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2017 Audi RS 3 First Drive: Little Package; Big Boom

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After years of wistful gazing across the pond, reading glowing reviews that use words such as tyres and bonnet, and even being tantalized with a 2011 First Drive ourselves in Europe, Americans will finally be able to throttle one of the most highly anticipated performance cars in recent memory—the Audi RS 3—sort of. “Yeah? What’s so great about it? It looks like an A3 to me.” Remember that silly little ray gun given to Will Smith’s character, Agent J, in Men in Black? Remember what a big boom it made when he finally fired it? It actually had a name, and this is the automotive equivalent of the Noisy Cricket. Little package, big boom. It’s not the nuclear-powered all-wheel-drive hatchback we were hoping for, which was promised at least once by Audi. Instead, our first RS 3 will be a compact high-performance sedan based on the Audi A3, which has been highly rated in its own right since its migration to the excellent MQB platform. Of course, there’s already a more potent S3, so what more could we want? How does one more cylinder and an additional 108 horsepower sound? The RS 3 is an order of magnitude greater than the S3, and not just because of the power rating.


2017 Audi RS 3 front three quarter 02

2017 Audi RS 3 front three quarter 02

We can distinctly remember how outrageous it was when Dodge announced that the 1992 Viper’s 8.0-liter V-10 would produce 400 horsepower. At the time, the highest-output Corvette ZR-1 made 375 horsepower with a quad-cam 5.7-liter V-8. Twenty-five years later, an engine with half the number of cylinders and just over a quarter of its displacement has the same 400-hp output. Sure, 10:1 compression and turbocharging at 19.6 psi (1.35 bar) manifold pressure gets most of the credit for the RS 3’s prodigious 161.3-hp-per-liter power density, but the RS 3’s aluminum 2,480cc inline-five is the culmination of numerous other upgrades above the car’s previous iron block. Incidentally, that power density puts the RS 3 just above a twin-turbo Nissan GT-R (157.9 hp/L) and just below the twin-turbo BMW M4 GTS (165.5 hp/L). The RS 3’s engine is a serious bit of kit. The new engine also features a lighter crank, a magnesium oil pan, port and direct fuel injection, variable valve timing, and, of course, that larger turbocharger. Despite these credentials, it’s a smooth-revving little monster of a motor.

We tested the previous iron-block inline-five turbo (good for 360 hp) in the 2012 Audi TT RS and already compared the new one in the 2017 TT RS to the rally car that changed everything: Audi’s all-wheel-drive Ur-Quattro coupe. Besides the glorious and unique sound of it, especially with the optional sport exhaust system, it’s the linearity of how this new five-cylinder engine puts power down that’s unusual. There’s some barely noticeable initial lag as the single large turbocharger spools up, but from 1,700 to 5,850 rpm, there’s a line as straight as a tabletop that produces a constant 354 lb-ft of torque. If it were possible to squint your ears, you could almost hear a Viper’s V-10. Also, unlike some high-output turbo-fours, power isn’t as peaky and doesn’t even seem to wane at the 7,200-rpm rev limiter. It feels every bit a 400-horsepower engine everywhere above and below the 5,850-rpm peak output.

Porsche’s PDK seven-speed double-clutch automated manual transmission is the undisputed industry benchmark, but the standard seven-speed S Tronic automated manual in the RS 3 is a close second. Its seamless shifts in Drive and Sport Drive, its logic, and its manual-mode’s quickness and smoothness are just about as good as it gets. Yes, it does belch and burp with every wide-open throttle upshift, as it should. We only wish Audi had spent a little more money on the steering wheel–mounted shift paddles. Audi conservatively claims that with the car’s standard launch control, the RS 3 will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds. Phsaw! We’ve already clocked an S3 (9.9 pounds/hp) at 4.4 seconds, so we’re going to say the RS 3 (8.8 pounds/hp est) will do the deed in 3.8 seconds or better when we get one to test.

Twisty Bits

2017 Audi RS 3 front three quarter in motion 1

2017 Audi RS 3 front three quarter in motion 1

Besides the increase in output from 360 to 400 horsepower, one of the biggest benefits of the aluminum engine is the weight savings. Some 57 pounds have been taken off the nose of the car. What this does is make the steering rack’s 14.6:1 overall ratio very alert and responsive. Move the wheel 0.5 inch from center, and the RS 3 goes there right now. As with the best systems, the ratio quickens the more off center the wheel is turned. Our mountain pass drive had a mix of medium- to high-speed corners. In the quick ones, the car felt dead steady and held a line without the need to adjust the steering one bit. If we wanted to tighten the line, we bled throttle. Widen the arc, then add throttle. Part of this is due to torque vectoring with brakes, the other part is just damned good suspension/steering/driveline calibration and obvious integration. At the limit in the slower corners, there is a hint of gentle understeer. However, with the car set in Dynamic drive mode (affecting throttle, transmission, all-wheel drive, and suspension, with RS-specific sport stability control), lifting off the throttle momentarily tucked the nose in and even kicked the tail out. Any rally fan knows the next step was to apply a generous amount of throttle to allow the all-wheel-drive system to do its thing. The Haldex clutch-based system is noticeably rear biased and allows the RS 3 to hold a slight slip angle quite nicely—even more noticeably with ESP fully defeated—but there is always a huge amount of control available.

What a pleasure to drive an all-wheel-drive sedan that isn’t set up merely for slippy, slushy trips to the ski slopes. Although it certainly would be able to sort that out, too, this car is primarily set up to be driven hard in the dry. Rather than mere reactionary response, there’s some proactivity built into the AWD electronics, and it really shows. What a blast, and no doubt a nod to Audi’s Quattro rally-racing glory days.

Standard suspension is front strut/rear multilink with magnetorheological dampers all around. The damping characteristics among Comfort, Normal, and Dynamic modes are very distinct, yet even in Dynamic mode, there’s still a good deal of compliance not present in the optional Dynamic Plus package that uses firmer steel suspension and traditional multivalve dampers. Even in their softest setting, there was some gut-jiggling harshness on less than perfect roads around town. That package is intended to be the track-ready setup and as such also includes carbon-ceramic front disc brakes.

Will it be Worth It?
2017 Audi RS 3 Sportback front three quarter in motion 07

2017 Audi RS 3 Sportback front three quarter in motion 07

Worth the wait? Certainly. We’ve been chomping at the bit since 2011 when the RS 3 was introduced to the rest of the world. There will always be a market here for niche high-performance cars. When the Audi RS 3 sedan arrives this summer, you can bet initially there will be a very high demand for it. Had Audi decided to bring the RS 3 Sportback (four-door hatchback, shown above), our American predilection for sedans might have found fewer takers, and so that will remain overseas for now.

