Featured Reviews
Stylishly rugged, the 2019 Toyota 4Runner offers no surprises.

Unbroken 4Runner Keeps On Keepin' On

Toyota remains stubbornly dedicated to not changing for the sake of change, and the 2019 4Runner is evidence that buyers find comfort in the familiarity of a proven model.

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A7 Upgrades for 2019 Both Subtle, Substantial

The luxury A8 is atop Audi's list of fine sedans, but dropping down to the A7 gets you the sane quattro power in a sportier, less costly package.

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Stronger, stiffer platform underlines stylish new Hyundai Santa Fe and its bundle of technology.

Santa Fe is Hyundai's Latest Leap Into Future

Hyundai's all-new 2019 Santa Fe shouldn't be overlooked as its flurry of crossovers boosts its arsenal to seven SUVs -- with more to come. And it loves life on the North Shore!

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Longer Tiguan has optional third-row seat but retains style, solid feel for 2019.

Tiguan Grows Longer, Adds Third Seat Option

When Volkswagen decided that the new Atlas needed a running mate, it stretched the Tiguan stylishly to fit a third-row seat.

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The 50th Anniversary Mustang Bullitt packs boosted power, GT handling as a special model.

Mustang Bullitt Blows Away All but Icy Driveway

The 2019 Mustang Bullitt properly celebrates the 50th anniversary of the movie "Bullitt," which enhanced the status of Steve McQueen and the Mustang.

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Sporty handling, roomy interior makes CX-9 perfect way to haul seven for burgers.

Mazda CX-9 Technology Makes You a Better Driver

Mazda has mastered its "zoom-zoom" technology and handling for smaller vehicles, and now it fits it all into its large CX-9 SUV, complete with turbocharged power.

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Sleek lines make the Kia Optima stand out from the midsize sedan crowd.

Optima Style and Flair Counter Industry Slump

Kia operates under Hyundai's impressive cloak in South Korea, but the 2019 Kia Optima SX Turbo has its own distinct style and flair.

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The sportier XLT with the 3.0 diesel, has skid plates, adjustable shocks and smaller wheels for agility.

Ford Adds Strong, Silent 3.0 Diesel to F-150

Competition in full-size pickups is fierce, but it's the same within Ford's F-150 fleet, adding a 3.0 Turbo-Diesel to the XLT/Lariat.

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New Tacoma-like grille sets off new platform under all-new 2019 RAV4.

RAV4 Aims to Hold Top Level of Top Seller

While Camry and Corolla were fighting it out to lead U.S. in non-pickup sales, the newly redesigned RAV4 came in and outsold both of its siblings.

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The style, and price tag, leaves the A8L fard ahead of Audi's A3, A4, A6, and assorted SUVs.

Audi A8L Rises to Lofty Super-Car Status

Audi always seems to be chasing fellow-German builders Mercedes and BMW, but the new A8L forces itself to the top of super-sedans.

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Unbroken 4Runner Keeps On Keepin’ On

May 15, 2019 by · Comments Off on Unbroken 4Runner Keeps On Keepin’ On
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Stylishly rugged, the 2019 Toyota 4Runner offers familiarity instead of surprises.

By John Gilbert

Generally when you review a new vehicle you can hardly contain yourself from gushing about all the fantastic new high-tech features and gadgets contained in it. And then there’s the 2019 Toyota 4Runner.

The 4Runner is solid, steady, consistent, free of surprises, and…completely familiar. Even if it looks a little bit different from the one we’ve known for a decade.

Toyota is an amazing company, and nobody can quarrel with its overwhelming sales success, which has been largely achieved by ignoring the styling trends and gimmicks in an automotive world that is seemingly passing it by. By ignoring the guidelines it helped create, Toyota has continued to build the same-old same old of some of its most popular vehicles, such as the Corolla, Camry, Tacoma, Tundra — and the 4Runner.

The RAV4 is different, having been restyled a few times to stay at the top of its popularity game, as Toyota’s top-selling vehicle as a compact SUV.

But go up one step to the 4Runner, the midsize stalwart of the line, and go back to when the fifth generation was brought out, almost a decade ago, Toyota’s reputation for durability and consistency won out over the trends toward latest-tech and gimmickry. Basically, if you are familiar with the 2010 4Runner, you are pretty much familiar with the new 4Runner. The company did make some styling changes for 2018, but the ongoing refinement is primarily under the skin, and is what makes the 4Runner keep 4Running.

Abundant storage room means 4Runner’s midsize is big enough.

Cynics have been accusing Toyota for years about building boring cars, because the emphasis on running forever through a trouble-free existence can cause observers to equate that to boring, compared to so many competitive cars. But overlooked amid the criticism is that people seem to find it comfortable to walk into showrooms and find something so familiar, and they seem to feel comfortable getting the newest version of something they trust.

The trucks and SUVs are the best examples of standing out primarily because they are unchanged. The best comparison might be made to link the Tacoma mid-size pickup and the 4Runner midsize SUV. There is some merit there, because basically, the tried and true Tacoma pickup underpins the 4Runner. You could say the 4Runner is a Tacoma with a body, or that a Tacoma is a 4Runner with a bed carved out of the rear.

A reliable source I know well in the business says it best: “With Toyota, the cars aren’t cool, but the trucks are.”

I’ve always thought it was interesting that the huge rivalry between Japanese giants Toyota and Nissan was best described by the battle between the 4Runner from Toyota and the Pathfinder from Nissan. Both came out about the same size, both about the same shape, both had strong engines and both were the springboards to vastly expanding SUV arsenals.

