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2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Automatic

With the 10th-generation Civic, Honda brought back much of what American fans of the storied compact loved through the years, as well as added a few new wrinkles—hello, Type R! But as excited as we are for America’s first ever Civic Type R, it’s the return of the hatchback body style to the lineup that makes that even possible. Having already had positive experiences behind the wheels of the Civic sedan and coupe, it’s time for us to strap our gear to the hatchback, which we tested here in its top-of-the-line Sport Touring trim level.


A Different S.T.

Despite there being multiple racing series dedicated to touring cars, the words sport and touring aren’t typically paired together on vehicles you can actually buy (except for some Buicks—go figure—and grand touring is a whole other thing). That’s because touring conjures thoughts of comfort and space, while sport centers on a more dynamic driving experience, often at the sacrifice of daily comfort or convenience. The Civic Sport Touring hatchback manages to reconcile these seeming incongruities, however, combining fun to drive, comfort, ease of use, and practicality in one package.

The Civic Sport Touring we tested (and the Sport, which offers a six-speed manual unavailable on this trim) does not differ much at all in its chassis tuning from the rest of the lineup, as Honda is saving the significant handling upgrades for the Si and Type R models. In fact, only two things change about the driving experience when the Civic goes Sport Touring or Sport: the steering (which has a barely quicker, 11.1:1 ratio versus 10.9:1) and its shoes. The Sport models get 18-inch rolling stock compared with the 16 inchers on the LX and 17s on the EX and EX-L Navi. All-season rubber is standard on all trim levels.


1.5 Alive

Under the hood of all Civic hatchbacks lives a 16-valve 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-four engine. Although not required, premium fuel is recommended for the Sport and the Sport Touring, which both have upgraded knock sensors. Honda claims the higher octane—as well as the center-exit dual exhaust standard on the Sport and Sport Touring—will provide a tiny boost in power. Running premium, the Sport and Sport Touring with the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) make a claimed 180 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 162 lb-ft of torque from 1700 to 5500 rpm. Burning regular unleaded, the turbo four paired with the CVT makes a claimed 174 horsepower and 162 lb-ft at the same peak rpm, just as it does in the LX, EX, and EX-L, which have the standard knock sensor and single-pipe exhaust.

Although we prefer a manual transmission for vehicles with the word sport in their names, the CVT is the only option on the Sport Touring trim. However, Honda’s CVT is one of the best currently on the market, and it is a willing partner in getting the engine to rev and is responsive to throttle applications across the rev range. In our testing, the CVT and turbo four combo powered the car from zero to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, completed the 30-to-50-mph dash in 3.9 seconds, and ran the quarter-mile in 15.4 at 93 mph.

While there are many hatchback competitors to this Civic, there are two primary benchmarks: the Volkswagen Golf and the Mazda 3. We’ve awarded both of those cars with multiple 10Best Cars awards for their superb chassis tuning, well-designed interiors, and practicality. In terms of driving feel, the Civic hangs in with those standard-bearers, and it slightly bests them in objective performance. An automatic 2016 Mazda 3 hatchback went from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds and a 2017 Golf TSI we recently tested did it in 7.3 seconds.

Stopping from 70 mph in 166 feet, the Civic also excelled in our braking test, with the firm and progressive pedal returning a stop two feet shorter than did the Golf (which has a reputation for strong brakes) and five feet shorter than the Mazda 3.

The Civic hatchback has exemplary road manners, with quick and light steering that helps the car feel nimble. The MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension and well-tuned dampers keep body motions nicely in check during spirited cornering while still providing a ride quality that’s daily-driver livable. Aside from an occasional coarse note coming from the engine bay at higher speeds, the cabin is quiet and well insulated from outside noises.

The EPA estimates the hatch Sport Touring should reach 32 mpg combined, but during our drive time, it achieved only 27 mpg. That’s 1 mpg less than what we recorded for the Golf and 2 mpg less than we achieved with the Mazda 3.


The Rundown

Compared with the Civic sedan, the hatchback’s wheelbase is the same, while overall length is down by 4.4 inches. But the five-door offers 23 cubic feet of stowage behind the folding rear seats, a marked improvement over the sedan’s 15-cubic-foot trunk.

Our car wore an MSRP of $29,175, with the major differences between the Sport and the Sport Touring being technology and interior upgrades extensive enough to warrant a price $6200 more expensive than a CVT Sport. All Sport Touring hatchbacks include proximity entry and push-button start (as well as remote start), an eight-way power driver’s seat and four-way power passenger’s seat, and navigation with voice control. It also gets the Honda Sensing group of safety technologies (lane-keeping assist, automated emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control), plus moving guidelines on the backup-camera display, LED lighting with automatic high-beams, heated side mirrors with LED turn-signal repeaters, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. This Civic also packs heated front and rear leather seats, a 12-speaker sound system, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.


Inner Thoughts

The cabin is well built, comfortable, and offers good overall visibility, but the interior’s multiple layers, textures, and materials make for a somewhat disjointed aesthetic that might be an acquired taste. (As might be the exterior styling. Many of us dig the racer-mech-meets-practical-box look, but we understand how it may be too much for some folks.) That said, the Civic offers many of the small, practical items that mark modern Hondas, such as a configurable center console cleverly designed with multiple stowage areas and smart organization. The placement of one of the USB ports underneath the center tunnel can make for an awkward reach, however.

The infotainment screen splits the difference between being fully built-in and the trendier look of a stand-alone tablet, resulting in a design with a small empty space behind the upper half of the screen that looks like a place for dirt and dust to accumulate. Operation of some infotainment functions is a source of frustration; we’re not big fans of Honda’s volume touch slider at the side of the screen, but that can be avoided with the clicking volume buttons on the steering-wheel hub. (The Civic’s interior was designed just prior to Honda returning a volume knob to its vehicles; expect a mid-cycle update to address this flaw.) In addition, some screen menus are not intuitive, and the system lacks the ability to display functions such as audio and maps side by side. The screen does employ Honda’s LaneWatch system, displaying the view from a camera on the passenger-side mirror when the turn signal is activated. You can cancel this view with one touch at the end of the stalk or turn off the feature altogether; some of our drivers found it annoying when the display replaced an active navigation map.

Like the Golf and the Mazda 3, the Civic hatchback is a practical machine offering a balance of enthusiast-sating driving enjoyment and laid-back cruising ability. Of those three models, the Civic makes the boldest exterior design statement and, in this Sport Touring trim, packs a load of features for the cost. Just a few points separated the three in our recent comparison test of manual-transmission models—which the Honda won—providing further evidence that the Civic has its mojo back.

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2017 BMW 540i

Love is supposed to be unchanging, untainted, and absolute. It’s overwhelming attraction and unwavering commitment. When love is mutual, both sides work to sustain and grow it. Enthusiasts love BMW.

Love betrayed? That gets nasty.

The new 2017 540i is the latest evidence that BMW may be just not that into you anymore. It’s squishy where previous 5s were taut, and it trades eagerness for comfort. Of course, it’s a spectacularly capable car built with the solidity of the door to Wittenberg’s All Saints’ Church, on which Martin Luther posted his 95 theses that launched the Reformation in 1517. But, 500 years later, the 540i is nowhere near that communicative.


G30 Is No E39

Tested here is the rear-drive version of the 540i powered by the turbo 3.0-liter inline-six rated at 335 horsepower; we previously tested this engine with xDrive all-wheel drive. Sitting a notch below is the 530i powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four rated at 248 horsepower. And one rung above is the M550i that has a twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8 humming with 456 horsepower under its hood.

