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2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon

“Come to Indy and drive this purpose-built, street-legal drag-racing car,” they said.

The lawn isn’t getting mowed. Floors aren’t being mopped. Dishes remain piled up. We are zeroed in on tackling the most powerful production car America has ever produced.

We’re talking about the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon. Most of its steamy details were divulged over a 12-week roll-out leading up to the New York auto show this past April. But, to recap: Demons come off the assembly line sporting a wide-body kit, a drag-strip-tuned adaptive suspension, and an engine that makes 808 horsepower. This supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 is an evolution of the Hellcat’s 707-pony Hemi but with beefed-up internals and a larger, 2.7-liter rotary-screw blower (up from 2.4 liters) from supplier IHI, tuned to make 14.5 pounds of boost. The car comes on four drag radials, but the eight-speed ZF 8HP automatic turns only the rear wheels. Speaking of transmissions, this one features the first transmission brake on a production car—more on that in a bit—as well as a few other drag-racing tricks.


Out of the Crate

After plunking down $86,090, buyers can fit a bunch of extra bits on their Demons to get the power figure up to 840 horsepower when burning 100-octane gasoline. All the add-ons, including skinny front wheels, can be had for just one dollar as part of what Dodge calls the Demon Crate.

“It’s not a GT350R or a 1LE,” declared Tim Kuniskis, head of the Dodge, SRT, Chrysler, and Fiat passenger-car brands. No kidding. This is a car built to run 1320 feet at a time. But you can legally drive it to the strip and back, too. Unfortunately, we would not be driving a single inch on public roads. We drove the Demon exactly 19,641 feet, or 3.7 miles, in the course of making three passes at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Such a precise distance is known because we brought along a VBOX data logger in the hope of getting a better idea of just how quick the Demon is. But with such little exposure, we couldn’t clock a time we feel comfortable publicizing.

It isn’t that we don’t believe SRT’s claim that a Demon ran a 9.65-second quarter-mile. It’s just that we believe those circumstances were outside the typical conditions a weekend warrior might find. You know, like a perfectly prepared launch box at sea level and a warm track but cool and dry ambient air, as well as a little bit of luck. We test in street conditions, so when we do get around to formally testing a Demon, it will not be quite as quick as that. We expect the car to run a quarter-mile in the low-10-second range. Knock off a few tenths if it’s fitted with the skinny front wheels and tires and is running on 100-octane fuel. The zero-to-60-mph time will be darn close to pipping the Porsche 918 Spyder’s 2.2-second record.


Get Ready, Get Set . . .

Before they cut us loose on the strip, SRT engineers walked us through the arduous process of getting the Demon ready for a pass. A graph in the central touchscreen can tell you when the engine is cool enough for an optimal pass. The After-Run Chiller circulates coolant after shutdown so it can continue cooling when parked. With thermal criteria satisfied, get the car into Drag mode by double tapping the SRT mode button, then pressing the high-output button to get the full 840 horses if you’re running high-test fuel. Drag mode disables the cabin A/C, routing its cooling power to the SRT Power Chiller, a device that can drop the intake temperature by as much as 18 degrees by cooling the liquid in the air-to-liquid intercooler circuit.

What happens next is the vehicular equivalent of a Mortal Kombat finishing move. Hit all the right buttons in the right sequence, and you will destroy all other production cars. Get it wrong and the car just kind of shakes a little and barely moves.

Creep up to the burnout box and activate line lock to do a four-to-five-second burnout. This involves holding the OK button on the left side of the steering wheel. Roll up to the staging lights and ready the TransBrake, which is always active—and available only—in Drag mode. Its engagement requires both feet and both hands. Mash the brake pedal with your left foot, and pull and hold both shifter paddles. To remove any lash in the driveline and to preload the driveshaft and trans with torque, inch up to the line a bit while still holding the brakes. Then release one of the paddles and the brake pedal. Now the transmission is essentially in first and second gears simultaneously and the car will not move unless you rev past 2350 rpm, the system limit. Easier said than done with a light-switch throttle.

At this point the TransBrake is still engaged, and the only thing holding the car in place is one of your hands—an odd feeling. The exhaust note is odd here, too. SRT calls it Torque Reserve, but it is essentially a two-step ignition. Think of it as an anti-lag system, only it is happening on the intake side and not downstream in the exhaust.

With the Demon set and the equivalent of “up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A” entered, Torque Reserve injects fuel into some cylinders but keeps all the valves moving—it’s essentially cylinder deactivation to allow the supercharger to build maximum boost without the engine making maximum power.


. . . Go!

Hold the revs at about 1700 rpm and simultaneously let go of the paddle and bury the accelerator. The first launch is downright shocking. If you want to simulate the sensation of a 1.80-g launch—the peak acceleration that Dodge claims—have a friend punch you square in the sternum an instant before you jump off a building. This car hits that hard out of the hole, and although gravity gets you only a little more than halfway to 1.80 g, the sensation will be close enough.

It is easy either to bog the engine or light up the rear tires. Both scenarios are suboptimal. Get it right, which we didn’t achieve in our three turns behind the wheel, and the Demon will lift its front tires off the ground for a few feet.

For the past six months, we’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to drive this car. We’re going to have to wait a little while longer to get the full experience. We can say this for sure, though: Even if you trailer this car to a drag strip, it won’t disappoint.

2018 Ford Fiesta 1.0T

Large automakers often aspire to produce world cars, models they can sell in many territories with minimal variation. Yet, outside of luxury cars, the actual number of true world cars has always been pretty small owing to the costs associated with meeting various national regulations. While the current Ford Fiesta stands as one of the best examples of the genre, selling well on both sides of the Atlantic and farther afield, its club membership soon may be revoked. Europe is getting a new and better Fiesta, but there are no confirmed plans to bring it to America.

The Fiesta has always been a European car since it was launched in 1976. The new iteration will be the seventh distinct generation—only the first- and current sixth-generation cars were offered in the United States, which has contributed just a small portion of total sales that now have surpassed the 18 million mark worldwide. As both Ford’s biggest seller in Europe and the longtime number-one best-selling car in the United Kingdom, it’s no surprise that Ford has invested big in this spiffy new one.


Party of Three

The new Fiesta proves that Europe’s enthusiasm for downsized powerplants shows no signs of abating. Apart from a 1.5-liter diesel inline-four, which is expected to make up less than 10 percent of sales, the new Fiesta will be powered entirely by three-cylinder gasoline engines. Entry-level versions will use a naturally aspirated 1.1-liter unit that will come in 69- and 84-hp states of tune, with a smaller but punchier EcoBoost turbocharged 1.0-liter positioned above and available in 99-, 123-, and 138-hp flavors. (Ford offers the current Fiesta with the 123-hp EcoBoost triple in America.)

