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.

Will Another Economic Recession End The Crossover Era?

One of the fears and speculations of what 2019 will bring is the growing angst that an economic recession is on the horizon. Nothing is set in stone and experts aren’t exactly sure if and when another downturn in the economy will occur, but it does make for good conversation in the automotive industry. For the last six years, the United States has experienced some very lucrative times, especially on both the East and West coasts. With that it’s brought demand for bigger vehicles, including crossovers which now dominate the roads and sales figures. However, are crossovers doomed to fail should there be another recession like 2008, and have some brands set themselves up to feel a lot of pain when bad times return?

As the saying goes, “If you fail to learn from the past, you’re doomed to repeat it”, and that’s exactly where we are as we near the end of this decade. 2008 played a major role in prominent American brands being killed off by manufacturers in Detroit. Hummer, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Plymouth, and Mercury would all eventually suffer the same fate with reasons for their demise differing. Hummer is the one brand that stands out because when times were good everyone wanted one. The minute the stock market crashed, demand for the outrageously large and gas guzzling SUVs withered, causing not only the company to close its doors, but also forcing other brands to downsize.

In 2019, we’re here once again at a crossroads, having not learned anything from ten years ago. Brands all across the world have added crossovers to their lineups and for Chevy and Ford, basically the only vehicles being offered as they’re killing off sedans and hatchbacks. The Germans on the other hand continue to produce luxury sedans, and in fact Mercedes Benz is adding the very compact A-Class to their US market lineup. If anything, luxury manufacturers have covered all the bases, and if demand wanes in one segment, they have vehicles in place to feed consumer demand for whatever the next trend in buying behavior is.

You should never underestimate the planning and foresight of automotive manufacturers as they’re usually ahead of the curve when it comes to detecting high and lows in the economy. One way to battle any volatility in the markets and extreme shifts in volume of sales in the automotive industry is the new wave of compact crossover vehicles that resemble elevated cars more than SUVs.

2019 Lexus UX
2019 Lexus UX

The all new 2019 Lexus UX is the most recent arrival in this segment that combines practicality, luxury, and affordability. As a complete package, this vehicle will certainly be a survivor in the Lexus lineup should there be rough times ahead for one important reason. It’s fuel efficient. At a starting price of around $34k, this compact crossover is available with hybrid technology, which is going to give you 41 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. Also by opting for the UX 250h, you’re getting AWD whereas with the fully gas powered engine, front wheel drive is the only drivetrain available. For rear cargo space, the UX will get close to 22 cubic ft which is certainly better than most sedans.

Other new arrivals this year to the compact crossover segment were the Nissan Kicks and Hyundai Kona. These vehicles offer crossover-like tendencies, practicality, and for the Kona, AWD. These are the vehicles that have the best chance of surviving whatever adverse times lie ahead. Can the same be said for their bigger siblings?

One thing is for sure, Americans didn’t get intimidated ten years ago and ran away from the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, which are still priced reasonably for most consumers. It’s the luxury brands and even Ford and Chevy that need to be concerned moving forward. American crossovers just aren’t on par with their Japanese counterparts when it comes to interior quality, and if consumers are complaining about that now in a good economy, what will they say when they become more frugal and start looking for the most value for the price? On top of that, they got rid of all their sedans and hatchbacks which now puts Ford and Chevy in a difficult spot because they have no game plan if consumers don’t want what they’re producing.

Fuel efficiency then becomes a major factor, and generally speaking, crossovers aren’t exactly the most economical. Consumers start downsizing and for the new economic climate, it’s either sedans and hatchbacks or compact crossovers. Recently I had reviewed the redesigned 2019 Acura RDX which I thoroughly enjoyed. However, it’s the poor fuel economy that concerns me, as with AWD you can expect 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Those aren’t exactly the best numbers if people start cutting costs, which is why for the next recession, I don’t necessarily think the size of the vehicle matters, but what’s underneath the hood that will make the difference.

