2020 Lexus UX250h

Is this the best Lexus yet?

Well, no, that would be the LC500. Ha! You see what I did there? This is me demonstrating my gift for disingenuity, my friends, by pulling the ol’ bait-and-switch. Aren’t you glad you started reading this?

No, what I should have said is: is the 2019 UX 250h the best choice in a Lexus, from the standpoints of practicality, price and all-round usefulness for real people?

And yes, is the answer to that. Yes it is.

Introduced in January of this year as the newest Lexus utility vehicle, and priced with an entry-level buy-in (or at least, entry-level by Lexus standards), the UX is at the smaller end of the ever-expanding lineup of Lexii, which runs, with nameplates in order of size, GX, LX, RX and the just-slightly-bigger than this one, the NX which we saw here on the world’s finest website last year.

It is suitably ‘right-sized’ for urban use, with a footprint similar to a family sedan; but brings the higher ground clearance (you know how I loves me some ground clearance, living as I do in the land of curbs and speedbumps), as well as being an appropriate height for ease of entry/exit.

The body style of the UX allows for decent, if not enormous, cargo capacity, oh and hey!

It’s a hybrid! At least the one we’re looking at here is, pairing a 2.0L gasoline engine with possibly the best-regarded electric motor system in the world. The system outputs 175 net horsepower and put it to the wheels (all the wheels, mind you, as it is an AWD ute) via a CVT transmission.

(I’ll just interject here, that the one we’re are looking at here is a 2019, and being as it is all-new don’t expect huge changes for the new year, but I’ll point out that Lexus appears to have boosted the horsepower slightly – to 181hp – and added a couple of connectivity features. Here’s the deets).

The UX rides beautifully (and quietly), as anyone would expect from anything from Toyota’s luxury brand, and brings solid performance. It isn’t a sport machine, of course, but it the vehicle doesn’t lack or lag. Everything is easy to get used to from a driver’s standpoint, but where the new hybrid captures attention is the quality and feel of all the materials and surfaces.

It is quite a fashion statement, as well – check out the eye-catching upholstery. ‘Circuit Red’ leather adorns the seats contrasting with the black/dark dash treatment and futuristic look of the digital gauge cluster.

My test vehicle fleshed out the trappings with an F Sport 2 option group (and no, I don’t know what the F Sport 1 group might be). The option tacks another $8,800 to the bottom line, but truly finishes the package with everything one needs to call it a true luxury ride.

Among the major inclusions are a 3-Spoke F Sport steering wheel, (and for that matter, F Sport badges all over everything, everywhere), 8-speaker Enform 2.0 premium sound system, embedded navigation with three years of map updates included, a larger central information display (10.3”) parking assist, heated and ventilated front seats, smartphone charger and power tailgate.

The only downsides with the 2019 UX250h might be its overall size, but as mentioned, if you need a bigger premium utility vehicle, Lexus has a houseful of choices. There’s also the central interface touch-pad thing, which… well… you either like it or you don’t. Lexus gets a little better with their touchpad with every new generation of their vehicles, and at least the one in my test model now includes some buttons and a thumb-wheel for tuning the stereo.

The price is going to be a driver of sales for this vehicle as well. Don’t get me wrong, Lexus is never ‘cheap’ (in fact, if I were shopping for a ute like this, I’d probably opt for a fully-loaded RAV4 Hybrid, because money), but by premium-brand standards, this is not outrageous.

Starting at $39,700 for a base model, the one shown here, with F Sport 2 option package, came out at $50,697 and twenty-five cents, including freight and A/C charges and tire levy.

So, best Lexus yet? Maybe.

 

 

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

 

Gimme hybrids all day long, that’s my new motto.

That is my maxim, my mantra, my short, pithy statement expressing a general truth or rule of conduct, my thing-that-I-say.

Not just because of the lower tailpipe emissions and overall level of quietness, but of course because I don’t have to jump to the gas-pumps as often, to refuel.

Thus it is that I love the latest of Toyota’s hybrid lineup to make it over to Canada – the 2020 Corolla. (It is interesting to note, too, that the company has a really huge variety of hybrid powertrain vehicles available in overseas markets, from minivans to subcompacts like this cool Yaris I drove in the Netherlands back in 2015).

