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.

2019 Mercedes Benz A-Class – A Compact Sedan In A Crossover World

Right before the beginning of the economic recession in 2008, the age of full size SUV’s was coming to an end as gas prices were high and the speculation of some lean times coming on the horizon forced consumers to think more practical. Car brands, seeing the direction of consumer behavior in the automotive market, pushed the compact car and integrated some luxury aspects to appeal to buyers on a budget. Fast forward to almost 12 years later and Mercedes Benz is releasing a small four door A-Class that most likely would have been a hit at the end of last decade. Why now? Ford and Chevy are cutting sedans from their lineups, and yet here’s a prestigious German manufacturer adding an affordable entry level car for the US market.

To be fair, Mercedes Benz has been pushing the envelope by unveiling vehicles for almost every segment in the automotive world. What’s surprising is that they’re being ambitious in the United States, while rivals and other companies have deprived Americans of forbidden fruit that European, Asian, and South American markets have enjoyed for quite some time. Many have questioned whether the arrival of the A-Class would be the sudden demise of the CLA, yet so far Mercedes has made no indication of getting rid of it, and in fact a refresh is in the works.

To say that Mercedes Benz is providing luxury to the masses would be a stretch, because other brands have done this in the past, like the Volvo S40 which in 2006 had a starting price under $30k. However, what we’ve seen this decade from the Germans is essentially an automotive arms race. From crossovers to sportbacks and even electric powered cars, if there’s a segment that hasn’t been exploited yet, Mercedes, BMW, or Audi are usually the first ones to make a move. No matter what the intention is, there’s some excitement behind this little compact sedan, as for the first time we’re witnessing technology features trickle down to a very affordable price range.

For performance, the A 220 gets a two liter turbocharged four cylinder engine that gets 188 hp and 221 lb ft of torque with a 0-60 time of 7.1 seconds. Front wheel drive comes standard but for $2k extra at a base price of $34,500, you can upgrade to the A 200 4Matic.

It’s inside where drivers and passengers alike will experience premium features in the $40k price range, as in front of them will be a 10 inch digital instrument cluster and 10 inch touchscreen infotainment system. This same setup can be found in the redesigned CLS class, but to have it available at a fraction of the cost in the A-Class puts this small sedan miles ahead of its competition. Heated and ventilated front seats, along with a heated steering wheel and a 64 color ambient lighting display provides occupants with a luxury feel. Another feature that’s amazing to see on an entry level sedan is the augmented reality navigation that utilizes the forward-facing camera to give you live updates of what turn you need to take or direction you should go in.

By using the “Hey Mercedes” command, the car will automatically adjust temperature in the cabin, change the mood lighting, and acts as your personal assistant. Unless updates were made, this hands free system does have some bugs that need to be worked on. When the word “Mercedes” is uttered, you activate the on board personal assistant, and there’s been a few videos from journalists who had to find a keyword to discuss the A-Class without being interrupted.

When adjusting the climate control, the air vents will either glow red or blue depending on the temperature, and the overall interior styling is much more welcoming than the CLA. The real question is whether all this is enough to entice consumers to get back into the compact sedan segment that’s been mostly forgotten about over the last few years.

As mentioned earlier, the A-Class isn’t offering luxury to the masses, but it is however ushering in an era of technology features we would have seen on $100k+ cars just a half decade ago. While it still might not make sense to us as to why Mercedes Benz would introduce a model that’s essentially a twin to the CLA, there is enough for us to be excited about, especially in a market dominated by cookie cutter crossovers.

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?

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.

Auto Sales Get Decimated In October – A Sign Of Things To Come?

The month of October was not friendly to most car manufacturers, as overall sales in the United States dropped 6%. This sharp drop can be attributed to volume sellers who saw declines that haven’t been posted in quite sometime. Is this a reason for concern moving forward? Is a slowing auto market going to be the new reality that manufacturers will face for at least the short term? New car sales have been slowing over the past few months, but October’s sudden drop in overall sales is nothing that should be taken lightly.

It should be noted that October of 2016 had two fewer selling days than October of 2015, but with some of the percentages that were posted, not even two extra selling days could change the outcome of a bleak new car market.

