Friday, August 31, 2018


Nissan followed up its redesign of its popular Rogue crossover with several midyear enhancements 2017, and the updates keep coming for 2018 with added technology that represents a step — albeit a baby one — to self-driving capability.

The system, dubbed ProPilot, is available on the top trim Rogue SL model as part of a $790 Platinum Package suite of features that also includes 19-inch wheels (replacing standard 18-inchers) and an electronic parking brake.

To activate ProPilot assist technology, you simply push a button on the right side of the steering wheel spoke, then set the desired speed for the adaptive cruise control for the system to kick in.

In addition to keeping your Rogue at a proper distance from the vehicle in front of you, ProPilot also gently helps keep you in your proper lane via a camera-based system that works in a variety of conditions.

Frankly, the technology isn’t all that ground-breaking. I have driven many vehicles that give you a warning, either by an annoying buzzer or by gently vibrating the driver’s seat, to let you know if you are drifting out of your lane, and even been in some will give your steering wheel a nudge to keep you aligned properly.

Those, however, were a bit too aggressive, and even ProPilot takes a bit of getting used to.

Probably the most important thing to note about the ProPilot Assist is the the word "assist." It does not turn the Rogue (or the Leaf) into a self-driving car.

You still must perform basic functions, like keeping your hands on the steering wheel and keeping track of traffic around you. You can’t haul out your cell phone and start dialing calls (though you can I guess if you have synced your phone through the Bluetooth system).

Frankly, other than the adaptive cruise control, I’m not sure I would opt to include ProPilot among the options I would pay extra for, especially with adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning now standard on the SL, but it's not like the cost runs into four figures.

It’s kind of like off-road capability. Even if you don’t use it, it’s nice to know it’s there.

Other changes to the Rogue for 2018 are NissanConnect with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and an additional USB port to all trim levels (S, SV, and SL) and standard Intelligent Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, Intelligent Lane Intervention and Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection for the SL grade.

S and SV trims also get some revised features and colors.

All three are powered by a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine that is rated at 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque and mated with — dare we say it? — a continuously variable transmission.

Three driving modes are offered with Sport to enhance (a little) performance and Eco to save (a little) fuel along with standard or normal mode that earns mileage ratings of 25 miles-per-gallon city, 32 highway, and 27 combined.

Those are good figures and, according to the government, you will spend zero, yes zero, more dollars on fuel costs over a five-year period for the Rogue over other compact crossovers/SUVs.

But, thanks to that CVT, the fun driving quotient is very low.

The Rogue’s other qualities, however, weigh heavily in its favor.

The cabin design is very pleasing to the eye and the materials first-rate. Put an analog clock in the middle of the center stack and slap on Infiniti badging and it very easily could match up to offerings from its upscale siblings.

Price for the Rogue starts at $25,395 (including $975 destination and delivery) for front-wheel-drive S models. The SL with all-wheel drive starts at $33,385, and the SV trims sit in between. Hybrid models start at $27,615 for FWD and go up to $38,885 for SL models with AWD.

What I liked about the 2018 Nissan Rogue SL: The well-trimmed cabin is roomy and comfortable, and there's nice storage space (39.3 cubic feet) in the back with the elimination of the third row seating. The technology is plentiful and user friendly, especially for us non-geeks. And the exterior appearance doesn't take a backseat to any other vehicle.

What I didn't like about the 2018 Nissan Rogue SL: Nissan has refined the CVT to a fine point, but there is one thing it can't get away from. It's still a CVT. Whatever the engine might deliver in the way of performance, the CVT takes away from it.

Would I buy the 2018 Nissan Rogue SL? I basically have struck two vehicle types off my list of potential purchases: Plugin hybrids and vehicles with CVTs. Thankfully, this isn’t a plugin. If those features don't bother you, and you don't care about sporty performance in a crossover, then yes, the Rogue is a good choice. I might even overlook that it has a CVT next time I go vehicle shopping.

Friday, August 24, 2018


Maybe the first thing you might notice about the 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 is that it isn’t quite so mini, and I’m not talking about just the name.

At nearly 170 inches long and with a wheelbase of just over 105 inches, it isn’t exactly reaching “maxi” standards, but it’s nearly the size of a Kia Soul (and with a longer wheelbase) and approaches the standard for classification as a compact rather than a subcompact vehicle as with some other Minis.

It seats five, offering decent legroom up front (40.4 inches) but slightly less in the back (37.6) because of the placement of the electric motor and its battery pack. And it lists cargo capacity as 15.9 cubic feet, which is a bit less than non-hybrid Countryman models but is adequate for most daily hauls.

The all-wheel-drive plugin is new to the Countryman lineup for 2018. The hybrid setup matches a 1.5-liter 3-cylinder with an electric motor for a combined 221 horsepower (134 from the gas engine alone) along with 284 pound-feet of torque.

That’s considerably more oomph than the other Countryman models (especially the base model’s 134/162) and results in a zero-to-60 mph clocking of 6.8 seconds, which is among the quickest any Mini has to offer.

This could be considered further evidence that a plugin hybrid with an electric-only mode doesn’t have to be a dullard when it comes to performance.

The only transmission available on the plugin is a 6-speed shiftable automatic, and it earns a 65 MPGe rating.

Though it has three different driving modes (Auto eDrive, Max eDrive, and Save Battery), which can be confusing, it’s a bit of stretch to call this an “electric” vehicle. Electric-only range is only up to 24 miles depending on the speed driven, and some sources report it at only half that.

With the gasoline engine kicking in seamlessly when the electric charge is depleted, however, the limited electric range is of no real concern. What is a concern is the somewhat small tank of 9.5 gallons, which means many fill-ups of premium fuel if you don’t keep the battery charged to let the electric motor contribute.

In addition to the hybrid-related driving selections you may also engage Sport, Mid, and Green modes to suit your desires. Green dulls performance, Sport jacks it up a bit.

The 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 carries a starting MSRP of $36,900, which puts near the top of Mini’s price chart. The base Cooper Countryman starts at $10,000 less, however, and the Cooper ALL4 is still under $30,000.

The Cooper S and Cooper S ALL4 start just under $32,000. The John Cooper Works Countryman carries the biggest starting price tag of $37,900.

What I liked about the 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4: This is a fun car to drive and does so in style, with quality materials throughout the cabin. Seats are comfortable, though getting to the handle to adjust the front-seat backs is kind of tricky.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4: The traditional ring at the top of the center stack is bit too much in-your-face for my tastes and provides a limited view for the navigation map. I know that ring been around a while, but enough is enough! The turn signal’s loud clicking and the chimes that greet you when entering can get annoying.

Would I buy the 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4? To repeat a common theme with me, I wouldn’t buy any plugin at this stage. I just don’t think this one offers enough electric drive miles to go through the trouble of going through the process of keeping it charged. Also, I’m not sure the $5,000 premium over the cost of the Countryman S ALL4 model is worth it.

Saturday, August 18, 2018


Now in its sixth generation, the Elantra remains Hyundai’s top seller with over 113,000 sold so far in 2018, the only vehicle in the South Korean automaker’s stable of sedans, hatchbacks, and SUVs/crossovers to reach six figures in total sales to date.

Hyundai says that more than 2.9 million Elantras have been sold in the U.S. since it arrived in the United States in 1990, and it is easy to see why. It still offers a comfortable ride and a many technological and safety features for under $20,000 on all but the high-end models.

Though redesigned for 2017, the 2018 Elantra added a new trim level for 2018 with the Elantra SEL replacing what was sold before as the SE with Popular Equipment Package.

For an MSRP of $19,735 including the $895 destination and delivery charge, the Elantra SEL comes with such features as blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist, rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, auto headlamps, heated outside mirrors, a 7-inch display audio system with SiriusXM satellite radio (unless you live in Alaska or Hawaii), 16-inch alloy wheels, and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with cruise and audio controls.

That’s a nice array of equipment that will satisfy most of your needs. A good thing, too, because the only option offered on the SEL is an auto-dimming mirror with HomeLink and compass.

For navigation and leather seats over the standard premium cloth, you’ll have to step up to the Limited trim that checks in at just under $22,000 including destination and delivery.

Under the hood of the 2018 Elantra is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that offers excellent fuel economy of 28 miles-per-gallon city, 37 highway, and 32 overall, but not a whole lot in the way of performance and an engaging driving experience.

Setting the 6-speed automatic transmission in Sport more helps, but there is only so much you can get out of 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. A manual likely would add to the fun potential, but that is offered only on the SE and Elantra Sport.

For more performance, you might want to take a look at the 2018 Elantra GT Sport that is offered with a 1.6-liter turbo-4 that ups horsepower and torque to 201/195, respectively, but with a tab of just over $25,000.

Space is a plus for the Elantra. Legroom for all trims is a generous 42.2 inches in the front and an adequate 35.7 in the back. The trunk is 14.4 cubic feet — good for the class.

The Elantra also comes in other trims with the SE serving as the base and starts at $17,845 when equipped with a six-speed manual transmission and $18,845 with the 6-speed Shiftronic.

Other Elantra sedans, including the SEL, come with either either a 6-speed automatic or a 7-speed double-clutch transmission. The Elantra Value Edition models start at just under $21,000 with the destination and delivery added in, and the Eco, which is rated at 35 mpg combined with the 1.4-liter turbo-4 and the double-clutch tranny, starts at $21,435,

Limited Edition starts at $21,985. The Elantra Sport is $22,685 with the 6-speed manual and $23,785 with the 7-speed dual clutch tranny.

That pretty much leaves the SEL as the more popular choice.

What I liked about the 2018 Hyundai Elantra SEL: Setting the transmission to Sport mode results in a much more livelier performance, though a manual transmission — not available on the SEL — likely would make it even better. Basic infotainment features, including SiriusXM satellite radio, are user friendly operating off a generous 7-inch touchdown. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard. Connecting a cell through Bluetooth is a snap.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Hyundai Elantra SEL: The engine is quiet enough, though we found it necessary to turn up the audio volume when at expressway speeds because of road noise. Navigation is offered only on the Limited trim (but you probably prefer our smart phone any way).

Would I buy the 2018 Hyundai Elantra SEL? Yes. This is a good value for the money. The SEL comes with lots of standard features and still keeps the MSRP at under $20,000.

Monday, August 13, 2018


Volkswagen executives were expecting (hoping for?) much success when the Atlas was launched as a replacement for the Touareg in the midsize SUV segment in the U.S., and the latest sales reports seem to confirm their expectations (hopes?).

The Atlas enjoyed its best sales month yet this past July and was one of three vehicles from the German automaker’s stable that helped spur overall sales growth of nearly 13 percent for the company over the same month for the previous year.

In fact, without the Atlas those numbers would have been down for the month as the company’s top seller, the Jetta, actually showed a sales decline of 37.2 percent for the month and 40 percent for the year-to-date just past the midpoint of 2018.

VW reported total sales of 6,938 for the Jetta for July and 39,961 for the first seven months of the year while the redesigned Tiguan small SUV and the all-new Atlas showed July sales of 6,636 and 6,499, respectively.

Those numbers represents huge percentage  jumps of 1,019.1 and 397.6 percent, respectively, for the two SUVs.

For the year, VW reports that 52,738 Tiguans and 34,657 Atlases have been sold so far in 2018 compared to 593 and 5,329, respectively, at this point in 2017.  Percentage-wise, that represents jumps of 8,7934 and 550.3 percent, respectively.

With a new 5-passenger Atlas in the works for 2019 to join the current 7-passenger version, that momentum is likely to continue into the future.

VW says the Atlas was designed with American audiences in mind, which means lots of interior room overall and legroom for third-row passengers. It is put together at the company’s assembly plant in Chattanooga with 46 percent of the parts coming from the U.S. and Canada and only 27 percent from Germany.

The understated interior features a nice clean design with the emphasis on functionality, not gee-whiz gizmos and techno features. Seating capacity is seven with those in the second and third rows getting 37.6 and 33.7 inches of legroom, respectively, and a generous 41.5 up front. The 60/40 split second row has a sliding row of up to 7.7 inches, and Captain’s Chairs also are offered on higher end trims for six-passenger capacity.

Cargo volume behind the third row is 20.6 cubic feet, and with the third row folded it’s a generous 55.5.

The Atlas is offered in five flavors (S, SE, SE w/technology, SEL, SEL Premium) with either a 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder or an available 3.6-liter V6 under the hood. V6s also are offered with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive.

The 4-banger is rated at 235 horsepower at 4500 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque starting at 1600 rpm when using premium fuel, but it also runs on regular unleaded.

The V6 boosts those numbers to 276 hp at 6200 rpm and 266 lb.-ft. of torque at 2750 rpm. That power gets to either the front or all wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Fuel economy with the turbo-4 is 22 miles-per-gallon city, 26 highway and 24 combined. Numbers for the V6 are 18/25/30 with FWD and 17/23/19 with AWD.

AWD models feature four settings — Onroad, Snow, Offroad, and Custom Offroad — with Onroad as the default setting. Onroad can be further set to Normal, Sport, Eco, or Individual modes depending on your preferences and conditions.

My test vehicle was the AWD SEL and was a joy to drive.

Equipment like the V6 engine and Triptronic transmission, 18-inch wheels, power sunroof, 60/40 split second-row seating, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, 8-way adjustable front passenger seat, adaptable cruise control, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, Park Pilot system, blind-spot monitor and rear traffic alert, 8-inch touchscreen for infotainment features, and push-button start was included in the MSRP of $43,615, including the $925 destination and delivery charge.

The base S model starts at just under $34,000 while the SEL Premium nudges the $49,000 mark.

What I liked about the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas: Though it seats seven passengers, the Atlas has the feel of a much smaller vehicle when it comes to handling and drive-ability. It looks good as well, and the inside is very roomy. Access to the third row is accomplished easily by sliding second-row seats forward, and you can move the second row forward a bit to give third-row riders more legroom.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas: Response to voice commands was a bit irregular, and voice command protocol required the frequency first be selected and then the station number to change radio stations. I also never did get my cell phone connected via Bluetooth.

