Car Review: 2016 Cadillac ATS-V

— Apprehension came with the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V. It was winter, at least technically, and in these parts, that means snow. We had the coupe version of the car. But four doors or two doors the Cadillac ATS-V is rear-wheel-drive and that can be hazardous in winter months, especially when you’ve got power under the hood.

The ATS-V had a 3.6-liter twin turbocharged V6 that made 464 horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a six-speed manual transmission with active rev match. An eight-speed automatic is available. In manual mode, Cadillac said the car had a zero to 60 mph time of 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 189 mph, neither of which were approached during the test drive.

Although the statistics make it sound like a brute, the car was extremely easy to drive. It had a Macpherson strut front suspension with lower ball joints and a direct stabilizer bar. In the rear, was an independent five-link suspension with Magnetic Ride Control.

It finessed the streets without a lot of fanfare because the third generation magnetic ride was set on touring. The ATS-V’s ride got a lot stiffer in sport mode and it was outright harsh in track mode while on city streets.

Steering was electric with power and variable assist. There wasn’t a lot of feedback but the response to driver input was almost immediate. The brakes were four-wheel discs with Brembo aluminum six piston red calipers in the front and four red calipers in rear. On dry pavement stopping felt instant.

The 18-inch wheels had been shod with Bridgestone winter tires, which were due for a workout as an abundance of snow fell toward the end of the week-long test drive. The car handled the slush filled streets well as long as we stayed off the gas. One surprise was that the defrosters, front and back, worked quicker than any that came to mind. In the cold, that makes a difference when scraping ice off the front and back windows.

The fenders were wider to accommodate the tires. A light-weight carbon hood with an air extractor was just the beginning of features the Cadillac ATS-V had to enhance performance. Front and rear fascia with wider openings in the front along with an enlarged grille for more air was part of the package. The front splitter increased down-force for better handling.

The test car featured both a carbon fiber and track package. The splitter was carbon fiber, as was the air extractor, the rear diffuser and the hood vent. The rocker was made of a composite as was the body colored rear spoiler. The Track Package included a Performance Data Recorder and a low-mass battery. The standard floor mats and the tire inflator kit were dumped to save weight.

Inside, the driver was enveloped by Recaro performance seats. The seats were heated in front, 16-way power adjustable and trimmed in leather with microfiber inserts and seatbacks. The car’s interior trim was carbon fiber.

There were expected creature comforts. Bluetooth, satellite radio, voice controls, a navigation system, a backup camera and parking assist fore and aft were included. But there were a couple of areas were the Cadillac ATS-V went beyond what was expected. In addition to its auxiliary and USB jacks, it had slot for an SD memory card. It had a couple of 12-volt sockets but also one plug for 110 volts.

And the ATS-V’s Apple CarPlay feature enabled iPhone 5s and up to connect their applications like navigation, hands free texting, entertainment and news directly through the CUE display screen. The Cadillac ATS-V can also generate its own Wi Fi hotspot that is good for 50 feet around the car.

Engineers did a lot of work on the ATS-V, which is the first V series car to be powered by a V6. For the enthusiasts, Cadillac said, “The twin, low-inertia turbochargers’ featherweight titanium-aluminide turbines are used with vacuum-actuated waste gate control for precise, responsive torque production. In fact, the titanium-aluminide turbines reduce rotating inertial load by 51 percent, compared to conventional Inconel turbine wheels. That means less exhaust energy – which spins the turbines – is wasted in stored inertial loads.”

What that means is relatively small turbochargers and their lightweight turbines foster immediate spooling, which eliminated turbo lag. We felt none, not once, during the week-long test drive.

The test vehicle was base priced at $62,665. Add options and a $995 freight charge and the sticker came to $74,635. That’s steep but you’ll pay a lot more for a comparable coupe from the competition.

Car Review: 2016 Mazda6

— It is near impossible not to like a Mazda, in this case the automaker’s flagship sedan, the Mazda6. Swept lines and smoother curves gave the car a take a second look design.

Many noted its good looks and wanted to know what kind of car it was. That might be Mazda’s only problem: a lack of marketing money. But then again, the company sells about every vehicle its factories can churn out.

This rendition of the Mazda6 has been on the market for-two years but Mazda chose to update the car. That’s what small, quick and nimble companies can do. Amongst many tinkerings for 2016 was a new grille, fog lights, surround and LED headlights. We had the touring package so those LED headlights were standard and they were adjustable.

The Mazda6 had a winged grille motif that carried through all of its exterior design. Fenders were curved over the wheel and the belt line was a bit pinched at the center of the car and then it open up as it flowed to the rear end. In a sense, the car looked like sheet metal in motion even when at a standstill.

Inside, stylists improved on what was an already a pretty competent interior. They upgraded the materials and, for the intrepid, pure white leather is now available. The interior of the test car was parchment but it looked awfully white, especially at night as the interior lights came on when we approached the car with FOB in pocket.

The Mazda6 was comfortable, relatively quiet and the front-wheel-drive sedan handled well. There was plenty of room in the front seats, two adults could get in the car and not touch elbows. The back seats were surprisingly spacious given the cars sloping roof line. It looked as though two adults would have plenty of head and hip room and could ride in comfort.

The car was powered by a 2.5-liter four cylinder engine that made 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. The test car had what Mazda called the i-ELOOP brake energy system for improved fuel economy. The 2016 Mazda6 with this system had a fuel economy rating of 28 mpg in the city, 40 mpg on the highway and 32 mpg combined.

This engine was quiet, responsive and it had some pep. However, when we put some pressure on the metal it did get kind of loud. But in defense of Mazda’s engineers, the car was still cold. We’ve got to go across town so it will be tried again. After the car had warmed-up, it was more quiet.

Armed with Mazda’s SkyActiv technology that lessens noise, vibrations and harshness, the tester had the ambience of a more expensive sedan. It didn’t hurt that among its equipment was door trim plates, rain sensing wipers, heated side mirrors, blind side alert, parking assistance, paddle shifters, rear view camera, keyless entry, a moon roof, satellite radio, an infotainment system and more.

The equipment and the package made the 2016 Mazda6’s base price of $30,195 awfully reasonable. Even after adding options and freight charges, the sticker came to $33,605. That’s not bad for a high quality sedan that has some exclusivity. In other words, you’re not going to see the 2016 Mazda6 parked in every other driveway.

Frank S. Washington is editor of

Car Review: 2015 Cadillac Escalade 4WD Premium

— The Cadillac Escalade has reached cult status. No other reason explains why the body on frame, three-row sport utility’s global sales were up by almost 70 percent through July.

Yes, gasoline prices are way down and that has lessened the onus of driving a big gas consuming sport utility. And no, more folks are not carpooling so the Escalade’s three rows of seats are really not needed. Still, our test vehicle garnered awe as we drove around the city for a week.

We had the 2015 Escalade 4WD Premium model. It was powered by a 6.2-liter V8 that made 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, our test vehicle had an EPA rating of 15 mpg in the city, 21 mpg on the highway and 17 mpg combined.

Cadillac said, “A new four-wheel-drive system enables the driver to select an Auto mode for set-it-and-forget-it automatic activation when conditions call for extra traction assist. A separate 4 HI mode offers the most capability for more challenging conditions.”

But it is not as bad as it sounds. Our test vehicle had a 26-gallon fuel tank. Thus, we had no need of visiting a gas station during our test drive. And we estimate that a fill-up would last about a week during normal driving. Cadillac has tamed the big V8 under the Escalade’s hood. It was quiet, responsive to accelerator input and the engine ran smoothly at idle.

The Escalade is a traditional body on frame sport utility. And it sits on a truck chassis. It had an independent coil over shock front suspension and a solid axle with five-link and coil springs in the rear. Magnetic ride control was at work fore and aft and we think that is why any semblance to a truck ride was absent. Our test vehicle rode smooth, flattened out ruddy streets and it was quiet.

This was the fourth generation of the Cadillac Escalade. It has been redesigned. It had the familiar chrome grille and vertical LED daytime running lights in the front and the rear. The headlights and taillights were also LEDs. The taillights reached the top of the Escalade and featured Cadillac’s wreath and crest insignia that lit up at night. Inlaid doors now fit into the body side openings instead of over the top of the body; that was another reason for the quiet running of our test vehicle.

Inside the Escalade had a layered leather, wood and suede looking accents with real stitching. There was ambient lighting, very comfortable seats and a reclining second row. Triple sealed doors were yet another reason for the Escalade’s quiet running.

But it was inside the Escalade that we found something to gripe about. The shift stalk was on the column. The sport utility sits on a truck chassis so that should not have been a surprise. But the interior was so nice that the column gear stalk really did seem out of place. Of course, the full-size sport utility featured Cadillac’s touch controls that have been made easier to use. There were voice controls, too.

Our Escalade was just chock full of stuff. It had keyless entry with push button start, heated and cooled first row seats and heated second row seats. There was a second-row entertainment system, fold flat second and third row seats, tri-zone climate controls and the third-row power folded.

On the exterior it had illuminated door handles, an adjustable power liftgate and a retractable assist steps (read running boards). The 2015 Cadillac Escalade was a like a rolling computer – a big one.

It had a Wi-Fi hot spot, satellite radio, a navigation system, wireless charging, a heads-up-display, of course a backup camera and surround vision. There was blind side alert, rear cross traffic alert, a driver awareness package, driver assist package, a theft deterrent (the Escalade was really popular with car thieves) and our test vehicle had optional 22-inch wheels.

Cadillac dumped the base model of the Escalade because, though they put it nicely, people weren’t buying it. In effect, that raised the price about $7,000. Our 2015 Cadillac Escalade Cadillac had a sticker of $84,070. Add options: the wheels, the power retractable running board and a $995 freight charge and the total came to $87,360.

Aspirants and admires alike of the Escalade don’t care about the cost. They either want one or wish they had one or are getting one. And we think Cadillac is smiling all the way to the bank.

Car Review: 2015 Buick Regal AWD GS

— Buicks no longer look like Buicks of yesteryear and when it comes to the Buick Regal GS, that fact is particularly evident. The Regal was recently ranked best sport sedan by Consumer Reports and selected a recommended buy.

For 2015, the sedan has a built-in Wi Fi hotspot and three new exterior colors, none of which we had. We were “stuck” with copper red metallic and a black interior. That was just fine with us. And by the way, it was just fine with everybody who gave us a thumbs up in this car.

What set the Regal GS apart was the color and the sheet metal. It was lower and it had a unique front and rear fascia. In the front were sizable vertical air intake slots; the rear had trapezoidal exhaust outlets. Rocker panel extensions and a rear spoiler extension were also part of the look. The whole package was accented by 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

The sedan was powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, but don’t get it twisted. Buick engineers managed to squeeze almost 300 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque out of this turbocharged power plant.

Making 295 pound-feet of torque at a reasonably low 2,500 horsepower, this Buick Regal was quick, it accelerated with authority and its six speed automatic transmission was smooth. Of course it was quiet, real quiet. Silent running is now a hallmark of all contemporary Buicks. We were particularly impressed with the suspension after going over some sizable and abrupt indentations in the road.

Our GS AWD model had a four-wheel independent suspension with a unique high performance strut front suspension design. It reduced torque steer; improved vehicle sensitivity to tire irregularities and wheel balance; and there was more linear and communicative steering through improved camber control; and improved impact isolation on bumps and rough surfaces.

That’s Buick-speak. We thought the car was easy to drive, it cornered well, we felt no torque steer and not only did the suspension flatten out bumps in the road it did so quietly.

Our test car had all-wheel-drive that was front-wheel-drive orientated when the pavement was dry. The EPA numbers were 19 mpg in city driving, 27 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined. The car had an 18-gallon capacity fuel tank, thus, it had a range of more than 450 mils on the highway. That was not bad.

The interior was clean, almost egalitarian. The dash was curved with each front door as an anchor. The center stack held an eight-inch color touch screen. The instrument cluster was a 4.2-inch TFT screen with some strategically placed needle indicators that made it appear to be analogue.

It had chrome accents, two drive modes – touring and sport – in addition to normal and the TFT screen delivered customized information including navigation, the audio system, phone features and of course there was voice control.

Although we didn’t use it, our test car had adaptive cruise control and automatic collision preparation. That was the $1,195 option package called Driver Confidence Package #2. The car also had the Driver Confidence Package #1. It included sensor indicator, following distance, forward collision alert, and rear cross traffic alert, land departure warning, blind side alert with lane change alert and memory settings for the driver’s seat and sideview mirrors. We also had a moonroof.

About the only thing we could complain about was those sideview mirrors. They had a trapezoidal shape that matched the exhaust pipes. They looked good but they presented an oddly shaped reflection. However, we got used to it.

Our test vehicle was sporty, looked good, was an easy drive and garnered some street props. That wasn’t bad and for the quality and quiet that come with a Buick it bordered on outstanding. We didn’t think the $44,670 sticker was out of line for what you get.

Frank S. Washington is editor of

Car Review: 2015 Hyundai Genesis AWD 3.8

— You can call something a luxury car, but if the interior doesn’t feel or look like a luxury car, then you have a tough sell ahead. The first thing we noticed about the Genesis interior was the wood. There was a broad swath of matte-finished wood across the face of the dash and it had a natural grain look and feel. It continued through the doors fore and aft.

There was a TFT screen between a three dimensional odometer and speedometer. The touch screen was pretty wide but not so big as to overpower the wood finish. Inside trim included aluminum, chrome and upscale polymers.

And the car was quiet, really quiet – with the engine on or engine off. We had the Genesis 3.8. AWD. That means our test car had a 3.8-liter direct injection V6 that made 311 horsepower and 293 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to an eight-speed transmission. This powertrain was smooth, quiet and assertive.

The 2015 Hyundai Genesis is available with either rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive HTRAC. Our test vehicle had all-wheel-drive. The system distributed torque to the wheels according to the drive modes: Eco, Normal, Sport and Snow. Even on dry pavement it will send more torque to the rear wheels.

Hyundai said, “This system has a wider range of torque distribution variability than many competitive systems and has been tuned to variable conditions such as straight-line acceleration, medium- and high-speed cornering, and hill-starts.”

Putting power to all four wheels is great for slippery roads. But it also contributes to effective handling on dry pavement. And the 2015 Hyundai Genesis stuck to the pavement. Turns were sharp, cornering was crisp and the car accelerated with authority, once reaching 95 mph from 75 mph in roughly two seconds.

High strength steel was used extensively on the platform of the new Genesis. The result was 16 percent stiffer torsional rigidity and 40 percent stiffer bending rigidity compared to the first Genesis. That may sound too technical. but the bottom line is it was a smoother ride with hardly any noise, vibration or harshness.

We went over a stretch of road, Outer Drive between Wyoming and Livernois, which was ruddy surfaced and pock marked from one street to the other. There were no squeaks or rattles, the 2015 Genesis was quiet, even the thumps and bumps of the suspension were muffled.

Hyundai said the Genesis is the first model to use the company’s Fluidic Sculpture 2.0, yes there was a 1.0. The swerves and curves of the first generation have been reduced. Thus, the design can be incorporated into more Hyundai models. The Korean automaker needs to find a familial exterior style for its vehicles.

The Genesis had a distinctive hexagonal grille and a crease accent line running along the flanks of the car. It had a long snout and short rump with a longer wheelbase and shorter overhangs than the car that it replaced. This car looked like it could run – fast.

Our test vehicle was loaded. It had a 12-way front power seat. The driver’s chair had power bolsters and a seat cushion extension. The front seats were heated and cooled while the rear seats were heated. Our beige perforated leather seats had black piping.

Those rear seats were spacious, there was plenty of legroom and headroom was great. The 2015 Genesis has more interior room than its competitors, so said Hyundai.

But from those back seats we got a good look at our only quibble with the Genesis. Buttons, lots of buttons. We counted some two dozen on the front control center. That’s a lot of buttons for a car with a mouse and a touch screen.

Don’t get it twisted; the controls were not confusing in the least. However, with proximity technology, infrared and other sensing mechanisms, luxury automakers are, read Hyundai competitors, moving to clean interior looks that involve hardly any buttons or switches.

The test car had a panoramic roof, manual shades on the rear side windows and of course a power shade on the rear window. There was a backup camera with cross traffic alert and parking guidelines. The system would even project a vertical look of the car’s rear.

It had a navigation system, satellite radio, voice controls, auxiliary and USB jacks, blind spot alert and land departure warning. The technology package included partial automatic emergency braking from 50 mph to 112 mph and full automatic braking from 5 mph to 50 mph.

A Hyundai Blue Link app for your smartphone will let you remotely start the car, lock or unlock the doors, do point of interest searches using the navigation system, search for gas stations, call roadside assistance talk to a Blue Link agent and locate nearby dealers.

And the 17 speaker, 900 watt infotainment system let you voice control the navigation system, the audio system, including Pandora and Sound Hound, search for fuel prices, get movie tickets and check the weather.

That was just some of the 2015 Hyundai Genesis’ equipment. The sticker on our test car was $52,450. Quite frankly, we thought it was underpriced.

Frank S. Washington is editor of

Car Review: 2015 Corvette Stingray Convertible

— Let’s see, the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible. There’s not too much more to say than that, after all it is America’s sports car.

The heart of any sports car is the engine and in this case our Corvette was powered by a mammoth 6.2-liter V8 that made 455 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. However, we had the Z51 performance package that bumped the engine output up to 460 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque.

Standard equipment on this car is a seven-speed manual transmission that we would have preferred. But our test car was equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission with shift times that rival dual clutch gear boxes, so said the manufacturer.

The package, which also included a performance exhaust, enabled our Corvette Stingray to get from a standstill to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. It could run the quarter mile in 12 seconds and reach 119 mph, it had a 1.03g cornering grip and it could reach zero from 60 mph in 107 feet.

Those are world-class performance numbers. This car was lightening-quick, too fast to let loose on surface streets. Just an authoritative push on the accelerator and this Corvette went from 70 mph to 90 mph in a couple of seconds. But it was civil at low speeds. It could be used as an everyday driver on dry pavement, but why would you want to do that?

The drive mode dial had five selections: Weather, Eco, Tour, Sport and Track. The selector adjusted 12 vehicle dynamics, depending on the setting. Corvette said Tour mode was for everyday driving; Weather mode was designed for better traction in rain or snow, Eco was of course for better mileage, Sport was for “spirited” driving and Track is for what else, the track.

For the record, our test Corvette Stingray was rated at 16 mpg in the city, 29 mpg on the highway and 20 mpg combined. The car had an 18.5-gallon fuel tank, so fill ups were probably not as frequent as you would think. In the Eco setting, the test car could operate in four-cylinder mode until aggressive acceleration was needed.

In addition to its Z51 performance suspension, our test car had slotted brake rotors, painted aluminum wheels, differential electronic limited slip differential, a rear differential cooler, a performance exhaust, performance gear ratios, dry sump oil system and 19-inch rubber in the front and 20-inch rubber in the back.

This new Corvette is unmistakably a Corvette, but it is completely different from the car it replaced. Crisp angular aggressive styling replaces the curved sheet metal and smooth corners of the old car. White daytime running lights added to an already distinctive face. Taillights on the new ‘Vette were no longer round and they were LEDs. So were the backup lights.

Our test convertible had a fully automatic top. Just press a button and the top came up or let down, well, automatically. It included latching and unlatching. There was also a top control on the FOB but we couldn’t get it to work. And since we only had the Corvette Stingray for a weekend, time escaped us and we didn’t get a chance to see what, if anything, we were doing wrong with the FOB.

For a convertible, our test car was pretty quiet with the top up. It was made of thick sound absorbing material that, along with a glass rear window, worked pretty well at filtering exterior noise.

Anyway, it took 21 seconds to lower or raise the top. And it could be done when the car was doing as much as 30 mph, although we didn’t test it. With the top down, there were dual black trim panels on the tonneau cover. And the exterior color was brought inside by what Corvette called the waterfall valley between the seats.

Our test car was full of creature comforts. It had heated and cooled seats, satellite radio, OnStar, voice controls, a heads up display that could be seen while wearing polarized sunglasses, heated outside mirrors, power seats, a smart key, of course a navigation system, a premium audio system, voice controls, a rearview camera, remote start and more.

Our lone quibble was that we only had it for the weekend. The base price of our test car was $64,000. Add the freight charge and options and our 2015 Corvette Stingray Convertible was $75,560.

Frank S. Washington is editor of

Car Review: 2015 Lexus RC350 Coupe F Sport

— For years Lexus sold vehicles on the strength of the brand. Build quality was outstanding, fit and finish was almost perfect and its customer satisfaction became an industry benchmark. But during our week-long test drive of the 2015 Lexus RC 350 Coupe F Sport, we were hailed several times by drivers who told us they loved the way the RC looks. The bottom line is that Lexus finally has a car that earns it street creds, not just brand admiration.

The RC is a 2+2 coupe with a compact cabin. It had fender flares and body contours etched with sweeping lines. The roof bulges slightly but that is to accommodate taller drivers and passengers. In fact, the car really didn’t feel cramped; it was very spacious and there was plenty of headroom.

Lexus borrowed from its IS and GS sedans to create a new platform for the RC. The wheelbase was 107.5 inches, overall the car was 184 inches long and 54.9-inches tall and 72.4 inches wide. The headlamps sat high on each side of the spindle grille which was more pronounced on our test vehicle. The LED formed an angular L that has become Lexus’ signature frontal look. And Lexus also used LED lamps in the taillights with lens technology that gave them a sparkling effect.

There are three trim line of the RC: the RC 350, the RC 350 F Sport and the higher performance RC F. We had the sport and it was more than enough car for everyday driving. You might want to consider finding a garage for the rear-wheel-drive coupe when snow starts hitting the ground.

The RC F Sport is more of an appearance package since it has the same engine as the RC 350. Still, its 306 horsepower V6 engine provided more than enough oomph. It made 277 pound-feet of torque and it was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Though less power than the 467 horsepower V8, our test car made up for it in fuel economy. The car had an EPA rating of 19 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined.

The F Sport had four drive modes: Eco, Normal, Sport S and Sport S+. The car will adjust the suspension, throttle response and the electric power steering according to what drive mode is selected. It will even adjust the air conditioning. The RC 350 F Sport had rear-wheel-steer. It enhanced handling and gave the car a sure treadedness. The coupe was responsive, it cornered well, the suspension ranged from firm to stiff, depending on the drive mode selected, and the Lexus RC was very easy to drive.

Unlike a lot of performance coupes, the interior of the 2015 RC 350 F Sport didn’t feel like a cocoon. It was spacious, there was plenty of headroom and the car could be used as an everyday driver.