European buyers will be able to choose between two- and four-door hatchbacks, but there won’t be a sedan in the new lineup, and we would likely see only the four-door with a trunk. Sales will be strongly biased toward manual transmissions, but there is the option of a six-speed automatic, which will be offered exclusively with the 98-hp 1.0-liter engine.

Mechanically, the new Fiesta sticks as closely to the current car’s recipe as a novice chef. The new car grows a bit on the same global B-car architecture that has been in use since the sixth-gen model arrived in 2008. There’s a 2.8-inch stretch in overall length although just a 0.2-inch increase in wheelbase, with suspension still by struts at the front and a torsion-beam axle at the rear. Ford, as always, remains adept at trimming pennies from engineering expenses: Naturally aspirated Fiestas will have only five speeds in their manual transmissions, and the less powerful models will ship with rear drum brakes.

The exterior design is evolved, marked by a variation of the current Fiesta’s toothy Aston Martin–esque grille at the front and larger, horizontal taillights at the rear. The interior feels substantially different, with nicer-feeling plastics, better control ergonomics, and a significant increase in equipment. Ford is keen to push the availability of big-car features to buyers looking for smaller cars, with the new Fiesta offering adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist, parking assist with a 360-degree camera, automatic high-beams, and a camera-based pedestrian-detection system with automated emergency braking.

While mid-spec models get a 6.5-inch touchscreen interface, range-topping versions get a sizable 8.0-inch screen running Ford’s latest Sync 3 infotainment package, with the screen “floating” on a separate binnacle above the central air vents. Space is good for front-seat occupants, with plenty of adjustment for both the seat and the steering wheel. Rear-seat room feels similar to the current car—tight for adults but reasonable for children.


Improved Agility

It’s on the road where the new Fiesta puts clear sky between itself and the current-gen, U.S.-spec car. While the Fiesta has always been rewarding to steer, this one feels better in every key regard. Humble grip levels are offset by keen responses, giving this Ford an agility that few economy cars can match. Ride quality also is excellent, especially for something with such a modest wheelbase, and although the steering is light, genuine feedback is passed to the rim. It’s impressively quiet, too, Ford having set out to give a hushed cruising experience. The overall effect is a car that feels both subjectively bigger and more expensive than it actually is.

We drove two versions of the turbocharged 1.0-liter: the basic 99-hp unit with the automatic and the livelier 123-hp edition with a manual. Although it will be a minority choice in Europe, the automatic impressed more, shifting smoothly under low-intensity use and delivering intelligent kickdowns when asked to go faster. The auto also helps to disguise the tiny engine’s tendency toward turbo lag by downshifting to spin the engine into life. The lag was much more obvious in the more powerful car below 3000 rpm, when the driver either manages the downshifts or endures the wait for boost.

Both of these boosted three-cylinder engines are willing to work harder than most small turbos, revving out to a 6500-rpm limiter without ever feeling too tight. Unlike the three-cylinder Europe-spec Golf 1.0 TSI that we recently drove, the EcoBoost Fiesta never delivers a V-6–ish three-cylinder soundtrack, the only real clue to the paucity of spark plugs being an occasionally lumpy idle.

The manual gearbox is a mild disappointment. Ford has produced some of the finest mass-market sticks in the world, but although the six-speed shifts cleanly and accurately, it doesn’t have the crispness we associate with the company’s slickest transmissions, the Focus RS being the exemplar in this regard. The clutch of our test car also engaged low—and suddenly—in its pedal travel, making smooth low-speed progress more of a challenge than it should have been.


Prices Are Not Petite

There’s a reason Europeans get a new and improved Fiesta long before we do: They will pay considerably more for it. In the U.K., the new entry-level 1.1 Style costs £12,715, equivalent to $16,600 at current exchange rates. That includes the 20 percent value-added tax (VAT), but still. The 123-hp 1.0T Titanium two-door manual that we drove listed at £18,550 with a modest smattering of options. That equates to a very solid $20,150, meaning that even before VAT it costs nearly as much as U.S. buyers pay for the range-topping Fiesta ST.

We’ve been here before. Europe got an all-new Focus hatchback in 2004 that was platform buddies with the Volvo S40 and the Mazda 3, while we had to make do with a heavy facelift of the aging original car instead. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen this time and that Ford can make the numbers work. Our Fiesta is still a fine car, but this new one is substantially better.

2018 Toyota Camry XLE Hybrid Test | Review | Car and Driver

The Toyota Camry is such a well-known commodity that each new generation brings with it the expectation of, well, more Camry-ness. More of the stubbornly consistent formula that has made it thoroughly innocuous and also the best-selling car (pickups excluded) in the United States for 15 years straight: a roomy cabin, a floaty ride, solid fuel economy, reliability that would make the Maytag repairman envious, and driving character so bland it gives vanilla a bad name.

But with this all-new eighth-generation model that is hitting the market now, Camry-ness takes a significant turn. Credit Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, who has decreed that all of the company’s new products be infused with a modicum of stylistic passion and driving verve—far be it from us to argue—so the Camry has received a major overhaul, including a new platform, more aggressive styling, and vastly improved driving dynamics.

What hasn’t changed is that there are still two branches on the Camry family tree: the sporty-ish models (SE, XSE) and the luxury-oriented branch represented by our top-level XLE hybrid test car. The new XLE is traditional Camry ratcheted way up, to much higher levels of capability and refinement.


Nice Duds, Man

Inside and out, the new XLE gives off a premium vibe foreign to Camrys of yore. Built on Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA), the 2018 Camry rides on a 2.0-inch-longer wheelbase and is about an inch and a half longer, an inch lower, and three-quarters of an inch wider. The resulting proportions and elegantly sloping roofline give it a more substantial, upscale look. Brightwork is delicately applied. But for the XLE’s unfortunate grimace of a front end, it almost could be mistaken for an entry-luxury sedan.

That impression is reinforced when you drop into the driver’s seat. Passenger space is virtually unchanged and glass area remains plentiful, so the cabin once again feels roomy, airy, and open. The interior materials, finishes, and design details are surprisingly rich. Our dark-brown XLE’s standard furnishings included quilted leather seats in a subtle, two-tone tan that reminded us of the chairs in more expensive sedans. Soft surfaces abound, and hard plastic trim pieces are well disguised.

Designer touches unexpected in a mass-market sedan are scattered about the cabin. For instance, the delicate interior door handles are the tips of the satin-aluminum spears adorning the door-trim panels. The eject button for the CD player in the top Entune 3.0 infotainment system is integrated elegantly into a thin band of bright trim so it all but disappears. A strip of faux wood flanking the sweeping center stack refracts light in a way that makes it shimmer intriguingly.


