Nissan Murano: fun is not the point

Writing about crossovers may be the least appealing part of my job.

As a rule, crossovers are comfortable, utilitarian and economical. They’re just not a lot of fun.

Even so, compact crossovers form auto industry’s fastest-growing segment. Next year, they’re likely to overtake the family sedan as America’s best-selling vehicle.

2015 Nissan Murano

On the passenger side, the fall-way dash creates a open, spacious feel.

My current tester, a 2015 Nissan Murano, is responsible in some small part for the crazy proliferation of crossovers. When it debuted in 2003, it was among the first of the breed.

Twelve years later, the Murano enters its third generation. This is largely a styling update, as last year’s mechanicals (160-hp V-6 mated to continuously variable transmission [CVT]) continue forward. It’s a little bigger than last year and suspension tweaks give it a softer, more compliant ride. New NASA-inspired “Zero Gravity” seats (they’ve been available in Nissan sedans for a few years) are among the most comfortable I’ve experienced in a mainstream — i.e., non-luxury — vehicle.

Murano’s exterior styling is an acquired taste but I haven’t acquired it. The chrome-trimmed bump-up rear quarter panel feels fussy and disjointed to me. Worse, it’s hell on rearward vision from the driver’s seat.

Interior design is sterling. On the passenger-side, the dash falls away from the occupant to creating a sense of expansiveness. The full-color display screen is well integrated into flowing dashboard lines. A clever floating hood hovers over the gauge pod, shielding the windshield from reflections.

I’m less enamored of the faux wood trim. The silver hue of my tester’s trim seemed forced and out of character with the handsomely stitched dashboard cover.

But I set out today to write about the CVT. Nissan’s CVTs are among the best of a not especially impressive crowd. CVTs are more efficient than conventional transmissions but have some majorly annoying characteristics. The worst of which is a tendency to cause the engine to run ahead as the single-gear pulley-based transmission races to catch up. Step on the throttle like you mean it, and the CVT responds with sturm und drang and precious little forward momentum.

A car equipped with a CVT isn’t necessarily slower than any other, but that moment while you’re waiting for the engine and transmission to sync up can seem endless. If the transmission has a Sport mode, I’ll use it to step down the engine RPM when I need instant acceleration.

Turns out the Murano has enough power to overcome the worst of the CVT’s quirks. I drove it into town three or four times (winding, downhill dirt road onto two-lane highway onto limited-access highway onto freeway) without even being aware of the CVT.

Before it goes away, I’ll do a few impromptu acceleration runs so I can gauge its behavior under pressure.

BMW X6 M: High-performance, tech-rich crossover is weirdly shaped and stunningly fast

This review first appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

2015 BMW X6 M

The ’15 X6 M is 1.8 inches longer than before. Styling updates include deep body-side creases that flow over the rear fenders, adding both a sense of fluidity and aggression. A revised front fascia houses a pair of large air intakes. The front fenders get functional gills and the rear fascia adds a diffuser, twin exhaust outlets and a spoiler.

In 1999, BMW dipped its toes into crossover waters with the midsize X5. Built on the rear-drive platform of the 5 Series sedan, it inherited that car’s muscularity and superior driving dynamics.

Nine years later, an oddly shaped X5 variant landed. The new X6 was an X5 in every way but one; a sloping rear roofline had displaced the X5’s traditional crossover silhouette.

BMW called it a sport activity coupe (the X5 was a sport activity vehicle).

Shorn of its cargo hold, the X6 hunkered menacingly but felt bulky and out of proportion. The low-slung roofline slashed usable interior space, ostensibly the raison d’être of any crossover.

It seemed that BMW had designed a car for a market that didn’t exist. But enough copies to warrant development of a high-performance M edition.

In 2009, BMW delivered M versions of the X5 and X6.

In Bimmer Land, M signifies a model that’s been heavily modded by subsidiary BMW M GmbH. M standing for Motorsports, naturally.

An M makeover typically includes more power, more tech and a highly refined suspension.

I recently tested the second-gen 2015 X6 M and found it to offer more of everything that made the first one unique. It still seems like a car without a purpose, but thousands of customers say otherwise.

The ’15 X6 M is 1.8 inches longer than before. Styling updates include deep body-side creases that flow over the rear fenders, adding both a sense of fluidity and aggression. A revised front fascia houses a pair of large air intakes. The front fenders get functional gills and the rear fascia adds a diffuser, twin exhaust outlets and a spoiler.

