Auto Drive

Reviews of the 2017 Buick Envision and Honda Accord

Buick's premium crossover isn't Mercedes-grade

2017 Buick Envision -- cropped for webThe 2017 Buick Envision is a compact crossover that's more luxurious than it looks. COURTESY PHOTO  

At first glance, the new Buick Envision doesn't look particularly notable. This compact crossover blends quietly into traffic, without dramatic styling cues or a badge that screams luxury.

But there's more to it than meets the eye. The Envision, first introduced as a 2016 model, boasts a posh, feature-laden interior and wears a price tag that starts at $34,990 and can surpass $50,000. And it's notable as the first model line to be fully imported to the U.S. from a factory in China.


Reviews of the Subaru Impreza and Acura MDX

Compact Subaru edges toward mainstream appeal

2017 Subaru Impreza -- cropped for webThe redesigned 2017 Subaru Impreza doesn't have dramatic styling but it has significant improvements under the skin. COURTESY PHOTO  

Subaru has often played in the fringes of the passenger-car market, with its most popular vehicles being the Forester and Outback crossovers. But the company's long-running Impreza compact car just saw a redesign for 2017, bringing this vehicle more in line with competitors' in-car technology, fuel efficiency and overall refinement – while retaining the existing qualities of a roomy interior, excellent safety record and class-exclusive all-wheel-drive system.


Auto Drive: Reviews of the Honda CR-V and the Lexus RC 200t

Redesigned CR-V is the crossover that does it all

2017 Honda CR-V -- cropped for webThe redesigned 2017 Honda CR-V is a marked improvement over an already excellent compact crossover. COURTESY PHOTO  

As crossovers grow in popularity, they've begun to outsell sedans as some automakers' highest-volume vehicles. It's understandable – these vehicles blend the everyday comfort and fuel economy of a car with the versatility and high seating position of an SUV. 


Reviews of the Acura ILX and Mazda MX-5 Miata

Acura's premium compact sedan misses the luxury mark

2017 Acura ILX -- cropped for webThe 2017 Acura ILX offers a premium badge at an affordable price – but the humdrum experience isn't worth the money. COURTESY PHOTO  

Ever since Acura started trying to turn the Honda Civic into a luxury sedan back in 2013, the idea had potential. The Civic had solid bones, as a roomy and pleasant-to-drive little car; all Acura needed to add was more upscale styling, a fancier interior, more features and a more powerful engine.


Reviews of the GMC Acadia and Toyota Yaris iA

GMC's big crossover sheds bulk during redesign

2017 GMC Acadia Denali -- cropped for webThe redesigned 2017 GMC Acadia Denali gives up its predecessor's massive interior volume in favor of superior handling, fuel efficiency and maneuverability. COURTESY PHOTO 

Until recently, shoppers seeking a General Motors crossover with three rows of seats had relatively limited options. GM did offer three such models – the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia – but the trio was mechanically identical under the skin. And notably, all three were notably bigger than such popular competitors as the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander.

But with the redesigned 2017 Acadia, GM is now covering a broader swath of the market. The Acadia is now smaller and lighter – sized more like those competitors – and, consequently, more agile, maneuverable and fuel-efficient. Meanwhile, a redesigned 2018 Traverse that was unveiled this month continues to be bigger, heavier and more spacious.


Reviews of the BMW 330e and Kia Forte

Plug-in BMW sedan offers a taste of electricity with few compromises

2016 BMW 330e -- cropped for webOnly the charging port on its front fender reveals that the BMW 330e runs partially on electric power. COURTESY PHOTO  

Think of eco-friendly cars, and the BMW 3 Series sports sedan probably isn't the first thing to come to mind. But for 2016, BMW added a plug-in hybrid version to that lineup – the 330e, which promises 14 miles of all-electric range before operating like an ordinary 320i. You get those miles by plugging the car into a wall outlet; the battery can also recharge at times the gas engine is running.

To be sure, that range pales in comparison to a pure electric vehicle, including BMW's own i3 hatchback (118 miles); the popular Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid (53 miles); or even the roomy Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid midsize sedan (21 miles). But the 330e stands out for bringing gas-saving qualities to a vehicle renowned for its outstanding driving enjoyment.


Modern Jeeps haven't abandoned off-road heritage

2016 Jeep Cherokee -- cropped for webThe 2016 Jeep Cherokee is a compromise between the everyday comfort of a crossover and the all-out off-road ability of a traditional Jeep. COURTESY PHOTO  

During a recent test of a 2016 Jeep Cherokee, a passenger remarked that it wasn't what she pictured when she thought of the brand. Indeed, from the vertical slats on the grille, there isn't much resemblance between the Cherokee and the World War II military vehicle that birthed today's Chrysler-owned SUV brand.

This Cherokee was the official 75th Anniversary Edition – “Since 1941” is printed on the steering wheel, and profile views of vintage military Jeeps adorn badges on the front doors. But otherwise, from looking at this vehicle, could be any of the many modern crossovers that are popular today for merging SUV-like style with the everyday comfort and convenience of a station wagon.


Reviews of the Hyundai Santa Fe and Lexus GS

 With updated crossover, Hyundai bobbled shot at being a class leader

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate -- cropped for webWhile no longer one of the best big crossovers, the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate offers three rows of seats without feeling big and bulky. COURTESY PHOTO

When it first came out as a 2013 model, the current generation of the Hyundai Santa Fe was a breath of fresh air compared to most of its competitors: a big crossover with three rows of seats that felt like a much smaller vehicle from behind the wheel.


