Always-safe Volvos add style, technology for 2018

September 21, 2017 by · Comments Off on Always-safe Volvos add style, technology for 2018
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 

Thor’s Hammer light design, familiar grille denote new-breed Volvos.

By John Gilbert


   As members of the car-buying public, we’ve spent our lifetimes compromising when it comes to car-buying. We might want something sporty, great looking, and quick, but we also have families who require that our first choice becomes solid, roomy and safe. We’ve also watched as most companies tried to make their cars as attractive as possible, then added stuff on in hopes of making them safer.

   Because of all that, and what we’ve observed, and the small portions that we’ve learned, you’ve got to hand it to Volvo, which seems to have gotten to the sweet spot in the compromise by sticking to safety and letting stuff like luxury, attractiveness and performance come along at its own, leisurely pace. From my vantage point, it appears Volvo has found the hot button. My favorite, for now, is the new 2018 QX60, a compact, midsize SUV that does everything I could ever want in a vehicle.

   The 2018 array of models coming out with Volvo’s vehicles, with their slashed bar over the grille and “Thor’s Hammer” headlight design, come as close as it gets to being all things to all people. For a price, of course. Such quality and built-in safety and technology don’t come cheap. The S90 runs from $49,195 in base T5 Momentum form up to nearly $70,000 in loaded T8 all-wheel-drive top trim. The V90 ranges from $50,000 to $53,000 coming only with front-wheel drive. And the XC60 starts at $42,495 for the Momentum, $45,900 for the R-Design, and $46,300 for the Inscription, and all XC60s come with all-wheel drive.


Lighter and more agile than the larger XC90, Volvo’s new XC60 gets the same drivetrain.

  Once a Swedish company that made rock-solid safe cars, then a Ford affiliate that made safer cars for different reasons, and now a Swedish company owned by a Chinese conglomerate that is making cars that fulfill every angle of every car compromise, Volvo has kept its eye on its own, stubborn target. Under the financial umbrella of Geely, Volvo is still headquartered in Gothenberg, Sweden, but it now makes some vehicles in China — where it is sure to be a huge seller — and is also building a state-of-the-art factory in the U.S.

   Through it all, Volvo has remained steadfast in its demand that its cars will always have safesty as a priority, and will not compromise for any other attributes that might seem more financially viable. Of course, when beauty came along, and a formula for building high-tech engines followed, Volvo was smart enough to incorporate everything under those stunning new bodies.

   I had the chance to road-test the new XC90 luxury SUV at its introduction, and I tried to contain my superlatives by saying it was, simply, the finest large SUV I had ever driven, or ridden in. I had chance to visit Spain last year for the world introduction of the S90, Volvo’s midsize large and luxurious new sedan that seems to do everything any German luxury sedan could imagine, and maybe with more comfort.

    Volvo’s biggest news this year was announcing that all of the vehicles it will build by 2025 will be electrified. Some naive media types jumped to the conclusion that all would be electric, but Volvo always meant that would include all electrified cars, including hybrids and plug-in hybrids as well as pure-electric.The hybrids, by definition, are electrified without being all-electric.But the hybrid models have impressive efficiency already.

   Earlier this summer, I got the chance to be whisked to Barcelona for the world introduction of the new XC60 — Volvo’s midsize SUV that seems to do everything the XC90 does, only quicker and with more agility, and a tad better fuel economy.


After one year, the elongated version of S90 is the only one that will be sold in North America.

But Volvo decided on a more economical way to reorganize its outburst of introductions. It set up camp in The Halcyon Hotel in the Denver suburb of Cherry Creek, summoning selected auto writers from everywhere to come and evaluate the 2018 crop of Volvos in the Rocky Mountains. Fantastic.

   The array as it stands now includes the S90 and the QX90, which are both powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder in T5 form, and both supercharged for low-end and turbocharged for high-end power for the optional upgrade and all-wheel-drive T6 models, then it adds a potent hybrid battery pack system on top of that for the ultimate T8 models.

    That’s significant because there were no XC90s or those familiar S90 sedans at our recent test time, because this was only for all-new new stuff. There were S90 sedans, but the 2018 S90 is an elongtated version of the S90 we experienced in Spain. The elongated version has 4.5 inches more rear legroom, and it fits the Asian trend to where important wealthier people like to ride in the rear seat, preferably chauffered, so stretching the rear passenger compartment is both logical and smart.

