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 2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo 2.0L FWD
Instrumented Test
Every once in a while, a mainstream automaker turns out an unexpected sleeper, an under-the-radar vehicle with the power to dispatch flashier rides pulling away from a stoplight. Sleepers come in many forms, but few offer better cover than compact crossovers. The 2006–2012 Toyota RAV4 with the optional 268-hp V-6 engine was a good example, as were the stick-shift, turbocharged Subaru Forester XT and Kia’s previous-generation Sportage SX with its 260-hp turbo four-cylinder. Toyota’s fire-breathing RAV4 was extinguished in 2012 and the Forester is now stuck with a CVT, but Kia’s hot turbocharged SX trim level is back and in form following the Sportage’s redesign for 2017, and for the first time we’ve tested it without the optional all-wheel drive.

Quickie Kia

Secretly quick cars are fun, but the outgoing Sportage SX had its share of shortcomings outside of its rowdy engine. The suspension was downright harsh, the interior simply was there, and it returned middling fuel economy. For the latest SX, the sportiest Sportage in the lineup, Kia retained the hot-rod-in-disguise aspect while improving nearly everything else. The crossover’s turbocharged four-cylinder engine pushes 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft (that’s a 59-hp and 85 lb-ft bump over the base model’s naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four) shot our front-drive SX to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds and on to an electronically governed 135 mph. Those numbers best everything in the compact-crossover melee excepting the Subaru Forester 2.0XT, which comes only in all-wheel-drive form.
In an effort to improve the carryover turbo engine’s fuel efficiency and smooth the lumpy power delivery, Kia stripped it of 20 horsepower and 9 lb-ft of torque, to mixed effect. The engine still issues its might with a strong surge at about 3000 rpm, but even indulging ourselves with the accelerator pedal we saw 21 mpg in mixed driving, which is also the EPA city mileage rating. Something near 30 mpg seems achievable on the highway. The true vice is one shared among all high-output, front-drive vehicles: torque steer and a penchant for spinning the front tires under hard acceleration. We’d splurge for the optional ($1500) all-wheel-drive system, even though it piles on an extra 119 pounds and adds 0.2 second to the zero-to-60-mph time. We like power—see our affection for the old SX, which we put through a 40,000-mile long-term test—but 240 ponies are a lot to shove through the same two wheels that also handle steering duties.
Drive the Kia like a workaday compact crossover, rather than a tiny Porsche Cayenne, and the turbo engine makes a better case for itself by yanking around the SX with relaxed aplomb. It never feels wanting for passing power, and the chassis is buttoned-down and stable. Critically, compared with the old SX, which came standard with a “sport suspension,” Kia tuned this new SX model’s chassis to be more compliant, like that of the regular Sportage, without sacrificing body control. The brakes are reassuring and returned stops from 70 mph in 173 feet, good for this class. Outside of some flutter from the big 19-inch wheels when passing over closely spaced groupings of road imperfections and an utter lack of feel from the steering, the SX chassis performs well while riding quietly and smoothly even at highway speeds.

