An All-Around Winner

By Derek Price

Since it debuted 22 years ago, Honda has sold more than 5 million units of the CR-V crossover.
That makes it the most popular vehicle in America’s most popular category over the past two decades. And after driving the latest version, it’s easy to see why.
This is a CUV with no glaring downsides, including how it looks, how it drives and how it functions for family transportation. Even within the red-hot, highly competitive midsize crossover segment, you have to search far and wide to find vehicles that outdo it in specific areas.
The Mazda CX-5 is more fun to drive, by a sliver. The Toyota RAV4 looks more rugged and has a special package for off-roading, something the CR-V lacks.
But as a whole package, the CR-V is compelling for five reasons: fuel economy, interior packaging, handling, value and reputation.
My tester came equipped with the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine, which is now standard equipment after being an upgrade on lower trim levels last year.

A 1.5-liter turbocharged engine is now standard equipment, not an upgrade, on the popular Honda CR-V.

Not only does it offer much better acceleration than last year’s naturally aspirated base engine, but it also offers gas mileage that could be celebrated on Earth Day. Even with the extra traction and drag of all-wheel drive, my tester was rated at an impressive 27 mpg in city driving and 32 mpg on the highway.
As for the interior, Honda has long been one of the best magicians for making small vehicles feel and act bigger than they are. Every tiny pocket of space in the CR-V seems like it’s been carefully carved out to be as useful as it possibly can be.
It keeps getting better, too. One example is the new center console this year, which allows several options for configuring the storage space and moves the USB plugs to more convenient spots. The overall feel inside is one of thoughtful design, solid construction and generous spaciousness.
From the driver’s seat, there’s an added benefit: a responsive, quick feel.
The CR-V’s steering, brakes and suspension work in tandem to make you feel connected to the road, not isolated from it. And despite the rewarding sensations, it still seems as quiet — perhaps even quieter — compared to the last time I drove its Toyota nemesis, the RAV4.
Its mixture of fun in corners and comfort on the highway is unmatched at this price point.
Honda aims to deliver not just a quality product, but also a lot of equipment per dollar, a big reason it’s sold so briskly. That continues in 2020 with the addition of bigger, 19-inch wheels, wireless phone charging and a heating steering wheel on the Touring grades, more standard safety equipment on the lower grades and, the most important change, the standard turbo engine this year.
And if you believe in reputations, Honda has one of the best long-term track records for dependability in the world.

A new, configurable center console with more convenient USB plugs is among many smart storage spots inside the CR-V.

To get picky — as anyone buying a midsize crossover this year should be — there are two things I’d change on it.
One is the infotainment system. The CR-V doesn’t have Honda’s latest platform this year. It still works fine for what I use it for, primarily running my phone through Apple CarPlay, but the graphics and responsiveness aren’t the best I’ve seen from this brand, much less the whole market.
The other is its continuously variable transmission (CVT). In a vehicle that otherwise seems designed by people who care about the driving experience, a CVT saps some fun from what could be an even better, more responsive vehicle.
Pricing starts at $25,050 for the base LX, a $600 increase over last year but considerably less than the previous turbo upgrade would have cost.
The EX-L grade with leather seats, a power tailgate and other upgrades is priced at $30,050, while the Touring luxury grade costs $33,250.
A new CR-V Hybrid is also available this year starting at $27,750.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Honda CR-V 1.5T AWD Touring ($34,750). Options: None. Price as tested (including $1,095 destination charge): $35,845
Wheelbase: 104.7 in.
Length: 182.1 in.
Width: 73 in.
Height: 66.5 in.
Engine: 1.5-liter turbocharged four cylinder (190 hp, 179 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 27 city, 32 highway

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

Why buy it?
Snappy handling, good fuel economy and brilliant storage solutions in the cabin make it one of the strongest all-around crossovers for sale today.

