Acura MDX attacks winter with world-class AWD

This review first appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

A facelift brings MDX a new grille and headlights. New standard features include a capless fuel-filler port, an electronic parking brake and automatic high beams.

I first experienced Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system piloting an MDX across Snoqualmie Pass in a blinding snowstorm.

The torque-vectoring system transformed a white-knuckle drive into a revelation. As snow deepened and other drivers slowed, I fought the urge to speed up. The faster I drove, it seemed, the more tenacious the MDX grew.

Even the best tires have adhesion limits and driving quickly on snow-covered roads is not recommended. Still, SH-AWD works so well — not only in responding to traction loss, but also in anticipating it — that a driver might be forgiven for thinking he’s invincible.

2017 Acura MDX interior

Though less elegant than some others, the MDX cabin is quiet and comfortable.

Torque-vectoring is car-speak for directing engine power to a specific wheel(s). SH-AWD is a front-wheel-drive system by default, but it can send up to 70 percent of the engine’s 267 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels — and as much of that as needed to the wheel that needs it most.

A network of sensors feeds a flow of information — vehicle speed, steering-wheel angle, throttle declination and more — to the system’s control unit, enabling it to be proactive. In normal conditions, SH-AWD improves handling by defeating understeer; in snow, it can keep both ends of the rig heading in the same direction.

It’s been a staple on the three-row, midsize MDX crossover since 2001.

This spring, more AWD innovation comes to MDX. The company’s new Sport Hybrid SH-AWD system incorporates three electric motors. One functions like a conventional hybrid engine, boosting power output and fuel efficiency, while the other two power each of the rear wheels.

Sport Hybrid SH-AWD debuted last year on the RLX sedan and is the world’s first all-electric AWD system.

A 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 powers the conventional MDX. It’s mated to a nine-speed automatic whose 2016 debut was marred by drivability issues that seem common to nine-speed boxes. Firmware updates have resolved the concerns and our tester’s gearbox never stumbled.

The Sport Hybrid makes 325 hp and employs a seven-speed, dual-clutch automated manual transmission.

At 4,400 pounds, the MDX is a lightweight among midsize crossovers and feels svelte and nimble underway. It’s quick, too, running the 0-60 sprint in 6.5 seconds

The MDX sails into 2017 as Acura’s best-selling car. A facelift this year brings a new grille and new headlights. New standard features include a capless fuel-filler port, an electronic parking brake and automatic high beams.

The AcuraWatch driver-assistance suite — it includes forward-collision warning, with automatic emergency braking; lane- and road-departure warning and mitigation; and adaptive cruise control — is now standard.

Though less elegant than some others, the MDX cabin is quiet and comfortable. Seat comfort, materials quality and fit-and-finish are first-rate. The third-row bench seat is more accommodating than most.

Acura’s twin-screen touchscreen control interface can be managed via a rotary knob mounted in the center console, but the system is too complicated and its graphics are dated.

I drove the MDX over the mountains again last week. The roads were bare and dry but I drove with the confidence of a guy with access to one of the world’s great AWD systems.

2017 Acura MDX AWD Advance
Vehicle base price: $43,950
Trim level base price: $56,400
As tested: $57,340
Options: the MDX AWD Advance is fully equipped; our tester included no options
EPA ratings: 22 combined/19 city/26 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Kia Forte: Living large in the compact sedan segment

This review first appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

2017 Forte Sedan interior

The Forte rides well, handles well and is as quiet inside as can be expected of a 2,800-pound car. I

Who can argue with the crossover’s growing popularity? Crossovers are roomy, utilitarian and, with the easy availability of all-wheel-drive, enormously practical in snowy climes.
In our rush to crossovers, though, let’s not forget the humble four-door sedan. Sedans are more affordable than crossovers, they’re more efficient and they’re less costly to maintain and insure.

Typically, they offer more bang for the buck than comparably priced crossovers.

Its cabin is roomy enough to handle four six-footers.

Consider this week’s tester, the 2017 Kia Forte, a compact, five-passenger sedan. As with most modern sedans, its computer-designed chassis is built of lightweight, high-strength steel. It’s strong enough to protect occupants and rigid enough to allow precise suspension tuning.

The Forte rides well, handles well and is as quiet inside as can be expected of a 2,800-pound car. Its cabin is roomy enough to handle four six-footers and its split folding rear seatbacks boost the cargo capacity of its generously sized trunk.

The Forte ($17,340, including destination) is well-equipped in its base trim and can be ordered with a variety upscale options — including several life-saving driver-assist features — without breaking the bank.

The base Forte LX includes heated mirrors, air-conditioning and full power accessories. There’s Bluetooth and USB connectivity and a four-speaker sound system, with CD player and an auxiliary audio jack

With its tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and height-adjustable driver’s seat, the Forte comfortably accommodates nearly every driver. Long-legged ones, especially, will appreciate the lengthy bottom seat cushion. High-quality interior materials and, on upper trims, infotainment controls are consistently user-friendly.

Bluetooth, and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, USB connectivity and an auxiliary audio jack are standard.

Although it’s only midway through its current lifecycle, the Forte gets a new and more efficient base engine this year and adds a sporty new trim level.

The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes 147, which is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.

With the automatic, combined fuel economy climbs from 31 to 32 mpg and city mileage from 26 to 29 mpg.

The same engine also powers the new S trim ($20,500), which gets a sport-tuned suspension, decklid spoiler and chrome exhaust tips — but not the manual gearbox. Its marker lamps are LEDs and its steering wheel and shift knob are leather-wrapped.

The S is eligible for a $1,491 Technology package that adds autonomous emergency braking, with pedestrian detection; blind-spot detection; lane-change assist, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, which automatically keeps the Forte in its lane.

All that’s missing is adaptive cruise control, which is not yet available on Forte.

Kia currently offers the S, with Technology package, for $19,900, a low-cost entry into the driver-assist market.

The topmost EX trim ($22,050) gets a 164-hp 2.0-liter engine that’s paired with the automatic and returns an EPA-estimated 28/25/33. It adds leather seats, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated seats and more. A $4,500 Premium Plus package adds the driver-assistance bundle and expands Forte’s infotainment offerings.

At $26,835, it’s a good reminder that lots of life remains in the compact sedan segment.

2017 Kia Forte EX
Vehicle base price: $16,490
Trim level base price: $21,200
As tested: $26,835
Options included navigation, autonomous emergency braking, forward-collision warning, blind-spot detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, ventilated front seats, power driver’s seat with memory, xenon HID headlights, sunroof
EPA rating: 28 combined/25 city/33 highway
regular unleaded fuel specified

Kia Sorento: So many options you might need a spreadsheet

This review first appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

The Sorento is available in a dizzying array of configurations. The $20,000 spread that separates the base L trim and the topmost SX Limited merely suggests the range it aims to cover.

Should your crossover shopping lead you to the 2017 Kia Sorento, I’d advise taking along a spreadsheet.

The midsize Sorento is available in a dizzying array of configurations. The $20,000 spread that separates the base L trim ($26,295) and the topmost SX Limited ($46,595) merely suggests the range it aims to cover.

We tested a full-zoot SX Limited (also designated SXL) on a holiday visit to the Midwest, where the chill wind blows and the roads lie straight and true. Redolent of fine Nappa leather, our tester bore such finery as a leather-and-wood-trimmed steering wheel, heated outboard second-row seats and a bundle of driver-assist features (adaptive cruise, with automatic emergency braking; lane-departure alert; blind-spot monitor, with rear cross-traffic alert).

Its 360-degree surround-view camera helped me ease into and out of tight parking spots. Its heated steering wheel earned its keep when the wind-chill slid beyond zero. With its adjustable lumbar support and extendable thigh cushion, the driver’s seat offered all the comfort I needed.

Sound-deadening measures turn upper-trim cabins into sanctums of serenity — all the better, we discovered, to appreciate the SXL’s Infinity surround-sound audio system.

Certainly, our tester teased the ambiguous divide that separates conventional high-end rigs from those bearing luxury nameplates.

Not every Sorento is so lavishly outfitted, of course, but all are built atop the same rigid, lightweight platform that debuted last year. At highway speeds, the Sorento feels stable and planted. Not even the winds that buffeted southern Wisconsin during our visit could upset its steady demeanor.

You can order your Sorento with one of three engine choices: a naturally aspirated 185-hp four powers L, LX ($27,595) and EX ($32,395) trims; the same four, but turbocharged and rated at 240 hp, is optional on LX and EX); a 290-hp V-6 is optional on LX and EX and standard on SX and SXL.

All employ the same six-speed automatic transmission — there’s not a CVT in the bunch — and all but the front-drive L can be had in front- or all-wheel-drive configurations. Four-cylinder trims seat five; six-cylinder trims seat seven.

Leather seating surfaces are standard or optional on all trims but the fabric-seated L. The SXL gets Nappa leather standard.

Lower trims are outfitted with a full range of basic safety gear (antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags, and front- and second-row side curtain airbags). All but the L and LX are equipped with a rearview camera.

The nifty surround-view camera is only available on the SXL, where it is standard.

Soft-touch surfaces dominate in Sorento’s attractively designed cabin. Its touchscreen control system is build around large virtual buttons and easily navigated menus. Aspects of the optional navigation system could use refinement, but it flawlessly helped us negotiate unfamiliar territory.

Others in its class offer somewhat more cargo space, but first- and second-row passengers enjoy abundant legroom and headroom. Second row seats slide, recline and fold flat. Predictably, third-row seating is best reserved for children.

You could see all the choices Sorento presents as a challenge. Or as a great way to find the exactly right rig. You choose.

Contact Don at don@dadair.com, or visit www.dadair.com.

2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD
Vehicle base price: $25,400
Trim level base price: $45,700
As tested: $46,990
Options: The AWD SX Limited is a fully loaded trim; our tester’s only option was its Snow White Pearl paint.
Maximum tow rating: 3,000 pounds
EPA rating: 19 combined/17 city/23 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Volvo’s new S90 flagship pays a winter visit

This review first appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

Volvo S90 exterior

Volvo’s new flagship, the midsize S90 reflects Volvo virtues, both traditional and contemporary. It is sinfully comfortable, elegantly designed and a paradigm of safety.

Like an emissary from the Land of the Midnight Sun, Volvo’s new S90 sedan stopped by for our first real taste of winter.

Of course, Volvo knows winter. The rigors of Swedish winters gave rise to its focus on stout construction and safety innovation.

Volvo’s new flagship, the midsize S90 reflects Volvo virtues, both traditional and contemporary. It is sinfully comfortable, elegantly designed and, above all, a paradigm of safety.

Volvo S90 interior

Metal inlays and wood trim finish the leather-lined cabin.

Metal inlays and wood trim finish its leather-lined five-passenger cabins. Its deeply bolstered seats are some of the best in the business and its tablet-style control interface — it manages, audio, A/C and navigation — sets the standard for touchscreen systems.

Most important, though, is Volvo’s commitment to build cars so safe that, by 2020, “ … no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car.”

The S90 and its SC90 crossover counterpart are the first mass-market cars to include as standard gear a full suite of safety and semi-autonomous driving technologies. At highway speeds (up to 80 mph, various accident-avoidance systems allow near hands-free operation.

Adaptive cruise control allows the driver to maintain a constant distance from vehicles ahead and automatic braking can bring the S60 to a full, emergency. The S90 can center itself in its lane and, should the car drift onto the shoulder of the road, it attempts to steer itself back to safety.

If the S90 does leave the road at speed, airbags built into the seatbacks deploy to safeguard occupants’ spines.

In town, the system detects to and responds pedestrians and cyclists and this year adds large-animal detection, with automatic braking. Volvo says its accident-prevention systems reduce the chances of rear-ending another vehicle by 41 percent.

Other measures include lane-departure warning, road-sign recognition and a drowsy-driver alert. Inexplicably, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are options.

The S90 is available in front-wheel-drive (T5) and all-wheel-drive (T6) configurations. A turbocharged 250-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine powers T5 trims. On T6 trims, an added supercharger boosts output to 316 hp.

An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard. T5 models are rated at 27 mpg combined (23 city/34 highway); T6s are good for 25/22/31.

All S90s are equipped with dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation, a 9-inch Sensus infotainment display, 10-way power front seats, a 10-speaker audio system, LED headlights and foglights, a sunroof, keyless entry and ignition.

The topmost Inscription trim (available on T5 and T6 models) brings, adaptive LED headlights, headlight washers, Nappa leather upholstery, upgraded front seats with both heating and cooling, a leather-wrapped dash panel, walnut trim accents, four-zone climate control, a 12-inch instrument display and Apple CarPlay integration.

For all that it is, the S90 is not a sport sedan. Its chassis lacks the locked-in feel that the Germans own. Its electrically assisted steering system is unnaturally and heavily weighted and, on occasion, our T6 tester’s 20-inch wheels failed to filter out the impact of a rough road surface.

In consideration of the S90’s manifest virtues, though, these complaints register as a small price to pay. This Scandinavian visitor is always welcome in our driveway.

2017 Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription
Vehicle base price: $46,950
Trim level base price: $52,950
As tested: $66,105
Options included active bending LED headlights; walnut inlays; Nappa leather; ventilated front seats; heated rear seats; leather dashboard and door panels; power seat bolsters; laminated side windows; 360-degree surround-view camera; blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert; heated washer nozzles; Bowers & Wilkins premium sound; 20-inch wheels; metallic paint; more.
EPA rating: 25 combined/22 city/31 highway
Premium unleaded fuel required

Kia acts quickly to boost Cadenza’s fortunes

This review originally appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

2017 Kia Cadenza

The Cadenza, a large, front-wheel-drive near-luxury sedan, debuted here in 2013. Now, just three years later, the second-generation model has arrived.

With the 2017 Cadenza sedan, Kia fast-tracks its North American learning curve.

Kia made its name here selling well-equipped, value-priced small cars and crossovers and covering them with the industry’s best warranty. Now, it aims to repeat that success in larger, more luxurious segments.

Quickly.

2017 Cadenza interior

The redesigned cabin adds upscale materials and updated electronics.

The Cadenza, a large, front-wheel-drive near-luxury sedan, debuted here in 2013. Now, just three years later, the second-generation model has arrived. The upgrades are more evolutionary than revolutionary, but they bolster Cadenza’s competitive position.

The 2017 Cadenza is built on a lighter, stiffer platform. It’s roomier, more refined and more efficient.

Outside, clean lines, dynamic proportions and a flowing, coupe-like silhouette make for a strong presence, with a hint of European sophistication. The redesigned cabin adds upscale materials and updated electronics.

A new head-up display shows key information — vehicle speed, turn-by-turn navigation directions, etc — on the windshield ahead of the driver. The high-resolution rearview camera now includes adaptive guidelines that take the guesswork out of backing into tight spaces.

Sound-mitigation measures cut cabin noise levels and the front seats provide a lower — ie, “sportier” — seating position and accommodate a wider range of body types. There’s abundant rear-seat legroom, though tall passengers may find headroom is compromised.

There are plenty of storage cubbies and cupholders. The trunk is about average in size, but the rear seatbacks don’t fold, limiting its functionality. A Smart Trunk feature opens the lid automatically if the sensor detects the key fob for longer than 3 seconds.

The Cadenza can be had with adaptive cruise control that includes stop-and-go functionality; forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking; and lane-departure warning. A new blind-spot detection system can prevent an inattentive driver from drifting in to an adjacent vehicle.

A 3.3-liter, 290-horsepower V-6 powers all Cadenzas. In the interest of economy, it’s down slightly on power this year. The eight-speed gearbox that replaces last year’s six-speed box is similarly frugal. Upshifts are executed smoothly, but lazily, and throttle-induced downshifts — during freeway merges, for example, or when passing on a two-lane road — can cause it to hesitate while hunting the correct gear.

The new Cadenza is about a half-second slower (6.7 seconds) from 0-60 than last year’s model. EPA ratings improve 1 mpg in city (20) and combined (23) driving, and holds steady at 28 mpg on the highway.

Suspension tweaks reduce Cadenza’s propensity to lean in fast corners. Redesigned shock absorbers reduce harshness on rough surfaces. A 32-bit electronic control unit (ECU) replaces last year’s 16-bit unit, improving steering responses.

It’s an impressive effort, but if the Cadenza is to be faulted, it’s for a failure to engage. On a six-plus-hour drive to Portland, our $45,000 tester revealed itself to be capable, quiet and comfortable, but not memorable.

That’s an auto writer’s complaint, though. In real life, the Cadenza does everything required of a full-size, near-luxury sedan. Time will tell if American drivers will warm to it as they have its smaller siblings.

One thing is certain; Kia won’t let the grass grow between its toes waiting to find out.

2017 Kia Cadenza Limited
Vehicle base price: $30,345
Trim level base price: $44,390
As tested: $45,290
Options: Our Limited tester included no options.
EPA rating: 23 combined/ 20 city/28 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Audi Q7 transcends the sum of its parts

 

Audi Q7 exterior

Fresh off a year-long hiatus, the 7-passenger crossover returns to the fray lighter, more engaging and better equipped than before.

A whiff of alchemy attends the creation of every great car, a bit of magic that allows it to transcend the sum of its parts.

The 2017 Audi Q7 is such a car. Fresh off a year-long hiatus, the large crossover returns to the fray lighter, more engaging and better equipped than before. A dramatic new grille keys exterior updates and the redesigned cabin coddles as many as seven in sumptuous and tech-rich comfort.

Materials quality is first-rate and controls are logically, attractively and ergonomically arrayed. Exterior dimensions are largely unchanged, but crafty packaging produces big gains in headroom, legroom and shoulder room in the second- and third-row seating areas.

Underneath, a new platform employs big doses of aluminum and high-strength steel, helping cut vehicle weight by up to 700 pounds. A redesigned suspension also includes gobs of aluminum, reducing so-called “unsprung” weight to boost handling and ride quality.

Power is by a turbocharged, 333-horsepower six-cylinder engine that urges the Q7 from zero-to-60 in a seemingly effortless 5.5 seconds and can tow up to 7,700 pounds.

This week, Audi announced the availability of a new engine, a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four that makes 252 hp and is tow-rated to 4,400 pounds. It drops the Q7 base price (including destination) from $55,750 to $49,950.

Both engines are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission that, paired with the six in our tester, was quick and certain in its selection the proper gear.

The Q7 is available with Audi’s programmable “virtual cockpit,” which integrates Google Earth into the high-resolution map display, turning the cockpit into a rolling theater of the immediate environment (especially impressive out in the channeled scablands). Upon ignition, the tablet-size, high-resolution display lifts out of the dash top.

The Multi-Media Interface (MMI) stitches switches, buttons, a rotary knob and, optionally, a finger-tip handwriting pad into one of the more intuitive systems extant. A suite of safety and driver-assist systems — including lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and forward-looking cameras — portend the driverless future.

The adaptive cruise control system is tightly integrated with the navigation system and Google Maps. Left to its own devices, it can brake for an upcoming corner and accelerate out of it. Simultaneously, the lane-keeping system keeps the big Audi between the lines.

An available Active Chassis package ($4,000) adds an adaptive air suspension that frosts the ride-quality cake and virtually eliminates body lean during aggressive cornering. The package includes rear-wheel steering, which boosts the immediacy, precision and stability of the Q7’s handling package.

All 2017 Q7s include Audi pre sense city, an emergency braking system that brings the Q7 to a stop from speeds of up to 52.8 mph when it detects a pedestrian or stopped vehicle ahead.

Good luck isolating the source(s) of the magic in a vehicle this complex. The lion’s share of the credit goes to the new chassis and suspension, which make all else possible. Elaborate electronics add nuance to the mechanicals and extend their capabilities. Beautiful cabin design elevates the experience.

It may not be real magic, but it’s close enough for me.

2017 Audi Q7 3.0T Premium Plus
Vehicle base price: $54,800
Trim level base price: $58,800
As tested: $68,925
Key options included adaptive cruise control; active lane-assist; automatic high beams; traffic-sign recognition; Audi virtual cockpit; LED headlights; 360-degree top-view camera system; four-zone automatic climate control; ventilated front seats with power lumbar; Bose 3D Surround Sound audio; heated steering wheel; heated rear seats; 20-inch 10-spoke bi-color wheels.
Tow rating: 7,700 pounds
EPA ratings: 21 combined/19 city/25 highway
Premium unleaded fuel required

Mazda3: compact hatch evokes Mazda’s driver-engagement DNA

Mazda Mazda3 interior

Like the MX-5 Miata sports car, the Mazda3 is quick and well balanced, its responses precise and go-kart quick.

Few brands do DNA better than Mazda does DNA.

A strong familial thread links the smallest Mazda with the largest. Across the board, exterior design is fluid and dramatic. Cabins share a breezy, high-touch/high-tech aesthetic. Suspensions are tuned to allow precise responses. Every model — even the three-row CX-9 crossover — rewards driver engagement.

That spirit is best expressed in the MX-5 Miata. Miata may not be Mazda’s flagship, but the little two-seater is its compass. Everything else falls into place on the heels of Miata.

That connection is no more evident than in the compact Mazda3. Like the Miata, the Mazda3 is quick and well balanced, its responses precise and go-kart quick. Because it’s a front-driver, its dynamics can’t match the rear-drive Miata’s, but the trade-offs are worthy; you can’t make much of a Costco run in a Miata.

The 3 is available as a sedan or hatchback. It’s thrifty at the pump, roomy enough to accommodate four adults and, in hatchback form, abundantly utilitarian.

Mazda Mazda3 interior

The standard Mazda Connect infotainment system includes a 7-inch tablet-style touchscreen.

Two models, 3i and 3s, are keyed to engine size. A 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine powers 3i trims, and a 184-hp, 2.5-liter four powers the 3s’s. Either engine can be paired with a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic.

The stick shift isn’t a loss-leader; it’s the transmission the car deserves. It’s one of the better front-drive gearboxes extant and its well-spaced and clearly defined gates minimize blown shifts. Clutch take-up is smooth, linear and precise.

Got to have the automatic? No matter; it’s more frugal than the stick and makes good, quick shifts and rev-matched downshifts.

Like the Miata, the Mazda3 prioritizes balance over raw power. Both engines are happiest when being put through their paces. The 2.0-liter is a bit raspy under throttle but motivates the 3 from 0-60 in a quick-for-the-class 8 seconds, more or less.

The 2.5L is smoother and quieter and finds 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds.

Both engines are extremely frugal. The 2.0L returns about 33 mpg combined and the 2.5 about 30 mpg. 3i models return 40-plus highway mpg.

Suspension tuning rewards aggressive driving but doesn’t punish occupants. It’s taut but compliant; it doesn’t make potholes disappear, but it does eliminate their sting.

The front seats are supportive and moderately contoured. Rear seats are roomy enough for a pair of average-size adults. Materials quality throughout exceeds what’s expected of the segment.

The base 3i Sport is equipped with halogen headlights, push-button ignition and remote keyless entry. The standard Mazda Connect infotainment system includes a 7-inch tablet-style touchscreen and a knob-and-button-based control paradigm that puts many more-expensive systems to shame.

In a growing trend, small cars everywhere are incorporating luxury-car notes. For Mazda3 buyers, that means the availability of such upscale amenities as a small, transparent heads-up screen that places vehicle speed and navigation information in the driver’s line of sight; rain-sensing wipers; adaptive headlights and intelligent cruise control.

Tie up all that in a dynamic and fun-to-drive little package, and let the Mazda DNA shine through bright and clear.

2016 Mazda Mazda3 S 5-door Grand Touring

Vehicle base price: $18,945
Trim level base price: $25,445
As tested: $26,580
Options: The 5-door Grand Touring is a fully equipped trim. Our tester’s only option was its Soul Red metallic paint.
EPA rating: 29 combined/26 city/35 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Mitsubishi Mirage G4 defines basic transportation

This review first appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

Mitsubishi Mirage G4 interior

The all-new 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage G4 ($14,830, including destination) is one of the least expensive sedans available in the U.S.

Several years ago, a young couple hit me up for some car advice.

Following a long decline, their car had finally expired. Now they longed for the security of a new car and its warranty. They were living off what they could squeeze out of their small startup. Would it be wise, they wondered, to buy an entry-level car from a Korean builder with a sketchy reputation?

Said maker had invested billions in improving its products, so I urged them to go ahead.

Mitsubishi Mirage G4 interior

The Smart Phone Display package (a $210 ES option, standard on SE) adds Bluetooth, a 6.5-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both of which include mapping functionality.

The new car was no Bentley, but the heater heated, the wipers wiped and the car demanded nothing more than routine service.

Years earlier, my wife and I had employed the same strategy. Our new car — our first new car — kept us warm and dry and always ran. Yes, we’d acquired a car payment, but we’d jettisoned unexpected repair costs and, with them, the anxiety of having to relying on an unreliable car.

Consider this a celebration of basic transportation.

The all-new 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage G4 ($14,830, including destination) is one of the least expensive sedans available in the U.S. It’s the four-door version of the Mirage hatchback ($13,830).

The Mirage defines basic transportation. It is underpowered but terrifically efficient. Its cabin is awash in hard plastics but, overall, interior materials pass muster; ride quality is decent; NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) are acceptable.

Front-seat legroom and headroom are quite good but the lack of a telescoping steering wheel may prevent you, as it did me, from finding a comfortable driving position. Back seats are best suited for kids. Teens and small adults are likely to find leg- and headroom tight, bottom cushions flat and inadequately cushioned.

A 10-year/100,000-mile warranty covers the Mirage powertrain, and the G4 earns reassuring safety ratings: In government tests, it receives four stars out of a possible five for frontal-impact safety, five stars for side-impact safety and four stars for overall crash protection.

Both Mirages are powered by a 78-horsepower, 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine. The base ES is available with a five-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The SE trim ($15,680) can be had only with the CVT.

Either way, the G4 is a) very slow and b) very efficient. Floor the throttle from a standstill and 11-plus seconds later the speedo can be expected to at least be approaching the 60-mph neighborhood.

But, oh, those efficiency numbers: With the stick, estimated fuel economy is 35 mpg combined (33 city/40 highway), the CVT returns 37/35/42.

The standard-features roster includes automatic headlights, full power accessories and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, a USB port and an auxiliary audio input.

The SE adds keyless entry and ignition; automatic climate control; a rearview camera; a leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls; foglights; heated front seats and height-adjustable driver’s seat.

A navigation system is not available, but the Smart Phone Display package (a $210 ES option, standard on SE) adds Bluetooth, a 6.5-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both of which include mapping functionality.

It’s not fancy, but the G4 will get you where you’re going. The heater heats, the wipers wipe and the miles roll by.

2017 Mitsubishi Mirage G4 SE
Vehicle base price: $13,995
Trim level base price: $16,995
As tested: $17,380
Options: Our tester included no options.
EPA ratings: 37 combined/35 city/42 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Kia K900 challenges the luxury status quo

Kia K900 interior


We’re driving a trim that’s new this year, the K900 Luxury V-6. The Luxury V-6 i powered by an all-new, 311-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6. The engine also powers a new base trim, the K900 Premium.

Leaving Chicago in a mid-day rainstorm, I power on the rain-sensing windshield wipers, activate the intelligent cruise control and settle in for a quick drive north.

We’re deeply ensconced in the leathery confines of the 2016 Kia K900, a full-size luxury sedan from — yes — from Kia. The Korean maker’s first luxury-class product, it sort-of competes with such luminaries as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series.

Kia’s premise: Why spend $80,000 on that German car, when you can get the same neat stuff for $20,000 less?

And Kia does, indeed, serve up a nice dish.

2016 K900

Kia’s UVO connectivity system adds a Luxury Services feature that enables remote start/stop, remote climate control and remote lock/unlock.

Our tester’s cabin is finished in Nappa leather and real wood trim. Its old-school clubbiness is mediated only by a large (10.3-inch) infotainment touchscreen and associated hardware. The large and deeply cushioned front seats are heated and ventilated; subdued interior lighting and sound-deadening measures produce a serene environment.
An aluminum-sleeved shift lever lies at hand, just ahead of the knob and the buttons that manage the infotainment system. The optional 17-speaker Lexicon surround sound system pumps out crystal-clear audio.

We’re driving a trim that’s new this year, the K900 Luxury V-6 ($55,580, including destination). The Luxury V-6 i powered by an all-new, 311-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6. The engine also powers a new base trim, the K900 Premium ($49,950).

The previous engine, a 420-hp V-8, is now optional and powers the top K900 Luxury V-8 ($62,850) trim.

In all trims, a three-mode, eight-speed automatic transmission directs power to the rear wheels. Steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters are available on all trims.

Beyond the powertrain implant, the 2016 K900 also receives a mild facelift, a hands-free automatic power trunk and an emergency braking system that can bring the car to a complete halt sans driver intervention.

Kia’s UVO connectivity system adds a Luxury Services feature that enables remote start/stop, remote climate control and remote lock/unlock. Curfew, Speed and Geofence settings are now standard.

Any serious luxury-class entry must be well equipped. Accordingly, the Premium V-6 gets automatic xenon headlights, LED fog- and running lights, automatic wipers, panoramic sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, three-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, driver-side memory functions, heated outboard rear seats and a power rear sunshade.

Luxury trims step up to Nappa leather, LED headlights and a surround-view parking camera.