Kia Can-Do

While the Sportage’s fun quotient survived the redesign, its previously austere, if functional, interior was shown the door. The new cabin is well executed, to the point that it garnered from our staff several flattering comparisons to those of Audi vehicles. The design is restrained and the dashboard and door panels feature classy soft-touch materials and quality plastics. We especially like the nice-to-hold steering wheel and the center stack’s slight cant toward the driver. Rear-seat passengers have plenty of legroom, although their seat cushions are positioned a tad low, and they have ready access to a 12-volt power plug and a USB slot. The cargo hold is large and basically rectangular; the rear seats can fold completely flat using release buttons next to the outboard headrests. Those seats lack release handles readily accessible from the cargo bay, but the load floor back there can be fitted to one of two heights; when in the lower position, there’s a built-in ramp to provide a smooth transition to the folded seatbacks.
Similar attention to detail is evident in Kia’s infotainment interface. As in other recent Kia products, nearly every touchscreen function can also be manipulated via well-located hard buttons. Three strips of controls sit beneath the center display, one with shortcuts to radio, media, phone, navigation, and setup menus (plus seek and track-selection buttons); another with climate controls; and a third with switches for the cooled and heated front seats and heated steering wheel. Flanking the top row? Honest-to-goodness volume and tuning knobs. Knobs on either side of the climate controls set temperature for the left- and right-hand climate zones. It’s telling how varied (and often weird) secondary control layouts have become in 2016 that we feel the need to call out this sort of basic ergonomic effort.
The front-end design (headlights stacked atop a grille, stacked atop an intake, stacked atop a skidplate) may not suit everyone’s taste, but in SX trim, especially, with its big wheels and chrome trim, the Sportage manages to look more expensive than it is. Kia has come a long way since the days when its products were carried solely by their long warranties and value-packed MSRPs.
This particular Kia is actually priced on the higher end of the compact-crossover segment, at $33,395, but it feels worth the cost. The turbo’s power corrupts the driver as easily as it vanquishes the front tires, the rest of the package is as well turned out as you could ask for in this segment, and standard equipment is generous. Dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, a Harman/Kardon sound system, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, heated and ventilated power front seats, a heated steering wheel, blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, LED fog lights, LED taillights, LED running lights, a (huge) panoramic sunroof, a power liftgate, and the all-important Android Auto smartphone integration (but not yet Apple CarPlay) are included. The SX trim level is so all-in that Kia lists no options except for all-wheel drive. As we said, we’d check that box, but with that option or without, the Sportage SX remains stealthy quick, while also having improved as an everyday crossover.
  • May 2016
  • By ALEXANDER STOKLOSA
  • Photography By MICHAEL SIMARI

The Audi A6 was facelifted for 2016, but it’s barely any different from the A6 of 2015 and the years prior. That, however, is a very good thing, since we’ve long ranked it at or near the top of its segment. Audi’s mid-sizer started winning comparison tests in 2009. Since then, A6s have been victorious three more times. We’ve been suckers for the cars’ smooth powertrains, responsive handling, intuitive interfaces, comfortable cabins, and smart styling.
Automotive facelifts usually involve head- and taillamp revisions, and the 2016 A6 is no exception. The new headlights, with optional full LEDs, have great-looking jet-age airplane graphics, and the taillights are similarly attractive. These and other tweaks for 2016 help the newest A6 stay fashionably fresh in a highly competitive segment.

Quite Zippy

The A6 also stacks up well from a performance standpoint. The car tested here had the 3.0-liter supercharged V-6—the bestselling powerplant in the lineup and the same engine that has powered all of the aforementioned comparison-test winners. All A6s with the 3.0-liter feature Quattro all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The 3.0T has 23 additional horsepower for 2016, and it showed at the test track. We clocked a zero-to-60-mph time of 4.6 seconds, which is a half-second better than the quickest A6 3.0T we’d previously recorded and a full second ahead of the most recent test subject. Similarly, the 2016 model’s quarter-mile result of 13.3 seconds at 105 mph bests all A6s that have gone before. The Mercedes-Benz E400 is at least a few tenths behind on both marks, and the aging BMW 535i is even slower. Quattro helps the A6 match the 60-mph sprint of the hot-rod Cadillac CTS Vsport, but the major horsepower advantage of the Caddy’s twin-turbocharged V-6 means it walks away from the Audi in the quarter-mile.
The 333-hp Audi engine has lots of pull—and not just when the gas pedal is pinned to the floor. Torque, which peaks at 325 lb-ft from 2900 to 5300 rpm, comes “at the twitch of a big toe,” as we noted previously. The ubiquitous ZF eight-speed shifts exactly when it should: quickly when you want it to, imperceptibly in more relaxed circumstances. The gear selector itself has been revised, and it’s more straightforward to operate (its appearance isn’t as high-tech, but we don’t mind).