Would I buy the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas? Yes. It is one of the few three-row SUVs that I would consider. But if you simply don’t want that third row, a five-passenger Atlas is in the works for 2019.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018


After taking a year off, the Infiniti QX50 is back as a 2019 model, a little bit shorter but wider and taller than its predecessor with a new interior, a more fuel-efficient, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, and generous cargo space as it moves into its second generation under the QX nameplate. (The first QX50 in 2014 was essentially an update of the EX series introduced in 2008.)

The result is a midsize luxury crossover that offers buyers a quality alternative in a very popular segment.

With an all-new platform, the 2019 QX50 is offered with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive in three trim levels dubbed Pure, Luxe, and Essential. (You have to wonder how they came up with these names.)

All are equipped with a 2.0-liter VC Turbo-4 (for Variable Compression) that generates 268 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque while delivering fuel economy numbers of 24 miles-per-gallon city, 31 highway and 27 combined in FWD and 24/30/26 with AWD.

That’s less horsepower but more torque and better fuel mileage than the 2017 model that had a 3.7-liter V6 under the hood. That engine pumped out 325 hp but only 267 lb.-ft. of torque while drinking fuel at the rate of 17/24/20 mpg.

The improved torque is what gives the 2019 model a rather peppy performance for its class, though that you have to suspect that it is somewhat held back by the continuously variable transmission.

It does have a DS (Sport) mode and features a manual shift mode that works like a regular 7-speed transmission if you want to shift gears yourself. But a 7-speed (or 6) would be better.

The new QX50 is 184.7 inches long compared to the 2017’s length of 186.6, but stands taller (66 inches) and wider (74.9). The 2017 is less than 63 inches tall without roof rails and only 71 inches wide.

There is less leg room up front (39.6 on the 2019, 44.3 on the 2017) but more in the back (38.7 to 35.3).

Designers gave the 2019 QX50 a bolder look with a long, clamshell hood that is made to appear even longer by the slanted A pillar. The front fascia features LED headlights and LED daytime running lights. The top two trims (Luxe and Essential) also get LED fog lights as standard.

The interior, in a word, is beautiful. Infiniti calls it the finest interior it has ever created, and it’s hard to argue with that. The cabin is packed with high-grade materials with leatherette-appointed seats on Pure and Luxe trims. The Essential trim gets full leather as standard with two options for upgrades.

Aluminum accents add a nice touch to the interior’s two-color scheme.

Both front seats are power-adjustable eight ways with the driver getting two-way power adjustable lumbar support. You can opt for blue ultra-suede door panels on Essential models in a package that also includes white premium grade leather seating surfaces.

The console features a double screen on the center stack that allows you to perform infotainment functions without putting down the 8-inch screen that serves the navigation system, a feature that many critics don’t seem to appreciate. But I do, maybe because I am constantly fiddling with the radio.

Pricing for the 2019 QX50 starts at $36,550 (plus the $995 destination and delivery charge) for the Pure FWD model. Luxe and Essential trims with FWD start at $39,400 and $43,350, respectively. AWD adds $1,800 to the price.

That pricing makes the QX50 very competitive in its class, but the QX50 Essential can quickly top $50,000 when optional packages are added in.

Standard equipment for the QX50 Essential includes a power moonroof, roof rails, rain-sensing windshield wipers, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, around-view monitor (other trims get the standard rearview camera), parking sensors, power liftgate, push-button start, and hill-start assist.

Adding options and packages like a Sensory Package (premium audio, 20-inch dark painted wheels over the standard 19s, upgraded premium leather, seating, motion-activated liftgate, maple wood interior trim, etc.), a Pro-Assist Package (Back-Up Collision Prevention, adaptive cruise control, etc.), and Pro-Active Package (lane-departure warning and prevention, steering assist, head-up display, etc.) plus illuminated kick plates and welcome lighting ran my test vehicle up to $55,285.

That’s still pretty good considering some of its competitors are hitting the $80,000 mark.

What I liked about the 2019 Infiniti QX50: The interior has gone through a serious upgrade and taken the QX50 to a new level with lots of quality materials throughout. The double screen for nav and infotainment helps simplify operations. You don’t have to get out of navigation mode to change a radio station, for example. Cargo space behind the second row is a generous 31.1 cubic feet and 65.1 with those seats folded. Sport mode provides a lift in performance.

What I didn’t like about the 2019 Infiniti QX50: Though this CVT is light years ahead of previous versions, it still is a CVT. I could live with this one, but still would prefer a 6- or 7-speed. Most of the option packages, including some safety functions, are available only on the Essential model.

Would I buy the 2019 Infiniti QX50? Yep. It’s good-looking inside and out, quiet on the highway, and the overall performance is pretty good for the genre despite the CVT.