2016 Honda Pilot: Third generation is a charm

2016 Honda Pilot Elie

2016 Honda Pilot Elite

This review first appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

Like an automotive Dorian Gray, Honda’s midsize Pilot loses years as it ages.

The Pilot is fully made-over this year. It’s curvier on the outside and friendlier within. Increased use of high-strength/lightweight steel in the body structure helps produce a weight loss of nearly 300 pounds.

It’s not small, but the three-row crossover feels light on its feet. It’s more agile in traffic and easier to park. The steering system, retuned for a lighter feel, compounds the effect.

Twenty-inch wheels are available for the first time.

The third-generation Pilot receives an all-new 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 280 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque, up from 250/253. Properly equipped AWD trims can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

Upper trims receive a new nine-speed automatic transmission, which has been criticized for making slow, rough downshifts. It’s built by a third party and I’ve tested it in a number of vehicles, from both Honda/Acura and Jeep, and haven’t experienced the problem.

The new powertrain is efficient — even the heaviest Pilot, the new top-level Elite, earns estimated EPA ratings of 22 mpg combined/19 mpg city/26 mpg highway. Honda says it improves zero-to-60 times by 2 full seconds.

Front-wheel-drive is standard and the available all-wheel-drive system is reworked to anticipate traction loss, then proactively shift power to the wheels with optimal traction.

Ride quality is very good, with excellent damping over rough spots at speed, and body motion is well controlled.

Outside, Pilot’s once-blocky profile grows curvy and more dynamic. Inside, a sweeping, tiered dash replaces the old granitic slab.

The fully redesigned cabin (which, in upper trims, is best described as <em>near-luxury</em>) is more spacious and family friendly. Honda seems to have missed no opportunity to carved out another cupholder or random storage area. A broad new center console houses a deep cargo box with a recessed tambour lid. The lid’s non-slip surface provides sturdy footing for items placed there.

An 8-inch touchscreen display is control central for climate control, audio and navigation. The system eliminates a nest of buttons, but in the process complicates simple tasks.

Six adults can co-exist comfortably here — provided two are limber enough to negotiate the entry process. Optional on Pilot for the first time are second-row captains chairs that limit total seating to seven.

With all three rows in use, the cargo hold can accommodate a week’s worth of groceries, a weekend’s worth of soccer gear or the folding table for the church picnic.

Pilot trims range from the $30,875 (including destination) front-drive LX, or $32,675 for its AWD variant, to $47,300 for the AWD version of the Elite trim.

Standard gear includes rear privacy glass, air-conditioning, cruise control and active noise cancellation. There’s a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio, an auxiliary jack and USB port.

Available safety features include forward-collision warning with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist. All are standard on upper trims, and optional on all but the base LX.

Would that we all could be younger than yesterday. Good for Pilot for pulling it off.

Contact Don at don@dadair.com.

2016 Honda Pilot AWD Elite
Vehicle base price: $29,995
Trim level base price: $46,420
As tested: $47,300
Options: The AWD Elite is a fully loaded trim. Our tester included no options.
Maximum tow rating: 5,000 pounds
EPA rating: 22 combined/19 city/ 26 highway
Unleaded regular fuel specified

Hyundai Tucson: Catching up with the competition — and then some

This review originally appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

2016 Hyundai Tucson

2016 Hyundai Tucson

Hyundai was one of three companies whose U.S. market share grew during the recession. Its fortunes have faltered since, however.

Its failing? Too many cars, not enough crossovers.

The compact crossover is the industry’s hot number. Segment sales are up 19 percent — mostly at the expense of sedans. Hyundai, whose stylish and affordable sedans ruled during the recession, wasn’t ready for the surge.

Its compact crossover, the Tucson, never stood out from the crowd. Even if it had, production constraints would have curtailed sales.

But this is the year Hyundai rights the ship. A made-over, third-generation 2016 Tucson ($23,595, including transportation) lands this month, and production capacities are doubled.

At a recent press preview, the new Tucson proved night-and-day better than the car it replaces. It’s larger, roomier, quieter and more sophisticated. Its engines are more efficient and its redesigned suspension balances ride comfort with body control.