The Honda and Toyota families are further ahead of the curve than most automotive brands today because of their advancements in hybrid technology. A hybrid RAV4 and Lexus UX could become hot commodities as they’ll be economical and practical. Honda re-introduced the Insight which is already on pace to have its best year in sales since 2010 and generally speaking the rest of the lineup is very fuel efficient. This is why both brands survived several recessions while Ford and GM suffered greatly.

If manufacturers don’t have hybrid crossovers in their lineups by the time the next recession hits, that will be the deciding factor in how long this trend of bigger vehicles continues. That’s when consumers downsize to four door passenger cars, and until the economy gets back on its feet, crossovers may not experience the same success they have most of this decade.

At the end of the day, this is purely speculation. However, there’s been enough reasons why this should be taken seriously. All good things come to an end, the question now is how much longer do things remain the same before major adjustments to a new economic climate must be made?

Will YouTube Be The Car Community’s Downfall?

As most of you know, for the last three years I’ve built a local YouTube channel to help bring a positive awareness to the Boston car scene as the community here offers a lot of exotics and rare hypercars for enthusiasts. We also have great locations for car meets, such as Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, MA and a number of car dealerships in Massachusetts that host Cars & Coffee. Over the last two years we’ve seen a significant growth in the community, with events exceeding capacity numerous times and long lines waiting to get into Cars and Coffee. While growth and inclusion are certainly encouraged, at some point there’s going to be negatives that surely arise.

These negatives aren’t just local, but become a nationwide problem as automotive YouTubers have become much more prominent throughout the major cities in the United States. While at first these content creators reignited the car scene in the US, it’s now gotten to a point where some of these same YouTubers are looking for trouble to get views through clickbait titles, which then equates to more ad revenue. We could have a long discussion on clickbait alone, but more importantly the spotlight being shed on the fringe group of the car community is going to make the general public look at all of us in the same light.

I can’t speak for the Los Angeles car scene, but locally the troublemakers don’t attend Cars & Coffee and daytime meets. However, all that’s needed is a YouTuber with some influence, a camera, and an out of control night meet that after the video is posted, is surely watched by local law enforcement which then suppresses and restricts what takes place at events in the morning. I can think of several YouTubers on the West Coast who’ve built huge channels by posting street racing, donuts at intersections, burnouts at shopping centers, and street takeovers which is now drawing the LA riot police. These videos don’t seem to be discouraging this behavior, but instead have encouraged car owners to do the same, who in my opinion, aren’t even enthusiasts and are just looking for trouble.

What I’ve personally seen this year, which in no way is on the same magnitude as Los Angeles, has made me think quite a bit about the future of my own channel. As a car enthusiast, I don’t approve of large YouTubers using their platforms to make money off the stupid antics of individuals at the night meets on the West Coast. Their videos are beginning to influence young car owners across the country, and it’s not just happening at night, but now taking place during the day which makes us all look bad. At what point do we say these YouTubers are in it for their own personal gain and have absolutely no regard for people who host the meets and car enthusiasts who just want to share their passion with like minded car owners?

In my opinion, future kids and young adults with cameras at car events will be looked at as opportunists who are waiting for an accident, burnouts, and donuts. What started out as creating videos of accelerations that I could watch again to hear the sound of exotics, has slowly become something that in the back of my mind is telling me that it’s going too far. No one has openly spoke their feelings and voiced their concerns, but as someone who’s gotten to know many in the local car scene, the vibe towards YouTubers and people with cameras is slowly changing, even if it’s going unnoticed. Many of my subscribers enjoy the coverage of car events, but I also have a responsibility to the car owners to not post videos if things go wrong.