World-class aspirations notwithstanding, Kia’s best doesn’t yet rival the competitions’. Lackluster suspension tuning neutralizes the promise of the rear-drive layout. The steering system, though nicely weighted, is vague on-center and requires small continuous adjustments.

Ride quality is very good and, aside from the occasional tendency to become choppy over rough surfaces, and the K900 is composed and relaxed at highway speeds.

Cabin materials would be well suited to a premium family sedan, but don’t exude the opulence the class demands.

The K900 represents a bold attempt to challenge the status quo. Sales have been underwhelming, but Kia doesn’t easily give up the fight. Who knows? The next-gen car could set the competition on its heels.

2016 Kia K900 Luxury V-6
Vehicle base price: $49,000
Trim level base price: $54,900
As tested: $60,850
Options included head-up display; autonomous emergency braking; blind-spot detection; lane-departure warning; intelligent cruise control; surround-view monitor; rear cross-traffic alert; power driver’s-seat thigh extension; power headrests; power passenger lumbar support; power reclining rear seats; ventilated outboard rear seats; lateral-adjusting rear headrests; rear-seat seat power lumbar support; premium headliner trim; soft-close power door latches.
EPA rating: 20 combined/17 city/26 highway

Accord Hybrid holds Honda’s future in its capable hands
Honda Accord Hybrid exterior

Honda’s clean-energy flagship is the 2017 Accord Hybrid, which returns to the market following a year-long sabbatical.

Faced by the twin pressures of competition and escalating efficiency standards, automakers find themselves forever falling into the future.

That crossover you bought last week? A team of engineers, designers and product planners is already working on its replacement.

The current crop of gas-electric hybrids is a case in point. With gas prices at historic lows, buyers struggle to justify the technology’s extra costs. Meanwhile, automakers face a future in which hybrids will be merely the starting place.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid interior

The mid-level EX-L trim ($33,740) adds leather upholstery and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Honda expects that by 2030, two-thirds of its vehicles will be electrified, a category that includes pure EVs, gas-electric hybrids and plug-in hybrids. And that lineup doesn’t include alternatives like compressed natural gas (CNG) and hydrogen fuel cells.

The company built its first all-electric production vehicle in 1997, its first CNG-powered car in ’98 and its first fuel-cell car in 2008. Before the end of 2016, it will release the latest iteration of its Clarity fuel-cell vehicle. Next year, the Clarity family grows to include a new EV and a plug-in EV.

For now, Honda’s clean-energy flagship is the 2017 Accord Hybrid, which returns to the market following a year-long sabbatical.

The ’17 Accord Hybrid (from $30,344, including destination) carries a refined version of Honda’s two-motor hybrid powertrain, which marries a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a pair of electric motors fed by a lithium-ion battery pack.

The system produces 212 horsepower, 16 more than the 2015 edition — and more than the competition — and delivers it to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which only occasionally does that crazy CVT thing.

In the face of testing guidelines that have grown more rigorous, EPA-estimated mileage improves to 48 mpg combined/49 city/48 highway.

The hybrid is quick and silent off the line (0-60 comes up in a tick or two over 7 seconds), and can be driven on electricity alone for about a mile at just over 60 mph. Transitions between power sources are essentially transparent.

The trunk-mounted lithium-ion battery pack is smaller this year, boosting cargo capacity to a class-leading 13.5 cubic feet. However, the battery’s location precludes folding rear seatbacks or even a pass-through.

Honda markets the hybrid in three well-equipped trims. The base model runs about $3,000 more than a comparably equipped non-hybrid Accord EX. The mid-level EX-L trim ($33,740) adds leather upholstery and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the top-level Touring ($36,790) gets navigation; LED headlights, with automatic high-beams; heated rear seats; front and rear parking sensors; and a sunroof.

All hybrids get Honda Sensing, a suite of safety and driver-assist technologies, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automated emergency braking. LaneWatch, Honda’s brilliant right-side blind-spot camera, is standard.

The EX-L and Touring come equipped with Honda’s needlessly complex twin-touchscreen infotainment interface.

Malcolm X once famously said, “The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” He wasn’t talking cars but he nailed the automaker’s mission nonetheless. Honda clearly intends to be counted among the prepared.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
Vehicle base price: $26,905
Trim level base price: $35,995
As tested: $36,790
Options: The Accord Hybrid Touring is a fully equipped trim; our tester included no options.
EPA ratings: 48 combined/49 city/47 highway