Wednesday, January 22, 2020


NISSAN VERSA NO LONGER CHEAPEST CAR 

ON THE MARKET, AND THAT’S GOOD NEWS


For its first two generations, the Nissan Versa was the least expensive vehicle available on the market. That’s no longer the case, but that is good news.

The redesigned 2020 Versa subcompact sedan may be slightly more expensive but gives back with a long list of standard features that include many items often — make that usually — not available in the subcompact segment.

That holds true for even the formerly bare bones base S trim which shares such features as automatic on/off headlights with high-beam assist, Bluetooth hands-free phone, power windows with one-touch auto down for the driver’s side, 7-inch touchscreen, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, cruise control, and lane departure warning with its more upscale brethren SV and SR models.


The top-of-the-line SR trim, upon which this review is based, adds such niceties as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels (the S model comes with15-inch steel wheels), LED headlights and fog lights, special SR fabric for the seats, automatic climate control, 6-speaker audio system with satellite radio, NissanConnect with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and blind-spot warning.

A Convenience Package that adds heated front seats and Intelligent Control is offered on the SR class as well for $800.

Imagine that. Adaptable cruise control in an economy vehicle.


All Versa models come with the a 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder engine. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard on the S model and a ontinuously Variable Transmission dubbed Xtronic is an option on the S and standard on SV and SR models. All Versas are front-wheel drive.

That power train could use a little more oomph with horsepower at only 122 ponies and torque at 114 pound-feet. Still, that's an increase of 14 and 7 percent over the previous model, and fuel numbers are outstanding. With the CVT, the Versa is rated at 32 miles-per-gallon city, 40 highway, and 35 combined using regular unleaded. Numbers are slightly lower (27/35,30) with the manual.

The extra features aren’t the only differences for the 2020 Versa. At 177 inches and 68.5 inches, the 2020 model is 1.6 and 1.8 inches longer and wider, respectively, than its predecessor. It also sits a bit lower, and cargo space is a generous 15.0 cubic feet in the SR and 14.7 for the S and SV.

As mentioned earlier, these improvements did come at a cost. The base Versa S with the manual transmission has a starting MSRP of $15, 625 including the $895 destination and delivery fee, a jump of about $2,200 over the cost of the 2019 model.


The SR starts at $19,135, and a well-equipped model with options like the Convenience, Electronics, and Lighting packages, center armrest with storage (very minimal storage), and carpeted floor and trunk mats ran the total on my test car to $21,490.

 The SV is in between at $18,355.

What I liked about the 2020 Nissan Versa SR: It comes with a lot of standard technological features that are easy to operate. The redesigned included use of some higher grade materials for the interior, which raises cabin ambiance. Fuel economy is among the best in its class.



What I didn’t like about the 2020 Nissan Versa SR: The console’s storage compartment is so small it is pretty much useless. Legroom in the back is a bit on the stingy side (31.0 inches).

Would I buy the 2020 Nissan Versa SR? I would give it more consideration now than in the past. It’s no longer the least expensive vehicle on the market today, relinquishing that distinction to hatchbacks Chevrolet Spark and the Mitsubishi Mirage. But the Versa comes with many features that usually aren’t found in the segment.


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

HYUNDAI TEAM PREVIEWS NEW VENUE SUV FOR SOUTH FLORIDA AUTO JOURNALISTS


A Hyundai team of executives and publicists were in Miami January 15 to preview the latest edition to their fleet of SUVs/crossovers, the new 2020 compact Venue, for an audience of Southern Automotive Media Association members who gathered at a local restaurant.

It becomes the  seventh SUV model in the South Korean manufacturer’s U.S lineup that includes its hydrogen fuel cell Nexo.

Why come to Miami?

“The Venue is ideally suited for folks that are here in Miami,” said Mike O’Brien, Vice President, Product, Corporate and Digital Planning. “They’re young people, they’re people just starting out, and they generally have what’s called a ‘side hustle’.”

In addition to their day job, they are writers or musicians or artists, the kind of folks who want a vehicle they can be passionate about as well as versatile and affordable, O’Brien said.

“But most importantly, something that’s that’s easy to park, is easy to park and maneuver in dense urban environments like Miami,” he said. "And it’s a car that allows me to express myself like I can’t with other vehicles.”

That may be the primary target for the Venue, but it’s not the only one.

