In fierce SUV competition, Ford has an Edge

August 27, 2020 by · Comments Off on In fierce SUV competition, Ford has an Edge
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The 2020 Ford Edge ST in Rapid Red tips off sportiness with black grille, wheels.

By John Gilbert
When it comes to building a new truck of any size, Ford has an unfair advantage, it seems. So when the niche-seeking 2020 Ford Edge shows up, we take notice. And there is nothing disappointing about the Edge, especially when it wears the “ST” badge, indicating sporty upgrades in performance and handling.

The Edge might be the right-sized SUV for many consumers who are willing to swap overpowering towing and hauling capacity for agility and fuel-efficiency for everyday family flexibility, without ever risking losing that off-roads advantage. For openers, look at its heritage.

Ford has given us the F-150 pickup truck, which has led the market in sales every year for nearly four decades, and that truck is all-new for 2021, while leaving the company the basic template for forging ahead. The Explorer showed up and captured the imagination of consumers who wanted truck-like durability and the newly created SUV flexibility for family hauling and became the breakthrough vehicle to start and popularize the whole SUV segment.

Ford went both ways at once from there, to build the enormous Expedition and then the even larger Excursion, while also undercutting the Explorer with the compact Escape, which came in as Ford’s smallest sized SUV and immediately became a leader among compact SUVs.

The flow of new vehicles has never abated, and the Edge fit perfectly between the Escape and Explorer, and was joined by interesting specialty SUVs like the Flex, and the subcompact EcoSport, seem to fill every possible niches in the range of segments. It would be easy to get bored with the constant increase in the sheer number of vehicles, except that every time you get a chance to climb aboard any of them, you come away impressed.

With my wife, Joan, and older son Jack, we filled the Edge ST with hiking/walking stuff and parked on Duluth’s Skyline Drive.

The 2020 Edge is built on a platform that was new for 2019 and is firm and refined and stiff enough to provide excellent handling around corners without ever tending to be harsh. For my road-test week, I cheated just a little, without even trying. The bright “Race Red” Edge that came to my driveway just up the North Shore from Duluth, Minnesota, was the ST version, which was introduced about a year ago and means this Edge had a distinct edge in sporty performance as well as appearance.

The basic Edge starts with Ford’s peppy 2.0-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine and it is more than adequate for performance of the well-sized Edge. But the ST version takes a major leap forward, with the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 that develops 335 horsepower at 5,550 RPMs, and 380 foot-pounds of torque at 3,250 RPMs. That’s 90 horsepower and 105 foot-pounds more than the EcoBoost 4.

Light to medium trailer towing for camping or a fishing boat is no problem, and the 8-speed automatic transmission seamlessly finds the right gear regardless of load. If it doesn’t, in your estimation, you can simply click the shift paddles to up or down shift.

That makes the Edge ST about the most potent way to haul around a family of five as you can imagine, and once you climb into that attractively stitched leather bucket driver’s seat, your first objective is to start up from a stop without giving a dose of whiplash to the four other occupants. The Edge ST is sort of a race-car in compact SUV form, and while the base engine is adequate, the 2.7 twin-turbo is a rocket.

The color is up to the task of announcing your arrival, and the 21-inch black alloy wheels and performance tires set off the styling further. The blacked-in grille and the front styling with its faired-in headlights and foglights also are projected, to coin a phrase, at both usefulness and style.

True, some families need more room, and for them there are those larger SUVs right across the showroom floor, but for a young family with one or two or even three youngsters, the Edge is just right. Same goes for older families, when the kids have grown up and fled to college, and you want to downsize back to more reasonable handling and parking and garaging.

Variable information instrument panel and control-filled steering wheel accent Edge ST.

Edge ST interior with rich materials, handy features including rotating shifter on console.

The features inside are considerable. Heated front and rear seats add cooled front buckets; adaptive cruise control with stop and go and lane centering; panoramic sunroof; voice-activated navigation touch-screen; hands-free, foot-activated tailgate for opening up when your arms are full; evasive steering assist; remote starting system; cold-weather package with heated steering wheel; windshield wiper de-icer; ST performance brake system — all standard or on optional packages.