Will it be worth the money? With pricing and packaging still being determined as we write, Audi PR’s best estimate is that the RS 3 will be priced at between $55,000 and $60,000, or about $5,000 to $10,000 more than a comparably equipped S3. This price is right on top of a similarly focused 365-hp 2017 BMW M2 ($55,595) when equipped with a double-clutch automated manual transmission and two fewer doors. The RS 3 will be a bit more expensive than a 375-hp Mercedes-AMG CLA45 4Matic. Even adding adaptive suspension brings that car’s price up to $51,725.

The RS 3 is at least as engaging to drive as an M2, if not more so, and it offers more confidence with all-wheel drive. On a racetrack, the BMW might have a slight edge. On a sketchy mountain road, our money is on the Audi. In terms of everyday practicality and livability, the RS 3 makes the CLA45 look and feel like a project car. Where that Mercedes-AMG feels like a peaky, harsh front-driver with the rear wheels driven as a bolt-on addition, this Audi feels like a powerful rear-drive car with front wheels gnawing at the pavement only to save your bacon.

There’s an overall coherence and competence baked into the entirety of the RS 3 that’s hard to put into words. In this class, there really are few analogues for the Audi RS 3. This is what makes it so special and such a long-coveted addition to the U.S. market. It’s one of those once-in-a-decade performance cars enthusiasts will be talking about for some time. There’s something to be said for the stealthy sleeper sedan look, but we just wish the RS 3 looked as badass as it truly is. If it had blistered/box fenders, a carbon roof, or the Sportback(!), that would be an unmistakable sign that this is no ordinary A3/S3. Regardless, we can’t wait to test one on American tarmac and see what sort of defense the opposition will have for the Noisy Cricket. We’re suspecting not much.

A Little hRStory

Audi corporate builds the A3 and S3, and as such, they must follow rules. Rules that homogenize, rules that keep people comfortable, rules that intend to keep people safe from themselves, and rules that take most but not all of the best fun away. Audi Sport (formerly quattro GmbH), on the other hand, builds only the RS (RennSport) cars, which don’t have these restrictions.

Audi Sport traces its roots back to the discontinued Group B Rally series (too dangerous), disbanded IMSA GTO (too fast), current German NASCAR (or as they call it, the DTM Championship), and an annual French country road race called 24 Heures du Mans. Currently, Audi Sport’s core team of just 140 hand-picked rule-bucking engineers pretty much get to design the engines, chassis, brakes, and other under-the-skin hardware they want and implant them in unsuspecting production cars. As such, they compete with BMW’s M division and Mercedes-AMG for hardcore enthusiasts’ attention and loyalty. (You’ll find German go-fast division loyalty and fanaticism much like Americans’ for sports teams, beer, or pickups.) Over the years, and from the top down in the U.S. market, the RennSport production-car repertoire has included the R8 supercar, RS 7, 6, 5, 4, and TT RS coupe/convertible. They offered the RS 3 Sportback, 2, and RS Q3 sport utility in other markets.

The One That Got Away

In 2011 and 2012, quattro GmbH built the RS 3 Sportback, a compact four-door hatch that could rip the lungs out of most outright sports cars costing many thousands more. “Nestling under the bonnet is the same 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder engine that you’ll find in the TT RS, and in the RS3 it drives all four wheel via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission… The engine is epic too. The turbo’d five-pot sounds great, whistling and warbling, and making a hard-edged growl at high revs. And it makes the RS3 seriously quick,” is how CAR magazine put it. Built from the same platform as the VW Golf, the all-wheel-drive hatch was powered by an RS 3–exclusive turbocharged 2.5-liter iron-block inline-five engine making 340 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. Every enthusiast worth his or her salt wanted this car, or at least wished his or her Golf were this car. Lower, wider, and featuring lightweight materials and unique styling details, that hot hatch was capable of a 4.5-second sprint to 60 mph with the aid of its ultra-quick automated manual transmission. In 2015, power increased to 360 hp, torque to 343 lb-ft, and the 0–60 time dropped to 4.3 seconds. This was the car Audi promised the now-hangry U.S. enthusiasts. Alas, it never was to be.



Finally, late in 2016, Audi Sport made it official: We would have our long-awaited RS 3 late in 2017, probably as a 2018 model. (We just learned that there will be a small number of 2017 RS 3 sedans making it to our shores in the summer before the 2018s arrive, so officially 2017 will be our RS 3’s first model year.) For our patience, we were rewarded with an all-new all-aluminum 2.5-liter engine, now making 400 horsepower, but only in sedan form. No wagon or hatchback.

With the exception of the Audi Allroad, luxury-branded hatches and wagons (Sportbacks and Avants in Audi parlance) just won’t sell in sufficient numbers in the States to warrant trying, according to Audi’s research. A sedan is a better bet for the high-performance model. In fact, Audi says that bringing the RS 3 sedan to the States is the only reason it will continue producing it. We saved the RS 3! Let’s hope BMW M and Mercedes-AMG don’t start thinking this way, or they’ll restricting imports of E63 S wagons and GLA45 hatchbacks, and comparisons like the GLE63 S versus X6 M sport utilities won’t happen. Although prototypes and homebuilt Touring versions exist, BMW has yet to produce an official M3 or M5 wagon. We can keep dreaming. Let’s hope Audi joins in soon so more folks can appreciate the full bandwidth of RS badged high-performance vehicles.2017 Audi RS 3 rear three quarter in motion 03

2017 Audi RS 3 rear three quarter in motion 03

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2017 GMC Canyon – Our Review |

The rebirth of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon has been a boon to GM pickup truck sales, adding volume and customers to the truck side of the showroom as gasoline remains cheap and plentiful. Now entering its third model year, the Canyon gains two things: a Denali top trim level and a new eight-speed automatic transmission.

Before the Denali showed up, the fanciest Canyon you could get was the SLT model, which I drove in diesel form in the summer of 2016 to pull a 22-foot Airstream trailer. An SLE model won our 2016 Midsize Pickup Challenge, besting every other mid-size pickup in the category, including the new Honda Ridgeline. So how does the new top luxury model stack up to the field?

The updated Canyon feels quicker off the line, more eager to pass on the highway and just more responsive in general.

Exterior Styling

The changes that make the Canyon into a Denali are subtle, maybe too subtle. The idea behind the full-size GMC Yukon Denali SUV always has been to provide Cadillac Escalade levels of luxury without the ostentatious styling and exorbitant price. That philosophy carries over here, with the Canyon receiving a chrome grille and tubular side steps, unique wheels and a standard spray-in bedliner. If you aren’t paying close attention to the grille, you wouldn’t know that this is anything other than a nice Canyon; the Denali chrome additions aren’t all that extraordinary. It’s still a very good looking truck, but it merely looks a little different from the SLT trim, not more luxurious or expensive.