The gas/electric Corolla combines a 1.8L engine with the nickel-metal hydride battery pack that forms Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, adding two electric motors to the mix. Combined output from the system is rated at 121 hp and 105 lb.-ft. of torque.

The transmission is a two-speed CVT, and the Corolla brings the fairly industry-standard drive mode choices of Eco, Sport and (default) Normal, along with the ability to run it under purely electric power (for short distances). The car will also switch into pure EV mode even at pretty decent speeds when the system senses it can get by that way.

Another interesting feature unique the Hybrid version is that 15-inch wheels are standard issue on the car. While this may not attract attention they way larger wheels found on some of the competition, consider it from a cost-of-ownership perspective – i.e., fifteen-inch tires are going to be less expensive to replace than a set of 17” low-profile rubber.

The whole Corolla platform has been updated for 2020, now running on the company’s Global Architecture platform, and the Hybrid benefits from all of that, but rather than bore you with a litany about the updates, I’ll just post this link straight to the horse’s mouth, so to speak. After all, Mindful Reader, you don’t come to wozeroff.com to see a retyped press release, you come here for a drawing of a pregnant walrus. We’ll get to that later.

Suffice to say, the vehicle is easy to get used to and easy to get comfortable in. The upgraded interior of my test car gave me ‘Softex’ leather seating surfaces and a heated steering wheel, Apple CarPlay and an 8-way adjustable power driver’s seat.

The Corolla handles very well for its segment, steering feel and brake response were very good, and I never felt I lacked power, despite the relatively low horse-and-torque figures. Putting it in Sport mode when I wanted all the available power boosted the accelerator response noticeably, and the little sedan now looks as good as it should, thanks to an exterior makeover that finally sees Corolla getting a better appearance from all angles, and a lowered stance for curb appeal.

The real takeaway from my time in the car, however, is here:

Yes, that’s right. I actually beat the company’s stated fuel economy figure (which is 4.4L/100km) in combined city/hwy driving, and I wasn’t trying particularly hard; although I did predominantly use it Eco mode, for a week of (mostly) city driving.

So overall, it’s all good, right? Well, sure, but with a couple of caveats:

Obviously, it isn’t a sports car. Performance is quite acceptable, but if you’re looking for adrenalin-filled thrills, you need to look elsewhere.

Also – and again, obviously – this is compact car. The rear seats are best for smaller people (although I must note that the Corolla rear seats have more head and legroom than the Honda Civic sedan, and more legroom than a Kia Forte).

I had no issue with room and space in the front seats, and I am 6’2” and roughly 190 lbs (of solid, rippling muscle), but if you have been – how shall I say this – blessed with the physique of a pregnant walrus, you’d be better advised to consider something larger.

A Hyundai Palisade, perhaps. If you’re googling that, remember that ‘Palisade’ has only one L in the name.

Oh, and the overall quiet of the vehicle is something to be aware of. Particularly when you’re running in purely electric mode, the Corolla Hybrid makes almost no sound; and it is important to be conscious that pedestrians and cyclists can’t hear you coming up behind them.

Heck, you could sneak up on a dog with this car in EV mode.

That’s about it for ‘cons’ though, even the price isn’t going to scare anyone. The vehicle starts at $24,790 for a base model, and the one used to for my story here added two grand for a Premium Package option, which brought things like the heated, leather steering wheel, 8-way power driver’s seat, heated rear seats, leather seating and wireless smartphone charging and still only came to $28,566 (including freight and PDI).

 

 

2020 Hyundai Palisade

Damn, what is UP with me and tailgaters lately?

For it seems like every time I turn around, there’s some Goober cleaved to my bumper limpet-style, so close that I can see the fillings in their gappy little teeth in the rear-view mirror.

I should stress, too, that it is a different Goober each time, not like just one guy who has made it his mission to follow me too closely.

I have a theory, though (and not just my usual ‘people in this city don’t know how to drive’ rant) I figure that it is likely they were trying to read the name off the back of my vehicle. Perhaps, like me, they were thinking:

“Geez, is THAT how you spell Palisade?” Because I have been visualizing the word with two L’s all my life. Don’t know why.