Edge ST features a version of Ford’s signature grille on a “right-size” SUV that seats five.

While driving or riding, you have 1-touch up or down windows, a 60-40 rear seat for folding down, aluminum pedals, auto-dim mirror, 10-way front bucket adjustments, smart-charging cell-phone set-up are also things you need to adjust to. You also get major illumination because the headlights are bi-LED, the foglights are LED and the taillights are LED. There is also something called “signature lighting” that consist of LEDs, and you are surrounded by ambient lighting to welcome you aboard.

For driving, you have a clean, spacious console because Ford uses a rotating dial for a shifter instead of a lever. I didn’t think I would like that, but I adapted quickly and now I can appreciate the advantages of not blocking out one-fourth of the console space for a shift lever. With the auto-start-stop technology, and all the safety devices that can be reached by Ford’s sophisticated SYNC system, are included as standard equipment. That goes beyond the performance-tuned suspension, the pre-collision assist, rear-view camera with a washer built in, reverse sensing system are things that are not unique by themselves but are doubly impressive grouped with all the other complementary features.

All the expected airbags are there for front, side and rollover protection are built in. The amount of options on top of the basic Edge sticker price results in a total of $52,935, which has another advantage in competition, because so many larger and more luxurious SUVs cost so much more that $52,935 seems more than reasonable.

Also, along with the instrument panel that is like an advanced video game for providing useful information, and you also get a high-tech Bang and Olufsen audio system with 12 speakers filling that interior space.

Every company that makes SUVs is trying frantically to fill all the niches, but Ford’s dedication to the concept goes so far as eliminating most of the sedans and cars in their fleet, such as the Fiesta, Focus, Fusion and Taurus. They’ll keep making the Mustang, with several variations, and they’ll convert sedan assembly plants to pouring out more and more trucks.

Seating for five and surprising storage space fit inside the Edge ST, which has towing package, dual exhausts, and automatic foot-operated opening switch.

The EPA mileage estimates range from 19 city to 26 highway, and we proved you can reach that high, if you can resist the temptation to punch the gas pedal floorward. When you stop by a Ford dealership to check out an F-150, or an Explorer, don’t pass up the chance to take a close look and then a road-test in the Edge, which is a lot more than just another of a lot of trucks parked there. Especially if you spot that little “ST” badge on the grille.

Symbol of luxury, Avalon gets TRD spark

August 24, 2020 by · Comments Off on Symbol of luxury, Avalon gets TRD spark
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The Toyota Avalon still is luxurious, but adding new TRD version gives it sporty flair.

By John Gilbert
We can appreciate Toyota’s efforts to lift up some previously-boring sedans and give them a dose of performance, such as the Camry, Corolla, and even a couple of Lexus sedans, and we can celebrate the company’s producing some advanced platforms and even new engines as well as major alterations in its hybrid systems.

Throughout the corporate wide renovations, though, we could all take comfort in knowing there will always be an Avalon.

The Avalon has always been an interesting sedan, a stretched version of the popular Camry midsize car, but always loaded up with luxury features. In its lifetime, I always had the theory that since Toyota spun off Lexus as a separate brand for luxury versions of various Toyotas, the company’s preferred progression for customers was to start off with a Corolla, and after a couple of them, move up to a midsize Camry, and after a couple of them, move on into the Lexus brand for something a little more expressive.

Along the way, however, some Toyota customers who loved their mainstream Camrys, decided it might be a bit pretentious to have the neighbors drive by and see a Lexus in their driveway. For those folks, the Avalon was the perfect vehicle. Longer and roomier than the Camry, and with a lot of Lexus-like creature features, the Avalon was there for them, at the top of the Toyota car list.

So we can excuse Toyota for allowing the Avalon to remain constant, naturally tweaking it here and there with interior plushness and upgrading the exterior design now and then. But new chairman Akio Toyoda needn’t include the Avalon in the performance swath covering some of the other models.

Heavily sculpted grille and body panels hint at the Toyota Racing Division impact.

