Curbside Classic Visits The 2019 Hudson Valley Auto Show, Part 2: Toyota, Ford, Kia, Hyundai, Jeep, And Ram

How important are car interiors? In part 1, I roasted Acura for crafting interiors that can’t even match up to Mazda. The truth is I probably could have gone even further. Honda’s luxury brand is competitive with the mainstream automakers, who have really stepped up their game this decade. Some of them, anyway. Others are about what you’d expect. And pretty much every mainstream brand designs their interiors to be all or mostly black. Is that a problem? Maybe. In the six years I’ve owned my Focus I haven’t been yearned for a vehicle with a lighter interior. Of course your mileage may vary. I suspect buyers don’t really prefer lighter interiors for one specifc reason, but you’re not going to hear about it unless you click to read more. So what are you waiting for?

This iteration of the Camry has been out for some time now and I’ve covered it in previous auto show excursions, but I still feel the need to share it because the current model is the first Camry I’d want to own. Even the more basic models look good.

Automakers are starting to inject some color into their vehicles. Toyota did that in a big way with the Camry, and it’s still a bit shocking to see years after it was first introduced. Toyota also deserves some kudos for color matching the center console lid and the passenger side of center stack.

This side-by-side photo shows you the effort both Nissan and Toyota put into making their mid size sedans more exciting. Was it worth it? Probably. As the sedan continues to wane in influence, the remaining buyers are probably going to want vehicles like the ones shown above. Although mid sized sedans are rapidly approaching the “I’m the cool mom” phase of existence and we’ll just have to wait and see if the Regina Georges of the world approve (they won’t).

The sun may be setting on the mid size sedan, but at least they’re going out in style.

Despite the challenges facing the mid size sedan segment, it’s less clear what will happen to compacts. Toyota sold 60,000 less units in 2018 than it did in 2015. The Civic has also experienced a similar drop, but I suspect there will always be a market for entry level sedans. What exactly constitutes entry level is up for debate, as you can easily argue the subcompact segment serves that purpose, but I have a feeling those will largely evaporate as more customers flock to crossovers. America got by just fine without subcompacts before and I think they will do so again.

It’s pretty incredible how far this segment has come in the last ten years or so. The Corolla has even leapfrogged itself. The 2020 model is better than its predecessor in every way. And it starts with the exterior. Seriously, look at this thing. I may be a sucker for blue cars, but Toyota didn’t just make their compact better by slapping a nice new color on it. It’s no longer a formless blob! Also, take note of the roughly trapezoidal-shaped recess around the license plate. In part 1 I talked about how Chevy used this design trick effectively on the new Blazer. Toyota has done the same with this car. And the beauty is more than skin deep too, as the migration to the TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) has blessed the Corolla with substantially improved driving dynamics.

As for the interior, I’m sad to say it is a less thrilling affair. The high points? The shifter, steering wheel, and infotainment region are all outfitted with substantial feeling components. Materials are lacking in other areas, with the door inserts not giving off the same premium feeling vibe of other parts in the cabin.

To be fair, the SE is not the highest tier trim. But it is the third trim level in the lineup. And I’m sure Toyota invested more in the technology and overall refinement of the Corolla instead of the interior. I just felt a bit underwhelmed when I sat in the car. And I didn’t feel like this interior was any better than the one in my 2013 Focus SE. It would take a substantial amount of incentives for me to purchase the Toyota, or a compelling feature like all wheel drive, which is definitely possible with the Corolla due to its TNGA underpinnings.

Here is one reason why the interior turned me off a bit. The digital screen is shoved all the way to the lower right corner and it just doesn’t look good. I’m really not sure why they couldn’t just center it. Or use the setup in the upper tier trims.

I’m less conflicted by what I found on the drivers side armrest. Notice the window switch controls? There’s no markings on them whatsoever. I suspect Toyota is confident that this style of switch has penetrated enough of the market to the point where customers don’t need any instruction on how to use them. In fact I can’t remember the last time I saw anything else. Automakers have to cut costs where they can. And I can’t blame Toyota for it.