Volkswagen gets down and gets funky with two new offerings

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack -- webThe Volkswagen Golf Alltrack. COURTESY PHOTO  

Many automotive pundits looking to the future believe that the four-door sedan is a dying breed – and that the new mainstream choice, the default choice for most consumers, will be crossovers. Their higher seating positions, all-weather capability and handy cargo space give them a compelling advantage over passenger cars. 

Volkswagen is looking to take advantage of the trend with a new version of its Golf compact wagon, the Alltrack, which adds all-wheel-drive, a slightly higher ride height and some decorative trim. Think of it as VW's equivalent to the Subaru Outback, albeit in a smaller package. 

However, Volkswagen has been quietly making significant progress at its ordinary small sedan, the Jetta. It received mixed reviews when it debuted back in 2011, and has changed little cosmetically since then. But the 2017 Jetta, despite its age, makes a better impression than the new Alltrack. VW has been steadily boosting the car's value quotient and improving its fuel economy, and its composed ride and handling continue to shine. 

More attention will be given to the new Alltrack. After all, it's new and it's the vehicle in the hotter market segment. Moreover, Volkswagen's only other non-luxury crossover model, the Tiguan, is even older than the Jetta – and far less competitive, due to a high price and poor crash-test performance. Many shoppers in the VW dealership will definitely be directed toward the Alltrack. 

The Alltrack has some strong points, to be clear. Like the Golf on which it's based, it has a peppy engine; pleasant ride and handling; and cleanly styled, high-quality cabin. And its economy-car roots would seem to promise a level of value and fuel economy that conventional crossovers like a Honda CR-V can't match. 

But the Alltrack's drawbacks consign it to a fairly small niche. 

It's much less roomy than a CR-V or similar crossovers, with a comparatively tight rear seat and cargo hold – the Volkswagen is clearly an alternative to a small sedan, whereas the CR-V is more comparable to a midsize one. You don't get the high seating position of a crossover, either. Moreover, the Alltrack is actually even more expensive, with a lofty base price of $27,770. The tested midlevel SE model is $31,350, without even power seat adjustment or automatic climate control. As a final issue, the EPA fuel economy rating for mixed driving is just 25 mpg – worse than the CR-V and a few other bigger, less expensive crossovers. Even the big Outback is less expensive and more fuel-efficient than the Alltrack. 

You can save a bit of money by picking the new Golf Sportwagen 4Motion, which is the same car – including the all-wheel-drive system – without the 1.4-inch higher ride height or cosmetic enhancements. But in general, these VW wagons focus on premium over utility – consider them as an option, especially if extra space and a high seating position feel more bulky than beneficial, but don't buy one without scoping out the CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester and/or Ford Escape. 

2017 Volkswagen Jetta SE -- webThe Volkswagen Jetta.  COURTESY PHOTO  

The Jetta, meanwhile, is a more mainstream product, and it's grown more so in recent years as VW added more standard features. It's competitively priced at a base price of $18,715, and the tested midlevel SE, at $22,815, is loaded with features that include a touchscreen infotainment system; a proximity key with push-button start; blind-spot monitoring; heated faux-leather seats; and a sunroof.

The cabin appointments can feel budget-grade, but the Jetta delivers impressive composure on the road by the standards of an economy car. It lacks the pizzazz of the latest Honda Civic, the zippy fun of a Mazda3 and the user-friendly simplicity of a Hyundai Elantra, but it's a pleasant and practical overall package. 

Volkswagen made the Jetta much more competitive for the 2016 model year with a new standard engine: a 1.4-liter with 150 horsepower. It replaced a weak, outmoded engine on the base car and a powerful but comparatively fuel-thirsty 1.8-liter on the SE – the engine still standard in the Golf and Alltrack. With the 1.4-liter, the Jetta's EPA ratings aren't class leading at 32 mpg in mixed driving with an automatic transmission, but they're no longer a liability. 

Combined that with the additional standard features, and the Jetta's subdued design aesthetic and pleasant driving experience help it fit a bigger niche than the overpriced Golf Alltrack. 




Reviews of the 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage and Volvo S90

Small Mitsubishi offers modern basics at affordable price

2017 Mitsubishi Mirage G4 SEThe 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage G4 SE is far from invigorating to drive, but it meets modern standards for safety and feature content at a particularly low price point. COURTESY PHOTO  

It's hard to find a truly basic car these days. Every vehicle on the market meets high standards for safety, including crash-test performance that would have been outstanding just a decade ago, and standard electronic stability control. Nearly every vehicle on the market is equipped with electronic features that include USB connectivity and power windows, locks and mirrors.

The Mitsubishi Mirage is the least expensive vehicle sold in the U.S. with those features. Available as a five-door hatchback or a newly introduced four-door sedan, the Mirage hatchback starts at a sticker price of just $13,830 (or $1,000 more for the tested G4 sedan). Even the well-equipped G4 SE – the tested car with an automatic transmission, alloy wheels, automatic climate control, heated front seats, cruise control, a proximity key system with push-button start, Bluetooth connectivity, a backup camera, and a touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay integration – is just $17,830.