And then a new 2020 Avalon was delivered to my house in Duluth, Minnesota, and to my surprise, bordering on shock, I found the stunning red — Supersonic Red, thank you — Avalon had the letters “TRD” emblazoned on the rear deck. TRDstands for Toyota Racing Division, and it gained its popularity for creating some pretty incredible off-road versions of Toyota’s Tundra and Tacoma pickup trucks. When Toyota moved into NASCAR racing with some totally illogical Camry models — front-engine V8s with rear-wheel drive, neither of which exist in the Toyota line — TRD expanded its reach.

But on the Avalon? Are you kidding me? The last Avalon generation added some better handling firmness and thus a touch of sportier driving, but the big change came a year ago, when the 2019 Avalon hit the showrooms on the New Global Architecture platform Toyota had crafted for future vehicles. It was the first time the Avalon got its own platform and stretched away from the Camry.

Subtle body-color “TRD” emblem, dual exhausts tip Avalon TRD intentions.

But the TRD guys have done a number on the 2020 Avalon, beyond tweaking the familiar if aging 3.5-liter V6, to put its 301 horsepower and 267 foot-pounds of torque to good use through the front-wheel-drive setup. A direct-shifting 6-speed automatic can be manipulated by steering wheel paddles — yes, paddles on an Avalon! — and equally impressive, there are three subtle little buttons on the console, just driver-side of the shift lever, and they allow you to click into Eco, Normal, or Sport. The Sport switch gives you more revs, held longer, and an overall firmer feel to the TRD-tuned suspension, front and rear.

The braces under the car have been replaced by thicker braces, stiffening the platform still more, and even though the V6 is not new — although it has Toyota’s concept of combining direct injection with normal port injection — the tRD engineers have succeeded in an overall feeling of satisfying cornering stiffness and stability, and with Sport you get a little enhanced sound from the dual exhausts.

Naturally, there is the full complement of Toyota safety devices, with lane-departure alert and steering assist if you’re slow to react, plus dynamic radar cruise control that adds pedestrian detection, to the usual rear-view cross-traffic warning. The aero moldings are more subtle ways to detect that the car is something more than the garden-variety Avalon.

If you drive it hard, you can succeed in getting the lower end of the EPA fuel economy estimations, which range from 22 City to 31 Highway, with a proclaimed combination of only 25 mpg. In our driving, on the steep hills of Duluth, mostly, we found we could get up to 31.3 overall, which is impressive, considering the size of the vehicle and the power at hand.

The base price for an Avalon is $42,300, and the TRD alterations take it up to $45,394.

The TRD adds some styling touches, like the moldings, the color-keyed exterior, and 19-inch low-profile tires, which also enhance handling. Yet, it’s reassuring to note that the features that have made the Avalon attractive are still there, only nicer and better than before. The quality of the dashboard fabric, the seats with their red-line trim on black, and the incredible legroom in the rear seat, are things you wouldn’t leave out of an Avalon.

Avalon TRD steering wheel is a technical nerve-center.

Fine quality lines the Avalon TRD interior.

Also, the 14-speaker JBL audio system, with a subwoofer for the 1,200-watt amplifier, creates impressive sound. A 9-inch touchscreen helps you adjust the audio, and everything from climate control to cell-phone usage. So when we figure there’ll always be an Avalon, that’s true. But prepare to be surprised that you can get all the built-in features of an Avalon in a virtual hot-rod model, with the TRD.

Alfa gives Stelvio a little dose of Formula 1 spirit

August 14, 2020 by · Comments Off on Alfa gives Stelvio a little dose of Formula 1 spirit
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Alfa Romeo’s distinctive look is even more distinctive on the Stelvio SUV.

By John Gilbert
If you owned an Alfa Romeo Stelvio, there would be several ways to point out that you are supremely lucky.

That’s the first indication, because you’re lucky enough to be driving this specialty SUV, which is one of the best-driving and most satisfying vehicles — cars, sports cars, trucks or SUVs — in the world.

