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2018 Volvo V90 T6 R-Design

2018 Volvo V90 T6 R-Design

You can count the number of luxury sport wagons available in the U.S. market on one hand. Raised crossovers and low-volume plug-in electrics aside, BMW offers one true wagon, Mercedes-Benz antes up with another, and Volvo gives us the choice of two, one of which I recently spent some quality time with.

I purposely slid the word “quality” into my previous sentence to highlight the incredible lengths the Swedish brand has gone to up its game when it comes to fit, finish, premium materials, attention to detail, technology leadership, powertrain advancements, and just generally providing an awe inspiring sense of occasion that at the very least measures up to its German contemporaries, and often surpasses them.

My tester this time around was the 2018 V90 in T6 R-Design trim, which in Volvo-speak means that I had the sportiest of its various trim levels. This said I won’t go into too much detail regarding trims and features for this review, because there’s a twist to V90 ownership in the U.S. market, it’s a special order car that’s not even shown on the brand’s website.

Other markets offer a base Momentum trim line, this R-Design model, and top-tier Inscription trim, but the latter two can both be considered top of the line as they’re both priced within a couple of thousand and include most of the same convenience and luxury features. It really comes down to priorities. Personally, I’m more attracted to this sportier R-Design model, but I must admit to really liking the design of this practical five-door sport wagon no matter the trim.

2018 Volvo V90 T6 R-Design

A review of standard features with my tester shows auto on/off “Thor’s Hammer” LED headlights with active cornering and high-pressure cleaners, fog lamps, proximity access, pushbutton start, an electromechanical parking brake, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a leather shift knob, rain-sensing wipers, a powered panoramic sunroof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Road Sign Information (RSI), adaptive cruise control with Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving capability, a large tablet-style touchscreen filled with one of the best infotainment interfaces in the industry, rear parking sensors, accurate navigation with detailed mapping, satellite radio, Volvo On-Call featuring remote start and vehicle tracking, active noise control, heatable power-adjustable front seats including four-way lumbar and driver’s memory, power-folding rear seat headrests that flip down to make seeing rearward easier when no passengers are in back, power release folding rear seatbacks, a hands-free powered liftgate, and more, while that doesn’t include the features specific to R-Design trim.

Ready for the next list? The R-Design enhances styling with unique diamond-cut 19-inch alloys framing an upgraded sport suspension, a special blackened grille and trim, matte silver side mirror caps, and silk metal side window trim, while inside it gets an even nicer perforated leather sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, metal foot pedals, a full 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster that’s beautifully detailed and filled with functions, four-zone auto climate control that includes a panel with controls in back, a subwoofer for the stereo, richer Nubuck leather upholstery, ultra-comfortable contoured sport seats with added side bolstering and a driver’s cushion extension that nicely cups under the knees for added support, unique Metal Mesh décor inlays, a black headliner, rear side sunshades, and plenty of R-Design branding.

I won’t go into too much detail regarding Inscription trim, but as noted before its feature set is much the same as with the R-Design other than the latter model’s sportier theme getting replaced by a unique chromed waterfall grille and ritzier chrome elements on the outside, whereas the interior is pure class due to beautiful Linear Walnut trim and stunning perforated Fine Nappa leather.

2018 Volvo V90 T6 R-Design

Volvo never shortchanges its loyal clientele on standard safety features either, so along with Volvo’s usual tire pressure monitoring, hill start assist, electronic brake force distribution, emergency brake assist, ABS, usual collection of airbags including one for the driver’s knees, etcetera, the V90 comes equipped with autonomous front collision mitigation with pedestrian detection as well as a lane keeping aid, and the systems weren’t overly sensitive so they gave off no false alarms, yet came into action each time they were needed.

Autonomous in mind, aforementioned Pilot Assist won’t completely take over the steering wheel, but as a precursor to full autonomous driving it works together with the adaptive cruise control to provide short-duration self-driving in the city and on the highway, so long as road markings are clearly visible. It works quite well too, but for the time being such systems are in their development stage and therefore are more novelties than anything particularly useful. I did find it helpful during bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic, however, where it when about its business quite effectively, allowing me to relax a bit more than I would normally.

No matter the trim specified, everything comes together within a cabin that’s not only beautifully finished as noted earlier, but also supremely comfortable and ergonomically ideal. Finding the perfect driving position is easy, and that’s a big bonus for me as my shorter torso and longer legs don’t always fit within Volvo’s competitors. The V90 offers ample telescopic steering wheel reach and plenty of rake, while the seat adjustments provide more than enough flexibility for most any body type to find a good position.

2018 Volvo V90 T6 R-Design

The outboard rear seats are comfortable too, and especially supportive at the lower back while wonderfully sculpted with thick side bolsters similar to those up front, plus the flip-down armrest is wide and filled with pop-out cupholders as well as a handy lidded storage compartment. The large panoramic sunroof overhead offers an open and airy environment, while Volvo also provides real air via an excellent rear ventilation system that includes outlets on the backside of the front center console plus additional vents on the B-pillars. Lastly, the three-way heatable outboard cushions noted earlier add rear passenger comfort on cold winter mornings.

Those rear seat heaters will be appreciated when traveling home from a day on the slopes too, and thanks to ultra-useful 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks they can be put to use while everyone’s skis are placed down the middle. Volvo also finishes the V90’s cargo area off beautifully, with a stylish metal cargo door protection plate that sits above another similar metal guard atop the bumper, two of the nicest chromed tie-down hooks available from any luxury manufacturer, high quality yet durable carpeting most everywhere, and lastly a reversible cargo mat. What’s more, V90’s cargo cover is a technological marvel all on its own, automatically moving up and out of the way when the powered liftgate is opened, while below the strut-mounted load floor is a shallow but useful carpeted tray that sits above the compact spare tire and tools.

If you’re getting the idea that Volvo goes above and beyond to provide a new level of luxury to its fortunate followers, I’m glad. That’s what I’m trying to convey, and it gets even better when factoring in the driving experience. It starts with the most advanced 2.0-liter engine available today, the Swedish brand’s direct-injected four-cylinder benefiting from turbocharging as well as supercharging in order to make a stellar 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. That’s real V6 power from a fuel-efficient four, the EPA numbers coming in at 22 mpg city, 31 highway and 25 combined, which is excellent considering the performance available, while the base FWD model gets an even more efficient 24 city, 34 highway and 27 combined rating.

2018 Volvo V90 T6 R-Design

Aiding the powertrain is an efficient eight-speed automatic with auto start-stop that shuts the engine off when it would otherwise be idling, reducing fuel consumption and emissions, but to just comment on this highly responsive transmission’s wallet and environmentally friendly attributes wouldn’t be doing it full justice, as, together with the aforementioned paddle shifters, it provides engaging hands-on performance that really ups the entire driving experience.

Improving handling and stability in both dry and slippery conditions is available all-wheel drive, but my favorite V90 attribute is its incredible ride quality. Together with the previously noted seats, the V90’s cushioning ride is best in class, and that’s even after factoring in my tester’s optional 20-inch eight-spoke silver diamond-cut alloys on 255/35 Pirelli P Zero performance rubber.

My test car didn’t include the available Four-C Active Chassis and rear air suspension however, which would have made it even smoother, while upping performance by automatically maintaining a constant ride height. The Four-C system utilizes the standard Drive Mode settings, which include Comfort mode, Eco mode, and Dynamic sport mode, but specifically enhances the suspension calibration of each, while the standard Drive Mode system enhances powertrain and steering characteristics, plus climate control in Eco mode.

While we’re on the subject of options, my tester also included deep, rich Onyx Black metallic paint on the outside and sensational carbon fiber inlays inside, plus auto-dimming power-retractable side mirrors, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, one of the best 360-degree surround parking cameras in the biz, front and rear parking sensors, Park Assist Pilot semi-autonomous self-parking, a tailored leather dash top and door uppers, heated wiper blades, a heatable steering wheel, those heatable rear outboard seats noted earlier, an outrageously good Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system with a 12-channel amplifier, 1400 watts of output and 19 separate speakers including a tweeter on top of the center speaker that minimizes acoustic reflection from the windshield, and lastly graphical head-up display that projects speed, speed limit info, navigation directions and more onto the windshield ahead of the driver.

