VW Updates a Legend

By Derek Price

It’s tough to update an iconic car. Change too much, and purists will balk. Change too little, and new buyers won’t flock in.
Volkswagen does a good job balancing that tightrope with the new-for-2022 Golf GTI.
Now that the Beetle is no longer sold, the GTI is VW’s most legendary nameplate. This is a car that singlehandedly invented the “hot hatch” category decades ago by offering a boost in speed and Autobahn-friendly handling tweaks in a small, affordable, practical hatchback.
Interestingly, the car on which it’s based — the lowly but lovable Golf — is no longer sold in the United States. The GTI and its even faster sibling, the Golf R, are the only models remaining for enthusiasts to enjoy.
In a lot of ways, the all-new GTI is easily recognizable to people who know the old one.
It still has the same boxy shape it’s had since the 1970s, just massaged to look a tad smoother for contemporary eyes. The dimensions are longer, wider and lower, exactly as they should be for a sporty car, while it rides on the same 103.6-inch wheelbase as before.
It also has the same subtle red exterior accents and deliciously quirky plaid cloth seats that always seem in style on this car.

Volkswagen has given the Golf GTI a complete overhaul for the 2022 model year. It retains its lovably boxy overall shape but has an interior that looks more modern.

And just like the old GTIs, the new one is remarkably practical for a small car.
You can fold the back seat down to leave a perfectly flat loading floor for 34.5 cubic feet of cargo, which is more than you get in Volkswagen’s Tiguan SUV with the back seat folded down.
It’s also rated for a budget-friendly 34 mpg on the highway and comes with lots of safety features, including six airbags.
So yes, it’s a responsible car, even if it doesn’t feel like one from the driver’s seat.
That brings us to the very best thing about the GTI, both new and old: the way it drives.
This fresh 2022 version is the best handling GTI yet, feeling refined and quiet for ordinary driving but going absolutely bananas when you push it hard.
The fun starts with a powerful engine. VW updated the outgoing GTI’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder to make even more oomph. It generates 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, and it feels phenomenal in the small, light, stiff Golf chassis.

Prominent digital screens make the new GTI’s cabin look more up-to-date, but a plethora of small buttons make some functions harder to use than on the outgoing Golf.

You can order your GTI with fancy adaptive damping on the Autobahn model, but I’m not sure that’s needed considering how well my cheaper SE tester handles. It’s one of the best handling small cars I’ve ever driven, with perfectly weighted steering and a suspension that seems to come alive when you fling it through corners. It feels as crisp as fresh-cut broccoli.
One thing I’m not a fan of is the new interior design. It has cheap feeling hard plastics in too many places — including a flimsy spot right in the middle of the dash — and tiny haptic-touch controls for every function. Things that should be simple and intuitive, like changing the sound system volume or adjusting the temperature, are more tedious than they should be.
Fortunately, Volkswagen redeems itself by getting something even more important right. It’s available with a manual transmission, a rarity these days even on many enthusiast cars like this one.
Pricing for the new GTI starts at $29,880 with the manual transmission or $30,680 with an automatic, the perfect choice for heretics.
The Autobahn tops the lineup at $38,330, which is high enough to make the wild Golf R’s $44,090 price seem like a no-brainer upgrade.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T SE ($35,095). Options: Premium paint ($395).  Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $36,485
Wheelbase: 103.6 in.
Length: 168.8 in.
Width: 70.4 in.
Height: 57.6 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder (241 hp, 273 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 25 city, 34 highway

Style: 8
Performance: 9
Price: 10
Handling: 9
Ride: 8
Comfort: 5
Quality: 6
Overall: 8

Why buy it?
It offers a lot of new features and a more modern cabin for people who already know and love the GTI. It’s one of the best handling front-wheel-drive cars for sale today.

Posted in Volkswagen

SQ7 Has It All

By Derek Price

Press the start button on this three-row family hauler, and the sound that blurts out is the first clue that it’s anything but ordinary.
The exhaust pops, rumbles and snarls with the unmistakable roar of a V8 engine, delivering instant auditory proof that the 500-horsepower Audi SQ7 needs to be taken seriously on its grocery run.
A sporty, high-octane variant of the luxurious and roomy Q7, the SQ7 is tightened up, powered up and dressed up for driving thrills. It offers all the road-trip-friendly amenities of the Q7 — heated and cooled seats, a fantastic multimedia system and one of the best premium audio systems I’ve ever heard in a car — with the added bonuses of extreme speed and sparkling handling.
The speed wasn’t a surprise to me. With 500 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque on tap from its twin-turbocharged, 4.0-liter V8, one would expect it to be quick. It accelerates from 0-60 mph in just 4.3 seconds, Audi claims.

Larger air intakes and unique lighting are subtle clues to the SQ7’s high-horsepower performance.

Its handling, though, was a complete shocker. I’ve never before driven a three-row vehicle that feels so right in corners.
On the highway, it drives like a large, spacious, comfy luxury SUV. On twisting roads, though, it seems to magically shrink and hunker down, taking on the spirit of a small sports sedan more than a roomy family vehicle. It’s remarkable.
The handling sorcery comes from some clever engineering. An air suspension constantly and dynamically adjusts to varying road conditions, driving input and the electronic settings you pick to deliver a ride that’s both magic-carpet smooth on the highway and sports-car precise when cornering. In sport mode, body roll is almost nil.
It also comes with all-wheel drive and four-wheel steering. At low speeds, the front and rear wheels turn in opposite directions to tighten its turning radius. At high speeds, they turn in the same direction to make it feel exceptionally stable.
Despite being packaged like one of America’s favorite vehicles — the gigantic SUV — a lot of things about it don’t feel very American at all, which shouldn’t be a surprise in a vehicle engineered by Germans and assembled by Slovakians.

