The newest Nissan offering was unveiled to a live DJ pulsating beat and light show last November at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It drew a huge – and young – crowd. Making my way to the stage as the masses cleared, I had my first walk around with the small crossover which rocked the show. It’s finally hitting the dealerships, so earlier this month, Nissan brought one to the Motor Press Guild along with product reps for a personal meet and greet with Los Angeles based auto journalists. Here’s the lowdown.
KICKS is a 1.6 liter four cylinder with CVT that gets 31 MPG city, 36 highway, and 33 combined. It has a hatch with room for 25 cubic feet of cargo (easily fits two large suitcases and two roller/duffel bags), but with the back seats down, it has 32 cubic feet of space. It seats five, but in the back, they better be small people, or it will be very tight.
All three trim levels (S, SV and SR) have the same engine, with 125 horsepower.
Nissan touts it as having best-in-class (small SUV) legroom, with good head clearance space, and zero gravity seats of “leatherette.” For those who look for a spare tire instead of an inflator kit, be happy – it’s got a spare under the deck of the hatch.
There are front and rear charging ports in every KICKS no matter what trim level. Not many new cars at this price point have rear charging ports. You have to go with a more expensive make to find them, so to have rear ports standard at this price level is actually a surprise. There are 8 stereo speakers, with some built into the headrests of the front seats, and an upgraded Bose system is available. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included as standard tech on all models and the 7 inch infotainment screen does the job just fine.
Standard on all trim levels also is a 360 degree view surround camera, allowing the driver to see not only what’s going on in front and back, but also at the curb. This tech is normally not seen at this price level.
Also impressive, and usually only seen at higher price points, is the standard automatic emergency braking feature, which gives the driver a warning when the car detects that a front collision is imminent.
It’s said by some to be a replacement for the phased-out Juke, but Nissan disagrees. This is a different animal entirely.
Pictured here is the KICKS in Monarch Orange. There’s a custom color studio for KICKS for customizing 12 different interior and exterior amenities. I can’t think of another model at this price point that has this feature.
Check it out here: https://www.nissanusa.com/vehicles/crossovers-suvs/kicks/customize
Nissan has a hit on its hands with young drivers who are looking for great tech in a crossover with great styling.
Manufacturer pricing starts at $17,990 for the S (base), goes to $19,6000 for the SB (mid level), and tops out at $22,000 for the SR trim level with the Bose sound system. It’s a bargain for what Nissan has packed into this small crossover.
After a nearly seven-year hiatus from the North American market, Ford is about to bring its mid-size Ranger pickup truck back to US showrooms, in response to sales statistics showing a huge market for trucks here. Ranger fans from its original run that began in the late 80s and ended in 2011 in North America, and owners of other mid-size trucks curious about the new Ranger, tell me that this truck has been eagerly anticipated for a long time, and that news of the progress of the launch has been devoured by the truck-buying public.
Over my two weeks with the all-new Ranger this month, which kicked off with participating in the So Cal media launch, followed by ten days at my leisure with a SuperCab XLT, two truths became apparent. One, there is a LOT of interest in this truck. Second, the new Ford Ranger is going to sell like hotcakes when it hits dealers in January 2019. People were often seen with iPhones out taking video or photos as we drove around. I might as well have shown up with Brad Pitt at Cars and Coffee.
City Issues Handled.
Ranger is is the perfect size truck for a city dweller/commuter. There were no problems fitting in my garage, parking parallel, or finding a spot in a parking garage in downtown Los Angeles. Length is 210.8 overall, width is a manageable 85.8, and height is 71. Gas mileage for the 2.3 liter EcoBoost engine, paired with the 10-speed SelectShift automatic transmission, was better than its EPA estimates, which are best in class. In a mix of classic OC/LA stop and go traffic and open freeway travel, my best was 23.8 mpg in nearly 800 miles of testing. I got high 22’s and low 23’s most of the time in the XLT 4×2. The EPA ratings for the 4×4 are 20 city, 24 highway, and 22 combined, beating out all other gasoline engine four-wheel-drive midsize pickups.
Offroad Obstacles Handled.
Offroad in the midst of a ten acre ranch in the San Diego backcountry, the Ranger proved it could give driver and passengers a way to get through high- bank passes (26 degrees was the highest grade reached by a journalist at the launch), over dirt moguls, over rocks, around hairpin turns, and through a faux riverbed with about 30 inches of water to plow through.
Uphill and downhill, I tested the TrailControl (Ford trademarked) technology, which allows the driver to program the truck so it will navigate terrain at the turn of the control knob and a couple of clicks without using the accelerator or brake pedal – the driver handles steering only, while TrailControl decides where to brake and to accelerate. Ford describes it as cruise control for offroading. Tacoma has a similar system, which tests out as much more complicated to set up, requiring multiple steps and switches that are scattered throughout the cabin and are not well marked or understandable. Tacoma’s system in play on an off road course is seriously clunky and noisy. Whereas Tacoma’s trail control system strains and creaks, Ranger’s works quietly and smoothly.
Knob is part of the TrailControl system. Photo credit: Ford Motor Co.
Handling in the dirt was impressive. I felt safe and never felt that the truck was “losing it” or that it became unstable. Simply put, it made this city dweller very comfortable tearing up a backroad. I had total confidence that the Ranger would get me through any offroad condition.
Trim Levels and Features
Ranger comes in three trim levels: XL, XLT, and Lariat, all of which will be familiar to Ford owners. At the Lariat level, there’s leather and push-button starting, plus soft touch materials inside. Available configurations are the SuperCrew 4×2, SuperCrew 4×4, SuperCab 4×2, and SuperCab 4×4. All are body-on-frame construction, and made in Michigan.