Called the G30 within BMW, this seventh-generation 5er (the series dates to the 1973 E12 model) derives from the same component set as the current 7-series. And that makes this car a big keg of Bavarian doppelbock. The 117.1-inch wheelbase is up only 0.2 inch from the superseded F10 generation, and at 194.6 inches overall, length has grown a mere 1.5 inches. But the F10 was no dainty car. This happens to be the 20th anniversary of the introduction of the landmark E39-generation 5-series that many argue was the peak for the species, and this new 5 is a whole lot bigger than the E39.

The G30 stretches 6.6 inches longer than the E39 with 5.7 inches more metal between the axles. More significantly, this new 540i weighs 4071 pounds where the 2001 540i (equipped with a naturally aspirated 4.4-liter V-8 and a five-speed automatic transmission) weighed 147 pounds less. In fairness, though, all cars have grown heavier in that time period, and this new 540i is actually a bit lighter than its immediate predecessor. C/D’s long-term 2011 BMW 535i (an early F10-platform car with a turbo 3.0-liter six and a six-speed manual) hit the scales at 4075 pounds. Four pounds may not be much less, but it’s not more. And this 2017 540i carried an exceptionally high level of options, while the long-term car had only a few.

That’d be $25,165 worth of add-ons atop the $57,445 base price. That includes a mostly decorative $2600 M Sport package; the Driving Assistance and Driving Assistance Plus packages that together run $3200 and add a number of cameras, sensors, and active safety features; and a $3500 Dynamic Handling package that incorporates adaptive dampers and anti-roll bars as well as an Adaptive Drive system that coordinates the interaction between those two technologies. Are we wrong to think that an Ultimate Driving Machine should include something called Dynamic Handling as standard equipment?

German luxury manufacturers have never been shy about option pricing, so this is no great surprise. Still, it takes some brass to charge $4200 for a Bowers Wilkins sound system and then demand another $300 if the customer also wants Apple CarPlay compatibility.


Lovely, Spacious, Tech-Heavy Cabin

Fortunately, this $82,610 car has an interior that befits its lofty station. The $1600 Luxury Seating package includes a set of seats that adjust in far more ways than anyone’s body can and are upholstered in spectacularly supple nappa leather with diamond tufting that looks like a blanket of engagement rings. The M Sport steering-wheel rim may be a few millimeters too thick, the shifter wand is a few degrees beyond inscrutable, and the iDrive control system’s menus still stretch a few layers too deep, but the overall design is among BMW’s best and the quality of construction is right up there alongside corporate brother Rolls-Royce.

The long wheelbase pays off in good rear legroom and abets a more stable ride. In a class that includes cars such as the Jaguar XF, the Audi A6, and the Mercedes-Benz E-class, the BMW feels the roomiest. It’s not quite the stretch-out indulgence of larger luxury machines, but it’s comfy in the back seat. And that makes sense because so much of BMW’s future is bet on the Chinese market, where those with the means prefer being driven instead of driving.


Plenty Quick but Insulated

It’s that driving part that is most frustrating about the 540i. All the mega-gigatrons of technology aboard insulate the driver from the experience. Only fleeting hints of mechanical joy make their way to the human who, it seems, is only nominally in charge. The test car contacts the pavement through a set of staggered Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3 tires, size 245/40R-19 in front and 275/35R-19 in back, but the car might as well be floating on a magnetic field. Charge into and then brake for a corner and the car doesn’t take the flat four-wheel set expected of BMWs. Instead it feels, well, sort of ordinary, with no report through the wheel or seat about what’s going on down at the tires. It’s great for a luxury barge, not that swell for a car with the epic sporting reputation of the 5-series. Take the time to make sure all the tech nannies are switched to their most irresponsible settings and it gets a little more engaging, but the electrically assisted steering remains Novocain numb.

There is, at least, some thrust aboard. The two turbos are tuned to boost the straight-six so that it achieves its peak 332 lb-ft of torque at an utterly silly 1380 rpm, barely off idle. It’s tough to parallel park this thing without reaching the peak torque rpm. That meshes well with the talents of the eight-speed automatic transmission. In relaxed driving situations, the transmission will trot, almost unnoticed, to the highest possible gear to keep revs down and fuel economy up. Drive as if you mean it, and the bottom six gears (none of which is an overdrive ratio, sixth being 1.00:1) dance as if Twyla Tharp and the ghost of Bernd Rosemeyer had conspired to set the tuning.

At the track, the 540i reached 60 mph in a commendable 4.7 seconds with the ample torque compensating for the modest 335-hp rating, and it scooted through the quarter-mile in 13.2 seconds at 109 mph. The all-wheel-drive version tested earlier did those deeds in 4.5 seconds and 13.1 ticks at 108 mph. It’s expected that the AWD version gets off the line a little better, with the rear-driver closing the gap at higher speeds. Hitting 120 mph in 16.3 seconds, the 540i is 0.1 second ahead of its all-wheel-drive sibling.

It’s also acceleration that compares well with the greatest of all the E39s, the M5. Back in 2000, an E39 M5 powered by a 400-hp 5.0-liter V-8 lashed to a six-speed manual transmission zipped to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds and ran the quarter-mile in 13.3 seconds at 108 mph during a comparison test that it won. This new 540i’s turbo six is an overachiever. And despite the beating it received in our hands, the 540i averaged 22 mpg.

Stopping from 70 mph in 168 feet is pretty good, but it’s 12 feet longer than that old M5. Likewise, the 0.87 g skidpad orbit doesn’t quite match the old E39 M car’s 0.90 g. Sure, this new one isn’t an M car, but it’s 17 years later and the archrival 2017 Mercedes E300 4MATIC can stop in 154 feet and corner at 0.90 g. Worst of all, this 540i may be quicker and more fuel efficient, but it is nowhere near as much fun as the old car. Not even close.


Concentration Diluted

Back in 1997, the entire BMW range in America consisted of variations on the 3-, 5-, 7-, and 8-series, plus the Z3 roadster. That’s five lines. But with the introduction of the X5 in 2000, BMW began an incredible expansion of its product portfolio. Today, there are six car lines (not including the Z4 that’s fading out of dealerships now), five SUVs (with more on the way), and the electric i3 (range extender optional) and hybrid i8. That’s 13 product lines not counting hybrid variations, M versions, and whatever knickknacks they’re selling in the dealership accessory shop. In places like prosperous Thousand Oaks, California, BMWs are more mainstream than Chevys or Fords, so the Rusnak BMW dealership resides in a block-long building. If the Ultimate Driving Machine still resides in that block, the new 540i isn’t it.

Love may be unchanging, but the world changes around it. There’s no arguing with BMW’s massive success as a business, but it’s straining the enthusiasts’ ability to love it unconditionally. That matters to us, even if it doesn’t matter to BMW.

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2017 Toyota 4Runner: Our View

The 2017 Toyota 4Runner is slowly becoming one of a kind thanks to a focus on off-road capabilities and ruggedness rather than the refinement, passenger comfort and crash avoidance technologies that are prioritized in competing models. If you’d like the latter, there are a plethora of car-based SUVs out there, like the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot, to get the family around in comfort. The 4Runner, on the other hand, has hardware better suited for weekend camping trips, mountainous exploration or, as I found, oddly good maneuvering of an urban landscape.

What makes it so capable? The 4Runner retains body-on-frame construction, a once-common chassis type that’s given way to lighter — and less-capable — unibody SUVs (commonly called crossovers or car-based SUVs)


New Name, Same SUV

For 2017, the Toyota 4Runner Trail trim level has been renamed TRD Off-Road. The 4Runner trims are now SR5, SR5 Premium, TRD Off-Road, TRD Off-Road Premium, TRD Pro and Limited. I tested a TRD Off-Road Premium that stickered at $39,835 including destination charge, $350 sliding cargo floor and a Toyota Keep It Wild saving discount of $750.

