Quick question: Which of these five brands have regained their mojo? Toyota has gotten at least some of its groove back, with the TNGA platform providing the latest iterations of the Prius, Corolla, Camry, and RAV4 with notably improved driving dynamics. By contrast, their luxury division is just kind of there, putting out decent products but not really setting the world on fire. Ditto for Acura. Does having mojo really matter though? Of course not. Buyers want crossovers. And both Japanese luxury brands have been supplying the market with popular crossovers for years. Mazda itself has also become a quasi luxury brand, which is very cool.
Honda and General Motors recently introduced their own midsize crossovers with some very familiar names. The Passport officially revived a name that was once used for a rebadged Isuzu SUV. I can’t blame Honda for reinstating the name. It rolls off the tongue much better than CR-V or HR-V.
Honda did a great job marketing the Passport as a go-anywhere utility vehicle. They brought numerous publications to Moab for the first drive event, and the Honda has the requisite body cladding and aggressive looking wheels of something that can tackle dirt roads. It definitely won’t be a true rock crawler though, as it’s essentially a shortened Pilot without the third row. How much shorter? Six inches, mainly at the rear. Crucially, Honda kept the Pilot’s wheelbase, and they raised the Passport by anywhere from 0.2 to 0.8 inches.
They also kept the powertrain intact. All Passports come standard with Honda’s 3.5 liter V6, which is mated to a ZF nine speed automatic transmission, a unit that is also found in other vehicles like the Chrysler Pacifica and Jaguar E-Pace. Output is 280 horsepower and 262 Ib-ft of torque. Honda’s calibration has resulted in a 0-60 time of about 5.8 seconds, which is very quick for the class. And the Passport also has a true torque vectoring system, which allows the Passport to send seventy percent of the torque to the rear wheels, and one hundred percent of that torque to one wheel. It seems the Passport has some decent on road capability!
Nearly everyone who got their hands on a Passport had good things to say about it, praising Honda for creating a spacious two row with good ride and handling characteristics. Car And Driver had this to say about the Passport:
“The ride is comfortable and the steering is pleasingly direct, all of which give the Passport a nimble, agile feeling from behind the wheel. “
Consumer Reports was less enthusiastic about the Honda:
“The ride is a bit stiff compared with the Pilot, and the steering is rather slow to respond. Despite the firmness, there’s hardly any added agility compared with the Pilot.”
A little weird that two well known publication arrived at such different conclusions, right? Regardless, the Honda seems like a solid mid size crossover.
If you’ve experienced a current generation Pilot then you’ve already been introduced to the Passport, as both are quite similar, except for the rear end. The two crossovers have nearly identical interiors.
And that is the biggest problem with the Passport. It’s too wedded to the Pilot design, which I never thought was terribly good looking to begin with. Members of the freshman class like the revived Chevy Blazer and the refreshed Hyundai Santa Fe boast much more dynamic exteriors. Still, it’s hard to fault Honda for playing it safe, as it’s served them well.
I usually don’t cover refreshes unless they’re substantial, and it seems like the trend towards minimal exterior refreshes is really taking root in the industry. Fortunately, Honda was able to enhance the HR-V with the addition of the Touring trim, which comes standard with all wheel drive and every option that is available on the lower priced models. The chrome between the headlights is a little much, but I’m really digging the body colored rocker panels. Crossovers used to have fully body colored panels on at least some of their trim levels but sadly that fell out of favor.
Here’s to hoping this trend returns to other crossovers. As for the HR-V itself, I’ve always had a bit of an affinity for it because Honda outfitted the little crossover with a very nice interior. Is that cabin worth the roughly $28,000 MSRP you’ll pay for a Touring? No. But it might have been if Honda opted to give the HR-V a range topping engine. Maybe the 1.5 turbo from the Civic? The 141 horsepower 1.8 liter four cylinder that currently powers the subcompact just isn’t cutting it.
There are adequately powered vehicles under the Honda banner, and this Ridgeline Baja Race Truck is one of them. Honda Performance Development took the corporate 3.5 liter V6 and slapped a pair of turbochargers on it, a move that boosted the engine to 550 horsepower. Will we see more forced induction from Honda in the future, especially with their larger displacement engines? Hopefully, although the company might hold off on introducing new turbocharged engines until they get the issues with their 1.5 turbo sorted out.
It probably won’t surprise you that the purpose built Ridgeline has very little in common with the civilian version. The only shared parts are some body panels and of course the basic engine components of the 3.5 liter V6. Otherwise they’re completely different. That shouldn’t deter anyone from the regular Ridgeline though, because the vast majority of critics still find it to be an extremely competent mid size truck.
Honda did have a dedicated off road vehicle on the main floor of the show, but it wasn’t something you’d use to take the kids to soccer practice. The Talon 1000R is a beast of an ATV and it occupied space right next to Honda’s automobile lineup. Usually, ATV’s and other non-automotive products find space on the first floor of the Javits Center, which typically is reserved for trucks and third party vendors. But not this time.