Posted in Honda

Electric Benefit, Gasoline Range

By Derek Price

Tesla and Toyota generate the lion’s share of electric-car and hybrid headlines, but the vehicle I’m driving this week deserves more attention than it’s getting.
It’s the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, which stands for Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicle. It’s the best-selling vehicle of its type, Mitsubishi claims, citing IHS Markit vehicle registration data. Yet I don’t know too many people who’ve heard of it, and fewer still who have top-of-mind awareness about it when they imagine eco-friendly SUVs.
What’s it like to drive? Remarkably conventional.
Based on the standard Outlander, a rapidly aging Mitsubishi crossover that hasn’t been thoroughly updated in more than six years, the experience from the driver’s seat is as ho-hum as one could expect. Acceleration is slow; the ride is bouncy over bumps; and the cabin would be reasonably nice if the rest of the world hadn’t advanced since 2014.
It’s not bad, but it’s not a vehicle I’d buy for the driving experience alone.
The real reason the Outlander PHEV is intriguing, though, is about what it doesn’t do: burn any gas for the first 22 miles you drive it.
For many families’ school runs, grocery shopping trips and commutes, that’s enough to run on electric power all the time. You just keep it charged up overnight, and it runs off battery power just like dramatically more expensive Tesla SUVs — albeit with its dramatically shorter, 22-mile battery range.
Unlike Teslas, though, this Mitsubishi has a traditional gasoline engine that can extend its range comparably to a normal, gas-powered car. When the battery runs out, it just starts burning gas to keep you going.
I think plug-in hybrids like this make more sense than a pure electric car for most families, at least until battery capacity and charging times increase or the charging infrastructure gets closer to the ubiquity and convenience of gasoline in America.

The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has an electric range of 22 miles, plus a gasoline engine that gives it added driving range approximating a more traditional SUV.

With the Outlander PHEV, you get the benefit of electric power for short trips, which covers most people’s daily driving. But you don’t have to buy or rent a second gasoline-powered car for trips across wide-open states such as Texas or Wyoming.
It’s two vehicles for the price of one, with 90 percent of an electric car’s benefits and only 10 percent of the drawbacks.
And yes, there are drawbacks to the PHEV version of the Outlander.
Unlike the standard Outlander, you can’t get the PHEV with a third-row seat. Plus its small, 11.3-gallon gas tank means your overall range still remains slightly limited compared to most SUVs and crossovers.
Aside from those downsides, the PHEV gets a lot of the basics right. New standard safety features, including automatic high-beam headlights, lane departure warning and sensors that can detect and mitigate potential collisions, including those with pedestrians, are now included at no extra charge.

The Outlander PHEV adds more standard safety features for the 2020 model year, including lane departure warning.

A new 8-inch touchscreen display did a great job running Apple CarPlay on my tester, and — hallelujah — traditional, intuitive HVAC control knobs are back below the screen once again.
My GT-grade tester was fitted with the new premium interior package, which feels like a bargain at just $400 extra. It adds a quilted leather pattern to the interior that makes a big visual difference in an otherwise sparse cabin.
I also like Mitsubishi’s all-wheel-drive system, which comes standard on every Outlander PHEV. It offers excellent traction and control on wet or icy surfaces, plus some potential for off-road driving if needed.
Pricing for the Outlander PHEV starts at $36,295. Federal and state tax rebates may be available to drive that price even lower depending on your tax situation and where you live.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GT S-AWC ($41,495). Options: GT Premium interior package ($400), carpeted floor mats ($145), charging cable storage bag ($70). Price as tested (including $1,095 destination charge): $43,205
Wheelbase: 105.1 in.
Length: 184.8 in.
Width: 70.9 in.
Height: 67.3 in.
Powertrain: 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine (117 hp, 137 lbs.-ft.) plus two 60-kilowatt electric motors
Transmission: Single-speed fixed reduction box
Fuel economy: 74 MPGe

Style: 5
Performance: 6
Price: 8
Handling: 6
Ride: 7
Comfort: 7
Quality: 6
Overall: 6

Why buy it?
It can run on electric power for short trips or gasoline power for long ones. It’s a smart combination for many families.