Toyota’s Keep It Wild discount applies to all 2017 4Runners and was initially introduced in 2014 to celebrate the 4Runner’s 30th anniversary, but Toyota kept the discount going. It continues to discount the base and TRD Off-Road by $500, the SR5 and TRD Off-Road Premium $750 and the Limited by $1,000.

How It Drives

TRD Off-Road trims have standard four-wheel drive and beefy off-road features, including a manually selectable two-speed transfer case; an electronic locking rear differential; and an obstacle assist feature called Crawl Control (see it demonstrated here). Compared with the buttons and dials most off-road vehicles now employ, it’s gratifying to feel a mechanical connection coursing through the transfer case lever on the TRD Off-Road. I’m not sure if this feature is nostalgically cool yet, like Aviator sunglasses, or just an outdated way to select four-wheel drive, but I felt satisfied every time I engaged it.


Unfortunately, the transfer case provides the only feeling of connectedness among the SUV’s driving controls. The steering wheel feels only loosely connected to the front wheels, and accelerator and brake pedal response is more an approximation than a precision control. The looser feeling comes from a suspension and tires that mold better to uneven surfaces — beneficial for rough terrain. On pavement, however, the 4Runner’s soft suspension tuning equates to slushy body movement.

With its base suspension, the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s refined ride quality is starkly different. Even better, the Jeep’s optional air suspension provides a choose-your-own-adventure adjustable ride height; the 4Runner doesn’t offer one. Compare the 4Runner with the Grand Cherokee here.

The 4Runner’s highway ride quality is surprisingly supple, and wind and road noise are shockingly in-check for an off-roader thanks to its pavement-friendly Bridgestone Dueler H/T tires. The 4Runner TRD Pro we last reviewed had noisy, knobby Nitto Terra Grappler G2 tires.


Even on-road, the 4Runner was at home driving Chicago’s late-winter roads, where potholes can bend rims and pop low-profile tires. The 4Runner’s meaty tires, though, glided over potholes and rough roads with aplomb. My route to work has a half-mile stretch of road with speed bumps every few hundred feet, and the 4Runner barely flinched hitting those 8-inch tall bumps at the 25-mph speed limit. Most SUVs’ rear tires smack the pavement coming down the backside of speed bumps, but the 4Runner’s rear suspension carefully unloaded the rear wheels without upsetting the ride.   

The 4Runner’s archaic architecture shows thanks to a raucous 270-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 that isn’t too happy lugging the 4,750-pound SUV. Its five-speed automatic transmission is a gear or two short of most modern transmissions, and it struggles to find pep or efficiency. EPA-estimated gas mileage with 4WD is a poor 17/20/18 mpg city/highway/combined on regular gasoline. The eight-speed transmission in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, meanwhile, makes it feel lighter than it is. The Jeep’s fuel economy also outdoes the 4Runner’s; it’s rated 18/25/21 mpg with its standard V-6 and four-wheel drive.

The 4Runner’s brake pedal is numb until about a quarter-way down, when the brakes grab with unexpected force and the 4Runner’s loosey-goosey suspension adds nosedive to its list of characteristics. I had to offer many apologies to passengers for the repeated sudden jolts.

Interior

The TRD Off-Road seats five — not seven, like a 4Runner SR5 can with its cramped optional third row. From the driver’s seat, the interior is airy and spacious. A high seating position and tall windows make for a commanding view of the road, and it’s nice to tower over other cars and have 9.6 inches of ground clearance. It makes for a big step into the cabin if you don’t get running boards, but that’s the way to go if you need maximum clearance for off-road driving. For most buyers, though, a set of running boards will help; they’re available as an accessory at your local Toyota dealership.



The backseat isn’t quite as roomy as a typical mid-size SUV’s — like a Highlander’s — and it’s also short compared with a Jeep Grand Cherokee, which might be the better option if you’re going to use the backseat a lot. Legroom in the 4Runner is cramped; there’s just 32.9 inches in the backseat, compared with the Highlander’s 38.4 inches and the Grand Cherokee’s 38.6 inches. Compare the three models here.






The utilitarian styling works, and the 4Runner feels ruggedly stylish for a sub-$40,000 SUV. The interior trimmings, however, aren’t going to wow you into thinking you purchased a more expensive vehicle, like one of the Grand Cherokee’s higher trims. There aren’t many frills in the TRD Off-Road Premium, either, though you do get heated seats, a USB port and imitation leather upholstery.

The multimedia system isn’t anything to get excited over, though our test vehicle included the 4Runner’s optional navigation system, Siri Eyes Free and a weather function with Doppler overlay. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t offered.

Cargo and Towing

The 4Runner’s 89.7 cubic feet of maximum cargo space is sizeable compared with the Grand Cherokee’s 68.3 cubic feet and the Highlander’s 83.7. The 4Runner’s cargo opening is tall and wide, and the whole floor can slide objects toward and beyond the cargo opening if you get the optional cargo slide deck. The feature will cost you a little overall cargo height and a cubic foot of storage, but it’s unique and usable every day.



People who tow frequently may not find the 4Runner suitable for much more than light-duty use. Despite its rugged construction, the 4Runner’s 5,000-pound towing capacity is the same as the Highlander’s, and it’s less than a Grand Cherokee’s 6,200 pounds (with the gasoline V-6). The Jeep’s V-8 can tow up to 7,200 pounds, while the Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited max out at 3,500 pounds.

Safety

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2017 Toyota 4Runner a score of marginal in its small overlap front crash test (out of a possible good, acceptable, marginal and poor) and good in four other crashworthiness tests. These ratings match the 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 4Runner an overall safety rating of four out of five stars, while the Grand Cherokee has an overall five-star rating with four-wheel drive and four stars with rear-wheel drive.  

The Highlander aced IIHS crash tests and scored five out of five stars from NHTSA.

In NHTSA’s rollover testing, the 4Runner earned three stars — the rating most often earned by off-road and truck-based models — with both RWD and 4WD. The Grand Cherokee earned three stars with RWD but four with 4WD. Typical of car-based SUVs, the Highlander rated four stars regardless of driveline.

The Highlander and other popular SUVs, including the Grand Cherokee, have more optional crash-avoidance features than the 2017 4Runner. The 4Runner lacks forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, blind spot warning and more. That may change soon, however, with Toyota’s promise to include automatic emergency braking for the 2018 model year. A backup camera is standard, and front and rear parking sensors are optional.

Value

For $39,835, a TRD Off-Road is still the sweet spot in the 4Runner lineup, just like it was when it was sold as the Trail trim level in 2016. It offers a lot of capability but not a lot of refinement, which could be endearing to weekend adventurers or those who just want to feel like they could dive deep into the woods at a moment’s notice.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee is arguably a more modern interpretation of an off-roader, with all the safety and convenience features you’d expect in a modern SUV. Of course that also comes at a higher price, and it’s hard to argue with Toyota’s reliability and ownership perks. J.D. Power’s 2017 Vehicle Dependability Study, which measures reliability of 2014 vehicles, rates the 4Runner five out of five for predicted reliability, while the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee gets just two out of five. (Neither model has been redesigned since 2014, so these ratings set reasonable expectations for the 2017s.) Toyota also offers two years/25,000 miles of free scheduled maintenance.

With less-than-stellar crashworthiness ratings and some modern features absent, the 4Runner is certainly not for everyone, but the roomy and off-road-oriented SUV certainly packs a lot of capability and ownership perks for less than $40,000.