    My only criticism, I guess, is that since Volvo will continue to make both the normal size S90 and the elongated one, how come we only get the long version in North America, while the rest of the world can get the shorter, normal size? Both the S90 and XC90 have the same powertrain, and it’s true that the extra room in the rear is luxurious, but those of us who like a dose of agility in our driving might find the extra length slightly less maneuverable. We will not quarrel with the fact that it is quiet and smooth.

Slinky and stylish V90 Volvo wagon is like a more-streamlined sportier SUV.

    Meanwhile, there was more. Europeans have always liked their station wagons, even as the U.S. market turned to minivans and then large SUVs, midsize SUVs and compact SUVs. It seems that some European and Asian companies try to coax us into giving station wagons another try, but we’ve resisted. There is plenty to offer from such vehicles, however, because they are lower and sleeker and have just about as much room as their SUV brethren, and more flexible room than their sedan counterparts.

   So we got a chance to drive some Volvo V90 wagons, and there can be no argument that they handle well and make you forget you’re driving a wagon after a short time. The V90 offers fewer engine options, and I only drove the front-wheel-drive models, but I have to think AWD is coming soon.

    My priority to drive remained the XC60, because I like SUVs but I prefer compact ones, and the beauty of the XC60 is that its shorter, lighter and lacks the third row seat and room of the XC90, but it is more agile and feels quicker — and it still has the full complement of XC90 engines.

    The basic engines can be confusing, so we’ll try to limit them to overview. Remember, all are 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engines, with direct injection feeding their dual overhead camshafts. The T5 gets turbocharging, boosting power up to 250 horsepower and 256 foot-pounds of torque; the T6 with both supercharging and turbocharging turns out 316 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque; and the T8, loaded with supercharger, turbocharger and the lithium-ion battery-powered hybrid boost system that has been increased from 9.2 to 10.4 killowatt-hours, delivers 400 horsepower and 472 foot-pounds of torque.


All the new Volvo models have been revised inside, too, with lots of leather, real wood and high-tech instruments.

  Without question, the XC60, V90 and S90 have distinctly different personalities, even though they all share the VXC90/S90 appearance, which is smoothly aerodynamic, quick-responsing to the steering touch, and potent to the touch of your toe. And the interiors all share family traits of beautifully selected and blended mostly wood and leather materials, straightforward and easily read and operated gauges and controls, large and larger navigation/communication screens, and those seats.

   Since the 1960s, I have claimed that Volvo’s seats are the best in the industry, from the standpoints of safety and firm support. They have evolved over the decades, and the newest seats have been significantly improved under the guidance of Volvo’s selected orthopedic folks. And we haven’t even gotten arouind to the safety structure, which fits inside a chassis/body capsule made of five or six grades of steel, with the highest Boron in the pillars, on down to the weakest steel in areas where Volvo wants the car to absorb energy by bending more easily.

    Milan Ekholm is in charge of the enormous safety center at the Gothenberg plant in Sweden, and she explained the crumple zone construction and the vast concept of safety that consumes everything Volvo does. “All our cars have radar and cameras front and rear, and both sides, to help alert drivers to potential dangers,” she said. “We have a support system that includes City Safety to help alert you to avoid vehicles, pedestrians, cyclist and large animals, and  BLIS (blind-spot alert), lane-departure warning and lane-departure assist, on-coming lane mitigation, and run-off-road mitigation, along with lane-keeping mitigation.

   “On-coming lane mitigation helps avoid oncoming vehicles and steer you back into your own lane if you’ve drifted over the line between 37-87 miles per hour, and collision=avoidance that works up to 37 mph. And our newest devices are post-impact and run-off-road mitigation, because we’ve found that serious spinal injuries are much worse in crashes that go off the road than other crash injuries.”


Rocky Mountain backdrop was perfect for putting crisp-handling Volvo S90, XC60 and V90 through solid, secure paces.

Ekholm said that she is also heavily involved in the autonomous-driving techniques at Volvo. With all manufacturers racing to create the most trustworthy self-driving vehicles, and we can assume Volvo is at the top of that game. “We have Pilot assist,” she said, “which hekps make the driver sure of who is in control. We don’t want the driver to be fooled by finding out the car is controlling things.

    “Where braking adds something, we want to help provide braking, and our system can sense an impending accident and prepare the brakes and the seat tensioners. We want to prepare our drivers to take evasive action with steering and braking. Our focus is first to try to keep cars on the road, and then try to address issues after that.”

