Corolla Focuses on Value

By Derek Price

Toyota says the Corolla is one of the most popular cars on Planet Earth, selling around 1.5 million copies in more than 150 countries each year.
That begs a question. Why?
From a driver’s standpoint, it’s hard to see what would make it such a hot seller considering it’s never been known for the classic car-magazine bullet points — horsepower, handling and sex appeal.
Look at it from a prudent buyer’s standpoint, though, and it starts to make more sense.
The Corolla’s recipe starts and ends with value, something underscored by Toyota’s decision to load it with a package of standard safety features that most of its competitors offer only as options.
Awkwardly named Toyota Safety Sense-P, this package comes at no extra cost on every trim level, including the $18,550 L model. It includes sensors that warn and react to collisions with cars and pedestrians before they happen, lane departure alert with steering assist, radar cruise control and automatic high beams.

The 2018 Toyota Corolla comes with a package of active safety features, including radar cruise control and lane departure alert with steering assist, even on the base model.

These features are becoming common on new cars, particularly on luxury lines, but they’re rarely offered as standard equipment and even more rarely on a car priced as affordably as a base Corolla.
If the Corolla joined the circus, it would be the bang-for-the-buck freak. People would stare.
It also offers a reasonably quiet cabin, compliant highway ride and surprisingly generous back-seat leg room. Again, those are all things aimed at offering a good value, not necessarily generating Road & Track cover stories.
The Corolla flavor I tested was the XSE, still reasonably priced starting at $22,730. It’s the one that tests the limits of how far Toyota can extend this car’s appeal by making it both better equipped and sportier than it’s traditionally been known for.
In other words, it’s the Toyota that’s tackling the Honda Civic head-on.
In the Japanese economy-car wars, the Civic has always been aimed at people who like to feel the road. The Corolla has been just the opposite, trying to isolate the driver with a smoother, quieter ride.
This XSE model splits the difference. It offers a sport driving mode, 17-inch alloy wheels and multi-LED headlamps that give it a sleeker, more contemporary look.
A sports sedan it’s not, though. Its continuously variable transmission, while doing a decent job emulating the shift points of a traditional hydraulic automatic, never feels particularly invigorating. Its 1.8-liter, four-cylinder, 132-horsepower engine is competent and smooth-revving but hardly exciting.

The Corolla has a spacious cabin for its class with a long list of standard features.

Then again, that’s not the point.
Fuel economy is where the Corolla shines best. My tester with 17-inch wheels was rated for 36 mpg on the highway, but the best numbers come with a different trim built to impress at the gas pump: the LE Eco model.
The LE Eco is, oddly, also the most powerful Corolla with a specially tuned 140-horsepower engine, special tires, aerodynamic underbody covers and a rear spoiler that all work together to help it achieve a 40-mpg highway rating.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Toyota Corolla XSE ($22,730). Options: Entune premium audio with navigation ($525). Price as tested (including $895 destination charge): $24,150
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 183.1 in.
Width: 69.9 in.
Height: 57.3 in.
Engine: 1.8-liter four cylinder (132 hp, 128 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 28 city, 35 highway

Style: 6
Performance: 6
Price: 9
Handling: 5
Ride: 7
Comfort: 6
Quality: 7
Overall: 6

Why buy it? 
It offers a lot of bang for the buck, particularly now that it’s added Toyota Safety Sense-P as standard equipment.

Posted in Toyota

Sonata Gets Curves Back

By Derek Price

Understanding the 2018 Hyundai Sonata requires a short history lesson.
At the start of this decade, Hyundai began selling its sixth-generation Sonata that turned out to be a huge hit in the United States. That 2011 model was the first Sonata I’d characterize as a good car, compared to its ancestors that worked their way up the descriptor ladder from “truly awful” to “good for the money.”
Here was a Sonata that, as I recall, was the first Korean car I’d ever driven that felt better than the strongest Japanese and American products in its segment.
It also was spectacularly good looking. Designed with the American market in mind, it had a swoopy, eye-catching, elongated look that turned heads and reminded buyers just how much Hyundai’s cars had improved since their econobox days in the 1980s and ‘90s.
It wasn’t your father’s Hyundai, and the body showed it.

The Hyundai Sonata gets a dramatic visual makeover for 2018 that makes it look bold and aggressive once again. It’s the most distinctive look for this car since its landmark 2011 version debuted.

When a new seventh-generation Sonata hit the market in 2015, though, all those swoopy lines disappeared. Its comparatively featureless styling could easily be confused with, say, a Honda or a Volkswagen to the untrained eye.
Well, for 2018, the swoops are back in a big way.
With a major restyling this year, the Sonata catches eyes more like that groundbreaking 2011 version once again. While it’s not an all-new car, significant changes to the hood, fenders, trunk, headlights, taillights and front grille make it look like one.
Changes underneath the skin are noteworthy but more subtle.
Handling is a bit more responsive thanks to a stiffer torsion bar, different steering calibration, thicker trailing arms and new bushings. An eight-speed automatic transmission is available on 2.0-liter turbocharged models.
Inside, there’s a new design for the center stack and a contemporary-looking, three-spoke steering wheel that replaces the old four-spoke version.
Technology is better, too, including a faster processor running the navigation system, a new bird’s eye view mode, real-time traffic information and wireless phone charging available.
A rear-seat USB port, something that’s becoming vital for travelers today, is also available for the first time. It comes standard on the SEL trim and higher.
For buyers who need a comfortable, reasonably efficient four-door car, the Sonata continues to check all the right boxes. It’s one of the quietest cars in its class, has a technology interface that’s faster and easier to use than most of its competitors, along with a standard blind-spot detector with rear cross-traffic detection.