Article source: https://www.cars.com/reviews/2017-toyota-4runner-our-view-1420695130058/

2017 Kia Niro Test | Review | Car and Driver

The iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player, millennials weren’t the first to point the camera back at the photographer, and the 2017 Kia Niro isn’t the first crossover to package a gas-electric hybrid powertrain under the hood. But just as Apple spurred digital music to ubiquity and the social-media generation wallpapered the internet with selfies, Kia’s Niro is the fully realized execution that could elevate the hybrid crossover to widespread adoption.

Twelve years after Ford added electric assist to its Escape (and five years after the automaker killed that offering), the small, hybridized utility vehicle finally lives up to its potential with the Niro. Rated at up to 50 mpg in the EPA’s combined measure, the Niro makes the lofty fuel-economy promises many buyers expect from hybrids. The starting price of $23,785 undercuts the prices of the 33-mpg Nissan Rogue and the 32-mpg Toyota RAV4 hybrids by several thousand dollars. It even slips under that of the green king, the Toyota Prius, by $575. And if driving a Prius makes the same fashion statement as donning a sweater vest over a turtleneck, the Niro wears like a pair of jeans and a Patagonia pullover—understated and trendy with a subtle air of eco credibility. We drove both the base Niro FE and the top-dog Touring to better understand why the different trims carry different EPA fuel-economy ratings.


One Vehicle, Three Fuel-Economy Ratings

The Niro wears one of three different EPA labels depending on the trim level. The FE model (for Fuel Efficient) is the most frugal at 50 mpg combined, while the Niro Touring registers 43 mpg. The midrange LX and EX trims both carry a 49-mpg combined rating.

These differences are primarily the product of regulatory minutiae in the fuel-economy labeling game. While most cars have one fuel-economy label per powertrain that lumps various trim levels into a single test that reflects the equipment level of the most popular variant, Kia parses the Niro into three separate certifications in order to get a bigger number for the lighter, lower-spec trims. Like we said: regulatory minutiae.

Our real-world findings suggest there is a distinction to be found in the fuel economy between the FE and Touring models, although it’s significantly smaller than the 7-mpg difference on the EPA labels. In our use, the Niro FE averaged 37 mpg, while the Touring model returned 35 mpg. Those figures climbed to 42 mpg for the FE and 39 mpg for the Touring on our 75-mph, 200-mile highway loop.

If 37 mpg seems like a far cry from the advertised 50 mpg, know that it’s still a remarkable figure for a crossover. You won’t find a more practical vehicle that returns better fuel economy, unless you’re willing to drive an electric car. For example, the Ford C-Max hybrid returned 32 mpg in our hands, while the all-wheel-drive Toyota RAV4 hybrid managed 31 mpg, and the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen with front-wheel drive and an automatic transmission did 26 mpg.

Whether the $30,545 Touring is worth the 2-to-3-mpg fuel-economy hit is a matter of personal priorities. The FE has just enough luxuries to be considered well equipped, with satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. We spotted only one overt sign of cheapness, and it’s hidden in the cargo area. In the FE, Kia withholds the cargo cover and instead provides a flimsy, ill-fitting panel where the carpeted floor mat would be in the Touring. Of course, the Touring also adds other features such as heated and ventilated front seats, leather upholstery, push-button starting, and a sunroof, but both cars boast comfortable cockpits with stylish materials, intuitive controls, and impressive quality.


The Anti-Prius

Kia’s hybrid powertrain is a relatively simple thing with a single electric motor/generator attached to the input shaft of the six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. There’s also a clutch between the 1.6-liter inline-four engine and the 43-hp motor, which in theory permits electric-only driving, but in our experience the Niro made only momentary overtures at electric-only propulsion, primarily using its 43-hp motor to assist the 1.6-liter four-cylinder. One key advantage of this system is that it behaves similarly to a conventional gasoline-only vehicle, with a predictable correlation between vehicle speed and the engine’s efforts. You won’t find the labored moaning characteristic of Toyota’s complex two-motor, planetary-gear Hybrid Synergy Drive here.

In our multiple encounters with various Niro test vehicles, though, we have repeatedly noticed some low-speed surges and pulses coming from the powertrain, presumably as the powertrain controller struggles to seamlessly blend engine and motor torque. These quiet hiccups are never abrupt nor harsh, and some drivers may not register them at all, as they are no more intrusive than an automatic transmission shifting through its gears. Still, they’re perceptible enough to warrant further development work on Kia’s end, and shoppers should look for this behavior on a test drive to determine if it will irk them over the long run.

Otherwise, the Niro largely drives as you’d expect a hybrid to drive, trading responsiveness for efficiency. The transmission’s default Eco mode undermines the low-end tug of the electric motor by racing to upshift through the gears. It’s possible to drive around this behavior by pushing deeper into the accelerator or by sliding the gear selector into Sport mode, but we’d prefer the standard mode were better matched to stop-and-go driving conditions.

The meager total power—just 139 horsepower—leaves the hybrid flat-footed when you stand on the accelerator. The Niro FE ambled to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds, while the heavier Touring stretched that time to a painfully slow 9.6 seconds. That 0.7-second margin is greater than the 156-pound weight difference between the two trims would suggest, but it corroborates our observations that the FE feels more sprightly in traffic. Our only explanation for the gulf between zero-to-60 times is that much of the Touring’s added heft is in its larger 18-inch wheels, so the powertrain has to accelerate that mass both rotationally and longitudinally as it moves the vehicle down the road.

Both models deliver pleasant ride quality, sopping up mundane pavement patches, cracks, and heaves more gracefully than many other Kia vehicles. The Niro’s steering and handling mostly mimic that of a car with nicely controlled body roll. While the FE’s lateral grip of 0.82 g is impressive, the Touring’s figure of 0.90 g is phenomenal for a hybrid without a Porsche badge on the hood. The Touring gains that advantage with tires that are grippier than the FE’s narrower, low-rolling-resistance Michelin Energy Saver A/S rubber.


Define “Crossover”

The Niro’s remarkable fuel economy and carlike handling aren’t anomalous, though. They’re made possible by the fact that Kia takes full advantage of the ambiguity in the word crossover. The Niro qualifies as a crossover only in the most superficial interpretation: a two-box wagon shape with a ribbon of black plastic ringing the body’s bottom edge and (on upper trims) a pair of roof-rack rails. All-wheel drive is not available, and ground clearance is comparable to that of most cars.

If it’s a high vantage point you seek, know that the Niro’s seat height is located in the gray area between cars and crossovers. At 23.1 inches, the Niro’s H-point falls between that of the typical car (around 19 to 20 inches) and conventional crossovers (in the 27- to 28-inch range). To our butts, the Niro feels just high enough to make entering and exiting the vehicle easy but not so high as to feel clumsy and stilted in corners. Those coming out of something taller, like a Honda CR-V (with a 5.0-inch-greater seat height) or a Toyota RAV4 (4.0 inches higher), might think otherwise.

The Niro also measures roughly 10 inches shorter than those small-crossover standard-bearers, a critical factor in the Niro FE’s featherweight 3108-pound mass—and thus its big fuel-economy numbers. Despite the truncated body, there’s still livable rear head- and legroom for adults in the back. You will sacrifice cargo space, though. Six carry-on-sized suitcases fit behind the rear seat, while a Honda CR-V will carry 10.

The Kia Niro is the rare gas-electric vehicle to offer an emotional justification to the rational reasons for buying a hybrid. Beyond hitting a sweet spot of affordability, efficiency, and utility, the Niro adds handsome and fashionable style. By combining Kia’s sharp design language on top of the popular crossover form factor, the Niro is a Toyota Prius that we wouldn’t be embarrassed to own.