The new rig is powered by a turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8 that makes 567-horsepower and 555 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is a unique, three-mode eight-speed automatic which BMW says works like an automated manual. It makes very quick shifts and its broadly spaced ratios are largely responsible for this year’s 20-percent efficiency gain.

The X6 M runs the 0-60 sprint in 4.0 seconds, wailing like a banshee the whole way. The EPA says to expect mileage ratings of 16 mpg combined/14 mpg city/19 mpg highway.

Ride-height is lowered nearly an inch from stock and an adaptive suspension adjusts to road conditions in real-time. The front suspension has been revised to minimize understeer in fast corners. All-wheel drive and dynamic stability control are standard.

With the 2015 X series Ms, BMW ends its dependence on run-flat tires. The X6 M wears 21-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sports that provide a ton of grip and improve ride quality substantially.

Inside, there’s a head-up display, a new, M-badged steering wheel and multifunction M sport seats. The standard features list includes four-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera and a Harman Kardon surround sound audio system.

Unless you count racetrack handling; rip-roaring acceleration; and a stylish, comfortable and tech-rich cabin, there’s no obviously compelling reason to own an M6 M.

Unless, of course, you can.

Contact Don at don@dadair.com.

2015 BMW X6 M
Vehicle base price: $102,100
Trim level base price: $102,100
As tested: $112,650
Options included full Merino Leather; active blind-spot detection; active driving assistant; side- and top-view camera; heated steering wheel; soft-close doors; ventilated front seats; adaptive LED headlights with automatic high beams; head-up display; more.
EPA ratings: 16 combined/14 city/19 highway
Premium fuel recommended

Car-swap day

Every week, some nice person brings me a new car to drive.

Sometimes, that’s good news. Others, not so much.

Today, the Mustang GT goes away. Replaced by a Nissan Murano.

Pony car for family crossover. That’s the life of an autowriter.

Swapping this:

2015 Ford Mustang GT

 

 

 

 

 

 

For this:

2015 Nissan Murano

 

 

 

 

 

As much as I’ll miss the ‘Stang — and I will — I’m looking forward to the Murano. It’s been completely updated for 2015, with a new exterior, new interior and improved fuel economy.

It’s said to be less sporty than last year’s model. Annoying, since Nissan is one of the few mainstream companies to lean in the direction of sporty (guess we’ll have to rely on Mazda to uphold the “driver’s car” tradition).

I’m interested in checking out the latest iteration of Nissan’s CVT*. I’m not a CVT fan but Nissan does them better than most companies and colleagues tell me this latest version is the best yet.

We’ll see.

In the meantime, I have one more shot at the Mustang. One final drive, and then goodbye. For now.

* continuously variable transmission

Why does Jeep’s Patriot keep on keeping on?

This review first appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

2015 Jeep Patriot

With its upright, seven-bar grille and square-bodied stance, the Patriot carries more than a hint of traditional Jeep styling.

I drove the Jeep Patriot a thousand miles before grasping its appeal.

For all intents and purposes, the Patriot is firmly rooted in a previous generation. In its eight years of existence, it has not been updated in any significant way. Its cabin lacks the sophistication expected of a more modern crossover. Its powertrains are less refined and efficient than the competitions’.

Yet, each year, Patriot sales surpass the previous year’s sales. By large amounts.

No doubt, its price is part of the appeal. At $17,891 (including freight), and $19,991 for AWD models, Patriot is the lowest-priced crossover in the U.S.

2015 Jeep Patriot with Freedom II

Equipped with the Freedom II AWD package, the Patriot has better-than-usual off-road chops.

When ordered with the $1,125 Freedom II Off-Road Group, it’s also one of the most capable. Freedom II adds low-range gearing, hill-start assist, hill-descent control, tow hooks, all-terrain tires, a full-size spare and skid plates.

But are these reasons enough to explain the Patriot’s popularity?

Perhaps, but I suspect there’s another. The day before my tester went away, I climbed behind the wheel and noticed what had been hiding in plain sight all along.

I saw a hood.

If you’ve driven a small crossover lately, you’ll know that hoods have largely disappeared from the driver’s view, driven downward by aerodynamics and fashion.

But the Patriot wears its hood proudly. In fact, with its upright, seven-bar grille and square-bodied stance, the Patriot carries more than a hint of traditional Jeep styling. Legacy alone must account for a handsome chunk of Patriot business.

Depending on the trim, picking a driveline is a mix-and-match proposition. A pair of four-cylinder engines power the Patriot, one rated at 158 horsepower, the other at 172. The default transmission is a five-speed manual, with either six-speed automatic or a continuously variable unit available.

The automatic came aboard in 2014, replacing the CVT in most trims, though it’s still mandatory with the Freedom II package.

2015 Jeep Patriot interior

The front seats are roomy and comfortable but, with their short and low-to-the-floor cushions, the rears are less so. For the most part, interior surfaces are finished in hard plastics, the Patriot having gestated long before soft-touch surfaces trickled down into the compact crossover class.

Even with the efficiency-enhancing effects of the CVT, the Patriot’s mileage ratings suffer. Given its low cost of entry and the ongoing affordability of gas, though, buyers willingly accept the trade-off.

The base Patriot Sport sets the entry-level table, with crank windows, manual door locks, manual mirrors, 16-inch steel wheels and no A/C. On the upside, there are roof rails, foglights, cruise control, cloth (not vinyl) upholstery and a tilting steering wheel. The folding rear seat is split 60/40-split-folding and the four-speaker sound system includes CD player and an auxiliary audio jack.

The front seats are roomy and comfortable but, with their short and low-to-the-floor cushions, the rears are less so. For the most part, interior surfaces are finished in hard plastics, the Patriot having gestated long before soft-touch surfaces trickled down into the compact crossover class.

Of course, the Patriot can be had in high-zoot trims. My Latitude 4X4 tester ($29,510) was equipped with leather, halogen headlamps, satellite radio, remote start and voice-activated Uconnect connectivity with Bluetooth phone and audio.

Also, that hood.

Shoppers seeking the security of AWD in an old-school, budget-wise package will find it at their local Jeep store.

Contact Don at don@dadair.com.

2015 Jeep Patriot Latitude 4X4
Vehicle base price: $16,895
Trim level base price: $24,795
As tested: $29,510
Options included leather seats; power driver’s seat; sunroof; manual driver lumbar adjust; premium audio system; Uconnect with voice command; satellite radio; remote start.
Tow rated to 2,000 pounds
EPA ratings: 23 mpg combined/21 city/27 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Bonding with the ’15 Mustang GT

2015 Ford Mustang GT

The 2015 Mustang GT: car as machine.

When I was a wee young laddie, I owned a 1960 Porsche 356b. All 75 horsepower of it.

My friend John drove a Chevelle SS, a 350-hp muscle car. Now and again, we’d trade cars for the day. I don’t think John was as impressed with the Porsche’s agility as I was with the Chevelle’s power. John’s car taught me the thrill of huge torque and all its manifestations.

The thunderous, ground-pounding sound track, the fragrance of burning rubber, the sensation of being pressed backwards into the seat, as the tires gain traction and the car rockets forward.

I’m still a sports-car guy, though. It’s all about balance and nuance, handling precision and feedback between driver and car. I always approach muscle cars with a bit of reserve. On a not-very-deep level, I know I’ll love the experience. All that V-8 bluster and bite. Massive torque waiting only for a nudge of the throttle pedal.

And I have nothing but respect for the folks who invest heart, soul and loot into extracting as much performance as possible from a machine they love.

But, for me, the thrill usually doesn’t go any deeper. Too often, the car reveals itself to be a one-trick pony. A brute lacking depth and dimension. Cheap thrills, but nothing a guy could build a relationship on.

But then comes a car like the 2015 Mustang GT and my universe is readjusted a bit. The 435-hp GT is a complete car, nothing like a one-trick pony.

I’ll get more specific when I write my piece for The Spokesman-Review. It’s scheduled to run Sept. 9, and I’ll post it here the following Monday.