16 inch 7.0 alloy wheels are standard. 17 inch and 18 inch 8.0 alloys are available, in three styles.
On the SuperCrew model, with two full size doors and back seats for 3, the bed is 5 feet long; on the SuperCab, it’s 6 feet long.
The SuperCab has two seats in the rear which do not adjust, to maximize the size of the bed. Two forward-opening mini doors open to allow access. Seat cushions in the second row remove easily to allow large items to be stowed inside the cab if necessary.
Both cab configurations offer the same dimensions in the front seats. It’s roomy in the front seats, with plenty of legroom.
A black spray-in bedliner with a Ford oval logo is available on all models.
All trim levels have the same engine (EcoBoost 2.3 liter turbo, direct injection) and 10-speed automatic transmission that’s shared with F-150. As a result all have the same power ratings. Ranger has the most torque in the segment, 310 pound feet, with 270 horsepower.
Ranger’s 7500 pound tow capacity is best in class. Also of note is the class-exclusive steel body and steel front bumper that’s frame-mounted, made for tackling anything that would get in its way without cracking, like the plastic ones on other trucks in the mid-size segment.
Ranger has a rugged, fully boxed frame with six crossmembers that are hydroformed and through-welded. It has a parabolic leaf-spring rear suspension.
Payload on the SuperCab 4×2 (my tester) is 1,860 lbs, which is better than competitors’ by over 200 pounds.
Luggage and the exclusive spray-in bedliner.
I may as well have showed up with Brad Pitt at Cars N Coffee.
State of the Art Technology on the Ranger Is Standard
Class-exclusive Blind Spot Information System handles trailer linkup for you. Ranger also features all-new Terrain Management System with TrailControl (standard only in the FX4 package) and FordPass Connect with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot that supports up to 10 devices as standard equipment. Automatic emergency braking, electronic stability control, lane keeping assist, and a blind spot assist are also standard.
The Ford Sync3 system has been applauded by customers and represents the best system so far put out by Ford for infotainment. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are compatible. Sound system by Bang & Olufsen.
Prediction: Ranger Will Be a Good Seller for Ford.
Pricing starts at $25,395 MSRP, including $1,095 destination and delivery. The 4×4 SuperCrew at the top trim level is priced at $39,480. Ranger is priced right for the mid-size truck segment, considering the innovative technology and the standard features that allow switching between all-terrain access and city driving effortlessly. When a good product is priced right, it is usually a good seller.
Dealers are now accepting customer orders. I recommend visiting Ford.com to configure yours before you visit the dealer.
Hollywood’s music studios have been the birthplace of so many hit records that it’s impossible to count them all. This summer, a new hit is on the way. At A Studio in Hollywood last Thursday, where many hits have been recorded, the birth of an historic partnership between Fiat Chrysler and Apple Music was announced, together with a preview of a set of commercials showing just how integrated Apple Car Play and Apple Music can be with our driving experience.
In three commercials which debut July 2, Jeep will kick off its “Summer of Jeep” campaign for the Cherokee, Compass, and Grand Cherokee models. Fans of the band One Republic are going to love these, as the brand new song “Connection” is the soundtrack for the commercials and the basis for the story lines. One Republic lead singer Ryan Tether wrote the song after he was approached by FCA about a collaboration but there was no specific ad campaign in the works yet. A longtime Jeep fan and former Fiat owner, he was able to capture the essence of the sense of freedom, authenticity, and adventure that comes with Jeep ownership in “Connection.”
Fiat Chrysler is the parent company of not only the namesake brands, but also Jeep, Dodge, Ram, and Alfa Romeo. Olivier Francais, the FCA Chief Marketing Officer, unveiled the campaign and the commercial preview at A Studio, proudly announcing that “the full Apple experience” would come to all brands sold, as part of an “organic” partnership between the music and vehicle powerhouses. With six months of free access to the Apple Music catalog of over 45 million songs, plus access to curated playlists, Francais was not joking when he said that “Apple in a car can offer you the world!”
After the kickoff with the Jeep “Connection” commercials featuring One Republic, FCA will launch more that are musically customized to each brand’s essence. Each brand in the FCA lineup has its own music score in the commercials. Look for Alice Cooper is in two very humorous Dodge commercials, The Brothers Osborne in Ram commercials, Leon Bridges in Fiat commercials, and Nicky Blitz in Chrysler commercials.
Apple CarPlay allows voice command music access. Want to rock out in your Jeep, or get your grunge on in your Dodge? Just say what you want to hear, and the playlist or song will begin. Dozens of playlists are available, with titles like “Dance Party” and “Get Revved Up.”
No other car manufacturer is offering free access to Apple Music and brand-curated playlists with the purchase or lease of a new vehicle as an Apple CarPlay feature. It’s a unique partnership between FCA and Apple Music that should lure many buyers to the brand who love Apple CarPlay. Music is what entertains so many of us while we’re driving. The FCA – Apple Music partnership will enhance the driving experience, no matter what make or model you choose from FCA.
In the sedan world, which has been crushed by the sports utility vehicle segment in sales lately, there have been three types that roamed the plains. The economical (Camry, Accord), the sporty (BMW, Audi), and the luxury (Mercedes, Jaguar). In 2017, Honda introduced the all-new 2018 Accord at the same time that Toyota unleashed the all-new 2018 Camry, with new styling and features focused on what those companies are known for: producing dependable and economical sedans. In the midst of all of this industry-rattling mid-size sedan news, Kia burst on the scene with a brand new mid-size sedan model named the Stinger, and singlehandedly managed to shake up the segment by bringing together all three elements in one sedan. Somehow no car maker was able to manage that before the Stinger.