Fiat-Chrysler Massacre

It has not been a good year for the Fiat-Chrysler group, and October magnifies the downward trend in sales for most of the brands. Chrysler posted a decline of 44.7%, Fiat down 24.3%, Dodge -16.4%, and Jeep -6.6%. Three out of the four brands listed are down on the year for new car sales, while Jeep is still maintaining an increase of 9.7%. With Dodge ending the Dart and Chrysler no longer producing the 200, sales figures being down was to be expected, but for the auto group as a whole, there’s not much excitement for any of the brands, besides Dodge which produces the Challenger and Charger.

BMW, Volkswagen, Volvo and Land Rover Experience Sales Decline

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Volvo and Land Rover, two manufacturers who are both up on the year in new car sales in the United States, saw sharp declines in the month of October. Volvo, a brand that has been revived thanks to the all new S90 and completely redesigned XC90, experienced a 14.6% drop in sales. Land Rover saw a decline of 23.2% in October. Despite the sharp drop in sales in the United States, Volvo and Land Rover are still having a fantastic year overall, and shouldn’t be too concerned about the final quarter of the year, unless lower sales figures overall in the automotive market becomes a trend.

BMW may be the biggest surprise for lower volumes in sales, not only for October, but for the year of 2016. Down 18.4% last month, and down 9% for the year, BMW is the only brand out of the big three luxury manufacturers in Germany that has experienced declines. Mercedes Benz and Audi are still strong, and while sales were flat in October, the loss of two sales days could be a contributing factor. Volkswagen on the other hand has not recovered from Diesel Gate, and with a loss of 13.5% on the year and another double-digit loss last month, it just continues to get worse for the German auto brand.

Bentley, Jaguar, Maserati, and Porsche Have Strong October

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Not everyone is reeling from the October blues, there are car brands that had a fantastic month with Bentley, Jaguar, Maserati, and Porsche having double and even triple digit increases in sales. The British are leading the way and Jaguar’s 226% sales increase can be attributed to the F-Pace and XE, which have both taken their respective markets by storm. The F-Pace is Jaguar’s first attempt at making an SUV, and so far it has been a great success, while the XE, which is the British’s answer to the BMW 3 Series, is seeing strong sales since it’s arrival to the market earlier this year.

Bentley’s impressive gain of 158% in sales last month is all thanks to the Benteyga, which is Bentley’s first ever SUV. In October, the Benteyga contributed more than 33% of sales for the Bentley brand. While the British luxury car maker is down on the year by 6.8%, the entrance into the luxury SUV market has yielded strong sales figures, with the Benteyga making up about 50% of Bentley’s sales in the US since it’s debut on the market in August.

Maserati, much like Bentley and Jaguar, has seen strong sales numbers since entering the SUV market as well. The Levante, which also brought in about 33% of sales in October for Maserati, has received raved reviewed by journalists and consumers. Maserati has hit a home run with their luxury SUV, and that is starting to trickle down to other cars in the lineup. The Ghibli had a strong month alongside the Levante, leading to Maserati’s 11.8% increase in sales for the month of October.

Porsche had the best month out of all German brands in October, with luxury SUV’s again being the main contributor for strong sale. Up 10.7% in October and 3.2% for the year of 2016, Porsche has seen tremendous sales figures and it’s the Cayenne and Macan that is carrying the once sports car dominated lineup.

Strong sales across the board for luxury brands could be a good sign, despite the slowing of overall sales in the market. While Fiat-Chrysler, BMW, Volvo, and many others struggled in October, there’s no reason to panic just yet. If the fourth quarter of 2016 continues a downward trend and that transitions into the new year, then there would be a legitimate reason for concern. As for right now, we can only hope that October isn’t the start of a trend, and that the holiday season and the incentives that come with it could motivate consumers to buy in November and December.

Off-Roading In New Hampshire: 3 Feet of Snow? No Problem

New England, especially the Boston area, has gotten hit hard the past three weeks with Nor’easters and blizzards. In New Hampshire, a group of guys are enjoying the relentless snow by taking their full size SUV’s off-road.

The Ford Excursion, Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, and Land Rover LR3 took on the snow like champs. With vehicles like these, it’s hard not to have a good time. Who said adults can’t have fun in the snow too?

These guys are going to have at least another week of fun and fresh snow with the recent snowstorm, and another possibly hitting next weekend. Skiing and snowboarding is cool, but taking on three feet of snow in a heated interior, maybe a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in your hand, and off-roading with friends just seems to take winter sports to a whole new level of enjoyment.