Posted in Mitsubishi

Driving Two Extremes

By Derek Price

If you want to drive a dichotomy, this is your vehicle.
The Lexus GX exhibits not just split personalities but diametrically opposed ones.
It’s ostensibly built for serious off-road driving with high ground clearance, a sophisticated 4×4 system and pavement-crushing weight from its stout frame and solid body. Yet it’s also clearly designed for, and much more frequently encountered within, the parking lots of luxury shopping centers.
A bizarre option combination on my GX 460 tester sums it up perfectly.
One is the new-for-2020 Off-Road Package that’s a $1,570 upgrade on the Luxury model. It includes things you’d want on a serious trail-crawling SUV, including cameras to view the surrounding terrain, a transmission cooler, extra protection for the fuel tank, along with crawl-control and special traction settings for off-road driving.
The other is a $2,020 Sport Design package that includes 19-inch wheels, special styling touches and a lower grille surround up front.
Yes, you read that correctly. Lexus equipped this particular vehicle with extra off-road capability and, maddeningly, a lower front grille and giant wheels, perfect for destroying them on the trails.

The Lexus GX is refreshed for 2020. It can tow up to 6,500 pounds and has a new Off-Road Package for added capability on rugged paths.

While that combination makes zero logical sense to me, it does encapsulate the two extremes of what the GX is trying to do: look stylish and know that you could, if you really wanted, leave the luxury parking lot and drive straight into the Rocky Mountains.
The GX is a legitimate SUV built for actual performance, not just looking the part like today’s popular crossover vehicles. Thanks to its beefy frame and 301-horsepower V8 engine it can tow up to 6,500 pounds, and it has 8.1 inches of ground clearance for traveling over obstacles. Approach and departure angles of 21 and 23 degrees help it get past dips and hills like a mountain goat.
It also has the typical SUV downsides: a more truck-like, portly driving feel and poor gas mileage, rated at 15 mpg in city driving. Most drivers would be happier with the more comfortable and efficient RX crossover, which is why it sells in huge numbers, but you can do more with the GX if you need the capability.

The GX has three rows of seating and spacious cargo capacity. The third row seats have a power-folding function on Luxury models that can raise and lower them at the press of a button.

The GX 460 does a good job masking its truck-like underpinnings under a layer of rich leather and upscale features, especially on the Luxury grade with its incredibly comfortable heated and cooled seats, power-folding third row and lighted running boards.
It also comes standard with the Lexus Safety System + this year. The no-extra-charge package includes radar cruise control, collision sensors that can detect and respond to both cars and pedestrians, lane departure alert and “intelligent” bright headlights.
After a minor update for 2020 that includes revised front styling, some parts of the GX still feel dated, including the overall cabin design and the infotainment system. The digital touchscreen doesn’t look as modern or respond as fast as more freshly designed Lexus products. Its Mark Levinson sound system upgrade and back-seat entertainment setup with two huge screens are both top-notch, though.
Pricing starts at $53,000 for the base GX or $65,410 for the Luxury model.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Lexus GX460 Luxury ($64,265). Options: Mark Levinson surround sound ($1,145), off-road package ($1,570), dual screen rear entertainment system ($1,985), sport design package ($2,020). Price as tested (including $1,025 destination charge): $72,010
Wheelbase: 109.8 in.
Length: 192.1 in.
Width: 74.2 in.
Height: 74.2 in.
Engine: 4.6-liter V8 (301 hp, 329 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 15 city, 19 highway

Style: 8
Performance: 9
Price: 5
Handling: 6
Ride: 8
Comfort: 7
Quality: 9
Overall: 8

Why buy it? 
It’s highly stylish in the city and highly capable in the sticks. It has the look and comfort of a luxury vehicle for people who need the capability of a true SUV for off-roading or towing.

Posted in Lexus