I personally preferred the Pathfinder, for a couple of peculiar reasons. When I would test a 4Runner, I liked everything about it, but it seemed I would bump my head on the roof as I entered, and again as I exited, and it also seemed that a lot of the switchgear location always required a few days for me to learn. The Pathfinder, on the other hand, felt custom made for me — good clearance for my head in and out, comfortable driving position. with everything right where my instincts and fingertips figured it should be.

That was a long time ago, but it continued to be a factor in my analyses year after year, even though I always accepted and acknowledged that it was me that was peculiar and not the vehicle.

Simplicity without being overly fancy or glitzy is 4Runner hallmark.

Now that the 4Runner has been redone a bit for 2018, the new 2019 version is designed and arranged in a way that seems pretty near perfect. That means, it’s pretty close to the same as ever.

The test 4Runner I had for a week on the North Shore of Lake Superior came loaded with all the right stuff. It was the TRD (for Toyota Racing Division) Off-Road Premium model. It starts out with the stiffest platform Toyota engineers can build — as if the company has an unspoken intention to prove it can “out-Jeep” Jeep. Dedicated off-roaders are certain that only Jeeps can take on the most rugged off-road challenges, but those loyalists might be surprised to learn that the 4Runner can be ordered for comfort or in a form that can go anywhere off-road but with a bit more comfort.

A lot of observers scoff at such claims, so Toyota makes a couple of versions to prove its point. Among the varieties of 4Runner you can select the off-road TRD model, which came with the choice of its heavier-duty Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), which is for serious off-road enthusiasts only. No sense getting it if you intend to only venture through some rugged long driveways to the lake, or for other light off-roading. You need to be into one-upmanship, or seriously into hobby or high-performance off-roading in order to order your 4Runner modified to take you anywhere.

And there is still a higher level, which is the TRD Pro. While the 4Runner is a smooth handler on the road, the TRD Pro’s trick suspension adds Fox internal bypass shocks and quarter-inch aluminum skid-plates underneath, among other specifics. But you don’t need to go Pro once you add KDSS to the TRD as the test truck had.

Sculptured grille retains tradition of efficiency.

As is, the sticker price, with LED foglights, running boards and the KDSS suspension, was $43,083. More than the compact SUVs, but a long way below the loaded luxury SUV cruisers.

A friend of mine said he liked the 4Runner so much, he was looking for a good used 4Runner to buy.  I threw out an opinion: The 4Runner is one of those extremely high resale Toyotas, which means it will hold its value very well, and which also means if you find one used, it will command too high a price to be a good deal. For that reason, the 4Runner is almost the equivalent of a good automotive investment, because you won’t lose the usual amount of trade-in depreciation.

Rugged or not,  the 4Runner rides with comfortable smoothness on the road. And if you fill it up for a vacation trip, you can still tow 5,00p0 pounds.

Appearance-wise, the test 4Runner came in Nautical Blue, a dark, beautiful blue that makes you first think you’d be crazy to go crashing through the underbrush with that paint job. The grille and contours surrounding the front end look sporty and aggressive, particularly compared to the old er generation.

You also can shift the 4Runner into a full-lock 4×4 setting, either high or low range, and just for trial sake, we had one of those frequent post-winter storms while I had it, and it was simple to shift it into the 4×4 high range just as it was to go to 2-wheel drive for dry pavement highway running.

The 4.0-liter V6 with dual-overhead-camshafts churns out 270 horsepower and 278 foot-pounds of torque, which is more than enough to scale those boulders and off-road trails to that wilderness lake or campsite. A hardy 5-speed automatic transmission sends the power to however many wheels you want. Most have gone to 6-speeds, or even more, but with the right ratios, 5 are enough.

Driving the 4Runner is easy and impressive, in any weather, and while the seats are comfortable and supportive, and everything works, you may miss some of the glitzy features some competitors boast about. But there remains a lot to be said for building something and getting it right, then refining it, however subtly, and sticking with it.

4Runner is further evidence that even if Toyota’s cars aren’t cool, the trucks are. Photos: Jack Gilbert.)

I’m not saying the 4Runner is perfect, but it does do everything a serious performance off-roader can, and it contains all the necessary safety stuff on a trim frame and in a familiar body. And proof of its refinement, I didn’t conk my head on the roof even once!

Who knows when Toyota will decide to make a major change to the 4Runner? But for now it follows the theory that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The 4Runner not only “ain’t broke,” it is built so well it probably will never break. So thpical of Toyota, you won’t need to fix it.

A7 Upgrades for 2019 Both Subtle, Substantial

May 8, 2019 by · Comments Off on A7 Upgrades for 2019 Both Subtle, Substantial
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Two ways to get where you’re going — Audi A7 quattro or skateboard leg power.

By John Gilbert
There I sat, in my own driveway, checking and cross-checking (well, it was still hockey season!) all the features in the 2019 Audi A7 quattro. My obsession was one thing in particular: the very neat little sunscreen that fits up in front of the long, sloping hatchback rear window.

It worked great for filtering out a lot of the sun and heat, but it was getting on toward evening now, and I wanted to locate the power switch that would drop the screen down flush to improve nighttime visibility out the rear.

There are so many switches and gadgets on the A7, as on most high-end cars these days, that it isn’t always easy to figure out what the heck the little icon is for on the various switches. And sometimes you have to get on the expansive information screen, which is a lot like a computer or iPad, and you find an indication that you can tap an electronic switch and get whatever job you want done.