Part of its sports package was 19-inch, 10-cross spoke wheels. But that was just the beginning. Our tester was equipped with a sunroof. It had a navigation system, Bluetooth, satellite radio, a backup camera with cross traffic alert. Once, it even alerted us to pedestrians crossing our path as we started to back up in a parking lot.

The car had park assist, adaptive cruise control, voice commands, aluminum pedals and carbon-fiber patterned interior trim. It was very comfortable. And considering the style of car, the price seemed very reasonable.

Our 2015 RC350 Coupe F Sport had a sticker of $54,720.

Frank S. Washington is editor of

Car Review: 2016 Volvo XC90

— Now that Volvo has been left alone by its new Chinese owners, an opposite tack from its former corporate parent, the Swedish automaker can get back to being itself. That was evident here as Volvo unveiled its XC90 three row sport utility.

The 2016 Volvo XC90 is a significant new vehicle on several levels. It signals Volvo’s climb into the ranks of luxury automakers. It also signals technological advancements. And it is the beginning of a product onslaught that will make the 2016 XC90 the oldest vehicle in Volvo’s lineup by 2018.

First up is power. For the U.S. market, the XC will be propelled by 2.0-liter, four cylinder Drive E engines. There will be two versions: one for the 2016 Volvo XC90 T6, the second for the T8. But it is not what you think; both engines are identical technologically advanced 2.0-liter four cylinders.

The T6 engine had a supercharger and turbocharger working together on the 2.0-liter, four cylinder that made 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The T8 XC90 had what Volvo is branding a twin engine. The same four-cylinder power plant, this time rated at 313 horsepower, is combined with an electric motor. Together they make 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque. The T8 is a plug-in hybrid; both engines were mated to eight-speed automatic transmissions.

All 2016 XC90s sold here will be all-wheel-drive models. But for fuel economy their AWD system will be front-wheel-drive based capable of sending half of the vehicle’s torque to the rear wheels when needed.

We test drove the T6 and the T8 and found neither lacking in power or agility. Handling was good, especially for a sizable sport utility with three rows of seats. And both of our testers had the top of the line air suspension.

The T6 got 20 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined. The T8 got 59 MPG in the city. Highway numbers were not available at the time of the test drive. The T6 could get from, zero to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds while the T8 could do it in 5.3 seconds and the pair have a top speed of 130 mph. Remember, both were hefty sporty utilities with curb weights of 4,627 pounds for the T6 and 5,059 for the T8. It was the low-end torque that moved them quickly from a standing start.

Still, neither felt overweight and both were fairly agile and they were well balanced as we drove through the mountains and canyons here with their twisting, tightly curved two lane roads. What’s more, the blowers enabled the T6 and the T8 to get up and over and through the mountain roads without the straining that normally comes with four cylinder engines at altitude. In addition, both the T6 and the T8 can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

Although an official said Sweden was not considered in the development of the new XC90, we don’t think so. Gasoline costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 per gallon in the Scandinavian country as well as the rest of Europe. That had to play a role in the company’s development of high-powered, small displacement fuel efficient Drive E engines.

Blown power for the long hauls that come in the expansive United States combined with the fuel efficiency of small four cylinder engines, makes for a globe-gripping vehicle. The Drive E engine family includes diesels but the oil burners will not be sold in this market; at least, not yet.

However, no doubt Volvo used its American design studio in Camarillo, Calif., to imbue the 2016 XC90 with the sense of American luxury needed for it to take on the German and Japanese luxury competitors in this market.

The interior of the XC was concept car quality. It was airy and loaded with matted walnut wood trim that looked almost natural. There was also a trim level that featured aluminum and chrome appointments. The T8 even featured a handmade crystal shift knob. Plus, the XC90 has a top of the line audio system that features 19 speakers and 1,400 watts of power. It includes an air-ventilated system in the wheel well that turns the entire interior into a giant subwoofer.

The seats were exemplary. They had what Volvo called an ergonomic shape that resembled the human spine. The XC90 took four years to develop; the seats took seven. Not only did they look good, like a pillowed new age office chair, they took up less space because they were thinner. Thus, they created more legroom for second and third row passengers.

We didn’t try them, but Volvo said the last row of seats, which folded creating a flat cargo floor, could accommodate someone 5’6” tall. The second row featured three individual seats with an optional child booster seat in the middle. All three could recline as well as slide forward, creating more space for third row passengers. The seats could be outfitted with adjustable side bolsters, seat cushion extensions and they had massage capability.

