Fuel-Saving Comfort

By Derek Price

Some automakers are giving up on traditional sedans. Hyundai is doubling down.
Even when this Korean brand was focused on rolling out its roomy and spectacular Palisade SUV, it didn’t cut back on improving sedans like this: the new-generation Sonata.
The tactic flies in the face of competitors that are scaling back their car development to focus on more profitable trucks and SUVs, and it’s proof that the same manufacturer can build cars and crossovers equally well — if they have the commitment to do so.
The first time I drove this new Sonata a few months ago, I could sense that commitment in the groundbreaking features and sheer sophistication it exhibited over the road.
This week I’m driving a version that is, depending on what you’re looking for, potentially even better: the Sonata Hybrid.
Priced roughly $2,000 more than the gasoline-only Sonata Limited car I drove before, this week’s tester came with most of the same features but dramatically better gas mileage ratings: 45 mpg in city driving and 51 on the highway.
That highway figure is a whopping 42 percent higher than the turbo version’s 36 mpg.

The Hyundai Sonata has a fresh look for the new generation that launched this year. The hybrid version includes aerodynamic refinements to help it get better gas mileage.

Part of that impressive fuel economy is because a 39-kW electric motor helps boost it along, charged up by braking and a solar panel in the car’s roof. But it’s also because of a long list of thoughtful engineering touches to help it burn less gas.
It has active air flaps in the grille, alloy wheels shaped to be aerodynamic, covers and deflectors that smooth the air flow under the car and a bumper lip to make it extra slippery at speed.
If you want the best gas mileage, the Blue trim level boosts it even more. It’s rated for 50 mpg in the city and 54 on the highway. That last number bests its two chief competitors, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry hybrids.
Aside from the fuel-sipping drivetrain, I was enamored with the same advanced feature set and comfy driving feel as in the gasoline tester.
The Sonata doesn’t pretend to be a performance car. It’s a soft-riding, relaxing, zen-like sedan to drive, and the hybrid drivetrain plays to those strengths. It accelerates with a buttery smoothness, and despite making just 192 horsepower, feels reasonably quick under full throttle.
I noticed two things that could be improved.

Soundproof glass, better carpet and extra sound absorption materials make the new Sonata a peaceful place to spend time on the road.

One, the brakes feel touchy at times, a common problem with hybrid cars that use the braking system to recharge the battery. It can be difficult to modulate the brake pressure and come to a perfectly smooth stop.
Two, oddly, you can’t get one of the most unique features of the new Sonata on the Hybrid version: Hyundai’s Smart Park remote parking system, which lets you control the car by remote control while standing outside it. The fact that the most high-tech Sonata is missing its most high-tech option is bizarre.
Pricing starts at $27,750 for the Blue trim, which is the most efficient. The more highly equipped SEL starts at $29,900, while the luxury-oriented Limited is priced from $35,300.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited ($35,300). Options: Carpeted floor mats ($155). Price as tested (including $975 destination charge): $36,430
Wheelbase: 111.8 in.
Length: 192.9 in.
Width: 73.2 in.
Height: 56.9 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder plus 39-kW electric motor  (combined 192 hp)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 45 city, 51 highway

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

Why buy it?
The new-generation Sonata is stylish, comfortable and packed with nice content for the money. The hybrid version adds impressive gas mileage to its appeal.

Posted in Hyundai

Packed With High Points

By Derek Price

When the new-generation Volvo XC90 was introduced back in 2016, it was — hands down — the most impressive SUV I’d ever driven.
The first vehicle built on Volvo’s scalable product architecture, it felt lightyears ahead of the competition at the time. Incredibly comfortable seats, a cabin that truly exuded serenity, a tech interface that actually seemed contemporary, a bank-vault-solid body and safety features that seemed as if they were plucked from a futuristic fiction movie all combined to wow me.
Four years later, while the competition has started to catch up, the XC90 still feels ahead of its time.
This is a pricey SUV, to be sure. It starts at $67,000, so you have to expect a high bar with that number on the window. But even in the luxury SUV class, where intense competition and a race toward innovative features creates an annual battle royale, the XC90 stands out for its sophistication.
One strong point is its drivetrain. I call it Volvo’s “kitchen sink” approach, because it masterfully combines all of today’s fuel-saving and performance-enhancing technology under the hood.