The Kia Stinger is economical, sporty in looks and performance, and has high-class cabin amenities that we dare to call luxury. It’s a bargain price for the amenities, and then there’s the industry topping warranty to control future costs of ownership. Despite the PR efforts of Kia, somehow people are still not widely aware of this groundbreaking new sedan beast which has been overshadowed by the Accord and the Camry since late 2017, even though they started showing up in dealerships in November 2017.
Be among the enlightened. There is no reason why the Stinger can’t do a bit of crushing of its own in sales against the mid-size sedan segment competitors. On horsepower alone, with 365 hp and 376 feet-pounds of torque coming from the 3.3 liter twin turbo V6, and 255 hp from the 2 liter twin turbo scroll cylinder version, it’s a roaring, howling, challenging beastie. Aggressive 19 inch wheels in a sporty design are there, as they should be. Adding to its sport cred is the hatch for the rear trunk instead of a typical sedan lid. Need more? Just check out the red brake calipers – yup, Brembos.
Where does all of this sporty goodness come from? James Bell of Kia explains it this way. It started off as the GT4 Stinger concept in 2011, and was shown off as a four door sedan with a hatch that had 40 cubic feet of capacity with the rear seats flat. It was engineered with a wing built into the hatch. The chief engineer on the project, Albert Biermann, was picked off from BMW, where he was the legendary leader of the M division for many years. He was put to work for Kia’s parent company Hyundai as Head of Vehicle Test & High Performance Development. Because of this move, the Stinger is Korean, but the German influence is undeniable and palpable.
Bell says that when the company came stateside, the goal was vehicle reliability. Once that was achieved, Kia moved in to conquering design, then to increasing fuel economy. Now, with the advent of the Stinger, the company is hitting its goal of producing a vehicle with superb world class handling and performance.
Another sign of attention to premium detailing on the Stinger is Kia’s decision to equip it with the Harman Kardon premium sound system. All the other interior design concepts echo the notion that this is an upscale sedan, including embossed “GT” lettering on the leather seats, a gorgeous dash, heated and ventilated seats, and the heated leather wrapped and straight bottom steering wheel with a GT logo. I appreciated that it had a power sunroof and shade that extended back into the passenger compartment, as well as the very comfortable seats with a wonderful dial-operated seat bolstering system for the seat back and cushion.
The ride is heavenly smooth, no matter what speed. Consider yourself warned.
We experimented with all five drive modes. Most interesting is Custom, which allows you to select how you want various elements to perform. I programmed all of them to be at sport level, which I suppose made it the same as sport mode. The car is fine in comfort mode, but it’s really clipping its wings and feels sort of wrong. The Stinger really belongs in Sport mode. The Eco mode is not an oversell. I was easily able to beat the EPA rating in Eco mode. Overall, my favorite mode was Smart, because I got a lot of power (but not at the top performance level), with decent fuel economy.
Even when equipped with every possible trim package, the price tops out at $52,000, making the Kia Stinger “the performance buy of the year,” according to U.S. auto journalist Brian Armstead. He’s right, but I’d go a bit more specific, and say it’s the sedan buy of the year.
2018 Kia Stinger Specifications
5 trim levels – base, Premium, GT, GT1, GT2
Engine, Base and Premium trim: 2.0 liter twin turbo scroll four cylinder DOHC D-CVVT 16V
Cargo area capacity, rear seats up: 23.3 cubic feet
Cargo area capacity, rear seats down: 40.9 cubic feet
Transmission: 8 speed automatic
5 Drive Modes: Eco, Smart, Comfort, Sport, Custom
EPA Fuel Economy ratings: 19 city, 25 highway, 21 combined. I got 24.6 highway in Sport mode and 26.2 highway in eco mode.
Other: Engine shut off at idle for fuel economy. Front cross traffic and object detection alert, with audible signal. Head-up display that can be disabled. Tilting and telescoping steering wheel. Lane keep and departure warning system which is very sensitive. Blind spot collision warning that isn’t sensitive enough. Backup camera and very sensitive rear cross traffic alert. Two USB ports and two 12-volt plug in ports, one each front and back seat areas. Made in Korea of 87% Korean parts.
Base price for GT2 V6: $51,400, plus $900 destination charge.
There is within all of us a desire to do something, to be somewhere, to have a certain experience…but life gets in the way. This video is a commercial for a brand new Ford sport utility vehicle, called the EcoSport, but let the story of a daughter making a “first time” happen for her mother inspire you, as it did me…!
There aren’t a lot of crossovers that can be called heavy duty crossovers, but this one qualifies. GMC is ready for the zombie apocalypse with this 6 person people-and-stuff hauler that’s capable of more than urban adventures – mostly because of its torque-vectoring rear axle. The vehicle apportions torque between the drive wheels on an axle to help rotate around a turn. The speed of the inside wheel gets reduced at the same time the torque is maximized on the outside wheel, which is what you want to perform in turns without that typical SUV tippy feel. This technology used to be the bastion of performance cars, so it’s quite a shock to find it on the humble GMC Acadia. That’s why this crossover is a breakout for the segment.
Check out the cargo area stats, and be further blown away: 41.7 cf with the 3rd row seats down, 12.8 with them up. It’s not overly tall, at 66 inches, slender enough to slink through the city at 75.4 inches wide, and 193.6 long. Betting it fits fine in most garages.
This beastie handled the streets and freeways of Los Angeles for over two hours in the worst rainstorm of the season. Nasty wet weather barely registered a blip on the Acadia All Terrain’s radar. Also amazing was the fuel economy: I got 24.3 MPG in a combination of moderate highway speed travel and mild stop and go traffic conditions, beating the EPA/DOT estimates.
Trying out the sport mode in the Acadia was fun. Easily switch between modes with the dial knob and you’re off, since there’s 310 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque at your disposal. In addition to the all-wheel drive system, there’s hill descent control available in the All-Terrain trim package.
