Why was everyone mad at a groundhog? Did we not get the spring we wanted?
And, what a spring. Lots of good things happening on the V&R front. Except for the fact that I was working on items for everyone else. Not that it's a bad thing…
In this quarterly revisiting of vehicles published elsewhere, I fondly recall a diverse group of vehicles from many manufacturers across the globe. Then, we ponder the larger question of the universe…I believe there is a lyric from P!nk that describes what I am considering here…
No fear! Here is what I have been working with for the past month, or so – yes, I covered a lot in a single month to fill a page – that you might not have a chance to read on here…until now!
2019 KIA OPTIMA
Peter Schreyer gave us a gift some nine years ago. He gave us a sedan that looked sharp and had a lot of swagger to meet its European influenced self. We are now on the second generation of the Schreyer Euro mid-sized Kia, with just a mid-cycle refresh to remind us that the Optima is a relevant player in the sedan game.
The package I got is what I would suggest to those who want sportiness with a touch of stealth. The SX had 19-inch wheels exposing red brake caliper covers. Once you stepped inside this silver bullet, you were treated to a sporty and sumptuous black-and-red leather seating motif. It induced plenty of heroics, despite the turbocharged engine telling the front axles to break loose on occasion. Considering our winter conditions, that was not going to happen. And, I kept it under control.
In the face of newer, more popular rivals – who shall remain nameless – it is a shame that those customers passed up on the Kia Optima. It offers the room, the look, the connectivity, and the safety you want. Do me a favor and consider one the next time you're thinking Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, or Honda Accord. Thank you.
Our Fuel Economy Average: 25.8 MPG
Sticker Price as Tested: $32,820
Vehicle Provided by Kia Motors America
2019 VOLVO V60
On occasion, I would get a vehicle that no one had on their dealer lots. The Charleston, South Carolina-made S60 sedan was just arriving at showrooms, Volvo floated a Gothenburg-made V60 my way. And, boy, did everyone go crazy over it.
This V60 has been here before. The previous local journalist who had it remarked on how well the Pirelli P Zero All Season tires handled the snow-caked and icy roads of the Twin Cities. I can confirm the same feedback, as those tires got me out of trouble many times over. Not to mention, this V60 had all-wheel drive and the T6 engine – the turbocharged and supercharged non-hybrid version of Volvo's Drive-E engine family. All contributing factors in keeping the V60 in line through the winter, in my book.
However, the V60 was more than just the rubber it was shod with. It is a premium sports compact wagon that is beyond cool. It drove and handled well. The Inscription interior was simply wonderful. As I said, if it was money, I upgrade my Volvo – and Volvo – to the Inscription trim. Maybe, an R Design…um, let me continue.
The bottom line is that Volvo produced another wagon for us – enthusiasts and consumers, alike. It is a small wagon that as premium as they come, with a fun factor you might find elsewhere. And, it's safe. Well, it is a Volvo after all.
Our Fuel Economy Average: 22.5 MPG
Sticker Price as Tested: $61,490
Vehicle Provided by Volvo Cars USA
2019 MAZDA CX-5
This marks the third CX-5 that I had worked with since this second-generation model went on sale in 2016. It is a solid compact SUV, nonetheless. I had only a small number of issues with it from the past two models. With a stroke of adding the Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter turbocharged engine to the lineup, it made most of those issues fade away.
There's more to this story. The point I keep making about Mazda wanting to move upmarket put this particular tester under a microscope. Not only did I get the turbocharged CX-5; I got it in the Signature trim. Translation: I got Mazda's answer to the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Jaguar E-Pace, Cadillac XT4, Lincoln MKC, Lexus NX 300, and Infiniti QX50.
Yes, the interior is of higher quality than before. The seats are posh and comfortable. They did improve the Mazda Connect screen a bit. But, was it better – or, at least, on par – with any of the above listed rivals? Possibly, One cannot ignore its roots as a well-done mainstream compact SUV. The seats tell you another story. The turbocharged engine adds to that other story.
The CX-5 can now attract two different kinds of consumers. Ones who would rather have the Mazda over a Toyota or Honda, and the others who rather have one over a BMW. My question to you is simple: Which one are you? If you are of the former, the naturally-aspirated model in the Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trims are fine. For the latter, jump to the Signature trim and smile all the way to the bank.
