2018 Hyundai Ioniq: brilliant engineering dulled by the (yawn) design

Hyundai actually intended to create a line of Ioniq “green” cars with looks as normal as normal can be. At least that’s what we’re told.

Another me-too hatchback design, totally lacking in individuality.

Thus, the Ioniq has the look of a me-too hatchback. Regardless of your viewing angle, it lacks a single interesting design cue. I will get to the many fascinating things going on beneath the Ioniq’s sheetmetal, but nothing about the car’s styling suggests the technological extravaganza percolating below.

This is in sharp contrast to the Toyota Prius hybrid and plug-in hybrid; Nissan’s Leaf, the world’s best-selling battery car with 300,000-plus sold; and Chevrolet’s Volt plug-in hybrid. All three stand out from the clutter of mainstream and generally dull-looking, gasoline-only rides – like Chevy’s yawn-inducing Cruze, Toyota’s utterly anonymous Corolla and Nissan’s somnambulant Sentra.

I mention these three because the Ioniq lineup includes a hybrid like the Prius, a plug-in hybrid like the Volt and a full-on battery car like the Leaf. You see what Hyundai is up to here, no?

Hyundai is positioning the Ioniq not as just a model, but an idea, a vision of the future and a brand unto itself – the very embodiment of Hyundai Motors’ long-term goal of becoming the greenest of green car companies.

The stylists can do better than this — and have at Hyundai.

In particular, Hyundai wants to out-Toyota Toyota, to catch and surpass the Japanese automotive colossus it envies most, the one that launched the green automotive revolution with the remarkably successful Prius hybrid 20 years ago. Many, including designers at Hyundai, believe the Achilles’ heel of the Prius is its polarizing wedge shape, and so the Ioniq design is the anti-Prius.

Meanwhile, others argue that the Leaf looks too round and mushy and wimpy; that it’s the metrosexual of cars. Others, still, say the Volt suffers from Priuspism — especially the first-generation version. Which explains why the second-generation Volt is more white bread that baguette. Apparently dull and uninspired is the goal for enviro-car designers.

Which, of course, is a mistake. Consider Tesla. The Model S and the coming Model 3 are design triumphs that run entirely on battery power. Tesla equals sexy and avant-garde; sex appeal is central to the Tesla brand.

Why the world’s biggest car companies insist on designing “green” cars that are the automotive equivalent of Birkenstock sandals is beyond me and anyone else with common sense. Green cars should be styled to catch the eye of the proverbial Girl from Ipanema, not celebrity environmentalist David Suzuki, a known Prius applauder.

Phenomenal engineering: three electrified powertrains on one platform, all launched within months of one another.

Despite the design failure, the engineering in the Ioniq is phenomenal — a platform with three electrified powertrains in relatively affordable runabouts with the latest connectivity and safety technologies. You want just a hybrid a la the Prius, you’re looking at $24,299. Step up to a plug-in Ioniq Electric Plus with an electric-only range of about 40 km and you’re looking at $31,999 or more, depending on options. And an all-electric Ioniq Electric, starting at $35,649, has a range of about 200 km between charges thanks to its 28 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery.

Pause for a second and consider what Hyundai has achieved in terms of managing complexity. The two hybrids share a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine with gasoline direct injection (GDI) combined with a six-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT). No other carmaker offers a six-speed DCT in a hybrid. Here, the benefits for the driver are very clear: the car is entertaining. The plug-in adds a small electric motor is powered by a lithium-ion polymer battery. It’s a snappy electric package – torquey and quick off the line.

As for the all-electric Ioniq, it has an 88 kW electric motor fueled by a 28 kWh lithium polymer battery pack. You may be wondering: can I charge the plug-in hybrid and the all-electric car in a regular household socket?

Yes, you can and it will take 24 hours for a full charge. Something call an integrated In-Cable Control Box (ICCB) makes basic home charging possible. For quicker charges, the Ioniq Electric comes with an SAE combo-type charge port permitting Level 3 DC quick charging. In the Ioniq range, electric power is converted by a permanent magnet electric motor. The Ionic Electric can be 80 per cent recharged in bout 24 minutes, fully done in just a bit more than half an hour using a Level 3.