There is a gap in between the second row seats, which makes it feel very elbow-roomy for the riders in the back, but that limits capacity to 6 instead of 7, if that’s a concern. While the second row area is very roomy, the third row is really only going to be comfortable for two kids or petite adults.
As tested, the Acadia came with all weather floor mats, which fit its rugged nature and told you that this SUV is made for off-road adventures, as if you couldn’t already tell from the roof rack and rails.
Meanwhile in the cabin, the driver and front passenger have heated seats, leather, and Bose premium sound.
The safety features on all trim levels are state of the art and include a driver alert, rear park assist, rear cross traffic alert, and lane change alert. It could have used a front or side camera, however.
Paired with handsome, rugged looks, and superior maneuverability in the super-competitive cutthroat crossover SUV segment, this is a family crossover that’s flying under the radar. Who knows why, though. It deserves to be a top seller for GMC, but there’s no need to wait for the zombies to invade. Grab your twinkies and run down to the GMC dealer.
2018 GMC ACADIA AWD SLT-1
Engine: 3.6 liter V6 DOHC
Airbags: front and side impact for driver and passenger, side impact and knee for driver, and head curtain side impact for all rows
Brakes: 4 wheel disc, antilock brake system
Remote vehicle start, Teen Driver tech, rear park assist, rear cross traffic alert, and lane change alert
Wheels: 18 inch aluminum (20 inch wheels are available as part of the All-Terrain package; see below.)
Leather seats, leather steering wheel, heated seats for driver and front passenger
Sound: Bose premium 8 speaker audio system
Warranty: 5 year/60,000 miles
EPA: 17 mpg city, 25 highway, 20 combined
Price: As tested, $48,435.00, including destination charge from Tennessee $975.00
Five star government crash test safety ratings
The tester was equipped with the All Terrain Package ($1800.00):
All wheel drive system, hill descent control, 20 inch aluminum wheels, black roof rails.
The tester was equipped with the dual skyscape sunroof ($1400.00).
The tester was also equipped with the Exterior Convenience Package ($860.00):
Roof rack cross rails, molded assist steps.
Also available: Trailering Package with active tow ($650.00), Navigation ($495.00), and complete set of all-weather floor and cargo mats ($300.00).
In this edition of Keeping Up With the Kias, we review two gas-powered Kias: the Sorento (a 3-row midsize SUV) and the Optima (a five person midsize sedan).
2017 Kia Sorento SXL V6 AWD
The Sorento is a three-row midsize SUV that fits 7 people, powered by a 3.3 liter V6 engine. The third row’s 50/50 split seats easily fold up and down with a quick pull of a strap; the second row seats fold down with the push of a button in the rear cabin sidewall. When the third row isn’t needed, the seats can be folded flat for maximum space for cargo; it’s easy to pop them back up when there are a few extra passengers. With the seats down, the cargo area has a segment-busting 73 cubic feet of storage space, accessible with a one-push button power liftgate.
2018 Sorento in Platinum Graphite
2018 Sorento SXL Trim
Today’s tester is the SXL, the top trim level, in Platinum Graphite paint with a chrome grille and 19 inch wheel accents that make it extremely attractive. Inside, there is very comfortable leather seating with Nappa leather trim, heated and ventilated front seats, power seat adjustments with memory settings, and a heated leather steering wheel. USB and 12-volt outlets are located in convenient spaces in the front and rear cabin spaces. The UVO “eService” infotainment system is standard on all new Kias, at all trim levels, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration systems. There are knobs for easy volume and tuning and push controls for the heating and air conditioning, to allow for safe adjustments without having to be distracted. Other functions are on the 8 inch touch screen, including navigation. The Infinity audio is a surround sound system.
The SXL has a large sunroof and shade, which slides way back into the passenger compartment for plenty of natural lighting.
As tested, the Sorento provides state of the art technology for collision avoidance and safety. The surround view camera display functions beautifully for parking and negotiating tight spaces. It is a standout feature on this Kia, in addition to the right side view camera, the front camera, lane departure warning, the blind spot detection, and rear cross traffic alert. When freeway traffic slowed suddenly, the Sorento gave an audible alert, but it wasn’t overreacting or being overly cautious. It was spot on. I didn’t have any conditions occur that would have caused the autonomous emergency braking to kick in, but it is a reassuring safety feature on the Sorento that helps the driver avoid the most common kind of accident, the rear-ender.
The Sorento, like all Kias, gives the owner much more than you would expect for the money. A friend who owns a Mercedes sedan who I took to dinner in the Sorento SXL said that the Sorento was “way nicer” than her ride. The features and styling of the Sorento are on par with much more expensive makes.
On fuel consumption, the rating is 19 MPG combined city and highway. On two long trips in a mixture of driving conditions I got 21.1 and 24 MPG averages. At 290 horsepower, the Sorento is capable with normal city driving but it won’t light your hair on fire. The torque seems a bit anemic in spite of the claimed 252 pound-feet available.
Government crash test safety ratings are not available, but there’s no reason to believe that the 2018 Sorento wouldn’t meet the five-star ratings that it garnered in 2017.
There is available all wheel drive with locking center differential for poor road conditions, or off-road excursions, making the Sorento a great choice for those who go from city to backcountry or live in areas with challenging weather.
In 2017, The Sorento picked up the highest ranking for initial quality in the midsize SUV segment for two of three years in a row from J.D. Power. The segment is ultra-competitive, so the award is very impressive. Keep in mind that there is a 10 year, 1000,000 mile warranty backing up every Kia sold, so it’s a pretty good bet you won’t be spending much time at the dealership service center.
