool in hot weather.
— A reconfigurable seven-inch display behind the steering wheel
— A 360-degree monitor that shows a bird’s eye view when parking.
— A full color Active Driving Display projected on the windshield instead of the awkward pop-up reflector in previous models.
Redesigned seats and a number of exterior changes make this a surprisingly thorough update for a vehicle that has already gotten two previous overhauls in the last five years.
Pricing starts at $21,950 for the Mazda6 Sport trim with a manual transmission or $23,000 with an automatic. It tops out with the luxurious Signature line at $34,750.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Mazda6 Signature ($34,750). Options: Cargo mat ($75), Soul Red paint ($595), scuff plates ($125). Price as tested (including $890 destination charge): $36,435
Wheelbase: 111.4 in.
Length: 191.5 in.
Width: 72.4 in.
Height: 57.1 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged four cylinder (250 hp, 310 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 23 city, 31 highway

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

Why buy it? 
Updates for 2018 make an already strong sedan even better. Its new turbocharged engine and luxurious Signature trim level take it into new performance and luxury territories.

Posted in Mazda

Clearly Efficient

By Derek Price
Honda has spent years working on two science-experiment versions of the Clarity: a fuel-cell car that runs on hydrogen, and an electric car designed to compete with Tesla.
The one you’re more likely to see on the road, though — and the one that makes practical sense for more people — is this flavor, the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid.
Unlike the fuel-cell and battery versions of the Clarity, which have limited consumer appeal thanks to their shorter range and unusual power sources, the hybrid version comes with a traditional gasoline engine that drives its electric powertrain. That means you can fuel it up at gas stations across America just like a “regular” car.
It’s built differently from most gas-powered cars though, starting with its aggressive hybrid drivetrain. Like the Toyota Prius Prime and Chevrolet Volt, the Clarity can run entirely on electric power for a limited amount of time — up to 48 miles in the Clarity’s case.

The Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid has 48 miles of electric range, one of the best in its class, along with a gasoline engine to keep it going up to 340 miles total.

After that point, it can continue to drive using gasoline, giving it a total range of 340 miles between fill-ups. The federal government has blessed it with a rating of 110 MPGe, or miles per gallon equivalent, in combined city and highway driving.
For efficiency that extraordinary, the Clarity looks and drives mundane, a compliment in a class known for its occasional oddball styling and flimsy, lightweight-to-a-fault construction.
From a design standpoint, the Clarity mixes a hint of futurism — harsh angles and sweeping curves — with Honda’s more conservative visual language. The result is a car that catches your eye but doesn’t scream “hybrid” like a Prius does.
This hybrid is much more about performance than appearance.
Because it was engineered to be an electric car from the start, its design maximizes space while minimizing weight. Its body structure is 15% lighter than conventional vehicles, Honda claims, thanks to ultra-high-strength steel, aluminum and glass fiber reinforced plastic in the front and rear.
Acceleration is always adequate, whether merging onto a freeway or pulling away from stoplights. Power delivery feels seamless even as it shifts between its three distinct ways of moving — under purely electric power, with the engine and motors at the same time, and in engine-drive mode at medium to high speeds. You can see the power routing through a digital display in the car, but you can’t necessarily feel the difference as you’re driving along.
The one exception is engine noise. At high RPMs, the engine can sound loud and grating, but fortunately it only persists for short periods when pressing the throttle to the floor. Cruising at highway speeds, the Clarity nicely insulates the cabin from road, wind and engine sounds.

The Clarity’s cabin is impressively spacious and comfortable thanks to its smooth ride and Accord-like dimensions.

