Lexus IS Gets New Name

By Derek Price

At some level, luxury cars are all about prestige, and a simple name change helps Lexus pump up the stature of its IS sports sedan this year.
Known as the IS 200t until 2017, the revised 2018 version gets an extra five horsepower, which is just enough of an excuse to give it a new moniker with a drastically bigger number: the IS 300.
While it’s still powered by a small but turbo-boosted four-cylinder engine, now making 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, its spirit remains very much the same. It’s still Lexus’ entry-level way of saying, “We may not be German, but we can build a sports sedan that sparkles.”
And there’s a lot that glistens about this car.
Its rear-wheel-drive handling is brilliant, offering some fun for aggressive driving without sacrificing too much comfort, even in the performance-oriented F Sport flavor I tested.

The Lexus IS is a powerful, sharp-handling sports sedan that gets a horsepower boost for 2018. The entry-level model also gets a new name, changing from IS 200t to IS 300 this year.

Its body looks crisp and contemporary, although it’s not as daring as some of Lexus’ more recent models like the LC and freshly released LS. Slanted headlights, an oversized air intake and flaring rear haunches make it look coiled and snake-like, ready to strike.
The cabin, while nowhere near as plush as Lexus’ more expensive models, still exudes the sense of perfection and solidity that makes this brand a perennial hit with luxury shoppers.
Overall, the interior appears more Bauhaus than Victorian, with a sparse simplicity that matches its sporty character.
One exception is its digital control system, called Lexus Remote Touch Interface, that adds unnecessary complication and fidgeting to an otherwise cleanly designed, easy-to-use cabin. I wish all the Japanese car brands would look to Tesla and Volvo for inspiration on how to make technology less obtrusive through smart design.

The IS’ cabin is designed to be intentionally sparse, clean and simple, befitting its role as a fun-creating sports sedan more than a silent boulevard cruiser.

Other changes get my thumbs-up, though.
— Adaptive headlights are now available, a feature that turns the beams with the steering wheel to provide better visibility in corners.
— The Lexus Inform Safety Connect and Service Connect are both included at no charge for 10 years. That’s impressive when many competitors start to sell it as a paid service much sooner.
— A backup camera is now standard on all models.
— A limited-slip differential is now available, something that makes it even more of a legitimate sports sedan for drivers who push the handling limits of their machines.
Pricing starts at $38,210 for the IS 300 with rear-wheel drive. The faster, V6-powered IS 350 starts at $41,830.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Lexus IS 300 ($38,210). Options: F Sport package ($3,195), power rear sunshade ($210), adaptive front lighting system ($300), Mark Levinson audio and navigation ($2,635), intuitive parking assist ($500), F Sport steering wheel ($150). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $46,395
Wheelbase: 110.2 in.
Length: 184.3 in.
Width: 79.8 in.
Height: 56.3 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder (241 hp, 258 lb.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 22 city, 32 highway

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

Why buy it?
It combines the fun of a legitimate, rear-wheel-drive sports sedan with Lexus’ reputation for quality. It offers an ideal mix of comfort on the highway and sportiness in corners.

Posted in Lexus

Electric Outlander Deserves Attention

By Derek Price

One of the best electric vehicles I’ve driven recently comes from a surprising brand: Mitsubishi.
While it hasn’t generated as much buzz as the Tesla Model 3 or Chevrolet Bolt, I think this under-the-radar Mitsubishi plug-in hybrid, called the Outlander PHEV, deserves more attention than it’s getting.
For one thing, it’s a crossover, part of the hottest-selling segment of the automotive world today. Consumers are rapidly shifting away from traditional, four-door sedans and into these high-riding, roomy, SUV-like vehicles. They’re seen as more stylish and capable than the Tauruses, Malibus, Camrys and Accords our parents bought.
In the case of the Outlander PHEV, the capability is real, not just part of its looks.
It’s rated to tow up to 1,500 pounds, which admittedly is not much by truck standards but meaningful for a vehicle that can run at times purely on electric power.
It’s also fitted with a sophisticated all-wheel drive system that helps with handling and traction. Years in development, Mitsubishi tested this system in rally races at Baja and the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb before fitting it to the Outlander PHEV. And while I wouldn’t buy a vehicle like this for the fun of it — that’s what sports cars are for, after all — I did find the traction on wet roads superb. It felt stable and planted even in dicey conditions, something I can’t say about all hybrids.

The Mitsubishi Outlander is now available as a plug-in hybrid that can run on electric power for up to 22 miles before its gasoline engine kicks in to extend the range.

With a full charge, the Outlander PHEV can run on electric power for up to 22 miles before its gasoline engine kicks in to extend the range. My real-world driving never achieved that range due to my lead foot, but I could see it happening with a gentle touch on the throttle. Most days, I was able to burn very little gas by keeping the battery charged up on a regular wall outlet.
On an ordinary 120-volt outlet, it takes about eight hours to fully charge the battery. If I bought this car, I’d want to install a 240-volt charger to cut that time under four hours.
If you need even faster charging, Mitsubishi claims this is also the only plug-in hybrid on the market that comes standard with DC fast charging capability, something that can let the battery reach an 80-percent charge in as little as 25 minutes. That’s a key selling point if you’ve got DC fast charging stations available in your area.
Two powerful electric motors — one in front, one in back — deliver power all the time, making a deep well of torque instantly available whenever your right foot demands it. The gasoline engine also kicks in to deliver extra acceleration when needed.
A freshly charged battery and full tank of fuel will deliver a combined range of 310 miles, Mitsubishi claims.