2017 Kia Sorento Details
Power: 3.3 liter V-6 direct injection engine (SXL trim, top trim); 2.4 liter (L trim)
Price (as tested): MSRP $46,200, plus $940 for shipping from West Point, Georgia (SXL); $44,500 (L).
Interior and Infotainment (SXL): Infinity surround sound audio, Navigation with 8 inch touchscreen and rear camera, UVO eServices infotainment system, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, Sirius XM radio with 3 month subscription, Metallic Nappa leather seats, Nappa leather seat trim, power adjustable front seats, driver’s seat memory function, heated and ventilated front seats, heated leather steering wheel, power sunroof and shade.
Exterior (SXL): HID headlights with auto-leveling and dynamic bending, LED positioning, fog and tail lights, power-folding heated outside mirrors with turn signals, smart “hands-free” power liftgate.
Safety: dual front advanced airbags, dual front seat-mounted airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, anti-lock braking system, traction control system, electronic stability control, hill-start assist control, surround view monitoring, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot detection system, lane departure warning system, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking assist system.
HP 290; Torque 252 pound-feet (SXL); HP 185; Torque 178 pound-feet (L)
Cargo net for rear cargo area, optional: $50.00
2017 Kia Optima SXL
The Optima is a five-person, four-door midsize sedan which is available in conventional gasoline engine and hybrid versions. Today’s tester is a 2.0 liter turbocharged gas engine powered sedan with a 6 speed automatic transmission. The Optima comes in five trim levels. The tester is the SXL trim, which bases at $36,090, plus $895 for shipping from West Point, Georgia.
The Optima is regarded as having state of the art features that are normally found on more expensive cars. It should be on the short list of cars to check out when shopping for a midsize four-door sedan, as the value is amazing in this segment.
The Optima got 29.3 mpg on average in a mix of both slow traffic and open highway driving, beating the EPA estimate of 25 combined. In mostly open highway driving, it got 31.4 mpg, making it very competitive with the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Ford Fusion.
The interior is very nicely appointed, with knobs and push buttons for volume and air controls, in addition to a 7-inch touchscreen and a tilting/telescoping steering wheel. Even the base trim model features the excellent UVO Infotainment and Connectivity system (said to be better than most of its mid-size sedan competitors), but the Optima has even more available features that kick up its competitiveness, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (upper trim levels only), standard leather-wrapped steering wheel (starting at the LX trim level), standard multi-adjustable driver’s seat, and standard dual zone climate controls.
The upper trim level tester was outfitted with the Harman Kardon surround sound system and ten speakers, for an incredible sound experience, plus dual USB ports and 12 volt power outlets in the front and rear cabin areas.
The rear parking assist system (standard equipment on the tester) alerts the driver with a chime if an object is detected within 47 inches of the rear of the car at under 3 miles per hour, which is exactly what is needed when backing up out of the driveway or a parking space.
Two drive modes are available in addition to regular mode: Eco and Sport. When in Eco, the rpms stay low and the car adopts a restrained feel, allowing the car to maximize fuel economy. In contrast, the car completely changes its personality in Sport mode. Acceleration feels very strong and uninhibited, perfect for passing and entering the freeway.
What I didn’t like about the “regular” (gas) Optima was the amount of road noise; the hybrid Optima was much quieter. The inherently noisier nature of an internal combustion engine is a given, but maybe there was more of an effort made to make the hybrid a quieter ride, knowing that the customer would expect that. I wasn’t real turned on by the way the engine sounds, either. It’s just not a really sexy-sounding engine. Sort of like meat grinder meets coffee maker. Also, there was vibration in the steering wheel and in my seat that was present all the way from idle to freeway speed. It was a minor vibration, but nonetheless annoying and surprising, since that had not occurred in the hybrid. It could have just been the tester that I drove.
For anyone doing any test driving at a dealership, I would recommend asking for more than one tester, including the hybrid, if the noise and/or vibration issues are present in the conventional gasoline version that the dealer provides for the road test.
At 185 HP (LX trim) or 245 HP (SX trim), the Optima certainly gets the job done, but it’s not going to win any quarter mile trophies at the drag strip. This isn’t a car for those who need a very powerful engine.
There’s no compromise on safety. The Optima garnered five star ratings in every test performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the 2017 Optima a Top Safety Pick, giving it top marks in all crash tests, including a Superior rating in crash detection and mitigation (when equipped with optional crash-avoidance equipment).
Edmunds gave the Optima a 4/5 rating, and Car Connection gave it 7.3/10.
The warranties on Kias are the best in the industry: 10 years or 100,000 miles (limited powertrain) and 5 year/$60,000 (limited basic) – that’s one reason why we say smart people buy Kias. The Optima’s features are the same ones found on much more expensive cars. All that makes a Kia a smart buy.
2017 Kia Optima Details:
Power: Varies depending on trim level. LX – 2.4 liter DOHC 16-valve l-4; LX Turbo – 1.6 liter with turbocharger; EX – 2.4 liter; SX – 2.0 liter; SXL – 2.0 liter with turbocharger
Transmission: 6 speed automatic
Brakes: 4 wheel disc with ABS
Wheels: 16 inch alloy (LX), 16 inch alloy with light grey finish (LX Turbo), 17 inch alloy (EX), 18 inch machined finish (SX), 18 inch alloy with chrome finish (SXL)
Hybrids have real time readouts on range and energy use
2017 Kia Niro and 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid
In the past ten years, Kia’s product lineup has come a very long way. Every time I mention that I’m test driving a Kia, the response is always the same: they are sooo much better now than they used to be. The brand was known for its inexpensive and boring-styled econo-boxes when they first hit the US market. While Kias are still a great bargain, it’s been said that the Kias being produced now have sophistication beyond their price tags. Let’s take a look at two of their hybrids, the Niro and the Optima.