The Ioniq Electric is just perfect for the city. It’s quiet and responsive. I typically went about three days between charges. I filled up the battery at a public charging station around the corner from my home. In other words, I drove for free; no fuel costs. Loved it.

A superb city car that in the all-electric version gave me free driving for a week.

Even the most basic Ioniq has a suite of luxury features: a display with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay; heated front seats and LED daytime running lights. As you spend more, you get proximity keyless entry, wireless smartphone charging, a 7-inch LCD instrument cluster, and High-Intensity Discharge headlights with an Adaptive Cornering System are available.

Alas, the design remains a barrier. I want the world to know I am driving the latest high-tech automotive achievement, but the styling here doesn’t say that. Sure, we’re looking at a class-leading coefficient of drag of 0.24…yawn.

I expect Hyundai to learn from its mistake here, however. There’s plenty of time.

Look, as far back as 2014, Hyundai Motor began telling us that the combined Hyundai and Kia brands will have a green-car lineup of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery electrics, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles that will add up to 31 separate “green” vehicle versions by 2020. Eight of 31 will, apparently, be all-electric. At least two of the 31 will use hydrogen fuel cells.

We’re in the infancy of the greening of Hyundai. No question, more and better things coming, particularly from the company’s design houses.

2018 Hyundai Ioniq

Price range: $24,299-$41,849 plus $1,829 for freight, PDI and various fees.

Power:

Hybrid: 1.6-litre I4, plus 32 kW electric motor (EM) and 1.56 kWh battery, for a net system output of 139 hp/195 lb-ft torque;

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Plus: 1.6-litre I4, plus 45 kW EM and plus 8.9 kWh battery for net output of 164 hp/195 lb-ft;

Electric: 88 kW electric motor, plus a 28 kWh battery pack, for a net output of 118 hp/218 lb-ft torque.

Transmission: six-speed dual-clutch automatic for hybrids; Ionic Electric gets a single-speed reducer transmission.

Charging for Ioniq Electric: 24 hours using 110V/120V Level 1 charger; 4 hours 24 minutes using a 220V/240V Level 2 charger; 80 per cent in 24 mins, 100 per cent in 33 minutes using an SAE combo fast charger (Level 3 100 kW).

Drive: front-wheel.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): Hybrid 4.1 combined (Blue). Ionic Electric is rated at 1.7Le/100 km combined.

Comparables: Toyota Prius and Prius Prime, Chevrolet Volt and Bolt, Volkswagen eGolf, Nissan Leaf, Kia Soul BEV, BMW i3, Audi A3 e-tron, Ford Focus Electric, smart electric drive, Mini Countryman S E ALL4.

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2018 Land Rover Velar: a car disguised as a crossover, masquerading as an SUV

In the lower of the two 10-inch touchscreens in the Range Rover Velar, you will find the Vehicle Settings functions. Tap and slide through to Dynamic and you can gain access a) a lap timer that chronicles your hot shoeing; b) a g-force monitor to spell out your lateral g’s.

The numbers describe yours and your vehicle’s cornering skills. I am not kidding.

Two 10-inch touchscreens are your physical interface with the many screens and menus that control vehicle functions.

Here we have a station wagon/SUV/crossover from the Defender brand – the off-road brand that brags about braving bogs, beaches and the bush – that has the track tools of a Porsche 911 Turbo. Perhaps that’s not inappropriate in a rig available with essentially the same engine as the Jaguar F-Type S — a 380-horsepower, surpercharged V-6 capable of hitting 100 km/hour in 5.7 seconds, with a top speed limited to 250 km/hour.

Perhaps, too, it makes sense in a height-adjustable, largely aluminum wagon boasting a light and stiff body that is mounted over a totally car-like front double-wishbone/rear multi-link rear suspension. I have yet to drive a nimbler, more agile station wagon.

Yet Range Rover types insist on having it both ways. They say track abilities do not undermine the Velar’s brand’s fundamentals – that the all-new, all-wheel-drive Velar, with its available air suspension, can handle all sorts of surfaces, terrains and weather conditions: ground clearance up to 251 mm, wading depth of 650 mm, and fancy traction technologies.

The Velar illustrates the steady transformation of Land Rover, and in particular its Range Rover offerings. What started out decades ago as a pure truck brand aimed at military types, bush whackers and mountain-man wannabes, is morphing into a modern, high-performance, high tech, largely urban and eventually electrified collection of luxury cars (note the 2018 Range Rover Autobiography PHEV). Land Rover is becoming dotted with cars disguised as crossovers that are masquerading as SUVs (sport-utility vehicles).

The rear view.

The $62,000-to-start Velar, which slots in above the Range Rover Evoque and below the Range Rover Sport, truly is the most car-like Land Rover vehicle ever. And we’ll see more like it.

The grand plan at Tata’s Jaguar Land Rover is to blur the line between cars and traditional trucks and SUVs. Note that Land Rover’s sister Jaguar brand now has the F-Pace crossover, and it’s a best-seller. Yes, there is danger in muddying the two brands, but that’s another story.

In the Velar, we’re looking at a 2,098-kilogram ride that can handle hairpins and switchbacks as well as mudholes and logging roads. The torquey gas engine (a diesel powers the base model) delivers instant power off the line, as well as in passing moves from 80 to 120 km/hour. The eight-speed automatic gearbox boasts quick and tidy shifts, up and down. The steering is tight, the braking strong and predictable.

Then there is the “car” side of the story. Climb aboard and you’ll first notice the hip point; it’s similar to Subaru’s Outback and much lower

Roomy.

than a big Land Rover Range Rover or Discover. Adults just slide in.

The two-box design here is marked by a clean skin, pop-out door handles and a priapic grille up front. Head designer Gerry McGovern calls it the “avant-garde Range Rover.”

Head designer Gerry McGovern calls it the “avant-garde Range Rover.”

What may surprise you, given the low hoodline, is the space inside – head, hip and legroom for five with the seats up. There is golfer-friendly cargo space (558 litres) in the rear. Drop the second row and you have a nearly 2,000-litre cargo hold.

Most noteworthy of all are the two touch screens that manage almost everything through menus. The basic radio functions – AM, FM – operated only intermittently in my tester black R-Dynamic tester, suggesting an electronic glitch.

I can also report that using this system is easy. If you can live with your smartphone, you will be at home here, scrolling through settings, picking audio channels (when they function) and selecting performance and off-road settings.

What is a little shocking, however, is pricing. The basic model may be $62,00, but the range tops out at $95,000, plus options, fees and taxes. That’s a very big cash mountain to climb, said one Evoque owner I interviewed for this piece.

I am sure she’s not alone.

2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar

Price range: $62,000-$95,000, plus $2,722 for freight, PDI and various fees.

Engines: 2.0-litre diesel I4 (180 hp/317 lb-ft. of torque); 3.0-litre supercharged gas V-6 (380 hp/332 lb-ft torque) using premium fuel.

Transmissions: eight-speed automatic.

Drive: all-wheel with various dial-up functions for road conditions.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.5 combined for diesel; 11.6 combined for gas engine using premium fuel.

Comparables: Audi Q5, Porsche Macan, Jaguar F-Pace.

 

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2018 Nissan Armada: the family bus with a fancy rearview camera

We came to call it the family bus, a seven-passenger SUV that – shockingly – was so stable and solid, a third-row passenger during one road trip was able to read an e-book for two hours without getting car sick.

Big. Very big.

On the other hand, in today’s world of tight city parking spots and low underground lot clearances, parking the 2018 Nissan Armada Platinum edition was a monstrous pain in the butt – impossible to keep within the lines of spaces designed for Nissan Micras. What’s more, for the $74,999 price of my fully loaded Platinum model, you could buy seven base-version Micras. (Note: I have seen Armada demo models listed for as little as $61,000 and change.)