I knew I would find it, but right then I was a half-hour into perusing all the switchwork and gadgetry in what was becoming a more and more futile exercise.

When an automaker is near perfection, sometimes its evolutionary changes feel a lot like no change at all. That’s a good thing, if the car they’re changing is already at the top of the scale. Audi is that way. The German company builds a full slate of cars nowadays, from compact to sporty to luxury, with a fleet of highly regarded SUVs of all sizes alongside.

Shelter from harsh Lake Superior wind was eash on A7 North Shore test drive.

But Audi is at its best when it comes to making luxury freeway cruisers, which handle and feel more like sporty sedans but are safe, beautiful and highly efficient. At the top is the A8, and the midsize is the A6, but now they have wedged a sporty, fastback version of the A6 in between and called it the A7.

When you line all three up it’s very difficult to pick a favorite among the three. The A6 and A8 look different because the A8 is longer, particularly the one that comes to the U.S., which is the A8-L — the elongated version only. Of course, the A7 looks markedly different than both of the others, because of the sleeker, fastback roofline and hatch under it. Personally, I think the A7 is the best looking of the batch, and I did review it as a 2018.

But it has undergone significant changes for 2019, so when a 2019 Audi A7 arrived for me to test drive and evaluate for a week, I studied it carefully to denote all the changes. Different platform underneath it, and a change in 3.0-liter V6 engines, from the supercharged hot one to a turbocharged hot one, still 2.0, and from impressive to…impressive. The interesting thing is that all three cars at the top of Audi’s luxury chain — the A6, A7 and A8-L — all use the same engine with the same power.

And it is so good, smooth and powerful, that nobody is going to complain, especially when you can get right about at 30 miles per gallon on a freeway trip. Of course, the A7 has quattro, Audi’s brilliant all-wheel-drive system, although it is changed considerably from the quattro of years past, which had itself been altered and revised repeatedly. Interesting, quattro put Audi ahead of Mercedes and BMW for those of us who drive in snow part of the year, but now that Mercedes and BMW have realized the inherent advantages of AWD and installed it or made it available on many models, Audi keeps refining its quattro to come at compromise from the opposite direction.

Who doesn’t like hatchbacks? A7’s fastback slope covers stuff while enhancing appearance.

The new quattro has two different differentials, to make the whole system work more efficiently. Audi has conceded that sometimes you want a slight power bias going to the rear, so it has accommodated it. But when you switch to open both clutches, you effectively eliminate the AWD and had only front-wheel drive, which aids in sportiness and performance as well as eliminating a lot of the friction that comes with AWD.

The beauty of the Audi system is that you notice only that the new Audi drives hard, handles well and has great traction in all circumstances, just like the old one did.

As for the engine, the old one had the supercharger, which force-feeds air into the engine, to such more gas and make more, and instant, power. Turbocharging usually takes a bit longer for the exhaust-air-fed flow to do essentially the same thing, which led to traditional “turbo lag” in turbocharged engines, even though fuel efficiency and gas mileage were better than supercharged. Audi has gone back and forth on this, and here is the best comparison.

Elegantly simple interior displays open space adorned with finest wood, leather, metal.

Last year, the 3.0 dual-overhead cam V6 with the supercharger turned out 333 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque, which peaked between 2,800 and stayed at that peak until 5,300 RPMs. Impressive. Ah, but the little gremlins in their white smocks in Ingolstadt found that by using a twin-scroll turbocharger instead of the supercharger, they could eliminate any lag and could coax the same displacement 3.0 to out 335 horsepower and 369 foot-pounds of torque at a peak that now spans from 1,370 to 4,300 RPMs.

The torque peak is the point where you feel maximum thrust for acceleration, and you needn’t be German to realize that more torque, peaking at lower RPMs — in fact, barely above idle speed — will deliver more power sooner than the alternative. Various tests I’ve read indicate the heavy (4,400-pound) A7 will go 0-60 in about 4.7 seconds, and will hit 105 miles per hour from 0 in 13.3 seconds in a quarter mile. You can’t even get the silky smooth transmission to hit all seven gears in that time.

The base price on the A7 Audi quattro is $68,000, and as tested, loaded with all the options, the sticker was $85,240. If that seems outrageous, you have to look beyond the real leather, wood and aluminum comfort of the interior with its great seats fore and aft, and consider the level of ingredients in that A7.

Head-up display and adjustable gauges with panoramic nav are A7 highlights.

Handling and performance are aided by the exquisite balance inherent in all Audis, even with their engines hanging out forward of the front axle. It feels perfectly balanced, so it it. The A7 test car came loaded with all the proper safety and connectivity features, plus Audi’s fantastic full-width and adjustable gauge-splitting navigation picture that is a Google map come to life.

There also are settings so you can switch the A7 from automatic to comfort, to dynamic to individual, the latter of which allows you to maybe set the steering and cornering to sportier dynamic levels, and the ride smoothness to comfort. Or whatever.

The car also is notably quieter than it, or any other luxury sedan, used to be. Audi has found the precise spots to add padding, and they doubled the thickness of the windshield gas to improve its acoustic qualities. You also get fantastic headlights and taillights, with their LED splendor, and their sequential operation. The test car also came with what Audi calls “HD Matrix” headlights, with laser high beam control. Audi has taken adaptive headlights one level behind, and these can detect an oncoming car around a curve while aiming the lights to show around the curve. The lights will outline without blinding the oncoming driver.

You’ve got to be kidding!