The revitalization of the Toyota lineup hasn’t just impacted the sedans. The new RAV4, like its Corolla sibling, also sits on TNGA, which at this point could also stand for “Totally New and Generally Attractive,” because all of the vehicles using this newer platform look much better than their predecessors. And Toyota’s newest compact crossover is quite possibly the model that has benefited the most from the new corporate edict to create more exciting products.

Tundra up front, squared-off Cherokee out back. This rear end is simultaneously clean and busy. There’s chrome underneath the tail lights, black body cladding, and a lighter colored skid plate looking motif above the exhaust setup. It’s a testament to this inoffensive yet attractive rear end that those elements don’t sink the whole thing. The RAV4 is going for a more off road oriented persona, and it shows. There’s even a trim level called “Adventure.” How more obvious could they get?

There’s also a more rugged appearance to the cabin as well. Less shiny plastics and more stitched surfaces (even if they’re fake) seem to be the name of the game here. And some color! My theory as to why car buyers are fine with black or grey interiors is simple: Center stack, driver cockpit gauges, and all the back lighting in modern vehicles are more colorful then they’ve ever been. Fifteen years ago everyone just used that ubiquitous green in their cars, a trend that began to wane around 2005. My 2013 Focus has ice blue back lighting and two 4 inch screens with a blue background and white lettering. I have not had any desire to replace the car due to the color of the interior. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I am fully on board with additional color inserts in cars, and Toyota did a great job here. They’ve also decided to save money by using one row of identically sized buttons for various functions. And don’t forget the button blanks!

Two things worth noting in the second row of the RAV4: Two charging ports and a single piece rubber floor mat. As someone who has two rubber rear mats that don’t protect the entire carpet, I’d say the move towards factory one piece mats was overdue. Snow and slush can really wreak havoc on car floors. Ask me how I know.

The $22,000 Corolla lacks painted window switches. Ditto the $32,000 RAV4. I’m not sure if it’s a big deal, but it is a newer trend that I didn’t notice until this auto show. Just this week I noticed that my neighbor’s 2017 Honda Accord also lacks window switch markings. Yesterday, Paul wrote about the incessant cost cutting that has characterized the auto industry since day one. Here is a prime example of how that practice manifests itself in modern vehicles.

The resurgence of the mid size pickup is a much more noticeable trend. The Tacoma is the leader of the pack, but will they still be segment leader when the 2019 sales figures are tallied? I’m not sure. But what I do know is that it’s dumb to put a fake rock underneath a truck at an auto show, especially when no one else does it. At least the color is nice.

Toyota should be worried about the reintroduction of the Ranger. Why? Here is one reason: the Tacoma boasts an interior suitable for 2010. Sturdy but old switch gear and a very outdated infotainment system that resembles a cheap aftermarket unit. Not a good look in 2019.

Those are far less serious issues when compared to the seats. The 2019 Nissan Altima has truly wonderful thrones. The 2019 Tacoma? Precisely the opposite. These may be the worst car seats I’ve ever sat in. Actually, that is inaccurate. You don’t sit in these seats. You sit on top of them. They’re about as comfortable as the bleacher seats at a baseball stadium. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that these seats are so uncomfortable they’re unsafe. But they are terrible.

To make matters worse, the leg room in the Double Cab just isn’t there. 2020 will see the introduction of a refreshed Tacoma. A surface level update will likely fix the infotainment and seating issues, but only a full redesign will address a more substantial problem like leg room.

Does the Tacoma have more strengths than weaknesses? That depends. The Tacoma is definitely the truck for customers who prioritize resale value and reliability over everything else. But buyers who want an Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capable truck with seats that aren’t torture chambers would be wise to avoid the Toyota.

Price is another issue with the Tacoma. Sort of. The Toyota isn’t priced any differently than its peers. It seems a lot of people suffer from sticker shock when looking at mid size trucks. Yes, they can get expensive. These trucks aren’t always designed to be cheaper than their larger counterparts. Some folks just want a smaller truck and have no problem paying for it. Are you upset that Ford priced the Ranger at a level you find unacceptable? Don’t hate the player. Hate the game. It’s a segment wide issue that has been around for years.

Speaking of the 2019 Ranger…here is one! Yes, I intentionally put the Tacoma and Ranger next to each other. And for good reason. They’re going head to head in a pretty competitive segment. And Ford is leaning harder on its trucks and utility vehicles than ever before. Fortunately, Ford didn’t pull an EcoSport and phone in their Americanized Ranger.