How It Drives

The 3.6-liter V-6 engine powering the 2017 GMC Canyon is actually different from the 3.6-liter under the hood of the 2016, though it has the same displacement and similar output and fuel economy. The engine is a version of the one that debuted in the new Camaro. Suffice it to say that it behaves like the old one, with smoothness and power that’s welcome, and missing from some competitors such as the V-6 in the Toyota Tacoma. The engine gains 3 horsepower over the 2016 model, bringing it to 308 hp, and ups torque by 6 pounds-feet for 275 pounds-feet. It also adds variable valve timing, cylinder deactivation and a few other refinements that you’ll likely never notice. Unlike the Camaro, it does not feature a stop-start function.

More notable is the addition of the new eight-speed automatic, which is geared differently from the old six-speed and brings a newfound sprightliness to the Canyon’s performance. The Canyon feels quicker off the line, more eager to pass on the highway and just more responsive in general. On the highway, those two extra gears enable the Canyon to cruise more quietly, with the engine ticking over at just about 1,200-1,300 rpm, enabling a calm and relatively noise-free cruising speed. There’s more wind noise than engine noise at speed, and the same civilized, well-damped, comfortable ride that we remember from other models remains.

Fuel economy is the big question with this new 3.6-liter motor and eight-speed automatic, and turning to the EPA for answers isn’t going to help: The agency changed the test methodology from 2016 to 2017, so it appears as if the Canyon lost 1 mpg in its combined ratings. GM also says that it’s retuned the overall powertrain combination for better drivability, which can sometimes impinge on overall fuel economy (It’s a balance, after all). Thankfully, we did real-world fuel economy testing with the ’16 back in our 2016 Midsize Pickup Challenge, where the ’16 GMC Canyon SLE turned in a 22.0-mpg average over a 165-mile loop of mixed city and highway driving. That same loop run with the ’17 Canyon Denali in nearly identical conditions turned in an observed 20.5-mpg performance.

This worse performance may be due to the additional weight the Denali carries over the SLE — the ’16 SLE crew cab 4×4 short bed weighed an observed 4,440 pounds, while the ’17 Denali tipped the local scales at 4,620 pounds. It could be due to a different final gearing or the different engine tuning that makes the 2017 Canyon more fun and responsive to drive. Still, with the powertrain changes, I expected the Denali to turn in a better fuel-economy performance than it did. If fuel economy is important to you, perhaps the 2.8-liter Duramax diesel engine would be a better option — I recorded an observed 28.8 mpg in that configuration in 2016.


The Denali line is supposed to be the top luxury trim for the GMC brand, but the Canyon version doesn’t feel any more luxurious than the SLT I tested a few months prior or all that different from the SLE I drove not long before that. This could be because there isn’t all that much that’s different inside — GMC has added a leather interior in Jet Black with heated and ventilated seats (exclusive to the Denali trim), some unique dashboard trim, and Denali logo sill plates and floormats. The rest of the Denali goodies come in the form of equipment that can be had as options on lesser trims but are standard at this level, such as a heated steering wheel, a navigation system with an 8-inch touchscreen, automatic climate control, Bose audio system and more. It’s nice, but it’s not special.

Like the rest of the Canyon range, the Denali is comfortable and well-appointed, with decent interior materials quality and excellent outward visibility. The front seats are supportive and properly adjustable, but legroom is still a bit tight in the backseat. This isn’t a full-size pickup, despite it being within a few inches of full-size pickups from the 1990s. Headroom is plentiful, unlike in the Tacoma, and there’s plenty of width in the cabin, unlike in the Nissan Frontier. You could use a Canyon as a daily driver without any compromise in comfort, making it somewhat of a more sensible choice than the larger Sierra for a weekend-warrior pickup buyer.

Ergonomics Electronics

The Denali trim comes standard with the 8-inch touchscreen and GMC’s IntelliLink multimedia system. Navigation is also part of the package. It’s an intuitive, easy-to-use system that works quickly and features voice controls that are also without fault. If you prefer a more standardized system, the screen can instead employ Apple CarPlay or Android Auto for fans of those systems. The standard IntelliLink system is considerably more user-friendly than the Toyota Entune system, and at least two generations newer than the ancient system Nissan employs in the equally ancient Frontier.

The gauges in front of the driver are clear, bright and easily legible, while an electronic information screen resides between them that offers all kinds of extra info, controlled by two five-way switches on the steering wheel. The Denali trim comes pretty much loaded with everything you could possibly specify on the Canyon options sheet, including a heated steering wheel and two USB ports up front for personal device connectivity. Onboard 4G LTE Wi-Fi is also standard on the Denali trim.

Cargo Towing

I didn’t do any towing with this version of the new Canyon, so we’ll have to wait for a later report on how the new eight-speed automatic does with a load behind the bumper. The new V-6 and eight-speed keeps the tow rating of the old model, however, enabling the Canyon Denali to drag a trailer of up to 7,000 pounds (if you want more, opt for the 2.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder Duramax diesel, which will get you 7,700 pounds). In terms of cargo, you’re presented with two potential bed lengths for the Canyon (5-foot or 6-foot), and the Denali trim can be had with either of them.

In the cabin, there are plenty of storage cubbies and places to stash electronics, knickknacks, tissue boxes or burger wrappers. The rear seats also fold up to allow for more bulky items to be placed behind the front seats if you’re carrying something that you don’t want to leave exposed to the elements.


Pickups can be problematic when it comes to crash safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has rated the Canyon crew cab as good (out of a possible good, acceptable, fair or poor) in the moderate front overlap test, and rates its front crash prevention as basic (out of a possible not available, basic, advanced or superior) thanks to its available forward collision warning system (standard on Denali) but no automatic emergency braking. But something the IIHS has noted is the headlight performance rating, which it says is poor — actually some of the worst headlights on the market in terms of illumination and distance. Note that all models in the IIHS’ small pickups class carry poor headlight ratings and similarly haven’t been subjected to the full suite of crash tests. The Ridgeline, which IIHS classifies as a full-size truck, boasts the best ratings across the board in this comprehensively tested class.

The National Highway Safety Administration gives the Canyon four stars overall, with four stars in frontal crash performance, five stars for side impact and only three stars in rollover testing. The Colorado 4×2 and 4×4 along with the Frontier 4×2  rate three stars for rollovers, while the Frontier 4×4 rates four stars, as do the Tacoma and Ridgeline.

Unlike other traditional mid-size pickups, the Canyon has a few optional electronic safety systems that set it apart. The Denali comes with class-exclusive forward collision warning and lane departure warning, but it still lacks a blind spot monitor or parking sensors, features available on the Ridgeline. 

