2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport: not quite a Golf, but close

Consumer Reports now argues that the Hyundai brand is more reliable than Nissan, Mazda, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Ford.

If you trust the three-year dependability study from J.D. Power and Associates, then you believe that the Hyundai brand overall is more dependable than BMW, Chevrolet, Honda, Jaguar and 21 other brands.

2018 Elantra GT: Not German design, exactly, but design led by a German.

If you believe in recalls as a measure of quality, Transport Canada lists just four Elantra recalls since 2013, one for mis-labeling. Honda issued precisely four recalls on the rival Civic during the same period.

And if you believe your own eyes, the view from the driver’s seat of the 2018 Elantra GT hatchback is startling, and in a good way. This is what smart design and quality materials look like.

For starters, the red-faced, sharp-needled gauges in my tester, a $28,499 GT Sport, jump out like they were conceived by a smart, creative German with a slew of Red Dot awards lining his credenza. Which is the truth.

The German executive who leads Hyundai and Kia design is Peter Schreyer. He made his bones on Audis and Volkswagens way back when. Now he’s a Hyundai Motor President and the design boss of the whole conglomerate.

Okay, now I know that many of you might be brand snobs who associate Hyundai with rusty Ponys and falling-apart Stellars from decades ago. That was the 1980s, which I remember well, but times have changed. Still, the Hyundai brand does not have the cachet of VW or even Ford.

On top of that, Hyundai’s dealer network began as a collection of low-rent hustlers in bare-bones, linoleum-tiled showrooms decorated with balloons, cigarette butts and discarded Styrofoam cups. Back in the mid-1980s, when the Pony was launched and I was a young business writer, I checked for my watch after shaking hands with a Hyundai salesman.

Worse, Hyundai Canada lacked the resources and the leadership skills to satisfy its customers. Hyundai Canada sold 25,000 Pony cars in 1985 (base price, $4,995), but couldn’t back them up with a proper parts and service operation. Horrified customers were tortured with long waits and shoddy workmanship.

Today, well, the best and most respected dealership groups are committed to selling and servicing Hyundais. Billionaire Jim Pattison sells them. The Dilawri Group, Canada’s biggest dealer group, has a couple of Hyundai stores. The Open Road Group, voted one of Canada’s best employers six years running, sells Hyundais.

These are not fly-by-night operators, but respectable retailers who are in it for the long haul.

Speaking of long hauls, I would be quite happy to take one in the Elantra GT Sport I recently tested. This is a comfortable, well-balanced, functional, technologically sophisticated and quite tossable little compact five-door. Even the seats are well-made, nicely bolstered and decently padded.

Hyundai’s top cheerleaders will tell you that the chassis is solid because half of it is made of advanced high strength steel. So it’s rigid, which makes it easier for the suspension engineers to tune the ride for both comfort AND responsiveness. Solid? Yes, that’s how it feels over any sort of roadway.

The steering is not quite so tidy and direct as a comparably sporty VW Golf, but close enough. The 18-inch allow wheels nicely fill up their housings and the independent, multi-link rear suspension is what you’d expect in a VW Golf rival. The Golf is really of work of superb chassis engineering, but the Elantra GT is much cheaper, when the two cars are similarly equipped.

The GT Sport gets the most modern of engines, a 1.6-litre turbocharged, direct-injection four-banger (201 hp/195 lb-ft torque). It’s delightful. Lots of smooth power. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is snappy and quite amazing. You can manage it through paddle shifters. (Cheaper GT models get a 2.0-litre four (161 hp/150 lb-ft. of torque) mated to either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission.)

As for infotainment and the like, Hyundai’s choices here suggest that the company is going after Millennials, not Baby Boomers who are often flummoxed by technology and still find themselves reliving the ‘80s at reunion concerts by the Eagles. Millennials are likely to care that the Elantra GT was the first Hyundai in Canada to offer BlueLink – connectivity that allows for remote starts and a bunch of other things that you can manage via a smartphone app, the web or the rearview mirror.

Hyundai has spent more than three decades building its brand in Canada and around the world. Respect is coming, but slowly; this project remains a work in progress.

But bi-by-bit, with solid quality, sharp design, modern gizmos, entertaining performance and improving customer service, Hyundai is tearing down the walls of bias erected by Ponys and the like.

If you want to know what Hyundai is about these days, test drive an Elantra GT Sport.

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport

Price: $28,499. Freight and PDI: $1,705.

Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged (201 hp/195 lb-ft torque).

Drive: front-wheel.

Transmissions: seven-speed autoshift manual.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.4 city/7.9 using regular fuel.

Comparables: Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Kia Forte, Volkswagen Golf, Chevrolet Cruze, Fiat 500L.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GM makes the case for diesel amid broad challenges

Until last year, diesel sales in Europe had exceeded 50 per cent of new car sales every year since 2005, save 2009.

But in 2016, as The Financial Times reports, diesel sales slid 2.6 per cent, dropping European market share for diesels to 49.3 per cent. The Volkswagen Group’s Dieselgate scandal has put a damning spotlight on the nitrogen oxide emissions of diesel cars, and not just from VW. Every automaker that sells diesels has been smeared with at least a little soot from VW’s cheating on emissions tests. And this is hurting sales.

2018 Chevrolet Cruze Sedan Diesel offers up to an EPA-estimated 52 mpg highway — the highest highway fuel economy of any non-hybrid/non-EV in America.

Yet even newly re-elected German Chancellor Angela Merkel, currently reported to be in coalition talks with the Green Party, has offered support for diesel technology as the car industry makes the transition to a fleet of electrified rides. A growing number of countries are setting the stage for a total phase-out of gas and diesel vehicle sales. But that is decades away.

For now, the car business is working on introducing new technologies to the latest diesels. The goal is to make them as clean and efficient as possible as the transition to electric vehicles takes hold.

“We’ll need combustion engines for years and decades – and still at the same time we’ll have to take the bridge, the path towards new mobility and new engines,” Merkel recently told the Bundestag lower house of parliament.

In announcing new initiatives to improve diesel performance and to lower diesel emissions, Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche told Bloomberg, “Our goal is to improve diesel rather than ban it. As long as e-cars still have a small market share, optimising diesel is the most effective lever to reach climate targets in road transport.”

BMW chairman Harald Kruger told a forum in Berlin that for the time being, future mobility solutions – the latest and newly trendy term tossed about by car company bosses — will depend on modern, efficient diesel engines. They are the best short-term way to lower CO2 emissions.

BMW CEO Harald Krueger:

Kruger added that diesels equipped with the latest emissions gear are just as clean or even cleaner than gasoline engines. He and others argue that the car business has made great strides when it comes to particulate, hydrocarbon, carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen emissions. Diesels, then, have no more an adverse effect on air quality than gasoline cars and the latest ones are highly efficient.

Various car company bosses, in fact, argue that cutting edge diesel technology has been unfairly discredited industry-wide by Dieselgate. Dan Nicholson, General Motors global propulsion systems vice president, is among them.

“Diesels are now and will continue to play a role in our (GM’s) fuel economy efforts,” he says.

The very latest Chevrolet Equinox SUV (sport-utility vehicle) is a perfect example of what a good diesel can deliver to the customer who wants excellent fuel economy, outstanding range between fill-ups and stump-pulling torque. The Equinox diesel, which in front-drive form

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

starts at $35,840, is rated at 6.0 litres/100 km or 39 miles per gallon on the highway.

Nicholson says the Equinox diesel with its 1.6-litre turbodiesel, at idle is 55 per cent quieter than a Jaguar F-Pace with its 2.0-litre turbodiesel. With 240 lb-ft of torque on hand at 2,000 rpm, this new version of the Equinox is a strong alternative to gasoline-electric hybrids such as the popular RAV4 Hybrid.

GM Canada, of course, also sells a diesel version of the Cruze compact car ($22,695 base) equipped with the same 1.6-litre turbodiesel. They are among the 34 diesel models GM sells globally.

All are loaded with the latest emissions technologies and all have been engineered to be quiet and free of the kinds of obnoxious noises and vibrations that have kept most North American buyers away from diesels in any sort of vehicle other than large pickups.

2018 Chevrolet Cruze Sedan Diesel offers up to an EPA-estimated 52 mpg highway — the highest highway fuel economy of any non-hybrid/non-EV in America.

GM engineers, in fact, have gone to great lengths to erase the most irritating diesel issues. The new diesel in the Cruze and Equinox, for instance, has a lightweight aluminum block; very efficient combustion and breathing; a clever turbo design that mimics how multiple turbos work; ceramic glow plugs; a common rail fuel system; and a number of other advanced engineering features.

It also has a diesel particulate filter and an 18.5-llitre tank of emissions fluid that attacks oxides of nitrogen before they pollute the air. It needs to be filled up every 8,000 km or so.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the Equinox and Cruze diesels. Both are as quiet as any comparable gasoline-powered model and much quicker. The Equinox has particular appeal for anyone who needs a long-range rig for road trips to ski hills and such. It certainly would be on my test-drive list.

Diesel, then, is not dead. It’s just taken a wicket body blow from Dieselgate.

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2017 Mitsubishi RVR: everything’s better in black

Labrador Black paint matched by black 18-inch “GT” wheels, black grille, black skid plate, black headliner and black roof pillar.

2017 Mitsubishi RVR Black Edition

Black, black, black, which in the cabin of the Mitsubishi RVR Black Edition compact SUV (sport-utility vehicle) is highlighted by ribbons of red stitching, chrome door handles and aluminum pedals.

This limited edition starts at $28,698 and at first glance, it’s a looker. Black is never a bad fashion choice. Even I present reasonably well in nicely trimmed formal wear, and every woman in the world looks terrific in a classic little black dress. Black is simple and timeless, suggests something sinister and hides flaws.

The big one with the RVR is the lack of a full makeover in some seven years. That said, the aged interior design is nicely camouflaged by the black treatment. You barely notice a world of hard plastic when it’s all in basic black.

See, even I can look presentable in black formal wear.

Mitsu is asking for an extra $9,000 for this rig — $9,000 above the front-drive starter model ($19,998) with its slightly anemic 2.0-litre four-banger (148 hp/145 lb-ft torque). The RVR Black gets a 2.4-litre four (168 hp/167 lb-ft torque) and standard all-wheel control (AWC).

Yes, the Black Edition is tidy little marketing gimmick designed to spark interest in an aging model. I noticed it and liked its looks right away. I also noted the standard 10-year warranty.

Then I went driving. The ride quality is “sturdy” — firm and a bit truck-like. The 2.4-litre four is strong enough, but the CVT (continuously variable transmission) robs it of any charm. Call it Ninja with Sumo performance.

The standard AWC is good, though. A button on the centre console lets you toggle between front-drive, automatic 4WD, or 4WD lock. You can save a bit of fuel running just the fronts when the weather is fine, then get traction at all four wheels when the road gets slippery or pavement disappears entirely.

Red stitching.

The cabin? Spacious. Adults can sit in the rears. The seats are not overly comfortable, but there is lots of headroom and a big cargo hold.

Electronics? Almost ancient. The infotainment system is a bit clunky, the display undersized. The only USB port is tucked away in the glove box. And satellite radio and navigation are available.

Mitsu’s answer is to offer data-sucking Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Black does have a six-speaker audio system and it’s good.

Chrome accents.

Is this the most refined rig in the class? No. But in black, it sure looks mysterious and even a little dangerous. And that’s quite something.

2017 Mitsubishi RVR Black Edition

Base price range: $28,698. Freight and PDI: $1,700

Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder (168 hp/167 pound-feet of torque).

Transmission: continuously variable or CVT.

Drive: four-wheel/front-wheel.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.7 city/7.8 hwy.

Red taillights, though.

Comparables:  Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Chevrolet Trax, Buick Encore, Nissan Juke, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X, Mini Countryman.

 

 

 

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2018 GMC Terrain: statement rig among pricier SUVs

LAC BEAUPORT, Quebec – GMC? Here’s what I see in General Motors’ truck brand: a mystery wrapped in ambition, infused with hope.

Let me explain. Now at long last, with the launch of the revamped 2018 Terrain SUV (sport-utility vehicle), we have greater clarity about what GMC stands for, where this striving brand wants to go, how it fits into the ongoing recovery of GM in general, and how Canadians like their SUVs in particular.

The cabin looks like $40,000.

On the latter, Mark Alger, the GMC brand boss in Canada, says we have an powerful appetite for expensive SUVs. “All the growth is in $35,000 and above,” he says, noting that about one-third of all the SUVs Canadians bought last year were in that pricing stratosphere.

The refashioned Terrain starts at more than $30,000 and bounces into the $40,000s if you want a rig capable of towing a modest-sized trailer; Bose sound; ventilated and heated front seats; wireless charging for your devices; LED headlamps; and, the fanciest machined wheels.

Yet Alger argues the whole 2018 Terrain lineup is a relative bargain compared to 2017. Price cuts and added content deliver thousands in extra “value.”

Those buyers will need to find GMC the typical Canadian showroom that also houses, Chevrolets, Cadillacs and Buicks. Chevy’s new Equinox shares the Terrain’s basics, BTW.

The infotainment screen is undersized.

But Chevys are mainstream; GMC trucks are “professional grade,” touted in the latest marketing slogan: “Like a Pro.” (That tagline brought to mind HBO’s latest series, The Deuce, for a brief moment.) Like a Pro is supposed to capture vehicles that are well engineered and crafted – so good they’ll make owners feel like confident, passionate leaders. Alger’s explanation, not mine.

The fact is, this Terrain has absolutely nothing common with the old model, not so much as a door seal. The design, a great improvement over the Transformer-ish collection of corners and angles that was the old model, is a success. Simple, with three clean lines running horizontally –upper, middle, lower. They ties it all together.

Inside, the cabin looks like $40,000. The big notables are rocker switches that replace a traditional gearshift (Park, Drive, etc.) and a new infotainment interface that operates like your smartphone.

This design is a success.

Unfortunately, the touchscreen is undersized by half. Volvo has set the standard for touchscreen size and simplicity in mainstream models, and Tesla’s double-i-Pad-like screen is the overall best in the industry.

The Terrain’s screen does what it should and quite nicely, but it’s closer in size to a Samsung Galaxy Note. Big mistake.

Still, there’s a roomy cabin with generous headroom. Very comfortable in back. The passenger seat folds completely flat so you can load a seven-foot something in there.  The cargo hold is great and the load height at the rear is just right. You can get up to six USB ports, too.

For power, you have three options, all turbocharged: 1.5-litre four (170 horsepower/201 lb-ft), 1.6-litre turbodiesel four (137 hp/240 lb-ft) and 2.0-litre four (252 hp/260 lb-ft).

Lots of cargo room.

The first one is for the budget buyer, the second for the fuel miser (at a $3,000 premium) and the last for the showoff who plans to tow 3,500 lbs or kg. Note: the smaller four-cylinder engines are tow rated to 1,500 lbs.

I quite enjoyed the ride quality, and noise dampening is good. The diesel does not make a racket, and GM says it’s not now and never has cheated on diesel emissions tests, like the Germans. And truly, the design is perfect for a GMC re-boot.

I expect the latest Terrain to do damage to its legion of rivals. That’s it: the GMC mystery explained.

2018 GMC Terrain

Price range: $30,195 – $41,695.

Engines (all turbos): 1.5-litre four-cylinder (170 hp/201 pound-feet of torque); 1.6-litre four-cylinder, diesel (137 hp/240 lb-ft torque); 2.0-litre four-cylinder (252 hp/260 lb-ft torque).

Transmissions: nine-speed automatic for the gas engines, six-speed automatic for the turbodiesel.

Drive: front- and all-wheel.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.2 city/7.9 for the front-drive 1.5-litre; 8.5 city/6.0 hwy) for the front-drive turbodiesel; (11.2 city/9.0 hwy) for the 2.0 AWD. Gas engines use regular fuel.

Comparables:  Ford Edge, Dodge Journey, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Murano, Toyota Highlander, Subaru Outback, Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda Pilot, Toyota Venza, Mazda CX-9.

 

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2017 Acura MDX hybrid: NSX engineering in a mediocre design

Acura now has a big MDX hybrid sport-utility/crossover and it’s fast.

How fast? It bests a conventional (non-hybrid) Acura MDX, as well as Toyota’s Highlander hybrid. Here’s why: it has hybrid components similar to those in the NSX supercar.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid: the infotainment interface is maddening.

That despite the fact that the MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD — OMG, what a mouthful! — is a hefty 2,074 kg, or 150 kg more than a standard MDX with the Navi package.

That’s 330 pounds of extra heft, folks. Those big, fat guys who play offensive line in pro football weigh 330 pounds. Lotta suet there squishing out of those skin-tight uniforms. Eek!

Yet because the MDX hybrid is blessed with important bits and pieces from the NSX, 0-100 km/hour arrives in less than six seconds. Fast.

Volvo’s XC90 T8 plug-in crossover is a bit quicker off the line and so is Porsche’s Cayenne hybrid. But both cost more, too.

Infiniti also offers a QX60 hybrid for MDX hybrid coin. But it’s not in this speedy league at all. Moreover, the Infiniti’s design looks like something from the 1959 Motorama. It belongs parked next to a Cadillac Cyclone dream car from the ‘50s.

Ah, but thanks to a tidy little 2017 facelift, the latest version of the MDX is at least inoffensive. This is more than I could say about certain past versions of the MDX. If you can look past the slapped-on, utterly unimaginative trapezoidal grille, the MDX is quite okay. But honestly, who penned that horror of a grille? Fire him. Or her.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid: mediocre seats.

The engineers, however, deserve a raise. Other than the numb steering, the MDX hybrid is a grand engineering achievement. It is not only quick off the line, but 25 per cent more fuel efficient than the gas-only MDX.

A suite of electric motors and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox are central to this story.  You get a 47-hp electric motor/generator integrated with the transaxle. It cranks the 3.0-litre V-6 (257 hp), gives the gas motor a boost and charges the little lithium ion battery beneath the front seats.

Then we have a 72-hp Twin Motor Unit between the rear wheels.  This piece is taken straight out of the NSX, though in the supercar it’s located between the front wheels.

In the MDX, the two electric motors do all sorts of interesting things. On soft launches, the gas engine rests while one electric motor at each wheel gets things moving.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid: inoffensive design.

This setup also acts like a smart differential, with the outside rear wheel doing most of the work during cornering, while the inside one charges the battery pack under the floor where you’ll also find the brains of the thing — the control unit. So clever!

What we have here, then, is a four-wheel-drive SUV with no driveshaft, gobs of power delivered in all the right places at all the proper times. Moreover, this MDX has essentially the same cabin and cargo room as any other three-row MDX.

Alas, the seats inside this rig are mediocre, the instrumentation is uninspired and the infotainment/navigation interface is just plain irritating. Honda and Acura really must find a way to give designers more say in the finished product. Suggestion: go to school on the Volvo XC90.

In the meantime, Acura has given the car business a lesson in high-performance SUV engineering.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid: at least the designers attempted to try some interesting things.

2017 MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD

Price: $69,990.

Engine/motor: 3.0-litre V-6 (257 hp/218 pound-feet of torque); three electric motors, including a front motor built into the 7-speed dual clutch transmission and a rear Twin Motor Unit.

Drive: all-wheel.

Transmission: seven-speed dual clutch automatic.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.1 city/9.0 using premium fuel.

Comparables: Volvo XC90 T8 hybrid, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Infiniti QX60 hybrid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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