Featured Reviews
The long-awaited Focus RS finally brings turbo and AWD version to U.S.

RS gives U.S. buyers new Focus on fun

Ford has always given Europe a hot Focus compact, but never brought it into the U.S. until finally letting us see what all the fuss was about with the Focus RS.

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Alfa's new Stelvio Ti flashes familiar face, but it is a high-tech SUV for 2018.

Alfa Romeo Stelvio is properly exotic SUV

Alfa Romeo has built a glorious reputation on passionate sporty cars, and it has adapted its heritage to building the Stelvio, and SUV for S-Curves.

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Corolla celebrates 50th anniversary with style, handling, slick CVT.

Corolla moves on, ahead of new engine

Toyota is in the process of revising and updating its engines, but the Corolla couldn't wait. The 2017 model celebrates the compact's 50th anniversary and it performs well enough

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A pleasing blend of lines and large -- too large? -- wheels make the CX-3 stand out.

Quick, agile CX-3 swaps room for 38+ mpg

Some might say the Mazda CX-3 is too cramped in the rear seat, but even with AWD, its high-pep 2.0 Skyactiv engine can challenge 40 mpg.

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Infiniti QX30 is AWD SUV  with sports car tendencies.

QX30 and Q60 both spell winners

As the prestige arm of Nissan, Infiniti always gets the good stuff, and the new QX30 compact SUV and the Q60 twin-turbo V6 sports coupe are two of the best examples.

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

New elongated Tiguan springs from VW for 2018

If you're a fan of the squarish, stubby Volkswagen Tiguan, don't worry. VW is bringing out a new and longer Tiguan for 2018, but it will also sell the present model alongside it.

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

Versatile Elantras even challenge Sonata

As SUVs intrude on sedan territory, Hyundai introduces two new sedans for 2018, a revised and updated Sonata, and an array of several additions to the enlarged-compact Elantra.

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

Volvo's new XC60 might prove less is more

Volvo's XC90 might be the best large SUV available, but for 2018 Volvo unveils the more compact XC60, built on the same but shorter platform and with the same powertrains.

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Stretching the Soul might be harder to detect than the added zip from its turbo-1.6.

Soul's new turbo model outruns the last cynics

The Kia Soul has always been known as a square little compact, cuddly cute and often filled with stuffed hamsters. For 2017, though, it adds a model with a turbocharged 1.6-liter

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The compact Sentra has a reputation of being boring, but not with its new turbocharged engine.

Compact Rogue, Sentra set tempo for Nissan

Nissan's Rogue crossover is a fixture in the auto world, but the overlooked Sentra compact gets new life for 2017 with a turbocharger in the SR model.

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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

LA JOLLA, CALIF.    

    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

BARCELONA, SPAIN

     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

Soul’s new turbo model outruns the last cynics

July 2, 2017 by · Comments Off on Soul’s new turbo model outruns the last cynics
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The Soul’s slightly stretched form might be harder to detect than the added zip from its turbocharged 1.6.

By John Gilbert

      Maybe some engineer lost a bet, or maybe in a lighthearted moment the more rebellious side of Kia just wanted to do something out of the ordinary. Whatever, the feeling persists that when Kia first introduced the Soul it was intended to be more of a short-term, square gimmick car than a long-term player in the Kia automotive stable.

     But after seeming to almost hurry to get past the square one and on to more significant models like the Optima, Rio, Forte, Sportage and Sorento, the Soul has grown up and acquired a robust personality, and for 2017 it is finally getting some equipment that makes it far more than the square 4-door, which still holds four large adults and a lot of luggage.

   Would you believe the Soul is getting a hot turbocharged 4-cylinder with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission as indications that it is living up to some sort of potential a lot of us never realized it had?  

Stylish lines added to the squarish rear of the Soul encase all sorts of useful interior space.

The Soul ! I test-drove had the Kia-Hyundai corporation’s quick-revving 1.6-liter 4-cylinder, turbocharged, along with the corporate 7-speed dual-cutch transmission, which shifts automatically, as two internal clutches trade off instantaneously engaging the next gear up or down.

    It’s the perfect transmission for the turbo 1.6, which has now become my favorite Hyundai or Kia engine because of its surprising potency, while retaining fuel economy in the mid-30s with gusts to near 40.

   The 1.6 turbo in the Soul ! jumps up to 178 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of torque, converting the vehicle into a sleeper well-deserving of the exclamation point in its name. The basic Soul 1.6 has 130 horsepower and 118 foot-pounds of torque, adequate for a mall-runner maybe. Upgrade to the 2.0 and you get a healthy 164 horses and 154 foot-pounds. The turbo is another story. Read more

Compact Rogue, Sentra set tempo for Nissan

July 2, 2017 by · Comments Off on Compact Rogue, Sentra set tempo for Nissan
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The compact crossover Rogue has subtly become Nissan’s signature vehicle.

By John Gilbert

The automotive media is guilty, and I’m no exception. With all the new cars and SUVs hitting the market, it gets easy to look for the most whiz-bang new stuff and, in the process, wind up overlooking some very deserving new vehicles that do more than just a competent job.

Nissan falls into that category of being overlooked and underrated, so we need to set that straight, focusing on two specific vehicles — the hugely popular Rogue SUV and the vastly underrated Sentra compact sedan.

When it comes to crossover SUVs (CUVs), the Rogue is a favorite of both my wife, Joan, and me. It always has been a tidy design, where everything fits, competing right well against the CR-V and RAV4, and to some occupants fit people better and performed better.

The compact Sentra has a reputation of being boring, but not with its new SR sporty model and its turbocharged engine.

And while the Sentra was only a favorite 20 years ago, when Nissan made a classic sleeper as a hot-rod SE-R, I find the new design a vast improvement, making the Sentra look more like a downsized Maxima-Altima than the soap-carving it used to resemble, and it has made a sly move back to bring to life the SE-R. For 2017, the test drive car I got defied Motor Trend’s premature capsule that lists the listless 1.8-liter engine with 130 horsepower as the only available engine, and came as the SR, with a turbocharged 1.6 instead, boosting it to 188 horsepower and 177 foot-pounds of torque. Read more

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