Another good luck symbol is the neat little 4-leaf clover emblazoned on the flanks. That stands for Quadrifoglio, which means it is the hot one of the bunch, with all-wheel drive and perhaps the most sophisticated engine put under the hood of any production vehicle.

A third indication of your good fortune is that you might have accumulated a good fortune, in business or whatever your job might be, because you’ve made enough money to be able to afford the sticker price on the Alfa Romeo Stelvio — a cool $96,540 for my week-long test-drive Stelvio.

No, you don’t have to spend that much on the high-end Stelvio. which comes for far less with the base engine, but if you’ve got it, what could be more fun than to spend a chunk of it to get such a vehicle equipped with the 2.9-liter V6 designed and hand-built by Ferrari’s Formula 1 engineers? Think about all the overpowered sporty cars and trucks that have engines up and over 6 liters in displacement just to get enough power to satisfy their buyers. Yet, with the right technology, and engineering brilliance, the comparatively tiny 2.9 liters of displacement can be designed and perfected to produce 505 horsepower and 443 foot-pounds of torque.

Exceptional headlights are more than just style statements in Stelvio design.

Your neighborhood hot-rodder might be able to tweak any engine into providing extra power, but this is a whole ‘nother plateau. With all the trick parts at their disposal, the same engineering staff that puts the engines in the Formula 1 race cars driven by Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc on satellite TV most early Sunday mornings was given a challenge by the late and charismatic leader, Sergio Marchione. As the head man at Fiat, and thus Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Marchione had orchestrated the design and building of the Alfa Romeo Giulia, a beautiful car with near-perfect handling. Because Fiat not only owns Chrysler, Jeep, Alfa Romeo, and Ferrari, he went directly to Ferrari’s Formula 1 engineers and told them he needed an engine that would be as special as the Giulia’s design, because that would be the car that would help ease Alfa Romeo back into the U.S. market.

Once built, Alfa also offers the car with an outstanding 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, designed by Chrysler engineers, and allowing the Giulia outstanding performance for about $30,000 less. That’s the way I would buy the car, because it is quick, has the same superb handling, and meets the requirements of Marchione’s demands. But once you drive the Giulia with the hot engine, you will be spoiled. This Sunday, the Formula 1 tour goes to Spain, and while Vettel is having a tough year, and Leclerc is proving to be a young star in the making, we can only marvel at the incredible power that makes F1 cars the swiftest and most exciting form of motorsports on the planet.

And while there is always something about driving an Alfa that causes a smile to cross your face, the company proved that it is not an insult to humanity to try to do the same thing with an SUV. The Stelvio appeared as if by magic, like a tall and roomy Giulia wagon, and with the 2.0 twin-turbocharged V6, it flies around corners and teaches you to always pay attention to your gauges. That’s even more of a requirement if you have the 2.0 V6. At least a dozen times I found myself glancing down and saying, “Oops, I can’t be going that fast here ion town.” The car requires close monitoring, because that engine wants to go.

The fact that the Stelvio is an SUV, with more clearance, and the seemingly incongruous ability to do a little light off-roading, you have these mode controls that you can switch from normal driving to sport, track, and track-plus, and you can click a different button and the low murmur of that engine suddenly becomes not-low anymore, but roaring with the urgency and intensity of a race-car engine. It is not sound, so much as refined mechanical music.

That brings up one more question: If you had some money and wanted a special car, with special suspension, brakes, looks, steering and interior comfort, how much would you pay to be able to tell all your acquaintances that Formula 1 race engineers build your engine?

The answer might seem like the old high school math problem where the answer is “infinity,” but Alfa supplies the answer with the Stelvio and its price sticker.

Stelvio cockpit is for serious drivers only, what with 505 horsepower from 2.9 turbo.

When steering wheel is turned, shift paddles stay in fixed position.