Look at Me

Speaking of appearances, the simply styled but handsome A6 gets plenty of approving glances in parking lots, although we thought the black grille looked somewhat drab on this uplevel car. The dapper 20-inch “Black Optic” wheels aid the styling cause but, thankfully, don’t seem to compromise ride quality. The A6 nearly has the presence of the larger A8, but it almost feels as small as an A4 when you’re hustling it on a back road. We’d prefer a bit less road noise and body roll, and the steering is a tad slow off-center, but these characteristics are not inappropriate for a car like this, which is more sporting luxury shuttle than sports car.
And few sports cars contain this many creature comforts. The color head-up display is welcome, and adjusting its settings doesn’t require digging into any complicated menus. Adjusting the height of the image is as easy as turning a dedicated knob; push the knob and the image disappears. Operating the familiar MMI infotainment system is nearly as simple. Use the navigation function, and you’ll be treated to a high-resolution Google Maps image not just on the seven-inch main MMI screen but also on the smaller redundant display in the middle of the gauge cluster. Other functions (audio, phone) can be quickly and easily called up on either screen. Climate-controlled seats and lovely ash wood inlays are luxurious touches.

All of this excellence doesn’t come cheap. As tested, our A6 Prestige cost $66,900. Still, that’s a good value for a car with so many luxury features that also drives this well and looks and feels so nice. And that’s why we continue to give the A6 top marks.
  • Sep 2015
  •  
  • By RUSTY BLACKWELL 
  • Photography By MICHAEL SIMARI

2016 Hyundai Tucson Debuts, Looks Bigger and Better
It can be a tough game, winning attention for a new model at an auto show, particularly at this year’s Geneva affair, which is crowded with new supercars such as the Audi R8, the Ferrari 488GTB, and the McLaren P1 GTR. So Hyundai is showing its new 2016 Tucson a little early.
It may not be a supercar, but there’s plenty that’s promising about the new Tucson. And while the decision to unveil it in Europe means most of the details are specific to the European version, we can certainly fill you in on the basics.
First, this car is going to be called the Tucson everywhere; the ix35 name that was used in some markets for the last-generation model is officially dead. The Tucson will be built in both South Korea and the Czech Republic, with U.S. versions supplied from Asia. Mechanically, it’s pretty much as before—despite Hyundai’s claim that it sits on an all-new platform—with transverse-mounted engines and the choice of either front- or all-wheel drive via an electronically controlled clutch ahead of the rear axle.
Exterior styling was the work of Hyundai’s European studio in Germany, and it looks like a reasonably handsome thing to us. The company’s California design center did the classy interior. The new car looks bigger than the last one, thanks in large part to its square-set front profile and very tall hood, but the differences in dimensions are actually small. At 176.2 inches in length, it’s just 2.6 inches longer than before. An unusual design detail is the asymmetric wheel arches, which have an arc of black plastic cladding that increases their perceived size.
As to what’s under the hood, we know that European versions top out with a 1.6-liter turbo that’s good for 174 horsepower and will be available with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. That engine replaces the old 2.4-liter four in Australia, for instance, and could do so in the States, as well. Other non-European markets get a direct-injected 2.0-liter four, which we expect would be the U.S.-market’s standard engine. We’re also told there will be a performance version, carrying the branding of Hyundai’s new “N” performance division (all the good letters having already been taken); it will likely use a tuned version of the 1.6-liter turbo making about 200 horsepower. Again, there’s no confirmation that this will come to the States. There’s also no word on whether Hyundai will again offer a fuel-cell version.
In addition to the expected high levels of equipment availability, the Tucson is set to launch with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The 2016 Tucson will go on sale here this summer, after Hyundai reveals more U.S.–specific details at the New York auto show in April, where the brand won’t have to shout to be heard over the din surrounding new Ferraris and McLarens in Geneva.