A Little Bit of Soul

The pleasant surprises extend to the way the XLE drives. It has clearly benefitted from the switch to the TNGA underpinnings—the body’s torsional stiffness has increased by 30 percent, and the old car’s rear struts are replaced with a more sophisticated multilink setup. No longer does the Camry bob disconnectedly over ruffled pavement as if someone unbolted the shocks and threw them overboard. It now lopes across the larger swells and damps out bumps swiftly and smoothly, with no aftershake. Tar strips and other road blemishes are muffled thumps heard more than felt.

The steering, light at low speeds, actually feels connected to something now, with surprising heft at highway velocities, a strong sense of center, and crisp response when you swing the wheel into a bend. The XLE still is not a car that you hurl at apexes—skidpad grip is a reasonable 0.84 g, although the stability control jumps in early and often—but it’s in the zone now, a thoroughly competent sedan that goes about its business with an air of composure.

The Camry lineup offers three engine choices, all of them new for 2018: a base 203-hp 2.5-liter inline-four (206 hp in the XSE); a 301-hp 3.5-liter V-6; and the 208-hp (total system power) hybrid powering our test car. We found the hybrid powertrain a good fit with the XLE’s relaxed driving persona. Acceleration is seamless, and off-the-line throttle response in the Normal and Sport modes is far livelier than the hybrid’s 7.9-second zero-to-60-mph time would suggest.

Request anything more than modest acceleration, though, and the hybrid’s CVT-like arrangement allows the engine to zing up to moderately high rpm and hang there—a behavior common to continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVTs) and to hybrid powertrains. While it’s not a terrible sound, we’d still rather there were less of it penetrating the otherwise quiet cabin. Not that Toyota didn’t try: It added a manual mode that enables the driver to sift through six simulated gear steps with the console-mounted shifter, but it had little effect on either the noise emanating from underhood or the rate of forward progress.

Toyota has done better when dealing with the squishy brake-pedal feel and inconsistent response that plague many electrified cars’ regenerative braking systems. At any speed beyond about 5 mph, the XLE hybrid’s brakes feel virtually normal; the pedal is firm at the top of its travel and easy to modulate. The system does have one remaining behavioral flaw in that, at walking speeds, the brakes sometimes can be annoyingly grabby.

Those are small negatives relative to the satisfaction of making big numbers roll up on the readout in the gauge cluster and on the center stack’s hybrid-system screen. To do this, you’ll want to drive in Eco mode, which deadens throttle response and keeps engine rpm as low as possible. You’ll notice almost no regenerative braking when you lift off the throttle (coasting saves energy) and some electric-only acceleration up to 10 or 15 mph if you’re light on the accelerator. (EV mode didn’t significantly increase the time the car spent driving solely on electricity.)


Petro-licious

Toyota has thoroughly reworked the new Camry’s hybrid system for additional efficiency, and it pays off. The LE hybrid (hybrid power is not available on base L or top-of-the-line sporty XSE trims)—which benefits from smaller tires, less standard equipment, and a lighter lithium-ion battery pack—earns an EPA-rated 51 mpg city and 53 mpg highway, improvements of 9 and 15 mpg over the outgoing hybrid model. The LE hybrid’s 52-mpg combined rating matches the Prius Three’s and makes it America’s most fuel-efficient mid-size hybrid sedan.

The other available Camry hybrids, the SE and XLE trim levels, employ the older nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) battery technology and come in at 44/47 mpg city/highway, up by 4 mpg and 10 mpg. And those numbers are approachable in the real world. With little effort, we clocked a series of in-town errands and short trips at 37 to 44 mpg, with one editor seeing an indicated 45 mpg on his 50-mile highway commute while keeping pace with 80-mph traffic. On our 200-mile highway fuel-economy test, conducted at a steady 75 mph, this XLE hybrid delivered 44 mpg, up 2 from the 2017 model. Our observed fuel economy, which covers almost the entire time we had the car in our possession (excluding the instrumented testing and the highway test), was 40 mpg. While that last number is well below the EPA rating of 46, it’s still 5 mpg better than the Chevrolet Malibu hybrid and Honda Accord hybrid models we tested most recently—and it’s fully 9 mpg better than the observed figure for the previous-generation Camry hybrid. (Note that we’ve not yet driven, let alone tested, the new-for-2018 Accord hybrid.)

Accessing this level of efficiency requires that you sacrifice, well, nothing really—not even trunk space. Toyota moved the XLE’s 1.6-kWh battery from the cargo bay to under the rear seat, enabling a generous pass-through when the rear seatbacks are folded. All Camrys come with a version of the Toyota Safety Sense package, which for the XLE includes lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, front automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert with automated braking. Our XLE hybrid was further enhanced with a sunroof, adaptive headlights, and the optional Entune 3.0 infotainment package and its 8.0-inch touchscreen, three USB ports, navigation, nine-speaker JBL stereo, and long list of apps and features—although it lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

Traditional Camry-ness, as exemplified by this hybridized XLE, has clearly evolved to a new, higher plane. We’ll soon see if the sportier SE and XSE versions are capable of spiking the heart rates of discerning drivers. The XLE doesn’t really do that. But it no longer makes us wish we were driving something—anything—else, either. Better than that: The Camry is now a thoroughly competent family sedan, finally good enough to make us quit complaining that we wish it were something more.

2018 Toyota Camry XLE Hybrid

The Toyota Camry is such a well-known commodity that each new generation brings with it the expectation of, well, more Camry-ness. More of the stubbornly consistent formula that has made it thoroughly innocuous and also the best-selling car (pickups excluded) in the United States for 15 years straight: a roomy cabin, a floaty ride, solid fuel economy, reliability that would make the Maytag repairman envious, and driving character so bland it gives vanilla a bad name.

But with this all-new eighth-generation model that is hitting the market now, Camry-ness takes a significant turn. Credit Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, who has decreed that all of the company’s new products be infused with a modicum of stylistic passion and driving verve—far be it from us to argue—so the Camry has received a major overhaul, including a new platform, more aggressive styling, and vastly improved driving dynamics.

What hasn’t changed is that there are still two branches on the Camry family tree: the sporty-ish models (SE, XSE) and the luxury-oriented branch represented by our top-level XLE hybrid test car. The new XLE is traditional Camry ratcheted way up, to much higher levels of capability and refinement.


Nice Duds, Man

Inside and out, the new XLE gives off a premium vibe foreign to Camrys of yore. Built on Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA), the 2018 Camry rides on a 2.0-inch-longer wheelbase and is about an inch and a half longer, an inch lower, and three-quarters of an inch wider. The resulting proportions and elegantly sloping roofline give it a more substantial, upscale look. Brightwork is delicately applied. But for the XLE’s unfortunate grimace of a front end, it almost could be mistaken for an entry-luxury sedan.