No matter what side of the argument you’re on, you have to agree that most of the content that gets a lot of views doesn’t reflect a vast majority of car enthusiasts’ behaviors at car events. What some automotive YouTubers have done is create a narrative that we’re all just a lawless gang, and for these content creators, their own downfall is on the horizon as there will either be public backlash or the minute they stop filming these night meets, they’ll lose viewership. It’s already happened once this year with a prominent YouTuber who decided to no longer attend the out of control night meets in LA, but after taking a significant hit in views, changed his mind and has gone all out with this form of content.

It could be 2019, 2020, or even 2025, but when it comes to the car community in the US, YouTube will be it’s downfall. Automotive YouTubers are banking on the stupidity of individuals at night meets, highlighting the very worst of the US car scene. At some point as a community we need to disavow these videos, because believe it or not, these fringe car groups are making national news.

2019 Lincoln Nautilus – Is This The Revival of American Luxury?

For the better part of the last 20 years or so, American luxury car brands have been on the ropes due to the emergence and dominance of European luxury sedans and crossovers. To try appealing to the remaining consumer base that’s been on the fence of whether to choose a German brand over manufacturers from Detroit, companies like Cadillac have tried their best to impersonate European styling and driving feel, but continue to fall short as Americans still gravitate towards Audi, BMW, and Mercedes Benz. Lincoln however, is on a mission to change that by going back to their roots and provide drivers with a luxury feel only Americans can offer.

The all new Lincoln Nautilus, which has replaced the MKX in the lineup, not only brings back American tradition by having an actual name rather than a combination of letters, but also offers a premium feel both inside and out. As we all know Lincoln is owned by Ford, which has really been a thorn in the side of the company because prior to the last few years, nothing really distinguished their vehicles form Ford’s lineup. The current MKZ is a rebadged Fusion with a different body style, just like the Lincoln Town Car was a more luxurious Ford Crown Vic. But believe it or not, the Nautilus is built on the same platform as the Ford Edge, yet even after 10 minutes of looking at it, there’s very few subtle design elements that you could potentially see the appearance of an Edge before you’re forcing yourself to see what’s not there.

For performance, you’ll have a choice between a two liter four cylinder engine, or the 2.7L twin-turbocharged V6 that’s found in the Edge ST that will get 335 hp and 380 lb ft of torque. New for 2019 is the 8-speed automatic transmission that replaces the six speed automatic found in 2018 models of the MKX. There’s also two different drivetrain options available, with front wheel drive coming standard and the ability to upgrade to all-wheel drive. Fuel economy will differ depending on which engine you choose, as the V6 will get 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.

There’s three trims available for the 2019 Nautilus: Select, Reserve, and Black Label. Going with the Black Label trim will offer over-the-top, but definitely welcoming luxury features and touches that many in the industry rave about. Inside you’re greeted by Venetian leather seats with three different themes to choose from that change the interior color combinations. These seats will be heated and ventilated, and as part of the climate package, a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats will also be included. You’ll enjoy the music being played on the radio as the Black Label gets the upgraded 19 speaker Revel Ultima Sound System that’s been praised by many automotive YouTubers for providing crisp audio.

The Nautilus isn’t just luxurious, but also provides a good amount of safety features. Optional is a 360 degree top view camera that’s becoming common on all new vehicles in this segment. This camera, along with front parking sensors and enhanced active park assist make up the Technology Package. As part of the Driver Assistance Package, more safety features are added that include adaptive cruise control with stop and go and lane centering, adaptive steering, and a collision mitigation system.

Besides some of the technology features that are available on the Ford Edge, the only aspect of this vehicle that resembles Ford products is the center console. Same design that you’ll find inside an Edge, with the only difference being that there’s no rotary dial to select gears, and instead you’ll have push buttons next to the infotainment system. Speaking of that infotainment system, the Nautilus gets Ford’s Sync 3 System which includes voice activated navigation along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There will also be a compartment for your smartphone that includes a wireless phone charging pad, which is all being offered on the Edge.

Overall, the Nautilus is a step in the right direction for an automotive brand that has to compete with the likes of Mercedes Benz, Audi, and BMW. What I like about this crossover is that the designers masked this vehicle to limit how much influence Ford has on Lincoln, which should draw in consumers who want to stand out from the German crossovers on the road.

At the end of the day what’s standing in the way of the Nautilus is marketing and brand image. If Lincoln tries appealing to middle-aged adults and steers further away from consumers on the edge of retirement, the Nautilus can certainly find a niche customer base and find success in this very competitive segment.

2019 Honda Insight – The Best Looking Hybrid For Under $30k?

Hybrid vehicles have come a long way since 2000, but the lasting image in many consumers’ minds is the appearance of the Toyota Prius. Even worse, there’s been a negative perception towards the car, and for good reason if you’re a car enthusiast. It’s the embodiment of the lack of love for cars by some drivers, and that it’s only purpose is to get from Point A to Point B. Despite the pushback by consumers who prefer gas powered cars, the Prius has owned the hybrid segment for almost two decades, but has their run of glory finally come to a close with the reintroduction of the all new 2019 Honda Insight?

Whether Honda received criticism or not in the past for their design of the Insight, the first generation back in the early 2000’s resembled a computer mouse. The second generation made some improvements in 2010 when it was brought back, but still didn’t make any headway against the Prius, even though the Insight had a similar appearance which was done on purpose to try enticing consumers to switch to Honda. Now the 2019 model year takes on yet another look, and this time it comes in the form of a sedan.

Built on the same platform and sharing the same design cues as the Civic, the Insight has grown up and matured to a point that we now have to take this hybrid seriously. I’m on the fence of whether I actually prefer the appearance of the Insight over the Civic, as its road presence is much more appealing. Honda clearly listened to the demands of car buyers, and went much more conservative to make this sedan look like an average compact vehicle.

I know what you’re thinking. “But what about the Accord and Camry which both have hybrid trims? They’re normal four-door sedans but use alternative energy to increase mpg’s”. The reason the Insight raises eyebrows is because it’s a pure hybrid and doesn’t offer gas powered trims, which makes it serious competition for the Toyota Prius. Pricing will also play a factor, as the Insight starts close to $1k less than the base model Prius.

For fuel economy, the Insight gets 55 mpg in the city and 49 mpg on the highway for the LX and EX trims due to the 16″ wheels that come standard. The Touring will be slightly less economical as you’ll get the upgraded 17″ alloy wheels, but to make up for it, heated leather trimmed seats, a power moonroof, and a power driver’s seat highlight some of the upgrades over the EX trim.

We can delve into the numbers and do an in-depth comparison with the Prius, however this hybrid sedan is not meant to convert the cult following of Toyota loyalists, but instead reach the buyers who are on the fence. It’s the first impression that’s going to leave a lasting impact for the Insight, which is why it has a strong chance of being a success in the US. It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that pedestrians and fellow motorists passing by would be surprised to find out out it’s a hybrid, as the Insight could be perceived as being a next generation Honda Civic.

Not to be funny, but the journey this car has gone on in the last 20 years is like that movie, “A Dog’s Purpose” starring Dennis Quaid. Not only was the dog searching for a life purpose, but each time he passed away he reincarnated as a different breed, similar to the Insight which went from a two-door, to a hatchback, to now a sedan. It’s possible that Honda has finally found a purpose for the Insight, and as a good looking compact sedan, it could fare very well with consumers gravitating towards hybrid technology.

2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT – New Look, Same Pickup Truck

With a new decade on the horizon, the pickup truck segment is really beginning to heat up as this just might be the most competitive era for pickup trucks in many years. Ford’s redesigned F150, and soon to be released Ranger will be formidable competition, and with Dodge’s new RAM 1500 the US automakers have positioned themselves to compete for top spot. Chevrolet has a few potential significant players in the game as well, with the Colorado and Silverado. Both models have sportier trims to take on the F150 Raptor while also appealing to a market that desires capable off-road trucks that also have a rugged appearance. With all that being said, where does the completely redesigned Chevy Silverado fit in?

