Instrumented TestEvery 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 KiaSecretly 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.
Kia Can-DoWhile 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.
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
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.
February 2015 || BY MIKE DUFF
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.