Small Chevy Feels Supple

Cargazing
By Derek Price
There are plenty of reasons why General Motors found itself staring down the barrel of bankruptcy a decade ago, but one of the biggest is simple.
Ten years ago, they didn’t make cars like the Cruze.
I just spent a week driving Chevrolet’s latest compact car, and it’s such an impressive machine that I’m convinced it could have saved GM’s bacon if they’d just built it earlier. For its price class, it’s as quiet, smooth riding and well constructed as any Honda, Toyota or Nissan, something you couldn’t say about small Chevys back in those dark days.
Today, with low gas prices and a relatively stable economy, large trucks, crossovers and SUVs are the major profit drivers for American car companies. Still, I could easily see a dramatic spike in gas prices or a destabilized economy making small cars like the Cruze become the bread-and-butter moneymakers for Detroit down the road.
For now, the Cruze is a great car for anyone living on a budget, and a hatchback version makes it all the more attractive.
The first thing I noticed about my Cruze tester — a 2017 hatchback loaded up with all the options for around $27,000 — was just how quiet and smooth the driving feel is, particularly on the highway.
Granted, part of that smoothness comes from the Z-link rear suspension that’s only available on the top-line Premiere trim level. Lower-priced versions don’t feel quite as supple, but the Z-link seems to work some magic with this chassis. It achieves a soft-but-controlled feel over pavement that’s rare in a small car, with the exception of a few pricey compacts from Mercedes or Audi.
The Chevrolet Cruze is now available as a hatchback model that offers 47.2 cubic feet of cargo space.

The Chevrolet Cruze is now available as a hatchback model that offers 47.2 cubic feet of cargo space.

New for 2017, the hatchback version makes the Cruze more practical and sporty looking. It offers 47.2 cubic feet of cargo space in back, which is more than you get in some of the puny crossovers that are gaining in popularity these days, all while retaining the low center of gravity that makes small cars fun to toss in corners.
Teen Driver, another new feature on the Cruze this year, is meant for moms and dads who don’t want to give their kids too much slack in their leash. It lets parents review their teens’ driving habits, set controls and remind them to drive safely even if they’re not riding along in the passenger seat.
Finally, a USB port was added to the back seat on the LT and some Premier trims to let passengers charge their mobile devices this year. I hope every carmaker will follow suit.
The Cruze comes with a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine that can scoot it from 0-60 mph in a respectable 7.7 seconds. Unfortunately, that’s the only engine available. I’d be happier if they offered a less powerful version for fuel misers and a more powerful, souped-up, tire-squealing version for the small number of crazy people who want that sort of thing — people like me.
I’d love to see Chevy join in the game with the Ford Focus ST and Honda Civic Si. For now, the 1.4-liter is a great choice for the sane masses.
One strong selling point of the Cruze is its back seat, which feels roomier than most compacts. I had to double-check that this isn’t technically a mid-size car, but no, the EPA indeed labels it as a compact.
Fuel economy is good considering its size and power, rated at 28 mpg in the city and 37 on the highway. Some competitors hit over 40 on their highway numbers, but they typically sacrifice some performance or roominess to get there.

The Cruze has an attractive, solid feeling cabin with generous space for its class, particularly the leg and knee room in the back seat.

The Cruze has an attractive, solid feeling cabin with generous space for its class, particularly the leg and knee room in the back seat.

Finally, there’s the feature set that I think ought to come standard on every car made today: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. While those brilliant phone connection systems weren’t available on the almost-$50,000 Lexus I wrote about last week, they’re available on this Chevrolet.
Pricing starts at $16,975 for the Cruze sedan and $21,615 for the hatchback, which comes with more standard equipment than the base sedan.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback Premiere 1SF ($23,945). Options: Enhanced convenience package ($865), driver confidence package ($790), Cajun Red tint coat paint ($395). Price as tested (including $875 destination charge): $26,870
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 175.3 in.
Width: 70.5 in.
Height: 57.7 in.
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged four cylinder (153 hp, 177 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 28 city, 37 highway

RATINGS

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

Why buy it?
It’s a quiet, smooth riding, well-built compact car from Chevrolet. It offers a lot of content and surprising level of sophistication for the money.