The seats are comfortable and supportive, and driving position is perfect. I am a big fan of transmission paddles, to allow manual up and down shifting of your automatic transmission, and the Alfa has the best paddles I’ve seen. They are tall, maybe 6 to 8 inches in length, and they are fixed to the steering column on either side. That means, if you take your hand off the wheel as you make a left turn in traffic, and you realize you are out of revs, instead of groping to find exactly where on the steering wheel your paddle might have rotated to, you simply reach anywhere along the right side of the wheel and you’ve found it. Right for upshift and left for downshift, and when you downshift, the melodic sound of that engine roars with a full-life crescendo as it blips the throttle to rev-match.

A less disciplined person might drive around the block a dozen times every time leaving home, just to satisfy those animal instincts high-performance fanatics need.

Seating for four or five, and plenty of stowage space under the hatch.

Impressive as all that power is, the feeling of being a superior driver comes through every time you made a tight corner or follow a roadway’s curves, because the feeling of absolute steering precision makes it seem as though some computer is signaling the Stelvio that you’re about to make a darting turn.

You can find an Alfa dealer in the west suburbs of Minneapolis, just past Ridgedale, where Morrie’s traditionally has offered exotic cars. Maybe you’d like to find a Jaguar, or a Ferrari, or Lamborghini to check out, but if you spot an Alfa Romeo Giulia or Stelvio, you might consider asking for a test drive. And if you see a 4-leaf clover emblem on the side, don’t ask — demand! — a test drive.

2020 Sonata: Sexy look, comfort, and 47 mpg!

August 10, 2020 by · Comments Off on 2020 Sonata: Sexy look, comfort, and 47 mpg!
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos, Uncategorized 


Redesigned grille gives Sonata a low, seductive look, befitting its new technology.

By John Gilbert

As someone who has been test-driving and reporting on new vehicles for something like 50 years, I have established a few techniques to prove my own objectivity to myself. And there’s always room for new tricks, which I learned by driving the totally redesigned and seductive 2020 Hyundai Sonata.

The precise moment when Hyundai lifted the South Korean auto industry from mediocrity to elite status was when the 2011 Sonata was introduced. It had been a mediocre midsize car with a great warranty, but, inspired by a stinging rejection of its new engine by prospective partners Chrysler and Mitsubishi, Hyundai went back to a clean sheet and focused on building an all new 2.4-liter 4 cylinder.

The engine was to be housed in a dramatically restyled car, and both partners were surprised how quickly Hyundai built such an impressive engine from scratch. Both Chrysler and Mitsubishi still use variations of that 2.4 engine in some of their vehicles.. For its own Sonata, Hyundai engineers also designed an intricate but impressive direct fuel-injection system, and, while they were at it, designed and built a lighter and more efficient 6- speed automatic transmission.

The total package, from exterior design to engine, transmission and suspension, put the car and the company on an entirely new plateau, from which it has never looked back from that 2011 model year breakthrough. Since then, Hyundai has developed and improved its array of impressive SUVs, compacts and even luxury cars, transforming its new-found technology through its entire engine line.

But the Sonata remains the heart and soul of the company. Which brings us to the 2020 Sonata, a car that is another complete surprise.

As the world turns to SUVs, Hyundai seems to believe SUV buyers may turn back to sedans, once their SUV is parked in the driveway. And without question, the 2020 Sonata could turn a lot of heads and desires back to the sedan world.

The first time I saw one, it was from the rear corner and I thought it was a new Mercedes 5-door-coupe model. Then I walked around to the front and was surprised to see the stylized Hyundai “H” badge on the grille.

Smooth roofline makes Sonata stand out, even with the BIR Trans-Am as a backdrop.

It took a while, but we finally got to spend a week with a 2020 Hyundai Sonata Limited a few weeks ago, and we enjoyed its looks and its agility and surprising power on the hills of Duluth, Minnesota. And when the idea hit us, we decided to drive the Sonata from Duluth over to Central Minnesota to watch the Trans-Am road race at Brainerd International Raceway, and drive back after the race. On that trip, the Sonata provoked a previously never-done move by me.

Often, when I think I haven’t given a car a fair test of highway driving, I’ll zero the odometer and get a fresh, highway-only calculation.