Ah, but I have buried the lede long enough now, eh, Gentle Reader? Because as I’m sure you may have already figured, the subject of this week’s test drive here at the Auto Section is: the 2020 Hyundai Palisade.

The Palisade is the Korean manufacturer’s newest flagship vehicle (although really, the company is starting to sport a whole lineup of products that could be considered ‘flagship vehicles’, with head-turning looks or performance or technology – heck, they could call anything from the Veloster N to the Nexo to the also-all-new 2020 Venue their flagship and get full buy-in from me)

Anyway, the basics are these: Palisade is a mid-size sport utility vehicle – although it is on the ‘larger’ end of the mid-size range, to be sure – that will hold up to eight people in a roomy and comfortable interior, and keep the driver, in particular, engaged and informed with a suite of convenience and high-tech accoutrements.

The Palisade also seems to be positioning itself to out-do a few rival manufacturers at the own game, in some ways. Witness the shifter; a strip of push-buttons reminiscent of several Honda/Acura products (an they’ve also cribbed one of Honda’s best innovations, a side camera, but they have outdone them by having the cameras on both side of the Palisade). The company is also ready to challenge BMW to a friendly game of Big Ostentatious Grilles, too – check out the face on this thing!

A well-appointed interior, surfaced in Nappa leather, in the case of my test vehicle (which came to me in the ‘Luxury’ trim level, which is kind of in the middle of the lineup, neither base nor top-end) offered excellent room and overhead space for up to eight people, or massive cargo capacity if the seats were folded down.

Hyundai has made the folding of the seats pretty easy, too. The second row is a one-touch flipdown, and the third row is power operated.

From the driver’s standpoint, this is one of Hyundai’s finest efforts yet. Fully adjustable and comfortable seat, facing a heads-up speed display, with good visibility all around, augmented by the blind-view cameras on either side (all the better to view the tailgating goobers with, I suppose) a 10.25-inch touchscreen on the console and big, all-digital instrument cluster with various options for info mode display.

A responsive and capable 3.8L V6 under the hood, with 291hp and 262 lb.-ft. of torque on tap and Hyundai’s HTRAC four-wheel drive system leave you feeling confident in any situation. My Palisade’s driver-selectable terrain modes offered some factory-tuned configurations of the engine/drivetrain combo dialed in for Snow, Mud and Sand.

It competes in the segment against rivals like Highlander, Explorer, Pathfinder, Honda Pilot and Kia’s Telluride (as you know, Kia is Hyundai’s sister company and Telluride is virtually the same vehicle, though Palisade is slightly shorter and narrower) Palisade will match any competitive offerings feature-for-feature, and beats a lot of the field when it comes down to pricing. I’ve seen vehicles with a lot less included, for a much higher price.

The one used here is a not-quite top of the line “Luxury” trim level, configured for 8 passengers, with AWD and wired for trailer towing, and as far as I’m concerned, a fully complete package as is, with no options; came with a sticker price of $52,104 Canadian bucks, including freight charge.

And remember the most important thing we’ve learned today – there is only one L in Palisade, and tailgating is just bad manners.

 

 

2020 BMW M340i xDrive

So I’m out driving around in an M340i when suddenly, a robotic voice coming through the speakers starts asking what I want, something to the effect of “Say a command, or choose from these categories…”

This can be pretty weird if you aren’t used to voice-activation, but looking at the big info-screen on the center console I can see that the system is offering me a series of choices – except that I don’t actually want it to do anything, so I say “cancel!”, because that usually works in these situations.

My artificial co-pilot replies in a monotone: “Current. Weather” and displays this:

Now, maybe it is my thick Etruscan accent, but I get this kind of miscommunication a lot with voice command systems; which is why I don’t really like them all that much.

(Oh, and the reason the voice started up in the first place was because there is a button on the steering wheel that activates the whole voice-communication thing, and it is really easy to accidentally hit it with your thumb. Trust me, I did it several times while driving the car).

I’ll tell you what I do like, though: the 2020 M340i from BMW.

Part of the seventh generation of the company’s mainstay 3 Series, the one we’re looking at here is the first of the 3s to get the M Performance treatment, promising to kick the car up (yet another) notch.

