All New 2017 Prius Four The Original Hybrid is Still The Best

 

In 2003, I was on the Motor Trend jury that selected the 2004 second generation Prius as the 2004 Motor Trend Car Of The Year.  I will always remember that it was a heated contest between the “rally twins” the Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru WRX STi and hybrid Toyota.  But in the end, it was a bold move to choose the hybrid game changer. Today, is not such a big deal but going back more than deacde it was a big deal.

Fast forward to 2017 recently I had the opportunity to sample the all new 4th generation Prius for the first time.  The’s 2017 Prius hybrid embodies the original car’s same basic concept, that being an internal-combustion engine coupled to an electric motor, the latest version is both stylistically and technologically leaps and bounds better. The latest Prius now has lots of competition, but it remains the segment’s fuel-economy leader and is bolstered by a new model, the Prius Prime plug-in hybrid. Able to travel up to 25 miles solely on electric power, the Prime offers one more Prius competitor to challenge Ford’s C-Max Energi and Chevy’s Volt. With its slick new styling, refined interior, improved chassis and new standard suite of driver-assist technologies, the 2017 Toyota Prius remains the gold standard in hybrid automobiles.

Despite its small size and lightweight frame, Toyota’s 2017 Prius hybrid is amazingly rigid. A rigid chassis allows for a better suspension, which endows the Prius with surprising agility. Body roll in the corners is kept to a minimum and the steering, although not on par with the Mazda3 or Honda Civic, is light and precise.  I found the overalll driving experience to best to date of any Prius model to date.  .  A couple of minor egonormic areas of improvement include giving some adjstablibilty to height of the heads up color sisplay, and changing the location of the frony heated seat switches which now are located  too far ahead in the center console for my liking/

The Prius’ brakes are strong and capable and despite the skinny fel economy friendly tires hauled the Pruis down from speeds much better than anticapated. .. On the highway, the 2017 Prius hybrid delivers a smooth ride and a quiet cabin with very little wind or road noise evident. One downside is the Prius’ front seats that sit low to the floor, making entry and exit somewhat of a challenge for some drivers..

Although the shape seems familiar, with the same wedgy design theme, there’s more drama in the 2017 Toyota Prius compared to previous generations, which looked a little boring by comparison. Longer, lower and wider than its predecessors, with more character creases in the bodyside panels, the 4th-generation Prius has a strong curbside presence, as well as a distinctive going-away view. The lower hoodline contributes to improved aerodynamics the coefficient of drag (Cd) goes from 0.25 to 0.24and also enhances the driver’s forward sight lines.  That is amazing exotic sports car like Cd number.  I not a huge fan of the face of the vehicle but all other styling angles are grearly improved.

Some folks don’t care for the rear tailight treatment I myself like it and thinks it works quite well with the theme of the overall car.

The feature list for the basic Prius Two makes it clear that “basic” does not mean “stripper” for this car. Dual 4.2-inch customizable color information displays, 6.2-inch color touch screen, 6-speaker AM/FM/CD Entune audio, 2.0 USB port, Bluetooth streaming, Siri eyes-free, hands-free phone link, voice recognition, 3-mode driver pre-sets (EV, ECO, Power), cruise control, tilt/telescope steering column, cargo area tonneau cover, rearview camera, stability control, traction control and eight airbags. Toyota’s Safety Sense P includes full-speed dynamic cruise control, capable of bringing the car to a complete stop.

The interior on Toyota’s Prius Hybrid for 2017 employs two 4.2-inch color info screens with primary instrumentation parked atop the dashboard. Higher trims also include a color head-up display, as well as pedestrian detection. The instrument screens ride the center of the dashboard, reducing eye redirection, according to Toyota, though some think otherwise. Interior materials including the new synthetic leather was extra comfortable looking and feels quite rich. A low center-console height gives the front compartment a more open feeling, and the rear compartment feels roomier despite a very small reduction in interior volume and lower roofline compared to the previous generation.  Yes as always it has that funky dash monted transmission selector I hold out hope that genaration five will change that feature

My Prius Four model had the Advanced Technology package adds a power tilt/slide moon roof with a sliding sunshade, and the color head-up display. The Premium Convenience Package includes a 7-inch touch screen, navigation, Entune 10-speaker JBL audio, advanced voice recognition, as well as the standard Prius Two and Three features, and a good many others. Premium Convenience is limited to Prius Four and Prius Four Touring trims.

Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive has been adapted to a number of the company’s vehicles. It’s also been licensed to other carmakers. The latest electric motor is rated at 71 horsepower and 120 lb-ft of torque. Combined system output is down 13 horsepower at 121 horsepower compared to generation three, but efficiency is up. On all but the base trim, the electrical side of the powertrain is supported by a lithium-ion battery pack.

Fuel economy was fanatstic, rated at 54 city and 50 mpg highway with a 52 MPG combined number which is quite impressive. This is the best Prius to date hands down. My well euqipeed test vehicle was priced at 32,216.00 making for a great value as well.

The Long Drive Rankings

Front Engine-FWD Automatic

Highlights

Value

Fuel Economy

Comfortable Front seats

Lowlights

A  little slow 0-60 mph

The Long Drive Rankings 1 Low 10 High

Exterior Styling 7
Interior styling and quality 7

Handling 5

Braking 6

Fuel Economy 10
Performance 5
Trunk-Cargo Capacity 8

Audio System 6

Value 10

 

2017 Kia Forte S Surprises with Huge Value

As a brand Kia has come a country mile here in North America from a struggling maker of entry-level cars to a very successful  full line automaker.  The power to surprise is one the advertising tag lines used in marketing campaigns it is quite appropriate.  Recently, I got to spend  a week behind the wheel of the 2017 Kia Forte S which surprised with its content level and performance as well as bang for the buck.

The second-generation Kia Forte was launched in 2013, alongside its Korean counterpart, the K3. Penned by former Audi designed Peter Schreyer, the second-gen Forte is a significant departure from its predecessor in just about any department. Sporting a modern appearance, a more upscale interior, and new engines, the new Forte has help change the way consumers think about Kia-badged compacts. The second-generation model received its mid-cycle facelift for the 2017 model year.

The new trim level is dubbed the “S” trim and is slated to sit between the entry-level LX trim and range-topping EX trim.

Kia didn’t change the Forte enough to make it that indistinguishable from the current model. Kia  claims that “the tiger nose grille has been extended to connect with the new headlights” . What was really extended was the headlights. On the 2016 model, there is spacing between the grille and the lower half of the headlight. On this 2017 model, the headlight isn’t quite as tall, and the entire inboard edge of the headlight meets the grille. It gives the car a much better look, but that isn’t all that changes up front.

For the most part, the hood has remained the same. It is able to sit a little lower on the sides thanks to the facts that the headlights aren’t as fat. Those headlights, by the way, still wrap around the front end, terminating on the fenders. Down below, the fascia has been changed dramatically. The fog lights have been moved inward and sit next to the air dam. It should be noted that those fog lights are a bit larger too. Now that the fog lights have been moved inward, Kia added a small air vent on each corner, giving the front end a much sportier look.

Looking at the back of the Forte S, there are minor changes. The deck lid has a slightly more pronounced lip, and the tail lights have a double-layered look to them. Down below, a small body line has been added to the corners, giving way to a sportier rear end, and the reflectors have been dropped down a little. The insert on the bottom of the rear fascia has a straight edge on top, and the exhaust outlet is now oval-shaped instead of round.

Exterior features are dependent on the trim model at hand. For instance, the new “S” trim receives 16-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, a rear spoiler, and chrome exhaust tip.

Inside, there isn’t that much change in comparison to the 2016 model. The gill-like styling on the door trim remains and has been added to the passenger side of the dash between the center stack and the passenger dash vent. The seats retain the same general design, however, technology and material features vary by trim level.  My test vehicle S trim, with the S trim receiving exclusive black cloth with white contrast stitching. The S trim also receives a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter. y.