2017 Kia Niro
Sure, Kia says it’s a Sport Utility Vehicle, but it’s really a pretty cool station wagon. There are those of us who think station wagons are overdue for a comeback in a big way, but the powers that be in the automotive world don’t agree, and so there aren’t too many mass-produced today. In the meantime, Kia makes a perfect station wagon that’s being peddled to the masses as an SUV. Whatever, Kia! If it’s 60 inches high, it’s a station wagon! For reference, the widely-accepted-as-a-station wagon Volvo V60 and V90 models are both 61 inches high, and the Subaru Outback, also considered a station wagon, is 66 inches high. Neener, neener, neener. I win this round, Kia.
Now that we have that out of the way, here’s the take-home message: Do you need to have that “sitting high” feeling? If you do, look elsewhere, because a Niro is not going to work for you. And while we’re at it, if you need a luxury or refined interior, another station wagon or SUV is going to work a lot better for you. If you are looking for a no-frills people mover with high MPG, then the Kia Niro should be on your short list.
In my week of testing, the Niro got rock star gas mileage. I took two road trips from Orange County to San Diego. On both trips, there was a blend of lousy stop and go traffic and free-flow highway driving. The Niro got 51-52 mpg on one trip and 53-54 mpg on the other.
A word on how the power system works: It’s a gas/electric hybrid, but it doesn’t exhaust the battery first and then switch to gas, as you might think. Rather, the Niro electronically decides which way to most efficiently send power to the wheels. The driver can monitor in real time on the display exactly what is happening and where things stand with the range, the remaining battery power, and the amount of gas in the tank. There’s absolutely no reason to worry about running out of battery. (Range anxiety, what’s that?!?)
In general, the Niro chose to use gas power when traveling at higher and consistent rates of speed and electric power in stop and go and slow traffic conditions.
The Niro comes in five trim levels: Base, LX, EX, Touring Launch, and Touring. The base version MSRP is $22,890.00. For that you get a no-frills interior (although the excellent UVO Infotainment and Connectivity system is included, so at least you’ll have that for the base price), 139 horses and 195 pound-feet of torque. This is not a car for speed demons and powerholics. The available power works just fine for the everyday driver looking for a hybrid that is wallet-friendly, basic transportation.
The back seat passenger space is very roomy, at 97.1 SAE and 102 EPA. The cargo area is a decent 19.4 cubic feet, and 54.5 cubic feet with the rear seats down.
The upper trim levels have all the extras, including a sunroof, Harman Kardon sound, heated steering, leather interior, and heated and ventilated seats, as well as technology extras like blind spot detection, lane departure warning, and a wireless smartphone charging pad.
Even without all the bells and whistles, it’s easy to understand why the Niro was chosen as one of the “Best Cars of 2017” by US News & World Report and was scored 4/5 by Car & Driver.
2017 Kia Niro Details
Power: 1.5 liter 4 cylinder engine with 43 hop electric motor; 1.56 kwh lithium-ion polymer battery
Transmission: 6 speed dual clutch, automatic
Brakes: 4 wheel disc with ABS; and Regenerative braking system
Idle stop and go system
Wheels: 16 inch alloy (FE, basic trim); 18 inch (Touring Launch trim)
Fuel economy, FE trim (best of all trim levels): 52 city MPG, 49 hwy, 50 combined. Touring Launch trim level: 46/40/43 MPG.
Price (as tested, FE trim): MRSP $22,890. LX trim: $23,200. EX trim: $25,700. Touring Launch trim: $28,000. Touring trim: $29,650. Add $895.00 for shipping from Korea.
Interior and Infotainment (FE trim): Cloth seats, UVO Infotainment and Connectivity platform, dual zone climate control, power windows, door locks, and outside windows, 7-inch touchscreen, back-up camera, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Sirius XM radio, Bluetooth, USB jack, 12 volt outlet, 60/40 folding rear seats.
Available on upper trim levels: leather seats, Harman Kardon sound with 8 speakers, sunroof, sunshade, leather seat trim, heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, 18 inch wheels, push button start/stop, blind spot detection, lane departure warning, wireless smartphone charging pad, driver seat position memory, power adjustable driver’s seat, smart key, parking assist.
2017 Kia Optima Hybrid
The Optima is a five-person, four door midsize sedan which is available in conventional gasoline engine and hybrid versions. The tester was a regular hybrid (as opposed to a Plug-In). The Optima Hybrid comes in two trim levels, Premium and EX. This week’s tester was the Premium (base) trim level, with the Hybrid Convenience Package of additional features (listed below) added in.
The Premium trim level got 44.9 mpg on average in a mix of both slow traffic and open highway driving, beating the EPA estimate of 42 combined. (In comparison, the Accord Hybrid’s combined EPA rating is 49 MPG – but the MSRP starts at $29,605.)
The interior is nicely appointed, with knobs and push buttons for volume and air controls, in addition to a 7-inch touchscreen and a tilting/telescoping steering wheel. Like the Niro, the base trim model features the excellent UVO Infotainment and Connectivity system (said to be better than most of its mid-size sedan competitors), but the Optima has even more standard features that kick up its competitiveness, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, standard leather-wrapped steering wheel, standard multi-adjustable driver’s seat, and standard dual zone climate controls.
The rear parking assist system (a Hybrid Convenience Package item on tester) alerts the driver with a chime if an object is detected within 47 inches of the rear of the car at under 3 miles per hour, which is exactly what is needed when backing up out of the driveway or a parking space.
Two drive modes are available, Eco and Sport. While eco is the default, and allows the car to maximize fuel economy, the car really picks up power in Sport mode.