Some people have voiced their opinion about the new front end and that seems to get most of the attention, while the minor details go unnoticed. Before getting into why I believe Chevy didn’t abandon their heritage, there is one aspect of the Silverado’s appearance that does raise eyebrows. When looking at the pickup truck from the side profile, it no longer sports the traditional square wheel arches, and instead Chevy decided to go with a look that’s right in line with competitors in the Silverado’s class.

From an appearance standpoint as a whole, my opinion is that Chevy is basically saying. “2020 is almost here, but we’re not changing who we are to appeal to the same consumers who would rather purchase a Ford F150 or Dodge Ram 1500. Our loyal customers come first, and the slight improvements we’ve made further suits their lifestyle and daily activities”.

The reason why I say this is not only because the Silverado is the first pickup truck to have a power tailgate that goes both up and down, but they added seven additional inches in the bed of the truck while also adding three inches of space in the rear of the cab. If that wasn’t enough, in the bed of the Silverado there’s 12 anchor points with an option to add nine additional anchors to tie down whatever is being carried. This truck was built for contractors, farmers, or anyone who works outdoors for a living. It’s a pickup for the hardworking American, which is something Chevrolet has always prided themselves on and they didn’t fully buy into the trend of producing a Raptor-like pickup that looks great on the road but will never be used for it’s intended purposes.

The Silverado I spent a few hours with was a base model LT with very few features. The base LT does get a new touchscreen that’s very responsive, along with dual zone climate control and heated seats. There’s other trims as well including the Trail Boss and High Country that’s going to add more of an off-road look for the former, and luxury appeal for the latter. The configurator for the 2019 model year isn’t up yet, so pricing and optional packages still haven’t been determined which I find odd considering that the new Silverado is already arriving at dealerships.

Here’s our full review of the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LT. We’ll go more in-depth on this pickup truck, while also taking it out for a quick test drive.

2019 Kia Forte EX – The Compact Car Isn’t Dead Yet

The year 2020 is on the horizon and for many, the compact car is an afterthought due to the high demand in crossover SUV’s. Ford has decided to no longer make sedans or hatchbacks and instead focus solely on crossovers and pickup trucks, which some believe is the growing sentiment in the automotive industry and the type of future that consumers will soon have to face. However, there’s brands like Chevrolet, Toyota, and Honda who are still committed to cars and have no intention of ending successful models for the sake of following a growing trend in the market. Then you have Kia who releases the all new Stinger which became an immediate hit, and now they hope the completely redesigned Forte shares the same success.

Remember the days when compact cars were purchased for being economical, whether that be for fuel efficiency or affordability? Now cars like the Kia Forte EX bring much more than just an appealing sticker price and good fuel economy; they also offer some comfort features that even 5-10 years ago would be considered a dream to have in a car aimed at young and first time buyers. Features like heated and ventilated front seats, Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility, a touchscreen with a navigation system, and rear backup camera with trajectory can be found on the EX trim of the Forte.

What some in the automotive industry are speculating is that with less competition in the compact car and sedan segments, manufacturers can spend much more time on the smaller details. Cars like the Kia Forte and Ford Focus were at one time cheap cars that got good gas mileage with no expectations of having any sense of entry level luxury. The 2019 Forte is certainly nowhere near a luxury car, but for around $27k to get that many tech features, including wireless phone charging, compact cars have come a long way since 2000.

This begins to raise the question whether the sedan and compact cars really are dead or on the way out. Over the last 30 years there have been major swings in consumer behavior, sometimes being due to the economical climate in the United States. We’ve seen big cars get phased out for a while, we’ve seen the rise and fall of the large SUV which is slowly making a return, the almost near death of mini-vans, and the re-introduction of a station wagon in Buick’s lineup for the first time since the mid 90’s. The pendulum swing is inevitable as people in general want to be different than their neighbors, so at this point it’s just a waiting game to see when momentum shifts in a new direction.