Everything you could ever want in a car, short of driving for you — and Audi has more autonomous-driving models plying the autobahns of Germany right now! — and it’s all in such a dramatically stunning package. Everything…except, oh yeah, that blasted rear window screen!

Back to my personal drama, sitting in the driver’s seat and having tried every button, switch and icon, and none of them folding down the rear sunscreen.

I was to the point where I simply wanted the blasted thing folded down, so I climbed out, and opened the hatchback, which pops up smoothly and precisely. I decided to reach in and see if I could manually fold down the sunscreen, which has its own little receptacle carved into the panel over the hatch. To my absolute shock, my touch caused the sunscreen to fold down and click into that receptacle!

Rear sunscreen defies easy fold-down control…

...Instead of power switch. you fold it down by hand. Simple!

If you flip the switch, you can readily pop the sunscreen back up and into place. I had to laugh. Audi fooled me again, in a foolproof sort of a way. Maybe in the back rooms at the home factory in Ingolstadt, some engineers are getting a major chuckle out of realizing that normal buyers will search and hunt for a power switch to operate the sunscreen, but when they finally give up and examine the thing first-hand, they will find that simple manual touch still works.

Santa Fe is Hyundai’s Latest Leap Into Future

May 1, 2019 by · Comments Off on Santa Fe is Hyundai’s Latest Leap Into Future
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Stronger, stiffer platform underlines stylish new Hyundai Santa Fe and its bundle of technology.

By John Gilbert
Just when you think you have Hyundai all figured out, the South Korean car-maker-in-a-hurry turns your perceptions upside down. Again.

Hyundai made a corporate decision that after pretty well mastering the art of delivering small and medium cars that performed at about a class above while priced at about a class below expectations and market levels, the worldwide trend toward SUVs demanded attention. It was a logical progression for Hyundai, whose sales had jumped to 46 percent small SUVs.

To expand its fleet, about a year ago, Hyundai brought out the compact Kona, an amazing vehicle that won our award for New Car Pick of the Year for 2019. We are continuing an extended test of a Kona Ultimate, and we continue to be thoroughly impressed. Kona also won the International Utility of the Year at the Detroit Auto Show and has captured virtually every award within its grasp.

Author won’t give up the wheel, so No. 1 aide Jack Gilbert manned the camera. (Photo: Jack Gilbert.)

In its haste to fill every niche, Hyundai also completely redid its Santa Fe midsize SUV. The new Santa Fe is a totally different vehicle for 2019, made more compact than the outgoing Santa Fe but still leaving a nice space above the Tucson, which remains above the Kona. Nice, three-step size range, from Kona to Tucson to Santa Fe, each with its own personality and all three benefitting from Hyundai’s technology, safety and features, yet still aimed at economy and durability.

When they thought nobody was looking, Hyundai snuck out more new SUVs, a smaller one than the Kona, another mid-sizer, and a larger SUV bigger than the Santa Fe X.  But wait! We can’t keep up. And even Hyundai doesn’t seem able to keep up with its own design and marketing traffic jam, so to speak.

While the Kona was winning all those SUV-of-the-year awards, the Santa Fe was virtually ignored, even from the time of its own introduction. The Santa Fe I wrote about at its introduction in the Utah mountains near Park City was nearly perfect from the standpoint of power, efficiency and technology. If you thought the old Santa Fe or Santa Fe XL were too big, and that the Kona was a little bit tight, the new Santa Fe plugged in perfectly. And it is good enough that it deserved some consideration itself for SUV of the year.

Several months have passed, and now the Santa Fe has gotten beyond its introduction and can be found in showrooms nationwide. But up here in Northern Minnesota, late winter has been perfect timing. This has been the winter that never ended, with a new snowstorm threatening to show up on the first weekend in May. Kentucky Derby in Louisville, shoveling anew in Duluth. Why wouldn’t you want an SUV with all-wheel drive?

So before we expand out consciousness to incorporate the reality that Hyundai now has seven — count ’em, 7 — SUVs under its name, let’s give the Santa Fe its due.

Design-wise, Hyundai had used a signature six-sided grille for long enough that it became a corporate signature SUVs and similarly on sedans. But Hyundai is still young enough in the century-plus-old business that it’s allowed to make design and even concept changes. New designers have been hired, and the latest plan is to make different vehicles look different, from each other as well as from corporate sibling Kia.

Bigger brother Santa Fe, left, shares styling tendencies first used on smaller 2019 Kona, right. (Photo: Jack Gilbert.)

The subcompact Kona came out with a startling new look, especially to its front end, where it has a completely different headlight arrangement, styled into a completely different grille plan. It caught you off-guard at first, and looked unusual but not unpleasant, until I got a look at first renderings of the coming Santa Fe. Now it makes some sense.

Hyundai was going to give the new Santa Fe front and rear styling that would make it similar to the Kona. It was a brilliant move, because it not only shook off any semblance of stodginess from the old Santa Fe, but it also blunted the off-the-chart and possibly polarizing appearance of the Kona. They are brothers-in-arms, as you can see from the photo of the bigger brother Santa Fe alongside the littler brother Kona.

Strangely, to me, Hyundai did not totally redesign the in-between Tucson, choosing instead to give it what they call a “facelift,” which is corporate-speak for changes so slight that a slight refinement to the established grille, leaves it looking nothing like the new-breed Kona and Santa Fe. In my suspicious mind, I think that’s a hint that change will be coming, and maybe soon, to the Tucson.

