CX-3 is Practically Perfect

By Derek Price

Competition in the small crossover space is so hot right now that vehicles have to be like Mary Poppins to sell: practically perfect in every way.
The Mazda CX-3 has been Mary Poppins since it was introduced in 2016. There’s very little I would change about it if given a magic wand, seeing how it already drives, looks and feels more expensive than it actually is.
Fuel economy is fantastic, with my all-wheel-drive tester getting 32 mpg on the highway. It feels faster than most of its competitors, partially thanks to its well-sorted, six-speed automatic transmission that whips its CVT-carrying competitors into submission.

Mazda’s CX-3 subcompact crossover, already a strong competitor, gets a number of noticeable upgrades to its body, cabin and feature list for 2019.

Most of all, the CX-3 feels like a premium product even though it’s priced for bargain hunters. Its handling is crisp and car-like, with very little body roll and a firm suspension that makes driving on winding roads a pleasure. Its cabin exudes an upscale feeling, too, both on the lower-level trims that don’t feel too basic and stripped down, and on the upper trims that add supple leather and tasteful design touches that would look at home in a luxury showroom.
Things get even better in 2019 as Mazda is adding a few minor changes that take its sophistication and practicality up a notch.
One is a small change that makes a big difference: an electronic parking brake.
Because Mazda added the electronic brake, which can be operated with a tiny button instead of a big handle, it freed up room for a new center console and armrest to create a lot more storage space. That’s important in a small car.

The CX-3’s sharp, contemporary styling extends into the cabin, where a redesigned center console and rear armrest with built-in cup holders makes it more practical.

Redesigned front seats, new rear armrests with built-in cup holders, a new grille and fresh tail lights add up to a noticeable difference but aren’t revolutionary.
The same can be said of its engine, which gets a tiny boost in horsepower this year and is “retuned for refinement and efficiency,” Mazda says. The federal government concurs about efficiency, giving the front-wheel-drive CX-3 a combined fuel economy rating of 31 mpg. It’s rated for 29 mpg in city driving and 34 on the highway.
What’s not perfect about it? Cargo space and rear seat roominess are less than ideal. And, while I realize this is purely subjective, I’m not a fan of the plastic wheel arches that seem out of place on an otherwise beautifully sculpted body.
Pricing starts at $20,390 for the base Sport trim and ranges up to $27,145 for the Grand Touring with all-wheel drive.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2019 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD ($27,145). Options: Soul Red Crystal paint ($595), rear bumper guard ($100), door sill trim plates ($100), premium package ($710). Price as tested (including $975 destination charge): $29,625
Wheelbase: 101.2 in.
Length: 168.3 in.
Width: 69.6 in.
Height: 60.9 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder (148 hp, 146 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 27 city, 32 highway

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

Why buy it? 
The CX-3’s engine, transmission and suspension make it a joy to drive on winding roads, something rare in this segment. It feels more expensive than it is, both in design and driving refinement.

Posted in Mazda

Embracing Japanese Design

By Derek Price
To understand the new LS — Lexus’ range-topping sedan that intends to make a bold statement for the entire brand — you only have to look in one spot: the doors.
That’s an odd place to stake out your luxury brand’s ambition, seeing how the movable door has been commonplace in cars since the early 1920s. Lexus is taking the lowly door to a place it’s never been before now, and it’s doing so in a uniquely Japanese way.
An outrageously expensive option on my test vehicle, the “executive package with Kiriko glass” priced at $23,060, includes the most beautiful door trim I’ve ever seen on a vehicle. The handle is surrounded by a swath of intricately cut glass that radiates in sunlight like it belongs in a modern sculpture garden, but it looks traditional enough that Grandma would want it in her curio cabinet.
As if that weren’t over-the-top enough, Lexus spent four years perfecting a way of pleating the door upholstery to create a dramatic, origami-like look.

The LS, Lexus top-of-range luxury sedan, is completely redesigned for 2018. It includes a new focus on its Japanese heritage and the most aggressive look in the car’s history.

Keep in mind, that one package costs nearly as much as a brand-new 2019 Camry. I can’t imagine Lexus will sell more than a handful of upgrades at that price. The fact that they offer it, though, speaks volumes about the aspirations of this big sedan.
By combining the traditional Japanese art glass with the labor-intensive pleating that can only be done by hand, Lexus is appealing to buyers who see cars as an art form — the people who might be stepping down from a Rolls-Royce rather than up from a Buick.
That includes a back seat fit for royalty. With the executive package, the right rear seat can recline with an ottoman to rest your feet. It even has a built-in shiatsu massager to melt away your stress and a flock of tiny window shades that deploy electronically at the push of a button.
While very few buyers will likely opt for those pricey upgrades, even the entry-level LS — priced from $75,200 — feels in many ways like a rolling piece of art.
Its new body is both sensual and athletic, and its cabin is the most striking I’ve seen unveiled in a production car recently. The quality of its finishes and thoughtfulness of its design, right down to the sweeping shape of the interior door handles, sets it apart from more mundane competitors.
While the technology it deploys is impressive, including beautiful graphics and fast response from its eye-catching digital screen at the top of the dash, I can’t help but wish for a better interface than the laptop-style touchpad Lexus forces you to use. A simple touchscreen seems to do the job better.
Because this is a luxury flagship designed for a new generation of buyers, an old-style V8 under the hood will no longer suffice. Lexus dumped the LS’ previous engine for one with a more contemporary layout: six cylinders and twin turbochargers.