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2017 Honda Civic Hatchback CVT Automatic | Review | Car and Driver

With the 10th-generation Civic, Honda brought back much of what American fans of the storied compact loved through the years, as well as added a few new wrinkles—hello, Type R! But as excited as we are for America’s first ever Civic Type R, it’s the return of the hatchback body style to the lineup that makes that even possible. Having already had positive experiences behind the wheels of the Civic sedan and coupe, it’s time for us to strap our gear to the hatchback, which we tested here in its top-of-the-line Sport Touring trim level.


A Different S.T.

Despite there being multiple racing series dedicated to touring cars, the words sport and touring aren’t typically paired together on vehicles you can actually buy (except for some Buicks—go figure—and grand touring is a whole other thing). That’s because touring conjures thoughts of comfort and space, while sport centers on a more dynamic driving experience, often at the sacrifice of daily comfort or convenience. The Civic Sport Touring hatchback manages to reconcile these seeming incongruities, however, combining fun to drive, comfort, ease of use, and practicality in one package.

The Civic Sport Touring we tested (and the Sport, which offers a six-speed manual unavailable on this trim) does not differ much at all in its chassis tuning from the rest of the lineup, as Honda is saving the significant handling upgrades for the Si and Type R models. In fact, only two things change about the driving experience when the Civic goes Sport Touring or Sport: the steering (which has a barely quicker, 11.1:1 ratio versus 10.9:1) and its shoes. The Sport models get 18-inch rolling stock compared with the 16 inchers on the LX and 17s on the EX and EX-L Navi. All-season rubber is standard on all trim levels.


1.5 Alive

Under the hood of all Civic hatchbacks lives a 16-valve 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-four engine. Although not required, premium fuel is recommended for the Sport and the Sport Touring, which both have upgraded knock sensors. Honda claims the higher octane—as well as the center-exit dual exhaust standard on the Sport and Sport Touring—will provide a tiny boost in power. Running premium, the Sport and Sport Touring with the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) make a claimed 180 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 162 lb-ft of torque from 1700 to 5500 rpm. Burning regular unleaded, the turbo four paired with the CVT makes a claimed 174 horsepower and 162 lb-ft at the same peak rpm, just as it does in the LX, EX, and EX-L, which have the standard knock sensor and single-pipe exhaust.

Although we prefer a manual transmission for vehicles with the word sport in their names, the CVT is the only option on the Sport Touring trim. However, Honda’s CVT is one of the best currently on the market, and it is a willing partner in getting the engine to rev and is responsive to throttle applications across the rev range. In our testing, the CVT and turbo four combo powered the car from zero to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, completed the 30-to-50-mph dash in 3.9 seconds, and ran the quarter-mile in 15.4 at 93 mph.

While there are many hatchback competitors to this Civic, there are two primary benchmarks: the Volkswagen Golf and the Mazda 3. We’ve awarded both of those cars with multiple 10Best Cars awards for their superb chassis tuning, well-designed interiors, and practicality. In terms of driving feel, the Civic hangs in with those standard-bearers, and it slightly bests them in objective performance. An automatic 2016 Mazda 3 hatchback went from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds and a 2017 Golf TSI we recently tested did it in 7.3 seconds.

Stopping from 70 mph in 166 feet, the Civic also excelled in our braking test, with the firm and progressive pedal returning a stop two feet shorter than did the Golf (which has a reputation for strong brakes) and five feet shorter than the Mazda 3.

The Civic hatchback has exemplary road manners, with quick and light steering that helps the car feel nimble. The MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension and well-tuned dampers keep body motions nicely in check during spirited cornering while still providing a ride quality that’s daily-driver livable. Aside from an occasional coarse note coming from the engine bay at higher speeds, the cabin is quiet and well insulated from outside noises.

The EPA estimates the hatch Sport Touring should reach 32 mpg combined, but during our drive time, it achieved only 27 mpg. That’s 1 mpg less than what we recorded for the Golf and 2 mpg less than we achieved with the Mazda 3.


The Rundown

Compared with the Civic sedan, the hatchback’s wheelbase is the same, while overall length is down by 4.4 inches. But the five-door offers 23 cubic feet of stowage behind the folding rear seats, a marked improvement over the sedan’s 15-cubic-foot trunk.

Our car wore an MSRP of $29,175, with the major differences between the Sport and the Sport Touring being technology and interior upgrades extensive enough to warrant a price $6200 more expensive than a CVT Sport. All Sport Touring hatchbacks include proximity entry and push-button start (as well as remote start), an eight-way power driver’s seat and four-way power passenger’s seat, and navigation with voice control. It also gets the Honda Sensing group of safety technologies (lane-keeping assist, automated emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control), plus moving guidelines on the backup-camera display, LED lighting with automatic high-beams, heated side mirrors with LED turn-signal repeaters, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. This Civic also packs heated front and rear leather seats, a 12-speaker sound system, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.


Inner Thoughts

The cabin is well built, comfortable, and offers good overall visibility, but the interior’s multiple layers, textures, and materials make for a somewhat disjointed aesthetic that might be an acquired taste. (As might be the exterior styling. Many of us dig the racer-mech-meets-practical-box look, but we understand how it may be too much for some folks.) That said, the Civic offers many of the small, practical items that mark modern Hondas, such as a configurable center console cleverly designed with multiple stowage areas and smart organization. The placement of one of the USB ports underneath the center tunnel can make for an awkward reach, however.

The infotainment screen splits the difference between being fully built-in and the trendier look of a stand-alone tablet, resulting in a design with a small empty space behind the upper half of the screen that looks like a place for dirt and dust to accumulate. Operation of some infotainment functions is a source of frustration; we’re not big fans of Honda’s volume touch slider at the side of the screen, but that can be avoided with the clicking volume buttons on the steering-wheel hub. (The Civic’s interior was designed just prior to Honda returning a volume knob to its vehicles; expect a mid-cycle update to address this flaw.) In addition, some screen menus are not intuitive, and the system lacks the ability to display functions such as audio and maps side by side. The screen does employ Honda’s LaneWatch system, displaying the view from a camera on the passenger-side mirror when the turn signal is activated. You can cancel this view with one touch at the end of the stalk or turn off the feature altogether; some of our drivers found it annoying when the display replaced an active navigation map.

Like the Golf and the Mazda 3, the Civic hatchback is a practical machine offering a balance of enthusiast-sating driving enjoyment and laid-back cruising ability. Of those three models, the Civic makes the boldest exterior design statement and, in this Sport Touring trim, packs a load of features for the cost. Just a few points separated the three in our recent comparison test of manual-transmission models—which the Honda won—providing further evidence that the Civic has its mojo back.

2017 Nissan GT-R Premium review: The deal of the century, again

There’s a ton of good about this car — sickening acceleration, vicious looks, cool tech — but let’s start with the bad.

The GT-R has this green light in the tach. I think it’s supposed to tell you when to shift economically because it starts flashing at about 2,500 rpm and then comes on solid at 3,000 or so, whenever the car is in manual mode. It flashes all the time, even when you’re in sixth gear, which I don’t understand, and it always made me take my eyes off the road, even after I’d been in the car for two days. I couldn’t find a way to get rid of it, but I didn’t look too deeply in the menus.