At 192 horse power, the Optima certainly gets the job done as far as keeping up with traffic on the freeway, but it’s not going to win you a trophy at the drag strip. Like the Niro, this isn’t a car for those who need a powerful engine. It’s for a different customer, a smart one.
As far as some objective analysis of the Optima Hybrid, US News & World Report gave it a score of 8.3/10; and Kelley Blue Book rated it at 9/10.
Smart people buy Kias. Really smart people buy Kia hybrids.
DOHC 16 valve engine, CVVT; Interior-Permanent Magnet Synchronous Electric motor
Transmission: 6 speed automatic
Brakes: 4 wheel disc with ABS – Anti-lock braking system
Trim Levels: Premium (base trim) and EX.
Safety: Dual front airbags, front seat side airbags, driver’s knee airbag, and side curtain airbags; 5 star government safety ratings (out of 5 stars)
Wheels: 16 inch alloy
Optional “Hybrid Convenience Package” on tester: Laminated front door windows, heated power outside mirrors, power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, driver’s seat memory, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking assist, and rear center console USB and 12 volt outlet. (Add $1,795 to MSRP.)
Trunk space: 4 cubic feet
Available options at higher trim level (EX): Panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, wireless smartphone charging pad, surround view monitoring camera
Price (as tested, base trim): MSRP $25,995. EX trim: $30,990. Add $895.00 for shipping from Korea.
Interior and Infotainment: Dual-zone climate controls, 7-inch touchscreen, UVO Infotainment and Connectivity System, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Sirius XM radio, Bluetooth, front seat area USB port and 12 volt outlet, cloth seat trim, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, leather wrapped steering wheel, supervision meter cluster with LCD display.
Honda is following up on its 2016 hydrogen fuel cell Clarity and its 2017 all-electric Clarity with a third variation, the plug-in hybrid (PHEV). Honda is a proven car manufacturer with extensive experience at mass production of quality vehicles.
The plug-in hybrid version of the Clarity is a five-person mid-size sedan with a luxury interior. It has eye-catching exterior design elements in the front and rear; its body is low and wide, lending a dignified flair. Several air ducts are smartly designed, including the rear tire cover, which features a propeller-style cap that directs airflow to the wheels.
wheels capture and direct air flow to cool the brakes
LED lighting well designed
Clarity interior arranged with the driver in mind
push buttons for shifting
In showrooms since December 1, 2017, the PHEV Clarity provides another option to the environmentally-conscious customer who is looking for a spacious, lounge-feel, comfortable ride and Honda’s reputation for value and reliability. While Honda offers hybrid Accords and Civics, the Clarity is the upscale member of the Honda EV family.
Forest Green Pearl
The flagship color on the PHEV is a gorgeous dark aqua green called Moonlit Forest Pearl. There are two trim levels, Base and Touring. The Touring interior features a new material developed for the vehicle, a bio-derived Ultrasuede, is in the door panels and dash, along with perforated leather seats. The base trim features synthetic leather and a biofabric called Prime Smooth. Both trim levels feature rosewood accents in the cabin, in black or brown, for a luxury effect. Everything in the interior is designed for the occupants’ comfort.
The PHEV tester was equipped with an automatic transmission, accessed by push buttons in the center console, along with a push/pull button for the electronic brake. There are separate dial indicators for fuel level and battery charge level. Power flow is shown in real time on the 8-inch display screen, together with remaining range.
At low speeds, the Clarity primarily functions in EV or hybrid drive mode. At freeway / steady speeds, it switches to engine drive mode. The tester consumed gas when at freeway speeds. Otherwise, the needle didn’t move. When tested in a combination of stop and go traffic and moderate freeway driving, the average consumption was 44.9 miles per gallon, without trying to be conservative on the pedal.
The EV-only range of the new PHEV is 47 miles (better than other plug-in hybrids), but the full range is 320-340 miles, thanks to the pairing with a gasoline engine. Its 47 mile range puts the Clarity PHEV at the top of its class for plug-in sedans, making it more than suitable as a daily commuter.
The PHEV Clarity has 212 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque, also better than the Prius Prime (121 HP), and the Chevy Volt (149 HP).
As far as price, the Base trim MSRP is $33,400 (plus destination fee of $890), higher than Ford Fusion and Prius Prime, but less than the Chevy Volt; the Clarity is easily half the price of a Model 3 Tesla.
The Honda safety feature package called Honda Sensing is standard on all three of the Clarity models, even in base trim, while the Volt and the Fusion do not offer the same types of safety features without an upgrade on trim level or as a custom add-on that can cost up to $2,510.00, according to Honda’s studies. All trims include a multi-view rear camera, straight driving assist, and LaneWatch, which provides the driver with a display view of the right (blind) side when the right turn signal is activated. LaneWatch is Honda-exclusive safety technology.
As far as the drive experience, because it is a hybrid of electric and gasoline power, there may be a question as to how quiet it is compared to the all-EV Clarity. The PHEV was road-tested for two hours in various conditions on the country roads of Calistoga, California. Its cabin remained whisper quiet, even at highway speeds. The hydrogen fuel cell Clarity was also road tested. Its engine makes a bit of noise, but it is not obtrusive.
The PHEV’s windshield and door glass panels were developed with sound insulation function. There is extensive insulation in the dashboard, hood, inner front fender, and motor undercover. The carpet was designed for sound absorption and insulation.
Sport mode in the PHEV is instantaneous, with the push of a button, and the engine responds with palpable force but the transition is seamless, with no kick or interruption in acceleration.
All three of the Clarity vehicles are smooth, quiet and comfortable to drive due to a low center of gravity. The plug-in Clarity’s new rear multi link suspension supports the next-generation straight structure frame and insures a smooth ride, even on bumpy roads.
Regenerative braking paddles on the steering wheel are easy to learn to use, and cause the battery to recharge instantly, with maximum benefit seen in stop and go traffic or cruising down a hill.
Kiyoshi Shimizu, Honda’s Development Lead, said that in developing the Clarity, Honda listened to the needs of its customers, who said that they wanted a stylish and comfortable PHEV. The Clarity PHEV delivers, as an amazing bargain for a green vehicle for the buyer who wants Honda quality with a luxury feel.
There’s no shortage of museum space devoted to things that run on engines in Southern California. Here’s our curated list. If we missed one, let us know so we can include it.
AUTOMOBILE DRIVING MUSEUM, 610 Lairport Way, El Segundo. Wide range of years and types of vehicles, from turn of the century to modern. Home of Shirley Muldowney’s dragster. Small collection of British race cars. Every Sunday, guests are given rides in selected historics. Monthly themed events spotlight certain vehicles and draw in private collectors’ show cars – check the website as they are added frequently and to sign up for displaying yours. On-site vintage ice cream parlor. Old Packards and Lincolns are displayed in a very nicely recreated 1930s-1940s sales salon. theadm.org
CALIFORNIA ROUTE 66 MUSEUM, 16825 South D St., Victorville. 760-951-0436. Where to go to learn about the history of the Mother Road. Free admission. califrt66museum.org/
CREVIER CLASSIC CARS, 365-B Clinton St., Costa Mesa. Many 1930s and 1940s Packards and other classics – both permanent collection and for sale. Free admission. crevierclassiccars.com
ESTRELLA WARBIRDS MUSEUM, 4251 Dry Creek Rd, Paso Robles, CA 93446. Anything that flies, whether in the air or on the highway, can be found here. Beginning May 12, the museum starts an exhibit called “Warbirds Wings & Wheels” which features classic and vintage cars on display, an automotive swap meet, and a beer garden (why not). Later this year there will be a show of vintage rail dragsters from the likes of Jack Gillett and the Schrank Brothers. While you’re up there, taste some pinot noirs! (I suggest Justin….cheers!) www.ewarbirds.org/
JUSTICE BROTHERS RACING MUSEUM, 2734 East Huntington Dr., Duarte. Tribute to the Southern California racing brothers Ed, Gus and Zeke. More than 200 cars and racing memorabilia. 626-359-9174. http://www.justicebrothers.com/racing&museum.htm
LYON AIR MUSEUM, 19300 Ike Jones Road, Santa Ana. Not just planes – cars too. Highlight may be the 1940 Helms bakery truck, used to deliver bread and pastries to homes in Southern California, back when such things were ordinary. Sigh. lyonsairmuseum.org
MARCONI AUTOMOTIVE MUSEUM, 1302 Industrial Dr., Tustin. Former racer Dick Marconi’s pet project. 70 vehicles in a nice open setting in a low-key industrial area. Lots of Ferraris, his favorite marque. marconimuseum.org
MINIATURE ENGINEERING CRAFTSMANSHIP MUSEUM, 3190 Lionshead Avenue, Carlsbad. Authentic and faithful miniature reproductions of cars, planes, engines, ships, and more. They even have my favorite – a rotary (Wankel) engine in small scale to demonstrate how it generates power. Friendly docents are on hand to answer questions. Free admission. http://www.craftsmanshipmuseum.com
MOTO TALBOTT COLLECTION, 4 E. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley (No Cal). Founder Robb Talbott got out of the winery and necktie businesses, and opened this museum in 2016 as a house for 140 vintage motorcycles, including flat track racing bikes, as well as vintage posters and motorcycle-related historical pieces and art. $12 admission. mototalbott.com
MULLIN AUTOMOTIVE MUSEUM, 1421 Emerson Dr., Oxnard. Founder Peter Mullin’s art deco-inspired home to vintage Bugattis and other one-of-a-kind classic cars, with an emphasis on European marques. Visiting hours are second and fourth Saturdays and tours are set up during weekdays, by appointment only. 805-385-5400. mullinautomotivemuseum.com
MURPHY AUTO MUSEUM, 2230 Statham Blvd, Oxnard. Launched by founder Dan Murphy in 2012. Variety of classic cars, vintage trailers, American muscle cars, a model railroad, and vintage clothing displays; and red,white and blue motorcycle signed by Evel Knievel. $9 suggested donation for entry fee. (805) 487-4333 murphyautomuseum.org
NHRA / WALLY PARKS MOTORSPORTS MUSEUM, 1101 W. McKinley Ave., Pomona (at the Fairgrounds) Extensive collection of race cars of all types and classics, together with many historical artifacts of drag racing. Discounts for Auto Club members. 909-622-2133. nhramuseum.org
NETHERCUTT MUSEUM AND COLLECTION, 15151 and 15200 Bledsoe St., Sylmar. Over 130 antique, vintage and classic cars, dating back to the turn of the century. Free admission. nethercuttcollection.org
PETERSEN AUTOMOTIVE MUSEUM, 6060 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. The largest collection of cars in Southern California, housed in the former May Co. building in the Mid- Wilshire area. Multiple collections on several floors of everything from Hollywood cars to one of a kind vehicles acquired by the museum. Multiple ongoing exhibits, check the website. Themed events monthly. A must for anyone visiting the area. Allow an entire morning or afternoon. petersen.org
RIVERSIDE INTERNATIONAL AUTOMOTIVE MUSEUM, 815 Marlborough Ave., Riverside. Collection of race cars and memorabilia related to the former Riverside race track, Ontario speedway, and other California tracks that are gone with the wind. [NOTE: the website says that the museum is temporarily closed and the collection is being digitized, with the owners trying to arrange a permanent display location for the artifacts in the collection. Check the website before going. The plan is to have the collection on the website.] riversideintlautomuseum.org/