A new layout for the center stack and a more contemporary-looking steering wheel are among the changes for the Sonata’s interior.

Unfortunately, the active safety features that are starting to become common at this price point aren’t available on the base models. Lane keep assist, radar-based cruise control and automatic emergency braking are only offered on the higher-level trims.
That could become more critical as competition heats up, including a new Toyota Camry and Honda Accord launching this year.
Pricing starts at $22,050 for the base SE grade and ranges up to $32,450 for the more luxurious Limited turbo version.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Hyundai Sonata Limited ($31,310). Options: Ultimate package ($2,900), carpeted floor mats ($125). Price as tested (including $885 destination charge): $31,310
Wheelbase: 110.4 in.
Length: 191.1 in.
Width: 73.4 in.
Height: 58.1 in.
Engine: 2.4-liter four cylinder (185 hp, 178 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 23 city, 32 highway

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

Why buy it?
A major redesign helps the Sonata regain its visual swagger. It already had a distinctive, refined driving feel, and now it looks the part.

Posted in Hyundai

Honda Improves Odyssey

By Derek Price

The Honda Odyssey has long been the most popular minivan for individual buyers in America.
Now a new fifth-generation Odyssey is launching, but it won’t be an easy path for Honda to retain its popularity in a segment with stronger competition and buyers moving in ever-increasing masses to crossovers and SUVs.
After driving it for a week, I think it makes a compelling case for why the Honda van is still relevant, though, with a barrage of new features and updates.

Honda’s minivan gets a fresh look that’s more sleek and sculpted than before, yet it’s still instantly recognizable as an Odyssey. This 2018 model is the introduction of a new generation of the van’s design.

Let’s go through the laundry list:
— Magic Slide seats: These appropriately-named seats in the middle row are absolutely brilliant for families. They let you slide them in different positions to make the cabin even easier to use, whether you want to access the back seat, slide them without removing baby seats, or position them close together in “buddy mode.”
— CabinWatch: A camera mounted on the ceiling lets parents keep an eye on their kids through the 8-inch digital display in front. It shows both the second and third rows of seating and even works at night thanks to an infrared mode.
— CabinTalk: Are the kids getting too noisy in back? Need to make sure everyone hears you? A microphone up front lets the driver act like a subway conductor and talk to passengers through the speakers.
— CabinControl: Odyssey owners can download an app that lets them control the rear-seat entertainment system and climate control, plus send destinations to the navigation system through their smartphone.
— 10-Speed Automatic: A new transmission feels nicely sorted, never hunting for gears, and helps the Odyssey achieve a fuel-economy rating of 28 mpg on the highway. Gas mileage remains one of the best reasons to choose a minivan over a full-size SUV, and this one makes it even better.
— Social Playlist: Perfect for road trips when your passengers want to be DJs, this feature lets up to seven people upload songs to the van’s audio system from their smartphones. Honda calls it a “virtual jukebox” that lets people share their favorite songs for others to enjoy, which I imagine could be heavenly or awful depending on your passengers’ musical taste.
Two of the Odyssey’s most compelling aspects, though, can’t be boiled down to bullet points.
One is the way it drives. The Odyssey remains the best-driving van for people who like to feel a connection to the road, something in stark contrast to the more floaty feeling of the Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Pacifica.

The new Odyssey’s cabin is quieter than the previous generation, with increased use of high-strength steel blends and soundproofing to cut down on road and wind noise.

Personally, I prefer the Toyota and Chrysler products on the highway with their relaxing, supple, squishy suspensions, but I like the Honda much better in city driving. Its firmer suspension and better feedback through the steering wheel and brake pedal make me feel safer and more in control in traffic.
Part of the Odyssey’s excellent road feel comes from a new trailing-arm rear suspension design. It improves handling and allows for more cargo space in back and — silly or not — 19-inch wheels on some top trims. Maybe the next generation can add 22-inch dubs.
Secondly, the Odyssey’s top selling point has got to be its reputation for durability.
Minivans typically take a beating from their Cheerios-munching passengers and constant, stop-and-go runs to soccer games and ballet practice. This one has earned a reputation a van that stands up to that kind of abuse, with a virtually unbreakable cabin and bulletproof drivetrain.
That’s a big reason the Odyssey’s resale value is insanely high. If this new generation lives up to the standards of its forebears, it should provide years of relatively trouble-free use and high prices on used-car lots for years to come.
Pricing starts at $29,990 for the base LX model and ranges up to $46,770 for the Elite level that’s trimmed out better than some luxury cars.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Honda Odyssey Elite ($46,670). Options: None. Price as tested (including $940 destination charge): $47,610
Wheelbase: 118.1 in.
Length: 203.2 in.
Width: 78.5 in.
Height: 68.3 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (280 hp, 262 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 19 city, 28 highway

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

Why buy it?
It adds a laundry list of fun and useful features for a new generation of families. It enjoys a long-term reputation for durability and drives in a way that lets the driver feel connected to the road, a rare thing in minivans.

Posted in Honda