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.

Corsair joins Lincoln SUV realm

April 19, 2020 by · Comments Off on Corsair joins Lincoln SUV realm
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos, Uncategorized 

By John Gilbert
Two or three years ago, if Ford Motor Company eliminated its luxury Lincoln brand we might not have been surprised, because only the king-sized Navigator seemed to be successful for Lincoln, and it was basically a Ford Expedition with bling.

Classic grille lifts Corsair above midsize nborm of SUVs.

But in the space of one year, here we are evaluating — and praising — the third of three Lincoln SUVs all of which have carved out prominent places in the hierarchy of U.S. luxury sports-utility vehicles.

The new Navigator was deserving of high praise, and it was followed, barely a month ago, by a review of the entirely new Aviator, which I declared might be the best of U.S. luxury SUVs with its exceptional 3-row luxury as well as performance, tucked inside an extremely stylish exterior. And now, along comes the Corsair — Lincoln’s stylish example of what a compact, 2-row SUV can be, when a company puts its unrestricted mind to it.

Shaprely oin silhouette. the Corsair is a 2-row SUV with luxury and performance.

As someone who tries to be as objective as possible in evaluating any and all new vehicles, I had to admit the Navigator was bigger and heftier than I would choose, but its upscale luxury features made me realize why high-buck buyers would be drawn to it. The Aviator came wrapped in sheet metal that was attractively styled and the interior was loaded to the hilt with luxury pieces that made it expensive, but reasonably compact for a family that needed a 3-row SUV and still wanted something sporty and with surprising performance.

The Lincoln Corsair, on the other hand, fits like a glove my personal preferences for a compact SUV with adequate room for four or five and some baggage in its 2-row configuration, and it puts its tight and sleek styling to work in a sporty package that maneuvers easily, turns in a tight-circle u-turn, and will scat and run with the quickest of the compact SUVs. The competition is ferocious in the compact SUV realm, where Ford’s Escape is one of the standard bearers, and faces the likes of the Toyota RX4, Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, BMW X3 and numerous others, from virtually every manufacturer.

Since everybody seems to want an SUV these days, it makes sense that the majority of buyers might want to keep it compact when choosing, hoping to get improved fuel economy and making it easier to lure some performance out of smaller powertrains. The Corsair meets both ends of that bargain, delivering nearly 30 miles per gallon and still delivering some starch when you hit the gas.

Turbocharging is responsible for the compromise, with both Corsair engines, Ford’s 2.0 and 2.3-liter 4-cylinders gaining power from the forced-air feed of the turbos. The test-vehicle I drove was the loaded model, with a 2.3-liter turbo delivering a potent 295 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds of torque. That gives it about a one-second edge over the 2.0, with its 250 horses and 280 foot-pounds, in a 0-60 dash.

Back-up view switches to include 360-degree safety.

Taking a page out of Aviator’s book, the Corsair doesn’t have as flashy a dashboard design, but it does have similar bucket seats, with excellent support and 24-way power adjustability, with a curvaceous design that puts it up at the top of its class for comfort. The smooth leather seats have push-button heating and cooling ventilation, and add the therapeutic massage feature of its bigger siblings.

Lincolns have traditionally swiped the best features from Ford vehicles, and the Corsair wasn’t about to let the flashy new Escape get away with all its stuff, starting with its new and unique platform. The Corsair rides comfortably on the Escape chassis, which is firm in design which aids stability and sporty but safe handling. In its previous round of vehicles, Lincoln had the MKC sedan, which was nice, attractive, but was not an SUV.

The Corsair has the slightly taller stance and all-wheel drive, with all that high-end interior equipment and it is an SUV, retaining its flair for utility, even if compact and eye-catching.

One thing that takes a bit of getting used to is the shifter. Eliminating the console stalk to select gears gives occupants a bit more room, and Lincoln resists the temptation to go with the current and trendy norm of a rotating dial. Instead, on your first time inside and behind the wheel, you might spend a few minutes searching before you spot the location, just under the ledge of the center stack, where push buttons can activate reverse or drive or neutral to control the 8-speed automatic. Only problem, you can’t really see the buttons, so it helps if you know where they are.

On first try, you can play “find the shifter,” for the push-buttons under the center stack ledge.

If the front buckets are supremely comfortable, and encapsulate you as if in a cocoon, the rear seats will slide to add to the quite roomy comfort in the rear. And it helps all the seats that the sunroof is one of those full, panoramic roofs that seems to open the whole ceiling to the outside.

Both models of the Corsair offer all-wheel drive, with the more basic model starting at about $39,000 and the upgraded Reserve model starting at almost $46,000. My test vehicle came loaded up with nearly $15,000 in optional equipment and packages, reaching over $62,000, which maintains its $6,000-$8,000 price status above the base model.

Among all those upgrades are some serious luxury touches, such as LED lights for added brightness in every application. Headlights, taillights and foglights are all LEDs, and it even has what are called approach lights, which give you a little lighted grid on the ground outside the doors to make sure you realize you’re getting into the right vehicle.