In fact, the biggest surprise during my week behind the wheel was this car’s comfort level for highway driving. With around 193 inches in length and a wheelbase of roughly 103 inches, the Clarity is surprisingly close to the spacious Accord’s dimensions.
The Clarity is available with today’s typical safety features, including automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping steering and adaptive cruise control.
Instead of blind-spot sensors, the Clarity comes with the Honda LaneWatch camera that gives a wide angle view from the passenger side of the car. Personally, I wish this camera came in addition to the blind-spot sensors, not as a replacement for them.
Pricing starts at $33,400 for the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid. The Touring trim, which comes with leather, navigation and the ability to pre-condition the cabin by remote control, starts at $36,600.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid Touring ($36,600). Options: None. Price as tested (including $895 destination charge): $37,495
Wheelbase: 108.3 in.
Length: 192.7 in.
Width: 73.9 in.
Height: 58.2 in.
Powertrain: 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine and 181-horsepower electric motor
Transmission: Direct drive
Fuel economy: 110 MPGe combined city/highway

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

Why buy it? 
It runs on electric power for up to 48 miles, but a gasoline engine eliminates the range-anxiety worries of an electric car by extending its total range to 340 miles between fill-ups.

Posted in Honda

EcoSport Packs Tech

By Derek Price

The Ford EcoSport feels like a vehicle designed by a big-name tech company.
Its features list is virtually a NASDAQ ticker tape. It can come with Apple CarPlay for people with iPhones, Android Auto for people with Google-powered smartphones, along with Waze, Alexa and other popular apps. They’re all available in this compact crossover vehicle that seemingly is designed as much for connecting to your smartphone as it is for driving you from Point A to Point B.
In fact, the first time I drove an EcoSport I struggled to understand its appeal within the metrics of my old-style brain. In terms of horsepower, handling and cabin materials, it felt mediocre, not something that stands out within its hotly competitive, fast-growing class of competitors.
Even its gas mileage of 27 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway isn’t that impressive for its compact size.
After driving it for a week, though, I came to a realization: this vehicle isn’t designed for people like me. It’s built for a new generation of buyers who care less about those old-fashioned metrics and more about whether they can get Waze to work on the 8-inch touchscreen.

Vehicles with an upright stance and SUV-style cargo area like this, the Ford EcoSport, are rapidly replacing compact sedans and hatchbacks.

Granted, even a 37-year-old pseudo-geezer like me can appreciate the glorious beauty of Waze’s intelligent navigation and “police reported ahead” warnings that help you avoid tickets through the car’s screen and sound system. I also like knowing you can use the powerful Amazon Alexa services while on the road to do your shopping, control smart devices at home and much more.
Both those services are connected through Ford’s SYNC 3 AppLink, which lets you control a short list of compatible smartphone apps through the vehicle’s touchscreen instead of your phone itself. AccuWeather, iHeartRadio, Pandora and more are compatible with it.
SYNC Connect with FordPass adds more capability, including the ability to start, unlock and find your vehicle remotely using a smartphone app.

An optional 8-inch touchscreen dominates the dash of Ford’s new EcoSport compact crossover vehicle.

Power in most trim levels comes from a 1.0-liter, three-cylinder engine that makes 123 horsepower. The SES trim comes with all-wheel drive and is powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, 166-horse engine.
Aside from the tech features, the EcoSport’s main selling point is its market positioning in the hottest part of the car world. It’s sized and priced like a compact car, making it easy for maneuvering in urban areas and affordable for young buyers.
Unlike compact sedans or hatchbacks, though, it’s styled more like an SUV or truck. It has an upright stance, good visibility and impressive cargo capacity when the back seats are folded flat, all reasons this class of vehicle is so trendy in 2018.
Pricing starts at $19,995 for the base S trim and ranges up to $26,880 for the more powerful and sporty SES.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Ford EcoSport Titanium ($25,880). Options: White platinum paint ($595). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $27,470
Wheelbase: 99.2 in.
Length: 161.3 in.
Width: 81 in.
Height: 65.1 in.
Engine: 1.0-liter three cylinder (123 hp, 125 ft-lbs)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 27 city, 29 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 9
Price: 5
Handling: 6
Ride: 10
Comfort: 10
Quality: 9
Overall: 9
Why buy it?
At a time when smartphone connectivity is more important than ever, the EcoSport offers an impressive feature set and stylish crossover look at an affordable price.

Posted in Ford