Ford’s 2.3 liter EcoBoost four is the biggest reason why the Ranger will resonate with truck buyers. Unlike most of the entries in the segment, every Ranger comes with the same powertrain. That means a base Ranger, with 270 horsepower and 310 Ib-ft. of torque mated to a ten speed automatic, has significantly better performance than the base Tacoma and the four cylinder variants of the Colorado and Canyon. At 7,500 Ib, the Ranger also has the best tow rating of any gasoline powered mid size truck, which is noteworthy because the cost to upgrade to a diesel is generally pretty substantial.

The Ranger also boasts a better interior than the Tacoma. The seats are far more comfortable, the controls have more heft and are more premium feeling, and the technology is exactly what you’d expect for a contemporary vehicle. The SuperCrew also has more leg room than a comparable Tacoma. Ford recently said the Ranger is selling much faster than they expected. Given the current state of the Toyota, it’s not hard to figure out why.

Ford is also gravitating towards utility vehicles with a sporty pedigree in mind. The Edge ST is a prime example of that strategy. This shot is from the 2018 NY show because the lighting screwed with my front end shot of the Edge at my local auto exhibit, but the ST looks best in Ford Performance Blue, so it’s not a big loss.

Reviewers seem to have two problems with the Edge. The first is the interior. Personally I thought the quality was fine, although the buttons on the center stack are too small and too close in size. I think the issue with the cabin is the extremely basic aesthetic. It’s a bit plain, and that might be intentional because of the existence of the Nautilus. In any event, the next generation should probably have a bit more flair.

The other issue relates to the Edge wearing the ST badge. Pretty much all the critics think it isn’t worthy of being an ST. Are they justified? I suspect a lot of these reviewers are bitter over the loss of the Fiesta and Focus performance variants and are taking it out on the Edge. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them change their opinion of the crossover in a couple of years. Overall, I’d say the new ST is a decent buy if you can get it for a bit lower than what Ford wants for it.

I didn’t take any pictures of the exterior of the F-150 Raptor because it’s been covered before, and also because the interior is worth talking about. The Ram and GM trucks have been redesigned while the F-150 soldiers on in its current form. Neither of those trucks have leapfrogged the Ford, but the Ram does boast a more premium interior. The F-150 splits the difference between the 1500 and the GM siblings in terms of interior trimmings, but I don’t think the quality delta is wide enough to the point where it’s a deal breaker in the non-FCA trucks.

The F-150 has one notable deficiency though: its center console is not as big as the one in the Silverado or Sierra. This is only a problem unless you need to transport one gallon of milk and another half gallon of cow juice and you cannot store it anywhere other than the center console. I hope this observation was helpful.

Here is a vehicle I did not expect seeing at the show. According to the dealer, these have been out in the wild for about a month now. And last week Kia clearly lifted their review embargo because everyone released their opinions on the same day. The consensus? Kia probably has a hit on their hands with the Telluride. It’s got distinctive looks, good driving dynamics, and excellent cargo capacity. What more could you possibly need in this segment?

You might want a decent interior in your three row crossover as well. The Kia has that, with some important caveats. Aesthetically, the Telluride boasts an excellent cabin. It looks like an interior from a much more upscale vehicle.

As for materials quality, it is no different than other products from Hyundai or Kia. The Koreans have gotten better at hiding the inexpensive interior bits from customers, but they’re definitely there. Other than the steering wheel and center stack, the cabin has materials that you’d expect from a brand that typically undercuts the competition on price. They’re cheaper for a reason! Surprisingly, a number of critics have praised Kia for its interior. Motor Trend and Alex Dykes of Alex on Autos really liked the cabin of the Telluride. This is probably the first time I’ve sharply disagreed with Alex, who tends to have pretty unobjectionable opinions on the cars he reviews. He seemed to think the fake wood trim felt authentic while I found it incredibly fake. Oh well. If you’re in the market for a new three row crossover the Kia is definitely worth a look. That’s the bottom line.