That impression is reinforced when you drop into the driver’s seat. Passenger space is virtually unchanged and glass area remains plentiful, so the cabin once again feels roomy, airy, and open. The interior materials, finishes, and design details are surprisingly rich. Our dark-brown XLE’s standard furnishings included quilted leather seats in a subtle, two-tone tan that reminded us of the chairs in more expensive sedans. Soft surfaces abound, and hard plastic trim pieces are well disguised.

Designer touches unexpected in a mass-market sedan are scattered about the cabin. For instance, the delicate interior door handles are the tips of the satin-aluminum spears adorning the door-trim panels. The eject button for the CD player in the top Entune 3.0 infotainment system is integrated elegantly into a thin band of bright trim so it all but disappears. A strip of faux wood flanking the sweeping center stack refracts light in a way that makes it shimmer intriguingly.


A Little Bit of Soul

The pleasant surprises extend to the way the XLE drives. It has clearly benefitted from the switch to the TNGA underpinnings—the body’s torsional stiffness has increased by 30 percent, and the old car’s rear struts are replaced with a more sophisticated multilink setup. No longer does the Camry bob disconnectedly over ruffled pavement as if someone unbolted the shocks and threw them overboard. It now lopes across the larger swells and damps out bumps swiftly and smoothly, with no aftershake. Tar strips and other road blemishes are muffled thumps heard more than felt.

The steering, light at low speeds, actually feels connected to something now, with surprising heft at highway velocities, a strong sense of center, and crisp response when you swing the wheel into a bend. The XLE still is not a car that you hurl at apexes—skidpad grip is a reasonable 0.84 g, although the stability control jumps in early and often—but it’s in the zone now, a thoroughly competent sedan that goes about its business with an air of composure.

The Camry lineup offers three engine choices, all of them new for 2018: a base 203-hp 2.5-liter inline-four (206 hp in the XSE); a 301-hp 3.5-liter V-6; and the 208-hp (total system power) hybrid powering our test car. We found the hybrid powertrain a good fit with the XLE’s relaxed driving persona. Acceleration is seamless, and off-the-line throttle response in the Normal and Sport modes is far livelier than the hybrid’s 7.9-second zero-to-60-mph time would suggest.

Request anything more than modest acceleration, though, and the hybrid’s CVT-like arrangement allows the engine to zing up to moderately high rpm and hang there—a behavior common to continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVTs) and to hybrid powertrains. While it’s not a terrible sound, we’d still rather there were less of it penetrating the otherwise quiet cabin. Not that Toyota didn’t try: It added a manual mode that enables the driver to sift through six simulated gear steps with the console-mounted shifter, but it had little effect on either the noise emanating from underhood or the rate of forward progress.

Toyota has done better when dealing with the squishy brake-pedal feel and inconsistent response that plague many electrified cars’ regenerative braking systems. At any speed beyond about 5 mph, the XLE hybrid’s brakes feel virtually normal; the pedal is firm at the top of its travel and easy to modulate. The system does have one remaining behavioral flaw in that, at walking speeds, the brakes sometimes can be annoyingly grabby.

Those are small negatives relative to the satisfaction of making big numbers roll up on the readout in the gauge cluster and on the center stack’s hybrid-system screen. To do this, you’ll want to drive in Eco mode, which deadens throttle response and keeps engine rpm as low as possible. You’ll notice almost no regenerative braking when you lift off the throttle (coasting saves energy) and some electric-only acceleration up to 10 or 15 mph if you’re light on the accelerator. (EV mode didn’t significantly increase the time the car spent driving solely on electricity.)


Petro-licious

Toyota has thoroughly reworked the new Camry’s hybrid system for additional efficiency, and it pays off. The LE hybrid (hybrid power is not available on base L or top-of-the-line sporty XSE trims)—which benefits from smaller tires, less standard equipment, and a lighter lithium-ion battery pack—earns an EPA-rated 51 mpg city and 53 mpg highway, improvements of 9 and 15 mpg over the outgoing hybrid model. The LE hybrid’s 52-mpg combined rating matches the Prius Three’s and makes it America’s most fuel-efficient mid-size hybrid sedan.

The other available Camry hybrids, the SE and XLE trim levels, employ the older nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) battery technology and come in at 44/47 mpg city/highway, up by 4 mpg and 10 mpg. And those numbers are approachable in the real world. With little effort, we clocked a series of in-town errands and short trips at 37 to 44 mpg, with one editor seeing an indicated 45 mpg on his 50-mile highway commute while keeping pace with 80-mph traffic. On our 200-mile highway fuel-economy test, conducted at a steady 75 mph, this XLE hybrid delivered 44 mpg, up 2 from the 2017 model. Our observed fuel economy, which covers almost the entire time we had the car in our possession (excluding the instrumented testing and the highway test), was 40 mpg. While that last number is well below the EPA rating of 46, it’s still 5 mpg better than the Chevrolet Malibu hybrid and Honda Accord hybrid models we tested most recently—and it’s fully 9 mpg better than the observed figure for the previous-generation Camry hybrid. (Note that we’ve not yet driven, let alone tested, the new-for-2018 Accord hybrid.)

Accessing this level of efficiency requires that you sacrifice, well, nothing really—not even trunk space. Toyota moved the XLE’s 1.6-kWh battery from the cargo bay to under the rear seat, enabling a generous pass-through when the rear seatbacks are folded. All Camrys come with a version of the Toyota Safety Sense package, which for the XLE includes lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, front automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert with automated braking. Our XLE hybrid was further enhanced with a sunroof, adaptive headlights, and the optional Entune 3.0 infotainment package and its 8.0-inch touchscreen, three USB ports, navigation, nine-speaker JBL stereo, and long list of apps and features—although it lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

Traditional Camry-ness, as exemplified by this hybridized XLE, has clearly evolved to a new, higher plane. We’ll soon see if the sportier SE and XSE versions are capable of spiking the heart rates of discerning drivers. The XLE doesn’t really do that. But it no longer makes us wish we were driving something—anything—else, either. Better than that: The Camry is now a thoroughly competent family sedan, finally good enough to make us quit complaining that we wish it were something more.

Test Drive: 2018 Toyota Camry

Introduction
Toyota redesigns the popular Camry for 2018, aiming to give the car more style and improved driving dynamics while expanding availability of safety technology and introducing next-generation infotainment systems.

Built on Toyota’s new global vehicle architecture, the 2018 Camry is a bit smaller inside than it used to be, and it sits lower to the ground. The result is a car that is more fun to drive and wrapped in sleeker sheet metal.

2018 Toyota Camry LE Hybrid front quarter right photoThree powertrains are available on the new Camry. The L, LE, SE, XLE, and XSE are equipped with a new 4-cylinder engine and 8-speed automatic transmission. An upgraded V-6 engine is optional in the XLE and XSE. A more powerful and efficient gas-electric hybrid is offered in LE, SE, and XLE trim.