I’ve always been an advocate of getting the smallest vehicle that is big enough, and the Corsair is the perfect example of what I was getting at. It will do everything larger SUVs will do, but with the added convenience of agility and maneuverability in traffic and congested driving.

As for the styling, the Corsair has a lot of cues from the larger Aviator, with that distinctive Lincoln grille fitted in between the headlight fixtures, and a side view featuring contour lines blending into the sheet metal on both sides, and large, stylish alloy wheels, with dual exhausts. A nice added touch on the rear is a horizontal taillight that runs the full width of the vehicle and makes a distinctive impression on anyone approaching from the rear, or coming upon a parked Corsair.

Note the dual exhaiusts and the full-width taillights.

Built to slide, the rear seats offer comfort and added fold-down storage flexibility.

Maybe most people choose more compact SUVs because they cost less, but if things keep going the direction of the Corsair, we might have to start paying more to get all that styling into a smaller package.

TC Auto Show to feature Truck Summit

November 16, 2019 by · Comments Off on TC Auto Show to feature Truck Summit
Filed under: Equinox, Weekly test drives, Features, Autos, Uncategorized 

Ford has reintroduced the Ranger midsize pickup, which will make the rounds of auto shows for 2020.

By John Gilbert
If you are able to attend any of the world’s major auto shows — such as Frankfurt, Geneva, Paris, Japan, or the Big Four in the U.S., Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Detroit — the magnitude is amazing. But that doesn’t mean the smaller population centers are any less intense in their interest. And most of them aren’t that small.

That interest in Minnesota will ride a new idea, armed with an impressive economic impact study that shows the auto show may have a financial impact on the region of $19 million every year, with a nine-day run that makes its earnings greater than the Super Bowl or the Final Four.

If you don’t care about the huge congestion at the Big Four shows, you might be able to calm down and enjoy the Twin Cities show., which runs from March 7-15.

A young enthusiast was mesmerized watching drivers take on the Jeep off-road demonstration at the Twin Cities Show.

My fondest memory of the Twin Cities Auto Show came a few years ago, while taking a pre-opening run through the displays at the Minneapolis Convention Center. There was a Jeep display, where a huge hill had been formed and rides were given to show how steep an incline, and descent, the new Jeeps could handle, which was better than some state fair thrill rides. As I watched the demonstration, there in the foreground was a kid, exactly the kind of kid who might spend his spare time playing with a model truck in his backyard sandbox, and he stood there, transfixed as he gazed at the Jeep going up and over.

That was a couple years ago, and I should have realized then exactly why our country, and particularly our state, had started on a transition from cars to trucks.

It has happened, of course. And when the Twin Cities Auto Show opens March 7, 2020, the focus will be on its Truck Summit on March 6 to break down the reasons for the shift.

Chevrolet brings back the Blazer — old name, all-new SUV.

There are a lot of other significant vehicles that will fill the huge site, with particular emphasis on the emerging electric car phenomenon that could change the world’s auto industry. But there also will be dozens of trucks, from Ford, Ram, Chevrolet, Toyota, Nissan, Honda for pickups and all the newest SUVs and crossovers being shown by virtually all manufacturers.

Sleek lines set off the all-new Lincoln Aviator, another old name redone.

We are fast closing in on the start of the U.S. major auto show season, which begins later with the Los Angeles show in late November, and continues with Chicago in February, New York in April, and Detroit in June. The Detroit date is the major departure, because it always has been in early January, but has shifted to summertime.

A lot of people in the auto industry are curious and anxious about that shift, moving the traditional mid-winter Detroit exposition to summer, and the anxiety is because a number of hard-core auto observers are concerned that the once-heralded major shows have faded in the intensity of interest by both auto makers and consumers. The question for us in Minnesota is, where does all that leave us, here in flyover land?

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September 19, 2018 by · Comments Off on sportshort
Filed under: Uncategorized 

What happened last night in sports up north.

CR-V adds turbo power to stay on top

June 28, 2017 by · Comments Off on CR-V adds turbo power to stay on top
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos, Uncategorized 

Honda’s CR-V compact crossover SUV keeps improving, now with turbo power.

By John Gilbert

   If you know folks who own a Honda CR-V, chances are they love it. And, chances are it might be four or five years old, or older, and they still love it.

   The CR-V has been an enduring vehicle for Honda, helping establish the trend toward compact SUVs, which proved immensely popular when gasoline was expensive, and have continued their upsurge in popularity even when gasoline became cheap.

   With the new 2017 CR-V, Honda has made so many changes that its left even popular auto magazines in the distance. Take Motor Trend, for example. That magazine runs annual editions that run little capsule descriptions of all the new cars, trucks, and SUVs. It is very helpful if you’re looking at buying a new vehicle, because it helps with the research and cuts down the usual comparison shopping chore.

