2020 Ford Explorer Limited – The Trim For Buyers On A Budget

Recently we got our hands on the all new 2020 Ford Explorer Platinum, loaded with almost every available option, V6 engine, heated and ventilated front seats, and power folding third row seats. There is no doubt that the changes Ford made to the Explorer are significant improvements from last generation, particularly for the interior. However, there are some features most consumers can live without, especially if they’re not willing to pay $60k+ on a new crossover. The 12.3 inch digital information display and upgraded 10 inch touchscreen are esthetically pleasing to look at, but practicality, versatility, and more importantly value for the price are usually factors that come into play when consumers go car shopping. With that being said, the Limited trim is the perfect balance between affordability and also offering a good amount of safety equipment and technology.

Since the Limited trim is only available with a four cylinder engine and a hybrid V6, performance is not likely a top priority for you as you’d most likely upgrade to the ST. Functionality and having a third row crossover that fits your lifestyle is probably what’s most important, and the Limited trim is going to fill that role in more ways than one.

Coming standard, the Limited trim is equipped with Ford’s CoPilot 360 assist which is going to provide a list of safety features such as: Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear View Camera, Lane-Keeping System, Automatic Emergency Braking, Auto High-Beam Headlamps, and a Voice Activated Navigation System. One of the highlighted features that won’t be available on the XLT trim which sits below the Limited is the 360 degree top view camera. If you’re familiar with or own the last generation Explorer, the sheer size of this mid-sized crossover could make parking a bit of a challenge. To put the Explorer’s size into perspective, it has the same width as the first generation Ford Expedition. With a 360 camera to go along with your front view and rear backup camera, getting out of parking spaces or navigating through tight streets will be much easier. A vehicle this size deserves to have this camera technology, and thankfully Ford decided to offer this on the 2020 model year.

Normally I get caught up in the exterior of every vehicle I review, but it’s the interior where owners are going to benefit the most with the new RWD based platform Ford is using on the Explorer. Inside you’ll immediately notice a difference in arm room once you get behind the wheel, despite there being no difference in terms of width from the 2019 model. However it’s the replacement of the gear shift lever with the rotary dial that will make the interior seem more spacious. The center console will be less cluttered and you’re going to feel much more at home with the new cabin.

The Limited trim receives the upgraded speakers from Bang and Olufsen, along with heated and ventilated leather seats to add comfort for the driver and front passenger. For an additional $1700 you’ll get a twin panel moonroof that will bring in natural light and make the interior look bigger. A power lift gate comes standard across the Explorer product line, and for cargo room the 2020 model will get 18.2 cubic ft of rear cargo space. With all these features included you’re looking at a price tag below $55k and close to $7k cheaper than the Platinum trim.

While $50k is no drop in the bucket, the additional safety technology alone is worth it. Leather seats and upscaled technology in the cabin isn’t always necessary and you can certainly live without them, but if the base model and XLT trim just doesn’t offer enough, going with the Limited would be the smart choice.

At the end of the day, the 2020 refresh for the Explorer will no doubt draw loyal Ford owners in. The company truly listened to the owners, and all the minor and even major changes were all made to improve upon a successful crossover that was still lacking that entry-level luxury feel. Heading into a new decade, Ford has positioned themselves to be at the top of the segment, and to fend off the Japanese rivals who’ve gained a strong foothold in the crossover market these past 10 years.

Making Sense of the All New 2020 Cadillac CT4 and CT5 – Is Downsizing Good?

Letting the dust settle a bit before jumping in on the news of the Cadillac CT4 and CT5, I wanted to rationalize and understand why GM decided to downsize in more ways than one. When Cadillac unveiled both models, I thought a few people in the car community were going have mental breakdowns after the performance numbers were released. The CTS-V came out of the box with a 6.2L V8 engine that put out 640 hp, and now its successor, the CT5-V, is equipped with a twin turbo V6 that gets 355 hp. A drop of nearly 300 hp could make any car enthusiast pass out, but there’s far more to this story than just performance.

The last 30 years of the American automotive industry has been well documented. For anyone under the age of 40, German dominance in the luxury segment is all they’ve ever known. Cadillac and Lincoln being a status symbol was no longer relevant to younger generations, as BMW singlehandedly became the brand that represented success and luxury. By the mid to late 2000’s, Mercedes Benz and Audi became more mainstream, providing upscale interior and exterior styling, while also offering performance models as well. Cadillac’s response was the ATS-V and CTS-V to match up against formidable competition like the BMW M3 and Mercedes Benz E63. While on paper Cadillac seemed more appealing and superior in terms of horsepower, sales numbers are what truly counts at the end of the day, and that’s how we’ve ended up with the CT4 and CT5.

Competing head-on against the Germans is playing a game you can’t win. BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz’s brand recognition and awareness has captivated generations since the mid 1990’s, and there’s not enough consumers willing to pay $70k – $90k for a Cadillac sports sedan. Crosstown rival Lincoln has already made adjustments to their lineup to be more American, rather than producing vehicles that will be marketed as X3 and Q5 competitors. They fully understand that to have any longevity in this new market, embracing their heritage with a modern twist is the best way to go moving forward. Cadillac’s mindset may be a bit different, but here’s my take on why the brand is aiming a bit lower and will take on lesser adversaries.