The S trim also come standard with UVO3 telematics, which is Kia’s infotainment system. It includes a seven-inch touchscreen and connects to mobile devices via Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

The coolest part of the new Forte is that every trim level comes with Drive Mode Select as a standard feature. This function changes the way the car shifts, accelerates, and performs dependent on your selection. Normal mode is pretty self-explanatory, Eco mode tunes the car to cut back on fuel usage, while sport mode will allow the car to have quick shifting and longer periods between shifts  allowing the car to take advantage of the entire rev range. Naturally, some fuel economy will be sacrificed in Sport mode.

For the  2017 model year, the Kia got rid of that old 1.8-liter four-cylinder. LX and S trim levels receive a new 2.0-liter, Atkinson four-cylinder. Both trim levels come standard with a six-speed manual transmission, but a six-speed automatic as my test car had is optional.

Te new S trim receives a sport-tuned suspension.  At second glance The new grille and headlights on the 2017 Kia Forte look like they’re straight from the bigger Kia Optima sedan. This also true for the tail lights, which retain the original shape, but have been redesigned to look more like the Optima sedan

The new 2.0-liter 4-cylinder base engine in the Forte sedan puts out 147 horsepower and
132 lb-ft of torque  while delivering excellent feel economy numbers 29 mpg city and 38 mpg when connected to the 6 speed automatic.

The new Forte S model sedan starts at about $20,000 which is quite a great value for the dollar.  The Forte S sedan  surprised across the board.  It is fun, playful and affordable.

The Long Drive Rankings

Front Engine-FWD  6 speed Automatic

Highlights

Value

Interior content and build quality

 

Lowlights

A few cheap plastics

The Long Drive Rankings 1 Low 10 High

Exterior Styling 7
Interior styling and quality 7

Handling 5

Braking 5
Fuel Economy 9
Performance 6
Trunk-Cargo Capacity 8

Audio System 6

Value 10

 

 

2017 Mitsubishi Outlander SE= Great Value

In the over 20 plus years that I have been receiving press vehicles to evaluate each week.   I have only had four Mitsubishi products to test out.  During my ten years at Motor Trend there was lot of exposure to one of the most sporting models from the brand history the Evo but not much else.

When I got word that I was going to be evaluating a new Mitsubishi product I was not overly excited and my expectations were low.  The automaker has stumbled in recent years and  I occasionally have heard rumors about a pulling out of the North American market place. However after a week by the wheel of a 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander SUV my brand perceptions were dramatically changed and I find myself recommending this vehicle to listeners of my nationally syndicated radio show Autoworld.

The Outlander not be a well-known commodity, but when compared to the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Dodge Journey, it stands up surprisingly well. With a choice of 4- or 6-cylinder engines, two all-wheel-drive (AWD) systems and a host of cutting-edge safety and infotainment features, Mitsubishi’s Outlander crossover SUV proves both competent and affordable. With a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, the Outlander’s coverage is nearly double that of the Subaru Outback, but identical to the Kia Sorento. A small dealer network may limit your buying options, but if a vehicle that rings spectacular value to the table the Mitsubishi gets raves from this journalist

For 2017, Mitsubishi’s Outlander SUV gains a number of upgrades. There’s a simplified AWD system on base models plus new features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert, a heated steering wheel, auto high beams and a multi-view camera system.

Behind the wheel the standard for cylinder engine paired with an excellent CVT transmission delivers surprisingly strong off-the-line acceleration and fuel economy up to 30-mpg highway. This is one of the best CVT automatics I have ever tested. The CVT is efficient, quiet and responsive, it squeezes every drop of power from the 2.4-liter engine while returning impressive fuel economy.

The 2.4-liter inline-4 cranks out 166 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque  while delivering in front wheel drive configuration 25 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.
On the road the Outlander is not the best handling vehicle in the marketplacebt bt most average drivers they will never notice.  Braking is decent and the overall ride and drive is also pleasant

 

The Mitsubishi Outlander comes standard with seating for seven, who will enjoy an even nicer cabin for 2017. Controls are easy to use, and.interior has a more a more premium fee. The materials are nice, the design is clean and the interior is pleasantly quiet. Flipping and folding the second row is now easy, thanks to a system of straps and levers. That offers easy entrance to the very small third row. Fold down both rows and you create over 63 cubic feet of cargo space.