Another clue is that the Tucson is powered by your choice of either the tried and true 2.0 or 2.4 four-cylinder engines — neither of which benefits by Hyundai’s new-found confidence in turbocharging. The smaller Kona has the naturally-aspirated 2.0, and also a high-tech 1.6-liter turbocharged four that kicks out over 190 foot-pounds of torque, and hauls the little Kona around with style and spunk.

Santa Fe, on the other hand, also offers a pair of engines. One is the 185-horsepower/178-foot-pounds-of-torque 2.4-liter engine, and the other is a distinct upgrade to the 2.0-liter with a turbocharged version that offers 235 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque. Once again, Hyundai crosses up conventional thinking by giving the smaller-displacement 4 more power than the larger one, through the magic of turbocharging.

Smooth and ventilated leather buckets and soft-touch materials make Santa Fe inviting.

The Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T in the test vehicle also has Hyundai’s own 8-speed automatic that shifts smoothly and efficiently in all conditions. As an auto journalist, I am required — by me — to find any problems I can in the name of balance. I want the same transmission with steering-column paddles for manual override on specific shifting ideas. Same with the Kona, although I must add that both vehicles shift very efficiently on their own.

Santa Fe also contains the full suite of safety and driver-alert features for lane changing, blind-spot detection, front and rear warnings including pedestrian alerts, and it also has the capability to set driving mode for Normal, Comfort, Smart or Sport. They are self-explanatory, and they work to adjust the Santa Fe’s attitude. Shift points, along with steering and cornering suspension, are altered by your setting of choice.

Best of all, Santa Fe has the feature I first discovered in the mountains of Utah, and was pleased to rekindle the relationship when the terrain turned to the pothole-dotted and wintry conditions in the mountainous hills of Duluth and the North Shore of Lake Superior: Lane-assist, which also can be set to different applications.

You can set it to warning if you’re wandering across the dotted center line or the stripe on the right shoulder. You can turn it up a notch so that it warns and gently pressures the steering wheel to guide you back into your lane. And if you go most intense, it becomes lane-centering, and it does actually keep you aligned on a vector that help you stay at the center of your lane.

My wife, Joan, loves that feature she first experienced on the Kona — where it also adds to the surprising value of the smallest Hyundai SUV. She sometimes experiments, and has inspired me to do the same. Driving along a well-marked highway with no traffic, make sure the settings place the driving mode in Sport and the lane-assist to its most intense, then take your hands off the steering wheel at moderate speed. Keep your hands close, and remember, I don’t recommend this, but it makes for a fascinating experiment in this era of autonomous cars soon to come.

Spacious rear occupant room is up to midsize SUV level.  (Photos: Jack Gilbert.)

Generous storage space can expand by folding rear seat down, flat.

With your hands at the ready, you ease into a curve and  the Santa Fe will gently and smoothly follow a proper trajectory around an upcoming curve to the left, and then the next one back to the right, straightening where the road straightens. It doesn’t want you to get too comfortable, though, to the point of being complacent. So after a few seconds with your hands ready but not touching the steering wheel, the instrument pod comes alive to say “No grip detected on wheel!” If you don’t grip the wheel, it quickly advances the warning to a command: “Put your hands on the wheel!” Noncompliance causes it to suggest it will shut down the feature if you don’t putyour paws where they belong.

You can’t beat that. You could turn off the feature, but why would you? It gives you proper alert and then warning, and if you had a moment of inattentiveness, it could prevent a serious accident. It also will warn you and then slow you toward an intended stop if its computers, radar, sonar and what-all decide you are not planning on avoiding that problem in your path.

Anyone who says that’s taking control is saying that they would rather have an occasional fender-bender — or worse — in the name of maintaining your personal macho command, or lack of same.

The price of the Santa Fe ranges from the high $20,000 range to the upper reaches of the $30,000 range. Its amazing safety features are all wrapped up inside a leather and soft-touch fabrics everywhere in the interior, and the bucket seats are supportive and luxurious to the touch. The rear seat has a 60-40 fold-down arrangement, where you can flip the seat down and it goes down to make a flat elongation of the carpeted rear stowage area.

Technical advances to the 2.0 Turbo engine are subtle, including electronic rather than hydraulic valve actuation, a multi-plate torque converter, the 8-speed replacing the 6-speed automatic with improved low-end and high-end ratios, the H-Trac all-wheel drive system with an electric servo control, torque-vectoring front and rear to conspire with the driving mode and lane-centering to keep you in line and give you a tremendous sense of confidence in your cornering. Altogether, Hyundai says, the system moves from being reactive to predictive.

Improved steering and suspension geometry and components make for a smooth and insulation added to the fenders, transmission tunnel and various places on the floor, as well as thicker laminated glass and variable-density seats enhance comfort. Automatic LED headlights are bright and impressive, and auto-start is a great cold-climate item, as well as the automatic stop-start.

Kid safety increases with safe-exit assist on 2019 Santa Fe.  (Photo: Jack Gilbert.)

One unique feature is safe-exit assist, with the blind-spot assist on the side preventing the rear door on that side to be opened from the inside because the system has detected an approaching vehicle. Infinity premium audio, large 8-inch multimedia screen, Blue Link, and Clari-Fi music restoration, and a unique feature to prevent small kids or pets from being trapped inside. If the car is locked, any critter that moves enough to be detected causes you to get an alert on your smartphone, and will add honking its own horn if you don’t rectify the problem immediately.

That’s another good reason to prevent little Jimmy from leaving his pet snake under the back seat.