The ATS and CTS were always considered to be “tweeners”, where in terms of size they were smaller than their competition but larger than cars in the segment just below them. With their successors comes a new marketing approach to tackle this problem, and with less horsepower being offered for the CT4-V and CT5-V, the markets they’re now entering begin to make sense. Downgrading from the mid-size luxury sedan segment, the CT4 will now take on the Audi A3 and Mercedes Benz A Class, which it will dwarf in size and dimensions when it hits showrooms next year. In a new class will likely come a change in price tag, as experts predict the CT4 will start somewhere in the mid $30k range. The CT4-V is predicted to start in the low to mid $40k’s, which is right in line with the Audi S3.

As of right now, barring any refreshes and updates to the competition, the CT4-V will be equipped with more horsepower than the A35 AMG and S3. A 320 hp 2.7L 4 cylinder engine taken from a Chevy Colorado and an all new 10 speed automatic transmission will be under the hood. It’s already been stated that there’s a track version CT4 on the horizon, so there’s still something to look forward to if you’re a car enthusiast. So lowering the performance, but also lowering the price tag now makes sense and Cadillac is reaching new consumers which makes this decision look good from a business and sales perspective.

The CT5 is what’s drawing most of the eyre because of the dramatic decrease in power. It’s predecessor was more powerful but also took on the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes Benz E-Class. Starting next year, that all changes as the CT5 will now be pinned against the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. When looking at the CT5-V, it lines up almost perfectly against the B9 S4. Just like the CT4, this mid-size luxury sedan will also get an enhanced track version, which we haven’t received any details on yet.

No matter how angry or disappointed we get, keep in mind that this major shift was done with increasing sales numbers as the top priority. We can sit down and argue on this topic for a while, but the ATS-V and CTS-V weren’t going to outsell their competition. The individuals who are the most outspoken and outraged at Cadillac weren’t in the market to buy either model, and a majority of people would still end up purchasing a German car because of the status symbols they’ve become. Furthermore, the Dodge Challenger Scat Pack and Hellcat are more affordable options, but thanks to the Fast & Furious franchise and other car related movies, Dodge has a more appealing brand image. Cadillac is facing an uphill battle, which is why finding more vulnerable targets to compete with is a smart business move.

What Cadillac and American automakers have done over the last 30 years isn’t working. The Japanese brands took control over a large portion of market share that once belonged to Ford and GM, and the Germans are unstoppable in the luxury vehicle segments. To change course Cadillac had to try something new, and a lower price tag for a car that is better suited against the A3/S3 and Mercedes Benz A-Class is where tide can turn for the now Detroit-based manufacturer. The CT5 is a different story, and it’s not likely enthusiasts are going to get over this car being neutered anytime soon. However, Cadillac needed a new tactic to reach a younger generation, and making them more attainable is the best way to achieve that goal.

2019 Mazda3 Hatchback AWD – A Legitimate Subaru Impreza Competitor?

If you were in the market to purchase an AWD hatchback under $30k in the past, your only option was the Subaru Impreza. A car that for years seemed adequate enough to meet the demands of consumers in colder climates, now faces new competition that offers more than just year round practicality. The 2019 Mazda3 Hatchback is here to challenge it’s Japanese rival, and with a redesigned exterior and face-lifted interior it just might change your perception towards compact cars. Stated many times by dozens of people for the past few years, popularity in cars is on the decline as Americans prefer crossovers, but for the remaining percentage of buyers bucking the current trend, the Mazda3’s improvements from last generation could certainly sway consumers in this segment.

15 years ago, vehicles in this price range and market could have easily been seen as disposable cars, but one quick walk around of the new Mazda3 gives you the impression that this hatchback is here to be more than just a daily commuter car. Mazda has strived this decade to provide an entry level luxury appeal to set themselves apart from other Japanese manufacturers. A primary example is the 2019 Mazda3 hatchback, as both inside and out it’s overall design certainly grabs attention.

With a new model year comes less body lines, making this hatchback look more futuristic and almost concept car-like, rather than being just another face in the crowd. A restyled and more aggressive front fascia that’s more enhanced with the black mesh front grill and chrome delete for the Premium Package is an aesthetic improvement from the 2018 model year. Something we don’t usually talk about with redesigns that is actually one of the more notable differences from last generation is the restyled C-Pillar. From the rear, the Mazda3 hatchback looks almost like a subcompact crossover, and it could be argued that it looks like a lowered CX-3. We don’t usually see this from brands when it comes to the road presence of hatchbacks, as they usually get a distinctive rear end. Instead, Mazda reshaping this car has blurred the lines to a certain degree, giving their hatchback styling that fits right in with the popular crossover trend.

Standard on all Mazda3 trims are 18″ alloy wheels, with the Premium Package receiving a sportier wheel design with black finish. Signature LED headlight and taillight illumination along with an Adaptive Front-lighting System will also be equipped on this trim, which is becoming common for most cars in this segment.

Under the hood of the Mazda3 is a 2.5 liter four cylinder engine that puts out 186 hp and 186 lb ft of torque and is paired with a 6 speed automatic transmission. However, what deserves the spotlight is that Mazda now offers AWD as an optional drivetrain, which now gives consumers an alternative to the Subaru Impreza. Mazda also becomes a viable option for drivers in the northern parts of the United States where AWD is a priority when shopping for a new car. FWD does come standard however, and not surprising is that fuel efficiency is better, whereas you will sacrifice economical practicality for improved driving during the winter with AWD. In the city you can expect to receive 24 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway.

Mazda3 Hatchback Interior
Mazda3 Hatchback Interior

Starting with the last generation of Mazda vehicles, the detail and design of the interiors significantly improved from what we were used to receiving. While competitors in the class and price range are joining in on the entry level luxury feel, Mazda was one of the first. For 2019 they improved the interior by going more simplistic especially with the dashboard and center console, while also paying close attention to quality.

The most notable difference from last year’s model is that the infotainment system has been placed further back. With Mazda attempting to go more premium, this resembles what you’d see in Acura or Lexus where the infotainment system doesn’t function as a touchscreen, and instead to access different features you’ll have to use a touchpad or trackpad. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are offered on the Mazda3, and overall the slight improvements made to the infotainment system are good, but definitely not great as the monitor is rather small compared to competitors.

Unlike other vehicles in it’s class, Mazda offers different interior color options with Black, Red, and White. Heated leather seats come standard on the Premium Package, and what you’ll notice is soft touch materials are found throughout the interior giving the Mazda3 a luxury feel that provides additional comfort. One minor takeaway from last year is that your leather wrapped steering wheel won’t be heated, but the buttons would suggest that other markets will have this feature. While it’s not a major loss some competitors do offer a heated steering wheel, and with Mazda going with AWD for this model year I was hoping this small comfort features would carry over from 2018.

For rear cargo space the Mazda3 Hatchback gets 20.1 cubic ft of rear cargo room which is seven cubic ft bigger than the sedan variant. It does however fall just a bit short when compared to the Subaru Impreza hatchback, but if you can live with a minor discrepancy of seven tenths of a cubic foot then that can be overlooked.

Overall if you’re in the market for a compact car that offers AWD at a price right around $30k, then the Mazda3 is now an option if the Subaru Impreza was on your short list. It provides more comfort and horsepower, while also having a striking road presence. The compact car market may be dwindling, but in the meantime, brands are still putting out viable alternatives if you refuse to join the crossover frenzy.

2020 Toyota Corolla – The Compact Sedan That Will Keep the Segment Alive

It’s almost becoming a redundant statement when people say, “crossovers are taking over the automotive industry”. The truth always hurts, especially if you’re a car enthusiast. However, Toyota has continued to produce and improve the family sedans in their lineup, and with the 2020 Corolla, the compact car segment might still be showing signs of life. Despite times being dire as Ford and Chevy are leaving the small car market, Toyota surprised us all with a Corolla that just might be the best one yet.

An appealing appearance was never something you’d associate with the Corolla, as practicality and reliability were always main selling points. Starting with last generation, Toyota began marketing towards millennials and younger buyers, and now with a completely redesigned sporty exterior one might argue that it’s the best looking in its class. With a black mesh grille and aggressive front fascia overall, the brand has transitioned to being more performance oriented when it comes to design, mostly due in part to the new Toyota Supra. This sporty theme continues to the rear, as the body lines, black mesh grille, and rear diffuser are elements that were never incorporated into the road presence of the Corolla in recent previous generations.

For the SE and XSE trims, 18″ machined alloy wheels will come standard, which are certainly an upgrade over the 16″ wheels found on L, LE, and XLE trims. Also coming standard are LED daytime running lights and taillights, and for the XSE, heated side mirrors and a power moonroof are additional features that add quality to the new Corolla.

The evolution this car has gone through aesthetically not only indicates the direction the Toyota brand is going in, but it also ensures the survival of this model. The Corolla continues to have a loyal following from consumers that extend decades, but Toyota is well aware that reliability alone no longer equates to sales in an ever-growing demand for more practical crossovers. To help combat this, they gave their compact sedan a hybrid trim that not only comes in at a very affordable base price of just under $23k, but also gets a combined fuel economy 52.5 mpg.

Under the hood of the top trim XSE, the Corolla gets a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder engine that puts out 169 hp and 151 lb ft of torque and is paired with a continuously variable transmission. This is an increase of 29 horses from last generation, and this boost in performance doesn’t negatively effect fuel efficiency either as the Corolla achieves 31 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. Front wheel drive is your only option for the drivetrain which isn’t a surprise, as many competitors aren’t offering AWD in this segment. Despite the many changes to the exterior, it’s still your reliable and economically practical Corolla, but is the interior just as exciting as the new outward appearance?

Inside you’re greeted by heated front sports seats with fabric inserts for both the driver and passenger. Bolstering is rather impressive for a car in this class, especially for a Corolla. Once behind the wheel you’re going to immediately notice a completely redesigned dashboard, center console, and new for 2020, a 7 inch digital information display between two analog gauges. This instrument cluster will be found in other Toyota products, and with competitors beginning to integrate digital technology in their vehicles, this is one way for the brand to stay relevant in an ever changing digitalized world.

You’ll get Apple CarPlay compatibility along with Amazon Alexa connectivity which you can access through your 8 inch touchscreen. Optional for the XSE trim, you’ll get a navigation system and a 9 speaker JBL sound system. While technology is no stranger to Toyota, there does appear to be an accelerated shift towards reaching a younger consumers base. This approach is a way to not only focus primarily on the fact the car is reliable and safe, but it can also be fun for the driver and passengers as well.

For rear cargo space you’ll get 13.1 cubic ft of cargo room, which is slightly bigger than the Honda Civic sedan. This in my opinion is the reason why Americans are moving on to crossovers, and I don’t think there’s any argument here that cargo volume is one of the Corolla’s biggest weaknesses. However, loyal owners who have purchased this model in the past aren’t in need of versatility, which is why the upgrades Toyota has made to this car, while also increasing its fuel efficiency might just be enough for customers to justify purchasing one more Corolla in their lifetimes.

Looking towards the future, no one really knows whether the compact car market will survive. But one thing is for sure, that the brands who still cater to customers in this dwindling segment are continuing to provide comfort features, economical and financial practicality, and an increase in technology. This alone could still draw buyers, and maybe over time, compact cars will continue to evolve to become more compelling to Americans, but only time will tell.

Saying Goodbye to the Ford Fusion – Ford’s Best Selling Sedan This Decade

Models come and go all the time, but very rarely do high volume sellers get cut from automotive brands’ lineups, and yet that’s exactly what’s happened to the Ford Fusion. In response to increasing consumer demand for crossovers, Ford became the first manufacturer to make the bold move to primarily sell SUV’s, getting rid of the Fiesta, Focus, Fusion, and Taurus which is already having a ripple effect across an industry that appears to be transitioning away from the traditional family sedan. GM announced they’d be making a similar move, getting rid of the Chevy Impala and Cadillac CT6, but sales for those two cars pale in comparison to what the Fusion had brought to the Ford Motor Company over the last 15 years.

When the Fusion was first introduced, it was essentially going to be the replacement for the Ford Taurus, which at the time received some criticism from journalists. They felt that replacing an iconic car with something brand new would be received poorly by consumers, but as history has shown us, not only did the Fusion fill in perfectly for the Taurus, it became a strong competitor to the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry the minute it arrived at dealerships. Back in 2018, Ford dealers across the country weren’t happy with this announcement that the company would cease production of the Fusion, and while crossovers and pickup trucks will be more lucrative in the near and distant future, concern over not having a sedan in the lineup is certainly warranted.

The 2nd generation Fusion that we’ve been accustomed to seeing on the roads over the last 6 years was a part of Ford’s global car strategy called “One-Ford”. Designed by Ford’s Europe division, the Fusion, along with the Fiesta and Focus arrived at showrooms around 2013, and these models would also be sold to other global markets. Seeing immediate success, the Fusion’s European styling along with it’s award winning hybrid model made this sedan a hot seller, and in 2013 and 2014, sales exceeded 300,000 cars in the US.

In the years leading up to a sharp decline in sales in 2018, the Fusion drew in many Americans due to it’s affordability, practicality, styling, and for some, it’s understated performance. Not common on the roads, the Fusion Sport gets a 2.7L EcoBoost V6 that puts out 325 hp and 380 lb ft of torque. Surprisingly it was faster than most mid-size sedans in it’s class, but with very little coverage from the automotive press and most consumers choosing the 1.5 and 2L four cylinder engines, the Fusion’s eyebrow raising performance numbers just couldn’t muster enough attention from the general public. Instead, the Fusion’s good fuel economy and hybrid trim made this car very desirable for the average American, along with it’s price tag of under $30k.

We could sit down and write a list of factors that have attributed to the demise of a sedan that many Americans welcomed with open arms when it arrived at dealers. One issue being the very old and warn out exterior that Ford didn’t update in the 6 years of the current generation being on sale. While initially sales skyrocketed in 2013 for the fusion, Toyota and Honda continued to change the design of their cars, and despite bold styling receiving mixed reviews by consumers, the Japanese rivals still see healthy sales numbers in a segment that’s experiencing a gradual decline in interest.

The interior is another aspect of the Fusion that no doubt played a role in slowing sales, but this is a sentiment many consumers had with the entire Ford lineup, and as we inch closer to a new decade, the brand out of Dearborn Michigan is back on track with refreshes for the Escape and Explorer. But could the interior facelifts that now appear in the crossovers have saved this sedan? Absolutely not, and there’s a few reasons why.

The most obvious is consumers aren’t buying family sedans at the rate they were in 2010. Even taking the safety aspect and versatility out of the equation for a minute, competition from Toyota and Honda arguably pushed Ford out of the segment entirely. Depending on your perspective, some of you might say that was due to Ford not refreshing the Fusion and other models every three years, or you feel that competitors from Japan were manufacturing better cars.

No matter what the circumstances were for this business decision, Ford is eager to turn the page and begin a new era starting in 2022. This will include the Ford Bronco, an electric crossover inspired by the Mustang, a compact pickup truck that will slot below the Ranger, and now the brand is talking about a new affordable vehicle that will replace the Fiesta, Focus and Fusion. Ford is being very vague about this affordable alternative, giving us no hints at whether it’s a crossover or a compact car. However, the brand has recently boasted that their new global platforms give Ford flexibility when it comes to creating and manufacturing all new vehicles.

The Michigan based brand may have been bold moving in the crossover and pickup direction, but there’s enough information out there to indicate that they have backup plans to quickly reverse course if the economy or consumer demand changes drastically.

At the end of the day, the Fusion getting cut from the lineup makes sense from a business perspective, but some consumers feel that the brand is losing the aspect of affordability with the Fiesta, Focus, and family cars no longer being in production. Unlike with most automotive news, Ford’s current state of affairs is a fluid situation. For the brand to now speak about an affordable vehicle of some kind by 2022 does seem to be a slight tweak in terms of overall trajectory for the brand.

It might be the end of an era, one that started with the Ford Taurus replacing the LTD in 1986, but this is by no means the official end of cars rolling off the assembly lines.