The styling revisions that debuted for 2016 carry over including the Outlander’s  aggressive nose and rear for a look that is unique, but isn’t universally loved. The angular nose, while definitely fitting into the Mitsubishi family, also hints at the looks of the Lexus NX SUV. Cool features like the electric windshield-wiper de-icer that helps keep ice and snow from building up n the wipers, a shark-fin antenna and power-folding side mirrors add an upscale feel.

The 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander is available in four trims: ES, SE, SEL and GT. The vehicle ES model came with automatic climate control, keyless entry, 6-speaker touch-screen audio, rearview camera, Bluetooth, heated side mirrors and 18-inch alloy wheels. My SE test model had a rearview camera, fog lights, dual climate control, heated front seats and push-button start. The Touring Package also includes navigation, rain-sensing windshield wipers, windshield-wiper de-icer, power-folding side mirrors, auto on-off headlights, a power tailgate, a heated steering wheel and power sunroof.

Attention  audiophiles,  the 2017 Outlander SUV offers a kicking 710-watt, 9-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio upgrade guaranteed to please the music lover in all of us. Deep bass is provided by a powered sub, and the system can be paired with a 40-gigabyte music-storage hard drive.  This system really impresses and fits the fun character of the vehicle as well.

My loaded test vehicle came to about $27,000 simply,  a tremendous value.  Want something different packed with a lot of vale in three row seven passenger SUV check ot the 2017 Outlander.

 

The Long Drive Rankings

Front Engine-FWD CVT Automatic

Highlights

Value

Simple layout

Rockford-Fostgage Sound System

Lowlights

A few cheap plastics

Not for those who vale great handling skills

The Long Drive Rankings 1 Low 10 High

Exterior Styling 7
Interior styling and quality 8

Handling 5

Braking 5
Fuel Economy 9
Performance 5
Trunk-Cargo Capacity 8

Navigation 8
Audio System 9

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring is Pure Driving Joy

It’s hard to believe that the year 1989 was first year of the Mazda Miata.  It has gone on to become the best-selling roadster of all time and on any given weekend there are more Mx-5 Miata’s being raced or auto crossed in events across North America than any other car.

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a whole week behind the wheel of the all new model which debuted for the 2016 model year.  This car is all about fun.  The all new Mazda MX-5 is a little smaller than its predecessor, weighs less and has a bit less power, yet it’s still as nimble, quick and fun as ever. Best of all, it has a newfound sense of refinement thanks to a modern interior inspired by the Mazda3, and an unprecedented focus on driver placement makes the new MX-5 comfortable even if you’re well over 6-feet tall.

Balance is the key to what makes the new Mazda MX-5 so wonderful to drive.. Since the original Mazda Miata, the MX-5 has never been a car for drag racing, or for maximum cornering loads, or any of the big-tire, big-engine shenanigans generally associated with Mustangs, Camaro’s or Challengers.

Instead, the new MX-5 carries on the tradition of offering enough power to be quick but not so much that the car’s a handful. The suspension is firm enough for spirited cornering, but not so harsh that it rattles your teeth. The steering is quick, and allows the driver to carve u  corners with ease.

The new Mazda MX-5 roadster has a simple, straightforward and modern interior. It’s similar to the new Mazda3, with an upright infotainment screen on the dash, push-button start on some models, and a surprising amount of soft-touch materials, considering last year’s hard-plastic everything. Mazda says it literally designed the car around the driver, and the MX-5 offers excellent steering-wheel, pedal and shifter placement. Despite the small size, it’s surprisingly accommodating for tall drivers, with a tilt steering wheel, and a convertible top that affords good headroom. There’s even a usefully sized trunk..

Hands down in my opinion this is the best looking MX-5 Miata to date.   The tiny headlights are LEDs, complemented by tail lights that look like miniaturized versions from the Jaguar F-Type. The profile keeps the classic long-hood/short-deck proportions.