In the meantime, compact cars are silently being improved, offering affordability and tech features along with the pre-existing practicality that should appeal to younger buyers. Working in the 2019 Forte’s favor is the bold and aggressive appearance that sports similar design cues to the Kia Stinger. While the Forte’s small 2 liter four cylinder engine only gets 147 hp and the lack of AWD may not give you the Stinger feel, you’re going to have a car that is sleeker than most in its class. The weak spot the Forte has is the CVT. Kia has said it’s not a traditional CVT and they’ve worked on making it mimic shifts you’d experience in an automatic, but the engine drone isn’t appealing to hear when accelerating. However, the Forte does come with three different driving modes, and when put into sport mode, the transmission does shift faster which certainly limits the drone you’ll experience.

There has been speculation of an SX trim that should bring more horsepower and hopefully a different transmission, but so far there hasn’t been any news, which is to be expected as the 2019 model year is beginning to hit showrooms now.

Inside, the heated and ventilated seats unfortunately aren’t real leather, but that shouldn’t be expected in a car in this particular segment. To have ventilation is an eye opener because that isn’t a feature that’s common in most compact cars heading into 2019. Some of the interior design does resemble Mazda, especially with the touchscreen no longer being integrated into the center console, and is now higher up towards the dashboard. For the instrument panel you’ll get both analog gauges and a digital information display that’s becoming widespread across all vehicles in every segment.

As technology continues to trickle down to more affordable vehicles like the Kia Forte, these cars then become more appealing. The only negatives that compact cars are facing is the lack of versatility and AWD. The Forte only gets about 18 cubic ft of cargo room while crossovers will provide more room and AWD, which consumers then perceive the smaller cars are providing much less value. As mentioned before, the current US economy supports the decision for car buyers to go bigger with crossovers, and no matter what direction the stock market goes in by the beginning on next decade, consumer behavior will inevitably change. To some degree, their purchasing decisions might be affected by what their friends and neighbors are doing and clearly that’s what happened with crossovers.

Is there still a future for compact cars and sedans? Some car brands believe so, and without competition from rival manufacturers, they can continue to improve these vehicles making them enticing to consumers of all ages. Now the only question is, how long must we wait before cars have everything we want, from performance to practicality. That day may not come at all, but brands like Kia aren’t throwing in the towel just yet.

Maserati Levante S – A Fun Crossover That Gets No Love

It appears the cool thing to do in 2018, or really ever since the Maserati Ghibli and Levante hit showrooms, is to find a way to critique or bash the vehicles for interior and overall design quality. While I have reviewed a 2014 Ghibli in the past and was disappointed after years of building an expectation that never met reality, I can honestly say that is not the case for the Maserati Levante. In fact, I’m going to argue that it’s the complete opposite, especially for the 2018 model year. I can already see the eye rolls, but the Levante is one vehicle that you have to test drive and experience for yourself, rather than just parroting what a car reviewer is spewing on YouTube.

When the Levante hit the market back in 2016, there were a few flaws that would later be corrected. One being for the base model that front and rear parking sensors did not come standard, which was one major complaint especially when you’re paying more than $70k for a luxury crossover. Next would be that if you wanted to shift into reverse, the Levante would refuse to do so, and instead would shift into drive or park. This is something I didn’t encounter during my time with the 2018 model, and speaking of the current model year, front and rear parking sensors do come standard for all trims of the Levante.

Having read and watched many reviews prior to spending time with the sports crossover, there was a level of low expectations, and in the back of my mind I’m thinking this might turn out to be the Ghibli all over again. The minute I stepped inside and put the Levante in sport mode, that’s when everything changed. To drive a crossover that not only sounded like a sports car, but handled and drove like a luxury crossover immediately put a smile on my face. Where critics do give the Levante favorable ratings is the driving experience, and for good reason as your time behind the wheel isn’t boring and mundane like other vehicles in this segment.

The Levante I was testing was a fully specced $106k S GranLusso that came with Zegna silk and leather seats. They were some of the most comfortable bucket seats I’ve ever sat in, which certainly helped make the drive memorable. For a larger crossover, the Levante handled impressively well, and in tighter corners felt glued to the roads with very little, if any body roll. The gear shifts were almost instantaneous when using the paddle shifters, and for the first time, a test drive in a crossover was actually fun.

Obviously being an FCA product, the same infotainment system that can be found in a Chrysler was in the Levante. What I’ve never really understood was why this was that big of a problem, as Apple Car Play and Android Auto are offered, you get navigation, and you’ll also receive Sirius XM Radio and Travel Link. The one valid critique is that to access the heated and ventilated front seats there’s no button in the center console and instead to turn that feature on and off you have to use the touchscreen.

The smaller touches that can be seen in Dodge products is another problem most people have with the vehicle, but it’s something you begin to overlook when getting behind the wheel. That’s where Maserati may have the edge on competitors. The driving experience is nothing like other luxury crossovers from German automakers because you feel more engaged, and when the valves open in sport mode it will be irresistible to just drop a gear and leave the car that’s in the rearview mirror far behind you. The V6 engine that comes with 424 hp is going to surprise a few of your fellow commuters, and whether you want to have fun or go for a leisurely cruise on backroads, the different driving modes are suitable for either style of driving.

Pricing is one of the larger issues consumers have with the Levante, which is certainly a valid point. As a certified pre-owned crossover after the initial hit of the depreciation, the Levante then becomes a potential sought after vehicle that could be the better option for buyers in this segment.

Overall, Maserati’s first crossover isn’t a bad vehicle. Does it have flaws? Absolutely, but it’s nowhere near disappointing and if you can deal with the FCA infotainment system, you’re going to have one of the best sounding crossovers on the road today.

Here’s the full review for the 2018 Maserati Levante S GranLusso. Is it worth the price and a vehicle that should garner more respect in the automotive community? That’s up to the consumer and the individual.

The BMW E39 5 Series – A Car That Changed The Automotive World Forever

It’s 1996 and you’re sitting in your living room watching the Olympics. During a commercial break, BMW’s award winning commercial for their redesigned BMW 5 Series shows the streets of New York City flooded with water, but most notably boats floating up and down city streets with the E39 540i navigating its way trough maritime traffic. It’s possible that at this point in time, the viewers who saw this commercial that summer had no idea of the ramifications the 5 Series would have on the automotive industry, while also ushering in an era of European luxury cars dominating the market.

Before dissecting this commercial and then fast forwarding to the present day, 1996 was a year of transition for the American auto market. Japanese manufacturers like Toyota and Honda are continuing to grab market share away from Ford, GM, and Chrysler due to their cheaper and practical cars, which is creating a seismic shift in consumer behavior as even in the mid 90’s, Americans were still loyal to auto manufacturers based in Detroit. As history tells us 20 years later, this transition will continue at a rapid pace leading to Toyota and Honda becoming prominent brands in the US Market.

It’s in this same year that BMW, Mercedes Benz, and Porsche unleash two seater convertibles: the Z3, SLK Class, and the Boxster. The Z3, already receiving notoriety after being featured in the James Bond movie “GoldenEye”, arrives at BMW showrooms shortly after the release of the movie. The Porsche Boxster will soon play a significant role in the German brand’s emergence in the US, and is just one of the few surprises Porsche is going to release within the next 10 years. The Mercedes Benz SLK is often the forgotten one out of the three, mostly due to the Z3 getting the spotlight, but also by the new millennium the redesigned SL is going to take center stage, overshadowing the SLK’s existence.

However, there’s still one segment Ford and GM own with a tight grip, and that’s the luxury sedan market. Lincoln, Mercury, Cadillac, Oldsmobile, and Chrysler (to an extent) are the old giants that stand in the way, and BMW is ready to accept the challenge with their E39 5 Series.

Back to analyzing the commercial, the boats signify the American luxury cars of the day. We can joke about the modern day Challenger being a boat, but the Lincoln Town Car and Continental, Mercury Grand Marquis, Cadillac Deville and Fleetwood were all bigger cars with boxy exteriors. Seeing the BMW weave through traffic with ease was meant to show it’s maneuverability, and not be a huge car that couldn’t get out of its own way. The last statement made in that commercial was, “Why float through life, when you can drive?”. This would resonate with younger consumers who really had a limited selection of luxury cars to choose from, especially if they didn’t want to drive cars their grandparents and aging parents owned.

The E39 540i/M5 wasn’t just a four door performance car that even today we marvel at, but the E39 in general was a luxury sedan that would reshape the automotive industry forever. In 1996, Mercedes Benz and Audi hadn’t found their way yet, but they too would be emboldened to compete with BMW by the end of the decade. This would then lead us to almost 18 years of competition between the German brands, which eventually dragged Jaguar, Maserati, and Volvo into the mix by 2014. But I’m getting way ahead of myself.

The 540i that was shown in that commercial was priced at $50k, but the 5 Series in 1996 had a base price of around $38k which was right in line with American luxury sedans. While the US economy was very different 22 years ago, the slow progression to European luxury cars dominating the market can easily be attributed to the E39 5 Series, and it was the beginning of bigger and better vehicles from Germany that would continue to put nails in the coffin of American automotive giants that ruled for over 60 years.

BMW E39 540i
BMW E39 540i

Too often we look at the E39 from a performance aspect, and some believe that the Chevrolet SS is the only car since 1996 that most resembles the E39 5 Series. However, when it comes to defining a luxury sedan, that’s where BMW reshaped an entire segment. Luxury cars in the 90’s were boats, much like their predecessors before them. While cars were slowly downsizing, the E39 accelerated the change by not only being smaller than a Lincoln or Cadillac, but also being sporty. If we walk into dealership showrooms today, luxury cars come with optional sports appearance packages and engines putting out impressive horsepower numbers. It wouldn’t be a stretch to go back 20 years and attribute that to the 540i.

Indirectly, the success of the 5 Series kickstarted the beginning of an arms race between the German auto manufacturers which then got the rest of Europe involved by the late 2000’s to early 2010’s. Mercedes Benz and Audi started producing sleek cars to compete against BMW, Jaguar then replaces the S-Type with the XF and later the XE enters showrooms, Maserati releases the Ghibli, Alfa Romeo reemerges in the US with the Giulia, and now under the ownership of Geely, Volvo is ready to be a legitimate threat to German manufacturers with a very impressive redesigned S60.

Jaguar, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, and Volvo were really niche brands, and even today they still are to an extent. I’m not going to downplay the effect crossovers have had on these brands, which is a story for another day as BMW and Mercedes Benz could be the patriarchs of a luxury SUV craze that swept through an entire industry with the X5 and ML Class hitting the market in 1998-1999. However, the E39 has certainly played a role, whether directly or indirectly, in the decision to produce four door sports cars that also have luxury car qualities, and the Audi B9 S4 is the perfect example of that.

At the end of the day, no matter which car you want to pinpoint as the culprit for the modern day four door luxury sedan, the E39 5 Series challenged the status quo, making luxury cool for younger consumers and not just a vehicle for aging Americans 65 and older. The performance side of the 540i/M5 certainly helped grab attention from drivers who wanted an exhilarating and engaging driving experience. This car’s massive impact on the automotive industry shouldn’t be overlooked, and as car enthusiasts who now have a variety of luxury sports sedans to choose from, we owe that to the E39 5 Series.