Maserati GranTurismo – Soul, Passion, and Everything In-Between

It’s very rare to stumble upon a car that captivates so many, but is often so unappreciated that to some extent it gets forgotten. When you think of the Maserati GranTurismo, it’s quite possible that their notorious depreciation to absurdly affordable prices will be your first thought. For some of you, it’s style, sophistication, class, Ferrari engine, and an exhaust note so beautiful that it could make even Michelangelo shed a tear is what draws you in to this Italian masterpiece. From critics, its relatively slow 0-60 time, it’s weight, an aging body style, and outdated infotainment system is all you’ll hear. But for many who dream of owning this grand tourer, we overlook its faults and shortcomings and focus on the strengths that makes this car special.

I often feel that to truly appreciate the GranTurismo, lap records and 0-60 times have to mean nothing to you in the grand scheme of things, because if they do you’re likely not seriously considering ever owning one. This car isn’t meant to be on a drag strip. When it’s not found carving through back roads during a spirited drive, the GranTurismo blends in perfectly uptown where drivers can make a grand entrance. It embodies class and luxury and likely reflects the characteristics of the driver behind the wheel. There’s without a doubt that people compare the GranTurismo to the Bentley Continual GT, but’s it’s the small details that makes this car unmistakably Italian and sets it apart from any other European grand tourer.

Home to some of the greatest artists in history, Italy is known to bring that same romantic masterpiece styling to the cars that leave the assembly lines. This 21st century form of artistic expression through objects of transportation leaves car enthusiasts mesmerized, much like the Sistine Chapel and many of the Roman era buildings do to tourists. Despite Maserati only making slight facelifts to the GranTurismo over the last 11 years or so, you still can’t help but stop and admire a car that somehow continues to tug at your heart strings.

From the aggressive front fascia, to the very long wheel base that makes itself evident when looking from the side profile, and then swooping around to the wide rear end that sports dual exhaust tailpipes, the GranTurismo is one of very few cars that holistically looks stunning. It’s immediately recognizable on city streets, and then when it drives by you’re graced with the sound of the Ferrari V8 engine that you’ll hear even after the car is no longer in sight.

When it comes to performance, the 4.7L V8 engine that puts out 454 hp and 384 lb ft of torque will get you to 60 in just under 5 seconds. Unlike most modern cars where you can get away with short shifting, the GranTurismo needs to scream before going into next gear. Not only are you cheating yourself out of an automotive symphony by quickly going through the gears, but you’re completely missing the point of what makes this car so much fun to drive. Ideally you want to be on quiet backroads where you can truly experience the GranTurismo, but because its a grand tourer, this car is built for longer road trips on the highway as well.

Obviously driving dynamics are important, however its the interior where you’re spending all your time. Inside you’re greeted by a driving atmosphere and environment that matches the beauty and craftsmanship on the outside. Leather trimmed seats with Alcantara inserts and the trident logo embroidered in the headrests offers just the right amount of comfort and support for the journey ahead. Massive aluminum paddle shifters mounted behind the steering wheel give you that race car feel, and the analog instrument panel brings you back to a time before technology was integrated into almost every vehicle on the road.

Critics will always tell you that the infotainment system is old and outdated, but what makes the GranTurismo so special is that it’s a driver’s car. As enthusiasts we’re supposed to be more in-tune with the road, rather than the touchscreen. We’re meant to have both hands on the steering wheel as we corner on tight back roads, and to experience the thrilling moment of exhilaration when shifting through gears and hearing the sound of that V8. As the years have passed, we’ve lost that feeling with sports cars, where the electronics and digital information displays grab our attention more than the craftsmanship, interior design, and driving experience. If anything, the GranTurismo’s aging interior is a bridge in time that brings us back to what cars were all about.

In conclusion, younger enthusiasts can keep their Nurburgring lap times and sub three second 0-60 times that seem to be broken every week. An entire generation of enthusiasts have grown up on speed rather than appreciation for what truly makes a car so special. The soul a sports car possesses that gives the driver feedback on winding roads, the roar of the engine and an almost instrument-like tuned exhaust note is a complete package the Maserati GranTurismo offers. It might be slow, heavy, and maybe outdated for some, but for me I can’t help but smile every time I see one.

The 2020 Ford Escape – A Game Changer In The Crossover Segment?

It’s almost becoming a cliche to say that crossovers are taking over the automotive world, but unfortunately it’s the reality we’re living in. For manufacturers, differentiating themselves from rival brands is crucial if they want to control a segment that shows no sign of slowing down in growth heading into next decade. Last year Toyota unveiled the completely redesigned RAV4 which is now in showrooms and already on the road. It’s debut was without a doubt impressive, but fast forward one year later and we’re once again presented with a crossover that sports a new look and built on an all new platform.

The 2020 Ford Escape made a grand entrance just before the New York Auto Show, and already excitement is building for the American manufacturer’s best selling crossover. In 2018 Ford announced they were fully committing to SUV’s, cutting the Focus, Fiesta, Fusion, and Taurus out of the lineup. Many journalists and consumers were concerned about Ford’s future and where the automotive world was heading, but with the list of upgrades that Ford has made to the Escape, next decade is looking bright for the brand out of Dearborn, Michigan.

Exterior

Completely redesigned, the Escape now looks sleek, sporty, and slightly more European. It’s been lengthened, lowered, and widened which is going to be noticeable once you step inside. At first glance the Escape now looks like a crossbreed between a Porsche and Tesla, and from the front fascia to the C-Pillar, it certainly looks like a baby Macan. With journalists expressing the same opinions, this could bode well for the 2020 model year.