Two other observations about the Telluride before I move on. One: It’s better looking than the Cadillac XT6, which should embarrass General Motors. Two: When I came across the Kia it’s hood was open. The 3.8 liter V6 looked absolutely tiny in the engine bay, which leads me to believe they intentionally left room for a V8 under the hood for some future performance or off road oriented model. I guess we’ll have to wait to find out!

And now we arrive at the Forte. The new Forte looks much better than its predecessor. But seeing it in silver immediately brought to mind my Focus, which doesn’t look much different.

The interior is also reminiscent of the Corolla. No surprises here. The parts you touch regularly are adequate while everything else feels cheaper than what you’d find elsewhere. My conclusion is that I definitely would not upgrade from my Focus to a new Corolla or Forte based on their underwhelming interiors.

Is the 2020 Soul a more compelling Kia than the Forte? Possibly. It’s got more attitude than the 2019 model while retaining the cargo capacity of it’s forebears.

Unfortunately, that cool look evaporates upon entering the cabin. Where is the funk Kia? This is a passionless interior.

To be fair, this particular Soul is clearly a base model LX, which starts at $17,490. A decent price for what it is. The truly disappointing aspect of the Kia is its powertrain, which is a 2.0 liter four with an output of 147 horsepower and 132 Ib-ft. of torque. My Focus also has a 2.0 liter four but has thirteen more horsepower and 28 more Ib-ft. of torque. The optional 1.6 liter has 201 horsepower and 195 Ib-ft. of torque. That is the engine I would get if it didn’t cost a minimum of $27,490 to acquire. That is a staggering price for a Kia Soul, especially since it cannot be optioned with all wheel drive. Might be worth getting used though.

The new Hyundai Veloster N is much more exciting than the Kia models I just discussed. And with a starting price of about $28,000 it’s just as expensive at the top tier Kia Soul. What does that get you? A 2.0 liter turbo four with an output of 250 (or 275 with optional Performance Pack) horsepower and 271 Ib-ft. of torque, all paired to a six speed manual. Decent numbers, and it seems like a reasonable replacement for the Focus ST, which ended production last year.

The interior looks nice but materials are unremarkable. But these cars aren’t purchased for their interiors, are they?

This particular N has the Performance Pack, which adds a limited slip differential, variable valve exhaust, 19 inch alloys with Pirelli P Zero summer tires, a higher output engine, and larger brakes. The key takeaway here is that you probably don’t want to buy one of these used.

Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if dealers slap an additional “market adjustment” to the MSRP because they think this car is fit only for gods and people with fat wallets. I’m sure the overwhelmingly positive reviews only buoyed their determination to do so. To that end, it seems like Hyundai made the right choice in poaching Albert Biermann from BMW. When in doubt, hire the German, but not for their expertise in vehicle quality. That’s what I always say.

While we’re on the subject of quality we should talk about a vehicle that basically has none. Yes, the Jeep Wrangler. Like other FCA products, it trails pretty much everyone else in metrics related to reliability. But that doesn’t matter for something like a Wrangler. People buy the Wrangler because it is its own singular experience. There’s nothing like it (for now). And that is why it’s more popular than ever. FCA moved about 230,000 of them last year, which put it just behind the Ford Explorer in annual sales. Yes, this is the age of the utility vehicle. Didn’t you get the memo?

This is also the first Jeep with a decent interior. I’m not joking. It’s finally competitive with…whatever people cross shop with the Wrangler.

We all know what people cross shop with the Ram 1500. But the Rebel does sort of stand alone in the segment by being a half step between a regular Ram and a more off road oriented model like the Raptor. Sure, the F-150 offers the FX4 package, but that doesn’t come with a lift kit. How else are you going to see over all the crossovers when looking for a parking space at Dave & Busters?

I’ve been talking about the Ram’s interior for what seems like years now, so here it is in all its glory. Yes, it stands above the rest with its feel good materials. No, that doesn’t mean it’s automatically the class leader, but it might sway some truck buyers away from the Ford and the GM bros.

And last but not least, here is the center console in the Ram 1500. I apologize to the milk storage enthusiasts who were hoping for another vehicle that could meet their needs, but the Ram just won’t cut it. You’re stuck with the Silverado or Sierra for now.

Related Reading:

Curbside Classic Visits The 2019 Hudson Valley Auto Show, Part 1