It would, of course, be silly to have seven Catos each run about in a personal Micra minicar. And so, after a week of busing around my relatives visiting from England, I came to a grudging admiration for the actual functionality of the Armada. Somewhere between 60-80 Canadians who buy an Armada every month surely come to the same conclusion. This Titanic-sized rig has limited appeal, but what it has is very real.

As for parking, the 2018 Armada has a new tech toy called the Intelligent Rearview Mirror to help you back into a space or maintain a clear-eyed, high-definition look at what’s behind. An embedded screen delivers a video feed from a rear-mounted camera, giving the driver a stunningly clear picture.

Not a particularly distinguished design.

If it’s too vivid, flip the switch that allows the driver to toggle from camera view to conventional mirror. We’ve seen this sort of technology – streaming video – in the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the Cadillac CT6 and Cadillac XT5. What’s the advantage? The views in conventional mirrors can offer limited rearward help, but that’s not the case here. The picture is sharp, sharp, sharp.

This gizmo is very helpful for those who tow – and the Armada, properly equipped, can tow up to 8,500 pounds or 3,856 kilograms. That’s what a Tiny Home weighs.

There is enough power here to yank about big things, too. The standard engine is a new 5.6-litre V8 (390-horsepower/394 lb-ft of torque) mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission. Smooth, strong and quiet. The usual suite of high-end safety features is also available: Predictive Forward Collision Warning, Backup Collision Intervention and Around View® Monitor with Moving Object Detection.

A perfectly suitable cabin.

This version of the Armada was upgraded for 2017 and it’s based on the Nissan Patrol, a rugged SUV rivaled by Toyota’s Land Cruiser and sold in Australia, South America and elsewhere. The Infiniti QX80 also rides on this platform. We are, then, talking about a body-on-frame, pickup-style rig with an SUV body bolted on top.

A few observations from my test. The seats? No complaints. The defroster for the rear side windows is completely useless, which means those sitting in back must wipe off the windows with regularity. The third row is tight, unless you are a small person. Access is awkward, which is not unusual for this sort of truck.

The infotainment system with its 8.0-inch touchscreen is reasonably sensible, though simple things like syncing a smart phone are more troubling than they should be. There are lots of USB ports and the 13-speaker Bose audio system, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, and Nissan’s Intelligent Around View Monitor (a camera system that provides a virtual 360-degree view) all function as advertised. The liftgate includes an auto-closure feature and available power function.

You can toggle between digital and traditional with the Intelligent Rear View Mirror (I-RVM).

As for the design, look, there’s only so much the stylists can do with a big box on wheels based on a safari vehicle. I get it. But I don’t think the designers did enough to distinguish the Armada from, well, the Toyota Sequoia, Ford Expedition, Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban and GMC Yukon. They’re all big and blocky.

Frankly, if you’re shopping here, these rigs all smudge together, with incredibly similar capabilities and features. Shop on price, and that means keep an eye out for demo deals.

2018 Nissan Armada Platinum Edition

Price: $74,998 plus $2,076 for freight, PDI and various fees (base model lists for $64998).

Engine: 5.6-litre V-9 (390-horsepower/394 lb-ft of torque)).

Transmissions: seven-speed automatic.

Drive: all-wheel with various dial-up functions for road conditions.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.8 city/17.5.

Comparables Toyota Sequoia, Ford Expedition, Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban and GMC Yukon.

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Want a wagon? Try this: 2018 Mercedes-Benz C300 4MATIC

A station wagon — known as an “Estate” in Europe and elsewhere —

Mercedes-Benz’ C300 cabin: refined and rich.

is the perfect landing point between an SUV (sport-utility vehicle) and a sedan/hatchback. But almost nobody cares.

Every fifth Canadian turns a nose up to the few wagons for sale, and then opts for a compact SUV. Year-end SUV tally:  well north of 400,000, undoubtedly. Another 350,000 Canadians will opt for some other sort of SUV – big, small, luxurious, super luxurious and in between.

The station wagon, family rig of choice for generations, is a dying breed, a niche body style in a segment shrinking like the prime minister’s popularity. Today’s wagons, what’s left of them? No longer affordable, everyday workhorses.