Value in Its Class

The Denali version of the GMC Canyon pretty much comes loaded, starting at $43,815 (all prices include destination) for my short-box 4×4 model. My single option was slate gray metallic paint for $395, bringing the grand total to $44,210. You can specify other configurations for the Denali, such as the long box or diesel engine, or skip the four-wheel drive and stick with rear-wheel drive. Add it all up, and you can easily top fifty grand for one if you start adding accessories such as bed extenders and tonneau covers.

The competing mid-size pickups also have luxurious trim levels, with the Ridgeline’s top Black Edition starting at a comparable $43,910 and coming just as loaded as a Denali. It features full-time all-wheel drive with a front-wheel bias, based as it is on a modified Honda Pilot SUV platform. It doesn’t have quite the carrying capacity or off-road ability of the more true-to-form pickup, but it does come with some novel features such as a bed that turns into a huge reverberating speaker and a lockable bed “trunk.” The Tacoma also has a luxury-minded Limited model starting at $39,955 for a double cab 4×4 model, but the Tacoma’s anemic V-6 and cramped interior are what kept it from being more competitive in our last big Challenge. Compare all four models here.

At the end of the day, GMC has created another version of the Canyon, but not one that’s appreciably better than the SLT or SLE trims. With the new powertrain available across the range, the only reason to opt for the Denali is for the minor styling or all-inclusive option packaging.

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Welcome To The Next Generation Of Jalopnik Car Reviews

Photo Credit Mark Victor Arnold

You come to Jalopnik for squids, fireballs and tales of depraved masochism but once in awhile, we like to talk cars too. And now we’ve got a new system for shaking down everything that moves you. Get excited for the next generation of Jalopnik Reviews.


Regular readers will know Jalopnik’s been test driving cars since the days when it was a ‘zine printed in Mike Spinelli’s basement back in the late 1980s. We’ve had decidedly mixed results with all the different ways we’ve rated cars over the years, however.

You may remember the time when we had a numbered system for ranking cars, based on 10 categories with a maximum of 10 points each. That was innovative and ambitious in its goal to create a Top Gear-style leaderboard of scores that would stand for all eternity, but it felt arbitrary, and often didn’t make sense to casual readers—or longtime ones—when a great car would get a score like an 80. Then we focused on better storytelling, but that approach wasn’t as detail-oriented or as rigorous as it could have been.


This year, we’re going to do things a little differently. We’re going to rate cars on practicality and fun separately with our new system: The Daily/Driver Score.

At Jalopnik we believe driving should be fun, and that cars should be made to accomplish that goal. But reality often has different things in mind. Not every car can be a Mazda Miata and not every road will be a winding back road on a sunny day with nary a traffic cop in sight.

Most car reviews are glorified advertisements that don’t often educate you, a potential buyer (or a casual observer) in how good or bad your second-most expensive purchase in life really is. Nothing is worse than buyer’s remorse with a car. We’re aiming to fix that.


The goal with the Daily/Driver Score is to give you the stats you want, and to rank cars based on how they put a smile on your face AND get you around reliably, comfortably and safely.

For example, the beloved Mazda Miata might barely pass in “Daily” but get flying colors in “Driver.” A Honda CR-V would probably be the opposite. And a practical fun car like a Subaru WRX might do well in both.


Expect a little something like this:

The idea is that The Daily/Driver Score will help us squeeze some more nuance out of reviews without making them too complex, and perhaps even help us appreciate a broader range of automobilia.

As with the numbered reviews, we intend to be the toughest critics around. No new car will get a glowing review just because the junket shrimp was great. If something’s bad, we’ll tell you. If it rules, you’ll know that too. An A+, as well as a total failing F, will be hard to earn.


Our reviews will come in five flavors. We’ve been playing with some of them already, but expect these formats to be the way forward for us from now on.

  1. First Drives will be early impressions from a day behind the wheel, helm or handlebars. We’ll talk about fancy new features, deliver a tentative verdict and identify what we want to look at more closely later.
  2. Jalopnik Reviews will go further in-depth and get to know a machine more completely. We’ll seal our assessment with some finality and a Daily/Driver Score.
  3. Not-New Reviews will be the same kind of comprehensive shakedown you’ll see in Jalopnik Reviews, but the subject will be an older car. I’m hoping to find out how some of our favorite used cars have aged, and recognize future classics. Got something interesting you want us to drive? Send us a tip.
  4. Classic Reviews will break down what it’s like to drive automotive artifacts, and get a little into the historical significance of some ancient vehicles. Again, let us know what you want to see here.
  5. Finally, Generation Gaps will be a close comparison of a new car and its immediate predecessor. We’ll try to find a pair of cars in close configurations to casually put head-to-head and find out how different the new one really feels.

So you’ve got a whole lot to look forward to, plus more video and ill-advised adventures in the mix soon.

As with much of what we do here, this is an experiment. We welcome your feedback. Let us know how we can improve with this and what we can do differently.



Buckle up. This will be fun.

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2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell review: The future, at what cost?

Since no one really knows what the future holds, Honda is covering all its alt-fuel bases with one vehicle: the Clarity. The Clarity model you see here is the first of three. It’s the Clarity Fuel Cell and it’s been in showrooms since December. By the end of the year there will also be a Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) and a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) Clarity. Honda is ready with a flexible manufacturing plan that will allow it to build more of the drivetrains customers — or government officials — decide they want.

Like all larger car manufacturers, Honda is required by the California Air Resources Board to sell zero-emission vehicles in the state. They don’t have to sell a lot of them, just enough to meet the state’s mandate. That might mean around a thousand cars, give or take a few hundred. Manufacturers don’t say how many they are required by the state to build. Cynics call cars like these “Compliance Cars” because they are built specifically to meet the state’s ZEV mandate. Carmakers will tell you that an outlook like that is too cynical — that they believe in clean air, green fields and happiness for all puppies and kittens.


Honda Clarity cutaway

This Clarity cutaway shows the two, 10,000-psi hydrogen tanks under and behind the rear seat, as well as the compact powertrain under the hood.

All major manufacturers are faced with this, so CARB is not picking on Honda. That’s why you can get all kinds of electric cars in the state right now, including ridiculous deals like a Fiat 500e lease for $49 a month. The end result is that you, Joe and Jane Consumer, get access to all kinds of great high tech that you wouldn’t otherwise get. And if you poke your head outside right now, you will see that the air is, in fact, cleaner than it was in 1973, so government demands have had a beneficial effect on all our lives. And even if our EPA is abolished, governments in Europe and China will likely insist on stricter emissions controls. We’ll argue about that stuff later.