    Now that Volvo’s arsenal of vehicles is full…Oh, wait, it’s not? No. Next coming will be the further-downsized XC40 and its related S40 compact sedan. Both are coming soon, and in case the 2.0 engines are too powerful, Volvo is preparing a 3-cylinder turbo engine that should set new standards for power, agility and fuel economy. I’ve seen photos of the new XC40, and already I cant wait to drive it.

Potent Trackhawk becomes ultimate Jeep

September 13, 2017 by · Comments Off on Potent Trackhawk becomes ultimate Jeep
Filed under: New car introductions, Autos 

Supercharged Dodge Hellcat powrtrain transforms Jeep Grand Cherokee into Trackhawk for 2018.

By John Gilbert

   Maybe it’s time for the auto industry come up with a new and different name for such superlatives as “mind-blowing.” If you look over the vehicles from Dodge and its amazing SRT — Sport and Racing Technology — operation, you can review the assortment of available mind-blowing powertrains that can be obtained in such sporty vehicles as the Charger sedan and Challenger sports coupe.

   Starting with the quite impressive 3.6-liter V6 with 305 horsepower, you can move up to the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with 372 horsepower/400 foot-pounds of torque, to the 485 horse, 475 torque figures of the 6.4-liter Hemi, and then you can go onward and upward to the Hellcat’s 6.2-liter supercharged V8 and its 707 horse, 650 foot-poiund Hemi. Dizzying as that array might be, up on top there is the limited-edition Challenger Demon, with an even more potent version of the 6.2, with 808 to 840 horsepower and up to 770 foot-pounds.

   Mind-blowing, to say the least.

   But now we do have a new term to gather such superlatives, staying within the FCA (Fiat Chrysler Auto) family: “Trackhawk.”

The 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, to be exact.


Firmly comfortable interior adds sporty touches, drag-racing features.

  We are accustomed to the most rugged Jeep models earning the designation “Trailhawk,” for capability over and above the garden-variety Jeeps whenever you venture off-road, but the Trackhawk is for when you stay on the road and want to have the strongest, fastest, most powerful SUV ever constructed — or even imagined.

   Basically, the SRT guys, who performed such amazing engineering feats on the Hemi V8s for the Hellcats and Demons, took the 6.2-liter Hellcat Hemi V8 and performed even more magic tricks to turn the Grand Cherokee into the Trackhawk. When finished, the Trackhawk is a no-compromise street-road-track and, yes, off-road and foul-weather SUV weighs in at 5,500 pounds.

   With all that heft, the Hellcat’s modified drivetrain can, indeed, function in something beyond the Charger or Challenger. It can send the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk 0-60 in 3.5 seconds, and covers the quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds, with a top speed of something over 180 miles per hour.

   For such a hefty vehicle to drive “light” and corner flat, greatly revised suspension with adaptive Bilstein shocks was necessary. And an altered 8-speed TorqueFlite 8-speed automatic transmission, designed to get all that power to the ground via Pirelli tires either for track-duty or all-season.

   Naturally, such enormous capability and performance costs a lot, to offset the enormous engineering effort and technical building alterations required. The Trackhawk has a base price of $85,900. As tested, one of the Trackhawks my driving partner and I drove on the roadways from Maine to New Hampshire listed at $94,970, in bright white; the “Redline 2” model with premium leather, top audio and panoramic sunroof listed at $100,980.

   Yes, a Jeep for over $100,000 may be more than just mind-blowing, but the Trackhawk earns its sticker price with a quite-astonishing array of real-world parts and the coordination of such parts.


Quad tailpipes are only tip from rear that Trackhawk is something far beyond normal Grand Cherokee.

  In the real world, people need to be able to drive moderately, even in snow, and sometimes they need to tow a trailer. The Trackhawk takes care of all such extremes, with a 7,200-pound towing capability, and console-switch controllable drive modes that can alter the all-wheel-drive system to your desires.

   For example, the “automatic” setting adapts like a normal Grand Cherokee, with a torque split measuring 40 percent front/60 percent rear. If you switch to “sport,” the vehicle changes to a more enthusiast mode, with 50-percent reduced shift times, tightened suspension, firmed-up steering, enabled steering-wheel paddle shifters, and a 35-front/65-rear torque split.

   Switch to “track” and transmission shift times are reduced 68 percent from the auto setting to 160 milliseconds, and the four-wheel drive, suspension firmness, stability control and steering convert to ultimate track performance, with a 30/70 front/rear torque split.

   If you are passing up a trip to the track in exchange for hauling a fishing boat, you switch to “tow” and the torque delivery becomes more moderate with better smoothness and suspension settings combat pitch and yaw, while the power switches to a 60-percent front/40-percent rear dispersal.