The most obvious upgrade is to the powertrain, with the M340 getting a new version of the six-cylinder engine, a wonderfully smooth 3.0 litre twin-turbo monster that promises 382 horsepower and 369 lb.-ft. of torque and puts it to the wheels (all the wheels, in the case of my test car) through BMW’s intelligent all-wheel drive system.

Depending on the drive mode selected, the xDrive system increasingly sends more power to the rear wheels, and when you’ve selected the more ‘dynamic’ modes (Sport or Sport+) the system will put it even more when it detects a driver steering hard into a corner.

Honestly, I have never had any complaints about power or handling in any 3 Series I have driven, but the M Performance model boasts improvements to what was already a great driving experience through a model-specific rear differential, and chassis and suspension tuning.

The transmission is an 8-speed Steptronic, which is equally quick and smart – in fact, an interesting thing that BMW points out is that this transmission works with both the car’s ‘intelligent connectivity’ system as well as the radar sensors from the Cruise Control equipment – essentially to allow maximum performance, safely, by determining what it thinks the driver is doing in situations involving either other traffic on the road or when cornering. The company explains it as avoiding unnecessary downshifts, or in other cases, employing earlier downshifts when approaching an obstacle.

Clever stuff, all of it, and perhaps my one regret is not using the transmissions Launch Control function (which optimizes traction control when you’re blasting off from a standing start, to keep the M340 in a straight line). I just figured there would be no point in unnecessarily scrubbing extra rubber off the tires, just to amuse myself; so I’ll take Bimmer’s word for it when they say that it can catapult the car from 0-100 km in 4.4 seconds.

Anyway, a first-rate driving experience is guaranteed with the M340i and not only when you’re driving hard, but even just from sitting in the cabin using the car as a regular ol’ daily driver.

Inside the redesigned cabin (the company loves to refer to their ‘design language’ regarding the interior styling) is a new-look dash and console, featuring the bright and enlarged information screen and ultramodern lines. The digital instrument cluster behind the wheel is likewise new for 2020 and can be tailored to display a variety of information.

BMW says the cabin has had more space carved out for passengers, and indeed I found the car generously roomy up front, very good overhead room and shoulder space; and not too bad in the rear seats. I will venture, though, that the rear might feel less generous if it were filled to its max (3-person) capacity.

All the surfaces in my test vehicle felt great to the touch, with component materials having been upgraded from the previous generation. This particular 3 series also benefitted from an option package that clad the dash in ‘Walknappa’ leather, and all the seats were wrapped in cognac-colored Vernasca leather surfaces.

A Harmon/Kardon sound system provided the ambient background to an elegant driving experience from within the cockpit.

So the inside’s great, and the outside, well it is also pure BMW.

By now I am sure everybody’s joked about the company making the twin-kidney grille larger and larger every year, and the front of my M340i carried on this tradition (although they go as nuts on enlargement as they have done with some of their SUV models). The mesh inserts on the car pictured here replace the more common vertical slats I am used to seeing.

The appearance of the car has been made more aggressive, sweeping from the attention-getting grille with contour lines on the hood that lead the observer’s eye from front to rear, down new rooflines and culminating in trapezoidal tailpipe trim.

You have to love a car that looks like it’s moving even when parked, and this one doesn’t disappoint.

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So heck, I’d say sure, run out and buy one, but let’s not overlook a couple of factors here – there is the price of course, and also as you may have figured, that premium-drinking turbo 3.0L engine isn’t the most fuel-economical powerplant but there is also the low ground and curb clearance of the car.

Fortunately the vehicle has a lot of sensors (and a very cool overhead-view display that helps a lot when parking), but that won’t save you if you have a lot of those really aggressive speed bumps in your city. Indeed, for my city, a utility vehicle like the X5 would probably be the more practical choice.

Ah, but practicality is not what we’re all about here. This vehicle is all about high style and luxurious elegance (and telling you the current weather trends, whether you want it to or not), and that can be had starting in the low 60K range.

The test car pictured here pushed that up with the addition of the Premium Excellence option package (which added $8,300), Tanzanite Blue metallic paint ($1,450) and adaptive M suspension ($600), all of which is quite desirable. Tack on a destination charge ($2,245) and it comes out to $74,445

 

2019 Honda Insight

The Insight, one of the original pioneers of hybrid technology, is back again with a third generation.

Honda keeps the Insight nameplate alive, constantly reviving it in new bodies, although he car hasn’t really been visually distinct since the memorable first wave of them that debuted in the late 90s. Remember those? An eclectic little two-door hatchback with covered rear wheel wells (a styling cue that can still be found on the company’s Clarity PHEV) that grabbed attention.

And then it went away for a while before returning for a second generation where, in a peculiar design choice, it was almost identical to Toyota’s Prius, which was at the time the unquestioned champion of hybrid passenger cars. I remember being at the North American launch of the second-gen Insight, and when they unveiled it we of the press all said in unison: “Um, that’s a Prius, dudes”, to which Honda’s engineering team responded “No it isn’t! No it isn’t! It’s totally unique bla bla bla”, which convinced almost no one.

Now the badge is back, as is Honda’s underlying technology – a combination of gas engine and two electric motors – but this time dressed in the body of a Civic.

Because, seriously, that is basically what it is, it is a Civic with a hybrid powertrain. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you, Civic is one of the most well-known and highly regarded compacts in the world; so if you’re going to look like something it may as well be that.

And here is where I’ll point out that this is, in my opinion, a darn good-looking car.

With dimensions and volumes that are identical to Civic (the sedan version of the Civic, that is, not the cool new hatchback configuration that is also available) and a sticker price that isn’t too much of a premium (especially if you live somewhere that offers incentives for buying a hybrid) this may be the Insight that finally grabs a bigger market share; because the thing is, there isn’t much to dislike about this car.

The Insight I drove recently was a Touring trim (so, the top of the line), and loaded up the car with all the tech and driver assistance that Honda can pile on:

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Most of it is accessed through the touchscreen on the center console (and, now that the company has gone back to at least including a knob for volume control, it isn’t hard to learn to like the interface).

A basic suite of apps lets you get to the settings for phone connection, Bluetooth and navigation, and the screen is also where the side mirror camera’s image is displayed.

This is one of my favorite features in any Honda product that includes it (not all models do), a rear-facing camera in the side mirror that comes on automatically when you signal a right turn (or when you activate it with the button on the stalk on the steering wheel) that shows a driver what is right beside them – a cyclist, for example.

The Insight uses a 1.5L gasoline engine mated to the hybrid drive’s electric motor, pumping a potential 151 horsepower and 197 lb.-ft. of torque.

Honda says fuel economy will average 4.6L/100 km in city driving (and 5.4L on the highway). I came in a little over that, but still well within ‘good’ economy territory.

The Insight offers the usual choices of drive modes found on a lot of hybrid cars – you’ve got Sport, Econ and full electric (EV). I’ll mention, too, that Sport mode isn’t just an afterthought on the Insight; it really does give the car some jam.

But with me being something of a skinflint, I ran it in Econ mode for most of my time with the car, and you know what? For everyday, regular ol’ daily driving, Econ is fine. I never felt underpowered with it, and any time I was concerned about needing some extra oomph for a quick merge, I’d just jab the Sport button for additional acceleration.

Steering, handling and braking were likewise fine. Better than average, I would say.

Combine this with a genuinely nice interior, a black-on-black motif in the case of the vehicle I used, and the Insight is a solid package for a compact family sedan.

The price, well tell me what you think. Granted this one here is Touring trim, feature packed and with no additional option packages, but it tipped the scales at $34,245 (that’s including freight and tax)

Insight has also got some serious competition coming down the pike, both from the segment-dominating Prius family.

Oh, and Toyota’s newest entry, the Corolla Hybrid, which we’ll be checking out next – but spoiler alert: it came in nearly 5K cheaper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2020 Hyundai Veloster N

Okay, this is certainly the most exciting Hyundai product I have driven to date. A performance hatchback, a super-souped up version of the company’s distinctive, slightly weird three-door compact, this right here is the 2020 Veloster N

(Listen, I’m going to try to not use the term ‘hot hatch’ here, not because it isn’t appropriate, but because that phrase has been sputtered out by literally everyone else who has driven it and now it is overused).