The Volvo XC90 gets a new grille design for 2020 and a six-seat layout. It’s one of the most sophisticated and feature-packed SUVs for sale today.

The engine powering my 2020 XC90 tester, for example, checks every imaginable box: electric battery power, a supercharger, a turbocharger and direct gasoline injection. That’s how it creates a whopping 400 horsepower from a comparatively tiny, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine.
Better yet, the setup makes 472 pound-feet of torque. While the XC90 feels hefty, like it’s built from concrete, steel and granite, the instant power and muscular torque make it zip forward with sports-car enthusiasm.
Assuming you can afford it, I don’t see a single downside to this SUV. It’s a remarkable exercise in engineering and even, as far as SUVs go, reasonably good looking.
It gets even more pleasing to the eye this year with the addition of a revised grille, but the changes are subtle. It keeps the timeless, rounded-square shape that looks both rugged and refined, along with its signature “Thor’s hammer” headlights.
Tesla’s vehicles are among the best on Planet Earth in two key areas — technology and self-driving ability — but this Volvo matches up with Elon Musk’s best products far better than most vehicles from traditional auto brands.
Its self-driving ability is spectacular, even if it’s not designed for true autonomy. Turn on Pilot Assist, the equivalent of Tesla’s Autopilot feature, and the XC90 keeps itself centered in the lane and moving with the speed of traffic more smoothly and confidently than the average human driver.

The XC90’s cabin manages to pull off an unusual feat: exuding a cool Scandinavian modernity and warm, old-school coziness at the same time.

Its Sensus digital interface, which involves a vertical touchscreen with icons similar to smartphones and tablet devices, may be the very best in the world. It’s intuitive to use, quick to respond to input and powerful for accessing features and luxuries that make the XC90 entertaining and comfortable for long road trips.
Perhaps my favorite thing about it, even amid all these strong points, is just how peaceful the cabin feels.
You step inside, shut the door and instantly want to exhale. It’s remarkably silent, for one thing, but the overall design has a warmth and clean simplicity that’s unmatched in any vehicle I’ve driven at this price point. It’s the closest thing I’ve driven to a Rolls-Royce at a semi-affordable price.
This year, you can even get it with “tailored wool” seat trim if you want to mimic traditional Rolls materials inside.
Somehow, the XC90’s interior manages to feel modern and old at the same time.
If you want a modern feel, BMW and Audi cabins do a brilliant job at making you feel cool with their pulsing nightclub vibe. And if you want old-school luxury, it’s hard to beat the wood trim and supple leather in a Jaguar or Aston Martin. Even pricey luxury cars typically make you pick between chilly modern simplicity or warm, fireplace coziness.
The XC90’s cabin manages to do both at the same time. It feels homey and sleek simultaneously, which I thought was the most remarkable thing about a vehicle chock full of high points.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Volvo XC90 T8 E-AWD Inscription ($67,500). Options: Inscription features ($6,300), advanced package ($2,450), luxury package ($3,100), metallic paint ($645), premium sound ($3,200), park assist ($200), air suspension ($1,800), 21-inch wheels ($800). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $86,990
Wheelbase: 117.5 in.
Length: 195 in.
Width: 84.3 in.
Height: 84.5 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged four cylinder, plus electric motor  (combined 400 hp, 472 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 55 combined city/highway

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

Why buy it?
It’s a remarkable achievement of both engineering and design. It coddles you with luxury and impresses with technology, including its “kitchen sink” drivetrain approach.