In a valiant and vain effort to keep the wagon love alive, carmakers from Audi to Volkswagen are tarting up in their wagons, as if Jason Statham could be anything but The Transporter, even in formal wear.

Yet the car companies persist. Their strategy: strip away the wagon name, load up with fancy gear and design tweaks, and by will and guile, a service rig becomes a sexy ride.

Audi A4 Allroad ($47,800)? Station wagon, despite its pretensions otherwise. Volkswagen Golf SportsWagen and Golf Alltrack ($24,195 and $34,345, respectively)? Misspelling wagon and alluding to all-surface versatility can’t hide the wagon-ness here.  Mini Clubman ($$27,790)? Mini wagon.

Cargo room, flexible.

Porsche has the Panamera Sport Turismo ($109,700), which takes the prize for ambitious takes on disguise-by-naming. Porsche station wagon, pure and simple. Subaru has the Outback ($29,295), now that the Legacy wagon is long gone. Again, the Outback suggests off-roadiness, but who are we kidding? Wagon.

Volvo’s V60 and V90 models ($47,950, $58,900, respectively) come in pure wagon form. Volvo has a long history with wagons, so is less apologetic about the whole thing. But BMW hides its 3-Series wagon under the Touring name ($46,350).

Like Volvo, however, Mercedes-Benz embraces wagons. Merc’s E-Class wagon is a sleek wagon that’s shaped like a bullet and goes like one. Which brings me to the C-Class wagon.

I love it. Yes, I joke about it being the Honda Accord of Mercedes wagons — the Merc Accord – but that’s truly a backhanded compliment rooted in actual admiration. The C-wagon is tight and refined, and it feels built to last and please.

Other than pricing. My tester had a $46,000 base sticker, but larded up with extras, the final number was a breathtaking $56,865, pus freight, prep, fees and taxes. Out the door: well past $60,000 for a compact wagon powered by a 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-banger mated to a nine-speed automatic.

Yes, that little mill churns up 241 horsepower and will get you from 0-100 km/hour in 6.1 seconds. The car is quick, smooth, refined and responsive. The nine-speed slides from ratio to ratio with precision. The 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system does its work without being obvious.

Not so roomy back there. .

The design, however, is an eye-grabber. This collection of cuts, shapes and creases is marked by a low, balanced stance. The in-grille three-pointed star and five-spoke 17-inch wheels look aggressive. You will need to climb down and into the C-wagon, and if that’s not to your liking, move along the Merc’s less expensive GLC SUV. Same function, in a taller wagon.

The cabin stands out best. My tester, with two Premium packages, had the look, feel and function of a luxury car: metal trim, wood appliques, three-colour ambient lighting, and lovely electronic readouts.

The Command Controller infotainment interface is not completely intuitive, but nothing of this sort is, not from the Germans. At least Merc has included buttons for direct access to the more common in-car systems and functions.

The front buckets are supportive enough, the rears, though, are tight in every way for full-size adults. The rea seatback folds utterly flat in a snap for flexible cargo room.

If you like to drive, you will like this C far more than the less than sporty GLC. By far. This little wagon responds quickly to inputs, the steering is linear, the brakes strong. A strong structure and excellent suspension tuning make for a very pleasant mix of ride comfort and driving engagement.

If you need something a bit practical and eschew SUVs, you could do worse than to wagon up to a C.

2018 C300 4MATIC Wagon

Price (base): $46,000. As tested: $56,865, plus fees and taxes.

Engine: 2.0-litre I4, turbocharged (241 hp/273 pound-feet of torque)

Transmission: nine-speed automatic.

Drive: all-wheel.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.7 city/8.0 using premium fuel.

Comparables:  Volvo XC60, BMW 3-Series Touring, Audi Allroad, Subaru Outback, VW Golf Alltrack.

Note on photos: European model shown.

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Buick? A player, and so is the 2018 Enclave

This Motley Fool headline speaks volumes about the utter and almost universal contempt so many have felt for General Motors over the years, even decades:

“How Did General Motors’ Buick – Yes, Buick – Beat Toyota in Quality?”

