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 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.

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.

Latest GM Recalls (List Of Models) 10/22/14

Here we go again with another round of recalls, this time involving 162,240 GM cars. This recall is extremely important as the Takata airbags are being blamed for some gruesome injuries. Without any further delay, here is the list of GM models that are part of the latest recall. If you own one of these, don’t hesitate to bring the car back to the dealer.

Cadillac

• Deville

Chevrolet

• 2013-2014 Cruze
• Trailblazer
• Impala
• Monte Carlo
• Venture

GMC

• Envoy and Envoy XL

Oldsmobile

• Aurora
• Bravada
• Silhouette

Pontiac

• 2003-2005 Vive
• Bonneville
• Montana

Saab

• 2005 9-2X

Chevrolet: From “Like A Rock” to “The Dollar Menu”

2014 Chevrolet Silverado LTZ
AlBargan / Foter / CC BY-ND

Chevrolet has been launching campaigns to attract an assortment of consumers for years by offering cheap prices for those who have poor credit or can’t afford buying a new car due to their financial situation. While that is a noble cause, one that has probably been successful, there are major implications the auto manufacturer faces by making such offers. After the launching of their latest marketing campaign, “Chevrolet’s Dollar Menu”, they’ve unofficially solidified their fate as being the McDonald’s of the automotive world.

The deal is one dollar down payment in a lease offer for the Chevy Cruze and Chevy Silvarado, making them the cheapest lease offers on the market today. Forgetting about the incentives, limited mileage because of a lease, and the deal itself, let’s take a step back for a minute and let this sink in. A dollar menu for an auto brand, not a fast food restaurant, but an American auto manufacturer.

With all the recalls Chevy has had to endure, and now offering some of their lineup for a dollar, they’ve now opened themselves up to the perception of being the car equivalent of McDonald’s. When it comes to the food McDonald’s offers, you could say, “It’s cheap, but in the long wrong could cause obesity”. Chevys are now cheap, but could break down 2,000 miles later. This is not the best approach for a struggling auto maker and completely makes the brand look bad by subliminally saying, “Our cars are lemons and no longer of good quality”.

Chevrolet was once a proud American auto maker, the Camaro and Corvette were highly coveted by young adults, the Silverado was a very popular and durable pickup truck, and the Impala and Malibu were decent four door sedans that could hold their own against their American counterparts. Even the commercials sent better messages by going with the slogan “Like a rock”. In a matter of 15 years, Chevrolet has gone from being a respected manufacturer, to being the prime example of not buying American when it comes to cars.

Instead of the dollar menu approach and sounding like a fast food restaurant, Chevy should try a strategy similar to Honda. The Honda Fit is being marketed as an affordable, yet fun and efficient compact hatchback that fills every need for young adults, as they’ve been the target of this recent advertising effort. Chevy has the Spark, Sonic, and Cruze, all with starting prices under $20,000, and this should be the basis of a marketing campaign. Honda isn’t playing the Chevy game by being a Burger King or Wendy’s, and instead has a sound marketing strategy to a specific audience who are in the market for the hatchback.

The Sonic is a fun, hot, little hatchback for Chevy, and they should roll with it as being the backbone of affordable cars in their lineup. In all honestly, if a Cruze is only $1 down, I don’t think I’d be willing to pay the $169 a month as it doesn’t seem worth it, and would then think that the Sonic or Spark should be offered for $.50 or $.75 down on a lease offer.

When it comes to the automotive world, there should never be a dollar menu. ‘Like a rock” was a better slogan as it promoted a durable and quality vehicle lineup by an American automaker. Chevy has a lot of work to do when it comes to brand image after the countless number of recalls, but if they really want to be respected again, they need to drop the dollar menu immediately.