For now, note that the new Honda Clarity Fuel Cell is far more efficient than even the previous model Clarity, which was pretty darn efficient itself. For a quick refresher, a fuel cell is basically a stack of membranes through which hydrogen is forced. The membranes separate electrons which go to a battery which then powers an electric motor that turns the front wheels. The only byproduct of this process, as Honda loves to point out, is water. Glug, glug. 

The fuel cell powertrain

The fuel cell powertrain makes 174 hp and 221 lb ft of torque.

With the new Clarity, Honda has made the fuel cell stack itself 1.5 times more efficient, and so has been able to reduce the number of cells by 30 percent, making the powertrain assembly smaller than a V6 gasoline engine. It’s so much smaller that the stack, motor and controller now all fit under the hood. The previous model had the fuel cell stack located between the front seats.

The 1.7-kWh lithium ion battery sits under the front seats, while two hydrogen tanks sit under and behind the rear seat, tucked in between the frame rails (or something that looks like a frame rail, since this is still technically a monocoque). Pressure in the tanks goes up in the new model from 5000 to 10,000 psi, which gives you that 366-mile EPA range.

All that compact efficiency means the Clarity offers seating for five and class-leading luggage space, though the class consists of only the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Ioniq

Clarity side view

Styling favors efficiency over sexiness.

That efficient system produces 174 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque, up 30 percent and 17 percent, respectively, over the previous Clarity. Maximum motor speed is also up, by 500 rpm, to a peak of 13,000 revs. Just tell your buddies your car redlines at 13,000 rpm. That’ll freak them out. Then change the subject.

Using a handheld iPhone on a flat road at sea level, we got a zero-to-60 time of 9.2 seconds. A Mirai we tried on that same stretch of road on the same day got 9.4. Those aren’t really scientifically-arrived-at figures but they’re close enough.

While it may not be the fastest car at the drags, the Clarity is certainly one of the quietest. Everything from acoustic glass to sound insulation pretty much everywhere makes this a cone of silence. We were on hand 25-or-so years ago when carmakers started giving rides in early fuel cells. Those ancient mules were packed with reformers, computers and engineers telling us not to touch that wire (“No! Don’t touch!”). Those early science experiments were loud and complex. The Clarity is quiet and simple. You get in, push a button push to start it, push a transmission button to select a gear and off you waft, gliding down the highway in peaceful, angelic serenity. Ahhhhh. 

Hydrogen refueling station

Hydrogen refueling stations are cooler than most gas stations.

Sadly, all this serenity is reserved for only a handful of buyers in the greater Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas and one or two guys in Sacramento, though we hear they’re having a little trouble with their hydrogen station in Sac. Even if you do live in those metropolai you can’t buy a Clarity, you can only lease one, which was the case with the Honda Fit EV a few years ago (another “compliance car”). Clarity leases are $369 a month with $2868 due at signing. But you can still get a $5000 government rebate and Honda gives you 20,000 miles on the lease plus another $15,000 to pay for hydrogen.

We filled up at a hydrogen station during our drive and found the stuff costs $16.47 per kilogram. If it takes five kilograms to fill up that’s $82.35 to go those 366 miles. But nobody goes the full EPA range on a tank of anything. We started out with a full tank and an indicated range of just 254 miles, which was nowhere near the EPA number of 366 miles of range. After driving 11 miles we topped off the tanks and got an indicated 258 miles of range. We then drove 65.6 miles, having used up 64 miles of indicated range. So the upshot is that no one matches EPA numbers in any kind of vehicle, but our difference was over 100 miles of EPA versus indicated range. Crazy, man.

There are many points to argue about alternative fuels. If you look at well-to-wheel, the total efficiency of using something like hydrogen to make your car go down the road, there are plenty of points at which hydrogen falters as a fuel. Most hydrogen used in cars is reformulated from natural gas, for instance, and reformulation releases a lot of CO2. You could argue that pure electric cars, with no hydrogen fuel cell loop, are cleaner, assuming you charge them directly from solar panels on your roof. Then you could argue… well, you could argue all day about this. Carmakers know it and are all waiting to see which alternative fuel wins out, if any. We might be driving gasoline-powered smog-blasters the rest of our lives. We don’t know. But with the Clarity line of cars, Honda is ready for whichever inevitability comes. 

Mark Vaughn

Mark Vaughn

– West Coast Editor Mark Vaughn covers all car things west of the Mississippi from his Autoweek lair high above the LA metropolis.

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On Sale: Now

Base Price: $369/mo lease

As Tested Price: $369/mo lease

Drivetrain: Hydrogen fuel cell; AC synchronous electric motor; single-speed, direct-drive transmission

Output: 103 kW, 174 hp, 221 lb-ft torque

Curb Weight: 4134 pounds

0-60 MPH: 9.2 seconds (est)

Fuel Economy: 366-mile range (EPA)(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)

Observed Fuel Economy: 254-mile range

Pros: Advanced technology with zero tailpipe emissions

Cons: Getting the hydrogen creates loads of CO2, the styling’s bland

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Review: Hyundai’s Elantra Sport—it’s hot stuff Cars is your go-to resource for coverage of local car news, events, and reviews. In the market for a car or truck? Check out our new car specials and used car specials curated by our local dealer network.

“I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain…”

James Taylor lyrics?

Of course.

However, today’s test car, the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport, has experienced those conditions, too. Plans for our test driving didn’t include a trial by fire, but that’s what happened when we woke up to our Elantra covered with ashes.

A major brush fire in Collier County, Fla., not far from the (in)famous Alligator Alley, covered large areas of Naples with an acrid smoke pushing across town toward the Gulf of Mexico. Neighborhoods near us were evacuated. Some homes were destroyed.

Adding to the Elantra’s distress was a dousing from the condo association’s sprinkler system, which covered the Elantra with untreated well water—a rain of sorts that turned the ash into a paste-like mess.

However, like a lot of us, the Elantra cleaned up nicely. This Sport version is one of four Elantra variants and, as the name suggests, is the sportiest.

Our test vehicle had a base price (MSRP plus destination) of $23,585. A $2,400 Premium package and $125 Sport-branded carpeted mats brought the bottom line to $26,110.

Here’s what you get for that price:

  • A Sport model-specific 1.6-liter turbocharged engine that produces 201 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque. That sends the power to the front drive wheels via a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.
  • Sport-specific styling cues, including a black hexagonal grille with turbo badge, pronounced side sill extensions, horizontal LED running lights, HID headlights, 18-inch wheels and performance all-season tires, and chrome dual exhaust outlet.
  • The Premium package adds an 8-inch Navigation screen, premium audio system, Hyundai’s Blue Link connected-car and connected-care systems, power sunroof, blind spot detection and cross-traffic alert, automatic climate control, and auto-dimming rearview mirrors.