But the trip odometer on the Sonata had shown a figure I thought was absurdly high, so for the first time, I zeroed it to bring it back to reality. After all, it had the exceptional but small 1.6-liter Turbo engine, and the Sonata is a big, Accord-Camry-Mazda6-sized car to haul around. My mistake. After zeroing it, we drove east along Hwy. 210 and my wife, Joan, took a long turn behind the wheel. That let me relax in the passenger bucket and examine all the features of the redesigned dash, with its long, horizontal information screen in the middle of the dash. My newly reset trip-odometer now read: 46.7 miles per gallon!

I guess my earlier assumption was not just wrong, but I reset it twice to recalculate, and our highest figure attained was 47.1 mpg. Astonishing! That’s hybrid, or diesel, territory, and many of them can’t get that much.

Neat gauge-work transposes rear-facing video to replace either the tach, for left, or speedometer, for right turns,. Note the 44.1 mpg, too.

There were other neat things to notice. For one, the instrument cluster has a large tachometer on the left and an equally large speedometer on the right, and you can switch to all sorts of other information to be injected within them. But one surprise is something Hyundai borrowed from its exceptional Palisade SUV. When you hit the left turn signal, the tach is replaced by a rear-facing video of all there is to see behind you on your left; turn right and the speedometer disappears for a moment to show you any oncoming vehicles on your right. It’s also handy when you’re maneuvering in your own driveway, just to bolster the rear-view camera view that shows both what’s behind you and a 360-degree top-down video of all surroundings.

When we had to give the Sonata back for its return to the press fleet in Chicago, we were sorry to see it go. A few weeks later, I asked wife and co-driver Joan where she thought the Sonata fit in among the doses of fantastic vehicles we had test-driven in the past year.
Without hesitation, she said she would rank it among the best, just because it looked so sleek and stylish, and because it was extremely comfortable, and it also was surprisingly peppy to match its agility.

When I reminded Joan about coming down the big hill into West Duluth after our trip and watched the Sonata fuel computer hit a high of 47.1 miles per gallon, she said: “Oh yeah. That too.”

The fuel economy might have been the single more amazing feature of the new Sonata, but there are so many things to be impressed by, it had completely slipped her mind. I understood, because the low and seductive look of the Sonata looked even more dramatic amid the sea of large pickups and SUVs we found in traffic and parking lots everywhere.

Vastly upgraded materials, fit and finish of the new interior, with a master-control array of switches on the console, and the long horizontal navigation screen is cut into a quite-elegant and simple padded upper dashboard. You can adjust the driving mode for optimum comfort, and while we found it comfortable, after our trip we realized we were in “Sport” mode rather than economy or c,omfort but the car was so smooth and comfortable we didn’t think of adjusting.

Hyundai has revised its excellent 6-speed automatic transmission, which is now an 8-speed that is smooth as silk shifting. Hyundai also has given in to those who enjoy driving by installing steering wheel paddles to allow manual up and down shifting of that dual-clutch automatic.

A line of LED lights outline the headlights and fade as they follow the seam of the hood, further enhancing the new look.

All of the recently developed features and safety elements also were included on the Limited, including a surprising switch from the previous Harmon Kardon audio system to Bose. The audio system in the car was always a strong point, and I would have to say the Sonata has gone from excellent to still-excellent, maybe with better separation.

Hyundai was at the leading edge when blind-spot and lane departure alerts came into vogue, and I considered Hyundai ahead of the pack because its lane-centering control could actually keep your car or SUV in its proper lane, and in the center of that lane. The Sonata has that.

The test car was just an eyelash under $30,000, which is a considerable bargain for all that’s offered. It starts at a base price around $25,000. That balance and coordination of all its assets is nothing short of outstanding, especially in a car that looks so sporty and slick.

Also, instead of mundane daytime running lights, a sharp line veers in from the headlight pods and rises in a thin line along the seam between the hood and front fenders. Look closely and you see that there is a little LED strip that fades as it runs toward the windshield.

Such features are not necessary, or in great demand, presumably, but in the hotly contested marketplace, little things that make you feel your purchase is special, could be a deal-maker.

The silhouette is enhanced with contour lines and the flowing roofline.