Random thoughts, in no particular order:

  • The GT is raw. It’s car-as-machine. Clutch take-up is direct and sure, and clearly backed by serious mechanical bits. You can feel it in your foot and in the seat of your pants.
  • When the clutch engages under power, the result is immediate and impactful. The GT runs the 0-60 sprint in 4.4 seconds, and there’s power throughout the torque band. The GT’s 5.0-liter direct-injected V-8 makes 400 pound-foot of torque at 4,250 RPM. I don’t yet know how much of that power is available at lower engine speeds, but it feels substantial.
  • Most drivers don’t want to be reminded of the machine. We want to be coddled, comforted and, ultimately, numbed. It’s understandable. A car is a refuge, a buffer against what seems like an increasingly edgy world. But comfort begets inattention and inattention is the real reason our roadways are unsafe. /soapbox
    Takeaway: The mustang won’t numb you … it needs, it seeks … nay, it demands your attention — especially when ordered with the six-speed manual gearbox. Sourced from German builder Getrag, it operates with the same, mechanical sureness as my father’s old 8mm Mauser, vintage WWII.
  • The  ’15 Mustang gets an independent rear suspension as standard gear, Ford finally having axed the old solid axle. For the first time, the Mustang’s chassis feels of a piece, with the back end knowing exactly what the front wheels are asking for and following suit.
    The GT Performance package adds Pirelli P Zeros on 19-inch wheels, larger brakes and, more to the point, extra chassis bracing. I haven’t driven it on the track, but I’m certain this chassis is sturdy enough to take on braking and cornering forces that would leave other muscle cars whimpering.

Updates to come, plus the promised second look at BMW’s i8 hybrid.

 

Taking stock of the green-car scene

It looks funny and it's slower than sin, but Toyota's fuel-cell Mirai won top honors in NWAPA's Drive Revolution competition.

It looks funny and it’s slower than sin, but Toyota’s fuel-cell Mirai won top honors in NWAPA’s Drive Revolution competition.

I’ve been traveling this summer and, though the blog has been sniping at me from the backseat, I’ve been ignoring it. Over the next few days, I’ll try to hit the highlights from among a month’s worth of seat time.

Drive Revolution

In July, I drove to Portland, Oregon, for Drive Revolution, a green-car event sponsored by the Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA). We evaluated 16 vehicles — EVs, hybrids, diesels and one hydrogen fuel-cell car.

Green Car of the Year

Toyota has cast its lot not behind electricity but hydrogen and calls the fuel-cell Mirai the “Prius of the future.” Though it’s now available only in California and though the jury is still out on the EV vs. fuel-cell debate, we voted Mirai Green Car of the Year. In urban driving, the $58,000 sedan is noteworthy for absence of green-car quirks. Its hydrogen fuel cell produces an electric charge, which is stored — and used —  by Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, so it drives like any five-passenger battery-electric vehicle, only slower. A lot slower. OTOH, its 312-mile range clobbers that of existing EVs.

Whatever the future holds, here’s hoping it’s not defined by the Mirai and its ilk. Its ordinariness won’t turn deter determined greenies — or even the average driver when the time is right — but in this group, the Miria came across as the most fun-challenged of this group.

volkswagen e-golf

Volkswagen’s signature driving dynamics propelled the e-Golf to a win the NWAPA’s Electric Vehicle category.

EV of the Year
VWs e-Golf beat out perennial favorites like Nissan’s LEAF and Fiat’s e-500 in the pure electric category. It distinguishes itself with VW-style dynamics — i.e., it is fun to drive — and unimpeded interior storage (the batteries are located midships, under the floor). It has Eco and Eco Plus modes and a choice of four regenerative-braking settings. Expect a typical real-world range of 70-90 miles per charge.

 

 

 

Mercedes Benz S-Class Plug_in_Hybrid

Mercedes-Benz’s superb S500 Plug-in Hybrid was a no-brainer in the Green Luxury category.

Green Luxury Car

This was a no-brainer. Mercedes-Benz’s regal and potent S Class sedan is the platform for the $96,000 S550 Plug-in Hybrid. M-B calls it “the smartest luxury sedan in the world,” and, if you can afford the price of entry, it may be. It teams a 144-hp electric motor with a direct-injected, twin-turbocharged 329- V-6, for a net 400-hp rating. Fast, smooth and exceedingly comfortable, it’s the perfect answer for a well-heeled audience with greenie intentions. If one exists.

 

 

2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid

A short turn behind the wheel of the 2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid left me wanting more.