“We’ll get empty nesters, too,” O’Brien said. “People who are looking to downsize with the kids off -- they’ve got their own jobs, they’ve got their own life and don’t need a big car any more.”

The Venue also gives those who have only been able to shop in the used car market before a viable option.

“Last year there were 41 million used cars sold in the United States,” O’Brien said. “Out of that 41 million cars sold in the United States, almost a third of the buyers tried to buy a new car.

“Maybe their FICO score hadn’t been good enough, maybe they didn’t have enough down payment, maybe their trade-in value had not been good enough. For whatever reason, they were forced instead of buying a new car that they started out shopping for they ended up buying a certified preowned car or a used car.”

A 2- or 3-year-old car doesn’t have all the features like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, pre-collision braking or Smart Phone connectivity found on new cars today.

“That’s a key theme with our engineers and designers that they really tried to stick with when they were developing this car,” O’Brien said.

Thus technological features found on the new Venue include an 8-inch display screen featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth hands-free phone system and next-generation Blue Link Connected Car System, dual-charging USB ports, a rear-view monitor, and heated front seats and side mirrors.


Safety features include Forward Collision Avoidance system, lane-keep assist, blind-spot warning, driver attention warning, and rear cross-traffic alert.

The new Venue comes in three trim levels starting at $17,350 for the base SE trim with a 6-speed manual transmission mated to the 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine. For $18,550, the SE also is available with a new “Smartstream” Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT) that is standard on SE ($19,250) and top-of-the-line Denim ($22,050) trims.

Fuel efficiency in the SEL with the IVT is rated at an impressive 30 miles-per-gallon city, 35 highway, and 32 combined. The SE gets numbers of 27/35/30. The Venue is offered with front-wheel drive only, but a new, advanced “snow mode” gives the Venue near the capability of all-wheel drive without the extra cost or fuel penalty that comes with all-wheel capability.



Essentially, the IVT is the latest version of a Continuously Variable Transmission and in our brief driving experience had more the feel of a standard automatic than the older versions of the CVT.

There are all sorts of reasons for that and O’Brien can give you the briefing if you ever have the opportunity to speak with him. You can take our word that was no lag to throttle response when getting away from an intersection.


As O’Brien noted, the Venue is also a good vehicle for high traffic environs. 

Not that Hyundai has forgotten about shoppers looking for a bigger SUV.

“If you want a bigger vehicle, we’ve got it,” O’Brien said. “If you want something that’s more exciting and more affordable and easier to maneuver and part for people who seek that, we’ve got that covered, too.”

2020 INFINITI Q60 RED SPORT 400 DELIVERS FUN DRIVE IN EYE-CATCHING PACKAGE


Despite an impressive appearance and refreshing for the 2017 model year, Infiniti’s Q60 small luxury sports coupe doesn’t get the respect it deserves from critics who generally give higher marks in their reviews to its mostly Teutonic competitors.

This is in direct contrast to the praise its predecessor received when Motor Trend named the G35 sedan and coupe its Car of the Year when it was introduced for the 2003 model year.

So has Infinity lost its way here? Or not kept up with modern tastes (which can be fickle at times).

I think not.

The 2020 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 model is one of the most striking vehicles on the road today, fun to drive with an eye-catching design that is sure to attract attention if (when?) it shows up in your driveway. Coupes nearly always look sexier than sedans, and the Q60 is no exception.


Little change has been made since the third generation was introduced three years ago, and little had to be for 2020 after some tinkering was done the last couple of years.

The Q60 lineup for 2020 features six models with the 3.0t Pure, 3.0t Pure AWD, 3.0t Luxe, and 3.0t Luxe AWD getting a 300 horsepower, 3.0 twin-turbo V6 and both the Red Sport 400 and Red Sport AWDs getting a more powerful V6 version under its hood.


The 3.0-liter V6 in the Red Sport 400 (upon which this review is based) is rated at 500 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters for manual gear selection.

In addition, the Red Sport 400 gets an extra Sport+ mode for enhanced performance in addition to the Personal, Standard, Snow, Eco, or Sport modes available in other models. Fuel economy is rated at 20 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway, and 20 combined, 


The 2020 Q60 Red Sport 400 comes with a long list of standard features included in the base price of $58,175 (including the $1,025 destination and delivery charge.

Among them are exclusive 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels, exclusive Red Sport exhaust tips, LED headlights, chrome double-arch grille, dual-zone climate control, heated 8-way power front seats, leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel (not a big attraction in South Florida), power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, genuine carbon fiber interior trim and matte black interior accents, aluminum accent sport pedals, tinted glass moonroof, remote and push-button start, front and rear sonar system to aid maneuvering in close quarters, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, and a 13-speaker Bose audio system.

The Infiniti InTouch infotainment system includes navigation and voice recognition and is very user friendly.

In addition to the usual airbags and seatbelt systems, safety features include automatic collision notification and emergency call, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, electronic brake distribution, blind-spot warning and backup collision intervention, and a surround-view monitor with moving object detection.

Oh, yes, The Q60 is available with either rear-wheel or all-wheel drive.


With all those features as standard, the only options on my test Q60 were a cargo package (trunk protector, cargo net, console net, first-aid kit and shopping bag hook), illuminated kick plates, welcome lighting, and Infinity interior ambient lighting that ran the total to $59,880. 

What I liked about the 2020 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400: This is an attractive car inside and out. Adjusting settings to Sport or Sport+ upgrades the performance from the twin-turbo V6 even further.The interior has a sophisticated ambiance, and the ride is very comfortable. The dual touchscreen displays allow you make adjustments like changing audio settings without having to switch from the navigation screen. The exhaust notes are sweet.

What I didn’t like about the 2020 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400: The trunk was only big enough to handle just three bags we were taking on our trip, even though one was on the small side. Fuel economy is on the low side among its segment.

Would I buy the 2020 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400? Yes. There is a lot of competition among luxury coupes, but the Q60 and its eye-catching exterior is one of the most stylish in the small luxury segment. With its coupe form, it has more the feel of a sports car than simply a small luxury vehicle.


Tuesday, January 7, 2020


2019 NISSAN LEAF PLUS MODELS EASE ISSUE OF RANGE ANXIETY IN ELECTRIC VEHICLES 

It doesn’t rank up in medical history with the discovery of penicillin or the development of the polio vaccine, but Nissan has found a remedy for a common complaint of owners of all-electric vehicles: range anxiety.

I remember when a few years ago I was sent a Nissan Leaf for week. Much of my time was spent calculating how far away it was that I wanted to go and if I would have enough charge to get back home later.

The Leaf at that time had a maximum range of about 90 miles, if I remember correctly, which is about the time my wife usually starts urging me to fill up the gas tank. On one trip I periodically would turn off the A/C to extend the range a couple of miles just to make sure I could get back home later.

But I had no such concern with the latest version of the Leaf I recently experienced.


The PLUS version of the Nissan Leaf that debuted for 2019 has an extended range that the company declares at 226 miles, though overnight charging indicated a range of 239 miles when in Normal mode and 251 when turned to Eco, at least based on my experience. That’s about 100 extra miles over the advertised 150-mile EPA range offered by the standard Leaf.

Range anxiety? What range anxiety?

The new high-capacity battery pack (62 kWh) and more powerful electric motor (62kW) in PLUS version Leafs also delivers more punch than the standard Leaf in the way of driving experience.

That battery-motor combination results in 214 horsepower, an increase of 45 percent over the base Leaf, and a whopping 250 pound-feet of torque, available at an instant and a big number for a compact hatchback.


You can feel the full effect of the extra torque when you shift from Eco to Normal mode. The jump in acceleration is very noticeable. Nissan estimates that the Leaf Plus gets from 50 to 75 mph about 13 percent quicker than the standard Leaf.

With a 100 kW Quick Charge Port and portable charge cable, charging time also is more efficient. I easily got it to full range overnight, which wasn’t always my experience with earlier electric vehicles.


The Leaf and the Leaf Plus each come in three trim levels — S, SV, and SL. This review is based on the SL PLUS that is at the top of the MSRP chart at $43,545 including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

That’s a pretty big jump over the standard Leaf S ($30,985) but within range of the S PLUS ($37,545) and SV PLUS ($39,505) and worth the extra cost.

The 2019 Leaf SL PLUS features such standard equipment Nissan’s ProPILOT assist with steering assist and adaptable cruise control, an around-view camera monitor, Intelligent Driver Alerts, automatic temperature control, leather-appointed seating surfaces, heated front seats, 8-way power driver’s seat with 2-way lumbar support, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 8-inch color display for the standard navigation system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, voice recognition, Bluetooth hands-free phone, 7-speaker Bose audio system, NissanConnect services, 17-inch wheels, LED headlights and fog lights, LED daytime running lights, and more.

Standard safety features include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, Intelligent lane intervention, blind-spot warning, electronic brake distribution and assist, rear cross-traffic alert and more.


Extras like splash guards, premium paint, carpeted floor mats and cargo bay area, and a safety kit ran the total for my test Leaf SV PLUS to $44,315. But don’t forget, you also get tax credits that can lower that cost.

What I liked about the 2019 Nissan Leaf SL PLUS: This is a fun car to drive with significant torque and throttle response. This trim also is packed with many standard features with infotainment functions easy to operate. It’s a small thing, but the placement of the charging port at the very front is a nice touch. It gives you more flexibility when it comes to parking your car for charging.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Nissan Leaf SL PLUS: The e-pedal feature that combines acceleration when pressing the “gas” pedal and braking when easing off is a feature I can live without. It can be useful when backing up and slow speeds, but it is kind of annoying when driving under normal conditions. Also, the gear shifter is a little too funky for me. It’s a round knob in the center of the console that you must tug to the left and then move up (for reverse) or down (for drive). The steering wheel is adjustable tilt only, not telescoping.

Would I buy the 2019 Nissan Leaf SL PLUS? This version of the Leaf is the first all-electric vehicle that I would actually consider buying.


Wednesday, December 25, 2019

LINCOLN LEAVES ALPHABET SOUP TO OTHERS AS NAUTILUS REPLACES MKX IN SUV LINEUP

In a trend that we would very much like to see continue, Lincoln apparently is abandoning its “alphabet soup” approach to automotive nomenclature with only two such models, the MKZ and MKZ Hybrid, remaining in its present day lineup.

With the 2019 Nautilus taking over as the company’s entrant in the midsize segment, each of Lincoln’s crossovers/SUVs now has a full name and not a three-letter combination starting with “MK.” Its former incarnation as the MKX is no longer.


That isn’t to say that the Nautilus is “completely new,” however, at least not in the strictest sense. It is built on the same platform as its predecessor, but there is more to it than simply a new name.

Styling has been upgraded starting with a distinctive different front fascia and its “star mesh” grille. A number of driver-assist systems that were once available as stand-alone options such as blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts, pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking, auto high beams, a lane-keeping system, and a rearview camera are now incorporated into one standard package Lincoln dubs Co-Pilot360.


A new turbocharged 4-cylinder is now the base engine with a 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 that bumps up power and torque to 335 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque from the 4-banger’s 250/280, respectively, is also available.

An 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters for manual gear selection is the sole transmission offered. Both engines include an auto stop/start function that can be disabled by the push of a button at the top right of the center stack.


You may adjust the Nautilus to one of three driving modes (Normal, Comfort, Sport), and front-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive available. You’ll find it a capable enough cruiser on the highway and with enough punch to get you into the flow of city traffic. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional, though I wouldn’t be taking it out on the trail if I were you.

Fuel economy numbers are 21 miles-per-gallon city, 25 highway, and 23 combined for the 4-cylinder engine and 18/27,21 for the V6.

For 2019, the Nautilus comes in four trims starting with the base starting at $41,335 including the $995 destination and delivery charge. The Select trim ($45,540) has been discontinued for 2020 models.


At the top of the line are the Reserve ($49,870) and the Black Label ($59,390) trims. This review is based on the Black Label edition that included options that ran the total to $67,630.

The Black Label upgrades are really felt in interior enhancements like Venetian leather seats, a tech package that includes a 360-degree camera, and an Alcantara headliner. The Sync3 infotainment system includes a voice-activated navigation system, though the screen itself at 8 inches is somewhat on the small side.

Frankly, though, I would sacrifice screen size for simplification of operation.

The Black Label edition also offers you a choice of one of three design themes — Gala (featuring deeper colors), Chalet (with Silverwood appliques), and Thoroughbred (Chilean Maple wood, Alcantara accents, and jet black trim) — to highlight the Nautilus’ overall ambiance.

Interestingly, Black Label buyers also get a 12-month, complimentary CLEAR membership to help you speed through security a participating airports and major arenas nationwide. That’s twice the time that buyers of other trims get.

What I liked about the 2019 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label: The Nautilus has a sophisticated interior with infotainment features that are easy to operate. The ride is quiet and comfortable as well. The V6 has enough oomph to get you around in a sprightly manner.

What I didn't like about the 2019 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label: The display screen at the top of the center stack is on the small side from what many competitors are offering in their luxury products. Looking over the hood you get the feel it is a much larger vehicle, which is not a comfortable feeling when looking for a spot in a crowded parking lot.

Would I buy the 2019 Lincoln Nautilus Black Label? It most definitely deserves a look if you are shopping in the midsize luxury SUV market.


Thursday, December 12, 2019

KIA GOES ALL OUT IN LUXURY WITH 2019 FULL-SIZE K900 SEDAN


At one time, and not all that long ago, the notion of spending $60,000 on a Kia may have been taken as a joke. Three or four Kias, yes, but one?

Well, last month, according to figures announced by the South Korean company, 32 people apparently paid at or near that much for the company’s flagship sedan, the K900, which was 10 more than the previous November and 17 more than October.

A sale a day is minuscule figure by pretty much any automotive measure, of course, but say this about those buyers: They got their money’s worth.


Redesigned and moving into its second generation, the 2019 K900 full-size luxury sedan is very much worth a look for open-minded shoppers who care more about the entire vehicle rather than just what mascot might adorn its hood.

Launched in late 2013 as a 2014 model in conjunction with its 20th anniversary in the U.S. market, the K900 was never seen to be a big seller but instead as a symbol about what Kia could do once it put its mind to it.


It was the company’s first rear-wheel drive sedan and came complete with a long list of standard equipment and features that put it apart from other Kia products.

“It demonstrates what Kia is capable of and will help redefine what the Kia brand stands for,” Michael Sprague, executive vice president, marketing & communications for Kia North America, said in a release at the time.


Redesigned and moving into its second generation, the 2019 K900 is sold in only one trim dubbed “Luxury” — which to me seems a bit overkill in terminology — with only one engine option.

With a V8 option no longer available, a 3.3-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 becomes the only power choice. Mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission and with 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque, it has enough punch to handle most driving situations without pressing.


You can adjust driving mode from Comfort to Eco, Sport, and Smart (which adjusts to your driving style) or configure your on mode for the Custom setting. Paddle shifters are standard for manual gear selection.

Timers for www.zeroto60times.com clocked the 2019 K900 at 5.1 seconds from zero to 60 mph, which is isn’t the quickest in its class but respectable for a vehicle of its size (201.6 inches long with a curb weight of 4,662 pounds.

The power is delivered smoothly to all corners with standard all-wheel drive. Fuel mileage (premium fuel recommended) is 18 miles-per-gallon city, 25 highway, and 21 combined.

Though only one trim is offered, it comes with a long list of standard equipment for the base MSRP of $60,895 (including $995 destination and delivery) that includes a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column, a navigation system with a wide, 12.3-inch screen, a cool analog clock, genuine wood interior accents, Nappa leather seating surfaces with a 20-way power adjustable seat for the driver and 16-way power adjustable for the front passenger with 4-way lumbar support for each.

LED headlights, a surround-view camera, Smart key with push-button start, adaptable cruise control, forward collision alert, and lane-keeping assist also are included.

A blind-spot view monitor that pops up when turn signals are activated gives you a look at what may be coming up beside you via an image projected from either side mirror to the either the tach or speedometer gauges.

To further upgrade the K900, a single option package is offered for an extra $4,000 and focuses more on the comfort of the rear-seat riders. It includes tri-zone climate control, power adjustable rear seats, ventilated rear outboard seats, a premium headliner, and a wireless charging pad for the rear seats. 

Those in the back already get 38 inches of legroom, so unless they are often riding along and art particularly demanding, you can probably get along with those extras.

What I liked about the 2019 Kia K900: There are plenty of infotainment features that are very user friendly. The map on the large display screen easily can be zoomed in or out, and it is easy to  see at a glance. A plethora of safety features are included as standard, including the blind-spot review monitor gives you a clear indication of what traffic may be coming up at you in the direction you are about to turn.

What I didn't like about the 2019 Kia K900: Not a whole lot to mention here. The trunk could be bigger considering its class, but at 15.4 cubic feet it’s not exactly what you would call small either. The lane-keeping system is a bit overly aggressive.

Would I buy the 2019 Kia K900? Yes. Like its “cousin” the Genesis, the K900 offers all the luxury features you want in an attractive package that lets you save several thousand dollars off the cost of a traditional luxury car.