All new MX-5 models come with LED headlights, push-button ignition, air conditioning, power windows and the  easy to use manual cloth top.   Cruise control is also standard, and the little steering wheel is packed with audio and cruise-control buttons. My Grand Touring test model also had leather upholstery and navigation. along with the excellent Mazda Connect infotainment system with its touch-screen display and multifunction knob, plus headrest speakers with Bose sound.

The only engine in the new Mazda MX-5 is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. It comes standard with an all-new 6-speed manual transmission, and even if you don’t know how to drive a stick, it’s worth learning just so you can enjoy this one.

The action is light, the shifts are short, and the clutch operation is simply the best.  I love the clutch and the short throw gearbox combination..  There is no other manual gear box like it until you spend a lot more money.  It reminds me of six figure Porsche gear boxes.  Yes you can get an excellent 6 speed automatic but this one vehicle that I recommend highly with the manual.

The 2.0-liter inline-4 puts out 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque.  Fuel economy is rated at 27 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. Despite its modest power the MX-5 does not feel slow in anyway.and for little over $31,000 loaded the MX-6 Miata is pure driving joy.

The Long Drive Rankings

Front Engine-RWD 6 speed Manual

Highlights

Styling

Simple layout

Manual Transmission

Lowlights

Could use a tad more power

The Long Drive Rankings 1 Low 10 High

Exterior Styling 9
Interior styling and quality 8

Handling 9

Braking 7
Fuel Economy 7
Stereo System 8

Performance 5
Trunk-Cargo Capacity 4

Navigation 8
Audio System 7

2016 Best Drives: Sharp Dressed Ride Lexus RC Coupe

Recently I have the opportunity to sample two impressive models from the Lexus RC portfolio. Both the RC 200t with the F sport package and the RC 350 with rear wheels drive. With the exception of the limited edition mega dollar super car the LFA, the Lexus brand has never offered such dramatically styled and beautiful vehicles as the 2016 RC series. It is worthy of one of the top drives of 2016 awards.

Now in its second year, the luxury sports coupe gets two new engines, broadening its appeal as an alternative to to folks shopping for a BMW 4 Series a Cadillac ATS or the A5 from Audi. Unlike previous Lexus coupes like the SC 400 from the 1990s, along with awkward styled SC 430  convertible. the 2016 Lexus RC emphasizes performance over comfortable grand touring.

It’s one of the most expressively styled Lexus cars to come along in decades, filling a gap in the Lexus lineup to entice younger, well-heeled buyers  who are seeking a 4-passenger premium sports coupe. While there’s a Lexus RC available in rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (RWD, AWD) for just about anybody, the truly power-hungry will want the V8-powered monster known as the RC F.

It used to be that to get Lexus levels of reliability you had to sacrifice personality. One look at the 2016 RC tells you those days are long gone, and this aggressively styled luxury-sports coupe has the goods and the attitude discerning buyers demand, all starting in the mid-$40,000s.

The 2016 RC is definitely snug, but it’s comfortable, at least up front. There are four seatbelts, but in reality the rear seat is way too small for most adults, but is fine for small kids or an occasional adult passenger. Up front is a much different story. The seats are comfortable in all trims and feature extra bolstering in RC Sport and RC F models. With the 7-inch display, rounded dashboard and angled audio/climate control interface, the dash is busy but a wonderful place like the rest of interior to spend time..

While it’s great that Lexus is pushing its styling envelope, not everyone loves the new direction. In fact, it’s a little hard to believe this wild-looking luxury coupe is a Lexus at all, which may be the point. For the most part I think it works  great here. The angles and muscular bulges are eye-catching at the very least, and give this coupe a distinctive look compared to its European and American competitors,  Everywhere I drove around the Orlando Fl area I got nothing but positive feedback from people from all age and demographic groups.. From the Lexus “spindle” grille to the fins on the sides paying tribute to LFA super car, and other details, there’s nothing else like it on the road especially at this price range.

