2015 Lincoln Navigator: EcoBoost to the rescue

This review originally appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

2015 Lincoln Navigator.
Properly equipped, the Navigator offers best-in-class towing capacity of 9,000 pounds.

Ford reaches into its EcoBoost bag of tricks to freshen the full-size Lincoln Navigator.

For 2015, Ford replaces last year’s eight-cylinder engine with a thriftier and more powerful twin-turbocharged six.

2015 Lincoln Navigator
The new Navigator receives exterior updates, a redesigned interior and updated cabin technology.

The new Navigator also receives exterior updates, a redesigned interior and updated cabin technology. A new electric power assisted steering system and an available adaptive suspension improve handling.

The Navigator is available in two wheelbase lengths – standard (119.0 inches) and extended (131.0 inches). With second-row captains chairs, both editions seat seven. An optional second-row bench boosts seating to eight.

It’s not the usual eight-in-a-pinch, either; eight adults can get downright comfy in here.

The new 3.5-liter V-6 engine delivers more horsepower (380 vs 310) and torque (460 pound-feet vs. 365) than last year’s V-8, and boosts economy by 2 MPG. Rear-drive models earn EPA ratings of 18 mpg combined/16 mpg city/22 mpg highway; AWD models are rated at 17/15/20.

Thrift notwithstanding, performance improves significantly. Lincoln says the new Nav is 2 seconds quicker from 0-60. Independent testers report that AWD Navigators sprint from 0-60 in 6.7 seconds, and that 2WDs are a half-second quicker.

Navigator retains its 1,570-pound payload and massive tow capacity. A properly equipped 2WD Navigator can tow up to 9,000-pounds; AWD drops that to 8,600 pounds.

An available 4.10:1 rear axle helps multiply torque for maximum acceleration and low-end pulling power, with an accompanying drop in mileage.

A six-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive are standard. The available light-duty four-wheel-drive system compensates for the absence of low-range gearing with Hill Descent Control (HDC).

Using HDC, the driver sets a desired speed, which the system matches and holds. Anyone who’s towed a trailer down a steep and slippery slope understands this feature’s worth.

Outside, there’s a new hood/grille assembly and a power liftgate. Up front, LED accents surround a pair high-intensity discharge adaptive headlights. All told, the new Navigator wears 222 bright and sparkly LEDs.

2015 Lincoln Navigator
Inside, the feel is warm and pristine, with acres of leather trim and, in upper trims, rich wood accents. A large touchscreen offers access to the Sync connectivity and MyLincoln Touch infotainment and climate-control interfaces.

Inside, the feel is warm and pristine, with acres of leather trim and, in upper trims, rich wood accents. A large touchscreen offers access to the Sync connectivity and MyLincoln Touch infotainment and climate-control interfaces. They’ve been much maligned, but these systems continue to improve. This year, a new set of buttons and knobs manage such primary functions as climate control and audio tuning and volume, simplifying their operation.

Voice-command technology continues to improve, too, though mastering the system still requires book study.

Key options include Lincoln Drive Control, which provides continuously controlled damping and three control modes; and Nivomat, a load-leveling system that raises the back end of a loaded Navigator to optimize ride height for improved handling.

A new Reserve Package option includes leather-wrapped instrument panel, armrests and shift knob, Ziricote wood trim (yes, that’s a real thing), premium leather on all three rows of seats and 22-inch polished aluminum wheels.

A lighter aluminum-bodied Navigator, based on the new F-150 pickup, is in the works, but won’t be ready until 2017. In the meantime, it’s EcoBoost to the rescue.

2015 Lincoln Navigator 4×4
Vehicle base price: $61,480
Trim level base price: $65,055
As tested: $73,395
Options included Lincoln Drive Control; 22-inch polished aluminum wheels; metallic paint.
Tow rating: 8,600 pounds
EPA rating: 17 combined/15 city/20 highway
Regular unleaded gasoline specified

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Hyundai Tucson: Catching up with the competition — and then some

This review originally appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

2016 Hyundai Tucson
2016 Hyundai Tucson

Hyundai was one of three companies whose U.S. market share grew during the recession. Its fortunes have faltered since, however.