   Those of us in the Great White North will most appreciate the “snow” setting, which maximizes traction with reduced engine power and a 50/50 torque split.

   If that isn’t enough, there is a “custom” mode that allows selecting favored settings for the various elements to create a customized combination.

   With all that designed to go, the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk will also stop with remarkable suddenness and smoothness with a large Brembo braking system, with bright yellow calipers shining through those lightweight black alloy wheels, hauling down the Trackhawk in only 114 feet from 60 mph.

   When Jeep first produced a high-powered Grand Cherokee, we got to drive it across Texas Hill Country from Austin to the Circuit of the Americas, the road-racing course that now houses the U.S. Grand Prix Formula 1 race. This time we drove from Portland, Maine, on some wonderfully curvy rural highways to Club Motorsports, a new road-racing facility near Ossipee, N.H.

With flat cornering and unlimited power, Trackhawk masters New Hampshire road-racing track.

   While the track wasn’t yet open for public operation, it is the same course where I got to give the Challenger GT all-wheel-drive its first drive in ice and snow conditions. We only used a small part of the track back in late winter, but this time we were turned loose on the whole 2.5-mile track, which has 15 turns and a stunning 250 feet of elevation changes, including 14-percent grades on some of the hills.

   Course officials had set out some rows of cones to guide us where to turn in at some locations, and Jeep arranged for some drivers familiar with the course to ride along with the media types.    

   Like the Hellcat and Demon, the Trackhawk includes changeabi

Trackhawk’s 6.2-liter Hemi V8 is a marvel of strengthening and elevating technology to 707 horsepower.

nstruments, with one selection letting you set it to launch control. With this engaged, you can run the revs up to near ear-splitting, and the car won’t move as a dashboard timer counts down 5-4-3-2-. When you go, the thrust is incredible, pushing you back in the firm bucket seat. Transmission, fuel feed and all systems await the precise time to launch and when you do, the instruments measure your 0-30, 0-60, quarter-mile and any other time-span you set, and it even measures your reaction time.

   Lest anyone think the Trackhawk is a toy, it isn’t. It just happens to incorporate all the necessities of real-world drag racing, with all the parts reinforced and coordinated. The engine block, pistons, crankshaft, connecting rods, cylinder heads, exhaust valves, supercharger with electronic bypass and charge-air coolers — everything is designed for all-out performance.

Cooling air ducts replace foglights to assure the track, and not the engine, do the sizzling.

   The Trackhawk does not give you foglights, because where the foglights are on the other Grand Cherokees, the Trackhawk has air intakes to serve the engine and supercharger. None of that intrudes on the tried-and-true Jeep characteristics such as Quadra-Trac on-demand four-wheel drive with electronic limited-slip rear differential and a full-time active transfer case — all of which, including the rear differential, are reinforced and upgraded to extreme performance standards.

   The full suite of safety items, such as adaptive cruise control with auto-stop, advanced brake assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross detection, forward collision warning and mitigation, front and rear park assist, lane departure warning and ready-alert braking are incorporated to make the Trackhawk either the safest all-out performer, or the highest-performing safety vehicle. It also, of course, includes the latest connectivity stuff like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, as well as UConnect and 8.4-inch display with touchscreen, and roadside assistance.

    On top of all that, the Trackhawk appearance is eye-catching, with its stance and aggressive demeanor given subtle but definite hints, such as the quad tailpipes, and the special wheels. For those uncompromising souls who want the baddest SUV in the world, the Trackhawk is the only prospect. Or maybe you’re just a normal person who won’t ever approach a race track, but have an incurable desire to tow a 7,200-pound trailer…really fast.


New elongated Tiguan springs from VW for 2018

July 26, 2017 by · Comments Off on New elongated Tiguan springs from VW for 2018
Filed under: New car introductions, Autos 

Tiguan remains in the VW family, but 2018 brings new and larger Tiguan.

DENVER, Colorado

   Just west of Denver, the Rocky Mountains rise from the Mile High City’s 5,280 feet to peaks jutting more than 10,000 feet into the sky. They can be traversed by twisting roads up to and along the Continental Divide, but you do it with care, and you’d best have a vehicle that handles with great precision.

    What better place for Volkswagen to introduce its new 2018 Tiguan? After all, a Tiger, or an Iguana, could make that climb with ease, and legend has it that back in the days when VW assigned real-world elements to its vehicles — Golf for gulf wind, Jetta for jetstream, Scirocco for desert wind, etc. — somebody decided that the first stubby and squarish sport-utility vehicle might best be named by combining the stealth of the tiger and the lizard-like maneuverability of the iguana.

   Far as we could tell, there were no tigers, nor iguanas, out cavorting in the 98-degree heat during our wave of the global launch of the all-new Tiguan. But that’s OK; the new Tiguan handled every road-challenging turn and switchback with great poise and delivered impressive power and fuel economy both on the way up and coming back down to our base at the Halcyon Hotel in suburban Cherry Creek.

   My driving partner was a fellow we’ll call Wayne, an incurable devotee to fuel efficiency. He slows down a block away when he sees a street light turn red ahead, so that he can avoid gas-robbing stop-and-goes, where moderate speed can allow him to continue forward. He also doesn’t exceed the speed limits on suburban steets, causing others in our group to line up behind us in frustration.

   But when we partner, I find myself driving more rationally, and trying to also maximize fuel efficiency even while using more burst of power to exercise a vehicle’s handling capabilities. We both like to stop and shoot photos at scenic spots. So this was a good match.  

At ease along the Continental Divide or the streets of Denver, the new Tiguan impresses.

   The night before our drive, we gathered at the hotel’s penthouse suite for a buffet dinner that was outstanding. It was there we heard some other journalists who had just finished the previous wave grumbling about the Tiguan’s lack of power and boring ride characteristics. We were not anticipating anything outstanding, but the Tiguan delivered exactly that in surprising quantities.

   I never disliked the original Tiguan, stubby and square though it is, it just seemed to lack the style brought about by the new explosion of compact crossover SUVs.

   After all these years, this will be the first renovation of the Tiguan, and the old Tiguan will continue to be built for the near future as the Tiguan Limited. Every company making SUVs are now caught up in the craze to make smaller and more compact models, and here is Volkswagen, already with a reasonable compact, choosing to build a larger one.

    The new one is 10.7 inches longer and it fits on VW’s excellent new MQB platform, a modular chassis that can house every car and SUV with a transverse engine design. The side-mounted engine at the front of the new Tiguan is the familiar 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, except it is entirely new. VW’s engineers are always creating new concepts in engine building. They have made a 2.0 for decades and it has served the company well in all manner from efficient to the screaming powerplant of the GTI. More recently, VW added a 1.8-liter engine that was a downsized derivative of the 2.0.

   And one year ago, VW came out with a superb new 1.4-liter turbo that is the first of an entirely new high-tech family of engines. So when I learned the Tiguan would have a 2.0, I had to ask Mark Gillies if this one was an enlarged version of the 1.4 or a redone version of the old 2.0.

    “It actually is a revised version of the EA 888 — the old 2.0,” said Gilles, senior manager of production and technology for Volkswagen of America. “It is called the ‘Butack’ engine, named after the engineer who designed it with a revised Miller-cycle system that closes the intake valves early, increasing combustion time, and allos the variable cams to open longer and wider when you need more power.”

   There is another example of VW engineering genius. With new engines seeming to aim at replacing old ones, VW keeps the old ones around back in the laboratory where an engineer named Butack might find the time to extract a whole new future for it. Read more

Versatile Elantras even challenge Sonata

July 26, 2017 by · Comments Off on Versatile Elantras even challenge Sonata
Filed under: New car introductions, Autos 
As Hyundai makes the midsize Sonata larger, the Elantra grows into a versatile array of fun and sporty hatchbacks.

Compact Elantra Sport GT grows into sporty competitor with midsize entries.

By John Gilbert


    Hyundai has never gotten the acclaim it deserves for shattering convention in the placid realm of midsize autos, forcing all competitors to revise their concepts as well as their cars and powertrains. It was in 2010 that Hyundai brought out the 2011 Sonata, as its conveyance to elite status in the auto world

   It had dramatic new styling, with contours covering both sides and a sleek shape overall; a new 2.4-liter engine with an expensive and efficient direct-injection system that could attain 40 miles per gallon at freeway speeds; a body that, while shapely, was amazingly strong because of the predominance of high-strength steel; new house-built 6-speed stick and automatic transmissions; and all in a less-expensive package than more dominant midsize Accord, Camry, Mazda6, Altima, Malibu and Fusion.


Sonata gains new front, rear and overall refinement for 2018.