I headed to Portland, Oregon to sample from the buffet that is the 2018 Toyota Camry, and came away undeniably impressed.



Styling and Design
Designers created two distinct looks for the new Camry.

The SE and XSE have a racy appearance, complete with what Toyota says is “catamaran-inspired” front styling. Oversized fake front air intakes lead the way, a body kit dresses up the rocker panels, and a rear diffuser panel is bracketed by up to four exhaust outlets when the maximum number required is two.

These versions look just a tad bit silly, advertising far more performance than they actually supply. Choose the XSE and you can get a custom black painted roof, along with red leather seats that are just a hue or two too bright.

My preference is the more conservative styling of the L, LE, and especially the XLE. Though the lower grille is somewhat overdone, the rest of the Camry XLE looks exactly right, from its tautly tapered headlights and lace-spoke 18-in. wheels to its Lexus-like rear end. Notably, aside from discreet badges, the efficient Camry Hybrid variants looks exactly like their 4-cylinder and V-6 counterparts.

Features and Controls
Inside, the 2018 Camry receives a dramatically styled dashboard that emphasizes Toyota’s newfound focus on the driver. The usefulness of the controls is uncompromised by this approach, and Toyota supplies a positively enormous center console between the front seats.

Still, this car feels smaller, a sensation backed up by shrinking interior measurements when stacked up against the 2017 model. Comfort levels are excellent up front, unless you want seat ventilation, which is unavailable at any price. All versions except for the base Camry L are equipped with front-seat height adjustment, a good thing given that seating hip points are lower than before.

2018 Toyota Camry XLE Hybrid interior photoRear-seat occupants might not be quite as satisfied. The seat cushion is lower, making it harder to enter and exit the car. Legroom also feels a little tighter. And unless you get the mid-level version of the Entune infotainment system, which is bundled with a dual-zone automatic climate control system, you won’t get rear air conditioning vents. There are no USB ports in the back seat, either.

As is expected, feature count rises as a buyer climbs the trim level ladder. Highlights include various sizes of aluminum wheels, power sunroof or a panoramic glass sunroof, leather seats, keyless entry with push-button starting, premium sound system, and a number of safety and infotainment upgrades.

Safety and Technology
The outgoing 2017 Camry is a safe car, but to unlock access to many of its driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems, you need to pay extra for a higher trim level.

In 2018, this changes to a large degree. The new car, which employs a stiffer underlying vehicle architecture, is equipped with Toyota Safety Sense technologies at all price points. This collection of systems includes adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist, and automatic high-beam headlights.

All versions of the new Camry except for the base L trim level can be upgraded with Safety Connect subscription services, which includes automatic collision notification among other features. The free trial period measures up to 3 full years. Additional options include a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, a 360-degree camera system with top-down view, and a head-up display.

Three new versions of Toyota’s Entune infotainment system debut in the 2018 Camry. None of them have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, the company continuing to claim that it values the privacy of its customers. Toyota is one of a handful of car companies that doesn’t offer this convenience, and the number of holdouts is shrinking with each passing year.

All Camry trim levels for 2018 include a connected navigation app with a free 3-year trial period. Download the app to your smartphone, connect using the USB port, and Entune provides navigation operating on your phone’s data plan. An embedded navigation system is available only for XLE and XSE trims with a V-6 engine.

Toyota also supplies wireless smartphone charging for Qi-compatible devices as standard or optional equipment on all Camrys except for the L, as well as Remote Connect subscription service, which offers a Wi-Fi hotspot. The trial period for Wi-Fi is 6 months or 2 gigs of data, whichever comes first.

Driving Impressions
During a full day of driving on relatively short loops, I sampled each of the Camry’s trim levels and powertrains. At the end of the day, I had a favorite, and it was the Camry Hybrid in XLE trim.

You should know that all varieties of the 2018 Camry are enjoyable to drive, even if some are far more athletic (XSE V6) than others (LE Hybrid). From the steering to the braking to the ride and handling, Toyota has transformed the Camry into a car you actually want to drive (or at least don’t mind driving).

As was true before, the SE and XSE are stiffer than other trim levels, but since the L, LE, and XLE are competently dynamic in their own right, people who like to drive are less compelled to upgrade.

The standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine makes 203 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque (206 and 186 in XSE trim), which is plenty for a car weighing about 3,300 lbs. Plus, it saves a couple hundred pounds of weight over the front tires when compared with the 301-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6, helping to contribute to sharp steering and crisp cornering.

2018 Toyota Camry LE Hybrid rear quarter left photoThat V-6, though, is a gem. So equipped, the Camry is downright fast, and the XSE gets transmission paddle shifters and a Sport driving mode that enhances the car’s responsiveness. Sport mode helps the 8-speed transmission to better sort through gears when the Camry XSE is driven with enthusiasm, but doesn’t completely eradicate what I perceived to be hesitant acceleration when powering out of a corner. Paddle shifting is necessary to eliminate this trait.

As affordable as the 4-cylinder engine is, and as fun as the V-6 engine is, my choice would be the Camry Hybrid. It pairs a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with an electric motor, battery pack, and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). All told, it generates 208 horsepower while getting between 46 mpg (SE and XLE) and 52 mpg (LE) in combined driving, according to the EPA. Best of all, because the battery is located under the rear-seat cushion, the trunk is now the same size as other Camrys.

During my drive, the Camry Hybrid returned 44.1 mpg. It accelerated with relative gusto, and the sophisticated CVT didn’t bother me at all. Neither did the regenerative braking system, which isn’t grabby whatsoever. Suspension tuning masks the extra weight, but the hybrid versions tip the scales at about the same amount as the V-6 versions. In fact, I would not be surprised to discover that the Camry Hybrid’s weight distribution numbers are superior, aiding handling.

Conclusion
With the 2018 Camry, Toyota builds one to suit almost any midsize car budget or preference.

All Toyota really needs to do in order to perfect the new Camry is to install a trunk pull-down handle on the inside of the lid on all versions, make rear air conditioning vents and rear USB ports standard on the LE and SE, and offer a ventilated seat option for the XLE and XSE. Adding smartphone-projection technology would be a good idea, too, and maybe a few slick features like the Teen Driver and Rear Seat Reminder systems available in a Chevy Malibu.

Otherwise, if you like the exterior styling, and you find the interior to be comfortable, chances are you’re going to be happy with the rest of this car.


Additional Research:


Article source: http://www.jdpower.com/cars/articles/new-car-reviews/test-drive-2018-toyota-camry

2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI Sport review: The hot hatch, matured

I’ll never say no to a Volkswagen GTI drive. It’s one of the few cars on the market I’d happily drive every day — most of the other ones are trucks and SUVs. Is it the best small car on the market? If not, it’s damn close  – can’t think of a better one off the top of my head. The GTI is the car that started the hot hatch class, and the new one is a refined, quiet, smooth, quick car that goes about its business honestly. It’s fun to drive hard or not hard.