Lightweight high-strength steel comprises more than 50 percent of the Tucson’s body structure (up from 18), boosting rigidity a remarkable 48 percent. Chassis improvements contribute to improved suspension tuning and reduce noise, vibration and harshness.

Hyundai says the Tucson’s cabin is the segment’s quietest. Our test on mixed surfaces — freeway, two-lane asphalt, city streets and gravel road — seemed to bear that out. Underway, the Tucson conveys a sense of competence, quietly rendered.

Hyundai pays attention to the little things that give a car stand-out qualities. Switchgear works with a new heft this year. Re-engineered door-latch mechanisms operate with less noise, pull-resistance and internal friction. Thanks to increased damping, they close with a big-car assurance.

A 5-inch color LCD touchscreen and rearview camera are standard and Apple’s Siri “Eyes Free” integration is available. Tucsons equipped with navigation fetch an 8-inch screen and the expected third-party apps.

A new engine option — a 167-hp turbocharged and direct-injected 1.6-liter four — pairs with a dual-clutch automated transmission to top the highway mileage of last year’s top trims by as much as 5 mpg.

The all-new seven-speed gearbox enhances both efficiency and acceleration. It makes quick and smooth shifts, with no hint of the “shock shift” to which automated manuals are prone.

The base engine, a 2.0-liter 164-hp direct-injected four, carries over from last year, but with a one-mpg gain in overall efficiency. It’s available only with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Base price is up about $1,000, but Hyundai argues its value proposition remains intact. Such features as automatic headlights, heated outside mirrors, satellite radio and alloy wheels are standard on the base SE, but either optional or not available on competitors’ base trims.

New safety measures, both standard and optional, align the Tucson with market expectations. Most notably, a new Lane Change Assist system measures the closing speed of a vehicle approaching from behind. If it’s closing too quickly the system will warn against changing lanes. I.e., no more inadvertent near misses as two drivers attempt to move into the same lane at the same time.

Playing catch-up in a rapidly evolving segment, Hyundai has produced a rig good enough to play with the class leaders. Welcome to the game.

2016 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD
Price range: $23,595-$35,000 (approx.)
Tow rating: to 1,500 pounds
EPA ratings: 27 combined/25 city/30 highway
(1.6-liter engine/FWD)
Regular unleaded fuel specified

5 factoids: 2016 Hyundai Tucson

2016 Hyundai Tucson

The 2016 Hyundai Tucson is the first compact crossover to use a double-clutch automated manual.

I drove Hyundai’s radically revised Tucson in Minneapolis Tuesday. Impressions of the drive experience are embargoed until Monday, but here are a handful of factoids to whet your appetite.

  • The Tucson is the first compact crossover to use a dual-clutch automated manual transmission. The 7-speed gearbox boosts efficiency and provides a more satisfying driving experience than a continuously variable transmission (CVT) would.
  • 51% of the 2016 Tucson’s platform comprises advanced high-strength steel. Body rigidity is up 48%.
  • Chassis improvements and sound-deadening measures reduce cabin noise to levels below those achieved by the segment’s best-selling models.
  • The new up-level engine — a 175-hp (195 lb-ft of torque at 1500 RPM) turbocharged and direct-injected 1.8-liter four — tops the highway mpg of last year’s optional engine by 5 highway mpg in Eco trim and by 3 mpg in Sport and Limited trims.
  • A new Lane Change Assist system measures the closing speed of an approaching vehicle in an adjacent lane to determine whether the Tucson driver can safely change lanes. No more trying to move into the same lane, at the same time, as another vehicle.

Honda’s HR-V brings family virtues to micro-crossover segment

2016 Honda HR-V

The pint-sized, four-passenger HR-V packages traditional Honda virtues — rock-solid body structure; firm-but-compliant ride; quiet, comfortable cabin — into a small, efficient footprint.

This review originally appeared in The Spokesman-Review

After spending a week exploring the delights of Acura’s flagship MDX, we climbed into its diminutive new cousin, Honda’s HR-V micro-crossover.

The pint-sized, four-passenger HR-V packages traditional Honda virtues — rock-solid body structure; firm-but-compliant ride; quiet, comfortable cabin — into a small, efficient footprint.

The HR-V is a family affair. Built on the Fit’s front-drive platform, it’s powered by the Civic’s 141-horsepower four-cylinder engine. Build-quality feels first-rate, cabin fit-and-finish is excellent and so is materials quality. The spacious cabin accommodates four six-footers.

There’s room behind those 60/40-split second-row seats for a week’s worth of groceries. Fold them down and the flat-floored cargo hold will swallow enough gear for a Himalayan trek.

The cabin exudes a richness of design rare in the price range. Simplicity is the theme, in shape, color and function. The effect is underscored by the absence of buttons and knobs, which are replaced by a dash-mounted touchscreen.

2016 Honda HR-V

The cabin exudes a richness of design rare in the price range. Simplicity is the theme, in shape, color and function. The effect is underscored by the absence of buttons and knobs, which are replaced by a dash-mounted touchscreen.

Using a touchscreen while driving is tricky business. Here, redundant steering-wheel controls are a safe and convenient shortcut.

The HR-V cabin bristles with clever ideas. The passenger-side dash houses a long and remarkably effective three-segment vent; a rubberized cell-phone storage cubby nestles hidden in an open nook beneath the center console; miscellaneous small storage nooks are carved into or added onto a variety of surfaces.

In days past, entry-level Hondas scrimped on the extras. No longer. Even the base HR-V carries full power accessories, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity, Pandora Internet radio and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

2016 Honda HR-V

The HR-V cabin bristles with clever ideas. The passenger-side dash houses a long and remarkably effective three-segment vent; a rubberized cell-phone storage cubby nestles hidden in an open nook beneath the center console; miscellaneous small storage nooks are carved into or added onto a variety of surfaces.

My loaded EX-L ($26,720) brought the works — keyless entry and ignition, leather upholstery, sunroof, heated front seats, leather, satellite and HD radio, navigation — and included LaneWatch, a passenger-side blind-spot warning system. When the driver signals a right turn, a video image looking rearward along the right side appears in the display screen. In town, LaneWatch alerts the driver to the presence of bicyclists; in freeway traffic, distance markers signal when it’s safe to return to the right-hand lane after passing another vehicle.

A six-speed manual transmission is standard on front-drive trims, with an optional continuously variable transmission (CVT). The CVT is standard on AWD trims.

The HR-V’s torque curve brings out the less appealing aspects of CVT technology — i.e., the annoying rubber-band effect. However, the transmission has seven pre-programmed stops that simulate gears and a Sport mode that holds those ratios longer. When instant acceleration is needed, one selects “S” and uses the paddles to actuate shifts.

In tandem with the power-sapping CVT, the HR-V’s 141 ponies are insufficient to power it with authority. At 9.5 seconds, the 0-60 dash is more stroll than sprint.

Out on the road, the HR-V tracks straight and true, steering is direct and accurate and body roll is well-damped. Wind and road noise are subdued, making for a surprisingly serene cabin.

A wide gulf separates the HR-V and its upscale MDX cousin, but the family resemblance resonates all the way down to its bones.

2016 Honda HR-V AWD EX-L Navi
Vehicle base price: $19,115
Trim level base price: $25,840
As tested: $26,720
Options: Our AWD EX-L tester, with navigation, is a fully equipped trim and had no options.
EPA rating: 29 combined/27 city/32 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Sizing up Honda’s pint-sized HR-V

Honda HR-V

Honda HR-V

After spending a week enjoying the deep delights of Acura’s MDX crossover, we climbed into its tiny new cousin, Honda’s $20,000 HR-V.

Sized — and priced — midway between the little Fit and the CR-V, the pint-sized crossover packages traditional Honda virtues — rock-solid body structure, firm-but-compliant ride and quiet, comfortable cabin — in a small and efficient footprint.

Hopping out of the serene and luxurious MDX into the lower-flying HR-V requires an attitude adjustment. The 4,200-pound MDX is sports-car quick and its nine-speed automatic a symphony in shifting. Size-wise, the 2,900-lb HR-V is a go-kart by contrast, but, with its 135-horsepower driven through a continuously variable transmission, acceleration is decidedly pokey.

If the HR-V sells as well as expected, I expect we’ll see a turbocharged rendition somewhere down the road.

My AWD tester is rated at 29 combined/27 city/32 highway. Standard equipment includes alloy wheels, full power accessories, rearview camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity and Pandora Internet radio.

My loaded EX-L ($26,720) brings the works, including my favorite Honda feature, LaneWatch. When the driver signals a right turn, a video image looking rearward down the car’s passenger side appears in the center console display. In town, it alerts the driver to bicyclists coming up on the right; in freeway traffic, a set of distance markers helps the driver know when it’s safe to return to the right lane after passing a slower-moving vehicle.

Scion iA trounces sibling in San Francisco!

Scion flew a gaggle of writers to San Francisco last week to show us two new cars, both due in September.

The iM ($19,255, including freight) is a subcompact hatchback based on a car Toyota sells elsewhere as the Auris. The iA sedan ($16,495) came about when Mazda chose to not bring the Mazda2 to the States; it is essentially a rebadged Mazda2.

Both cars are sold “mono spec,” i.e., in a single, well-equipped trim, with available options installed at either the port or at the dealership.

2016 scion iA

2016 Scion iA

Standard iA features include:

  • Cruise control
  • A/C
  • Keyless entry with push-button start
  • Low-speed pre-collision system
  • Rear-view backup camera
  • 7-inch touch screen multimedia system with voice recognition
  • Tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel
  • Two years of free maintenance

Though it’s not exactly a standard feature, the iA also boasts a massive-for-the-segment trunk (though at least a few inches are trimmed from the rear seats to accommodate).

2016 Scion iM

2016 Scion iM

The iM features list is even more impressive:

  • 7-inch Pioneer Display Audio unit with standard HD Radio and Aha™
  • Rear-view backup camera
  • Leather-wrapped steering wheel
  • Scion’s first 4.2-inch color TFT multi-information display
  • Dual-zone automatic climate control
  • Color-keyed heated power-folding exterior mirrors
  • Hill Start Assist

Both cabins are impressively finished, with contrast stitching, abundant soft-touch surfaces and pleasing ergonomics.

Because I’m such a hatchback fanboi, I expected to come away favoring the iM. But it was the iA that took first-place honors on the winding backroads south of the City. Its lowly twist-beam rear suspension (the iM is all-independent) notwithstanding, it retained its cool no matter how hard we pushed it along the tight and twisty redwood-lined drive route. Its 105-horsepower, 1.5-liter engine performed stoutly, whether mated with the standard six-speed automatic or optional six-speed automatic.

I’ll have more to say about both cars in a upcoming Spokesman-Review piece. Watch this space.

2016 Acura MDX: lighter, safer and lots more fun

acura mdx

The MDX sheds weight, inherits Acura’s latest generation of safety and driver-assist technologies and receives assorted  new features, both standard and optional. It’s quicker, more responsive and, when equipped with Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, more agile and more stable.

This post originally appeared in The Spokesman-Review

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to drop a few pounds and gain three new gears.

I’m pretty sure I’d be nimbler and feel more energetic. I’d be quicker and more efficient. I’d be just as comfortable and no less luxurious.

acura mdx

Acura’s dual-screen infotainment/navigation interface is one of the easiest systems of its type to understand and use.

And so it is with the 2016 Acura MDX, long the shining star in the firmament of Honda’s premium brand. It’s Acura’s best-selling vehicle and the country’s best-selling three-row, seven-passenger crossover.

This year, the MDX sheds weight, inherits Acura’s latest generation of safety and driver-assist technologies and receives an assortment of new features, both standard and optional. It’s quicker by a substantial amount, more responsive and, when equipped with Acura’s superb Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), more agile and more stable.

Cabin updates are less extensive, but include an electronic push-button shift device that frees up space beneath the center console, a new easy-entry/exit driver’s seat and a new frameless rearview mirror. Also new is Siri Eyes Free voice controls for compatible Apple devices.

Acura’s dual-screen infotainment/navigation interface remains one of the easiest systems of its type to understand and use.

Leading this year’s changes is a nine-speed automatic transmission that replaces the previous six-speed — and is lighter by 66 pounds. It’s gear ratios are more closely spaced and Acura says shifts are 25 percent quicker. Zero-to-60 acceleration drops by a half-second, to a sports car-like 5.9 seconds, and fuel efficiency sees small gains.

acura mdx cabin

Cabin updates are less extensive, but include an electronic push-button shift device that frees up space beneath the center console, a new easy-entry/exit driver’s seat and a new frameless rearview mirror. Also new is Siri Eyes Free voice controls for compatible Apple devices.

The weight reduction also improves front-to-rear weight distribution for improved handling. All told, the MDX is one of the most fun and best-driving cars in the midsize crossover segment.

Automatic stop/start is now available on some trims, helping to boost efficiency.

Acura also updates SH-AWD with a new twin-clutch rear differential that’s lighter (by 19 pounds) and more responsive than its predecessor. Enhanced torque-vectoring delivers power more quickly to the appropriate wheels, boosting the MDX’s legendary sure-footedness.

I tested the system on my super-secret hilly, twisty and unpaved test track, where it proved nearly invincible. The instant one wheel loses traction, power is routed away from it and to a wheel that will counter the skid. No car can overcome the laws of physics, but SH-AWD gives it a good shot.

As before, the MDX is powered by a 290-horsepower V-6 that makes 267 pound-feet of torque. Properly equipped, it’s tow-rated to 5,000 pounds.

All trims can now be equipped with the AcuraWatch suite of safety and driver-assist technologies. Depending on trim, AcuraWatch includes Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow; Collision Mitigation Braking; Forward Collision Warning; Lane Departure Warning; Lane Keeping Assist; Road Departure Mitigation; Blind Spot Information; Multi-View Rear Camera with Dynamic Guidelines; and Rear Cross Traffic Monitor.

AcuraWatch fuses camera and radar technology to sense the roadway and objects within it, including other vehicles and pedestrians. It infuses the MDX with nearly matchless levels of safety — and its systems serve as precursor technologies to the self-driving car.

The MDX showcases Acura’s drive to wrap comfort, safety and performance in a web of top-shelf engineering. Consider the new lightness in its step an enviable bonus.

2016 Acura MDX Advanced w Entertainment
Vehicle base price: $42,685
Trim level base price: $57,080
As tested: $58,000
Options: The MDX Advanced trim, with Entertainment, is fully equipped; our tester included no options.
Tow rating: 5,000 lbs
EPA rating: 22 combined/19 city/26 highway
Premium unleaded fuel required

2015 Kia Sedona focuses on value, quality and versatility

Kia Sedona cargo

We loaded the Sedona with every bit of our camping collection — the “Tent Mahal,” the cots, the two-burner stove, the coolers, the pots and pans, the boots, backpacks, walking sticks and water — and had room left over for a pampered pair of second-row passengers.

This post originally appeared in The Spokesman-Review

We were badly outnumbered as we piloted our Kia Sedona deep into Southern Utah’s red-rocked vacationland.

Vehicles of all description clog the region’s two-lanes: massive RVs; pickups towing travel trailers and fifth-wheels; bellowing, big-bore motorcycles; crossovers; SUVs; family sedans.

Kia Sedona interior

The new Sedona arrives just as Kia gains new recognition for quality control. In the current J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey, the company moves up four positions to place second behind Porsche.

Scarcely a minivan in sight.

I’m guessing even the bicyclists outnumbered the van-goers.

The minivan is America’s forgotten travel tool. Which is a shame, because there’s no more efficient way to get lots of people and their stuff down the road. We loaded the Sedona with every bit of our camping collection — the “Tent Mahal,” the cots, the two-burner stove, the coolers, the pots and pans, the boots, backpacks, walking sticks and water — and had room left over for a pampered pair of second-row passengers.

With the second-generation 2015 Sedona, Kia hopes to lure prospective crossover buyers into the minivan camp. Exterior styling suggests a crossover’s muscular presence. Inside, a console nestles between the front seats, filling a space left open in other minivans. A hands-free “Smart Power Liftgate” opens automatically when the key fob is sensed for 3 seconds, and is programmable to customize the user’s height preference.

