XC60 Raises Bar

By Derek Price

Forget safety. Volvo may have just created the world’s best midsize SUV with the introduction of its all-new XC60.
Safety features, of course, are how this Swedish brand built its reputation, adding things like seat belts, side-impact air bags and crash sensors years before other companies followed suit.
But even setting aside all the XC60’s safety-related bells and whistles — which are considerable — it makes a strong case for winning a “best on the planet” trophy for the way it looks, drives and feels.
Let’s start with the styling.
For a brand that’s embodied hit-or-miss bodies through the years, from the gorgeous P1800 in the 1960s to its rolling refrigerator boxes of the 1980s and ‘90s, the XC60 seems to draw from the pretty side of its family tree. It’s sleek and eye-catching amid a sea of dull competitors that seem to be in a contest to see who can make the most boring, derivative crossover bodies.
From decisions that border on the ridiculous, like “Thor’s hammer” headlights and stupid-huge 22-inch wheels on the option sheet, Volvo’s designers aren’t being timid.
That’s refreshing, especially in this follow-the-leader category.
And if the outside gets your attention, just wait until you open the doors.
Its cabin is a feast for the senses, from the tactile perfection of the leather, wood, metal and plastics to the carefully drawn lines that catch your eye without being visually obnoxious — a tough balancing act.
Like all of today’s luxury cars, a big part of the experience involves how well technology is integrated into the cabin.

The Volvo XC60 gets an all-new design for 2018 that raises it to the top of a hotly contested market for premium midsize SUVs and crossovers.

The XC60, again, is among the best. A vertical touchscreen dominates the center stack, but where other cars overwhelm with buttons and menus, this one utilizes elegant simplicity. Volvo’s Sensus system is intuitive to use and works even better than the in-car interfaces Apple and Google have rolled out, something extremely rare in the car world.
Driving the XC60, at least with the T6 powertrain in my tester, is invigorating but not necessarily sporty. If you want a spiritual connection to the road, BMW still reigns as king, with Mazda surprisingly close behind.
If you want prodigious power, a reasonably supple feel and a quiet ride from a cabin that feels like it was carved from granite, the XC60 doesn’t disappoint. Its 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine is both turbocharged and supercharged to make a mind-bending 316 horsepower.
Small engines don’t normally do that. I remember not too long ago when full-size, truck-based American SUVs would brag about having 300-horsepower V8s. The fact that Volvo can reliably squeeze so much power from such a tiny engine is simply amazing.
It’s also something that helps with gas mileage. My tester was rated for 27 miles per gallon on the highway, not bad for a roomy, solid-feeling SUV.

The XC60’s cabin is dominated by a huge touchscreen that runs its Sensus system, one of the rare examples of a car company designing digital interfaces as well as Google or Apple. It’s brilliant.

Finally, there are those safety features. This car not only virtually drives itself for short periods of time on well-marked roads with the optional Pilot Assist, but it also can keep you from getting into serious trouble. If it senses you may be about to hit another car when changing lanes, it will steer you away from a collision. Same thing if it senses an oncoming car veering into your lane, potentially steering you away from a head-on crash.
Pricing starts at $41,500 and tops out at $52,900 for the T8 plug-in hybrid. Options can drive that price considerably higher, though, such as the price of my tester, $63,290. Its options alone cost nearly as much as a new Toyota Corolla.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Inscription ($44,900). Options: Inscription features ($3,800), convenience package ($2,000), vision package ($1,100), luxury seat package ($3,000), advanced package ($1,900), metallic paint ($595), Bowers and Wilkins premium sound ($3,200), air suspension ($1,800). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $63,290
Wheelbase: 112.8 in.
Length: 184.6 in.
Width: 83.3 in.
Height: 65.3 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo- and supercharged four cylinder (316 hp, 295 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 21 city, 27 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It’s an all-around impressive product, including sharp styling inside and out, a powerful and supple driving feel, and leading-edge safety technology.

Posted in Volvo

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