Posted in Chevrolet

A Smooth Operator

Cargazing
By Derek Price

Reliability, roominess and silence. Those aren’t sexy attributes, but they’re three good reasons to look at the Lexus ES 350.
With a starting price around $39,000, the ES has no shortage of strong competitors, some of which are faster, sleeker or come with flashier tech gadgets in the cabin. Few of them can match the all-around, back-to-the-basics luxury of this mid-size Lexus, though, which is why it’s a perennial best seller.
It’s smooth, quiet and spacious. It drives the way a lot of people think a luxury car should, without any pretensions of sparring with BMW for a sportiness prize.
Well, perhaps with the exception of its styling.
The ES wears the same exaggerated, ridiculously bold front grille as the rest of Lexus’ contemporary lineup. It looks like it wants to eat you alive from the outside, but it’s actually quite docile and friendly once you step inside its cabin, which feels like a shrine to inoffensiveness.
As much as the ES’s body aims to raise your pulse, its driving feel aims to lower it.
On the highway, it’s best described as serene (although obnoxious BMW fans would call it “numb”), as its marshmallow creme suspension makes even the roughest patches of pavement feel like polished glass.
In fact, I can’t think of any other mid-size car, and very few full-size ones, that do as good a job as the ES at delivering a silky ride.

The Lexus ES 350 was redesigned last year with a big, bold grille that makes it look like an aggressive sports sedan. In reality, it’s a quiet luxury car with one of the smoothest rides you can buy today.

The Lexus ES 350 was redesigned last year with a big, bold grille that makes it look like an aggressive sports sedan. In reality, it’s a quiet luxury car with one of the smoothest rides you can buy today.

Still, it feels surprisingly controlled in corners. There’s a noticeable amount of body roll — something that comes with the territory in smooth-riding cars — but it never feels like it wallows.
While it would never be confused with a sports sedan, power is more than adequate from its 3.5-liter V6. It makes 268 horsepower, enough to surprise me all too frequently by chirping the front tires under acceleration during my week-long test. The ES’s sensory deprivation cabin eliminated the sounds and feelings of power, not the power itself.
While it’s hard to find any glaring faults in this car, it shares one small thing that bugs me every time I drive a new Lexus: the digital interface.
Lexus is stubbornly sticking by its joystick-like Remote Touch controller that is distracting at worst and gimmicky at best. I’ve long wished Lexus would drop it in favor of a well-designed, simpler touch-screen system.
Also, just as stubbornly, Lexus still doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in this car. Those smartphone connection systems are becoming common even in cheap Chevys and Volkswagens, so I don’t understand why they’re not available in a Lexus with an as-tested price close to $50,000.
I hope that someday soon every car company on the planet will concede that Google and Apple are better at connecting smartphones than their in-house engineers are. Let the tech companies handle tech and the car companies handle cars, I say.

The ES cabin stands out for its spaciousness, solid build quality and attention to detail.

The ES cabin stands out for its spaciousness, solid build quality and attention to detail.

Aside from being a good, solid, comfortable luxury car, the ES has one huge selling point in its corner: its reputation.
Lexus as a whole is known for making reliable, trouble-free cars, and much of that reputation is built on its sedan sales leader, the ES. It has a long track record of dependability.
Lexus should also be commended for making its Safety System+ package standard equipment for 2017. While a similar safety suite is optional on many competitors, it’s included even on the base models of the ES so they all come with Pre-Collision System, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Intelligent High Beam and High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2017 Lexus ES350 ($38,900). Options: Blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert ($500), 18-inch wheels ($880), premium audio navigation package ($2,590), one-touch power trunk ($400), intuitive parking assist ($500), ultra luxury package ($3,500), heated wood and leather trimmed steering wheel ($450). Price as tested (including $975 destination charge): $49,210
Wheelbase: 111 in.
Length: 193.3 in.
Width: 71.7 in.
Height: 57.1 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (268 hp, 248 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: 21 city, 30 highway

RATINGS

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

Why buy it?
It combines the quiet, smooth ride of a traditional luxury car with the bold look of a contemporary Lexus.

Posted in Lexus

G90 Offers Luxury ‘Experience’

Cargazing
By Derek Price

Launching an automotive brand isn’t easy. History is littered with the carcasses of companies that tried and failed: Tucker, DeLorean, De Tomaso, and an almost endless list of once-proud brands that couldn’t survive in the modern world.
Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Mercury are just a few of the high-profile automotive lives we’ve mourned in recent years.
This year, though, there’s a new brand giving it a shot: Genesis.
Just like Toyota spawned Lexus, Honda sired Acura and Nissan created Infiniti, Hyundai has decided to sell its upmarket cars under the Genesis banner in 2017.
It’s starting with two vehicles: the mid-luxury G80 and — the subject of this week’s review — its flagship, a spacious Mercedes-fighting luxury car called the G90.
If Genesis is going to succeed as a brand, it’s critical that the G90 set the right tone from the start. After spending a week driving it, I think it’s got a long list of high points and a short list of things I’d like to see improved.
But first, let’s look at something I find fascinating about this car. It’s actually not about the vehicle itself, but a customer service philosophy called the “Genesis Experience.”