THE INSIDE STORY: The Elantra Sport has a straightforward gauge and control presentation that’s set off by leather seating and contrasting red stitching. —Bill Griffith

Absent on this model is the option for an expanded driver assist system. That’s available by moving sideways to the Limited model, which offers less performance but both a Tech and Ultimate package. Bundle the two and you’ll have smart cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams, and a seat-and-mirror memory feature.

We found the Elantra to be large enough to push aside any hesitance about driving a compact.

On the road, the extra engine had plenty of growl (sound-tuned by the Hyundai engineers) and all the power necessary to propel this compact in any situation.

The interior, especially for front-seat passengers, was roomy and, while not upscale, very nice.

Opting for the Sport adds heated leather seats with more aggressive bolsters, red contrast stitching on the flat-bottomed steering wheel, console and seats, and a black headliner. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are part of the package along with a Sport-exclusive gauge package and alloy pedals.

Seats get lot of reader response. The Sport has optional, well-bolstered seats with three manual adjustments. We found them comfortable, but we’ve learned one size doesn’t fit all no matter how many adjustments you can make.

The dashboard has a lot of hard surfaces, but they have a nice style (read: not chintzy) and the center stack and gauge packages are both easy to read and easy to use.

The front doors are good-sized, making for easy entry and egress, and you’ll find the standard-issue cupholders and door pockets. A cubby at the base of the center stack can hide a phone or other valuables.

While traveling this winter, we found it’s a good thing to leave the interior of vehicles empty (or valuables hidden).

Thieves were around in several areas we visited; however, they seemed to be more interested in grabbing cash and personal goods from the vehicles than in of making off with the entire car.

Our neighbor Don realized one day that all the change he’d tossed in his cupholders had been taken. Investigating further, he found a high-tech LED flashlight the culprit had dropped under his seat.

“All-in-all, it seems to be a fair trade,” he says. “I can use the flashlight, but it’s a reminder to lock the doors when you’re parked outside. Back home, I leave my car in the garage, and it’s almost always unlocked.”

In this case, his unlocked Honda Accord was parked next to the locked Elantra.

Of course, locking items in the trunk is the best option, and there’s ample space back there in the Elantra.

Rear seat passengers don’t have it quite as easy as those up front in the Elantra, but there’s decent leg and headroom for a pair of six-footers.

The Sport has a different rear suspension—a multilink setup with a 15 millimeter stabilizer bar and gas-filled shocks—as compared to the standard torsion-beam axle, coil springs, and shocks on other trim levels.

It combines to give the Sport competent handling, though the suspension, in combination with the lower-profile tires, makes for a stiffer ride, welcomed by some buyers, not by others.

For a test week, the Sport was a lot of fun. For the long haul, we’d recommend the Limited—preferably with the extra driver-assist features—or, to save some cash, the base SE with the Value Edition optional package.

Hyundai can use the Sport as an attention-getter (we loved driving it), but the other versions are must-shop entries in the competitive compact market with the likes of the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda3, Subaru Impreza, and Toyota Corolla.

After all, this car has been tested by fire and rain now.

Bill Griffith can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MrAutoWriter.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport


Price, base/as tested (with destination): $23,585/$26,110. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 26 city/33 highway/29 overall. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 31.3. Drivetrain: 1.6-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine, 7-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive. Body: 5-passenger compact sedan.


Horsepower: 201. Torque: 195 lb.-ft. Overall length: 179.9 in. Wheelbase: 106.3 in. Height: 56.5 in. Width: 70.9 in. Curb weight: 3,131 lbs.


Performance, interior space and design, overall value.


Steering a bit stiff, transmission not as refined in low gears.


Elantra is a major player in the compact segment.


Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda3, Subaru Impreza, and Toyota Corolla.

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2017 Kia Niro: gas mileage review – Green Car Reports

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2017 Kia Niro Touring, Catskill Mountains, NY, March 2017

However you choose to view the 2017 Kia Niro hybrid—Kia says it’s a crossover utility, we call it a wagon—it’s a good-looking and relatively capacious small car.

The debate over segments comes because the Niro has neither the ground clearance of a utility vehicle nor available all-wheel drive, making it more of a wagon or “square hatchback” to us.

After our first drive last December, we’ve now been able to spend several days and 545 miles in a Niro to get a sense of what it’s like to live with.

DON’T MISS: 2017 Kia Niro – full review

Unusually for the Northeast, temperatures varied from 12 degrees F to 53 degrees F during our time with Kia’s newest hybrid.

Still, it was clear that the car’s gas mileage seemed slightly lower than it might have been in more temperature weather—a common occurrence with hybrids, which usually lose 2 mpg or 3 mpg in cold temperatures.

Our Kia Niro Touring model carries an EPA fuel-economy rating of 46 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, 43 mpg combined.

2017 Kia Niro, San Antonio, Texas, Dec 2016

2017 Kia Niro, San Antonio, Texas, Dec 2016

Enlarge Photo

Over 545 miles, we achieved 35.9 mpg combined, as indicated on the car’s dashboard display. That likely reflects our particular drive cycle, which had more highway miles this time than our usual two-thirds highway, one-third city split we generally have.

Rounding up to 36 mpg, that’s 10 percent lower than the 40-mpg highway rating, which is within the range of variation

While the Niro is more economical on the highway than most cars its size, the effect of stored energy in the battery is lower at high speeds than it can be in city and suburban usage.

READ THIS: 2017 Kia Niro hybrid: first drive report

For the record, we kept the Niro entirely in the standard “Eco” mode, rather than using the considerably quicker “Sport” mode that keeps the engine on and uses the hybrid system more as extra boost than for electric-only running.

On the other hand, we found the Niro’s slow acceleration less irritating in upstate New York than we had in faster-moving Texas traffic during our test drive in San Antonio.

We liked our Touring edition Niro, which had a comfortable pale grey and black interior with a few upscale touches like blue dashboard accents and contrasting stitching in the upholstery.

2017 Kia Niro, San Antonio, Texas, Dec 2016

2017 Kia Niro, San Antonio, Texas, Dec 2016

Enlarge Photo

Rear seat space isn’t huge, but the load bay proved useful and accommodated a variety of items (as long as they weren’t too tall) despite its relatively high cargo floor.

As always, Kia’s interior layout and controls are straightforward, easy to understand, and intuitive.

Clever storage abounds. Two examples we liked: a slot sized perfectly for the key fob, and a flat tray with a rubber mat at the front of the console for flat smartphone placement that has a little rubber ridge to hold a pen in place as well.

CHECK OUT: All-electric Kia Niro EV to come in 2018, says Kia exec

Behind the wheel, the Niro is one of the better hybrids to drive. All hybrids have improved considerably over the past few years—the latest generation of Toyota Prius is the case study there—but Kia has succeeded in making a “normal” driving experience.