As expected, the interior quality looks and feels great, the checkered seats are outstanding, the clutch/gearbox relationship feels just right and there is just a ride/handling/communication-back-to-the-driver balance few cars match — of any size.

Swing the tach to 3,500-plus rpm and the GTI gets right down the road with a nice little growl. Stirring the gearbox is a pleasure but isn’t really necessary thanks to the engine’s wide torque range.

Again, I’d happily drive this every day. It’s not just a great small car, nor is it just a great car for the money. It’s a great car, period, no caveats.

It’s going to be interesting to see how VW improves on the next one. A tall order.

–Wes Raynal, editor

OTHER VOICES: I’ve heard it said that driving the more powerful, more expensive all-wheel-drive Golf R only serves as a reminder of just how good the GTI is. That you don’t really need more car than what this quintessential front-wheel-drive hot hatch offers.

I think the Golf R does a fine job at doing what it does (though a hotter, wilder version would be welcome). And besides, the GTI isn’t just a winner in comparison to other segment offerings — it’s a refreshingly straightforward, gimmick-free driver on its own (and I don’t consider the plaid seats or the golf ball-shaped shifter knob to be gimmicks, for the record). Focused and intuitive, it’s the kind of car you connect with and start flinging around within minutes of tucking yourself behind the wheel — you just can’t help it. I’m always delighted to wind up in one for a few days.

What’s special about this particular ‘17 GTI build? As a “Sport”-trimmed car, it’s the cheapest way to get the performance package, which bumps output from 210 hp to 220 hp. That’s up substantially from the 200 hp the car got when it debuted, and we thought it had plenty of power back then; this is even better, though still never quite rabid. Plus, you get Golf R brakes, an electronically controlled limited slip differential and a few other cosmetic hop-ups.

Even with the higher output, though, this is probably the best-behaved hot hatch on the market. The adaptive suspension available on the range-topping Autobahn trim might tame things further, but this setup works fine for me. Yes, even over the potholes that are exceptionally bad in Detroit around this time of year. Others on staff may disagree.

Oh, and one more thing — those stated fuel economy figures? Dead accurate in my case, even taking spirited driving into account: I returned 28.2 miles per gallon vs. a stated 28 mph combined estimate. They’re not taking any chances over at VW these days.

–Graham Kozak, associate editor


Ford Focus RS drag races a Volkswagen Golf R




By Autoweek Staff

On Sale: Now

Base Price: $28,815

As Tested Price: $28,815

Drivetrain: 2.0-liter DOHC turbo I4, FWD, 6-speed manual

Output: 220 hp @ 4,700 rpm; 258 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm

Curb Weight: 2,963 lb

Fuel Economy: 24/34/28 mpg(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)

Observed Fuel Economy: 28.2 mpg

Options: None

Pros: Small vehicle, big cargo space, big fun

Cons: We’re thinking…

Article source: http://autoweek.com/article/car-reviews/2017-volkswagen-golf-gti-sport-review-hot-hatch-matured

2018 by the numbers: Honda Accord vs. Toyota Camry vs. Hyundai Sonata

Combing through spreadsheets is a great way to learn, but it’s also a great way to fall asleep. However, since I’m getting paid to do this and you aren’t, I went through the numbers of the three new midsize sedans coming for the 2018 model year to give you a better idea of how they stack up.

This list will examine the currently available specifications for the 2018 Honda Accord, 2018 Toyota Camry and 2018 Hyundai Sonata. The cars were only recently announced, so not every car on this list will have, for example, fuel economy figures. That said, size and engine specifications are already available for all three, so there’s plenty to work with.

In order to put every car in even standing, I picked base or near-base trims. Both the Accord and Camry lack a moonroof, but even though the Sonata has one, it still manages to win on headroom. With the sheer variety of trims and options available, these numbers may not apply to all buyers, but this is a good, if rough approximation.

2018 Honda Accord

Big on the outside…

The Accord should feel the most planted of the three, thanks to having the longest wheelbase, although the Camry is only 0.2 inch behind it. The Accord and Camry are also the longest overall vehicles by a hair, both measuring just 1 inch longer than the Sonata. The Sonata is also the tallest vehicle, as well as the widest.

Honda didn’t have ground clearance information available, and both Honda and Toyota lacked a drag coefficient. The Sonata is 0.4 inch closer to the ground than the Camry, though.

Exterior Measurements


…And big on the inside, too

When it comes to physical dimensions, bigger isn’t necessarily better. That said, if you’re breaking out the ruler to measure bang for your buck, the Sonata and Accord offer the largest proportions of the three.

The Sonata tops the list for front and rear headroom, front legroom, rear shoulder room, rear hip room and passenger volume. The Accord has the best rear legroom, front shoulder room, rear shoulder room and trunk volume. The Camry wins in rear headroom and front hip room.

The Sonata has the worst rear legroom. The Camry has the lowest passenger volume, the smallest trunk and the smallest front headroom. The Accord has the worst front headroom, but is otherwise pretty competitive.

Interior Measurements

2018 Toyota Camry


Ace of base (engines)

Before I discuss the engines, I’ll shove the gas-tank capacity in here. The Sonata has the largest fuel tank by a country mile, at 18.5 gallons compared to the Camry (16.0 gal) and Accord (14.8 gal).

All three base engines are gasoline I4s. The Camry wins on horsepower (203), but the Accord wins on torque (192). All three engines use regular unleaded gas, and since Honda hasn’t yet released fuel economy estimates, the Camry is the tentative winner at 28 mpg city and 39 mpg highway.

The Accord features the most variety in how the shifts are handled, offering a continuously variable transmission or a six-speed manual. The Camry’s standard slushbox is an eight-speed, which has two more gears than the Sonata.

Base Engine Measurements


Higher-performance offerings

If you’re after a bit more pep in your step, all three automakers offer more powerful engines. The Sonata and Accord make do with four-bangers, while Toyota moves up to its tried-and-true 3.5-liter V6.

The Camry is once again the horsepower king, at 301 hp against the Accord’s 252 and the Sonata’s 245. The Accord stays on top for torque, though, at a meaty 273. Again, no fuel economy estimates from Honda, but the Camry wins by 1 mpg on the highway (33), and the Sonata wins by 1 mpg in the city (23).

As with the base engine, Honda offers two different transmissions — in this case, it’s a six-speed manual or a 10-speed automatic. Both the Camry and Sonata have standard eight-speed automatics.

Optional Engine Measurements


Eco/hybrid powertrains

All three cars offer eco-friendlier powertrains, as well. Honda and Toyota have already announced their hybrid variants, but the Sonata Hybrid has not yet been unveiled, so all we have to work with is the Sonata Eco, which relies on a thrifty gas engine.