The SQ7 offers three rows of spacious seating with a decidedly sporty look, including Audi’s famously clean, modern, tech-focused dash design.

Storage space in the center console, for example, is laughably tiny compared to big American vehicles. So, too, are the cup holders, which are big enough for 12-ounce cans but not much more.
From an appearance standpoint, it’s also not as outrageously ostentatious as its price would suggest.
Bigger air intakes and four exhaust tips make the SQ7 look more aggressive than its plebeian-in-comparison Q7 sibling, but it’s also not flashy enough to make the driver look like a self-centered jerk. The SQ7’s appearance is subdued and socially conscious, even if its drivetrain is deliciously rebellious.
Overall, this is a vehicle designed to strike a balance between wants and needs. It has the roomy seats, practical storage capacity and creature comforts families need for nice everyday transportation, plus it adds over-the-top performance for drivers who aren’t satisfied with the ordinary.
Pricing for the SQ7 starts at $87,500, exactly $30,000 more than the base Q7. With options, including the spectacular Bang & Olufsen sound system for $5,000, my tester rang up over the psychologically important $100,000 mark.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2022 Audi SQ7 ($87,500). Options: Premium paint ($595), Bang & Olufsen sound system ($5,000), prestige package ($5,000), luxury package ($2,900), laser headlights ($1,250).  Price as tested (including $1,095 destination charge): $103,340
Wheelbase: 118 in.
Length: 199.6 in.
Width: 87.1 in.
Height: 68.5 in.
Engine: 4.0-liter V8 (500 hp, 568 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 15 city, 21 highway

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

Why buy it?
This is an all-around amazing three-row SUV. It offers power, handling, space, comfort and style in spades to drivers fortunate enough to afford it.

Posted in Uncategorized

Efficiency and Value

By Derek Price

In a hotly contested market for small crossovers, the Seltos plays perfectly into Kia’s top strength: value.
This is a crossover Kia released in 2020 at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, a reason many people still aren’t familiar with it. Despite its unfortunate timing and awkward name, the Seltos has grown into one of Kia’s fastest sellers.
It’s designed to slot neatly between two other crossovers in the brand’s lineup, the slightly smaller Soul ($19,790) and slightly bigger Sportage ($25,990). Its starting price, unsurprisingly, is smack dab between the two.
Despite being a few inches shorter than the Sportage, the Seltos doesn’t feel that much smaller on the inside, especially in the cargo area. The rear storage space seems especially generous in a category that tends to skimp on it.
In fact, the Seltos doesn’t skimp on much. The hard interior plastics and numb driving feel could both be improved, sure, but that also leaves room in the production budget for things that matter more to today’s buyers.
It’s chock full of content for the price.
Every single Seltos, including the base LX trim, comes standard with collision sensors that can detect pedestrians, lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, lane following assist and even automatic high beams and a warning if the driver stops paying attention.

The Kia Seltos is a small crossover that offers a lot of features for the price, including standard all-wheel drive on most trims.

Those are all things that used to be the exclusive domain of pricey luxury cars, but now the Seltos hands them out for free.
Every trim except the LX comes with some nice convenience features, too: a 10.25-inch touchscreen, automatic climate control and remote start from a button on the key fob.
Two different four-cylinder engines are available.
Most buyers will be happy with the base, 146-horsepower engine that’s paired with a continuously variable transmission. It’s not fast, but it’s smooth and efficient, rated for 29 mpg in city driving and 35 on the highway with front-wheel drive.
The majority of Seltos models come equipped with all-wheel drive, though. That’s a good thing for driving on wet roads or loose dirt, but it drops the gas mileage down to a still-respectable 27 in the city and 31 on the highway, according to government tests.
My Seltos loaner was the new Nightfall Edition, which comes with the more powerful turbocharged engine. With 1.6 liters of displacement, it cranks out 175 horsepower while still earning a decent 30-mpg highway rating.
Having more horsepower is almost always better for someone like me who loves driving, but the Seltos is one of the rare exceptions. I like the base engine better.

The Seltos has a boxy, SUV-like shape that makes its cabin feel bigger than it is.

The turbo engine, paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, both sounds and feels rougher than a modern car should. If this were designed to be more of a driver’s car — lower to the ground, a firmer suspension, tighter steering — the turbo Seltos would make more sense, and the fast-shifting but occasionally jumpy transmission would be an acceptable tradeoff.
For this car’s mission, though, efficiency and smoothness are the goals, and that’s what the base version does well. The Seltos is about getting stuff and people to their destination safely, quietly, comfortably and cheaply, and the base engine does that just fine.
In addition to its bang-for-the-buck appeal, the Seltos’ styling is another high point. I thought my Nightfall tester’s white roof and black wheels were classy and eye-catching for such an affordably priced car.
Pricing starts at $22,840 for the LX and ranges up to $28,340 for the feature-rich SX.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2022 Kia Seltos Nightfall Turbo AWD ($26,690). Options: White roof paint ($345), cargo mat ($95), carpeted floor mats ($130).  Price as tested (including $1,175 destination charge): $28,435
Wheelbase: 103.5 in.
Length: 172 in.
Width: 70.9 in.
Height: 64.2 in.
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged four cylinder (175 hp, 195 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel Economy: 25 city, 30 highway

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

Why buy it?
It offers handsome looks and a whole lot of content for the money, including a generous cargo area and long list of driver assistance features as standard equipment.

Posted in Kia