The 2017 Genesis G90 makes a serious, weighty statement at the curb. It’s a spacious, well-equipped luxury car that sets the tone for the launch of the Genesis brand this year.

The 2017 Genesis G90 makes a serious, weighty statement at the curb. It’s a spacious, well-equipped luxury car that sets the tone for the launch of the Genesis brand this year.

Unlike most luxury cars, which you’ve actually got to drive yourself to the dealer or garage for service appointments, Genesis offers complimentary valet service for maintenance. Not only is the regular maintenance covered for the first three years or 36,000 miles, but they’ll actually send a driver to pick up your car and bring it back for free.
You’ll have a Genesis loaner to drive in the meantime.
If Genesis can execute on this experience as promised, it figures to be a game-changing way of selling luxury cars. After all, free time is one of the most valuable luxuries in a fast-paced world.
And that’s before you even consider the strengths of the vehicle itself, launched as a clear broadside attack on any luxury makers that seem set in their ways.
The G90 looks prestigious everywhere it goes. It reminds me in some respects of a Bentley or a big Mercedes, with a weighty, serious presence at the curb.
It also drives with the power, precision, smoothness and silence that mark some of the best cars coming out of Japan and Germany today. It’s definitely not a cheap car — priced starting around $68,000 — but seems like a screaming bargain compared to a new BMW 7-Series ($81,500), Audi A8 ($82,500) or Mercedes S-Class ($96,600).
Its closest competitor in price is the Lexus LS at around $72,000. But, at least until the all-new, redesigned LS is released this fall, the Genesis is the car I’d much rather be driving. At this moment, the G90 is a more luxurious and sophisticated vehicle than even the Lexus flagship, from my perspective.
I was a bit surprised that Genesis chose to make a V6 the base engine in the G90. With twin turbochargers, though, the 3.3-liter V6 in my tester drove much like a large displacement V8. Turbo lag was almost imperceptible for normal, around-town driving, and its 365 horsepower made the monumental car feel lively.
If you want the power and don’t mind the fuel consumption of a real V8, you can get it. The 5.0-liter optional engine makes 420 horsepower for people like myself, discriminating aficionados of overkill.
Rear visibility isn’t that great, but a 360-degree camera system makes that irrelevant in parking lots. And its stunningly quiet, adjustable suspension system is one of the best I’ve ever driven, reminding me just a bit of the $300,000 Rolls-Royce Ghost that I drove a couple of years ago.
Yes, it’s that good.

The G90 was designed around “human-focused” technology. It’s designed to be easy, intuitive and comfortable to operate through a 12.3-inch, high-resolution display.

The G90 was designed around “human-focused” technology. It’s designed to be easy, intuitive and comfortable to operate through a 12.3-inch, high-resolution display.

Its interior, though, wouldn’t be mistaken for a Rolls. It’s very nice, especially for the price, but lacks some of the flashier offerings of its competitors like a rear-seat entertainment system, panoramic sunroof and massaging seats.
I also wish it had a classier finish to the aluminum trim in the cabin. It reminded me of the silver on an off-brand stereo system, not the expensive but beautiful anodized finish that Apple uses on contemporary computers, for example.
Is that getting too picky? Perhaps. In the big picture, Genesis has created a compelling reason for luxury buyers to give it a chance, particularly if they’re looking for the most value for every dollar they spend.
In fact, if I were in the market for this level of car, a G90 would be at or near the top of my shopping list for one reason: three straight years of never having to see the inside of a service shop, even for oil changes.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2017 Genesis G90 RWD 3.3T Premium ($68,100). Options: None. Price as tested (including $950 destination charge): $69,050
Wheelbase: 124.4 in.
Length: 204.9 in.
Width: 75.4 in.
Height: 58.9 in.
Engine: 3.3-liter twin turbo V6 (365 hp, 376 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: 17 city, 24 highway

RATINGS

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

Why buy it?
Quiet, powerful and sophisticated, the G90 sets a compelling tone for the new Genesis brand. Its complimentary valet service as part of the “Genesis Experience” is a huge plus for busy, time-constrained buyers.

Posted in Hyundai

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