We know next to nothing about the 2018 Honda Accord Hybrid. It’ll have a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine, and it’ll come with a continuously variable transmission, and that’s all we’ve got. Honda has not yet announced power and torque output, nor has it mentioned fuel economy.

The 2018 Camry Hybrid mates a 2.5-liter I4 up to an electric motor to produce 176 net horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque. With all that power heading through a CVT, it should return 51 mpg city and 53 mpg highway, otherwise known as “plenty.”

Last on the list, we have the Sonata Eco. This wields a unique 1.6-liter I4, good for 178 hp and 195 torques, and it comes mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. It’s lighter on gas, but it’s still somehow worse than the base Camry engine, achieving just 28 mpg city and 37 mpg highway.

Eco/Hybrid Engine Measurements

2018 Hyundai Sonata

Article source: https://www.cnet.com/roadshow/news/2018-by-the-numbers-honda-accord-vs-toyota-camry-vs-hyundai-sonata/

Watch this drone beat a Formula E racecar — and then crash spectacularly

Race fans are preconditioned to enjoy watching things explode into tiny bits. It’s built into their DNA. And while this weekend’s all-electric Formula E race in New York City was unfortunately lacking in high-speed smashups, fans in attendance got to see a much rarer and more spectacular accident: a drone totally biting it on the racetrack.

Drone operators have been drag racing cars for a while now as a way to highlight the acceleration, speed, and agility of these aerial gadgets. So on the surface, a matchup between a Formula E car and the Titan Grand Prix Racing Organization’s GFD1 drone seemed like the perfect way to cap off this weekend’s high-speed extravaganza. The drone-car drag race was billed as a “best out of three” competition, but as you can see, the drone never made it past the first round.

It’s not clear why the GFD1 drone, operated by drone pilots Zachry Thayer and Jordan Temkin of the Titan Grand Prix Racing Organization, crashed so spectacularly — especially after such a promising start. Most Formula E cars can accelerate 0–60 mph in less than three seconds, but that pales in comparison to the latest crop of ultra-lightweight, ultra-fast drones. Last week, a battery-powered quadcopter hit a top speed of 163.5 mph for a new world record.

Back in Brooklyn, the race started out well for the drone. At the starting gun, the UAV was able to accelerate to a huge head start over the Formula E car. According to The Drive, the race consisted of a third of the racetrack, including a perilous hairpin turn. A few seconds later, the drone buzzes back to the starting line, does an ill-fated barrel roll, and crashes into the track. To say the fans watching from the stands were thrilled by the sight of propellors and other drone parts flying through the air would be an understatement.

Drone suicide mission #formulae #dronesuicide #redhook #brooklyn #racegonewrong #erevolution

A post shared by Maglia Rosa NYC (@magliarosanyc) on Jul 16, 2017 at 11:54am PDT

We’ve reached out to Titan Grand Prix’s sponsors, the Federation of Drone Racing, for comment and will update this piece when we hear back.

Before the race, the drone’s operators were fairly cocky about their chances. “We are so happy to be working with [Federation of Drone Racing] on this,” the owners of Titan Grand Prix said in a press release. “The NYC ePrix is the perfect venue for introducing TGP and the GFD1 to the world. We have enormous respect for the Formula E organization. It’s almost a shame the GFD1 will crush this race so hard.”

Of course, the only thing that ended up getting crushed on Sunday was the drone and its owners’ dreams of victory. Rest in pieces, little buzzy.

Article source: https://www.theverge.com/2017/7/17/15982128/drone-vs-race-car-crash-formula-e-nyc

2018 Hyundai Sonata First Drive: Fresher and More Distinctive

No Obligation, Fast Simple Free New Car Quote

For the 2018 model year, the Hyundai Sonata received a significant refresh, which adds a new front fascia with the brand’s new cascading grille. At a press event in San Diego, Hyundai executives and designers revealed that the less conservative, more flowing exterior was intentional to give the Sonata a better family identity and move it away from the prerefresh car’s conservative design.

In addition to exterior styling changes, the 2018 Hyundai Sonata also receives an updated electric power steering system, thicker rear trailing arms, and bushings with aluminum inserts instead of steel ones. The big change under the hood is the eight-speed automatic transmission, which is exclusively available with the 245-hp 2.0-liter turbo-four. Cars equipped with the base 185-hp 2.4-liter I-4 carry over with the six-speed automatic. The Sonata Eco arrives later this summer with the 1.6-liter turbo-four rated at 178 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque and a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic. The Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid will be the last to join the lineup, arriving early next year.

We got behind the wheel of both cars and found the 2.0-liter turbo-four to have plenty on torque on tap, with 260 lb-ft from 1,350 to 4,000 rpm; however, from a stop, it does suffer from a little bit of turbo lag. As for the new eight-speed automatic, it shifts quickly and downshifts willingly, making it easy to pass other cars on the highway. Put the transmission into manual mode, and it remains responsive and quick to respond to your inputs via the paddle shifters. However, in Comfort, Eco, or Smart modes, the gearbox tends to be a gear or two too high, revealing its fuel economy–minded tuning. Put the Sonata into Sport mode, and the shifts get quicker, throttle response gets more aggressive, and it immediately puts the car in the meat of its powerband.

The standard 185-hp 2.4-liter I-4 should be plenty for most because it also has 178 lb-ft of torque on tap. You do need to rev it out more, though, because it makes peak torque higher up in the rev range compared to turbocharged engine choices. Like the newer eight-speed, the carryover six-speed automatic is mostly invisible, performing responsively and shifting smoothly.

Driving the 2018 Sonata on a mix of winding roads, highways, and city streets revealed a much-improved car dynamically. Thanks to the updated suspension, the ride is smooth, and it soaks up bumps and imperfections better than the prerefresh Sonata. The chassis handled the twisty bits of the route with minimal body roll. No, the Sonata isn’t a sports car, but the way it drives is much improved. The steering system is nicely weighted and doesn’t feel overly heavy, even in Sport mode. However, it doesn’t have much feel, especially compared to more sporting midsize options such as the Ford Fusion and Mazda6.

Another key area of improvement in the 2018 Sonata is the interior, which has a slightly revised center stack layout with new buttons that feel more tactile. Most of the materials in the cabin are high-quality soft-touch plastics, and there are some harder bits in areas away from touch points. Despite the coupelike roofline, there’s plenty of space in the cabin for front and rear passengers, making it feel like you’re in a full-size sedan. With its large windows and an expansive windshield, visibility is excellent. The cabin is mostly well isolated from exterior noise, but on cars with the 2.0-liter turbo-four, it can get a little loud, especially on less than perfect pavement.