Its failing? Too many cars, not enough crossovers.

The compact crossover is the industry’s hot number. Segment sales are up 19 percent — mostly at the expense of sedans. Hyundai, whose stylish and affordable sedans ruled during the recession, wasn’t ready for the surge.

Its compact crossover, the Tucson, never stood out from the crowd. Even if it had, production constraints would have curtailed sales.

But this is the year Hyundai rights the ship. A made-over, third-generation 2016 Tucson ($23,595, including transportation) lands this month, and production capacities are doubled.

At a recent press preview, the new Tucson proved night-and-day better than the car it replaces. It’s larger, roomier, quieter and more sophisticated. Its engines are more efficient and its redesigned suspension balances ride comfort with body control.

Lightweight high-strength steel comprises more than 50 percent of the Tucson’s body structure (up from 18), boosting rigidity a remarkable 48 percent. Chassis improvements contribute to improved suspension tuning and reduce noise, vibration and harshness.

Hyundai says the Tucson’s cabin is the segment’s quietest. Our test on mixed surfaces — freeway, two-lane asphalt, city streets and gravel road — seemed to bear that out. Underway, the Tucson conveys a sense of competence, quietly rendered.

Hyundai pays attention to the little things that give a car stand-out qualities. Switchgear works with a new heft this year. Re-engineered door-latch mechanisms operate with less noise, pull-resistance and internal friction. Thanks to increased damping, they close with a big-car assurance.

A 5-inch color LCD touchscreen and rearview camera are standard and Apple’s Siri “Eyes Free” integration is available. Tucsons equipped with navigation fetch an 8-inch screen and the expected third-party apps.

A new engine option — a 167-hp turbocharged and direct-injected 1.6-liter four — pairs with a dual-clutch automated transmission to top the highway mileage of last year’s top trims by as much as 5 mpg.

The all-new seven-speed gearbox enhances both efficiency and acceleration. It makes quick and smooth shifts, with no hint of the “shock shift” to which automated manuals are prone.

The base engine, a 2.0-liter 164-hp direct-injected four, carries over from last year, but with a one-mpg gain in overall efficiency. It’s available only with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Base price is up about $1,000, but Hyundai argues its value proposition remains intact. Such features as automatic headlights, heated outside mirrors, satellite radio and alloy wheels are standard on the base SE, but either optional or not available on competitors’ base trims.

New safety measures, both standard and optional, align the Tucson with market expectations. Most notably, a new Lane Change Assist system measures the closing speed of a vehicle approaching from behind. If it’s closing too quickly the system will warn against changing lanes. I.e., no more inadvertent near misses as two drivers attempt to move into the same lane at the same time.

Playing catch-up in a rapidly evolving segment, Hyundai has produced a rig good enough to play with the class leaders. Welcome to the game.

2016 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD
Price range: $23,595-$35,000 (approx.)
Tow rating: to 1,500 pounds
EPA ratings: 27 combined/25 city/30 highway
(1.6-liter engine/FWD)
Regular unleaded fuel specified

5 factoids: 2016 Hyundai Tucson

2016 Hyundai Tucson
The 2016 Hyundai Tucson is the first compact crossover to use a double-clutch automated manual.

I drove Hyundai’s radically revised Tucson in Minneapolis Tuesday. Impressions of the drive experience are embargoed until Monday, but here are a handful of factoids to whet your appetite.

  • The Tucson is the first compact crossover to use a dual-clutch automated manual transmission. The 7-speed gearbox boosts efficiency and provides a more satisfying driving experience than a continuously variable transmission (CVT) would.
  • 51% of the 2016 Tucson’s platform comprises advanced high-strength steel. Body rigidity is up 48%.
  • Chassis improvements and sound-deadening measures reduce cabin noise to levels below those achieved by the segment’s best-selling models.
  • The new up-level engine — a 175-hp (195 lb-ft of torque at 1500 RPM) turbocharged and direct-injected 1.8-liter four — tops the highway mpg of last year’s optional engine by 5 highway mpg in Eco trim and by 3 mpg in Sport and Limited trims.
  • A new Lane Change Assist system measures the closing speed of an approaching vehicle in an adjacent lane to determine whether the Tucson driver can safely change lanes. No more trying to move into the same lane, at the same time, as another vehicle.

Honda’s HR-V brings family virtues to micro-crossover segment

2016 Honda HR-V
The pint-sized, four-passenger HR-V packages traditional Honda virtues — rock-solid body structure; firm-but-compliant ride; quiet, comfortable cabin — into a small, efficient footprint.

This review originally appeared in The Spokesman-Review

After spending a week exploring the delights of Acura’s flagship MDX, we climbed into its diminutive new cousin, Honda’s HR-V micro-crossover.

The pint-sized, four-passenger HR-V packages traditional Honda virtues — rock-solid body structure; firm-but-compliant ride; quiet, comfortable cabin — into a small, efficient footprint.

The HR-V is a family affair. Built on the Fit’s front-drive platform, it’s powered by the Civic’s 141-horsepower four-cylinder engine. Build-quality feels first-rate, cabin fit-and-finish is excellent and so is materials quality. The spacious cabin accommodates four six-footers.

There’s room behind those 60/40-split second-row seats for a week’s worth of groceries. Fold them down and the flat-floored cargo hold will swallow enough gear for a Himalayan trek.

The cabin exudes a richness of design rare in the price range. Simplicity is the theme, in shape, color and function. The effect is underscored by the absence of buttons and knobs, which are replaced by a dash-mounted touchscreen.

2016 Honda HR-V
The cabin exudes a richness of design rare in the price range. Simplicity is the theme, in shape, color and function. The effect is underscored by the absence of buttons and knobs, which are replaced by a dash-mounted touchscreen.

Using a touchscreen while driving is tricky business. Here, redundant steering-wheel controls are a safe and convenient shortcut.

The HR-V cabin bristles with clever ideas. The passenger-side dash houses a long and remarkably effective three-segment vent; a rubberized cell-phone storage cubby nestles hidden in an open nook beneath the center console; miscellaneous small storage nooks are carved into or added onto a variety of surfaces.

In days past, entry-level Hondas scrimped on the extras. No longer. Even the base HR-V carries full power accessories, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity, Pandora Internet radio and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

2016 Honda HR-V
The HR-V cabin bristles with clever ideas. The passenger-side dash houses a long and remarkably effective three-segment vent; a rubberized cell-phone storage cubby nestles hidden in an open nook beneath the center console; miscellaneous small storage nooks are carved into or added onto a variety of surfaces.

My loaded EX-L ($26,720) brought the works — keyless entry and ignition, leather upholstery, sunroof, heated front seats, leather, satellite and HD radio, navigation — and included LaneWatch, a passenger-side blind-spot warning system. When the driver signals a right turn, a video image looking rearward along the right side appears in the display screen. In town, LaneWatch alerts the driver to the presence of bicyclists; in freeway traffic, distance markers signal when it’s safe to return to the right-hand lane after passing another vehicle.

A six-speed manual transmission is standard on front-drive trims, with an optional continuously variable transmission (CVT). The CVT is standard on AWD trims.

The HR-V’s torque curve brings out the less appealing aspects of CVT technology — i.e., the annoying rubber-band effect. However, the transmission has seven pre-programmed stops that simulate gears and a Sport mode that holds those ratios longer. When instant acceleration is needed, one selects “S” and uses the paddles to actuate shifts.

In tandem with the power-sapping CVT, the HR-V’s 141 ponies are insufficient to power it with authority. At 9.5 seconds, the 0-60 dash is more stroll than sprint.

Out on the road, the HR-V tracks straight and true, steering is direct and accurate and body roll is well-damped. Wind and road noise are subdued, making for a surprisingly serene cabin.

A wide gulf separates the HR-V and its upscale MDX cousin, but the family resemblance resonates all the way down to its bones.

2016 Honda HR-V AWD EX-L Navi
Vehicle base price: $19,115
Trim level base price: $25,840
As tested: $26,720
Options: Our AWD EX-L tester, with navigation, is a fully equipped trim and had no options.
EPA rating: 29 combined/27 city/32 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Sizing up Honda’s pint-sized HR-V

Honda HR-V
Honda HR-V

After spending a week enjoying the deep delights of Acura’s MDX crossover, we climbed into its tiny new cousin, Honda’s $20,000 HR-V.

Sized — and priced — midway between the little Fit and the CR-V, the pint-sized crossover packages traditional Honda virtues — rock-solid body structure, firm-but-compliant ride and quiet, comfortable cabin — in a small and efficient footprint.

Hopping out of the serene and luxurious MDX into the lower-flying HR-V requires an attitude adjustment. The 4,200-pound MDX is sports-car quick and its nine-speed automatic a symphony in shifting. Size-wise, the 2,900-lb HR-V is a go-kart by contrast, but, with its 135-horsepower driven through a continuously variable transmission, acceleration is decidedly pokey.

If the HR-V sells as well as expected, I expect we’ll see a turbocharged rendition somewhere down the road.

My AWD tester is rated at 29 combined/27 city/32 highway. Standard equipment includes alloy wheels, full power accessories, rearview camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity and Pandora Internet radio.

My loaded EX-L ($26,720) brings the works, including my favorite Honda feature, LaneWatch. When the driver signals a right turn, a video image looking rearward down the car’s passenger side appears in the center console display. In town, it alerts the driver to bicyclists coming up on the right; in freeway traffic, a set of distance markers helps the driver know when it’s safe to return to the right lane after passing a slower-moving vehicle.

Scion iA trounces sibling in San Francisco!

Scion flew a gaggle of writers to San Francisco last week to show us two new cars, both due in September.

The iM ($19,255, including freight) is a subcompact hatchback based on a car Toyota sells elsewhere as the Auris. The iA sedan ($16,495) came about when Mazda chose to not bring the Mazda2 to the States; it is essentially a rebadged Mazda2.

Both cars are sold “mono spec,” i.e., in a single, well-equipped trim, with available options installed at either the port or at the dealership.

2016 scion iA
2016 Scion iA

Standard iA features include:

  • Cruise control
  • A/C
  • Keyless entry with push-button start
  • Low-speed pre-collision system
  • Rear-view backup camera
  • 7-inch touch screen multimedia system with voice recognition
  • Tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel
  • Two years of free maintenance

Though it’s not exactly a standard feature, the iA also boasts a massive-for-the-segment trunk (though at least a few inches are trimmed from the rear seats to accommodate).

2016 Scion iM
2016 Scion iM

The iM features list is even more impressive:

  • 7-inch Pioneer Display Audio unit with standard HD Radio and Aha™
  • Rear-view backup camera
  • Leather-wrapped steering wheel
  • Scion’s first 4.2-inch color TFT multi-information display
  • Dual-zone automatic climate control
  • Color-keyed heated power-folding exterior mirrors
  • Hill Start Assist

Both cabins are impressively finished, with contrast stitching, abundant soft-touch surfaces and pleasing ergonomics.

Because I’m such a hatchback fanboi, I expected to come away favoring the iM. But it was the iA that took first-place honors on the winding backroads south of the City. Its lowly twist-beam rear suspension (the iM is all-independent) notwithstanding, it retained its cool no matter how hard we pushed it along the tight and twisty redwood-lined drive route. Its 105-horsepower, 1.5-liter engine performed stoutly, whether mated with the standard six-speed automatic or optional six-speed automatic.

I’ll have more to say about both cars in a upcoming Spokesman-Review piece. Watch this space.

2016 Acura MDX: lighter, safer and lots more fun

acura mdx
The MDX sheds weight, inherits Acura’s latest generation of safety and driver-assist technologies and receives assorted  new features, both standard and optional. It’s quicker, more responsive and, when equipped with Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, more agile and more stable.

This post originally appeared in The Spokesman-Review

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to drop a few pounds and gain three new gears.

I’m pretty sure I’d be nimbler and feel more energetic. I’d be quicker and more efficient. I’d be just as comfortable and no less luxurious.

acura mdx
Acura’s dual-screen infotainment/navigation interface is one of the easiest systems of its type to understand and use.

And so it is with the 2016 Acura MDX, long the shining star in the firmament of Honda’s premium brand. It’s Acura’s best-selling vehicle and the country’s best-selling three-row, seven-passenger crossover.

This year, the MDX sheds weight, inherits Acura’s latest generation of safety and driver-assist technologies and receives an assortment of new features, both standard and optional. It’s quicker by a substantial amount, more responsive and, when equipped with Acura’s superb Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), more agile and more stable.

Cabin updates are less extensive, but include an electronic push-button shift device that frees up space beneath the center console, a new easy-entry/exit driver’s seat and a new frameless rearview mirror. Also new is Siri Eyes Free voice controls for compatible Apple devices.

Acura’s dual-screen infotainment/navigation interface remains one of the easiest systems of its type to understand and use.

Leading this year’s changes is a nine-speed automatic transmission that replaces the previous six-speed — and is lighter by 66 pounds. It’s gear ratios are more closely spaced and Acura says shifts are 25 percent quicker. Zero-to-60 acceleration drops by a half-second, to a sports car-like 5.9 seconds, and fuel efficiency sees small gains.

acura mdx cabin
Cabin updates are less extensive, but include an electronic push-button shift device that frees up space beneath the center console, a new easy-entry/exit driver’s seat and a new frameless rearview mirror. Also new is Siri Eyes Free voice controls for compatible Apple devices.

The weight reduction also improves front-to-rear weight distribution for improved handling. All told, the MDX is one of the most fun and best-driving cars in the midsize crossover segment.

Automatic stop/start is now available on some trims, helping to boost efficiency.

Acura also updates SH-AWD with a new twin-clutch rear differential that’s lighter (by 19 pounds) and more responsive than its predecessor. Enhanced torque-vectoring delivers power more quickly to the appropriate wheels, boosting the MDX’s legendary sure-footedness.

I tested the system on my super-secret hilly, twisty and unpaved test track, where it proved nearly invincible. The instant one wheel loses traction, power is routed away from it and to a wheel that will counter the skid. No car can overcome the laws of physics, but SH-AWD gives it a good shot.

As before, the MDX is powered by a 290-horsepower V-6 that makes 267 pound-feet of torque. Properly equipped, it’s tow-rated to 5,000 pounds.

All trims can now be equipped with the AcuraWatch suite of safety and driver-assist technologies. Depending on trim, AcuraWatch includes Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow; Collision Mitigation Braking; Forward Collision Warning; Lane Departure Warning; Lane Keeping Assist; Road Departure Mitigation; Blind Spot Information; Multi-View Rear Camera with Dynamic Guidelines; and Rear Cross Traffic Monitor.

AcuraWatch fuses camera and radar technology to sense the roadway and objects within it, including other vehicles and pedestrians. It infuses the MDX with nearly matchless levels of safety — and its systems serve as precursor technologies to the self-driving car.

The MDX showcases Acura’s drive to wrap comfort, safety and performance in a web of top-shelf engineering. Consider the new lightness in its step an enviable bonus.

2016 Acura MDX Advanced w Entertainment
Vehicle base price: $42,685
Trim level base price: $57,080
As tested: $58,000
Options: The MDX Advanced trim, with Entertainment, is fully equipped; our tester included no options.
Tow rating: 5,000 lbs
EPA rating: 22 combined/19 city/26 highway
Premium unleaded fuel required