Toyota Launches Corolla Hybrid

By Derek Price

Let’s start with the obvious question: why does this car exist?
Considering how Toyota already makes the Prius — arguably the best and unquestionably the most popular hybrid car on the planet — it’s tough to make the case that the new-for-2020 Corolla Hybrid is necessary.
They’re both priced about the same, starting at $23,100 for the first-ever hybrid version of the Corolla and $24,200 for the more well-known Prius.
They’re both rated within spitting distance of identical fuel economy, too, with the Prius getting a slightly better rating in the city and the Corolla winning on the highway. The Corolla Hybrid is rated for 53 mpg in town and 52 on the highway, compared to 54 and 50 for the Prius.
They’re even similar in functionality and driving feel, with a practical four-door layout, reasonably roomy back seat and acceleration clearly designed more for sipping gas than for winning stoplight races.
On paper, they’re practically the same car.

Toyota is introducing a hybrid version of the Corolla for the first time ever as a 2020 model. It drives similar to the gas-electric Prius but looks more like a traditional sedan.

I think the gas-electric Corolla exists for one reason, though: some buyers are turned off by the Prius’ weirdness.
The Corolla Hybrid can offer the same benefits while looking and feeling much more “normal” for people who don’t want to deal with the Earth-saving, vegan, hippie, Prius-driving stereotypes.
It also benefits from the same advantages the all-new-for-2020 regular Corolla brings to the table.
While it’s still far from a sports sedan, the new Corolla gets a complete makeover that helps it feel more solid and engaging from the driver’s seat. This new generation feels connected to the road in a way that the last generation never did, mainly thanks to better suspension tuning and improved steering.
It also comes with a surprising level of standard equipment for the price, including a package of active safety and convenience features called Toyota Safety Sense 2.0.
That means every Corolla — even the base gasoline-only version priced at $19,600 — comes with radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, road sign assist and even lane tracing assist, which essentially steers the car for you to keep it centered in the lane of a well-marked highway or street.
That’s unusual because most of its competitors limit those features to their luxury trim levels or offer them as upgrades for an extra charge.

People who remember compact Corolla models of the past will be pleasantly surprised at just how spacious the popular car’s new-for-2020 version has become. It gets a completely fresh design this year.

It also comes standard with a highly capable infotainment system with an 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and a built-in Amazon Alexa assistant.
Driving the Corolla Hybrid is unremarkable, which I think is the whole point. Its cabin feels comfortable and familiar, and neither its body nor its powertrain yell for attention about its remarkably advanced contents under the skin, including a powerful but small battery that is packaged under the back seat and two electric motors that improve the fuel efficiency of its 1.8-liter gasoline engine.
Interestingly, the Corolla Hybrid is only available in a single trim level, the LE, with cloth seats and a very well-equipped cabin. You just choose your color and pick from a short list of accessories such as a cargo net in the trunk, door sill protectors or carpeted floor mats.
It’s an exercise in simplicity for both design and the sales process. In an overcomplicated world, Toyota’s approach is refreshing.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Toyota Corolla LE Hybrid ($22,950). Options: Emergency assistance kit ($59), carpet mat package ($249). Price as tested (including $930 destination charge): $24,188
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 182.3 in.
Width: 70.1 in.
Height: 56.5 in.
Engine: 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 53-kW electric motor (121 total system hp)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 53 city, 52 highway

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

Why buy it? 
The new-generation Corolla has a more engaged, solid driving feel and excellent level of equipment on the base model. The hybrid version gets Prius-like gas mileage without the oddball styling.

Posted in Toyota

Comfort and Capability

By Derek Price

People who want to use their daily driver as a real SUV, take note.
Three years after a redesign that made it look and drive like a miniature Grand Cherokee, the Jeep Compass remains one of the few small crossovers with legitimate off-road chops.
Especially in the Trailhawk version with its protective skid plates, higher ride, sloth-like crawl ratio, hill-descent control and oh-so-sweet red tow hooks, the Compass feels surprisingly capable for a vehicle that actually drives well on the road.
This week I tested the Compass Upland, a mid-grade trim that slots about halfway between the base Sport and the luxurious High Altitude. Even with add-ons that feel greedy — $1,500 for an automatic transmission and $1,495 for the destination charge — it feels well-equipped for its retail price tag of roughly $29,000.
New for 2019, the Upland special edition comes with some of the Trailhawk’s bling, including its 17-inch wheels, fascia, skid plates protecting the front suspension and all-weather floor mats. It also has black accents sprinkled across the body, including matte black tow hooks, a gloss black roof and glossy grille. Silver interior accents and a chrome exhaust tip finish off the look.
Every time I drive this generation Compass, I’m delighted by the highway ride. If you think of Jeeps as noisy and rough-riding, this one is the polar opposite with its squishy, smooth-as-glass suspension, solid chassis and well-sealed body that keeps wind and road noise at bay.

The Jeep Compass looks and drives like a scaled-down version of the Grand Cherokee. It mixes on-road refinement with trail-rated capability.

I also have another recurring feeling: disappointment that there’s only one engine available.
The only powerplant Jeep puts in the Compass is a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that isn’t bad. It makes 180 horsepower, which feels slightly sluggish in a vehicle that seems so meaty from the driver’s seat. But nothing about it makes you say “wow,” either.
A smaller, turbocharged engine would seem a more modern choice, and a turbodiesel would add some excitement.
Fuel economy is rated at 32 mpg on the highway and 23 in the city with two-wheel drive. On four-wheel-drive models, that drops by just 1 mpg, enough for Jeep to claim best-in-class honors for 4×4 highway gas mileage.
Aside from the very refined-for-the-price ride, the Compass’ best feature is its infotainment system. The 7-inch touchscreen in my tester has the latest version of Uconnect, Fiat-Chrysler’s ever-evolving interface for its suite of tech features. Through continuous improvement, it’s become one of the most full-featured and easy-to-use systems of its kind.
Thankfully, it also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for plug-and-go simplicity for controlling smartphone apps on the touchscreen, something I’m starting to consider a “must have” feature on new cars.