In reality, the Santa Fe replaces the former Santa Fe, while the Santa Fe XL continues unchanged for those who have to have a third row seat. That one has the old-style but still neat Tucson-like grille, but as it sells out, don’t be surprised if the Santa Fe XL goes away to be replaced by Hyundai’s newest larger SUV. Whatever, consumers are left with only the very capable, very sporty, and very high-tech Santa Fe.

Tiguan Grows Longer, Adds Third Seat Option

April 24, 2019 by · Comments Off on Tiguan Grows Longer, Adds Third Seat Option
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Longer Tiguan has optional third-row seat but retains style, solid feel for 2019.

By John Gilbert
As an SUV-buying society, we haven’t properly appreciated the Volkswagen Tiguan all through its existence. Now that it’s 2019, it’s still not too late, but the boundaries have changed.

For years, the Tiguan, Volkswagen’s compact crossover, was the company’s SUV, even when it wasn’t so much an SUV as a tall station wagon. It was always convenient for hauling a family and gear on trips, across the country or to the mall, or to hockey, soccer, baseball or basketball practice. It was solid, substantial, and performed well for both power, agility and gas mileage.

When the SUV craze not only hit but escalated rapidly out of control, companies that built cars soon realized that if they didn’t also build SUVs, they might soon be marketed right out of existence. I recall when Porsche built its first Cayenne, those of us in the invited automotive media assembled to drive the vehicles on and off a race track and off-road. The question on everybody’s mind finally got asked.

“Why would Porsche, a company that builds the best sports cars on the planet, bother building an SUV?”

The Porsche executive answered without hesitation: “So that we can continue to build the best sports cars on the planet.”

Lengthened rear houses fold-down third seat or more storage space.

Those words ring true for every manufacture now, and not just because Porsche comes under the Volkswagen corporate umbrella. The other reason is that Porsche buyers also wanted SUVs, and they wanted high-end SUVs and were willing to pay a lot of money for them. The Cayenne gave Porsche buyer/owner types the chance to buy an SUV and stay within the Porsche family.

For Volkswagen itself, Beetles, Golfs, Jettas and Passats remained as good cars, great cars, maybe, but sales were shrinking as buyers were going elsewhere to find and buy SUVs. The Sport-Wagen worked well enough, but more size was wanted, if not needed. So the Tiguan continued as an SUV, and Volkswagen added a couple larger SUVs, including the Atlas.

But a year ago, Volkswagen decided to lengthen the Tiguan. Buyers who liked it also wanted a third-row seat, and to meet the demand, or at least the request, VW lengthened the Tiguan and added a third row seat, which could fold down for added cargo space.

For 2018, Volkswagen sold two Tiguans, the remainder of the shorter model, and the highly promoted longer one. For 2019, the longer one is the only one still being produced. To meet all desires, VW makes the two versions different.

The difference comes with a choice of VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive, and the choice of two rows of seats, seating five, or three rows, seating seven. Typical of German companies, VW tells us which choice we must buy.

If you want all-wheel drive, you can get either two or three rows; if you choose front-wheel drive — for better fuel economy or because of no need for AWD — you can only get three rows of seats. If you want two rows and FWD, you’re out of luck.

Bright inserts on leather buckets are evidence of R-Line trim in Tiguan spacious interior.

It may not be a big issue, because the test vehicle we had came with the colorful R-Line trim that included bright “Saffron” insets in the black leather seats, and we folded the third row down to carry some larger items, and promptly forgot it was even there. So folding it down flat behind the roomy second row is a viable option, and if you wind up as the car-pooling driver, you can pop it up in a flash and use the third row seats.

Plenty of leg and head space in rear seat.

Tilt second row to reach third row, which folds flat.

The Tiguan SEL Premium R-Line test vehicle, with 4Motion, carried a list price of $40,485, including a $595 tag for the third-row seat.

It came with Volkswagen’s tried and trusty 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, a jewel of performance that has dual overhead camshafts, direct fuel injection and a turbocharger, produces 184 horsepower and 221 foot-pounds of torque, running through all four wheels with 4Motion, and regulated by an 8-speed automatic transmission.

That is the only powertrain offered in any Tiguan. The vehicle has a towing capacity of 1,500 pounds, which isn’t a lot, but is pretty good for a vehicle that is calculated to be just a bit smaller than what qualifies as a midsize SUV.

Smoothly efficient in the dry, the 4Motion Tiguan also can handle snowstorms.

With its tall seating position and well-supported comfort, the Tiguan is always pleasant to drive, or to ride in, and just to make my North Shore home on Lake Superior more viable as the perfect road-testing venue, we got a quick and surprising snowstorm that covered and surrounded the Tiguan, but it simply breezed through every challenge.

Well, almost. The greatest challenge was another Volkswagen/German decision made for its owners and drivers. There is a neat little rotating mode switch on the console, and you can turn it to engage different settings for Eco, Normal, Sport, or Custom. Eco gave us front-wheel drive, for most normal driving. After the snowstorm, we simply turned the switch to the setting that incorporated snow driving, as opposed to highway, hills, mud, rocks and off-road, and it went fine.

Rotate  mode switch to engage AWD for snow, but it defaults to FWD when you shut it off.

I noticed my wife, Joan, pulling out one morning and the front wheels spun a bit as she got going in our driveway . I sent her a text message for later reading to say I thought somehow she had switched into front-wheel drive. She responded that I was correct and that she realized quickly that the Tiguan would go to default every time you shut it off, so when you start up again, you’re in FWD, not AWD.