Our top-level, seven-passenger SX-L ($39,700) tester included Kia’s “First Class” second-row captains chairs. Fitted with armrests and pop-up footrests, they recline and slide every which way. Unfortunately, the right-hand seat’s wing-style headrest blocks the driver’s over-the-shoulder vision.

sedona_int_4In the lower, eight-passenger trims, the second-row seats slide forward and fold upright against the front seatbacks. In all trims, the split-and folding rear bench folds into the cargo floor.

We drove the Sedona over 12,000-foot mountain passes and across rugged desert washes (slowly, very slowly). In air-conditioned comfort, we listened to books on DVD and caught up on the news and the tunes via the available satellite-radio system.

We easily overtook slower traffic, the Sedona 276-horsepower V-6 scarcely panting and its six-speed automatic seamlessly swapping cogs. Had our Sedona been properly equipped, we could have towed a 3,500-pound load.

Over the many miles and wildly varying road surfaces, we came to appreciate the Sedona’s
ultra-stiff body structure (its torsional rigidity is 36 percent greater than that of its nearest rival, says Kia). These underpinnings contributed to an excellent ride and surprisingly nimble handling. Steering is direct and accurate, and commendable on-center feel made unnecessary the minute in-lane course corrections that help cause driver fatigue.

Four-way power-adjustable lumber support also helped to reduce fatigue and minimize lower-back pain.

What we didn’t do on our 2,500-mile trip was pass many gas stations. The front-wheel-drive, 4,400-pound Sedona musters subpar EPA numbers; 19 mpg combined/17 city/22 highway.

The new Sedona arrives just as Kia gains new recognition for quality control. In the current J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey, the company moves up four positions to place second behind Porsche.

The minivan segment is dominated by entries from such builders as Honda, Toyota and Chrysler. While it’s unlikely ever to rule in Southern Utah, it’s very likely to put Kia on the minivan roadmap.
.
Contact Don at don@dadair.com

2015 Kia Sedona SXL
Vehicle base price: $26,100
Trim level base price: $39,700
As tested: $43,295
Options included xenon HD headlights; lane-departure warning system; forward-collision warning system; surround-view monitor; adaptive cruise control
Towing capacity: 3,500 lbs
EPA rating: 19 combined/17 city/22 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

No CD player for Golf?

In the wake of the Chrysler 330S CD Surprise, I was once again surprised to learn that a tester — this time, a 2015 VW Golf — had arrived sans CD player. Moreover, it appears that no Golf sold in the States can be had with a CD player. First, the Chrysler 300S, now it’s the Golf. Is this a thing? Both cars compensate by including a memory-card slot. And, since every cellphone is a mobile, connected jukebox, CDs may have outlived their usefulness. I’ve dropped a line to my guy at VW to see if I can get some insight about VW’s thinking.

Chrysler Surprise v.2

I spent more of Saturday than I should have researching the Chrysler Chrysler 300's Uconnect system doesn't include a CD player.300 CD mystery. In an earlier post, I mentioned my surprise that my Beats-equipped 300S tester didn’t have a CD player.

Other than this photo, downloaded from Chrysler’s media website, I could find nothing to suggest the 2015 300 can even be ordered with a CD player. I fired off an email query to Fiat-Chrysler’s West Coast media guy, who wrote back:

Wow, you are correct, no CD player for 300!

Chrysler substitutes a Media Hub that includes an SD card slot, a USB port and an auxiliary input.

Recent research suggests that buyers are growing increasingly features-aware. In its most recent evaluation of consumer behavior,  the automotive research and ratings firm J.D. Power, said, “New-vehicle buyers indicate they avoided a model because it lacked the latest technological features at a rate of 15% in 2015, up from 4% in 2014.”

Will Chrysler’s bold CD move influence buyers away from the brand? Or, is the company channeling Steve Jobs, who changed the computer industry when he effectively killed the floppy drive with the 1998 debut of the (floppy-free) iMac?