Hybrid of the Year

Acura’s RLX Sport Hybrid Limited took down top hybrid honors, despite Acura’s up-front acknowledgement that it exploits hybrid technology not for efficiency’s sake but for performance’s. A V-6 gasoline engine, three electric motors, a seven-speed automated manual transmission and a world-class, torque-vectoring AWD system produce a dynamic package that left me drooling for more seat time. Should also mention the RLX comes with Acura’s remarkable new suite of safety technologies called AcuraWatch.

 

Personal Pick

I’ll write more later about BMW’s i8. Suffice it to say that the driving experience is as invigorating as the skin is enticing.

bmw i8

2015 Lincoln Navigator: EcoBoost to the rescue

This review originally appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

2015 Lincoln Navigator.

Properly equipped, the Navigator offers best-in-class towing capacity of 9,000 pounds.

Ford reaches into its EcoBoost bag of tricks to freshen the full-size Lincoln Navigator.

For 2015, Ford replaces last year’s eight-cylinder engine with a thriftier and more powerful twin-turbocharged six.

2015 Lincoln Navigator

The new Navigator receives exterior updates, a redesigned interior and updated cabin technology.

The new Navigator also receives exterior updates, a redesigned interior and updated cabin technology. A new electric power assisted steering system and an available adaptive suspension improve handling.

The Navigator is available in two wheelbase lengths – standard (119.0 inches) and extended (131.0 inches). With second-row captains chairs, both editions seat seven. An optional second-row bench boosts seating to eight.

It’s not the usual eight-in-a-pinch, either; eight adults can get downright comfy in here.

The new 3.5-liter V-6 engine delivers more horsepower (380 vs 310) and torque (460 pound-feet vs. 365) than last year’s V-8, and boosts economy by 2 MPG. Rear-drive models earn EPA ratings of 18 mpg combined/16 mpg city/22 mpg highway; AWD models are rated at 17/15/20.

Thrift notwithstanding, performance improves significantly. Lincoln says the new Nav is 2 seconds quicker from 0-60. Independent testers report that AWD Navigators sprint from 0-60 in 6.7 seconds, and that 2WDs are a half-second quicker.

Navigator retains its 1,570-pound payload and massive tow capacity. A properly equipped 2WD Navigator can tow up to 9,000-pounds; AWD drops that to 8,600 pounds.

An available 4.10:1 rear axle helps multiply torque for maximum acceleration and low-end pulling power, with an accompanying drop in mileage.

A six-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive are standard. The available light-duty four-wheel-drive system compensates for the absence of low-range gearing with Hill Descent Control (HDC).

Using HDC, the driver sets a desired speed, which the system matches and holds. Anyone who’s towed a trailer down a steep and slippery slope understands this feature’s worth.

Outside, there’s a new hood/grille assembly and a power liftgate. Up front, LED accents surround a pair high-intensity discharge adaptive headlights. All told, the new Navigator wears 222 bright and sparkly LEDs.

2015 Lincoln Navigator

Inside, the feel is warm and pristine, with acres of leather trim and, in upper trims, rich wood accents. A large touchscreen offers access to the Sync connectivity and MyLincoln Touch infotainment and climate-control interfaces.

Inside, the feel is warm and pristine, with acres of leather trim and, in upper trims, rich wood accents. A large touchscreen offers access to the Sync connectivity and MyLincoln Touch infotainment and climate-control interfaces. They’ve been much maligned, but these systems continue to improve. This year, a new set of buttons and knobs manage such primary functions as climate control and audio tuning and volume, simplifying their operation.

Voice-command technology continues to improve, too, though mastering the system still requires book study.

Key options include Lincoln Drive Control, which provides continuously controlled damping and three control modes; and Nivomat, a load-leveling system that raises the back end of a loaded Navigator to optimize ride height for improved handling.

A new Reserve Package option includes leather-wrapped instrument panel, armrests and shift knob, Ziricote wood trim (yes, that’s a real thing), premium leather on all three rows of seats and 22-inch polished aluminum wheels.

A lighter aluminum-bodied Navigator, based on the new F-150 pickup, is in the works, but won’t be ready until 2017. In the meantime, it’s EcoBoost to the rescue.

2015 Lincoln Navigator 4×4
Vehicle base price: $61,480
Trim level base price: $65,055
As tested: $73,395
Options included Lincoln Drive Control; 22-inch polished aluminum wheels; metallic paint.
Tow rating: 8,600 pounds
EPA rating: 17 combined/15 city/20 highway
Regular unleaded gasoline specified

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.