Hyundai has pulled off a real achievement here, not only creating a track-ready car with genuine fun factor, but doing so at a competitive price.

Starting with the biggest difference between the N and the regular ol’ Veloster, this one gets Hyundai’s turbocharged ‘Theta’ 2.0L engine under the hood, pumping 275 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque (or, 74 more horses than the 1.6L turbo available in regular Veloster models, and 128 more ponies than the base model two litre).

A six-speed manual transmission is the way to go with a car like this, and the stick in my test car did the job magnificently, short throws and the gates exactly where they should be (that’s my way of saying I never ‘missed’ a shift in my time with the car) paired with a clutch that is, likewise, easy to get used to.

The N model gets exterior cosmetic enhancements to differentiate it, most notably the grille and bigger wheels (19 inch, with low-profile tires which I can only assume would be pricey to replace after you’ve burned all the rubber off driving in the performance modes). The Veloster N body is also slightly longer, end-to-end, and slightly (10mm) wider.

It gets better front seats, too. Strap yourself into the sport-oriented, comfortably-but-firmly bolstered driver’s position (with the cool blue seatbelt) and hit the keyless start button and the fun begins.

There’s the standard, driver-selectable modes that we find in a number of vehicles (Normal/Eco/Sport), but behind the prominent N button on the steering wheel, this Veloster offers a bunch of user-customizable features (as well as a default N Mode, where the manufacturer has built a package of suspension stiffness, accelerator response and steering wheel ‘weight’ that, frankly, is pretty much perfect).

As you may imagine, N Mode is what people will buy this car for, and it really delivers on its promise. The suspension tightens up noticeably, the exhaust note changes to a suitably throaty growl, and the handling and cornering ability of the car (and full and instantaneous torque response) come out in full display.

Indeed, I wish I’d had some track time during my experience with the Veloster N, but even just keeping it within the posted limits and only doing the fun stuff in safe areas with no one around, this car is a hoot to drive.

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And even when you keep it in Comfort or Eco modes and just treat it as an A to B conveyance, the balanced feel of the low-slung body remains.

The interior is comfortable enough, once you get in (which in my case, was a case of folding myself up and doing a sort of backwards half-somersault while swing my knees under the steering wheel) but once inside there is good room overhead in the front seats.

Everything is pleasant enough to look at, and feels good (as you should expect from the price tag, though, you’ll find cloth upholstery and an array of plastic surfaces), and a relatively small suite of electronic/infotainment googaws.

Operated by a touchscreen (and supplemented with steering-mounted buttons), the N includes things like Android and Apple CarPlay mobile integration, Bluetooth connectivity, and a surround sound stereo system with 8 speakers.

But there are a number of things my test car didn’t include (and aren’t offered), and herein lies my main problems with the Veloster N

There was, for example, no navigation system.

The car had no front parking sensors, either, which can and will be a problem with a low-to-the-ground car with a fairly long overhang of the front end, just begging to play everyone’s favorite game: Meet the Curb.

It also lacked rear cross-traffic alert (one of my absolute fave safety features in any car) nor did it have a blind spot monitor system (and you can’t get them on the Veloster N, either, although it does come with regular Velosters). The lack of blind spot warning thing in particular gets up my nose, because rearward and over-the-shoulder visibility in this car is not as good as I’d like it to be.

And also, with heaven as my witness, I don’t like the rear seats.

It’s not just that they’re small, and there isn’t a lot of headroom (though all the passengers I had in the car during my time n it felt that legroom was pretty good), no, what bugs me is the whole ‘three doors’ thing.

The rear seat passenger on the driver’s side, has no door beside them, and that makes me feel claustrophobic as hell. I mean, let’s think the unthinkable here and pretend that you’re that passenger and there’s a rollover or something, and you find yourself trapped in the back seat with an immobilized fat guy beside you, blocking the only way out. Scary, yes?

Anyway, pretend I never said that. The main takeaway here is that if you like the regular Veloster, you’ll love the Veloster N. And the best part: the price.

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Coming in at $34,999 (with another $1,705 freight charge), this is one of the best price-per-horsepower cars around.