 


In the eight years since it was announced, the Chevrolet Volt has been a few different things. First, it was a concept at Detroit’s 2007 North American International Auto Show, presented as Old GM’s technological Great Leap Forward. Then it became a political tool to get New GM through its 2009 bankruptcy. And it has always been a sop to greenie-type sensibilities. In all those jobs, it has performed dutifully and sold modestly—Chevy moved 19,000 Volts off lots last year—since hitting showrooms as a 2011 model.
Now comes the second-generation Volt, promising to be even more satisfying to drive than the surprisingly satisfying first one. The 2016 Volt is refined, buffed up, and smoothed over, but it remains conceptually consistent with the original.


Powertrain

The first Volt’s 84-hp, 1.4-liter, four-cylinder gas engine stood in contrast to the car’s high-tech credentials. It used an iron block, required premium fuel, and lacked leading-edge technologies such as direct injection. The 1.5-liter is the first of GM’s new four-cylinder, direct-injection, aluminum-block engines in North America. Despite a compression ratio of 12.5:1 (compared with the 1.4’s 10.5:1), the 1.5 runs on regular gas and makes 101 horsepower. And the powertrain is 100 pounds lighter than the outgoing car’s, useful considering that Volt drivers generally prefer to motor electrically, carrying the engine as dead weight.

GM's new Ecotec small-engine family includes turbocharged and naturally aspirated three- and four-cylinders between 1.0 and 1.5 liters.
“There was speculation that the engine would be smaller, have fewer cylinders, or be turbocharged,” Volt chief engineer Andrew Farah says. “What this really comes down to, with the new higher-compression, direct-injection, larger-displacement engine, is that we can get the same amount of power at any point we want with lower rpm. And lower rpm translates into lower noise.” And, no doubt, lower consumption.
True to the original recipe, the Volt still uses two electric motors. But, according to Farah, “not a single part number” is common between the first- and second-gen Voltec powertrains. The first-gen car used one large motor and one small one, but the new car’s motors are closer in size and share the workload more evenly. Combined electrical power stands pat at 149 horsepower, while torque from the motors climbs 21 pound-feet to 294. Once the batteries are depleted, Farah says, “the most efficient thing to do is to take torque from the engine to the wheels. So we will actually do that more often.” GM says the new Volt will get 41 mpg on gas and 102 MPGe on electricity, increases of four in both combined-driving metrics. The corporation also says that the new Volt will be quicker, getting from zero to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds, 0.4 second fleeter than the last Volt we tested.

Battery

Energy capacity is up while battery mass has dropped by 31 pounds. The number of Compact Power lithium-ion cells in the T-shaped battery pack has dropped from 288 to 192, while revised chemistry helps energy capacity grow from the outgoing car’s 17.1 kWh to 18.4. The pack enables a claimed all-electric range of 50 miles.

The Volt's new battery pack is lighter than the old one, with fewer cells and a lower center of gravity. A full charge on 120V will take about 13 hours, while 240V will drop that time to 4.5 hours.
Since most Volt owners favor electricity over gasoline, engineers focused on more-efficient ways of charging the battery pack. A new “Regen on Demand” feature allows the driver to engage regenerative braking using a paddle behind the steering wheel, a feature adopted from Cadillac’s $76,000 version of the last Volt, the ELR. In this mode, the motors more aggressively recycle energy when the driver lifts off the accelerator, supplying enough deceleration to turn the Volt into a “one-pedal” car during normal commutes.
GPS location-based services will optimize battery-charging conditions. When the car knows it’s home, for example, it might only charge when utility rates are at lower, off-peak rates.

Tires are low-rolling-resistance, all-season Michelin Energy Savers, size 215/50R-17.