The Outlander PHEV combines the spacious cabin of a crossover with the Earth-friendly attributes of an electric car.

The Outlander PHEV is rated for a ho-hum 25 mpg fuel economy from the gasoline engine alone. With electricity plus gasoline, the government gives it a rating of 74 mpge, or miles per gallon equivalent, which is closer to what you’ll get with real-world, around-town driving.
In fact, your driving habits will make a dramatic difference in how much fuel you consume. With a gentle foot and short trips, you’ll potentially be able to drive on electric power all the time, never burning a drop of fuel. The longer your trips, though, the closer your mileage will get to that of an ordinary, gasoline-only crossover.
As a basic family crossover, the Outlander PHEV doesn’t do much to stand out from the pack. It’s not as quiet as I’d like, and the interior isn’t as plush as some competitors. Those aren’t the reasons I’d buy it.
The electric capability, though, really raises my eyebrows. While Tesla released the Model X SUV a few years ago and Volvo is selling a spectacular plug-in version of its XC90 SUV, those are both pricey vehicles built for high-income families. This is the first plug-in crossover that’s actually priced for the mass market.
Pricing starts under $35,000, making it seem like a bargain compared to the XC90 T8 ($64,950) and Model X ($79,500).

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GT S-AWC ($40,295). Options: Tonneau cover ($190), body graphics ($265), hood emblem ($65), carpeted floor mats ($135). Price as tested (including $940 destination charge): $41,930
Wheelbase: 105.1 in.
Length: 184.8 in.
Width: 70.8 in.
Height: 67.3 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder, plus two electric motors
Transmission: Single speed, fixed reduction gear
Fuel economy: 74 mpge

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

Why buy it?
It’s the first plug-in hybrid electric crossover vehicle at an affordable price. The electric capability means short trips can be taken without burning any gasoline, and its all-wheel-drive traction is impressive in dicey conditions. A traditional gas engine extends the range to 310 miles in total.

Posted in Mitsubishi

Perfection Behind the Wheel

By Derek Price

For pure driving bliss, it’s hard to beat this car, the Mazda MX-5 Miata.
It’s easy to wax poetic about a two-seat sports car designed entirely around the emotions of driving. Everything about it is tailored to make drivers smile, from the sinckety-snick feel of its short-throw manual transmission to the classic burble of its exhaust.
To me, it’s absolute perfection. It’s one of the few cars on which I wouldn’t change a single nut or bolt because it feels like it was delivered from the driving gods in its ideal, pure, transcendent form.
You can look into the details to guess at why. Some of its basic elements are the best ever executed on any car at any price, like its manually operated cloth top that can be raised or lowered in one fast, easy, fluid motion with one arm. No other convertible comes anywhere close to that beautiful simplicity.

An optional cherry red top is the most eye-catching change to the MX-5 Mazda Miata for 2018.

You could say the same thing about its manual transmission. Its short, precise, mechanical throws feel like flipping a toggle switch on a vintage aircraft.
With a seating position barely above the ground, arm rests and the shifter knob exactly where your arms naturally lay, and a perfectly weighted steering wheel just above your lap, it’s not just a car you drive. It’s a car you wear. And it fits just right, like a tailored shirt.
There are people who complain about some aspects of the Miata. They say it’s too small, too noisy, too impractical and doesn’t have a glove box.
Let me be exceptionally clear: Those people are bad human beings. You shouldn’t spend time around them.
Those complaints entirely miss the point of this car. In fact, I think Mazda did an amazing job making the Miata an easy car to live with on a daily basis, considering all the “daily driver” tasks from trunk space to cup holders are secondary to its laser-focused mission of driving fun.
The Miata was brilliantly redesigned just two years ago, so it’s no surprise that the changes for 2018 are relatively minor.
You can get the soft top in a dark cherry color this year, something I thought looked different but still tasteful on my tester. An auburn Nappa leather interior is also available on the Grand Touring trim after being limited to the exclusive MX-5 RF Launch Edition last year.

The Miata’s cabin, like the rest of the vehicle, is focused on the driver. It’s a classic roadster designed for open-air enjoyment, something it delivers in abundance.

A revised infotainment system with a 7-inch touchscreen is now standard on all models, along with smart keyless entry.
While Mazda claims to have changed the rear suspension tuning and power steering this year, the difference feels subtle to me at best. It drives very similar to the 2017 model, perhaps with a bit less road noise infiltrating from the rear tires.
Mazda continues to sell the retractable hard-top version of the Miata, called the RF, with sleek fastback styling and a quieter highway experience. Priced at $31,910, it’s around a $7,000 premium over the base ragtop Miata.
For ease of use and matching the MX-5’s spiritual mission, I like the soft top better. My eyes feel drawn to the RF, though, with its stunningly beautiful, almost supercar-like back end.
Starting price for the soft-top Miata is $25,295, making it the best happiness-per-dollar bargain on the market today by a wide margin.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Mazda Miata Club ($29,155). Options: None. Price as tested (including $890 destination charge): $30,045
Wheelbase: 90.9 in.
Length: 154.1 in.
Width: 58.9 in.
Height: 48.6 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder (155 hp, 148 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy: 26 city, 35 highway

Style: 10
Performance: 9
Price: 9
Handling: 10
Ride: 7
Comfort: 5
Quality: 9
Overall: 10

Why buy it?
It’s pure joy on four wheels. It’s a blast to drive at any speed, has a manual transmission that feels spectacular and a manual soft top with the best functionality in the history of cars.

Posted in Mazda