It’s a bear in traffic. When driving the GT-R as it should be driven, no problem. Stomp the gas, it takes off like a rocket and you just have to get ready for second gear, which comes in about two seconds. But in traffic, holy smokes, in traffic it’s a lurchy, clunky rocket just itching to take off. I sat on the freeway in bumper-to-bumper traffic for an hour yesterday and boy does it get annoying. This thing just wants to run free. It’s the dual-clutch’s fault as usual, but this is one car that I wouldn’t give up the DCT because when it’s stretching its legs, it’s awesome.

So acceleration, like I said, always say, is brutal. The last time I had this car with a friend in the passenger seat he said it made him nauseated. It takes off so fast, and with so little slip, it doesn’t feel like the tires are doing the work, just an invisible force pulling the front end. People try to keep up in traffic, not a chance. It does feel like a Nissan, though. It has just a little bit of 370Z sound from the exhaust, and maybe a little bit of the feel during acceleration too. Shifts from the sixer are strong and immediate at full speed, and of course a little clunky when going slower.

On the expressway, this car begs to hit triple digits and it’s easy to do. In sixth gear, it sits at about 80 mph at 3,200 rpm or so, meaning there is plenty of power without shifting gears. It’s a little intimidating, thinking that all you have to do is stomp the throttle and you’ll be near 200 mph in no time.

And then there’s launch control. Nissan has pretty much perfected it. It used to feel like the GT-R was hit by a train. Now it feels more civilized, if you can call it that, when all four tires spin and you have to hold on for dear life. I did it three times in row with no issues. The brakes are great at high speeds, a little grabby in bumper-to-bumper, but again, with this car, you take the good with the bad.

It feels pretty heavy through the steering wheel, but planted. It has a straight-up, old-school hydraulic rack-and-pinion setup — that and the tires do a great job of transmitting the road to your hands. That means you can take turns faster and more aggressive because you’ll feel it slipping before it breaks free. That also leads to it following the dips in the road and sometimes jerking to the side of the lane when the pavement gets wavy. But with both hands firmly on the wheel, it feels fantastic.

The GT-R went from the deal of the century in 2009 to just an average deal in 2014, but now I think it might be back to being the deal of the century. Prices of its competitors went up. There’s the Viper, which is now just a tick under 100K, the 911 Carrera 4S, which is almost exactly the same as the Nissan and then there are the AMG GTS and Jag F-Type Rs of the world. I suppose at 100K there are a lot of great cars, which isn’t surprising — the Corvette Z06 is up there too. Maybe it wouldn’t be my first choice because it’s not rear-wheel drive, but it’s so frickin’ vicious, and it’s like nothing else on the road. If you’re playing in this rarified air, it has to be driven.

– Jake Lingeman, road test editor


2017 Nissan GT-R Track Edition to make New York auto show debut

It took me a few turns behind the wheel, over the course of a couple years, to warm up to the GT-R; it takes a very Japanese approach to the supercar, somewhat clinical, slightly sterile — I had trouble with its pure businesslike attitude that made even the M3 and 911 Turbo feel playful. I don’t know if it’s me softening to the persona or refinements to the 2017 GT-R making it more approachable, but a long weekend with this car has me ready to sign the papers.

Jake covered the nuances of its personality well — vicious is a good word for the potential here, but unlike Jake, I found the GT-R perfectly content making hardware store runs and puttering on errands. When you’re in a situation where all three “R” switches can be engaged and some fun can be had, insanity is a stab of the pedal away. But it’s in no way required — quick street driving and fun public backroads are great places to play with the GT-R at 5/10ths, and the car is no better or worse than anything else of its performance caliber in nasty rush-hour traffic. That’s what satellite radio is for.

The GT-R is a delight, and unlike Jake, I’ll say it’s an unqualified performance bargain — I’m looking forward to my next drive in one.

– Andrew Stoy, digital editor


2018 Mercedes AMG GT C Roadster First drive

There’s nothing else quite like the GT-R out there today. The 2017 model rounds off some of the car’s rougher edges and adds comfier seats, but it’s not trying to be anything other than a highly focused, highly honed two-ton brute that wants to go really freaking fast all the time.

That could place it at odds with the increasingly capable, porky-but-potent crop of modern super-sports cars that can whip a track and then go soft at the push of a button for the drive home. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Historically, high-caliber performance cars have been terrible to drive around town, but the tradeoff is that they’re attention-grabbers. Show up somewhere in a metallic purple Lamborghini Diablo and people are going to be too distracted by the car to notice your hopeless attempts to parallel-park it.

Make no mistake: The GT-R is much easier to drive than any finicky Italian wedge ever was. Yet that’s at least partly because it’s a Nissan — which is all it will ever be to the majority of people. This is the kind of car that only gets noticed by other enthusiasts. Compare that to the Audi R8, which is probably more attractive but less visually interesting: It’s an eyeball magnet to a degree I couldn’t have imagined. The GT-R is not.

And while it’s not miserable to run errands in, and it might even make a decent winter driver with the right set of tires and the right attitude, the GT-R is not truly happy unless it’s going blisteringly fast. An experiment for you: Hop on the expressway and set the cruise control to 70 mph (reminder: that’s the speed limit, folks) and park it there. The car rebels, especially on grooved concrete; you’ll have to wrestle a bit with the heavy steering to keep it pointed in the right direction. Punch the throttle, though, and the car tracks as solid as a rock even as it’s accelerating toward the sound barrier. It’s weird.

All of these quirks (or whatever you want to call them), plus the GT-R’s undeniably impressive specs and visceral immediacy make it a cool, outsider choice, even after all these years on the market.

– Graham Kozak, associate editor




By Autoweek Staff

On Sale: Now

Base Price: $111,585

As Tested Price: $116,880

Drivetrain: 3.5-liter DOHC twin-turbocharged V6, AWD six-speed dual-clutch automatic

Output: 565 hp @ 6,800 rpm; 467 lb-ft @ 3,300-6,800 rpm

Curb Weight: 3,929 lb

Fuel Economy: 16/22/18 mpg(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)

Pros: Breakneck acceleration, loads of telemetry tech

Cons: Usual DCT lurchiness at low speeds, only sounds good at full tilt

Article source: http://autoweek.com/article/car-reviews/2017-nissan-gt-r-premium-review-deal-century

2017 Subaru Impreza Long-Term Test | Review | Car and Driver

There’s a new Midwesterner at our Ann Arbor offices, and it’s not a product of the Big Three. The vehicle in question is the progeny of Japan but hails from the state that bills itself the Crossroads of America, brags that it’s the country’s second-largest producer of popcorn, and is the site of Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home: You know, Indiana. We’ve taken ownership of a brand-new Subaru Impreza (a hatch, natch), and we’re holding on until the clock hits 40,000 miles.

The Impreza is new from stem to stern this year. Even the bones are different, as this is the first car to use Subaru’s new Global Platform architecture. The Impreza’s sole engine is a 152-hp 2.0-liter flat-four, newly direct injected for 2017 in an upgrade that adds four horsepower over the previous model. A five-speed manual is still the base transmission, while a continuously variable automatic is optional; all-wheel drive remains standard. Subaru’s design team has fashioned a new look for the Impreza, adding more character lines, redesigning the taillights, and giving the hatchback a wider opening.

Subaru has been on an extended sales hot streak, posting eight consecutive years of record-breaking numbers. Demand for the new Impreza was up 33 percent in the first quarter of 2017 compared with sales of the previous generation a year ago, and its early adoption of Subaru’s new platform makes the Impreza a perfect test case with which to evaluate the strength of the company’s boom-time offerings.

We selected, as most buyers will, a hatchback CVT version of the Impreza. The second-from-the-top Sport trim may not be as universal a choice, but we were drawn to its torque-vectoring functionality, which seeks to capitalize on the Impreza’s stiffened structure for improved handling. The Sport model also wears 18-inch wheels rather than the standard 16-inchers.