Posted in Volvo

Challenger Roars Into 2020

By Derek Price
Dodge is serious about building cars for home-brew drag racers.
For proof, look at the Challenger lineup. Not only is this two-door, retro-styled muscle car available in pricey, high-horsepower versions designed to go fast straight from the factory. It also comes in special flavors for people who don’t want the factory to have all the tuning fun.
One example is the Scat Pack 1320, named for the number of feet in a quarter mile. Built for serious racers, it deletes several unnecessary things to save weight — including the passenger seats — while adding goodies from the pricey but no-longer-available Challenger Demon.
It comes with an adaptive suspension with a drag-race mode, a transmission brake, line lock, torque reserve, racing radial tires and insanely strong rear axle shafts.
Powered by a 392 HEMI V8 engine that makes 485 horsepower, Dodge claims a quarter-mile time of 11.7 seconds before owners do any modifications. And it’s priced under $46,000, a relative steal for a race car with those specs.

The Dodge Challenger combines throwback muscle-car styling with impressive performance for the price.

The version I tested this week isn’t the 1320, though. It’s a close cousin with all the seats included plus some luxury features, the R/T Scat Pack, and it’s perhaps the best bang-for-the-buck performance car I’ve ever driven.
With a starting price under $39,000, it has the same 485-horse engine as the 1320 drag-racer, but it’s built more for practical street driving. Roomy seating and a large trunk make it a surprisingly sensible highway cruiser.
Still, it offers all the power, noise and straight-line acceleration to make it a proper — and thrilling — muscle car.
The Challenger’s retro styling has done a good job staying relevant and tasteful, at least to my eye. While similar new cars designed to look old, including the Chrysler PT Cruiser, rebirthed Ford Thunderbird and Chevrolet HHR, all tended to seem dated and chintzy within a year or two, this one still works visually.
Just like its longtime nemesis, the Ford Mustang, today’s Challenger evokes the spirit of its 1960s and ‘70s ancestors without being a carbon copy.
It also has a lineup of astounding breadth, starting with a base model that offers a wicked combination: more than 300 horsepower, less than $30,000 and rated for 30 mpg on the highway.
At the top of the range is the Hellcat Redeye Widebody with its larger tires and insane, 797-horsepower, supercharged V8 engine, priced closer to $80,000.

Prices for the Challenger range from under $30,000 with a 303-horsepower V6 engine to nearly $80,000 with a 797-horsepower V8.

In between are a seemingly endless array of options, available in both all-wheel and rear-wheel drive, that can be outfitted in a wide range of colors, styles and special editions, including several 50th Anniversary Edition models available this year.
Decals, shaker hoods, and aggressive colors such as orange and purple help the modern Challenger look like a Hot Wheels toy from childhood.
One impressive plus is its Uconnect infotainment system. The touchscreen setup makes it easy to control driving features on the car as well as temperature controls and the sound system. It’s one of the best designed such systems for sale today.
Two things could be improved on the Challenger.
One, its cabin could use a refresh with a more contemporary layout and better use of soft-touch materials. Two, its handling definitely veers toward “muscle car,” not “sports car.” The Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro both feel more nimble, if that’s what you’re looking for.
Beyond that, it’s one of the most remarkable and unmistakable American cars, whether or not you race it.

 At A Glance
What was tested? 2020 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack ($38,995). Options: Widebody package ($6,000), plus package ($2,095), driver convenience group ($1,295), premium sound ($1,795), automatic transmission ($1,595), SRT performance spoiler ($995), 8.4-inch Uconnect 4C nav system ($795), 20-inch wheels ($1,295). Price as tested (including $1,495 destination charge): $56,355
Wheelbase: 116 in.
Length: 197.5 in.
Width: 85.4 in.
Height: 57.7 in.
Engine: 6.4-liter V8  (485 hp, 475 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 15 city, 24 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 10
Price: 10
Handling: 4
Ride: 8
Comfort: 8
Quality: 7
Overall: 9

Why buy it?
It’s a thrilling car to drive. It offers a great value for the performance you get at every price level, from the $30,000 base model to the $80,000 Hellcat Redeye.
Posted in Dodge