It was a digital interior. The 2016 XC90 had no knobs, save one, or buttons anywhere. There were steering wheel controls and what Volvo called the portrait screen. That screen controlled everything: climate, seats, media, navigation, phone – everything. Even the rear seat climate controls were digital. And the screen was based on infrared, thus, it detected what icon we were going to push when our finger got one milometer away. That means, Volvo said, that it could be operated while wearing gloves. To say that the premium audio system really thumped out sound is an understatement. It was something special.

Safety has long been Volvo’s hallmark. Those same spine-hugging seats had energy absorbing features to help prevent spine injuries if the XC90 runs off the road during an accident and experiences a hard landing. The sport utility will automatically brake at intersections when it detects an oncoming vehicle while making a left turn. And the XC90 will automatically brake when it encounters cyclists or pedestrians in front it.

Its adaptive cruise control will automatically follow the vehicle ahead in stop and go traffic. Acceleration, braking and steering are controlled automatically. The XC90 can park itself vertically or perpendicularly and four cameras will project a 360-degree view of the vehicle that includes elevation (you have to see it). The XC90 even has a rear collision warning system, in case somebody is going to hit you.

About the only quibble we’ve got is that Volvo says the control system is intuitive. We don’t know, there’s an awful lot to learn. Some sort of instructive software might not be a bad idea. All that new technology is wrapped in appealing sheet metal. Volvo’s grille has been returned to align the iconic arrow with the diagonal slash across the taller grille.

The DRLs form a “T” shape dubbed ‘Thor’s Hammer” that split the headlights. The XC90 has a clam shaped high hood. The beltline and shoulders were sharper and ran down the side connecting to more distinctive taillights. It was an understated elegance.

The XC90 signals that Volvo is back with a vision and the product to match it. What’s more, or worse for competitors, is that the Swedish automaker says it has more of the same type ground breaking products in the pipeline.

A special edition, 1,927 copies, signifying the year the company was founded is being delivered in June. The T6 goes on sale in July; the T8 follows in October. There are three trim lines for each model: Momentum, Inscription and R-Design. Base prices range from $48,900 to $71,600; neither includes a $995 freight charge.

Quality, safety and technology is what you expect from Volvo. It has been a long wait for the automaker to start funneling new products to market but we don’t think anyone is going to be disappointed. The challenge now is will Volvo put forth the marketing muscle, meaning money, to reclaim its niche in American car the market.

Frank S. Washington is editor of

Car Review: 2015 Toyota Prius

— The Toyota Prius has been around for 15 years. It was the first hybrid on the U.S. market and it caused most major manufacturers to develop hybrids of their own. In other words, the Prius aided by Toyota marketing mite, dragged the auto industry into gasoline electric power trains.

To celebrate its 15th year in the market, Toyota has developed a special edition. It comes in two colors: Absolutely Red or Blizzard Pear. There are 17-inch wheels with a dark metal finish. The interior is trimmed with black SofTex® seats and dark gray stitching. The special edition also has blue foot well illumination, dark chrome accents on the door grips, steering wheel and shifter. The side mirrors include turn signals.

We didn’t have the special edition and we didn’t need it. Our Prius was more than good enough. Our test vehicle got 51 mpg in the city, 48 mpg on the highway and 50 mpg combined. It had the same amount of interior space as a midsize sedan.

We had the Prius Three model; the nameplate has grown to include four models. In addition to the Three, there is a Two, Four and the Five. Although our test car had the interior room of a midsize sedan, at 176.4-inches bumper to bumper it could get into compact only parking spaces. But because of its 93.7 cu. ft. of interior space and 21.6 cu. ft. of trunk space, it is classified as a midsize car by the EPA.

But those are numbers. They give no indication of the ambience of the Prius Three’s interior. It was spacious, stately and it was silent, an attribute of a quality build. The instrument panel was embedded at the base of the windshield in the dashboard. There was a speedometer and readout for the hybrid system that let the driver know when the car was charging, exerting energy and what was its driving mode.

It was spacious in the back seats, too. They had what felt like lower lumbar supports. There was plenty head space. For two people there was plenty of room but try and squeeze three adults in the back seats and it would be just that – a squeeze.

The Prius’ hybrid system combined a 1.8-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine and an electric motor. Together they generated 134 horsepower and the car had a continuously variable transmission. Our test car could run on the gasoline engine alone, the battery alone or a combination of the two.

This car almost demands a demure drive. Acceleration wasn’t blistering by any means. But if you know the personality of what you’re driving, then you know aggressive posturing in the Prius is a waste of time. It doesn’t have the oomph to pull it off. Regenerative braking recaptured energy when decelerating and sent it to the battery. Toyota said he helped reduce fuel consumption. The exhaust heat recirculation system reduced heat waste by warming engine coolant during cold startup, although it wasn’t really cold during our test drive.