The 2016 RC comes as nicely equipped as you’d expect of a luxury-sports coupe. There are standard automatic climate control, a self-dimming rearview mirror, and an infotainment system with a 7-inch display screen, rearview camera, and Lexus Enform Service Connect service. The 10-speaker audio system includes HD Radio, dual USB inputs and Bluetooth streaming with Eyes Free iPhone integration.  My test drive the four cylinder 200t RC was equipped with the optional F sport package which gets get standard variable suspension and Sport+ driving mode plus heated and ventilated front seats, a suspension tuned for higher performance, and a power-adjust steering wheel.

The options list starts with a navigation system that uses a touch-pad controller and includes an upgraded Enform suite with services such as Yelp, Pandora and stock prices. There are also heated/ventilated front seats, a leather interior, heated steering wheel and a moonroof. The Mark Levinson premium audio system makes even your iPod or bluetooth streaming digital device sound quite good.Advanced safety features include blind-spot monitoring and a pre-collision system that can automatically brake the car.

For one week I was treated with the 200t RC with the great F Sport package. Thos vehicle is propelled by a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder with 241 horsepower along 258 lb-ft of torque. It delivers 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. The F sport package gives you access to the Sport + driving mode along with great deal of suspension tuning making the entry-level RC is a hoot to drive. Without the V6 engine under hood the weight savings add a playful feeling that was absent in the RC 350  model that I also drove for a week.

My other Lexus test drive for a week was the RC 350 with Rear wheel drive with a bit more power, but not much.  With two different incarnations of the 3.6 liter V-6 lineup my test vehicle put out 255 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque.  So it loses some torque bt gains a ew ponies over the turbo for an  EPA city/highway fuel economy of: 19/26 mpg

Like the ZZ Top song “Sharp Dressed Man: written and performed by good friend Billy F Gibbons the RC series is a sharp dressed ride and one of best of 2016.

You can’t go wrong with any model in the lineup. I hope one of the days I get to sample the V-8 powered RC F.

The Long Drive Rankings The RC 350 and RC 200T

Front Engine-RWD 8 speed automatic

Highlights

Styling

Performance

Stereo System

Navigation

Lowlights

Snug interior for some

 

The Long Drive Rankings 1 Low 10 High

Exterior Styling 9
Interior styling and quality 9

Handling 9

Braking 7
Fuel Economy 6
Stereo System 9

Performance 8
Trunk-Cargo Capacity 7

Navigation 9
Audio System 9

s

The Non Truck-Truck 2017 Honda Ridgeline Black Edition is Pure Joy

By Bob Long

I said on my national radio program AutoWorld with guest Mark Williams Editor and Chief at pickup trucks.com I was not going to title my print review “the non Truck Truck” but I have decided to do it anyway.  I really like the Black Edition and the title is on target.

Again, I did not expect to like this second generation Ridgeline that much but I liked it a lot  Both Mark and I were Editors at Motor Trend when the first generation took home the Motor Trend Truck of the Year Award.  But this second generation us so much better and this special edition is a knockout.  All black inside and out and running on set of black wheels the truck got positive feedback everywhere I drove greater Orlando FL

The Honda Ridgeline returns to a reinvigorated midsize pickup segment after a two-year absence. The fully redesigned 2017 Honda Ridgeline hangs on to what made it unique while introducing improvements that make it  a lot more functional and it will attract a wider audience.

The new Ridgeline still has more in common with Honda’s midsize SUV, the Pilot, than other trucks in the segment. The wheelbase has been stretched to accommodate a truck bed and the suspension components have added beef, but the Ridgeline still delivers a car like ride and manageable handling which in my opinion is good for that certain type of truck buyer.

The Ridgeline also gets an upgraded 3.5-liter V6 and six-speed transmission, a good combination that’s 30-horsepower stronger than generation one Ridgeline.  It puts out 280 HP and 262 lb-ft of torque.  EPA mileage numbers for my all wheel Drive test model
18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.  My load all wheel drive test truck came in price wise at around $44,000.

The Honda Ridgeline still only come in a single crew cab with short bed configuration. But this time around the forward cabin is as attractive and inviting as a Pilot, and is available with the Pilot’s full range of the latest tech and safety features. Meanwhile, the back row retains the class-leading legroom and unique folding rear seat that made the original Ridgeline so flexible and accommodating.

The old styling cues have been scrapped in favor of a more traditional bed design. The change makes it easier to reach into the forward end, and it allowed a 3.2-inch wheelbase stretch that enabled a longer bed. Now 66 inches long, the Ridgeline’s bed is 2.3 inches longer than a Chevrolet Colorado’s and 3.5 inches longer than a Toyota Tacoma’s. As for the Ridgeline’s signature in-bed trunk and dual-action tailgate, they’re still here and as fantastic as ever.

But some aspects of the Ridgeline still trail the competition. The intelligent all-wheel-drive system now has driver-selectable terrain settings, but crossover SUV levels of clearance and suspension articulation limit it to light-duty dirt-roading. And while it is well suited to towing 5,000 pounds, those who want to tow more will need to look elsewhere.

The return of a much-improved 2017 Honda Ridgeline makes the midsize truck segment an interesting place. With the off-roady Toyota Tacoma on one end, the shrunken full-size familiarity of the Chevrolet Colorado in the middle and the practical and smooth-driving Honda Ridgeline at the other end, midsize truck buyers have a wide spectrum of choices.

The 2017 Honda Ridgeline masters the careful balance between midsize truck and quiet, refined SUV. The cabin’s dimensions are essentially the same as they were in the last-generation Ridgeline, meaning that front and rear seats are pleasantly roomy for five people. The design is crisp and fresh, with greatly improved materials, and features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, heated seats and an 8-inch touch screen. If you want to carry gear inside, push the 60/40-split rear seat against the back of the cab to allow space for a bicycle or a 55-inch flat screen TV.

All Ridgeline’s come standard with  active noise cancellation, hill-start assist, and 18-inch wheels. Also standard are a rearview camera and the useful dual-action tailgate, eight tie-down cleats, truck bed lights, an in-bed trunk, and Intelligent Traction Management. Also in every Ridgeline are power windows with (front) auto-up/down, push-button start, cruise control, a tilt/telescoping wheel, air conditioning with filtration, and Bluetooth hands-free and streaming audio. There are plenty of safety systems, including collision-mitigation braking, road-departure mitigation, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot information with cross traffic, and LaneWatch. , adaptive cruise control, navigation, an acoustic windshield, truck bed audio, a 400-watt truck bed outlet, 3-zone climate control, leather seats, and heated front seats are options. The top stereo is a 540-watt, 8-speaker system which sounded great in my test Truck

Americans love trucks and my auto journalist friends have told me stories of the Texas State fair turning into a Truck international Auto Show. There’s a long-held set of ideas that many truck buyers consider obligatory  a body-on-frame platform is chief among them, along with purpose-built hardware like four wheel drive transfer cases and a solid rear axle.

I say this not a truck for that crowd but rather a different more Urban/suburbanite part-time truck most time a  small family SUV.  As I said earlier The Ridgeline’s awarded in-bed trunk makes a return in the second generation pickup, allowing for secured storage under the floor of the bed that also incorporates a drain plug at the bottom so it can also be used as an ice chest.
Adding to the Ridgeline’s tailgating prowess is the Truck Bed Audio function which uses the Ridgeline’s bed as an outdoor sound system. It might seem like a gimmicky feature at first, but in practice it sounds surprisingly good. Paired with the bed’s additional features, like a 400w power outlet and a dual action tailgate that can swing either down or out, the Ridgeline might be the most versatile party-mobile and Tailgate party king on sale today.  I think it just plain cool.  The 2017 Honda Ridgeline Black edition is pure joy to drive and packs a great bang for buck

 

The Long Drive Rankings

Front Engine-AWD

Highlights

Styling

Comfort

Truck bed audio system

Lowlights

Not for the hardcore Truck person

Some interior plastics could be better quality

 

Scale 1 low-10 High

Exterior Styling 8

Interior styling and quality 7

Handling 7

Braking 6

Fuel Economy 7

Audio System 9

Performance 5

Trunk-Cargo Capacity 10

Navigation 9

The original Crossover Vehicle is still the Best…. Lexus RX-450H All New for 2016

By Bob Long

The Lexus RX is the crossover that started a whole new category of vehicle when first introduced in 1998.   The first generation RX 300 laid the ground work for one of hottest segments in the car buying world today the luxury crossover vehicle.