For $2945, we added a power sunroof, an eight-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system, and Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assistance package. Pre-collision warning with automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and blind-spot monitoring are all included in the EyeSight package. Choosing the CVT added $800 to our bottom line. Those options plus auto-dimming mirrors and all-weather floor mats brought the final tally to $27,605.

The first weekend in our fresh Impreza brought a late-winter snowstorm, the perfect playground for a Subaru. Fun was slightly limited as we were still accumulating break-in mileage, but the little Subie was sure-footed on the slick, unplowed roads we encountered.

With snow days now mercifully behind us (we hope), the Impreza must rely on other traits to impress drivers. Thus far, its charms seem plentiful, with drivers almost universally complimentary about its solid ride and quick steering. Complaining about CVTs is a favorite pastime of C/D editors, but so far the Impreza’s has mostly avoided comment, although that may change as the miles pile up. The cloth-upholstered interior and manual climate controls—we’d expect automatic controls at this price—have inspired the bulk of negative logbook comments and have been unfavorably compared with the finer fittings in our similarly priced long-term Honda Civic.

We took the Impreza to the dealer at 688 miles for a recall on the software that controls the cooling fan. The fix was quick and free, which we hope will set a tone for any future visits. With few miles on the clock, there’s plenty of ground yet to cover in our long-term Impreza. Thousands of miles of summer road trips, morning drop-offs, and evening commutes undoubtedly will tease out issues large and small, so we’ll see whether the Impreza deserves to surpass popcorn as a source of Hoosier pride.

Months in Fleet: 1 month Current Mileage: 2256 miles
Average Fuel Economy: 28 mpg Fuel Tank Size: 13.2 gal Fuel Range: 360 miles Service: $0 Normal Wear: $0 Repair: $0

2017 Kia Niro

The iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player, millennials weren’t the first to point the camera back at the photographer, and the 2017 Kia Niro isn’t the first crossover to package a gas-electric hybrid powertrain under the hood. But just as Apple spurred digital music to ubiquity and the social-media generation wallpapered the internet with selfies, Kia’s Niro is the fully realized execution that could elevate the hybrid crossover to widespread adoption.

Twelve years after Ford added electric assist to its Escape (and five years after the automaker killed that offering), the small, hybridized utility vehicle finally lives up to its potential with the Niro. Rated at up to 50 mpg in the EPA’s combined measure, the Niro makes the lofty fuel-economy promises many buyers expect from hybrids. The starting price of $23,785 undercuts the prices of the 33-mpg Nissan Rogue and the 32-mpg Toyota RAV4 hybrids by several thousand dollars. It even slips under that of the green king, the Toyota Prius, by $575. And if driving a Prius makes the same fashion statement as donning a sweater vest over a turtleneck, the Niro wears like a pair of jeans and a Patagonia pullover—understated and trendy with a subtle air of eco credibility. We drove both the base Niro FE and the top-dog Touring to better understand why the different trims carry different EPA fuel-economy ratings.


One Vehicle, Three Fuel-Economy Ratings

The Niro wears one of three different EPA labels depending on the trim level. The FE model (for Fuel Efficient) is the most frugal at 50 mpg combined, while the Niro Touring registers 43 mpg. The midrange LX and EX trims both carry a 49-mpg combined rating.

These differences are primarily the product of regulatory minutiae in the fuel-economy labeling game. While most cars have one fuel-economy label per powertrain that lumps various trim levels into a single test that reflects the equipment level of the most popular variant, Kia parses the Niro into three separate certifications in order to get a bigger number for the lighter, lower-spec trims. Like we said: regulatory minutiae.

Our real-world findings suggest there is a distinction to be found in the fuel economy between the FE and Touring models, although it’s significantly smaller than the 7-mpg difference on the EPA labels. In our use, the Niro FE averaged 37 mpg, while the Touring model returned 35 mpg. Those figures climbed to 42 mpg for the FE and 39 mpg for the Touring on our 75-mph, 200-mile highway loop.

If 37 mpg seems like a far cry from the advertised 50 mpg, know that it’s still a remarkable figure for a crossover. You won’t find a more practical vehicle that returns better fuel economy, unless you’re willing to drive an electric car. For example, the Ford C-Max hybrid returned 32 mpg in our hands, while the all-wheel-drive Toyota RAV4 hybrid managed 31 mpg, and the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen with front-wheel drive and an automatic transmission did 26 mpg.

Whether the $30,545 Touring is worth the 2-to-3-mpg fuel-economy hit is a matter of personal priorities. The FE has just enough luxuries to be considered well equipped, with satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. We spotted only one overt sign of cheapness, and it’s hidden in the cargo area. In the FE, Kia withholds the cargo cover and instead provides a flimsy, ill-fitting panel where the carpeted floor mat would be in the Touring. Of course, the Touring also adds other features such as heated and ventilated front seats, leather upholstery, push-button starting, and a sunroof, but both cars boast comfortable cockpits with stylish materials, intuitive controls, and impressive quality.


The Anti-Prius

Kia’s hybrid powertrain is a relatively simple thing with a single electric motor/generator attached to the input shaft of the six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. There’s also a clutch between the 1.6-liter inline-four engine and the 43-hp motor, which in theory permits electric-only driving, but in our experience the Niro made only momentary overtures at electric-only propulsion, primarily using its 43-hp motor to assist the 1.6-liter four-cylinder. One key advantage of this system is that it behaves similarly to a conventional gasoline-only vehicle, with a predictable correlation between vehicle speed and the engine’s efforts. You won’t find the labored moaning characteristic of Toyota’s complex two-motor, planetary-gear Hybrid Synergy Drive here.

In our multiple encounters with various Niro test vehicles, though, we have repeatedly noticed some low-speed surges and pulses coming from the powertrain, presumably as the powertrain controller struggles to seamlessly blend engine and motor torque. These quiet hiccups are never abrupt nor harsh, and some drivers may not register them at all, as they are no more intrusive than an automatic transmission shifting through its gears. Still, they’re perceptible enough to warrant further development work on Kia’s end, and shoppers should look for this behavior on a test drive to determine if it will irk them over the long run.

Otherwise, the Niro largely drives as you’d expect a hybrid to drive, trading responsiveness for efficiency. The transmission’s default Eco mode undermines the low-end tug of the electric motor by racing to upshift through the gears. It’s possible to drive around this behavior by pushing deeper into the accelerator or by sliding the gear selector into Sport mode, but we’d prefer the standard mode were better matched to stop-and-go driving conditions.

The meager total power—just 139 horsepower—leaves the hybrid flat-footed when you stand on the accelerator. The Niro FE ambled to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds, while the heavier Touring stretched that time to a painfully slow 9.6 seconds. That 0.7-second margin is greater than the 156-pound weight difference between the two trims would suggest, but it corroborates our observations that the FE feels more sprightly in traffic. Our only explanation for the gulf between zero-to-60 times is that much of the Touring’s added heft is in its larger 18-inch wheels, so the powertrain has to accelerate that mass both rotationally and longitudinally as it moves the vehicle down the road.

Both models deliver pleasant ride quality, sopping up mundane pavement patches, cracks, and heaves more gracefully than many other Kia vehicles. The Niro’s steering and handling mostly mimic that of a car with nicely controlled body roll. While the FE’s lateral grip of 0.82 g is impressive, the Touring’s figure of 0.90 g is phenomenal for a hybrid without a Porsche badge on the hood. The Touring gains that advantage with tires that are grippier than the FE’s narrower, low-rolling-resistance Michelin Energy Saver A/S rubber.