I’m not sure that’s a major issue, but it would make more sense, in Northern Minnesota, for every VW to have AWD as its “Default” setting from November to May. If you start up after a blizzard that is deep enough and on a slippery base, you could get into more trouble than you deserve if you think you’re in AWD but have only FWD.

Because they have made the Tiguan rock-solid for years, driving the new Tiguan gives you a secure feeling of confidence, and the car also handles our other two premier test-driving attractions: Steep hills and enough potholes to meet the requirements of any obstacle course.

Along with the safe build quality, the Tiguan SEL Premium houses adaptive cruise control, park distance control front and rear, remote start, and keyless access, for convenience. Once underway, you also benefit from forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking and pedestrian detection, active blind spot and rear traffic alerts, lane keeping system with lane assist, high beam control, touchscreen navigation, anti-theft alarm with engine immobilizer, voice-control with touchscreen navigation, all the USB and connectivity receptacles, and a special feature — the Digital Cockpit borrowed from affiliate Audi that can be adjusted to get all sorts of information within the gauges.

Handsome grille styling now reflects Volkswagen’s Jetta, Passat siblings.

The Tiguan has gotten more attractive since being stretched, with a Passat/Jetta style grille and front styling, and its proportions seem to fit the lengthier body style. The longer Tiguan makes the previous one look short and stubby by comparison, and not as elegant.

For the sake of full disclosure, however, I have to say now that the shorter Tiguan is out of production, I really miss that vehicle. Long live the new Tiguan, but thanks to the used car market, the older, shorter Tiguan will still be findable.

Mustang Bullitt Blows Away All but Icy Driveway

April 23, 2019 by · Comments Off on Mustang Bullitt Blows Away All but Icy Driveway
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The 50th Anniversary Mustang Bullitt packs 480 horsepower, GT handling, special look, even in the face of impending storm.

By John Gilbert
When you review new cars, there’s never a good time to bid adieu to the really fun vehicles in which a week-long term goes by too fast. But when a mid-April, 8-inch snowfall hit Duluth, Minnesota, it’s probably best that my week-long test drive of a 2019 Mustang Bullitt ended prematurely.

Actually, I ended it three days before it would be picked up at my house, even though my term ended on the very day that the 50th anniversary of the movie “Bullitt” was released — the movie with the legendary chase scene that ultimately made Steve McQueen a superstar and the 1968 Mustang he drove an icon that has prompted Ford to make copies for two model years, 2019 and 2020.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s never a good time for a week-long test drive of a truly fun car to end. But this one arrived with the admonition that the Bullitt was shod with Michelin Pilot Sport high-performance tires on those classy 19-inch alloy wheels, so if it snows — park it.

Available only for 2019 and 2010, the Bullitt comes in dark green or black.

It snowed, and I parked it. Knowing that those smooth, track-worthy tires are fantastic on a race track or high-speed freeway, but they have pretty much no traction if anything slippery is between the car and the pavement, I compressed as much driving as I could into the first four days it was in my control. It’s not unusual for snow to hit Minnesota in April, but after getting into the 50s, the nasty long-range forecast seemed especially mean.

For those old enough to remember the wonderful action-filled Steve McQueen movie from 50 years ago, it is a brilliant bit of strategy for Ford to bring out a replica bristling with modern technology as a reminder of the spectacular chase scenes filmed on the hilly streets of San Francisco, with McQueen, the late actor who thrived on hot cars and exciting chases. McQueen drove a hot, dark green 1968 Mustang with a tricked up V8 that allowed him to bound and bounc through wild street scenes while being chased by bad guys in a menacing Dodge Charger.

The 50th Anniversary Bullitt Mustang is the amalgamation of all that has been good about Mustangs through the ensuing decades, tempered by the latest engineering marvels such as a 5.0-liter dual-overhead-camshaft V8, juiced up to 480 horsepower and 420 foot-pounds of torque, regulated by a 6-speed stick shift that changes gears smoothly and keeps you in the power band, maxed between the torque peak of 4,000 RPMs and the power peak at 7,000 RPMs.

The kick you get from 0-60 capabilities of 4.5 seconds, and — according to Car & Driver magazine — 0-150 in 23.1 seconds(!) is enough to cause you to remember those hot cars of the late 1960s and 1970s, or to recall a weekend at a drag strip watching the top racers compete.

Simple driving controls all at hand.

White shift ball, toggles and nav screen coexist.

The biggest thrill of the Bullitt comes when you climb into the bucket seat, hook up the safety belt, step on the clutch, and push the starter button. The explosion of finely tuned power rumbles out through four exhaust tubes and, unless you find it annoying, is worth the chill that runs up your spine and back down. Let the clutch out — gently now — and zap! You’re off.

The Mustang GT has similar power and features, but Ford added punch to the Bullitt and assures it of being an instant classic during its two-year run, in Dark Highland Green or black only. I’m surprised Ford’s market wizards didn’t make it in that dark green or silver, which would allow non-movie buffs to buy a Silver Bullitt.

The base Bullitt is just under $50,000, while the test car was just a tad over $52,000. Those crafty folks at Ford know that Mustang zealots won’t pay ridiculous prices for just any Mustang these days, so there are specialty versions like the GT, the Shelby 350 and the newer Shelby 500, which has even more power. But every Mustang zealot who knows a door from a steering while will pay a lot for something that conjures up the image of the most famous Mustang in cinematic history,

You don’t have to recall the Steve McQueen movie to appreciate the Bullitt’s dashing style.

The front end of the Bullitt has been pinched down for style and aerodynamics, with a narrowed horizontal grille and small slits to house the LED headlights, and there are a couple of active hood vents to eliminate some of the hot air that can build up in the engine compartment.