A 7-inch touchscreen comes standard even on the base Compass Sport, while a bigger 8.4-inch display is optional on higher end models.

Seating is spacious in both the front and back of the Compass, but it comes at the expense of cargo capacity. At 27.2 cubic feet, it feels a bit small when you open the lift gate in back. The space more than doubles when you fold the rear seat down to create 59.8 cubic feet of cargo volume, though.
The 4×4 Compass is rated to tow up to 2,000 pounds. Jeep does not recommend towing with front-wheel-drive models.
Changes for 2019 mainly involve trims and special editions. Some noteworthy differences are making the 7-inch Uconnect screen standard on Sport and Latitude models, a new Sting Grey paint color, making adaptive cruise control part of the Advanced Safety Group Package and the new Upland special edition.
Pricing starts at $21,845 for the Sport model and tops out at $30,440 for the High Altitude. The one built for serious off-roading, the Trailhawk, starts at $29,445.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Jeep Compass Upland 4×4 ($23,345). Options: Customer preferred package 27T ($1,195), cold weather group ($945), technology group ($695), automatic transmission ($1,500). Price as tested (including $1,495 destination charge): $29,175
Wheelbase: 103.8 in.
Length: 173 in.
Width: 80 in.
Height: 64.6 in.
Engine: 2.4-liter four cylinder (xxx hp, xxx ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 22 city, 30 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It offers a mix of everyday comfort and legitimate off-road capability. Its smooth, quiet highway ride stands out in the segment.

Posted in Jeep

Arteon is Creative

By Derek Price

It’s fitting that one of the most creative cars I’ve seen in a long time starts its name with “art.”
The Volkswagen Arteon is an all-new car that picks up where the sleek, sexy looking CC left off a few years ago. But instead of just updating it, this new model feels more like an Audi than a VW and operates more like a hatchback than a sedan.
The idea of a four-door car that looks like a two-door coupe — with a steeply sloping rear roofline and aggressive, sporty shape — isn’t new. Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have all tried this formula with varying degrees of success, usually at a premium price point, in the past decade.
Volkswagen’s latest effort still is positioned as a premium product, at least by VW’s standards, but drastically undercuts the pricey German competitors. While the Mercedes GLC Coupe starts at $50,000, for example, the Arteon offers similar head-turning good looks starting around $36,000.
And like the GLC — along with all the crossover vehicles and SUVs that sell in crazy-high numbers these days — it has a liftgate in back.

The all-new Volkswagen Arten has four doors like a sedan, sleek looks like a coupe and a huge liftgate in back like an SUV.

While it’s not obvious at a first glance, the entire rear end of the Arteon actually lifts up. It’s hinged just above the back window, which leaves a gaping hole for sliding in giant cargo, SUV-style, when you fold down the back seats.
It’s also available with Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, which gives buyers one more reason not to buy a crossover. It offers excellent all-weather traction that makes it, for all practical purposes, a logical and good-looking alternative to small SUVs.
Still, the Arteon is most likely destined to be a niche car for two reasons: VW’s track record on selling premium cars in the United States, and the fact that sedan sales overall are slowing as the market favors trucks and SUVs after years of cheap fuel prices.
For that niche buyer, though, it has some compelling selling points.
One is its upscale feel. The Arteon isn’t just packed with content — 18-inch wheels, full LED headlights, heated seats and several active safety features, including Side Assist and Rear Traffic Alert come standard — but also drives like a more expensive car.
It’s based on the excellent MQB architecture, the same platform that underpins a wide range of Volkswagen’s newest products and feels remarkably solid over the road.
With the right upgrades, it can feel like a legitimate competitor to luxury brands.
The Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, for example, puts a huge, high-resolution digital display right behind the steering wheel. The driver can customize the look and feel of the display, and data from the infotainment system will pop up to show phone information or CD covers. It’s dramatic and useful enough to elevate the whole driving experience.
Power comes from an impressively strong 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It creates 268 horsepower, enough to make the Arteon feel quick and enjoyable while still delivering 31-mpg highway fuel economy ratings on front-wheel-drive models.

The Arteon is Volkswagen’s newest range-topping car. It’s the brand’s latest attempt to sell premium products in the United States, priced from roughly $36,000.

An eight-speed automatic transmission feels like a great match for the engine. Near-instant shifts and a quick throttle response show attention to detail from people who care about driving sensations.
I loved just about everything about this car. The only downsides came from my favorite thing about it: the sleek styling.
While it looks gorgeous, the sloping rear roofline really does cut into rear-seat headroom. It also impedes visibility, with bigger blind spots than most cars.
Pricing starts at $35,845 for the SE trim. All-wheel drive bumps that up by $1,800.
At $46,710, the SEL Premium model with all-wheel drive and the sporty R-Line trim package with 20-inch wheels tops the lineup.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Volkswagen Arteon 2.0T SEL R-Line with 4Motion ($43,060). Options: None. Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $44,055
Wheelbase: 111.7 in.
Length: 191.4 in.
Width: 73.7 in.
Height: 56.5 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder (268 hp, 258 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 20 city, 27 highway

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

Why buy it? 
It looks absolutely stunning and checks off many of the same practical boxes as a small crossover vehicle: four doors, available all-wheel drive and generous cargo capacity.

Posted in Volkswagen