Looking around back, I wouldn’t go as far to say that Ford took design elements from Toyota, but the taillights definitely remind me of the new RAV4, but at the same time they also look like they came off a Jeep Cherokee. From the photos and video that have been released, the entire body of the Escape is a teaser of what we can expect from the all new Lincoln Corsair, which will be unveiled in New York on April 17th.

Overall, the overhaul for the exterior was certainly needed. The last generation Escape’s body and design were very worn out and old, with only one minor facelift that enhanced the front fascia. For 2020, the Escape loses the boxiness and slightly bland appearance, which is why styling the crossover in a way that we liken it to a Porsche or Tesla was the right decision moving forward.

Interior

The bulk of the improvements for 2020 are found inside, and it’s here that emotions range from being impressed, surprised, to disappointed. Starting off with the what’s good, Ford will offer a 12.3 inch digital information display with graphics that appear to be on par with Honda. While not trying to sound like Captain Obvious, this implementation of technology the minute you get behind the wheel was certainly needed. American manufacturers have been late to the game when it comes to transitioning from analog to digital instrument panels, but from what we’ve seen, resolution quality seems to be quite good.

Also new is a repositioned 8 inch touchscreen infotainment system that is reminiscent to what you’d expect from Kia. The screen is no longer integrated into the dashboard, and instead is its own piece. What’s disappointing however is that Ford is still using the Sync 3 system for the start of a new generation. I was hoping that instead of a re-skinned infotainment system we’d get something new that would give Honda a run for its money. Yet while feeling a bit discouraged, Toyota’s infotainment system is also outdated, but with Ford committing to a new direction, I expected them to update every aspect of the interior.

Not surprising for 2020 is that Ford got rid of the gear shift lever and is replacing it with a rotary dial. We’ve already seen this transition in the Ford Edge, and by implementing a rotary dial they were able to add a wireless phone charger. So far I haven’t seen or heard anything about that being offered on the Escape, and instead it only appears that this decision was made to increase cargo space for storage compartments up front.

Adjustable Rear Seats

A strong selling point for consumers is the rear seats that now offer six inches of adjustability. Ford claims that when the seats are pushed back, the Escape offers more legroom than a Chevy Suburban which is really impressive. This adds practicality and versatility, especially for families or individuals constantly on the go because if there’s no occupants in the back, that extra six inches of room can be used to maximize cargo room. This feature alone could draw in buyers, and for the tall people in your life, you won’t have to hear them complain about being cramped in the back during a long road trip.

New Engine Options and the Return of Hybrid Technology

Starting off with the old, the 2020 Escape will offer the 2.0L turbocharged 4 cylinder engine that puts out 250 hp and 275 lb ft of torque, which is a slight increase in power from last generation. All new is a 1.5L Ecoboost 3 cylinder engine, which is definitely surprising. Normally we’ll see smaller four cylinder options here in the United States, while other global markets receive the 3 cylinder engine. For performance you can expect 180 hp and 177 lb ft of torque. Both engine options just listed will be paired with an 8 speed automatic transmission.

When it comes to the all new hybrid engines available, both will be 2.5L 4 cylinders, with one being fully hybrid and the other being a plug in. Ford claims that the full hybrid version will have a fuel range of over 550 miles which is very impressive. Hopefully we can find out if that fuel range is accurate, as it does seem a bit high and ambitious. For the plug in variant, you’ll get 209 hp and an electric charge of about 30 miles.

Is The 2020 Escape A Game Changer?

At the end of the day, the all new Escape will put Ford back into contention against Toyota, Honda, and Nissan who all outsold the Escape in its segment. The updates that were made to the exterior bring a sporty, youthful, and fun vibe to a crossover that became quite bland near the end of its cycle. To have a Tesla and Porsche appearance makes this vehicle relevant to most consumers, and at least on paper, makes the Escape an affordable option for a buyer whose budget can’t get them a Porsche Macan.

However, it’s the interior updates that I think will be the prime selling points for most buyers in the United States. The updated digital instrument panel, a more upscale interior, and the six inches of adjustability for the rear seats will resonate best with Ford loyalists and also new consumers as well. The complete overhaul was executed perfectly by Ford, and the changes they made now put the American manufacturer in a good spot heading into a decade.

With Ford continuing to tweak their lineup, there’s a lot of excitement and anticipation for what’s coming on the horizon. The Bronco’s return is right around the corner, a four door Mustang is in the works, and even an off-road variant of the Escape can’t be ruled out. If Ford does this right, they’ll put Honda and Toyota on notice for the beginning portion of the 2020’s.

Is Toyota The Most Unappreciated Brand Right Now?

For almost 17 years after Toyota ceased production of the Supra, the Japanese brand that once captured the attentions of younger consumers by offering more affordable sports cars became known as the most boring brand in the country. The stark difference from the 90’s and 2000’s were apparent as the lineup became primarily geared toward consumer vehicles and looking to the future with the Toyota Prius. It wasn’t until around 2017 that hope was rekindled within the car community, and that there were signs of exciting cars coming on the horizon.

When Scion closed it’s doors, the GT86 and Corolla iM, which is now the Corolla hatchback, joined the Toyota lineup in the United States ushering in a significant change for the brand, not only when it came to performance, but also appearance.