Combined with good noise insulation, it’s possible that drivers could climb into the Niro and not know it was a hybrid.

The shape and badging won’t give away much, either.

2017 Kia Niro Touring, Catskill Mountains, NY, March 2017

2017 Kia Niro Touring, Catskill Mountains, NY, March 2017

Enlarge Photo

Our Niro Touring had the largest alloy wheels and a variety of niceties like a power driver’s seat, and heaters for both the front seats and the steering wheel (which we used on the coldest of days).

It nods to minimal energy usage with the “Driver Only” button for the heating and cooling system, which directs hot or cold air only to the driver and leaves the rest of the car to catch up slowly.

We didn’t get a window sticker with our test car, but the top-of-the-line Touring model starts at just over $30,000 including a mandatory delivery fee.


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2018 Mercedes-Benz E-class Coupe

Mercedes-Benz’s current product range is immense. With no fewer than 13 distinct Mercedes-Benz model lines in the U.S. alone for 2017, ranging from diminutive roadsters to giant SUVs—to say nothing of the Maybach and AMG spinoffs—there’s no premium-automobile customer Mercedes won’t attempt to woo. Among them are traditional luxury-coupe buyers, a small but influential group that has proved valuable to Benz for decades. Of late, Mercedes-Benz has tripled down on two-doors, offering coupe versions of its primary C-, E-, and S-class car lines. Mercedes clearly appreciates these customers, who should, in turn, appreciate the 2018 E-class coupe.


As we stated when Mercedes-Benz unveiled the new E coupe, the car is considerably larger than its predecessor. The new W213-generation E-class platform has grown 4.4 inches between the axles, 4.8 inches in length, 2.9 inches in width, and 1.5 inches in height, thus placing the new mid-size two-door neatly between the C- and S-class coupes. Compared with the E-class sedan, it is 1.5-inches lower on a 2.6-inch-shorter wheelbase.

It also now has real presence. Despite the new E coupe sharing most of its styling DNA with those other Benz two-doors, design chief Gorden Wagener desired to simplify the aesthetic, resulting in the removal of the upper contour line found on nearly every other Mercedes. While some aesthetes (including your author) feared this might cheapen the car’s look, we needn’t have fretted. Other new elements have added substance back in, including the broad and rather shovel-like front apron; the long, straked hood; and the supersleek windshield that visually connects with the standard panoramic sunroof. The arcing roofline and the lack of a B-pillar remain hallmarks of the E-class coupe—as does the loathsome sliver of rear side glass mucking up what we wish was a full-length opening as on the S-class coupe. But that piece of glass was a necessary evil as designers sought to reduce the thickness of the C-pillars, a key contributor to the car’s breezy elegance. The result is a delicate greenhouse set atop a substantial yet clean lower body, an artful balance of visual strength and lightness that only a windswept two-door like this could pull off. So we’ll deal with the piece of glass.

A Lover, Not a Fighter

Unlike its two-door brand brethren and the E-class sedan, the E coupe is offered in only one potency—badged E400—with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 tuned to provide a respectable 329 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque. Mated to Mercedes’ ubiquitous nine-speed automatic and a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive, the engine proves plenty capable of motivating the car, but we find little inspiration in its character. There’s no joy to be found in the upper reaches of the rev range, only a muzzled growl. The shift response of the nine-speed, even in Sport mode, is more silken than snappy. That said, Mercedes claims that the all-wheel-drive car can accelerate to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds; we expect to beat that by a tenth or two.

The E400 coupe is not at its best being driven hard, but when treated less aggressively it feels strident and robust. It suits the character of the car, while we expect those hankering for a little more sizzle will be served by an eventual AMG-tuned E50 coupe powered by its new turbocharged inline-six, called M256 internally, a powerplant that Mercedes has said will produce in excess of 400 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. But that’ll be as burly as this car gets, as we’ve already been told that an E63 coupe will not happen.

The powertrain may be chill, but the chassis certainly is capable. For U.S. buyers, coil springs with driver-adjustable dampers will come standard, but the car we drove had the optional Air Body Control air springs, which only amplify the plush dynamic quality by minimizing body motions and ironing out much of the road’s texture. Our car also was an Edition 1 model wearing 20-inch AMG wheels, Pirelli rubber, and cross-drilled brake rotors. The aggressive wheel-and-tire combo (which won’t be offered in America in a size this large) and pneumatic springs did their job, delivering impressive grip, a planted feel, and precious little squirming or tire squeal, even as benign understeer crept in close to the limit. The Sport and Sport+ driving modes for the chassis add satisfying weight to the steering and some tactility to the ride, and these combine with the steering’s crisp initial turn-in and linear response to allow for easy placement of the car, whether that’s while clipping an apex, floating through a corner, or holding the center of a freeway lane. The E400 could use more steering feel, but what it lacks in engagement, it makes up in precision. We’ll be interested to see if U.S.-spec cars equipped with the base 18-inch or optional 19-inch rolling stock feel different, but we can vouch for this Benz’s competency when shod with 20s.

Comfort Zone Found

It’s likely that E-class coupe buyers will be less interested in going quickly as going stylishly and comfortably. And this car has a lot to offer such drivers, starting with size and space. Whereas the C-class coupe can feel snug, this new W213 coupe—with its extra width, thin roof pillars, and vast expanses of glass—has a definite sense of spaciousness, even when considered alongside the S-class coupe. The E’s sweet dual-screen dashboard looks and functions just as well as it does in the sedan, but certain details, most notably the jet-turbine-looking air vents, are specific to the two-door. The coupe also offers a few additional color and trim options, including dressy, light-colored wood accents in high-gloss or open-pore finishes. Unfortunately, our car was trimmed with the same stuff found in the E43, which attempts to simultaneously evoke both metal and carbon fiber with little success at either. The black and white front seats in our car, however, looked good and felt even better, incorporating optional massage elements along with adjustable lumbar support and headrests, cooling fans, and heating. All that somehow is packaged within a remarkably thin seatback, too, thus preserving rear-seat legroom.

Mercedes is proud of the E-class coupe’s rear accommodations, and indeed the space is perhaps the best of any coupe this side of a Rolls-Royce Wraith. Although we didn’t spend too many miles riding back there, the rear seat is inviting and spacious, and it can handle real adult humans and their heads, legs, and shoulders. The example we drove used the same high-quality materials as up front, and each of the two seats were heated.

As with most Mercedes coupes over the decades—the lovely W114/W115, W123, and W124 editions come to mind—the 2018 E400 coupe is intended to coddle and not cajole, and in that way it is a worthy successor to its ancestors. The coupe market may be shrinking overall, but this car proves the body style remains very much alive at Mercedes-Benz.