For the 2016 model year The Lexus RX is all-new.. Now in its 4th generation, this mid size luxury crossover features a bold new exterior design, revamped interior, and a bump in power over its predecessor. The vehicle has grown slightly and offers a lot of cool features.

Over the years the RX has become the Lexus brands best-selling vehicle and a benchmark for rivals such as the MDX from Acura, Mercedes GLE, Cadillac SRX  and the MKX from Lincoln.  My test vehicle of the week is a beautiful front wheel drive RX 450 H which combines a powerful  V-6 gasoline engine with electric hybrid drive for great fuel economy.

Styling wise Lexus calls the new  2016 RX as a “dramatic re-imagining”of the benchmark crossover.  In fact it is both bold and aggressive from many angles.  Keeping in step with the rest of Lexus lineup the RX wears the brands signature spindle” grille up front, fluid headlight housings with LED lights, a high belt line, and the 2016 RX’s most divisive element: a flowing, blacked-out C-pillar behind the rear windows. This element makes the Lexus’ roof appear to float. You’ll like it or you won’t. Personally I like the look of the new RX but admit some will find the RX face a bit polarizing.

There are many different favors of the RX but was great to sample the hybrid model for a week.  On the road the RX 450h hybrid model is super smooth and almost imperceptibly switches between gasoline and electric power.  The 450h hybrid pairs a 3.5-liter V6 with a battery-electric powertrain. Like a standard Prius, no plugging in is required, but premium unleaded gasoline is recommended. The 2016 RX 450h has total output of 308 horsepower and delivers great mpg numbers. The  gasoline engine alone cranks out 267 lb-ft of torque.  EPA  city mileage is rated at an impressive 31 MPG with a highway rating of 30 MPG.  Sticker price of my loaded RX450H model came to $60.359.00

Inside the all new RX-450H is great place to spend time.  Beautiful craftsmanship combined with is own unique style. One of the biggest changes for the new 2016 model is gear selector placement, which abandons its long-held position in the center dash to a more traditional spot in the console below. This opens space in the dash for easy-to-access climate and audio controls. The mouse controller just south of the gear selector is easier to operate. The seats are great, and there is plenty of legroom in back.  Cargo space is very impressive, with over 18 cubic feet behind the rear seats. That number expands to over 56 cubic feet with rear seats folded.

The Lexus RX has always been well-equipped, and the latest model is no different. My loaded 450H had the very cool huge 12.3-inch infotainment display, a heated steering wheel, heated/ventilated front seats, the touch-free tailgate, navigation, a treat for audiophiles like myself in the exquisite upgraded Mark Levinson audio system.  My vehicle also had a full color heads up display and the world first  Touch-Free Back Door option makes it go presto by merely placing a hand near the Lexus badge.

Driving the RX 450H is a real pleasure even if you are not hybrid fan. This is one of the best systems out there in the automotive world.  The RX-450H is smooth operator at all speeds much as they have been in previous generations.  The vehicle is: comfortable, quiet and confident. This is an SUV for those who long for a soft ride and serenity, vs. drivers who prefer blasts down twisty roads accompanied by a roaring exhaust note.  Lexus does offer an F Sport model for a more sporty flavor and sheer performance.

Bottom line if you are in the market for a five passenger high fuel economy luxury crossover SUV the all new 2018 Lexus RH-45oH is a grand slam home run.

The Long Drive Rankings

Front Engine-FWD 

 

Highlights

Styling

Luxury Features

Comfort

Fuel economy

 

Lowlights

60K may seem like a lot but is not in 2016

Bold Like it or not front grille

 

Scale 1 low-10 High

Exterior Styling 8

Interior styling and quality 9

Handling 7

Braking 6

Fuel Economy 10

Audio System 9

Performance 6

Trunk-Cargo Capacity 10

Navigation   8