The base engine in the Sonata is a newly enlarged 2.5-liter 4 with 191 horsepower and 181 foot-pounds of torque. The upgrade is the smaller 1.6 Turbo, with 180 horsepower but with 195 foot-pounds of torque. In the process of focusing on more-mainstream consumer cars and letting affiliate Kia go after the performance-minded, Hyundai is not ignoring the hot-rodders. It has come out with an entire line of higher-performance vehicles, designated by a simple “N.” And the Sonata will add turbocharging to the 2.5, plus all sorts of aero touches to create a Sonata N-Line — it will have 290 horses and 310 foot-pounds of torque.

Me? I would stick with the1.6 Turbo version. Let the N-Line buyers drag-race each other, I’ll take an extra second to reach 60, while I keep resetting the trip computer to see if I can top 47 miles per gallon.

Seltos takes Kia on its own compact-SUV road

July 30, 2020 by · Comments Off on Seltos takes Kia on its own compact-SUV road
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Seltos SX Turbo AWD is the feature-filled upgrade of Kia’s new compact SUV line.

By John Gilbert
The relationship between South Korean partners Kia and Hyundai has been interesting, if a bit confusing in the decade or so they’ve been united in a move by which Hyundai took in the struggling Kia operation. For awhile, it seemed that Kia simply got its own version of various Hyundai vehicles, but in recent years, Kia has boldly stepped out onto its own path.

There is no better example than the new Kia Seltos, a compact SUV that seems to be about the same size as Hyundai’s award-winning Kona. The Kona was named 2019 New Car Pick of the Year by, as well as numerous other evaluating sources. We are still evaluating our long-term Kona, which made it handy when a Neptune Blue 2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo showed up at our Duluth area home for a week’s test.

The Seltos is about 5 inches longer than the Hyundai Kona (left) and has more ground clearance, aimed for more rugged use.

Side-by-side, there are distinct differences, an objective the companies made a few years ago to use styling to differentiate, rather than copy. The Seltos is about 5 inches longer and about 2.5 inches taller, with those 2.5 inches used up by giving the Seltos about 7 inches of ground clearance, 2 more than the Kona.

The Seltos also has the unique Kia grille, under which is a very noticeable skid-plate, offering protection if you decide to do a little light off-roading.KWe were both impressed and puzzled by the Seltos S. Impressive was the sticker price, $26,740 with all options included, and also impressive was the Seltos S had a lot of punch from its 1.6-liter turbocharged 4 — the same engine that we got in the Kona. It has 175 horsepower at 6,000 RPMs, and a whopping 195 foot-pounds of torque at only 1,500 RPMs —a very good balance between the torque’s low-end punch and the horsepower’s cruising credits.

The all-wheel-drive system has a mode knob on the console, right next to the shift lever that governs the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, and you can set it for normal, sport or eco. Enormously impressive is a switch that engages a downhill control, causing the engine to stay in a lower gear and aid you when descending hills without using only your brakes. In Duluth, where every avenue is a mile-high hill climb, meaning also a mile-down grade, that switch was eminently useful. The full array of safety gizmos are there, including a lane-departure system that includes lane-following, which keeps you centered in your lane, although not obtrusively.


For $26,000, Seltos S has a lot of high-tech features to meet small-SUV standards.

With gadgetry like that, it seemed curious that the Seltos S did not have keyless entry, or keyless ignition, which mostly proves how spoiled we’ve become with all those push-button start systems. Still, for $26,000, the Seltos S seemed quite the bargain.

A few weeks later, we got a surprise visit from another Seltos, this one an SX Turbo, also with all-wheel drive, and also with the upgraded luxury features lacking on the Seltos S. It was Starbright Yellow, with black molding and trim, and it was striking. Different grille, departing from the Kia signature style, and LED lights all around. It also had the smart key, for entry and push-button start, and the interior upgrades were befitting the top line Seltos, priced at $29,485. Other additions were remote start, smart cruise control with automatic stop-start, a color instrument cluster, and 18-inch wheels, which were an option in the “S.” Read more

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