There were four driving modes: Normal, POWER, ECO and EV. Toyota said, “POWER mode increases sensitivity to throttle input for a sportier feel; ECO mode helps drivers enhance fuel economy by adjusting throttle input and climate control. In EV mode, the Prius can drive on battery power alone at low speeds for about a mile.”

The Prius looks like, well, a Prius. It had an arc shaped profile featuring sharp edges. The car had a drag coefficient of 0.25, another factor that aided fuel consumption. It had an aluminum hood, rear hatch (it was a five-seat hatchback), front stabilizer bar and brake calipers to save weight.

By using super high strength steel (it is lighter and stronger than normal steel) in the inner rocker panel, the center pillar and roof enforcement, the car weighed 3,042 lbs. That’s sport car light.

Our test vehicle was full of creature comforts. It had a moonroof, satellite radio, Toyota’s Entune system with its suite of subscription free apps, Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary ports and voice recognition.

As the cost of well-equipped small cars has climbed, our 2015 Toyota Prius Three’s $28,315 does not seem like the hybrid premium price that it once did.

Frank S. Washington is editor of

Car Review: 2015 Lexus NX 300h

— In the Lexus alphanumeric lexicon, any vehicle nameplate ending with a small “h” is a hybrid. Such was the case with the 2015 Lexus NX 300h. It looks like a rocket. The NX was Lexus’ small 5-door crossover and it had very aggressive styling. Beginning with the brand’s spindle grille, the exterior was comprised of sharply angled edges and creases.

The NX had a raked windshield as well as a raked tailgate. It had Lexus’ signature L shaped DRL signature lighting in the front, ground spoilers on the side and a tailgate design in the rear that echoed the spindle grille in the front. Overall, the 2015 Lexus NX looked like it was slicing through air while standing still and we’re sure that is exactly the look Lexus designers were trying to achieve.

Under the hood was a 2.5 liter four cylinder engine and two electric motors that made a combined 194 horsepower and 152 foot-pounds of torque. The engine was mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

The Lexus NX 300h is not going to blow anybody away off the starting line. But our test vehicle was capable. It wasn’t overwhelmed on the expressways here. And though it was a small crossover, it was not outsized by other vehicles or traffic, either. Acceleration wasn’t explosive but the NX handled well, cornering was good and there were three drive modes. Normal of course was the default setting; it also had an Eco-setting and a Sport setting. We pretty much left it in the default setting.

Our test vehicle had an all-wheel-drive system that was designed for the NX hybrid. It used an electric motor to drive the rear wheels. The front axle was powered by the gasoline engine or second electric motor or a combination of both.

This system operated in front-wheel-drive mode and only sent power to the rear wheels when needed on slippery surfaces. The rear electric motor also acted as a generator when the NX was in regenerative braking mode, increasing the amount of kinetic energy recovered. Since it was dry here doing our test drive we did not get the chance to experience the system at work.

The interior of the NX was special. It was meant to evoke a feel of a sports car and did so pretty well. It was dominated by a center console. Above it, a fixed information-navigation screen was indented into the dash creating a shelf. The vents, analogue clock and climate controls were embedded on a pier-like ledge that gently sloped down from the dash. The audio controls were beneath.

Cup holders and the drive mode selector were in the center console. It was a different but clean layout. We thought the way Lexus handled the TFT instrument panel was thoughtful, too. Two rings, one for the speedometer and the other for the tachometer, where there. The analogue numbers digitally projected looked permanent. But turn the NX off and they disappeared except the rings.

The back seats were spacious; there was plenty of head room and two people could be very comfortable. The floor was almost flat. Thus, if a third person had to sit in the back seat, it would not be that bad – for a short trip.

The passenger cabin was swathed in black and cream leather with linear black shadow wood trim. Our test vehicle had the luxury option package. It was comprised of heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels, a navigation system, a premium sound system and rearview camera.

It had automatic dimming sideview mirrors that tilted when the NX was put in reverse, blind side alert, parking assist, a pre-collision warning system and adaptive cruise control. In other words, our test vehicle was chocked full of creature comforts.

Using a compatible smartphone, Lexus said the voice-enabled apps on the Entune system let you search the Internet through Bing™, make restaurant reservations using OpenTable®, get movie tickets via™, listen to Internet radio, (including Pandora®, iHeartRadio™ and Slacker), search business reviews on Yelp® and check in on Facebook Places™.

The base price of our 2015 Lexus NX 300h was $41,310. Add a pretty long list of options and a $925 freight charge and the total as tested came to $52,013.

Frank S. Washington is editor of