    That issue came out last October. In its capsules, it ran pieces on the all-new Ridgeline, the Pilot, the Odyssey van, the HR-V, and the CR-V. Under CR-V, it says: “The CR-V remains unchanged. All CR-Vs are powered by a 185 horsepower 2.4-liter inline-4…”

    I got the chance to spend a week with a new 2017 CR-V, and it was remarkably peppy and handled extremely well, and it had quite a different look to it. Unchanged? I think it is greatly changed.

CR-V’s thorough new design has flashier exterior and luxury interior.

  Believing Motor Trend, I didn’t bother to look under the hood for several days. The CR-V ran well, handling all weather conditions, and seemed to uphold the tradition of being a new halo vehicle for Honda. Finally, I raised the hood. Sure enough, there was no 2.4-liter engine in sight — instead, it was a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder, with a turbocharger hanging onto the engine. 

    Honda is not new to turbocharging, and in fact has some progressive engineers who have established breakthrough technology with some previous turbos on vehicles such as the Acura RD-X. And Honda has used turbos to extremes while fiddling at the highest echelon of motorsports, places such as the Indianapolis 500 and Formula 1.  

Ergonomics always have been a staple of CR-V design and the new one doesn’t vary.

Honda had resisted the temptation to add turbochargers to its mainstream production vehicles. Turbos take a stream of exhaust gases that are headed for the tailpipes, and instead channels the flow to spin a generator turbine wheel that, in turn, force-feeds a more potent airflow into the engine’s intake. That air sucks in more fuel, and the result is more power and more efficiency.

   The new CR-V, changed quite dramatically, thank you, is also changed under the hood. Instead of a 2.4-liter that produces 185 horsepower, the comparatively tiny 1.5 develops a quite amazing 190 horsepower and 179 foot-pounds of torque, thanks to the turbo.

    While it feels light and agile (because it is!), the CR-V also has improved fuel efficiency, up to EPA ratings of 26 miles per gallon city, and 32 mpg in highway driving. All the while feeling quicker and more agile.


All controls are within fingertip reach from the driver’s standpoint.

Other more subtle tricks include a more aerodynamic shape amplified by  an active-shutter grille, which closes at cruising speed, when cooling isn’t needed, to form a barrier against air streaming in.

    Honda now has bracketed the CR-V with an all-new larger Pilot, which is a truly full-featured luxury SUV now, and a smaller and more basic HR-V, which I was slightly disappointed in, but only because I was accustomed to the CR-V and the high standards it had set and maintained.

   The new CR-V comes in various forms, starting with the LX at a base price of just over $26,000; the EX starting at $26,695; the EX-L (meaning leather upholstery) starting at $29,000; and the Touring model, starting at $32,000. The base LX starts with a front-wheel drive version, which should handled even Duluth type winter driving without difficulty. But the available all-wheel drive is the trick answer, because it is a “real-time” system that transfers torque away from any wheel where any tendency to spin is detected by the sharp-witted computer.


Compact on the outside, the CR-V is spacious on the inside.

Stressing its safety and creature-feature style, the CR-V has Honda Sensing, which includes a suite of items such as lane-keep assist, collision mitigation, and road-departing mitigation which use computer aided technology to alert you if you wander across a lane-dividing line without signaling, and can be set to gently prevent you from wandering across that lane line.

   Honda also has added the trick first developed by Ford for its Escape, where you can walk up to the CR-V from behind, holding your sacks of groceries, and wave your foot under the rear bumper, causing the tailgate to unlatch and open. Very handy.

   The interior of the CR-V is upgraded too, although I’d like to make a strong suggestion to Honda to be careful how they “improve” their controls and switchgear.

     My favorite feature of all Hondas is that they tend to have ergonomically perfect instruments and controls, meaning that you reach for something and it’s there. Even if you’ve never been in the vehicle, the lights are right where you think they should be, same with the wipers.

    In recent model changeovers, however, there seems to be the tendency to make some items a bit more complex. Don’t do that! The CR-V still has logical redundant switches on the steering wheel, and you can pretty well operate everything from there.

    Otherwise, you can operate the audio system’s technical complexities via the large navigation screen, which includes touch-screen operation. Personally, I’m not a fan of touch-screens. Seems to me, after three or four days, you need some high-tech stuff to clean the fingerprints off the touch-screen.


Nothing has changed more than the grille on each CR-V generation, and this time the stylists got it right.

Especially if you’ve stopped by the Great Lakes! Candy Shop in Knife River, and got overly friendly with some of those home-made caramel things. Let’s see you try to make it all the way home without sampling some of the goodies, after which you need some high-test washer fluid to clean the touch-screen.

    As for the prices of the CR-V stable, each model offers all the features of the previous model, plus some added stuff. So the prices go up commensurately and each level seems to be a relative bargain. And while the basic LX is in the mid-$20,000 range, the completely loaded Touring model might reach the mid-$30,000 level. My favorite is the EX-L, because I like leather seats, and I’d pay extra for them, as well as the other features that model adds.

    And so as not to embarrass anyone at Motor Trend, we’ll keep it a secret as we jump at that 1.5-liter turbo with its CVT, accepting power increases over the 2.4, as well as delivering fuel economy of over 30 mpg on the highway.

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