2017 Lexus NX

C/D Overall Rating:

Despite a chiseled body and mean-mugged glare, the Lexus NX is hardly an athlete. It’s a softly sprung, high-riding SUV in a class of tall wagons, and cargo- and people-hauling capacities benefit accordingly. A 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder is standard, but the NX300h boasts the lineup’s sole hybrid powertrain and gets all-wheel drive, too. The cabin coddles occupants with comfy leather seats and distinctive styling. Unfortunately, a finicky touchpad-operated infotainment system spoils an otherwise ergonomic interior.

What’s New for 2017?

Introduced as a new model in 2015, the NX carries on through 2016 and into 2017 with few changes. The NX300h hybrid’s front-wheel-drive option has been dropped in favor of standard all-wheel drive. A new 18-inch wheel design joins the options list, as well as two vibrant new colors—Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0 and Molten Pearl—for F Sport models. Lexus has added Scout GPS Link as a standard feature; it uses a smartphone app to offer turn-by-turn directions displayed on the infotainment screen.

Standard Feature Highlights

• 7.0-inch infotainment screen
• Power-adjustable driver’s seat
• Rear privacy glass
• Dual-zone automatic climate control

Trims and Options We’d Choose

Wearing an even more aggressive front-grille design, and sporting what may be the most comfortable and supportive seats in the class, the NX200t F Sport is our pick of the range. At $38,255, the front-wheel-drive F Sport represents only a $2175 increase from the base NX200t. Be careful with options, and the NX can stay under $40,000, but we’d say the $400 power rear hatch and the $440 heated front seats are worthy luxuries. All-wheel drive is available, though it adds $1400 to the bottom line.

In Depth: 2017 Lexus NX

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Consumer Review of the Week: 2017 Honda Accord

CARS.COM — Honda’s mid-size sedan routinely tops best-seller lists each month. One new owner explains why he traded his Mustang in for an Accord Sport — and doesn’t regret it.

Goose writes:

“I truly loved to drive my 2014 Mustang 5.0 Premium, but it just wasn’t practical anymore for my family. Once, [I was] driving by the Honda dealership and observing the new 2017 Honda Accord Sport. I thought, what an excellent looking car. Long story short, two days later I traded in the Mustang and I didn’t miss it all. Sure the four-cylinder isn’t a V-8 like the Coyote motor, but I truly love driving this Honda. The best part it is [it's] so roomy and the interior is awesome. Excellent job Honda; you have converted me and I am saving a ton of money on insurance and fuel.”

Related: What’s the Best Midsize Sedan for 2016?

We get millions of car shoppers to each month, and they would benefit from your experiences, so please, review your own car here. We’re giving you the megaphone, now tell the world what you think about your car, good or bad. Here’s how you do it:

  • Go to our Reviews landing page and select the make, model and year of your car.
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Remember, other shoppers will thank you for your efforts.

Editor’s note: Some comments have been edited to improve clarity.

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2017 Lexus ES300h Hybrid

If nothing else, the Lexus ES can be admired for its consistency. Since it arrived for the 1990 model year, the ES has put a priority on quiet comfort above all else. Yes, it has adopted the brand’s aggressive spindle grille in recent years, but the rest of the package hasn’t yet been given over to Lexus’s push toward sportiness and performance—it’s one of the few models that does not offer an F Sport package, for instance.

The vast majority of ES sales are of the V-6–powered ES350 model. But we wonder why more customers don’t opt for the ES300h hybrid, which strikes us as the purest expression of ES virtue. After all, the V-6’s 268 horsepower makes for surprisingly brisk acceleration, which seems at odds with the car’s relaxed demeanor. The quieter, slower, and more efficient hybrid expresses the ES ethos to a T, slowing your pulse while simultaneously elevating your green cred with its lofty 40-mpg EPA ratings (more on those numbers later).

Secluded Sanctuary

The ES300h’s hybrid drivetrain hasn’t changed for several years—it continues to use a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-four paired with two electric motors for a combined 200 horsepower. With it, the ES300h moseys from zero to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, a full two seconds behind the ES350. Like most Toyota hybrid systems, the ES300h deftly and smoothly blends electric and gasoline power, and there’s adequate torque for more sedate driving. Most of the time, the car is so quiet that you’ll hardly be able to tell when the gasoline engine fires to assist the smooth and silent electric drive. Call up more urgent acceleration and the four-cylinder drones a bit, but it’s isolated well enough from the cabin that it never becomes bothersome.

Isolation was clearly a priority for the ES300h’s chassis engineers, too. The ES floats softly in a manner that’s not even found in Buicks anymore. Light, heavily boosted steering combines with ample body roll to make for a ponderous sedan that resists enthusiastic driving. The brakes sap even more confidence from the experience. Although the car’s 172-foot stop from 70 mph is adequate, the pedal feel is unpredictable and unnatural as the car modulates the transition from regenerative to friction braking, something many hybrids still struggle with.

If the ES300h’s lackluster body control and less-than-energetic hybrid powertrain aren’t enough to convince you to slow down, the cushy and plush interior makes the message crystal clear. Wide, flat front seats are comfy but lack lateral support. The large wood-and-leather steering wheel is lazy in its motions. At the same time, Lexus’s usual impeccable fit and finish qualities are on full display here, and the knobs and buttons twirl and push with nice weighting and precise action. The standard man-made NuLuxe leather upholstery is soft enough to make us question spending extra for real hides, and the rear seat boasts expansive leg- and headroom.

The only source of frustration is the Remote Touch interface that controls the large central display screen. Operating the finicky mouselike controller diverts far too much attention from the road. At least there are voice commands and volume and tuning knobs that allow you to avoid the clunky system for some functions.

Numbers Game

Our test ES300h included a fair number of options that drove its price perilously close to $50,000. Partially to blame is the nearly $3000 premium that Lexus charges for the hybrid model compared with the ES350. That makes the gas-electric ES a tough sell when you consider its fuel economy.

Although the EPA rates the Lexus at a lofty 40 mpg combined, we fell far short of that and averaged 26 mpg overall, just 1 mpg better than the last ES350 we tested. Better numbers surely are possible with a lighter foot, as proved by the ES300h’s 37-mpg result in our 75-mph highway test (just 2 mpg shy of its 39-mpg EPA rating). That’s still 4 mpg less than a conventionally powered BMW 330i’s impressive 41-mpg result in the same test. This hybrid’s purported advantages are eroding as competitors’ nonhybrid drivetrains improve.

Perhaps Lexus could sell more ES300h models if it took a page from the Lincoln MKZ’s book and priced the hybrid at the same level as its conventional gasoline counterpart. The upcharge reads a little like paying more for less, even if the hybrid is perfectly quiet, comfortable, and serene, just as a Lexus ES should be.

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