The wonders of modern auto technology mean that unlike the original, which could shake and rattle in short order, but was fast enough and handled well enough that you didn’t care, this one handles with near flawless race-car precision. Sure it’s a little stiff as you bounce across potholes, but it stays firm and flat around the tightest curves, with responsive steering and startlingly efficient braking from the big red Brembo brakes.

In the never-ending battle against Camaros and Challengers, Mustang has gone high-tech with the DOHC engine. Having overhead cams instead of pushrods means the Mustang will rev easily to the 7,500 red line, but as fun as that is, the Bullitt is also an every day driver. The fantastic exhaust note might get tiresome to some, although I fall into that group who would find it only and always exhilarating. The DOHC, the 5.0 V8 cruises effortlessly at freeway speed. I noted at 70 mph it was registering only 2,000 RPMs on the big tachometer, which isn’t much higher than idle speed. A pushrod engine would be working harder for that speed, and not delivering as much efficiency.

I got 24 miles per gallon except in only city driving, where — and Duluth’s hills are a lot like San Francisco’s, now that I think of it — the mpg dropped down to around 18. I confess, though, that I was unable to suppress the urge to blip the throttle going up, for bursts of street-legal acceleration, and on the way down, where it held speed descending those hills at moderated speed.

Actually, the Bullitt blips itself, so to speak, on every downshift, where you hit the clutch, and as you drop the shift lever down a gear, the engine automatically revs to matching engine speed. That may prevent an unsophisticated driver from a jagged downshift that might pitch hit wife toward the windshield, and it also supplies the perfect alert signal that you are driving one of the hottest but also most manageable sporty cars on the planet.

The console has the shift lever, with a giant white ball for a hand grip, and on the center stack, below the navigation screen there is a row of horizontal toggle switches, which are a neat way to control various features. The Bullitt Electronics feature everything from cross-traffic alert to the premium audio system and all the connectivity. Suspension adds MagnaRide dampers for precise handling through the independent rear suspension, and the usual safety features, such as stability control and controllable modes for comfortable ride up to track stiffness are there.

As my week seemed to hurry by, the forecasted storm that was supposed to hit all of Minnesota and all of Wisconsin did hit, with southern reaches of Minnesota getting up to 15 inches of snow. It was delayed in hitting Duluth, which, located on the pointy westernmost tip of Lake Superior, we sometimes get hit hard and sometimes find storm fronts diverted. This time, the wind was blowing in hard out of the east, at an estimated 35-50 mph in a straight line, and the next day we learned that it hit a measured maximum of 71 mph. That pushed the front a bit to the west, for a while at least, and gave me another day to drive, driving rainstorm or not.

Crashing waves couldn’t prevent the fantastic exhaust note from adding to Bullitt thrills.

I couldn’t resist driving down by the Aerial Bridge at Canal Park to shoot some photos of the giant waves rolling in, higher than the piers that reach out into the lake. Then I drove up the North Shore a ways, to shoot the spectacle of the waves crashing off the shoreline rocks, just for background for the Mustang Bullitt. By Thursday night, the storm was about to change from rain to snow, so I drove up our rural highway, pulled into our driveway, and backed the Bullitt up against the garage.

Sure enough, we got hammered by 8-plus inches of the wettest, heaviest snow of the entire winter. Shoveling was a weight-lifting project. I left the Bullitt under its snow blanket and drove other vehicles through the weekend. The fellows from the Chicago car-distribution site were arriving Monday morning to retrieve the car, and my plan for the snow cover on our driveway to melt by then didn’t quite work out. The snow had melted off the car, but the driveway was still under several inches of hard-packed snow, which greatly resembles ice.

When the drivers arrived, I suggested that while they are expert drivers, I know the odd little rise in my driveway, and the delicacy with which a car with high-performance tires needed to attack it. I got it moving, and tried to maintain speed as I got to the last part of the driveway, then only spun. Three or four more times I tried, backing up and trying to build enough speed to make the little rise at the end. Finally I backed up to a bare asphalt patch for some rear traction, figuring that might work. But as soon as I tried to give it a tiny dose of gas, the Mustang’s rear end shot to the left. I counter-steered, but both left side tires were immediately over the lip and off the road, and the car was hung up on the hard-packed snow.

Prompt rescue by AAA extricated my slick-tired Bullitt from an attempt at off-roading.

We tried shoveling, putting de-icer and gravel down, but any attempt to engage the clutch caused the tendency to go farther off the road. We gave up, and I called Triple-A. A young fellow showed up with a gigantic wrecker in a half-hour, and with his modern devices was able to quickly pull the Bullitt out of danger, and out to our road. When he unhooked it, he asked if we could wait a second while he shot a few photos of the car, and he called his grandpa to notify him of the prize he just rescued.

“It’s not every day we get to tow a Bullitt,” he said, grinning broadly.

We gave him a ride in the car, and it blew his mind. He is ordering a special Mustang with a gigantic crater engine, but now he’s thinking maybe the Bullitt’s 480 horsepower are enough. I assured him this was a better prospect, from the standpoint of all-around driving and handling. And you can’t duplicate the sound of the Bullitt engine.

So the car left town and headed toward Chicago, because once out of our driveway, the snow had pretty much been cleared or melted. While I pondered what the 50th Anniversary Mustang Bullitt might be like with Nokian Hakkapelliita tires mounted instead of Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires, that thought was over-ridden by my hope that I might get another crack at that car anytime from May through November.

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