Define “Crossover”

The Niro’s remarkable fuel economy and carlike handling aren’t anomalous, though. They’re made possible by the fact that Kia takes full advantage of the ambiguity in the word crossover. The Niro qualifies as a crossover only in the most superficial interpretation: a two-box wagon shape with a ribbon of black plastic ringing the body’s bottom edge and (on upper trims) a pair of roof-rack rails. All-wheel drive is not available, and ground clearance is comparable to that of most cars.

If it’s a high vantage point you seek, know that the Niro’s seat height is located in the gray area between cars and crossovers. At 23.1 inches, the Niro’s H-point falls between that of the typical car (around 19 to 20 inches) and conventional crossovers (in the 27- to 28-inch range). To our butts, the Niro feels just high enough to make entering and exiting the vehicle easy but not so high as to feel clumsy and stilted in corners. Those coming out of something taller, like a Honda CR-V (with a 5.0-inch-greater seat height) or a Toyota RAV4 (4.0 inches higher), might think otherwise.

The Niro also measures roughly 10 inches shorter than those small-crossover standard-bearers, a critical factor in the Niro FE’s featherweight 3108-pound mass—and thus its big fuel-economy numbers. Despite the truncated body, there’s still livable rear head- and legroom for adults in the back. You will sacrifice cargo space, though. Six carry-on-sized suitcases fit behind the rear seat, while a Honda CR-V will carry 10.

The Kia Niro is the rare gas-electric vehicle to offer an emotional justification to the rational reasons for buying a hybrid. Beyond hitting a sweet spot of affordability, efficiency, and utility, the Niro adds handsome and fashionable style. By combining Kia’s sharp design language on top of the popular crossover form factor, the Niro is a Toyota Prius that we wouldn’t be embarrassed to own.

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Review: Samsung Galaxy S8 Creates Strong First Impressions

Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 (and its bigger sibling, the Galaxy S8 Plus) are designed to reintroduce the public to Samsung as the company tries to put the fiery death of the Galaxy Note 7 behind it.

And, as first impressions go, this is a doozy. If Samsung is trying to wow us into trusting it again, it’s done a pretty good job with this highly-polished, distinctive pair of devices.

The obvious star of the show here is the screen, which takes up nearly all of the front of the new smartphones. Samsung has managed to maximize the screen here by concealing the physical home button underneath the screen, and using virtual buttons that can disappear when they’re not in use.

The result is surprisingly impressive. Given that Samsung has had a similar edge-to-edge design on the Galaxy S7 Edge for a couple of years now, I wasn’t expecting to be impressed by a little more room. But kicking out the home button does make a noticeable difference on the phone — giving you more screen on which to surf, work and watch videos.

The change does give both the S8 and S8 Plus a slightly weird screen size — they feel a bit too tall for their width — that may be annoying to watch video on over time. The Galaxy S8 has a 5.8-inch screen, while the S8 Plus has a 6.2-inch screen. Despite the odd shape, both models provide a lot of screen for a phone that I can use conveniently with one hand. That’s not something I could say of the Note 7, which had a 5.7-inch screen. I can’t even really say that of the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus.

I thought the virtual buttons might throw me off as well, given my experience with similar designs in the past. But Samsung seems to have done a good job in making sure the button is always accessible, at least from what I saw.

The phone is also very fast and feels powerful. I spent a little time with Samsung DeX, the desktop mode that lets you plug your phone into a monitor and special dock (sold separately for about $160), which was also impressive at first blush. Samsung’s secured full support for Microsoft Office for the mode, which makes it feel about as capable as a netbook — one that also shows you your text, call and other notifications. You can pair a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to the DeX dock, or opt to plug one in, so you can use all the same keyboard commands you’re used to, as well as the option to drag and drop.

Samsung has included many of the features that made its phones great in the first place, including the option to expand the memory with your own SD card and waterproofing. It even improved the quality of the front-facing, a.k.a. selfie, camera. It’s now 8 MP, up from 5 MP on the S7, and will now auto-focus on faces.

Overall, I was pretty impressed with the look and capabilities of the S8 and S8 Plus, and would tentatively say it’s worth upgrading from an S7. (And certainly from an S6.) That said, there’s so much about the phone that we still don’t know. Yes, of course, there’s the question of whether it will suffer the same battery problems as the Note 7 — unlikely, given Samsung’s new safety measures, but also not impossible.

It’s worth remembering that the Note 7 had rave reviews, too. Until the fires started.

And there are also some things that Samsung has promised that I’ll need to try for a while before I pass final judgment. For example, I didn’t get any real sense of how effective Bixby, the company’s new voice assistant, worked in conversation — demonstration halls are notoriously noisy. The features I did see, including its ability to search online for product just by snapping a picture of something, were still in tightly controlled demonstration mode.

That’s a pretty important feature to try before coming to a decision on whether this is a phone I’d recommend over, say, Apple’s iPhone. Because while the new screen design is nice — and it is, it should be said again, very pretty — a little bit of beauty is not what’s going to tip people over the edge when looking to drop $700 or $800 on a phone.


Image credit: Product shot by Samsung.

Article source: http://www.newsfactor.com/story.xhtml?story_id=100009U395QS

2017 Mercedes GLA45 AMG quick take: Hot Benz hatch grows up…slightly

HIGHLIGHTS: From its introduction, Mercedes’ GLA compact crossover (and its CLA sedan brother) has had a single, basic mission: Get younger folks with money (or at least credit) into the Mercedes-Benz brand. In the same vein, the GLA45 is the jumping-off point for AMG –- Mercedes’ in-house high-performance tuner division. In GLA45 guise, Mercedes’ little ute gets performance-tuned suspension, brake and appearance options, along with a positively rabid 375-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder –- that’s 188 hp per liter of displacement, a number reserved for F1 cars not so long ago, earning the engine the claim of “highest specific output series-production four-cylinder in the world.” Try working that into your next dinner party conversation.

BASE PRICE: $50,875

OUR OPINION: We’ve been lukewarm about Mercedes compacts in the past, but a few years of refinement and technological development have resulted in real improvements in the GLA-Class. The GLA45 has always had the right spec sheet, but the parts never felt like they were fully integrated before the design was finalized. There’s now much more consistent, coherent power delivery and a sense of connectedness absent from the original cars. It’s as though the GLA45 (and the CLA45, for that matter) has gone from being a fun concept to an actual fun car. Or crossover. Whatever.

The AMG delivers performance worthy of its pedigree — think 4.1 seconds to 60 mph — but there’s also a vaguely obnoxious, boy-racer edge more suited to a Mitsubishi Evo (God rest its soul) than a Mercedes, not to mention a cringeworthy price tag starting at over $50K. Still, if you just parlayed your internship at the brokerage into a permanent position, the GLA45 might make the perfect reward.  



Andrew Stoy


Andrew Stoy

– Digital editor Andrew Stoy has spent the past 20 years wrenching on and writing about cars. He’s worked everywhere from dealer service bays to the headquarters of the world’s largest automakers.

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On Sale: Now

Base Price: $50,875

Drivetrain: 2-liter turbo I-4, 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, AWD

Output: 375 hp @ 6,000 rpm; 350 lb-ft torque @2,250-5,000 rpm

Curb Weight: 3,457 lbs

0-60 MPH: 4.3 sec (mfr)

Fuel Economy: TBD(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)

Pros: Pretty much the hottest hot hatch currently available

Cons: Entry-level AMG still tops $50K

Article source: http://autoweek.com/article/car-reviews/2017-mercedes-gla45-amg-quick-take