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

This all really begins in the fall of 2017 when the completely redesigned Camry started to hit showrooms across the country. The new XSE V6 trim would offer 301 hp with paddle shifters to go along with an optional two-toned exterior and red leather sports seats. Toyota lowered the roof which widened the interior, increasing shoulder room and giving the Camry more of a sports sedan feel rather than being a mid-size four door family car. Not present on most vehicles in the Toyota lineup, an aggressive black mesh grille added to the sporty appeal, which is something we hadn’t seen in many years. And also hidden in the fine print, an optional 360 degree surround view camera was offered, making the Camry one of the first sedans under $40k to have this feature. So not only is this the beginning of a new age for Toyota when it comes to performance, but technological advancements inside the cabin of their vehicles are slowly becoming present.

2019 Toyota RAV4
2019 Toyota RAV4

Then on the last week of March at the 2018 New York Auto Show, Toyota unveils their redesigned, rugged, and masculine RAV4, immediately drawing attention from automotive journalists. This crossover that was once your average family hauler, now takes on the appearance of a Jeep with square wheel arches but also has subtle design cues taken from Lexus as well. The new RAV4 has received some high praise over the last 6-8 months as some have crowned it the best crossover in it’s segment, which is arguably a very accurate statement when you look at the competitors. What’s setting Toyota and some Japanese automotive brands apart from the rest is that they’re getting creative and edgy with designs, whereas the Americans and even some German brands are becoming far too conservative in a time when innovation and change is being welcomed with open arms.

The RAV4 now looks like it’s the most off-road capable ever in it’s history, and with a variety of different trims like the Adventure and XSE hybrid, fun and higher quality appearances is the theme moving forward. But also, they’re staying relevant during the changes in consumer demands as performance and luxury are two aspects that car buyers want, at least for the foreseeable future.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback
2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

A few minutes earlier, the all new Corolla Hatchback was unveiled intriguing many fans of the manual transmission as it’s optional on the 2019 model. While the small 2 liter four cylinder engine that puts out 168 hp and 151 lb ft of torque isn’t exciting many younger drivers, it is however a throwback to the Japanese hatchbacks of the 90’s with a twist of modern features like 18″ alloy wheels, leather trimmed sport seats, and apple car play and Amazon Alexa compatibility on the XSE trim. While the Corolla hatchback may not be the most exciting car that Toyota has added in the last 2-3 years, they’re at least trying to appeal to car enthusiasts of all ages and that deserves some admiration.

This all leads us to 2019 and the new Toyota Supra. Did they really need BMW’s help to bring back the iconic sports car? Absolutely not. In fact, Toyota is more than capable of tackling this project on their own. However from recent history, they collaborated with Subaru to create the GT86, so it’s not really surprising that they’d look to a German manufacturer to produce the 2020 Supra.

Personally, I think Toyota has taken far too much criticism over the last few weeks, and car enthusiasts should take into consideration where this brand was just a mere 5 years ago. Not many people can honestly claim they foresaw the significant changes the brand was going through, and with rumors of a new MR2 and Celica possibly being on the horizon, car lovers should embrace Toyota for what they’re doing in a time when rivals like Ford are getting rid of sedans and hatchbacks.

At the end of the day judgment should be reserved until track tests and real life driving reviews begin to get released by automotive journalists. After we see how the new Supra performs, then criticism, skepticism, and disapproval can be voiced.

2019 Acura RDX – The BMW X3’s Kryptonite

We often resign to popular belief that BMW, Mercedes Benz, and Audi are the kings of everything automotive pertaining to luxury and performance. This then trickles down to consumer behavior where people are only buying certain models because the badge on the front and back may either impress those around them or they perceive those brands to be the best on the market. Near the end of 2018 before getting some time with the redesigned 2019 Acura RDX, I was surprised to find out that this luxury crossover is not only outselling the BMW X3, but its dominated this matchup the last three years.

Lately, there have been many in the industry who feel that German design has become quite reserved, whereas the Japanese are now the risk takers with some very edgy and futuristic front and rear fascias. The Acura RDX is no exception, and in fact for 2019 it’s sporting a more aggressive appearance that’s clearly attracting new buyers. One of the factors that’s playing a role not only in the mid-size crossover segment but others in the luxury market, is that non-German brands are finding new ways to find success that advertising and tradition just can’t achieve in 2019.

Pricing

The Acura RDX finds itself in a great position for a mid-sized luxury crossover, mostly due to the price tag. Starting just over $37k, the RDX sometimes gets compared to the smaller BMW X2 by consumers. This alone could be a reason why Acura’s smallest crossover outperforms the BMW X3 in terms of annual sales, but more importantly it undercuts the X3 when it comes to pricing. Because of this, the RDX finds itself at a competitive advantage because it’s more practical than the X2 and more affordable than the X3.

Fully specced out you can expect a price just under $50k. But it’s the mid-level trim that gets most of the attention as the RDX A-Spec not only comes available with a sporty appearance, but you can option for red leather seats with suede inserts that are honestly one of the most comfortable in it’s class. Paired with Apex Blue or Performance Red paint, the RDX’s road presence will easily turn heads and really stands out.

Performance

For performance, the RDX gets a 2 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine that gets 272 hp and 280 lb ft of torque and is paired with a 10 speed automatic transmission which is all new for 2019. Just like with the Super Handling AWD system which Acura has brought back to the delight of both brand loyalists and journalists, the four cylinder has made a return as it replaces the V6 engine that was offered last generation.

