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.

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.

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.

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?

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.