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.

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 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 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.