Chassis

Under its fresh sheetmetal, the Volt is still a member of GM’s front-drive Delta II family, alongside the Buick Verano and Chevy Cruze. That means struts up front and a torsion beam under the rear end. The body structure is stiffer than before, and one significant change is that the front subframe cradle is no longer isolated by means of rubber mounts. “You get a much better feel for the road,” Farah asserts about the solidly mounted cradle, “though you do have to worry about transmitted noise.” The wheelbase creeps up by 0.4 inch and length by 3.3 inches, while the roof is 0.2 inch lower. Curb weight, the enemy of efficiency, is said to drop by more than 200 pounds.

Design

Rounder, pointier, and more sculpted at the nose, the new Volt looks like a cat with its rump in the air. It instantly makes the first Volt seem prehistoric, but it’s also less distinct from conventional cars.

Inside, the first Volt’s Kenmore washer/dryer touchpad dash is gone, replaced by dials, switches, and knobs, and more-conventional but richer-looking finishes. Two eight-inch screens supply most of the information, while blue lighting is supposed to emphasize the electric nature of the Volt. A lot of chrome accent trim emphasizes that this is a GM design.
Chevy has managed to squeeze a third seat between the two outboard positions in the back. But it’s the definition of “occasional use,” a pillion you’ll want to rely on not more than once a decade, when the gang at work wants to go to Denny’s for lunch. Make the guy who suggested Denny’s ride in the middle.

February 2015 || BY JOHN PEARLEY HUFFMAN || MULTIPLE PHOTOGRAPHERS




What it is: Our well-informed artist’s interpretation as to what the next generation of the Audi A4 will look like. It’s to be edgier and more angular, and it will brim with technology, including full-LED lighting, a head-up display, and autonomous-driving functions.
The car’s aggressive styling will serve as something of a barometer for the future of the brand’s aesthetics after former head of design Wolfgang Egger was relieved of his duties and reassigned to Italdesign Giugiaro. Audi will continue to offer a four-door sedan and the Avant station wagon. Well, the latter will be sold in Europe, anyway; Americans will have to continue to settle for the jacked-up, plastic-clad Allroad.
Why It Matters: While the market for small and compact crossovers still shows considerable potential for growth globally, and the Q5 has actually become Audi’s bestseller in the U.S., the A4 will continue to serve as the backbone of Ingolstadt’s product program. With Mercedes increasing the luxury quotient in itsnew-for-2015 C-class, BMW’s 3-series continuing to pile up 10Best Cars awards, and serious challengers emerging in the Lexus IS and the Cadillac ATS, the segment is as hotly contested as ever. Making a highly desirable A4 that can stand up to this competition will be crucial to maintaining Audi’s upward trajectory.
Platform: The next A4 will be among the first vehicles to make use of the second-generation, Audi-developed MLB (Modular Longitudinal) architecture. This platform will underpin a large number of vehicles, including future generations of the A6, the A8, the A5, and the Volkswagen Phaeton. Thanks to a clever mix of structural materials, MLB II will cut about 200 pounds from the outgoing platform, and it will also accommodate front- or all-wheel drive as well as plug-in hybrid componentry.
Top: 2013 Audi A4. Bottom: 2015 Audi A4 (artist's rendering).
Powertrains: The next A4’s engine arsenal will include 1.4-, 1.8-, and 2.0-liter four-cylinders; a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 in the S4; four- and six-cylinder diesels; and very likely another V-8 in the next RS4. The U.S. should expect to receive a very similar lineup to what we see today: the 2.0-liter turbo four, the 3.0-liter supercharged V-6, and maybe a twin-turbo V-8 should Audi decide to resurrect the RS4 on our shores. (That high-performance model was last sold here as a sedan and a cabriolet for 2007 and 2008, but is currently only built as an Avant wagon for overseas markets.) We also expect a diesel model to be available here. A six-speed manual and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic will fill out the transmission roster.
Competition: BMW 3-series, Cadillac ATS, Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz C-class.
Estimated Arrival and Price: Audi is expected to reveal the 2015 A4 next spring before shipping production cars to U.S. dealers in early 2015. Expect a slight increase in base price from the current A4’s $34,695.