2018 Volvo V90 T6 R-Design

There were a few other options available, like rear entertainment, dual two-stage child booster seats integrated within the rear outboard seats, and the aforementioned suspension upgrade, but for the most part this is a fully loaded mid-size Volvo sport wagon.

Getting back to the competition, the V90 truly only really competes with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon being that both are mid-size E-segment vehicles, whereas the others are based on compact D-segment models. So if you happen to appreciate the practicality of a larger five-door body style yet want the low-slung performance of a luxury sport sedan, the V90 is an excellent choice. You’ll just need to jump through a few hoops to get one. Yet when you do you’ll have something truly unique, and truly special. Pricing for the T6 AWD starts at $56,295.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press

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2018 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD

2018 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD

Needing a roomy back seat and the convenience of large cargo compartment accessed by a handy rear liftback? Not willing to put up with a boring, run-of-the-mill mid-size crossover SUV? Nissan has the answer.

The Murano has long offered a lot more style than its class average, which works perfectly considering how well it balances premium levels of execution with mainstream branded value. While positioned below the Pathfinder when it comes to family hauling and cargo loading capability, the five-seat Murano delivers at a higher level when factoring in styling, refinement and performance.

In fact, the Murano bests plenty of its mid-size rivals when it comes to wow factor, both by its eye-catching design from the outside in, and by its impressive interior materials quality that makes it look and feel more like a luxury branded crossover SUV than it truly has a right to.

2018 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD

Every time I slide inside a Murano I’m reminded how car companies should do interiors. Truly, this Platinum trimmed version is finished better than some luxury brands’ offerings. Small but much appreciated details include fabric-wrapped and padded A-pillars, padded soft-touch leatherette door uppers front to back, the same rich leather-like synthetic across the front portion of those door panels and the armrests, which are French-stitched as well. The instrument cluster hood and section ahead of the front passenger is finished similarly, which perfectly matches the stitched and padded steering wheel rim, plus the side edges of the lower console.

Of course the entire dash-top is soft to the touch too, while Nissan applies some wonderfully artistic mother of pearl-style inlays to the instrument panel and door panels, not to mention the lower console surfacing and center armrest decoration. Granted, this won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I’m guessing those who like it love it. Of note to most male readers, Nissan offers a new Murano Midnight Edition that might suit your sporting performance aspirations more thanks to a cool black grille, black side mirror caps, dark alloy wheels, roof rails, and a more down to business interior, while there are also more conservative interior motifs in between. Either way, this detail, along with all of the chrome, satin-silver and piano black lacquer accents, provides a true sense of occasion that sets this mid-size crossover SUV apart from the masses, while making all of its occupants feel special.

2018 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD

As noted, my tester was in top-line Platinum trim, which is priced at $42,230, so there were more attributes making its occupants feel pampered than just the style and quality of finishings. Standard Murano Platinum features include unique 20-inch machine-finished alloy wheels, LED headlamps, a powered tilt and telescopic steering column, memory settings for the latter as well as the eight-way powered driver’s seat and side mirrors, ventilated front seats, a powered panoramic sunroof, power return rear seatbacks, and more.

Other features you can see in the photos get pulled up from lesser $30,800 base S, $34,100 SV and $38,500 SL trims, such as my tester’s heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather-wrapped shift knob, perforated leather upholstery, heated front and rear outboard seats, adjustable ambient lighting, auto-dimming rearview mirror, universal garage door opener, remote start with Intelligent Climate Control, dual-zone automatic HVAC, electroluminescent gauge cluster, large 7.0-inch full-color TFT multi-information display, 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, upgraded Around View parking monitor, navigation, great sounding 11-speaker Bose audio system, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton start, motion activated powered liftgate, adaptive cruise control, predictive forward collision warning, forward emergency braking, blindspot warning, rear cross traffic alert with moving object detection, automatic on/off headlights, fog lamps, and much more.

2018 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD

Nissan’s Intelligent all-wheel drive is a $1,600 option across the entire line, and it’s an excellent system that not only improves traction in slippery situations, but also provides handling advantages in the dry, and thanks to its standard 3.5-liter V6 with 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque the Murano really benefits from the extra stability AWD provides while traveling at high speeds.

Key to Murano performance is a nicely sorted fully independent suspension, the crossover SUV’s capability around curves a strongpoint since this model first came on the scene back in 2002. Likewise, that model was one of the first SUVs I can remember with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and while Nissan has steadily improved its Xtronic gearbox over the past decade and a half it’s always been a cut above the rest. In fact, thanks to an immediate punch off the line and smoothly stepped gear ratios I think you’ll be hard pressed to notice it’s a CVT at all, yet it still benefits from better fuel economy than a regular automatic transmission, the Murano rated at 21 mpg city, 28 highway and 24 combined in both FWD and AWD.

2018 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD

I’ve got to say Murano ride quality is particularly impressive, made even better thanks to the incredibly comfortable NASA-inspired “zero gravity” seats. The Murano is spacious too, especially from side-to-side, making those seats ideal for larger folk. The only complaint I can think of is two-way lumbar adjustment instead of four, but such is the same for some similarly sized premium-branded SUVs, so we can overlook this faux pas.

The rear seats are sizable too. With the driver’s seat positioned for my five-foot-eight frame I had about 10 inches remaining ahead of my knees when seated in back, and almost enough space on the floor to stretch out my legs. My feet went underneath the front seat nicely too, even when wearing winter boots, while I also had about four inches above my head and about five next to my shoulder and hip. Additionally, a tug on a mesh loop lets you recline the rear seatbacks for greater comfort, while Nissan provides a decent sized folding center armrest as well, complete with two integrated cupholders. If you need to transport three abreast it won’t be a problem either, just flip that armrest up and your rear passengers can enjoy this SUV’s generous width.

2018 Nissan Murano Platinum AWD

The cargo compartment is roomy for the class too, and nicely finished with carpeting on the floor, seatbacks and sidewalls, its attention to detail once again unusually impressive for the mainstream sector. What’s more, levers on each cargo wall automatically fold the rear seatbacks flat when pulled, while a button powers them back up again. I like this system better than fully powered seats, because they hardly take any time at all to fold flat.

Features like these make the Murano easy to live with, while its updated electronics and beautifully designed and finished interior keep it modern and inviting. The driving experience continues to be a high point, ideally combining comfort and control into a highly substantive SUV that rises above most of its peers, the Murano coming across as extremely well made and solid feeling. I can easily recommend the Murano to anyone in the mid-size five-person SUV market.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press

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2019 Audi e-tron E55 Quattro

2019 Audi e-tron E55 Quattro

Electrifying!

Consider the history of Audi here in the United States. The four-ringed brand from Ingolstadt, Germany toiled in the shadows during its nascent years in the U.S. with solid but relatively unknown models like the Audi 100 LS, Fox, and 5000. It was the 5000, totally redesigned in its third generation as an aerodynamic sedan that really began a sales trend for Audi. The 5000 was large, safe and technologically advanced. After all, the motto for the company for quite some time has been Vorsprung durch Technik (Progress through Technology), and the 5000 was technologically ahead of its time.

And then a bad thing happened.

The long running CBS program 60 Minutes aired a report that Audi 5000 cars were accelerating on their own, and started an “Unintended Acceleration” scare that almost sank the company. Audi was ultimately cleared during this unfortunate hysteria, but the damage had been done, sales tanked, and Audi’s ship slowly began to sink.

Thankfully, the bright minds at Audi retooled the brand and came out with the A4, A6, luxury A8 and performance S Car variants, and the sales numbers started to climb again.

For over 40 years, Audi has also enjoyed special success on many race circuits around the world, with the legendary quattro all-wheel drive system proving its mettle in Rally Racing, Hill Climb events like Pikes Peak, and endurance events like the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

At Le Mans, Audi regularly enjoyed trips to victory lane with the gasoline powered R8, V8 twin turbo and R10 turbodiesel twelve cylinder supercars. The R10 produced 590 hp and 774 lb-ft of torque and was legendary; winning every race at Le Mans it was entered in. And then along came Peugeot, winning in 2009 with their 908 HDi twelve cylinder turbo-diesel endurance racers that had more power and torque than Audi’s offerings 730hp/890 lb-ft torque). But Audi would have no part of this short lived dominance by Peugeot, responding with the V10 powered R15, and the winning ways continued, placing first, second and third in 2010 in the vaunted LMP1 group. I was there that year as a guest of Audi, and it was a special experience for me personally and for the company worldwide. Audi’s endurance race efforts eventually used V6 “e-tron” hybrid power, and the renamed R18 continued to dominate in endurance racing. Smartly, Audi’s technology on the racetrack was used to develop stout powerplants, particularly diesels, and other hi-tech for consumer Audis.

Audi’s success with the diesels spread like wildfire, with domestic sales of turbodiesel cars booming with Audi’s parent Volkswagen Group. Yes, VW, Audi and Porsche all shared in the success of the extremely fun to drive and super efficient TDI powerplants.

2019 Audi e-tron E55 Quattro

And then the bottom fell out for Audi again, and for the VW Group as a whole, as the Group was accused of and admitted to goosing software to make their TDI cars and SUVs appear to be cleaner in Environmental Protection Agency Clean Air Act testing. After paying record fines and buying back many beloved TDI vehicles from owners, like the Audi Q7 TDI, the VW Group abandoned the diesel business here in the U.S. Before the scandal, diesels represented 25 percent of all VW sales, and a significant percentage of Audi sales.

Whether the Group eventually returns to TDI power in the future remains to be seen, but one thing is sure, Audi won’t be part of the equation. Why? Because the marque has chosen to stake its future on an entirely electrified lineup of cars and SUVs. By 2025, every Audi will have some form of electrification.

Ambitious? Certainly. But other luxury manufacturers like Volvo have made similar proclamations.

At its shareholders meeting earlier this year, Audi’s future strategy was laid out, as the brand plans to sell 800,000 electrified cars in 2025 between 20 different electric models. Audi says that most will be fully electric, with the remainder being plug-in hybrids.

According to an official statement by Rupert Stadler, Chairman of the Board of Management for Audi AG, “Our ambition has always been and will continue to be Vorsprung durch Technik. Our goal is to revolutionize mobility. Also in electric mobility, we want to become the Number 1 among the premium manufacturers – with full suitability for everyday use, no compromises, top quality and driving pleasure for the customer. With our technological excellence, we are utilizing our Vorsprung and lifting electric mobility to the next level.”

Smart? I certainly think so, as Audi can carve out a large chunk of the luxury electric car business, and produce cars and SUVs in a way that electric car innovator Tesla simply can’t.

Recently, more than 2,500 Audi dealers and customers and a throng of auto writers from traditional and social media platforms joined Audi in San Francisco for the spectacular e-tron World Debut.

2019 Audi e-tron E55 Quattro

With the glamor and glitz of a Hollywood production, e-tron rolled into a packed warehouse on San Francisco Bay and “charged” the audience with the same type of hype and emotion of Mayweather/McGregor at the MGM in Vegas. One could say the match was Electric v. Gasoline, and it was quite a show. When the epic event was over and we got a chance to see e-tron up close, Audi’s motto rose from whatever ashes the diesel debacle left behind, as Vorsprung durch Technik is reborn with e-tron.

So what is e-tron? It’s a sport-ute styled like the Q5 and Q7 that features three trim levels, with the base Premium Plus starting at $74,800, Prestige at $81,800, and the limited (999 units) “Edition One” starting at $86,700. Premium Plus includes a 9.6kW AC home charger, Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system, Audi “phone box” wireless charger and signal booster, heated and ventilated leather seats, panoramic sunroof and integrated toll module.

Prestige includes all Premium Plus gear plus a head-up display, driver assistance package, adaptive cruise control, active lane assist, intersection assistant, Audi pre sense 360, traffic sign recognition, power soft close doors, rear window sunshades, dual pane acoustic windows, contour seats with massage, Valcona leather and an air quality package with an ionizer.

While all trim levels are well contented, Edition One differentiates itself from other trims mostly through unique body and interior trim, and special paint and wheels.

One super high tech feature Audi hopes will be standard equipment on the e-tron 55 quattro is side cameras to replace traditional sideview mirrors. At a display I visited prior to the world debut called Audi Tech Park, all of e-tron’s super cool hardware was on exhibit, including the impressive high-definition sideview cameras. Audi is awaiting U.S. Government safety approval of this exciting new feature.

The e-tron 55 quattro will join the A3 Sportback e-tron hybrid (on sale now) in Audi’s whirlwind march toward the model total expected in 2025.

The e-tron 55 features seating for five adults, quattro electric all-wheel drive (one motor at each wheel), air suspension, and a towing capacity of 4,000 pounds.

2019 Audi e-tron E55 Quattro

The two electric motors accelerate the e-tron from 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds and reach a top speed of 124 mph.

The Audi e-tron uses an innovative recuperation system encompassing both electric motors, to boost efficiency. With its estimated range of more than 250 miles, expect as much as 30 percent of the e-tron’s range to come from recovered energy, depending on the conditions, terrain and driving style. The e-tron can recover energy in two ways: by means of coasting recuperation when the driver releases the accelerator, or by means of braking recuperation by depressing the brake pedal.

The battery system in the Audi e-tron is located beneath the cabin and comprises a total of 36 cell modules in square aluminum housings, each of which is roughly the size of a shoebox.

A cooling system of flat aluminum extruded sections divided uniformly into small chambers has the task of maintaining the battery’s high-performance operation over the long term. Heat is exchanged between the cells and the cooling system beneath them via a thermally conductive gel pressed beneath each cell module. A special cooling lance provides additional heat reduction to power motors.
A strong surround frame and lattice-type aluminum structure that holds the cell modules is designed to protect the battery block. A substantial aluminum plate provides protection against damage from flying stones or curbs. These measures demonstrate how Audi’s engineers have developed the battery and cooling systems with safety in mind.

For customers’ residential charging needs, a standard 9.6 kW AC capsule charger (Level 2, 240-volt/40 amps) is provided and designed to deliver a full charge overnight.

Audi e-tron buyers will also have the opportunity to experience the first-ever home charging collaboration between online retail giant Amazon and an automaker. “Audi Home Charging powered by Amazon Home Services” will offer e-tron buyers a fully-digital experience for in-home electric vehicle charging installations, designed to make the process of home charging set up as easy as ordering home charging with installation from Amazon.

E-tron buyers can also define their own personal priorities, such as charging when electricity is less expensive where available. With the myAudi app, owners can plan, control, and monitor e-tron charging and pre-heating/cooling. Owners can set a departure time, for example, so that the Audi e-tron is charged and/or heated/cooled at the desired time. They can even choose to heat or cool certain zones in the car. On cold winter days, for example, owners can turn on optional seat heating. The app also displays charging and driving data.

2019 Audi e-tron E55 Quattro

For charging on the go, the e-tron will be supported by a nationwide charging network, “Powered by Electrify America.” By July 2019, this network will include nearly 500 fast-charging sites complete or under development throughout 40 states and 17 metro areas. Offering advanced charging, Electrify America’s chargers are capable of delivering up to 350kW. With the purchase of the e-tron, customers will receive 1,000 kWh of charging at Electrify America sites over four years of ownership.

Take years of German engineering and production know how, and Audi’s capacity to produce e-tron on a large scale looks better than Tesla’s struggling efforts to meet consumer demand long before the first e-tron hits U.S. streets in Q2 of 2019.

Additionally, Audi left internal combustion engine powered endurance racing, and now competes and wins in the all-electric “Formula E” racing series with the e-tron FE04. Successes with technology in Formula E will certainly trickle down to Audi consumer electric vehicles, in the same way Le Mans successes helped spur their once strong diesel sales.

The 2019 Audi e-tron 55 quattro seems to have covered all of the bases that make it a safe, well equipped option for luxury electric car buyers. Watch out Tesla. The competition now is real.

2019 Audi e-tron E55 Quattro

Ready to get yours? Visit audiusa.com, configure your e-tron, and place a $1,000 fully refundable deposit.

And while you’re waiting for your car to arrive, check out these great e-tron e55 quattro videos provided by Audi:

Electrified: the world premiere of the Audi e-tron (3:13):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8ScvRoWSug

May we present: the all-new Audi e-tron (4:00):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJaHCNlDRcs

A new era of electric mobility: the first fully electric Audi e-tron (2:10):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxv5I6CKcwk

Audi e-tron: Electric has gone quattro (0:15):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Q6diRBNuMs

*Story credits: Brian Armstead, American Auto Press Photo credits: Audi and Brian Armstead Copyright: American Auto Press *

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Have you considered Apple Car Play?

Have you considered Apple Car Play?

Image: Apple

Maybe you have heard of CarPlay but never had the change to experience it? Perhaps you are shopping for a new vehicle and want to know if it has CarPlay? In either case, you have come to the right place.

Let’s look at the benefits of having or adding Apple CarPlay to your in-car experience.

Reduce distractions
You probably have your phone in a cup holder, phone mount, or pocket while driving. As you know it is easy to become distracted by notifications or trying to change the song.
With CarPlay, alerts are kept to a minimum, leaving your attention on the road. If you do get a call or text, CarPlay will allow you to respond without ever taking your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road.

The display is built for driving
A factory installed CarPlay stereo or aftermarket radio is likely much larger than your phone screen. CarPlay takes over your factory screen and gives you easy access to the apps used most while driving and allows you to do almost anything needed with Siri.

Siri
When Apple CarPlay is enabled, your only need to say, “Hey Siri,” to get anything you want.
Here is an example:
“Hey Siri, text Brian, I am running late but will be home in 15 minutes.”
Siri responds, “OK, Ill send a text to Brian that says, I am running late but will be home in 15 minutes. OK to send?
If you respond yes, the text will be sent.

Built-in Navigation
While your car may have navigation, with CarPlay, you have access to Google Maps, Waze and Apple maps for free with real-time traffic updates! This means no more subscription fees or map updates needed.

Other Features:
Live Sports Scores
Weather
Streaming Music (Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify and more…)

Here is a quick video that shows the latest updates to CarPlay:

Here are a few of the vehicles that have CarPlay as standard or optional.

View the full list from Apple here.

Acura
2017 - 2018 NSX
2018 MDX
2018 TLX
2019 RDX
Audi
2017 - 2018 A3
2017 - 2018 A4
2017 - 2018 A5
2017 - 2018 A6
2017 - 2018 A7
2017 - 2018 Q2
2017 - 2018 Q7
2017 - 2018 R8
2017 - 2018 TT
2018 Q5
2019 Q8
BMW
2017 - 2018 2 Series
2017 - 2018 3 Series
2017 - 2018 4 Series
2017 - 2018 5 Series
2017 - 2018 6 Series
2017 - 2018 7 Series
2017 - 2018 X3
2017 - 2018 X4
2017 - 2018 X5
2017 - 2018 X6
2018 X1
2018 X2
2018 i3
Buick
2016 - 2017 Excelle
2016 - 2018 LaCrosse
2016 - 2018 Regal
2017 - 2018 Encore
2017 - 2018 Envision
2018 Excelle GT
2018 Excelle GT-MPV
2018 GL6
Chevrolet
2016 - 2017 Cavalier
2016 - 2018 Camaro
2016 - 2018 Camaro Convertible
2016 - 2018 Colorado
2016 - 2018 Corvette
2016 - 2018 Corvette Convertible
2016 - 2018 Cruze
2016 - 2018 Impala
2016 - 2018 Malibu
2016 - 2018 Sail LOVA
2016 - 2018 Silverado
2016 - 2018 Silverado HD
2016 - 2018 Spark
2016 - 2018 Suburban
2016 - 2018 Tahoe
2016 - 2018 Volt
2017 - 2018 Aveo
2017 - 2018 Bolt EV
2017 - 2018 Prisma
2017 - 2018 S10
2017 - 2018 Sonic
2017 - 2018 Trax
2018 Equinox
2018 Traverse
2019 Blazer
Chrysler
2017 - 2018 300
2018 Pacifica
Dodge
2017 - 2018 Challenger
2017 - 2018 Charger
2018 Durango
Ford
2017 - 2018 C-MAX
2017 - 2018 Edge
2017 - 2018 Escape
2017 - 2018 Expedition
2017 - 2018 Explorer
2017 - 2018 F-150
2017 - 2018 Fiesta
2017 - 2018 Flex
2017 - 2018 Focus
2017 - 2018 Fusion
2017 - 2018 Taurus
2017 - 2018 Transit
2017 - 2018 Transit Connect
2017 - 2018 Mustang
2017 - 2018 Super Duty
2018 EcoSport
GMC
2016 - 2018 Canyon
2016 - 2018 Sierra
2016 - 2018 Yukon
2016 - 2018 Yukon XL
2017 - 2018 Acadia
Honda
2016 - 2018 Accord
2016 - 2018 Civic
2017 - 2018 Ridgeline
2017 - 2018 CR-V
2017 - 2018 Pilot
2018 Odyssey
2018 Fit
2019 Insight
Hyundai
2016 - 2018 i10
2016 - 2018 i30
2016 - 2018 i40
2015 - 2016 Genesis Sedan
2015 - 2018 Azera
2015 - 2018 Sonata
2016 - 2018 Elantra GT
2016 - 2018 Tucson
2016 - 2018 Veloster
2017 - 2018 Elantra
2017 - 2018 Ioniq
2017 - 2018 Kona
2017 - 2018 Santa Fe
2017 - 2018 Santa Fe Sport
Jeep
2017 - 2018 Compass
2018 Grand Cherokee
2018 Renegade
2018 Wrangler
KIA
2014 - 2018 Soul
2015 - 2018 Optima
2015 - 2018 Optima Hybrid
2015 - 2018 Sedona
2015 - 2018 Soul EV
2017 - 2018 Sorento
2017 - 2018 Sportage
2017 - 2018 Cadenza
2017 - 2018 Forte
2017 - 2018 Forte Koup
2017 - 2018 Forte5
2017 - 2018 Niro
2017 - 2018 Optima Plug-In Hybrid
2018 Stinger
2019 K900
Mercedes
2016 - 2018 A-Class
2016 - 2018 B-Class
2016 - 2018 CLA-Class
2016 - 2018 CLS-Class
2016 - 2018 E-Class Cabriolet
2016 - 2018 E-Class Coupe
2016 - 2018 GLA-Class
2016 - 2018 GLE-Class
2017 - 2018 E-Class
2017 - 2018 GLS-Class
2017 - 2018 SL-Class
Mitsubishi
2017 i-MiEV
2016 - 2018 Pajero
2016 - 2018 Pajero Sport
2016 - 2018 Mirage
2016 - 2018 Mirage G4
2017 - 2018 Outlander
2017 - 2018 Outlander PHEV
2017 - 2018 ASX
2017 - 2018 Triton
2017 - 2018 Delica D:2
2017 - 2018 Delica D:2 Custom
2018 Eclipse Cross
Nissan
2017 - 2018 Maxima
2017 - 2018 Micra
2017.5 - 2018 Murano
2018 GT-R
2018 Kicks
2018 Leaf
2018 Rogue
2019 Altima
RAM
2018 Ram 1500
2018 Ram 2500
2018 Ram 3500
2018 Ram 4500
Subaru
2017 - 2018 Impreza
2018 Outback
2018 Crosstrek
2019 Ascent
2019 Forester
2019 WRX
Toyota
2019 Avalon
2019 Corolla Hatchback
2019 RAV4
2019 RAV4
VW
2016 Spacefox
2016 - 2018 Amarok
2016 - 2018 Beetle
2016 - 2018 Beetle Cabriolet
2016 - 2018 Caddy
2016 - 2018 California
2016 - 2018 Caravelle
2016 - 2018 CC
2016 - 2018 e-Golf
2016 - 2018 Fox
2016 - 2018 Golf
2016 - 2018 Golf Cabriolet
2016 - 2018 Golf SportsVan
2016 - 2018 Golf Variant
2016 - 2018 Golf R
2016 - 2018 Golf SportWagen
2016 - 2018 GTI
2016 - 2018 Jetta
2016 - 2018 Lamando
2016 - 2018 Multivan
2016 - 2018 Passat
2016 - 2018 Passat Variant
2016 - 2018 Polo
2016 - 2018 Scirocco
2016 - 2018 Sharan
2016 - 2018 Tiguan
2016 - 2018 Touran
2016 - 2018 Transporter
2017 - 2018 Atlas
2017 - 2018 Crafter
2017 - 2018 CrossFox
2017 - 2018 Gol
2017 - 2018 Saveiro
2017 - 2018 Voyage
2018 Arteon
2018 Bora
2018 Magotan
2018 Sagitar
2018 T-Roc
Volvo
2016 - 2018 XC90
2017 - 2018 S90
2017 - 2018 V90
2018 XC60
2019 V60
2019 XC40

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BMW Says Goodbye to the 3-Series Manual Transmission

BMW Says Goodbye to the 3-Series Manual Transmission

BMW announced this week that it will no longer offer a manual transmission with its gas engine in the new 3 Series, instead the sole option will be an eight-speed automatic transmission.

A new generation 3 Series called the G20 platform debuted at the Paris Motor Show this week with a surprising announcement; the ultimate driving machine will be lacking a manual transmission on most models. The 318d and 320d, both of which have a 2.0-liter diesel powerplant, will be the only models to receive the three-pedal treatment. However, customers opting for an all-wheel-drive diesel will also forego the manual. The 320i, 330i, 330d, and M340i will all come standard with BMW's eight-speed "sport automatic" transmission.

"The six-speed manual gearbox fitted as standard in the BMW 318d and BMW 320d models has optimized acoustic characteristics and is also easier to use," said BMW in a statement. "All other model variants of the new BMW 3 Series Sedan are equipped with the eight-speed Steptronic transmission as standard."

A BMW spokesperson told CNET that this decision is global in scale, leading us to believe other markets will be limited to the automatic transmission as well.

If you want a manual transmission BMW 3 Series before they are gone, click here to shop now.

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2018 Mazda6

2018 Mazda6

As journalists we get to drive quite a range of vehicles. It is less common be able to drive two variations of a particular model, in this case the 2018 Mazda6, over a couple of weeks. Who could resist, especially when the venue was in the beautiful Canadian province of Nova Scotia? Some twisty country roads, superb seafood, cool Atlantic water, and even an occasional dose of Maritime fog, plus enough time to get a really good feel for the cars.

I flew non-stop through the night and arrived in Halifax before 7:00 am. There, fellow writer Lisa Calvi met me with the first test car, a Mazda6 Touring, one step above the base Sport model. That entry-level version, which retails for $23,000, is already very well equipped, including such goodies as self-leveling LED headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels, pushbutton start, an electromechanical parking brake, an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, a rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, and blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.

2018 Mazda6

The Touring adds leather upholstery, a power driver’s seat, a nice sunroof that is reasonably quiet when open, more electronic driver aids, and a couple of additional features, such as heated front seats and a front wiper de-icer, that seem custom made for wintry Midwest conditions.

I loaded my luggage in the Touring and had a quick look around. Mazda refers to their styling as Kodo design language. The easiest way to understand that is to think of an animal ready to pounce. I like the uncluttered and purposeful appearance, especially in Machine Grey Metallic, a $300 option. The as-tested price came to $26,895.

2018 Mazda6

Lisa drove us to town, which allowed me to relax in the passenger seat. The revised interior is nicely finished, punching above its weight in terms of upmarket ambience. The seats do feel as though they were made for wider backsides than mine, but there is adequate support. The information system looks like an add-on, however it works reasonably well once you’ve read the instructions. I must admit that as a racing driver and advanced driving coach, sound systems and such are at the low end of my priorities, so I’m likely not a fair judge.

A day after my arrival, a group of us headed to a seaside resort two hours drive from Halifax. My cousin, Croatia-based photographer Rino Gropuzzo, was with me on the trip. Rino and I are obsessed with finding the perfect seafood chowder, which tends to lengthen our journeys. The restaurant search led us to a twisty, weatherworn two-lane. We weren’t going particularly fast, but enough to let a true driver’s car shine, and this is where Mazda is a solid step ahead of the competition.

2018 Mazda6

When I first worked with the Skip Barber Racing School, we were using M3 BMWs for all our teaching modules, as well as for track days. The cars earned their Ultimate Driving Machine moniker, because at that time BMW driving dynamics were best in class. These days Mazda is as much a clear leader in its sector as BMW was back then. In evaluating dynamics you have to think beyond numbers and specifications, because almost any vehicle in this class will have decent performance. What makes a driver’s car is the combination of ride control, stability, steering feel, and precise response to operator inputs.

On the road, the Touring, with its 2.5-liter, 187 horsepower engine, is reasonably quick. A manual gearbox is an option, but unfortunately only available in base Sport trim. I’ve observed that most people who have to shift for themselves are better, more attentive drivers. A quick read of the Mazda owner’s manual reminded me that it is possible to set the automatic so the paddle shifters become useful, holding gears until the driver chooses to shift. Mazda’s base engine has a new parlor trick, cylinder deactivation on a four-cylinder engine. At lower loads, two cylinders work, the others hang around until needed. The switch cannot be felt, except in the pocketbook. On a 95-mile run, which included some two-lane road overtaking, I got 43 mpg. That number was courtesy of a very efficient powertrain as well as my sneaky right foot, and better than the official highway rating of 35.

2018 Mazda6

My second test car was the Mazda6 Signature, decked out with 19-inch wheels and Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint. All kinds of extra trim, electronic driver aids and so on, but the biggest difference was the turbocharged engine, which puts out 227 horsepower on regular fuel and 250 on premium. More to the point, peak torque, or pulling power, jumps to 310 pounds/feet at 2,000 rpm from the base engine’s 186 at 4,000 rpm. With the turbo engine’s torque coming in so low in the rev range, there is no need to work the engine hard, even when overtaking. All this luxury and performance came in at $35,945 as tested. As with the other test car, the only option was the paint, Soul Red, as a $595 upgrade. All the dynamic goodness of the Touring was there as well, which made for quite a quick sports sedan. Once again I used less fuel than the official 23 city, 31 highway rating. My combined score for city and highway, once I discounted the full throttle 40-60 tests that I do by way of assessing overtaking ability, was 28 mpg.

On the last day of the tests, I switched back to the Touring. Even after being spoiled by the extra horsepower of the turbo, in daily driving the base engine did fine. Mid-size sedans have become a very competitive class, with Honda’s Accord and the Kia Optima/Hyundai Sonata pair on my shortlist. The latter offer excellent quality and good value. For those who are looking for that choice, the Accord has an available manual gearbox. The latest Camry is a much better vehicle, in all respects, than its predecessors. The Mazda wins in style, poise, and driving manners. Despite the turbo’s seductive thrust, I’d go for the base engine. Between purchase price and money saved on fuel I’d have enough left over to continue the search for that perfect seafood chowder.

2018 Mazda6

*Story credits: Alan Sidorov, American Auto Press Photo credits: Alan Sidorov and Mazda Copyright: American Auto Press *

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2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD

2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD

So here it is, the first application of Acura’s new Diamond Pentagon grille on a vehicle that was designed to incorporate it from the ground up.

Together with a more fluidly shaped set of Jewel-Eye LED headlamps to each side and a more progressive front fascia down below, not to mention plenty of chrome thanks to the addition of the top-line Advance package, my 2019 RDX tester was one eye-catching luxury SUV.

The sharp creases and shapely folds continue down each side of the redesigned model, providing a wedge-like profile and muscular, sporty stance, while the roofline up top culminates into now popular floating D-pillars above an attractive set of pointed LED taillights. Again, the new RDX design is pleasing from front to back.

Those who found the previous RDX a bit too budget-oriented when compared to some of its peers should welcome the new interior as well, as it’s really hard to fault it on styling or materials quality. The top half of the cabin is primarily composed of high-end, soft-touch synthetics, contrast-stitched padded leathers, and real hardwood inlays on the upper edges of the dash top, flowing into the door panels, and extending across the mid portion of the instrument panel, plus the lower console as part of a scrolling lid that accesses the cupholders and large cell phone bin/USB charger below.

Acura has done a great job with metal accents too, tastefully detailing the steering wheel, column stalks, gauges, vents, center stack, door handles, power seat controls, and overhead console, and then stepping things up another notch by trimming the handle on that aforementioned center bin lid and the ELS Studio 3D speaker grilles with an even nicer grade and finish of aluminum. Impressive.

A large infotainment display with superb definition, clarity and depth of color is now perched atop the dash, providing easy visibility from a quick glance, while other functions can be sourced from a sizable multi-information display within the otherwise analog gauge cluster.

2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD

Also notable, the center stack actually floats above a large open compartment featuring a rubberized base for holding personal devices that can be conveniently plugged into a USB charge point, an auxiliary plug or a 12-volt power outlet.

The sides of that floating center console’s upper portion are finished in padded leatherette with nice contrast stitching that continues all the way back to the center armrest/bin lid cover, and some of that soft-touch material wraps over to the edge of the steering wheel column where the engine ignition button sits, as well as to the right side to the glove box lid. You’ll be hard pressed to find as high a level of luxury finishings among RDX competitors.

Common in this class, however, the lower door panels are made from harder plastic, as is most of the lower dash and lower console. Nevertheless, the RDX is finally in the same league as its compact luxury SUV peers when it comes to interior fit, finish, refinement and features, which means it can now command the higher price point this Advance trim requests.

My top-line tester is available from $47,400. That’s $3,100 into MDX territory, but as noted the RDX is more than ready to do battle with the Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC, BMW X3, et al, and feels like a much more complete package than the Lexus NX and some others in the class, with better switchgear refinement and a more solid, substantive feel all around.

The RDX is a lot sportier than I expected too. Initially factoring in a displacement drop from 3.5 to 2.0 liters and the elimination of two cylinders, from six to four, straight-line performance was a pleasant surprise. In fact, the new RDX feels even quicker off the line than the old model and is now one of the sportier SUVs in its segment. Along with 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, which is a generational bump of 7 horsepower and 28 lb-ft, the engine also makes wonderful noises, its soundtrack just enhancing the experience enough to excite without overwhelming conversations within.

The new 10-speed automatic, a significant two forward speeds more advanced than most premium challengers, allows the engine to rev up to its maximum between shifts, and swapping cogs via the steering wheel paddles happens instantaneously when in Sport or Sport Plus modes. It’s wonderfully smooth too, especially in its Normal default mode, this new engine/gearbox combination delivering one of the best refinement/performance compromises in this class.

2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD

Choosing driving modes is accomplished by rotating a massive knob placed square in the middle of the center stack (more on this in a moment), while Acura has also made its class-exclusive button/rocker switch-actuated gear selector standard across the RDX line. It’s slightly different than the one used for the MDX, for instance, but it didn’t take long for me to acclimatize. My advice to those taking the new RDX out for a test drive is, be patient and give it time. You’ll get used to it and might even like it more than a shift lever after settling in, while you’ve got to admit it’s a pretty futuristic looking human-machine interface.

The RDX has always been a strong performer, but this new model feels lighter up front and more responsive around fast-paced corners than its predecessor, with easy, reactive turn-in and rock-steady grip when snaking through circuitous backroads. Acura’s highly touted torque-vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) replaces standard front-wheel drive for a mere $2,000 across the entire line, and as with the previous model provides excellent all-weather control, while braking is linear and fully up to the task of scrubbing off speed quickly with confidence, all adding up to a new RDX that once again feels more capable than the outgoing one, as well as many of its peers.

With a much smaller displacement, more advanced engine and four additional forward gears it only makes sense that RDX emissions and fuel economy have made gains too, the latter rated at 22 mpg city, 28 highway and 24 combined for all FWD trims other than the sporty new A-Spec that gets an estimated 27 highway, and 21 mpg city, 27 highway and 23 combined for SH-AWD trims other than 26 highway for the four-wheel powered A-Spec model, with these numbers comparing favorably against last year’s claimed fuel economy rating of 20 city, 28 highway and 23 combined with FWD or 19, 27 and 22 respectively with AWD. New idle stop-start, which automatically shuts the engine down when it would otherwise be idling and then immediately reboots it when ready to go, does its part in reaching the improved consumption figures, while making a big difference in reducing emissions.

While its mix of performance and economy certainly gives the RDX an edge over the majority of entry-level luxury rivals, Acura hasn’t forgotten that comfort is king in the luxury SUV class. Therefore, along with all the aforementioned high-end detailing and impressive assortment of premium equipment, the redesigned model is even larger and roomier than the SUV it replaces, which was already quite generous. Specifically, the 2019 RDX is 3.1 inches longer than the old one, with a 2.5-inch increase in wheelbase that makes a significant difference to rear seat roominess, while it’s also 1.8 inches wider for added shoulder and hip space, and 1.2 inches taller, improving headroom. Despite its increased dimensions it has only gained 189 lbs of curb weight, the previously noted performance improvements partially attributed to this.

When seated in back I could almost completely stretch out my legs with my feet under the front seat, leaving at least eight to 10 inches ahead of my knees, about five inches next to my shoulders, and another three or so between my outside hip and the door panel, while the rear seat is also comfortable. A reasonably sized armrest folds down from center, exposing two smallish cupholders. Even better, the back padding of the armrest’s alcove is covered in a wonderful soft velvet-like material that does a good job of pampering elbows. Also appreciated, three-way seat heaters warmed rear outboard positions in my top-tier trim, while rear ventilation is good too. Lastly, the rear seating area is finished just as nicely as that up front, with the same high-quality soft-touch door uppers, the same nicely padded leather on the inserts and armrests, identical aluminum speaker grilles, and satin silver finished door pull accents, plus of course the same sumptuous perforated leather upholstery edged out with stylish gray piping and contrast stitching.

The new SUV’s larger size also makes for more cargo room, with maximum space behind its 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks growing by 5.0 cubic feet to 31.1 cubic feet, while the new model offers 2.9 additional cubic feet of luggage space when the second-row is folded flat, at 79.8 cubic feet.

2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD

Acura trims the cargo compartment out with premium carpeting that goes all the way up each sidewall, plus of course the backside of the rear seats, while chrome tie-down hooks bling up each corner. The sturdy load floor is removable, exposing large compartments for additional stowage below. Each side of the cargo wall gets a convenient carryover feature, a release lever for laying 60-, 40-, or 100-percent of the split rear seatbacks flat, and yes when I say flat I mean the load floor is now much better at swallowing up cargo than previously. I was disappointed not to see a center pass-through, however, necessary for loading longer items like skis when the more comfortable, heated window seats are occupied.

Problems? None, but I found the infotainment system’s new touchpad interface a bit disconnected when compared to life with a regular tablet-style touchscreen, like those used for many Honda vehicles. I understand the need for a separate controller when the display is positioned far away from the driver’s reach, but this brings up the question of why it’s so far away, and why Acura chose to fill prime center stack real estate with the aforementioned massive rotating dial for choosing driving modes. A simple button on the lower console, instrument panel, or better yet the steering wheel, would suffice for driving modes, which would’ve freed space to lower the HVAC interface and pull the infotainment display downward and closer, within easy reach of front occupants. This would have reduced the unnecessary cost of developing such a complex touchpad, which I must say can be a bit tricky to use.

First off, not everyone likes track pads. I use one every day with my MacBook Pro so they’re second nature to me, but my partner uses a mouse with her laptop—enough said. On the other side of the argument, most everyone is familiar with touchscreens due to smartphone and tablet use. Despite my familiarity with the latter, I found even simple commands challenging to implement. For instance, the first thing I wanted to do after setting up my smartphone, which worked easily via Acura’s HandsFreeLink wireless connectivity, was listen to a podcast via Bluetooth audio. With forefinger on the touchpad I repeatedly attempted to slide it along and then press downward once it reached the Bluetooth logo, but each time it initiated a different function and would not select Bluetooth. I kept trying and eventually managed to select Bluetooth, but this was not a good start. It reminds me of a problem Lexus experienced with its first-generation joystick-style Remote Touch Interface controller, which caused enough frustration from customers to cause the Japanese brand to install separate pushbuttons to each side of the main controller. Acura may want to consider something similar, as merely pressing downward on the trackpad isn’t a reliable solution.

The large 10.2-inch high-definition display and graphics within are superb, with main functions divided two-thirds to the left and one-third to the right. This, of course, allows more variety of simultaneously displayed features and therefore provides a more customizable setup, with the ability to show navigation mapping, for instance, on the larger or smaller screen, plus the audio interface, or some other feature, opposite. Choosing the map function, with finger on touchpad you can explore all around by swiping in any direction, pinching or spreading two fingers for a closer or wider view, and tapping to execute commands. While it mostly sounds hunky-dory the touchpad is much smaller than the screen and therefore doesn’t allow for much finger movement. Suffice to say it’ll take a little time to get used to.

Of note, there’s a home button that displays a main screen filled with function links to navigation, phone, AM/FM/HD/satellite radio, Bluetooth audio settings, Apple CarPlay (but no Android Auto), Siri Eyes Free, SMS text message and email functionality, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot capability, Wi-Fi tethering, AcuraLink Subscription Services, etcetera, and I have to say it works pretty well, other than the system’s aforementioned habit of not keeping its bright orange cursor on a chosen function after releasing one’s finger. You’ve got to be ultra-exact or you’ll miss it, and that’s a lot to ask of someone who should be spending less time concentrating on infotainment and more time focused on the road ahead. My advice to you? Spend time learning how to get the most out of this system while parked in the driveway. Try to be patient and you’ll probably get the hang of it in time. My advice to Acura? Replace the space-depleting drive mode selector knob on the center stack with a high-quality touchscreen.

On the positive the gauge cluster looks sharp, the multi-information display (MID) at center is large at 7.0 inches, very high in resolution with deep, rich contrast, and filled with attractive graphics. Still, I found it odd that the gauge cluster was mostly analog, for two reasons. First, full TFT gauge clusters are all the rage these days, and some are even included as standard equipment. Secondly, it must be less expensive to make a new digital display from scratch than design, produce and assemble all of the mechanical and digital MID components needed for an analog cluster these days.

2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD

Other issues? My tester’s powered tailgate made a strange groaning noise when opening and closing, as if it needed some lubricating oil somewhere within, and when giving my RDX a bath I noticed a six-inch long score in the front portion of the panoramic glass sunroof, likely due to rubbing up against something when being opened and closed. It wasn’t very deep, but over time it could become so. It probably just needs adjustment, but nevertheless these are strange teething pains from a brand like Acura that usually comes to market with its products fully sorted.

The 2019 RDX can be had as a well-equipped base model for $37,300 excluding freight and fees, or alternatively you can spend $40,500 for the Technology package, $43,500 for the A-Spec package, or $45,400 for the as-tested Advance package, plus as noted earlier $2,000 for SH-AWD.

Unlike some competitors, I could see plenty of buyers being very happy in the base RDX thanks to features already noted as well as standard automatic high beams for the aforementioned LED headlamps, proximity access, pushbutton ignition, ambient lighting, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, dual-zone auto climate control, a garage door opener, a multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, side mirrors with reverse gear tilt-down and integrated LED turn indicators, 12-way powered front seats including lumbar and four-way headrests, two-position driver’s memory, heated front seats, a panoramic moonroof, a powered tailgate, and much more.

Also standard, AcuraWatch includes Forward Collision Warning, Collision Mitigation Braking, Lane Departure Warning, Road Departure Mitigation, and Lane Keeping Assist, while all the usual active and passive safety equipment are joined by front knee airbags, hill start assist and tire pressure monitoring, all resulting in a best-possible Top Safety Pick+ safety rating from the IIHS.

Moving up to the Technology package adds Blind Spot Information with a Rear Cross Traffic Monitor, real-time traffic info, traffic re-routing, front and rear parking sensors, navigation, voice recognition, and a 12-speaker ELS Studio audio system with dual rear USB ports.

Like with other Acura models, the A-Spec package provides unique front and rear styling, 20-inch alloys, LED fog lights, metal sport pedals, unique Alcantara and leather-trimmed upholstery with contrast stitching and seat piping, ventilated front seats, and a 16-speaker ELS Studio 3D audio system.

2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD

Lastly, my tester’s Advance package builds on the Technology package with the LED fog lamps, ventilated front seats and 16-speaker 3D stereo from A-Spec trim, while also including adaptive cornering headlights with washers, a color head-up display, a surround view monitor, a rear camera washer, perforated leather upholstery, 16-way powered front seats including lumbar, thigh extensions and side bolsters, genuine Olive Ash hardwood trim, heated rear outboard seats, and metal cargo area garnishes.

Yes, loaded up with every possible feature the new 2019 RDX can compete head-on with any of its premium-branded peers, and no matter the trim should once again be seriously considered when shopping in this hotly contested segment. There are now 14 entries in the compact luxury SUV class, not including four-door coupe variants, which makes it all the more impressive that the RDX has maintained its near top placement.

As you now know from my criticisms this new RDX is not perfect, but it does most things so very well that it’s easy to look past its idiosyncratic infotainment system and my tester’s few minor problems, which are likely due to being an early production example. In other words, I like it a lot more than I expected to, and can’t help but recommend it highly.

*Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press *

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2018 Ford Fusion Hybrid Titanium

2018 Ford Fusion Hybrid Titanium

As nice as the 2018 Fusion Hybrid Titanium is to look at, and as enjoyable it is to live with, we’d better deal with the gargantuan elephant in the room before delving into any details.

As most will already know, earlier this year Ford announced that all of its cars except for the legendary Mustang and a new compact crossover wagon dubbed Focus Active will be canceled in North American markets by 2020, which means the car I’m reviewing right now is living out the rest of its life on borrowed time.

Whether or not losing its substantial market share in the subcompact, compact and mid-size classes is a good idea is a monolog probably best left for another time, and to be fair none of us on the outside can truly know what’s best for the Dearborn-based automaker, so any criticism about such a seismic shift in product offerings wouldn’t be worth mentioning.

2018 Ford Fusion Hybrid Titanium

Facts are facts, however, and Ford will be giving up fourth place in the U.S. mid-size segment, with the Fusion’s 2017 totals being 209,623 units. While selling hundreds of thousands of any model might initially sound great, it’s also important to point out that 2016 to 2017 year-over-year Fusion sales plummeted by 21.1 percent, while deliveries have dropped by 31.7 percent since the Fusion’s high four years ago in 2014. This of course has much to do with the rise in popularity of SUVs and simultaneously shrinking car market, but nevertheless some competitors haven’t fallen as far.

Now matter how you slice it losing the Fusion is a shame (particularly in Hybrid, Energi and Sport trims), as it is to say goodbye to the fun little Fiesta (especially in ST guise), and the once very popular Focus (which finally gets an update for 2019, and ditto re the ST and RS). This said I won’t miss the aging C-Max or the equally dated Taurus, although the new Lincoln Continental that’s based on the latter is extremely good and will be a loss to the value-oriented luxury sector, while the MKZ is pretty good too, especially in Hybrid trim. I’ll soon be publishing reviews of some of the above, so stay tuned as they remain worthy contenders that deserve your attention.

Such is the case for this 2018 Fusion Hybrid Titanium. Ford gave the entire Fusion line a mid-cycle makeover last year and I really like the changes made, especially the grille that looks more like the Mustang and sporty Focus ST’s design and less like a ripped off Aston Martin. Ford added some shape to the headlamps and modified the lower front fascia as well, while the strip of chrome trim spanning the rear trunk lid and striking through each reworked taillight totally changes the look of the car’s rear end. They’ve gone from a focus on sporty to classy, while once again creating a more original look. All round, the visual changes are good.

2018 Ford Fusion Hybrid Titanium

Like with most refreshes, changes to the Fusion’s interior weren’t so dramatic. The most notable update would be to the lower center console that swapped out the old shift lever for a much more modern and up-to-date rotating gear selector, this even rimmed in stylish knurled metal edging for a premium appearance and impressively substantial high-quality feel. As far as unconventional transmission controllers go, I prefer this dial design much more than others, including Lincoln’s heritage-inspired pushbutton layout. It’s simply a more natural progression, and intuitively falls to hand.

As with the previous Fusion, this renewed version is nicely finished with good quality materials, especially in Titanium trim that’s near top-of-the-line for the Hybrid (top-tier Platinum is downright ritzy). There are plenty of soft-touch surfaces, plush leathers, metallic accents and high-quality switchgear.

Specifically, along with the dash top, door uppers, inserts and armrests, Ford covers the sides of the center stack and lower console in high-grade padded pliable plastic, even wrapping the soft stuff around the backsides of the center stack buttresses. The quality of the center stack and lower console surfacing is excellent too, and much denser than most others in this class. The same can’t be said for the solidity of the metallic trim surfacing, but still it looks very nice and is well put together. Where this car differentiates from its Lincoln counterpart is in the hard plastic used for the glove box lid and much of the door panels, but like the MKZ its graphic interfaces are superb.

2018 Ford Fusion Hybrid Titanium

This latter attribute has been a Ford strongpoint for years, the automaker leading most rivals in infotainment thanks to money well invested in its much-lauded Sync interface, this latest Sync 3 design one of the best in the industry. Graphically its modern and attractive, while more so it executes functions quickly, is easy to figure out, can be used with tablet-style gesture controls including tap, pinch and swipe, and comes filled with the types of features most users want, such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, all the usual climate and audio controls, apps galore, plus more.

Ford improved the Fusion’s convenience and safety offering by making some of the latest advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) available prior to last year’s mid-cycle update, such as automatic high beams, lane keeping assist, and blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, all available on the 2018 model when adding the $1,575 Driver Assist Package that also includes rain-sensing wipers, a heatable steering wheel, and Sync Connect. Of note, all of these systems and more come standard as part of a suite of ADAS features dubbed Ford Co-Pilot360 for the 2019 Fusion, which also gets a mild restyle. Back to 2018, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, which also includes pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, can be chosen separately for another $1,190, as can semi-autonomous park assist for an additional $995, while inflatable rear seatbelts improve rear passenger safety for $225.

Before getting too far ahead of myself, standard features with the $30,870 Fusion Hybrid Titanium include 18-inch machine-finished alloys, LED headlamps with LED signatures, LED fog lamps, LED taillights, extra chrome trim, a rear spoiler, remote engine start, Ford’s exclusive SecuriCode keyless entry keypad, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, ambient interior lighting, aluminum sport pedals, an electromechanical parking brake, auto-dimming rearview and driver’s side mirrors, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, two 4.2-inch color multi-information displays within the primary instrument cluster, heatable 10-way powered leather sport seats with two-way driver’s memory, dual-zone auto climate control, a rearview camera, 12-speaker Sony audio with satellite and HD radio, a household-style 110-volt powerpoint, rear parking sensors, a capless fuel filler, individual tire pressure monitoring, Ford’s MyKey system, SOS Post-Crash Alert, all the usual active and passive safety features including dual front knee blockers, and more.

2018 Ford Fusion Hybrid Titanium

Ford offers the no-cost choice of Ebony black or Medium Soft Ceramic cream/beige interiors as well as seven base colors plus three optional hues, my tester finished in $395 Ruby Red over Ebony, while additional options include voice activated navigation with SiriusXM Traffic and TravelLink for $795, three-way cooled front seats for $395, a powered moonroof with a garage door opener for $1,095, etcetera.

Where some other Fusion models are focused more on performance, Sport trim immediately coming to mind, the Hybrid Titanium is more about smooth, refined comfort. Truly the ride is sublime and eCVT automatic transmission is wonderfully linear in operation, both promoting a more relaxed driving style. That’s not to say it won’t move off the line quickly when prodded, its 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder and electric motor combo good for a reasonable 188 net horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque resulting in a zero to 60 mph run under nine seconds. It’ll push through corners adeptly too, the Hybrid actually feeling quite sporty when putting your foot into it, but that’s clearly not its priority, while if you don’t try to extract everything from the throttle and push the envelope amid curves you’ll likely never know it has any go-fast performance capabilities hidden deep within. Therefore, other than for testing purposes, I drove it like a grandpa on his way to church (not late for church, mind you) and thoroughly enjoyed a leisurely week, always comfortable in its extremely supportive driver’s seat, and fully appreciative of the laid back state this car put me in.

I was also appreciative of the $6 in fuel I used all week, and it wasn’t due to a lack of driving. The Fusion Hybrid’s claimed EPA rating is a very stingy 43 mpg city, 41 highway and 42 combined, which is shockingly good considering its size, mass and luxury equipment load. Factor in fuel costs that float around the mid-$3.00 to $3.70 range in the Northwest, which are some of highest in our history, and the Fusion Hybrid is more relevant today than ever. I only hope Ford applies this technology to its upcoming Focus Active and some of its SUVs, as it can really make a difference to the bank balance.

2018 Ford Fusion Hybrid Titanium

The Fusion’s cabin is slightly smaller than some of its more recently updated Japanese competitors, particularly in the rear, but it should be large enough for most body types and I found it thoroughly comfortable from front to back. Its cargo capacity is limited somewhat too, due to the lithium-ion motive battery encroaching on trunk space. Ford doesn’t try to hide this issue, the battery pack jutting up to partially block some of the 60/40 split rear seatback’s passageway, but some capability of loading in long items is appreciated just the same. This said at 12.0 cubic feet it holds more volume than some competitors, but those considering a Hybrid over a conventionally powered Fusion might want to consider life with a 4.0 cubic-foot decrease in golf bag hauling capability.

This and its declared demise are the only two knocks I have against the 2018 Fusion Hybrid Titanium. It’s a handsome, well built, comfortable, amply featured, smooth riding, ultra efficient mid-size sedan that deserves its fourth-place mid-size sedan standing, making it all the more disheartening that its end is near. Being that it won’t be collectable after three or so years (or ever), you’ll need to factor its cancellation into its resale value, which will most likely negatively affect your overall cost of ownership. Then again the car represents good initial value, which could alleviate some of the financial pain. In other words, if you’ve got your heart set on a new Fusion, bargain hard and voice concerns about its cancellation during negotiations. I think your local Ford retailer will be more than happy to give you a very good deal on what is essentially a very good car.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press

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