That car thrust Hyundai into a previously unattained status in the car business, and forced competitors to shake out of their complacent lethargy and realize there were better ways to build cars and engines. Several updates and revisions have followed, raising the segment dwellers substantially for their 2017 models, with more to come in 2018.

   While all of the midsize competitors have improved greatly in recent years, the smaller compact cars also have grown up and now boast remarkable improvements

   At Hyundai, that means the last compact Elantra that came out, in 2015, has moved up in station to challenge the larger midsize stalwarts.

   With that, we drop in out of the friendly skies to visit Torrey Pines Resort in La Jolla, California, .a suburb of San Diego that also includes a world-class golf course, along the Pacific coastline. It is a wonderful resort, and it is not far down the Coast from Hyundai’s U.S. base offices. That made it convenient as the site for waves of automotive media to experience the first  drives of both the 201 Sonata, and the 2018 Elantra Sport and GT.

Sporty from the front, the Elantra Sport retains the versatility of a hatchback wagon.

   Hyundai gave the Sonata the leadoff slot as the flagship of the company’s identity in the U.S. market, and we had to wait until the next day to examine and drive the Elantra Sport and GT. That was intriguing, because the Sonata, looking more luxurious than ever and with refined driving capabilities, is really a well-crafted mid-cycle update, with stylish new front and rear designs, while the Elantra Sport and GT are entirely new.

   We can introduce both of them together, but add the caution that you may be lured into the Hyundai dealership by the roomy and stylish Sonata, but do not overlook the equally flashy and conveniently sized Elantra, Elantra Sport, and Elantra GT.

   My preference always has favored midsize cars, but as midsize cars grow in size to now approach full-size vehicles in roominess and luxury, the compacts have slyly grown too, and now are pretty much the size you may prefer in your quest for a midsize car.


Stylishly sleek, the Elantra Sport GT is quick, handles well, and got over 40 mpg in the mountains.

The Elantra came out early in this calendar year, and the Elantra Eco, with a new-generation 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, followed in April. The Elantra GT comes next, available about November, and it will be the prize of the litter for folks who appreciate sporty driving and vehicles that respond well to sporty input.  At a base price of $21,650, the Elantra Sport is a strong value for bargain shoppers still craving some fun in their driving

   Any question of the Elantra GT’s credentials are eliminated by realizing it began life as the i30 in Europe, a sporty hatchback that likes to take on the Golf GTI and the hottest Ford Focus ST — with a sizzling turbo 2.0 that produces either 247 or 271 horsepower, both with 260 foot-pounds of torque.  The best way to get the Elantra GT is the GT Sport package, which takes a large step up from the everyday Elantra GT. The U.S. version of the Elantra GT has the 2.0 engine without the turbocharger and with 162 horsepower at 6,200 RPMs, and 150 foot-pounds of torque at 4,700. It comes with either a 6-speed stick or 6-speed automatic.

    The GT Sport parlays the 1.6-liter turbo 4 — my favorite — with a standard 6-speed stick or a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission and paddles. That package has 201 horses at 6,000 revs, and 195 foot-pounds of torque from 1,500-4,500 RPMs. The GT Sport also has multilink rear suspension and 18-inch wheels, compared to the torsion beam rear suspension and 17s in the Elantra GT.


Various Elantra interior choices include surprising luxury with a sporty flair.

Strangely, there are some items available on the GT Sport that are unavailable on the Elantra GT, such as blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic, lane change assist, lane keep assist, smart cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and high beam assistance. Both vehicles have stability control, traction control, hill-start assist brake assist and rearview camera.

   More curiously, while the Sonata has discontinued the very impressive panoramic sunroof for 2018, but the Elantra GT and Sport will offer it. The Sport has more bolstered bucket seats up front. The cars are built using 53 percent high-strength steel, leading to an 18 percent increase in the GT’s torsional rigidity, and the GT Sport is 22 percent more rigid and 61 pounds lighter than the previous model, with under-car cladding to improve aerodynamics to a 0.30 cd.

   Driving on a hot day in the California mountains, we appreciated finding ventilated front buckets with cool air coursing through the seats. And the Infinity audio system has seven speakers and a subwoofer with plenty of power.

   Along with all the contemporary connectivity devices and outlets, the remote start can be programmed into your smartphone, which can also turn on your rear defroster on cold mornings. The smart cruise has full stop-start, and there’s a driver attention assist as well.

    We drove pretty hard and appreciated the precise feedback and curve-tracking capability of the Elantra GT and Sport GT, which put its quick-revving 1.6 turbo to good use. Hyundai estimates its previous 40-percent stick shift sales might be reduced to 20-40 percent, but that’s still high these days. The company also projects 15 percent of Elantra buyers will take the turbo, leaving 85 percent the rest of the line.   