That headline is pregnant with astonishment. The headline assumes that everyone knows Toyota is the platinum standard in quality and Buick – yes, Buick – somehow, miraculously, stunningly, unbelievably topped the embodiment of excellence. It was written in 2015.

Two years later, we see that Buick’s quality story was not a fluke, a one-off. In this year’s long-term Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) from J.D. Power and Associates, you will find Buick still among the industry quality leaders. For 2017, Buick is ranked fourth overall, just behind Lexus, Porsche and, of course, Toyota – and ahead of Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jaguar, Audi and Volvo.

So, let me ask you: Would you buy a Buick?

If you’re over 60, you might — out of nostalgia or some sense of loyalty. If you’re 45-60, you’d probably grouse about General Motors’ bankruptcy bailout (I hear from these people all the time). If you’re 30-45, you would likely say you thought Buick had gone the way of Saturn, Pontiac, Saab, Hummer and Oldsmobile: “They’re still making Buicks?”

Handsome cabin.

But if you’re under 30, Buick to you is the nifty little Encore urban SUV. And you might be open to that. The slightly larger Envision SUV might also grab your interest on styling alone.

If you’re in the critical 45-60 demographic, and you’ve actually done a modest cost/benefit analysis of the taxpayer bailout of GM – and mountains of credible research shows it was worth every penny – then you might be willing to park your anti-GM bias and unbridled free-market ideology. You might give Buick a look. Perhaps for that buyer, Buick is not a total write-off and a complete non-starter.

This is the hope and prayer of Buick types ushering into the market an all-new version of the Buick Enclave, Buick’s sister model to the recently introduced Chevrolet Traverse. Current Enclave owners are inching towards falling from the edge of the demographic table. For this particular model, it’s get young or die.

– Source: GM Canada

Consider the numbers shared by Buick brand manager Mark Alger: the average age of an Enclave buyer is 61, versus a youngish 49 for competitive models like the Acura MDX and Infiniti QX60. Moreover, today’s Enclave buyer has less money and is not as well educated as buyers of competitors. Alger and his crew want to rope in 49-55-year-olds who make more money and are much more likely to have a university education.

To that end, the latest 2018 Enclave has a modern, handsome look that is lit up with LED lamps and marked by crisp lines in the sheetmetal; there is seating for up to seven; and the cabin looks and feels rich and modern, right down to the well-stuffed seats and eight-inch touchscreen.

Alger gets misty when talking about the Enclave’s new air ionizer designed to clean up odors and reduce cabin bacteria, viruses, dust, debris, and pollen. A new frontier in cabin design: fighting in-car air pollution.

Cargo room, fold-flat seats.

Power comes from a 3.6-litre V-6 with the now-common stop/start technology to save fuel and irritate drivers. There is a 5,000 tow limit, a nine-speed automatic and a very modern all-wheel-drive system.

Really and truly, the Enclave is smooth, powerful and quiet, certainly less clunky than a QX60, perhaps dynamically on par with a Mercedes-Benz M-Class, but a notch below what I think is the best among intermediate luxury SUVs, the Volvo XC90.

Buick has loaded up this rig with technological baubles like a rear camera mirror, adaptive cruise control and low-speed forward automatic braking. A display shows what’s all around you when backing up, too.

Third-row access.

The cabin is big. There is plenty of cargo space, and even underfloor storage at the rear. Even big humans will feel at home. The seats are road-trip comfortable.

The verdict? Buick is in the game here. The $49,690-$63,690 pricing is competitive, though not a bargain by any means. And note that the least expensive Enclave is a front-drive, while all the rest have standard AWD. In fairness, Buick has lowered Enclave pricing across the board, modestly, while adding some content.

And, of course, quality is not a worry at all.

2018 Buick Enclave

Price range: $49,690-$63,690.

Engine: 3.6-litre V-6 (310 hp/266 pound-feet of torque)

Transmission: nine-speed automatic.

Drive: front- and all-wheel.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.8 city/9.4 using regular fuel.

Comparables:  Volvo XC90, Infiniti QX60, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Lincoln MKX, Lexus GX470, BMW X5.

Road trip comfort.

 

 

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