Hyundai’s latest infotainment system remains one of the most user-friendly interfaces available, and it’s no different in the 2018 Sonata. It’s quick to respond to touch inputs, and voice commands are easily understood. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration come standard across the lineup, allowing your mobile phone to act as your infotainment system. The Infinity by Harman premium audio system on higher trims offers crisp sound and is easily customizable.

Pricing starts at $22,935 for the base Sonata SE, which comes with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, a rearview camera, 16-inch alloy wheels, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic alert. The most expensive Sonata (until the plug-in hybrid arrives) is the Limited 2.0T, which checks in at $33,335 and has features such as LED headlights, heated and ventilated front seats, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, 18-inch alloy wheels, an Infinity premium audio system, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function, high-beam assist, and a wireless charging pad.

Although the 2018 Sonata is only a refreshed model, it builds on the seventh-generation car by adding a more distinctive exterior and an interior that feels more upscale, especially on higher trim levels. Now offering better driving dynamics, the 2018 Sonata is ready to compete with the redesigned 2018 Toyota Camry and the 2018 Honda Accord. As a whole, the 2018 Sonata is a better midsize sedan that offers user-friendly tech, space, and comfort wrapped in an attractive, high-value package, especially considering that the base car’s sticker price only increased by $100 and that some trims are cheaper than before.

Article source: http://www.motortrend.com/cars/hyundai/sonata/2018/2018-hyundai-sonata-first-drive-review/

2017 Buick Encore: Our View

When it debuted as a 2013 model, the Encore was unique in both shape and stature. It was the only vehicle to offer the higher ride height of an SUV, but with a much smaller footprint. The Encore is only 168.4 inches long, shorter than a Honda Civic sedan by more than a foot. That makes the diminutive Encore suitable for cities and other environments where big vehicles simply don’t fit in.

Being first had its benefits: The Encore is Buick’s best-selling model, and its success compelled GM to offer a more budget-friendly version in 2015, the Chevrolet Trax. Fast-forward a few years, though, and the Encore is far from being the only small SUV on the market. Subcompact SUVs have proliferated, and now the Encore competes against other tiny utes such as the Honda HR-V and Fiat 500X. Compare the Encore with those vehicles and the Trax here.

The Encore is sold in six trim levels (base, Preferred, Sport Touring, Preferred II, Essence and Premium). Our test vehicle was a front-wheel-drive Premium model, which started at $31,390 (including destination charges) but piled on a few options to bump the final price up to $34,075 — a lofty figure that gave me pause.

2017 Changes





Mounting competition motivated Buick to update the Encore, and for 2017 it’s received refreshed styling inside and out, as well as new in-cabin technology. Compare the 2017 Encore with last year’s model here.

The exterior keeps the same high-walled proportions and adds a new grille, LED headlights on higher trim levels and new designs for the 18-inch alloy wheels (except on the Sport Touring). But the biggest change is one of omission: There are no more portholes atop the hood — Buick’s signature design feature for many years (after decades without). The changes modernize the Encore’s exterior, but it’s still more noticeable for its shape than anything else.

Move inside, however, and the changes are less cosmetic and more substantive.

Interior and Technology


Inside, the dashboard has been face-lifted to make way for a newly standard 8-inch touchscreen and the latest version of Buick’s Intellilink multimedia system. Not only is the screen larger, it’s also better ergonomically because it’s moved down and closer to occupants, making it easier to reach. Also added for 2017: Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which are standard and a welcome addition.

This redesigned dashboard isn’t without compromise, however; the second, upper glove box is gone, diminishing storage up front. And the interior updates haven’t addressed some of the problems that keep the Encore from being a true luxury offering.

The screen has moved down and closer to occupants, making it easier to reach.

To start with, there’s no large center console storage bin to serve as an armrest, and only the driver’s seat has a swing-down inboard armrest. On short trips this doesn’t really matter, but on longer jaunts the empty space is awkward and uncomfortable.

Additionally, what felt like a metal bar in the lower portion of the seatback caused discomfort, not only for myself but for front passengers as well. It didn’t help matters that I took the Encore on a 700-mile trip up and down California — a lot of miles to feel like someone is prodding you in the lumbar region (albeit gently).

Sport Sort-of-Utility Vehicle



Because the Encore is such a small SUV, the “utility” part of the acronym is compromised. Cargo room behind the backseat is 18.8 cubic feet, expanding to 48.4 cubic feet with the backseat folded. Though 18.8 cubic feet isn’t terribly far from what the competing Honda HR-V subcompact provides (24.3 cubic feet), the Encore’s base price is closer to that of Honda’s compact CR-V, which boasts more than twice as much cargo volume as the Encore, at 39.2 cubic feet.

Folding the rear seats is a two-step process: flip the bottom cushion forward then lower the seatback. The process is easy enough when lowering the seats, but putting them back up is a problem, as there’s nothing to hold the seat belt buckles in place. The bottom cushions flip back on top of all the buckles; you have to make sure to dig them up before clicking the cushion back into place, which is frustrating.

How It Drives

The Encore offers two turbocharged, 1.4-liter four-cylinder engines. The base engine produces 138 horsepower and 148 pounds-feet of torque, but our test vehicle came with the more powerful version, which makes 153 hp and 177 pounds-feet of torque and adds stop-start technology for better fuel economy. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is optional.

Even with the bump up to the more powerful engine, the Encore felt sluggish. True, no one is buying the Encore for its performance, but its copious body roll and numb steering mean driving the Encore is equal parts yawn-inducing and sloppy.

Despite its added power, the optional engine does improve fuel economy, from 25/33/28 mpg city/highway/combined to 27/33/30 mpg for front-wheel-drive models. Against the competition, these figures are right down the middle; the combined figure matches the Honda HR-V and Fiat 500X.

But that stop-start system is intrusive. The best of these systems are quiet and don’t interrupt the driving process. In the Encore, there’s a discernible pause for the engine to start up from a stop. I found myself turning the system off frequently during testing.

Missing Value


For kicks and giggles, I tried to configure a Chevrolet Trax with many of the same features found on my Encore test vehicle. The Trax comes only with the Encore’s base engine, and top trims feature leatherette instead of genuine leather upholstery, plus a slightly smaller media screen, but it otherwise matches up almost evenly when it comes to features — for nearly $6,000 less than the Encore. The Trax (also with FWD) will run you $28,190 for a vehicle of the same size and many of the same features.

And therein lies the rub. The Encore isn’t nice enough inside and has too many quirky annoyances to be considered a luxury vehicle (that missing armrest really bothers me), and its benefits can be replicated at lower prices thanks to an influx of small SUVs. The Encore needs to make its next evolution before it comes back out on stage again.

Article source: https://www.cars.com/reviews/2017-buick-encore-our-view-1420696180004/