Cut glass and hand-made, pleated upholstery are part of a $23,060 upgrade to the new Lexus LS. The package includes heated and cooled massaging rear seats with an ottoman for passengers to rest their feet, among other luxuries.

While I miss the unmistakable grunt and roar of a naturally aspirated V8, I can’t argue with both the performance and the fuel economy of its new 3.5-liter engine. It makes 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque, enough to make the roomy beast feel sprightly.
My tester, a hybrid version with less horsepower in exchange for more save-the-Earth credibility, made 354 horsepower yet still earned fuel economy ratings of 23 mpg in city driving and 31 on the highway. That’s not bad at all for an all-wheel-drive, quick, powerful, substantial luxury vehicle.
What you can’t tell from numbers or features lists, though, is the way this car proudly embraces its Japanese origins. Just like the great German luxury sedans show off their engineering wizardry and Autobahn-inspired performance, and the great British sedans embrace Old World clubbiness with acres of polished wood, I believe this car is setting a new standard for what it means to be Japanese.
It goes far beyond precise build quality in efficient factories. The new LS is about heritage and craftsmanship. It’s about a truly unique sense of design, one that’s more original than derivative. It’s about walking with a quiet swagger.
And while the whole car carries that air, you only have to peek in one place to see the story unfold: those ridiculously over-the-top doors.

At A Glance
What was tested?
2018 Lexus LS 500h ($82,730). Options: Lexus Safety System + ($3,000), adaptive variable air suspension ($1,500), 20-inch wheels ($2,450), heads-up display ($1,200), LED headlamps ($300), executive package with kiriko glass ($23,060), Mark Levinson audio system ($1,940), panoramic view monitor ($800), heated wood and leather steering wheel ($410). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $118,385
Wheelbase: 123 in.
Length: 206.1 in.
Width: 74.8 in.
Height: 57.9 in.
Powertrain: V6 engine plus electric motors (354 total system horsepower)
Transmission: Multi-stage hybrid
Fuel economy: 23 city, 31 highway

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

Why buy it? 
This year introduces an all-new design for one of the world’s best luxury cars. It has a renewed sense of Japanese artistry and design, along with a twin-turbocharged engine and fresh technology that brings it firmly into the modern era.

Posted in Lexus

Sorento Joins Features Race

By Derek Price

These days, there’s a new kind of racing in the automotive world. It’s happening on the features list for every vehicle on dealers’ lots.
Across all types of vehicles, but perhaps most noticeably in SUVs and crossovers that have exploded in popularity in recent years, car brands are rushing to roll out features faster and cheaper than their competitors.
Horsepower wars are out. Content wars are in.
The latest Kia Sorento seems to take content abundance to an extreme by offering more attractive technologies at a wider range of price points, including pushing itself farther into luxury-level pricing and polish than ever before.

The Kia Sorento gets a major refresh for the 2019 model year, including new styling and an expanded list of features and technology.

That’s certainly true of the version I tested, the high-end SXL trim with all-wheel drive and a price tag uncomfortably close to $50,000. It feels every bit as poised, refined and solid as the luxury-brand SUVs it competes with at that price, with the added benefit of an unusually long list of amenities for the money.
Nappa leather seats with heating and ventilation, spectacular Harman Kardon sound system, smart cruise control, lane keeping assist, a “hands free” power lift gate and spacious cabin with seating for seven all add up to a premium driving experience.
Even more impressive are the features Kia managed to pack into more attainable versions of the Sorento. A 7-inch display with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay comes on every version, including the base L trim.
The EX trim, priced around $35,000, hits the sweet spot of the market with the content most buyers want in a new car, including lane keep assist that does a good job keeping the vehicle centered in the road as long as the stripes are clearly painted.
Three years after the all-new Sorento hit the market as a 2016 model, the 2019 version gets a thorough and noticeable upgrade. It looks sharper and more sophisticated both inside and out, and it now offers better performance thanks to an 8-speed automatic transmission and powerful V6 engine on the upper trim levels.

The Sorento now includes standard three-row seating for seven passengers on all versions. Its cabin is updated with a new steering wheel, shift knob, air vents and center console design.

Seven-passenger, three-row seating is now standard on all Sorentos, and wireless charging is available to conveniently power devices that support it.
The freshened interior delights the senses more than before thanks to a new steering wheel, shifter knob, visually appealing graphics, air vents and center console design. The changes combine to make the interior look and feel nicer than before.
Outside, new front and rear fascias and a more finely detailed grille make it look more sculpted and aggressive than before. While it rides with the softness and grace of a nice car, the body appears bulked up with a truck-like toughness.
Pricing starts at $25,990 for the L trim and ranges up to $46,490 for the premium-feeling SXL.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2019 Kia Sorento SXL AWD ($46,490). Options: Snow white pearl paint ($395), cargo net ($50), cargo cover ($150), interior lighting ($450), puddle lights ($240). Price as tested (including $990 destination charge): $48,765
Wheelbase: 109.4 in.
Length: 189 in.
Width: 74.4 in.
Height: 66.3 in.
Engine: 3.3-liter V6 (290 horsepower, 252 lbs. ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 19 city, 24 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It adds more features and sophistication, both in feel and style, with a major update for 2019. Its top-end trims move even more into luxury territory than before.

Posted in Kia