Our Fuel Economy Average: 23.8 MPG
Sticker Price as Tested: $39,155
Vehicle Provided by Mazda North American Operations
2019 LEXUS UX
Just when we got really comfortable in waiting for our Volvo XC40 to arrive at our local dealership, Lexus decided to stir the pot in the premium subcompact SUV class with their Urban Explorer. The UX is the newest entrant in a class designed for well-heeled, tech-driven urban loft dwellers.
Some might observe that the design is based on microwaving a Lexus NX to a smaller size. That is somewhat true, if you count the spindle grille and certain design elements all around. But, make no mistake that the UX is it own little SUV/crossover. It does exhibit some great driving dynamics in terms of ride quality, handling, and braking. The engine is fine for this car – a 169-horsepower 2.0-liter four0-cylinder engine without a turbocharger. It has a new CVT…with 10 ratios…and front-wheel-drive. Yes, only two wheels driven on this one.
What's the problem? Nothing. It is an intriguing looking vehicle that wants a piece of a new segment's pie. The crossover-ish hatchback look serves to remind us of its purpose and intent. My F Sport tester showed a lot of swagger with its red seats, F Sport instrumentation, wide infotainment screen, and a new set infotainment controls on the center console. There are a few details that drove me nuts, such as the "high" hatch opening with a bit of a step-down to access it with luggage and such.
The best way to look at this newest member of the Oval-L lineup is the UX is truly a Lexus. Would it be the Lexus I would choose for my needs? Unless I live in some area with tight parking and a few MINI Countrymans nearby…sure.
Our Fuel Economy Average: 32.5 MPG
Sticker Price as Tested: $40,115
Vehicle Provided by Toyota Motor North America
2019 HONDA PILOT
Never argue with another automotive journalist – even if you disagree with them.
There is a debate on whether the Honda Pilot is the best family hauler available today. We all have driven plenty of mid-sized, three-row SUVs with different takeaways from each one. Yet, the general consensus points to the Honda as being best. I say, "not so fast…"
Given the chance for Alabama-produced SUV to prove itself in a recent trip to Washington DC and Baltimore – with additional stops along the Civil War battlefield trail in Sharpsburg, Maryland and Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. It did the job admirably, with the Elite's level of luxury, great ride quality and comfortable surroundings. I wished the engine felt free and the it was a bit more maneuverable.
It did one thing well – getting in and out of a tight parking space in Baltimore's Canton neighborhood one evening over dinner.
Don't get me wrong, Honda makes a solid product for its intended audience. The Pilot looks more distinctive with its mid-cycle refresh. Yet, I'm not 100% sure if this is the absolute pinnacle of the three-row, mid-sized class. I am reserving my judgement when I see some of the newer vehicles coming shortly to compete against it.
Our Fuel Economy Average: 22.1 MPG
Sticker Price as Tested: $49,015
Vehicle Provided by American Honda Motor, Inc.
2019 SUBARU FORESTER
Subarus are made for those who live active lifestyles. Repeat after me…
We often forget that Subarus are unique vehicles that use a different kind of architecture – horizontally-opposed engines, standard symmetrical all-wheel-drive systems, and so forth. In this case, the signature engineering pieces Subaru is known for has been homologated onto a single Global Platform, for which almost every vehicle is built from it. Including the popular Forester compact SUV.
While it rides on the new Global Platform, it is every inch a Subaru. The design is an evolution from the prior generation, except for several new details. The interior is completely changed with elements from recently introduced models – namely, the Crosstrek and Ascent. The quality is improved all around. Not to mention, the continuously variable transmission is vastly improved with better shift control and matching with the new 2.5-liter Boxer engine.
Yet, there are consumers who look at Subarus as they are some odd animal, like a marsupial. Is there anything normal about a Subaru? Um, yeah, everything. It is an automobile – a really good one to take off-track for some camping, rock climbing (you, not your Subaru), and skiing.
Our Fuel Economy Average: 28.6 MPG
Sticker Price as Tested: $35,270
Vehicle Provided by Subaru of America
All Photos by Randy Stern