And why not? Honda is more than just an automotive company. And this thing is quite the vehicle. The Talon 1000R is the two seat variant of a lineup that encompasses a whole bunch of different ATV’s that are designed for specific off road tasks. It appears the 1000R is primarily designed for tackling sand dunes and the like.
The new Talon comes equipped with a six speed dual clutch transmission with a subtransmission, and it’s got a four wheel drive system.
As someone who has absolutely no experience with these type of vehicles, this advertisement helped me understand what exactly these things are made for. Blasting through sand dunes and tricky terrain looks pretty damn fun! This is definitely a must buy if I ever win the lotto.
Considerably less exciting is the 2020 Acura TLX PMC Edition. What is the PMC Edition? It’s an Acura TLX that’s hand built at the Performance Manufacturing Center, the same facility that builds the NSX. Sounds cool, right? Unfortunately, the details aren’t terribly exciting. Every TLX PMC Edition will simply have the equipment from the Advanced trim and the A-Spec package, two equipment options that cannot be bundled in the regular TLX. That’s it. Oh, it’ll also be painted in Valencia Red Pearl, which was previously only available on the NSX. It’s a sexy red, but other automakers have sexy red paint jobs too. And that’s the problem with the PMC Edition. Like every other “cool” Acura, it fails to offer a compelling powertrain or upgrade that would make these models worth buying.
Remember when I said other automakers have sexy reds? Toyota offers such a color on the new Supra. Yes, the 2020 Supra is finally here! And it seems to have lived up to the near impossible hype. Car And Driver’s headline for its first review states that “The 2020 Toyota Supra is the proper sports car it needs to be.” As Nicolas Cage, or Andy Samberg impersonating Nicolas Cage would say, “that’s high praise!”
As is evident with the recent FCA-Renault merger debacle, the automotive industry is all about partnerships these days. Modern collaborations have leaned towards electrification and autonomous vehicle development, but in this case, BMW and Toyota got together to build a dedicated sports car. And no, the Supra is not a mere rebadge of the Z4. It’s much more than that. But it is true that they share major components aside from the platform itself, like the inline six and the ZF eight speed automatic. In fact, it’s the 3.0 I6 that prompted Toyota to partner with BMW in the first place.
And that turbo I6 is rated at 335 horsepower and 365 Ib-ft of torque, which propels the Supra from 0-60 in 4.1 seconds. The initial controversy around that power rating seems to have abated, as dyno tests have confirmed that the engine is very much underrated (BMW rates the Z4 at 382 horsepower). Overall, the consensus is that the new Supra is a worthy successor to the older models.
I will admit to disliking the exterior design of the Supra upon its debut. But after seeing it in the flesh I’m a convert. Still not sure why the raised platforms were necessary though.
In my opinion the 2020 Toyota Highlander is no less exciting than the Supra. Why? Because it’s part of a cutthroat segment that has seen a lot of new players enter the game. The redesigned Highlander is also notable for its slight shift in appearance towards a more street oriented design. This is extremely interesting because it is the same strategy Ford employed with the 2020 Escape. In both cases, it seems the two automakers realized they needed to distinguish their respective models from the segment leader. In Ford’s case, giving the Escape a softer, more car-like design separates it from the RAV4, which adopted a more off road oriented exterior for the latest generation. With the Highlander, Toyota clearly wants the three row to stand in contrast to the 2020 Explorer.
Toyota and Ford opted to play it safe with their redesigns, at least visually. Makes sense, because they’re the top sellers in the segment, and they’re facing more challengers than they ever have. Both have also made the switch to completely different platforms, in this case it’s the TNGA-K that will underpin the Highlander.
The 2020 Highlander will be available with two powertrain options. First up is Toyota’s ubiquitous 3.5 liter V6. Toyota finally decided to drop the 2.7 liter four cylinder from the lineup, so the 295 horsepower V6 is standard and paired to an eight speed automatic. A hybrid model returns, in either two wheel drive or four wheel drive, which is a bit of a change for the crossover, as the current model can only be paired with all wheel drive. The hybrid powertrain seems to be a variation of the one currently seeing duty in the Camry Hybrid, although in the Highlander’s case it will put out a combined 240 horsepower, which is 32 more than the mid size sedan.
The gasoline engine is paired with two electric motors and an ECVT, and the all wheel drive version has its own electric motor to power the rear wheels. There is no mechanical link between the front and rear wheels. Toyota is claiming the new Highlander Hybrid will achieve a combined EPA rating of 34 MPG, which would be pretty impressive, as it represents a 4 MPG improvement over the current model. With the use of a four cylinder engine and electronic all wheel drive, Toyota is giving priority to fuel efficiency.
Ford is taking a different approach with the Explorer, using a 3.3 liter V6 and a lithium ion battery, with both paired to a more conventional ten speed automatic transmission for a total output of 318 horsepower. The Explorer Hybrid’s all wheel drive system is the same as the regular model, which is a mechanical unit. No EPA rating has been released yet, but Ford claims the police version will achieve 24 MPG combined. Obviously that is not even close to the Highlander’s figure, but it isn’t meant to be, as the Explorer Hybrid aims to be a no compromise vehicle that can still tow 5,000 pounds while simultaneously getting decent fuel economy. The electrification of the Ford utility lineup is a key component to the company’s transition away from sedans, and their strategy will apparently stress capability over pure fuel efficiency. Toyota is the one company that can throw a wrench into those plans, and it will be very interesting to see which approach resonates with customers.