Smooth and open interior styling of the new Sonata includes large video screen.

Statistically, the Elantra GT and Sport will have to take on a crowded compact field. The Elantra GT’s 55.1 cubic feet of interior storage will handle that well, compared to the Civic’s 46.2, Chevrolet Cruze 47.2, Mazda3 47.1, Focus 43.9 and Golf 52.7. One other interesting stat: We drove hard over the mountain roads and registered a surprising 41 miles per gallon

   The Elantra is competitive enough that it might also challenge the larger and more profitable Sonata in overall room, as well as handling and performance. The lighter Elantra is 170.9 inches long compared to the Sonata 191.1; Elantra wheelbase is 104.3 inches to 110.4; width 70.7 to 73.4; and height 57.7 to the Sonata’s 58.1. That sounds like a big difference, but the Elantra Sport front and rear headroom is close to Sonata’s: legroom is 3 inches less front and 0.8 inches less in the rear, while shoulder room is also close, 56.2 inches front and 55.4 rear to the Sonata’s 57.9 front and 56.5 rear. The overall interior space is 121.4 in the Elantra to 122.4 in the Sonata.

Latest redesign of the Sonata’s nose shows subtle attempt at being sportier.

  Comparing designs of the 2018 Sonata and Elantra Sport makes it evident that the Sonata is intending to move upscale, and at that, it has the style, technology and roomy comfort to carry it off. The Elantra Sport, meanwhile, becomes a viable choice for a few thousand less, almost the same roominess, and the adventuresome look of the hatchback.

    The larger midsize cars seem the most squeezed by the current rush to SUVs. New models of Accord and Camry have tried to catch the superb Mazda6 and jacked up the segment, and now into the midst of it all comes the seventh-generation Sonata, as a 2018 model.

   When the 2011 Sonata breakthrough hit, it was very popular but drew criticism from skeptics who thought the curvaceous bodywork would be too trendy and might look old before its time. That was an erroneous theory, because while Hyundai scrambled to go back to more conservative designs in every revision, and it now looks quite generic — next to the still-distinctive 2011 Sonatas, which stand out as exclusive and readily recognizable.

   For the 2018 refreshing, Hyundai hired Edward Lee, a young designer who had been working at Lexus. He said his task was a mission statement, “to create an instant ‘Wow!‘ factor.” Lee added that, “We aimed for a striking design starting with the side, where the shape starts low, from the tension of the nose.

   “The front and rear have a new, upright athletic appearance. My favorite views are the front corner, where the contour lines come across the hood and angle down to the outer edges of our cascade grille, and a high view of the rear corner, which is much cleaner and emphasizes the car’s width and have a fresh, modern look, in what might be called horizontal elements in vertical arrangement. I like the way the lines, which connect the headlights and sweep back, all meet at the taillights.”

    Lee confided that he, too, liked the look of the 2011 Sonata, and while he stopped short of saying he was attempting to reverse the trend, he acknowledged his first assignment for Hyundai was to make the Sonata more exciting.

   John Shon, the senior product planning manager, talked about the signature cascade grille, which consists of horizontal bars aligned just right to amplify the hexagonal grille opening. With the broad horizontal top edge, then a short upper side bar, tapering down along longer lower side moldings to the bottom bar, the cascade term refers to the way molten steel flows out and downward. That, too, has meaning, because Hyundai is the only auto-maker that owns its own steel plant, which is why its cars are loaded with the costliest — and safest — high-strength steel.   

My partner and I drove a Sonata Limited with the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, and it handled the terrain and the curves of the mountain roads just east of La Jolla very well. After lunch in the mountain-area town of Julian, we switched to the Sport, with the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. And proved conclusively that the quicker-revving engine, wider wheels and Michelin tires made a big improvement in handling and performance.

Sonata has a clean, classic style from the rear corner for 2018.

The range of Sonatas consists of the base SE 2.4 ($22,050 base price); the Eco 1.6-turbo ($22,650); the SEL 2.4 ($23,700); the SEL Tech 2.4 ($24,700); the Sport 2.4 ($25,200); the Limited 2.4 ($27,400); the Limited Ultimate 2.4 ($30,300); the Sport 2.0t ($27,600); and the Limited Sport 2.0t ($32,450).

   The 2.4 is naturally aspirated with direct injection — the engine that put Hyundai on the international map as the joint venture still used by Fiat-Chrysler and Mitsubishi — and delivers a solid 185 horsepower at 6,000 RPMs and 178 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 RPMs. The 2.0-turbo has 245 horsepower at 6,000 RPMs, and 260 foot-pounds at a steady flow from 1,350 to 4,000 RPMs. And the 1.6-liter turbo has 178 horsepower at 5,500 RPMs, and 195 foot-pounds from 1,500-4,500 RPMs.

    The 2.4 comes with a 6-speed automatic, built by Hyundai, and the 2.0 turbo comes with the company’s upgraded 8-speed automatic, and both have Shiftronic to allow manual overrides. The 1.6-turbo has a higher-tech 7-speed dual-clutch automatic in the Eco, which will be out later this year.  Hybrid and plug-in hybrid models will come out next year.

Sportiest Sonata models share the confluence of lines that all point towasrd the cascade grille.

   I liked the Sonata 2.0-Sport because it had paddles on the 8-speed automatic, and coming down from the mountains the paddles allowed me to drop down to fifth, fourth, or even third, and negotiate switchbacks without excessive braking. There was some excessive braking at one point, when a line of about 20 cars was stopped for a lengthy delay because of a rockslide that had come down from the bluff to our left and covered the two-lane highway. We didn’t mind pausing to let them clear that mess.

     The Sonatas are built mostly at Hyundai’s Montgomery, Ala., plant, and at first, we assumed that was the more newsworthy. But the smaller Elantra was bigger news one day later, and unless I miss my guess, it will captivate you the same way in the showroom.


Volvo’s new XC60 might prove less is more

July 10, 2017 by · Comments Off on Volvo’s new XC60 might prove less is more
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 

The midsize Volvo XC60 expands on the successful features of the XC90.

By John Gilbert


     Driving in Spain is a colorful adventure that I had experienced once before, so I felt somewhat familiar during the global auto media’s first opportunity to drive Volvo’s new XC60, the all-new midsize derivative of its superb XC90 SUV.

    Volvo stressed the quick and agile handling of the smaller and lighter vehicle with the same powertrain as the larger XC90, which collaborated with Spain’s freeway exits to  instantly become more concise than words could describe.

    On the North American side of the Atlantic, our freeway exits are usually pretty straightforward — you see the exit and veer onto it, heading for another freeway. In Spain, the freeway system was added to centuries-old cities and rural regions, so it’s a little trickier. Often, you head onto an exit and find it immediately splits right and left. I learned this on my first driving trip to Spain, for the splendid S90 Volvo sedan.

   On this trip, our total test drive route was programmed into the navigation setting of our T6 all-wheel drive XC60, so we were informed of upcoming moves by a “Nav Lady,” whom we shall refer to as a “Nav Seniorita” for the sake of geographic accuracy. I drove first, so my co-driver/passenger — a Californian who shall be called “Billy” — could check out the wonderful scenery along and just inland from the Mediterranean without worrying about directions.

Reduced length eliminates third-row seat, but the XC60 has adequate room inside.

   Our next exit was to the right and our Nav Seniorita said: “Prepare to keep right and take the next exit, then immediately keep left.” As I pulled into the right lane, she said, “Take the next exit.” Smoothly and at about 80 kilometers per hour I eased off onto the exit. Then with what seemed like urgency the Nav Seniorita said: “Now keep left!”

   You don’t want to miss an exit in the Land of Roundabouts, so I abruptly swerved back to the left of the exit barrier, and as the XC60 easily cleared the barrier, but Billy said, “No! Stay right!”

   I swerved very abruptly back to the right, still missing the barrier with ease and getting back onto the exit, as the XC60 held its attitude with more poise than its driver, who might have been reflecting the adrenaline rush rising to max. I spotted the split immediately ahead and stayed left, making it smoothly.

   I was impressed that I had reacted instantaneously twice, with two very abrupt left-right swerves at highway speed, and more impressed that the XC60 got it right-on, even while our Nav Seniorita was a bit premature with her counter-direction. The vehicle carried out my impulses without any squeals of complaint or any hint of body roll.

   Inadvertent or not, it’s always nice to get a real-world example of a vehicle’s features rather than just to accepting marketing claims. We believed them when they talked about the lighter and smaller XC60 having better agility than the XC90, because in totally revising the XC60, Volvo took the XC90’s SPA — Scalable Product Architecture — shortened it, and installed the same high-tech powertrains from the XC90 with all-new suspension stuff. Read more

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