While there’s a slight decrease in horsepower with a smaller engine, torque numbers increased. Acura says the 2019 RDX will go from 0-60 in around 5.7 seconds which is about half a second faster from 2018, but as of right now there is no official data. For drivetrain options, FWD comes standard with AWD being a $2000 option. When it comes to fuel economy, you can expect to receive 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway with AWD, and if you choose to go with FWD, fuel efficiency numbers increase very slightly.

Practicality

Despite fuel efficiency being iffy with a combined average of 24 mpg, the RDX is actually rather spacious inside, and with that you’re going to have the ability to carry more items. You’ll find close to 30 cubic ft of cargo room which is an improvement of about 3 cubic ft from last generation and there’s additional compartments under the floor which is great if you have belongings you don’t want people to see and possibly steal. With the seats folded down, the rear cargo volume doubles in size to almost 60 cubic ft, which Acura claims is class leading in this segment of crossovers.

For all passengers in the back, they’re going to get an ample amount of legroom including the fifth passenger in the middle as the floor is flat which will allow that person to stretch their legs a little more than in most crossovers in this segment. Overall, both the driver and passengers are going to be comfortable, and the environment the RDX offers to all occupants makes this crossover perfect for longer road trips.

Final Word

The 2019 Acura RDX may not be German or have a performance package with a bigger engine, but it does offer an alternative to consumers who have no interest in buying a BMW, Mercedes Benz or Audi. Acura does have some weaknesses like its infotainment system that requires 5-10 minutes of learning before getting comfortable using it. Instead of a touchscreen you get a touchpad similar to what you find on any laptop, however there’s no mouse which naturally we’ve become accustomed to, so there’s a lot of guessing early on when trying to click on apps.

If you can get past the learning curve with the infotainment system, the RDX is actually a solid option for crossover buyers in this price range. In 2018 it’s outsold the BMW X3, Mercedes Benz GLC, and Volvo XC60 and that can be attributed to what the RDX offers. All trims from the technology package up receive a list of safety features standard that are optional equipment when configuring models from competitors, it’s spacious and comfortable, and has a classy, yet sporty appearance that’s appealing to look at.

Usually you can say that a German brand has the best model in a particular segment, but Acura has done their best to challenge that narrative and so far has been very successful with the RDX over the last few years. The only question that remains now is, with the X3 getting a much needed facelift, will BMW claim the throne? 2019 is about to get very interesting.

2019 Lexus UX 250h – The Next Generation Crossover Is Here

Without feeding into the speculation and unknowns of the future as we’re one year away from a new decade, crossovers have enjoyed a handful of successful years. All automotive brands are moving in the direction of SUV’s ranging from small to large, economical to sporty, and now hybrid and electric. For growth to continue in this segment, adding new models and changing entire lineups isn’t necessarily the answer as consumer demands are subject to change through trends and even economic and financial climates. Generally speaking, crossovers weakest spot is their average fuel economy which could easily get exposed should there be a recession, which seems to be the buzzword for the early part of 2019. Let’s delve into why the all new 2019 Lexus UX 250h is not only the future, but also the reason why crossovers could remain being hot items in any economy.

The Toyota and Honda families have always seemed to be further ahead of the curve than most of their competitors. Throughout the years they’ve produced and sold hybrid models, and that technology is now starting to trickle down to more affordable luxury vehicles. Lexus is no stranger to offering hybrid crossovers, and with the UX 250h now beginning to arrive at dealerships, the subsidiary of Toyota is ready to change the game in more ways than one.

Pricing

The Lexus UX 250h has a base price of $34k, which is more than reasonable and would be considered right around the average cost of a new car in the United States. Primarily aimed at older millennials that most likely live in urban areas, this small crossover offers versatility, luxury, and most importantly practicality. Some of the standard features you’ll find inside is Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa compatibility, dual zone climate control, a push button start and stop, and a list of safety technology that includes pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, and road sign recognition to name a few. Android Auto is not available because Lexus says 80% of their consumers use Apple products, and didn’t see the need to spend any money on a feature that a small percentage of their buyers would find relevant.

Performance

For performance the UX 250h gets a 2.0L 4 cylinder engine that gets 176 hp. This crossover is by no means fast as you can expect a 0-60 time of 8.6 seconds and a top speed of 110 mph. Fuel efficiency is the real selling point as the 250h will receive 41 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. What’s also rather interesting about this vehicle is that Lexus decided to only offer AWD with the hybrid model, as the UX 200 will only be available with front wheel drive.

Practicality

Hybrids will always be looked at as economical, and as just mentioned, a combined fuel efficiency of 39 mpg is going to attract buyers who may not want to drive a Chevy Volt, Honda Insight, or even a Toyota Prius. With an affordable option and the appeal of a crossover, many who seek vehicles that are powered by alternative energy and are not solely reliant on gas may gravitate towards the UX 250h, especially since it comes with AWD. For rear cargo space, this crossover will get 17 cubic ft of rear cargo room which is kind of small, but slightly bigger than what most sedans offer.

Final Word

I’m not going to say that the 2019 Lexus UX 250h is the answer or necessarily the blueprint for the future crossover. There’s a number of issues that consumers will find, whether that be a lack of performance or it not offering a real luxury car experience that competitors may be offering. However, I will say that this crossover is laying the foundation for other brands to build off of. There’s not many options in the entry level luxury market that offers hybrid technology, especially in this segment and price range. Lexus is taking a huge risk, however its list of standard features and fuel efficiency might be a enough to make the UX a minor success in the United States.