And now for a vehicle that doesn’t resonate with customers. The nameplate only sold about 27,000 units last year, but those numbers could improve, because soon the lineup will be free of the dreadful third generation Yaris that Toyota developed and introduced nearly a decade ago. The term “penalty box” comes to mind. In its place is the hatchback variant of the sedan that’s already been available for several years. Both models are essentially just rebadged versions of the Mazda 2.
It’s been about five years since Americans were introduced to this front end. It’s grown on me, although I still think Toyota told Mazda to design a fascia that would make prospective buyers gravitate towards the Corolla.
The raised platform makes the Yaris look a bit taller than it actually is, and in this shot it kind of looks like a crossover. That being said, there is no mystery to this car: what you see is what you get.
And that’s not a bad thing! The 106 horsepower 1.5 liter four cylinder might be a bit down on power compared to the competition, but the car likely makes up for it with its lively driving dynamics. I also have full confidence that Mazda tuned the standard six speed automatic to the best of their ability.
Subcompact cars have more standard equipment than ever, and the Yaris gets some nice amenities for tech savvy buyers, like a standard 7 inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and two USB ports to boot. Navigation is technically standard on the Yaris, but buyers have to purchase an SD card from the dealer in order for it to work. Probably best if customers just use their phone. As for safety equipment, Toyota’s Safety Sense system is unfortunately not available, with Low-Speed Pre-Collision being the only remotely comparable feature in the Yaris, and it only works between 2 to 18 mph. Bummer! Regardless, this is still a pretty nice entry level vehicle for shoppers looking for a cheap way to get from A to B.
We’ll bid farewell to Toyota’s section with the TJ Cruiser, an extremely ugly concept car that will apparently become a production vehicle if people express enough interest. Hopefully it gets extensive revisions to its exterior design before it reaches that point. The FJ Cruiser wasn’t exactly the most attractive vehicle on the market, but it was better than this monstrosity.
Despite its name, it is not a successor to the FJ Cruiser, which was a body on frame SUV that shared components with the Toyota Prado. It’s based on the TNGA platform, which underpins vehicles like the Camry and Corolla, so it’s not going to be rock crawling anytime soon unless owners want a hefty repair bill. It’s also pretty diminutive, with a total length that fails to match up to the RAV4. It’s the wheelbase that makes it look so big.
The TJ Cruiser strikes me as something of a design exercise meant to gauge consumer tastes for a future crossover, not something that could challenge the Jeep Wrangler. Toyota has found its mojo, but it hasn’t gone crazy.
You know what company has gone a bit crazy? Mazda. And the above vehicle is evidence of their mental break. No one wants a diesel powered vehicle, yet the company insists on giving Americans the choice of a CX-5 equipped with an oil burner. The SKYACTIV-D is a 2.2 liter turbocharged diesel engine rated at 168 horsepower and 290 Ib-ft of torque. Those are decent sounding numbers until you look up the figures for the gasoline 2.5 turbocharged four cylinder, which boasts an output of 250 horsepower and 310 Ib-ft of torque.
As for fuel efficiency, the diesel comes up short once again, with a claimed EPA rating of 28 MPG combined. Opting for the all wheel drive turbo powerplant would reduce that number by four, which is not a terribly wide gap, and the base 2.5 naturally aspirated four actually matches that number in two wheel drive form. Perhaps the worst part is the price customers will pay if they want the D. It’ll only be available in the Signature trim for $42,045. That is a lot of money for a compact crossover, and it deeply cuts into territory occupied by the CX-9. The MSRP for its gasoline equivalent? $37,935. It’s simply not worth it.
If you’re in the market for a new CX-5 and want one with a bit more pep, just go for the 2.5 liter turbo. I’ve experienced that poweplant in my sister’s 2018 Mazda CX-9 and even in that application it’s a willing partner. I can’t imagine how great it feels in the smaller crossover.
I outlined my impressions of the 2019 Mazda 3 hatchback in March. That one was also red. But there is one important difference between that one and the hatch you see in the above picture.
It’s got red leather! Yes, colorful interiors are making a bit of a comeback. Mazda went with a bold pigment for their top end hatch. You read that correctly. You cannot order this leather in the sedan. Sedans are for boring people who get their pizza from Sbarro when they visit NYC, didn’t you know?
Mazda seemed to be subconsciously thinking along those lines with the sedan they brought to Manhattan.
I own a sedan, so I do not think they’re inherently boring. That being said, the new Mazda 3 sedan does look a little less interesting out back, as it seems the company opted for a more squared off rear end. Overall the design still excites, but that is definitely a weak spot for the car.
You know what car doesn’t have a weak spot, at least in terms of design? The original Miata. And the company brought an example to New York to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the nameplate. I’ll conclude part 4 with the pictures I took of the coupe.
Stay tuned for part 5!
And if you thought I left out some vehicles: