About: Autolove

Joe Mavilia is a syndicated columnist with more than 35 years in the automotive industry. He is a member of the Motor Press Guild and Automotive Press Association. His reviews have been published in print media including the Los Angeles Times, The Golden Transcript - Colorado, La Feria News - Texas, The Pasadena Weekly - California, and others around the country, including www.theweekenddrive.com where he is the West Coast Editor. Reviews and Opinion Columns may also be seen in Sunnews.org and The Country Journal every week in the Antelope Valley, CA. I hope they are helpful

Recent Posts by Autolove

2020 Jayco Precept 31 UL Motorhome

By Joseph Mavilia

An Automotive Love Affair

There are many motorhomes to choose from, and I’ve looked at many over the years but have only owned two brands: Winnebago and most recently the Jayco line

Some years ago, I reviewed the Fleetwood Bounder and by and large it was a winner. Also, two colleagues on our staff reviewed the exact same coach. We were all in general agreement, in spite of the faults found, that it was a good motorhome for the day. You can read that review at this link: http://autolove.com/bounder-turbo-diesel-by-fleetwood/

If you read the review, you’ll notice my associate Price Cobb, international champion race car driver, and I did what we referred to as “Point-CounterPoint” to compare our views of the product. Ok, so it was a bit corny but was a little more lighthearted approach to debating the good and bad of this motorhome. It was also a genuine discussion from our very different professional points of view. We were also partners in newspapers owned in Colorado and Texas.

Price Cobb now lives in his home state of Texas and I am in California, and since we sold our newspapers.

I think Price would be very impressed with this Jayco Precept because in the past 20 years those nice features of the Bounder have been greatly improved.

In fact, I will preface my remarks with the overall feeling that is positive for the Jayco Precept especially from a Looks and Layout point of view.

However, that is the good news, and it was the general opinion of several other owners of the precept model that I met while traveling to several parks around Southern California in the first year of my ownership.

Those meetings were an encouragement that I had made a good choice of products for my new home away from home.

Then reality set in and although the list of warranty repairs needed was long and mostly minor stuff the process was good. The dealer fixed all problems and were a great representation of the Jayco product. That dealer warrants mentioning. I purchased the coach at All Valley RV in Acton CA.

So as I ventured out into the RV world I returned from each outing for a now routine visit to the dealer to fix yet another problem.

Here is a list of major items and later we’ll look at some of the minor stuff.

  1. The floor bubbled and is currently awaiting repair. It appears the floors are not glued down for California consumption. But for sales in Canada the floor is glued so my problem isn’t a problem in Canada. So that is more of a critique of California government overregulation and a pain for Jayco coachbuilders.
  2. The windshield popped out of place from the mounting. I believe it is a design deficiency primarily because of the roads we all must drive on. Although experience has been on California roads it is the same or worse in many other states where potholes present a jostling of the coach that may have been the reason for the windshield popping out. Here is a photo we took at a Safelight glass repair facility. They advised it must be a tweaking of the windshield supports that is the cause of the problem. The dealer is still trying to find a repair solution
  3. This coach is powered by a Ford Triton V10 engine and drivetrain and curiously there are very few dealers who will do routine service and maintenance and thus anything else that may need repair. I live in the Antelope Valley of California and the nearest Ford dealer who will service my vehicle is Jim Burke Ford – 111 miles away in Bakersfield CA.

These are major issues and to me that is nuts to have these issues in a new motorhome. What’s worse Jayco has been of no help in supporting me. I have asked for a list of Ford dealers for example and have received nothing. I’m sure you are thinking what I was thinking when I asked, “you mean you don’t have a list of dealers who service your product”?

So, I wrote a letter to the president and CEO of the company and to date crickets. I have heard nothing back and wonder about their support. I’ll have to give you a follow up report on how this all turned out.

In the meantime, let’s talk about a few of the conveniences and inconveniences:

Handling & Performance:

Handling couldn’t be better in my humble opinion. I am not a bus or truck driver, but I find handling and performance very acceptable. The Ford Triton V10 is very good although I’m not a Ford fan I’m ok with how it pulls this 22,000-pound coach

It does struggle a bit going up steep grades but generally it is very good and intuitive when you leave it in drive mode. It works as well as me trying to change gears to suit the situation.


Beautiful simply beautiful presentation and layout. I can’t complain.

Fit and Finish:

I can however report that quality control needs improvement as several small things gave me concern as to what else is being overlooked? Yes, I can live with the small things, but I don’t want major issues that are more than annoying.

  1. The sink faucet hose was hanging up and had to be repaired.
  2. The fatsia fell off over the kitchen table and had to be repaired. Design is at fault.
  3. Some of the trim came loose and the back splash over the stove and sink was not properly glued.
  4. A fitting for the propane connection to the barbeque exited from the tank into a wall so it was near impossible to connect the hose. Clearly that was not well thought out.
  5. The water hose connector fitting did not work properly, and a part is on order.

These and several little things are to be expected even though they could have been avoided in manufacture. Quality control is lacking since these things were not checked out before delivery.


When I consider the cost of the automobiles, trucks and vans I have tested and reviewed during my career I have to admit cost to value must be considered. Cars and truck prices can range from $30 to $100,000 so it is hard to complain about a complete home away from home like this Precept selling for under $150,000.

Conveniences and comfort:

All the conveniences of home – simply on a marvelously smaller platform.

Consumer Recommendations:

Trust but verify was a famous quote from President Ronald Reagan. Very true and you simply cannot take the seller’s word. You must verify and clarify your mutual understanding between you and the seller.

I chose to take their advice to get an extended warranty for another five years and that was a good decision. However, I left the closing with the finance department without having a clear understanding. More likely it was my failing to understand, so I recommend you have them explain everything two or three times or until you are clear of who is responsible for what. Where would service be done on the drive train and where would other warranty work be done?

The jury is still out on performance. Stay tuned for more developments on owning this Jayco precept 31 UL

Recognized Competition:

Gas Stats:

It uses regular gasoline and has been getting about 10-11 mpg

$3.05 / Gal avg. November 2020


MSRP $125,000.

2020 Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle

By Jim Powell

Automotive Journalist: MPG Member

Mitsubishi has sold more PHEV SUV’s than anyone in the world?It is true and might be hard to believe based on Mitsubishi’s reputation in the USA in recent years. Once upon a time, I was hoping to own a Mitsubishi Montero 4×4. Then came the Mitsubishi Evo, considered the bargain supercar with unmatched AWD street grip.And then this giant world-wide manufacturer starting exporting fewer, less interesting cars and SUV’s to the U.S. The whole lineup became a bargain basement brand, and quality suffered as well.

However, Mitsubishi Outlander has remained a popular SUV with lots of standard equipment and a good value. Then Mitsubishi engineered one of the first Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles for Asian markets,before bringing it to America. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has become the world’s best-selling plug-in hybrid electric vehicle of any category. Also, it has won several awards, i.e.Green Car Journal’s 2019 Green SUV of the Yearand the2020 Family Green Car of the Year™ the current year.

I had the chance to drive one of the first production 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV SUV’s in the fleet- thanks to one of the executives. That week actually led me tochange my mind about the Outlander. This PHEV reminded me of the simple charm of the Montero from years ago, but with a whole new innovative drivetrain.

The newest interior and dash layoutaremore appealing than past designs but still is not elegant. There are plenty of cubbies upfront for stuff for all seven passengers. The Outlander is available in 5 or 7-passenger seating [2 small people in the 3rd row] like most crossovers this size. Thankfully, there is more soft material and less plastic where people touch things. Yet, the cabin is still not too opulent.

The beauty lies in the proficiency of the Outlander, offering more economy and more reliability. In fact, the Mitsubishi Outlander outshines the competition with more efficient ownership and operation- leaving it in a category all its own. This is not a luxury crossover, but it is comfortable enough for most families on a budget. More hybrid and all-electric crossovers are coming to market in North America, but few are this affordable.

Currently, Mitsubishi has the only PHEV SUV with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warrantyon all PHEV components and the “Main Drive” Lithium-ion battery. It also has a 5-year, 60,000 bumper-to-bumper warranty, and both are fully transferable. They are looking to underwrite this vehicle to stay in the U.S. market. Now with new partner corporations, Mitsubishi is announcing new products to increase its presence in North America.

My press Outlander PHEV reached the estimated 22-mile all-electric driving range, without any special treatment. When running in its hybrid gas/electric mode, the EPA estimated 74 MPG-e was also a real-world number.Mitsubishi’s Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC) system is standard and uses the PHEV’s unique twin electric motor configuration to handle rough weather.

The 2020 model gets some really nice improvements, including a much-needed eight-inch, second-generation Smartphone-link Display Audio (SDA) system which worked well. This also allows for better graphics and standard Apple CarPlay™ and Android Auto™. The HVAC controls are relocated so both front seat occupants can stayin control of the temps. The seats are more supportive, with standard power-adjustable lumbar support and better cushions for the rear seats.The second-row seats are still erect but doreceive some road trip extras like USB charging ports(SEL trim).

Our loaded GT also includedthenew Premium Interior package with attractive diamond-quilted leather seats. Being a company that has produced high-quality sound systems for decades, Mitsubishi has engineered its own Power Sound System (MPSS). The sound is a vast improvement; however, give us a volume knob again! Although now quieter inside the cabin, there could be a bit more sound insolation to deal with road noise and drivetrain hum.

The GT model also gets nice amenities such as LED headlights, automaticcruise control, and a better backup camera. Mitsubishi also uses the battery pack power through two 120-volt outlets to run extra electronics.There is still a small old-schooltailgate for tailgate parties or camping, where the second outletis located. Be sure to bring the air compressor, or you might be the one blowing up the air mattresses.

My only real complaint of the 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the firm ride. The stylish 18” wheels with P225/55 R18 tires need a more compliant suspension. Engineers were attempting to keep the body roll to a minimum with an SUV weighing in over 4,200 lbs. But they have sacrificed some of the family-wagon comforts in favor of stiffer handling in the corners. The handling is not dynamic; however, traction and safe handling is not a problem.

Safety has also increased for 2020 with a host of standard driver-assist systems. The 2020 Mitsubishi Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle has received a 5-Star Overall Safety Rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).The SEL models now include standard Forward Collision Mitigation (FCM) with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning (LDW), and Automatic High Beams (AHB). Help also comes from Blind Spot Warning (BSW) and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA).

The best standard safety advantage to the Outlander is the excellent visibility out the side and rear. The boxy/wagon shape does not drastically slope up in the rear, leaving the larger third and rear windows for better sightlines for all. Again, the look is more utilitarian, because the design is for efficietntspace and focused on the driver and passenger view and safety.

The 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has kept this Japanese company in the market and offers an alternative clean-energy family vehicle for the carpool lanes of America. With technology at the forefront and a sophisticated powertrain, the Outlander is worth a closer as a family-friendly people and cargo mover with lots of owner benefits. Forthose who live in the snow-belt of our country, the PHEV system with “Twin Electric Motor All-Wheel Control” will pull you right along after a snowfall and an over-night charge.

2020 Lexus LC-500

By Jim Powell

There is nothing like the rumble of a well-built V-8 engine! Yes! We live in times when we must all consider our stewardship of the earth and its climate. Yes! We have suffered through a pandemic and gained some valuable knowledge about the air quality improvements due to auto emission reductions worldwide. And yes! Most of the next generation of drivers might not want to drive a car at all. Nonetheless, Lexus has built a stunning coupe with a magnificent V-8 that produces a symphonic, yet viral, rumble that satisfies the soul (of a gearhead).

So let us start with the 2020 Lexus LC-500 engine. Lexus uses this relatively new 5.0-liter aluminum, DOHC, 32-valve engine in other applications, such as the LS-500 sedan, but the intake and exhaust must have been inspired by the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) team. Internally labeled the 2UR-GSE, this 303.2 cc, naturally-aspirated V8 engine uses their dual variable-valve intake and combusts at a higher compression ratio of 12.3:1 for awesome low-end grunt. It reminds me of the best push-rod engines like the General Motor LT series, but with overhead cam refinement.

Horsepower climbs to 471 HP as the engine freely spins up to 7,100 rpm. Redline is north of 8,000 rpm, and here is where this 5.0-liter powerplant leaves the older small-block competition behind. The engine revs quickly and uses the pulling power (torque) continuously- before the peak at 4,800 rpm (398 lb.-ft.). Compare this with the last generation Corvette naturally-aspirated LT1 6.2-liter V-8 OHV engine producing 455 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. The Lexus engine is a surge down the tarmac while the push-rod V-8 is more of a launch into space.

Toyota’s new D-4S (Direct injection 4-stroke gasoline Superior) and premium fuel add to the equation to make this one exhilarating drive. The power delivery is intoxicating, and the front engine: rear wheel drive balance is a familiar feeling for the muscle car lovers out there (54% front: 46% rear weight distribution).

As for the environment, let us compare the 2020 Lexus LS-500 to most of the SUV’s on the road today. The gorgeous sounding quad-exhaust emits a respectable LEV III-ULEV 70 emission rating. The smooth 10-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic transmission quickly promotes the coupe and eventually ends up in 10th gear with a ratio of 0.598. Most city driving happens in 1st to 8th gear. Translation? The drivetrain provides greater performance with even greater fuel efficiency.

I drove our test LC-500 with a commitment on the famous Highway 2 through Southern California mountains with some extra speed in Sport+ mode. I also drove it for hundreds of miles through Los Angeles traffic, across the deserts, and around city streets. But I never drove our LC-500 in Eco mode, although that is another option, and averaged 24.7 mpg. We surpassed the fuel mileage ratings of 16-City/25-Hwy/19-Combined without really trying.

One can literally dial in the electronic suspension, steering input, throttle response, shift points, and exhaust note according to personal preferences, and save it all under the Custom mode. The ride is firm, even in Comfort mode, but livable. The change of attitudes is noticeable in all 6 settings, propelling the LC-500 into GT-Coupe status. I would not hesitate to take a 4,000 mile trip in the Lexus LC-500. However, Lexus might want their car back sooner than I could return it. At 4,280 pounds, this coupe feels pretty agile and yet does not dance around in the high winds, uneven roads, or at velocities over the speed limit (so I hear).

There are careful design elements that make this a true Grand Touring 2+2 Coupe that one can enjoy during everyday driving. For example, the LC-500 moves across driveways and uneven shoulders without scraping the front air dam -no frontend suspension adjustment needed. The rear hatch is a little heavy, but the trunk space is flat and squared-off, with room for 2 carry-on suitcases and 3 large backpacks. The sport seats are very comfortable while holding the occupant in place during sporty driving. Yet, getting into and out of this car is possible, even in a dress. (Ask my wife, who loved traveling in this Lexus.)

The 2020 Lexus LC 500 is not an inexpensive coupe. However, compared to most luxury coupes and hyper-performance cars with 4.4 seconds 0-60 mph times, it is somewhat of a bargain- starting at $92K. If the buyer wants to load up the LC 500 with all the options, it will quickly climb over $106K.

Ours included all the factory packages, e.g., the Convenience Package with automatic parking assist and Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA). These should be standard fare in a vehicle with limited rear visibility. The All-Weather Package is worth the extra costs with a heated leather-trimmed steering wheel, windshield wiper de-icer, and electronic heater (LC500). Consideration for nice things like the semi-aniline leather-trimmed front seats and an Alcantara® headliner are luxurious. Audiophiles will like the Mark Levinson® 13-speaker, 915-watt audio system, but I would rather soak in the V-8 trumpeted rumble.

Our press car came with optional 21” wheels, which took a small toll on the ride quality. The carbon fiber grill insert and rear spoiler cost an extra $2,398. However, I would not skip the Flare Yellow brilliant paint job ($595) or the $900 heads-up display (HUD). Finally, I would definitely pay for the $390 TORSEN® limited-slip rear differential, which grips the road with tenacity.

In conclusion, the Lexus LC-500 is one of the most beautiful cars on the road today! Even if this is debatable, the pure joy of driving this car is undeniable. The clear 10.3-inch center screen and the digital readout and clever binnacle display may be attractive, but all eyes should be on the road- which will pass quickly. One can even overlook the fussy touchpad that Lexus insists on using instead of a touchscreen. No matter. As on the old bumper sticker, my suggestion is, “Get in, Shut Up, and Hold On!”

2020 Lexus LS 500h

By Jim Powell

When someone is in a relationship that is not working out the way they anticipated, their response to personal questions is often, “It’s complicated!” This might be the case for loyal Lexus owners and the newest Lexus LS 500h (Hybrid). When Lexus attempts to marry modern luxury amenities with Toyota’s advanced hybrid-power systems, one either gets a beautiful marriage or a complicated relationship with some competing goals. Then add to this the public demands for sporty performance. The results? It is really complicated!

The interior has some amazing quilted stitch-work, Kiriko glasswork, and woodwork. Lexus uses premium wood trims like herringbone and laser wood art. These beautifully intricate design elements are the making of a nice interior, but it is a little overwhelming when all put together. The HUD display on the windshield is easy to read and convenient. The large center-dash 12.3-in color LCD multimedia screen is crystal clear. I think that Lexus could revise the instrument cluster without the side controls and digital speedometer, with elegant dials and graphics more in sync with the rest of the modern dash.

The executive rear seat Luxury Package offers reclining seats with thick leather seats with suede headrests, reclined positions, massage, and heat. The $12,270 option is supposed to surround the chauffeured passengers in the lap of luxury. Yet, the sound isolation and even the extra piped-in exhaust sounds (Sport, Sport+) conflict with the executive vibe. The Lexus’ Active Sound Control and Active Noise Cancellation helps filter out some of the extra powertrain frequencies but not as much as competitors.

The legendary LS luxurious ride has now been aided by a computer-controlled air suspension system with no fewer than 6 settings from Eco all the way up to Sport+. Including a sport+ setting on a huge sedan is a conundrum itself. This setting does stiffen up the suspension, yet the sophisticated air system cannot compensate for the 5,000+ lbs. of gross vehicle weight

The Comfort ride setting is what many would label Normal and not plush. Maybe I am getting more sensitive to vibrations the older I get. However, ruts in the road tend to pass the suspension and send sound into the cabin. I am impressed when the LS sedan raises up when opening the doors for easier ingress and egress, and when manually engaged for more ground clearance over snow or ruts.

The powertrain is also (you guessed it) complicated. The Lexus engineers developed a series/parallel system. Lexus uses the venerable and smooth 3.5-liter V6 gas engine with 295 horsepower and twin electric motors with 264 kW of torque, with a total output is 354 hp.

The strong acceleration of 0-60 in 5.2 seconds is impressive for such a hefty AWD sedan. Straightline thrust is where the sophisticated machinery shines. Then Lexus runs this power through a double transmission system, which is too complicated to fully describe. Nonetheless, hit the accelerator and the power pushes through dual electronic CVT and multi-speed transmissions, and then out to all four wheels with the help of electric motors.

The result is great acceleration and super grip on all road surfaces. When we put the LS into a corner and pushed harder through the apex, the car gripped and kept right on going where we pointed it. The body lean was minimal, and then the air suspension did balance the big car after a split-second. Again, there are just too many sounds when pushing up to highway speeds for a premium luxury car that costs $106,235.

Lexus has also aimed at fuel efficiency with our test AWD Lexus LS 500h rated at 23 mpg in the city; 31 mpg on the highway; and 26 mpg combined. We matched these numbers during our week with the LS. The roof has been lowered, and the car exterior has been redesigned for the excellent drag coefficient. These changes do reduce the previous generation’s good visibility, especially for taller drivers.

Our optional 20” rims were magnificently crafted and set off the low profile tires with real style. Lexus build-quality is found in all the exterior design elements, and the flowing lines culminate in a more attractive backend. Lexus has also pulled off some new front facia styling, which better integrates the Lexus huge waterfall grill. Overall, this is a good-looking sedan with great proportions and stunning dark chrome trim.

Interior comfort is considered in this marriage when it comes to very comfortable 16-way power-adjustable heated and ventilated front seats. Climate controls can be set separately for all four passengers in our limousine set up. The power rear sunshades and complimentary 4GB Wifi hotspot (one-year) are bonuses for passengers. The LS controls are not as complicated as the German competitors, but I do wish they would move beyond the redundant controls and that finicky center console touchpad.

The Dynamic Voice Command and smartphone connectivity are vastly improved with Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa compatibility. An excellent 23-speaker Mark Levinson, 2,400-watt audio system with SiriusXM® Satellite Radio, MP3/WMA player even comes with a single-disc CD player. All this comes with continual traffic and weather data updates free where HD Radio is received.

All the modern Toyota/Lexus safety driver-assist systems are in place. Lexus added Intuitive Parking Assist with auto-braking to keep from bumping into things. The Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management keeps the LS from sliding into bigger things. The new “Pre-Collision System with low-light pedestrian detection and daytime bicyclist detection” keeps the LS from bumping into important things like people.

The automatic cruise control manages speed for long trips and speeds all the way down to stop-n-go traffic. However, the lane-keeping assistance with an electronic steering aid was far less accurate than the 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid I just tested. The rest of the safety suite was very intuitive and performed well.

My overall impression of the 2020 Lexus LS 500h is that Lexus just over-compensated in the quest to beat the German luxury sedans. The result is an over-complicated car with all the elements needed to regain a top position in this luxury large sedan segment. With some careful simplification, the LS could move to the front of the line with extravagance and efficiency.

There just might be a larger market for expensive sedans when gas prices escalate, and sedans regain public popularity. In the meantime, consider a much more sorted large sedan in the 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited and save $60k for post-pandemic living.

2020 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro

By Jim Powell

When the press-fleet driver showed up in my driveway with a brand new 2020 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro, dressed up in the unmistakable color of Army Green, I did not know whether to salute or just keep my social distance. Just the look of this raised truck and special 18-inch TRD wheels express fun driving through the deserts or mountains or rivers anywhere in the world. After staying at home due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, I could not wait to take it for a spin.

I did not expect for this TRD Pro top-model Tundra 4×4 to be at home on the freeways surrounding Los Angeles. With 300 miles of highway driving, I believe this is one of the most comfortable riding trucks I have driven in years. Considering I have driven almost every production pickup sold in the USA since 1993, that is saying something. Toyota has dialed in the perfect suspension for a truck that can be used as a weekend warrior and a daily driver.

When trucks are rigged for towing and hauling, there are heavy-duty components necessary for the safety of the passengers and the cargo. When a truck is rigged for off-road duty, there are other articulating suspension components needed for uneven ground and traction in all circumstances. A truck capable of over 10,200 pounds of towing capacity and great off-road agility should not handle so well.

The Toyota Racing Division (TRD) Pro suspension consists of an independent TRD coil-spring high-mounted double-wishbone front suspension with a 2-inch lift. When trucks are lifted with after-market kits, it changes the geometry and weight distribution of the truck that has been manufactured with millions of dollars of R&D.

Toyota designed this Tundra TRD Pro from the ground up with large stabilizer bars and TRD Fox front shock absorbers with a piggyback reservoir. The rear axle is controlled with a trapezoidal multi-leaf suspension with staggered Fox shock absorbers. Additionally, all the Tundra TRD Pro pickup componants come with a warranty, and the whole truck is built in San Antonio, Texas.

The TRD Pro model also is very comfortable inside the cabin with thick leather seats accented with red stitching. The rear seat is almost limousine-like in legroom and headroom, and hip room is wide enough to hold up to 5 large adults. I was able to stow my golf clubs on the rear floor with the seats in place, and with room to spare. The new multimedia infotainment system is easy to use while the knobs and switches are large and intuitive.

The venerable 5.7-liter DOHC V8 still uses an aluminum block with 32-valve head. Horsepower is up to 381 at a high 5,600 rpm. Rarely will a driver push the accelerator this hard, but the 401 lb-ft of torque @ 3,600 rpm pulls hard. The six-speed automatic transmission is also tried and true and geared just right for this engine. Although it is debated daily in bars across America, there is nothing that sounds like a V-8 engine with dual exhaust pipes. The TRD exhaust system accentuates this point with a growl and burble, almost too loud under hard acceleration

Unfortunately, Toyota’s 5.7-liter powertrain has never been excellent on fuel mileage. I averaged 15.7 mpg on 87-octane fuel. EPA estimates a 13 city/17 highway/14 combined mpg for our 4×4 Tundra, so I beat the combined average by 1.7 miles-per-gallon. The “big three” truck builders have come a long way in higher mileage power plants while Toyota has dropped the smaller V-8 for the big boy. A larger 38.0-gallon fuel tank (Limited, Platinum, 1794 Edition, TRD Pro) does help on long trips.

The Tundra is available in sixteen configurations, including our test TRD Pro in a short-bed CrewMax 4×4. A 2020 Tundra can start out as a base work truck, albeit only in a double cab and only with the thirsty V-8. The starting price for a Tundra SR Double-Cab 4×2 is $33,575. Tundra is thousands higher than base standard cab trucks from Ford ($28,780 V-6) or Chevy (28,895 V-6). Ram (Dodge) has a standard cab work truck that starts around $31K, but none of these base trucks are popular or easy to find outside of fleet orders.

All Tundra’s come in a four-door cab with two cab sizes: Double Cab and CrewMax. The TRD Pro model gets the larger cab and the 5’ 7.2” bed. Our press fleet 2020 4×4 model came with all the goodies that Toyota offers, including a power tilt/slide moonroof and rear power window. Ours came with the few options available, i.e., spray-on bed liner, steel step rails, and paint protector film. Our test MSRP of $56,512 may seem high, but compared to the competition with similar configurations, the Toyota Tundra CrewMax TRD Pro is actually very competitive for all the equipment and capability in this package.

Toyota does not bother putting a 150 or 1500 badge on their truck as an indication of the Tundra’s capacity. The Tundra is closer to a ¾-ton truck in all the measurements that count for a truck owner. When scrutinized closely, there is no other light-duty truck that is over-engineered like the Toyota Tundra. Our Tundra has a published payload limit of 1,780 lbs. but I have seen Tundra’s safely haul and pull more than the numbers indicate. Heavy-duty disc brakes with oversized rotors and calipers are one reason that Tundra owners can depend on their trucks for heavy-duty work and play.

To keep up with consumer desires, Tundra now gets LED headlights with LED accent lights and an automatic leveling system (Limited). The TRD Pro has a manual level control and an auto high beam sensor. Attractive 18-inch BBS forged-aluminum TRD Pro wheels with tall Michelin LTX P275/65R18 tires complete the rugged look while providing a comfortable ride on-road and mountain goat traction off-road. Who needs 20-inch rims if one is climbing boulders on Saturday and hitting potholes on Monday?

Furthermore, Toyota includes almost all the driver-assist features offered. The Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC) and Lane Departure Alert (LDA) systems are all a part of the Toyota Safety Sense™ P (TSS-P). The Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection [PCS w/PD] is not something normally tested on my drives, but I am glad to have it in heavy city traffic.

The Sway Warning System (SWS) was activated on purpose, alerting me to stay the course, while lane departure (steering) assist is not offered here. I wish Tundra came standard with a blind spot warning in the side mirrors. However, the best safety feature is actually a pickup that is stable in the corners, tracks where it is pointed, and gives the driver a clear field of vision all around the truck.

The TRD Pro with the hood-scoop and Army Green paint became the talk of my neighborhood. Sales numbers would show that Toyota has not been too competitive in the American full-size truck market against the big three. Now with Apple CarPlay and full infotainment integration, Tundra is more competitive, and a redesign is expected next year. While Ford, GM, and Ram (FCA) have a larger market share, Toyota builts a high-quality pickup that will outlast the payments.

2020 Toyota Avalon XSE Hybrid

By Jim Powell

In 1957, there was a Japanese manufacturer that wanted to break into the American automotive market with a small economy car and one Land Cruiser. They had a plan to match and exceed the American expectations on reliability and efficiency. After rapid growth in the 1970s and 1980s, Toyota made the commitment in 1994 to produce a larger sedan to match American’s appetite for affordable luxury and ride comfort, replacing the lack-luster Cressida. Thus, the Avalon was born, and I bought a 2003 second-generation Avalon because it was that much better than a Buick.

Toyota also planned to use its robust Synergy Drive Hybrid system in all its models and now offer the next step in hybrids instead of all-electric models. The 2020 Avalon Hydrid is a second-generation hybrid model that comes in some strange flavors. Toyota starts with an XLE (no LE), Limited, or a blackened XSE. For real incongruences, they now produce a TRD version as well. Our test model was the blacked out Avalon XSE Hybrid with all the options.

After hundreds of miles, I have remembered why I bought an Avalon. Better than all previous generations, Avalon is a big sedan with a very substantial feel and compliant ride that soaks up the pavement. Toyota has dialed in the handling, reducing any excess of body roll, especially for a car that weighs 3,671 lbs.- batteries included. The Avalon Hybrid drives with better characteristics than most luxury sedans costing twice the price. My review of the $100,000+ 2020 Lexus LC500 sedan would prove this conclusion true, even though the Lexus comes with a sophisticated adjustable suspension.

The 18” wheels and lower-profile tires (P235/45R18) do not deteriorate the ride, and the steering is precise for a larger car. The electronically-controlled power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system is weighted just right and can adjust the assist with the various driver selected drive modes. These include Eco, Normal, Sport, and finally, EV mode that runs the car on electric power only.

In journalist’s language, this car drives smaller than its size. Avalon can be driven on city streets and tight parking lots with little effort. It can traverse through mountain passes and fly down long highways with equal control. People that like larger sedans are not always looking for sports cars with four-doors and a large trunk. Fortunately, modern larger cars are no longer floating barges, and Avalon is one of the best in this category

The Synergy Hybrid-2 System uses a 176 hp 2.5-Liter Dynamic Force 4-cylinder engine. Toyota utilizes a (D-4S) Dual Injection system, which combines direct-injection and intake-injection to gain power, efficiency, and cleaner intake valves. The engine kicks in and out smoothly when needed for more acceleration or more charging for the battery. Toyota recommends regular 87-octane to achieve an excellent emission certification of SULEV30.

The permanent magnet motor (AC 650V) puts out 118 hp (88 kW), which, combined with the gas engine, gets this sedan down the road quickly. With the high capacity sealed Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) battery pack, there is plenty of electric power for EV driving through neighborhoods. By the time I returned from my office and got off the highway and headed home, I was able to run in all-electric EV mode through my community traffic and neighborhood for several miles. Toyota’s 2nd Generation Synergy Hybrid System operates closer to a plug-in electric vehicle than most other hybrids currently on the road.

Impressively, the Avalon Hybrid is rated with an EPA fuel economy (city/highway/combined MPG) of 43/44/44 (XLE) and 43/43/43 (XSE, Limited). I was able to achieve 43 mpg without trying very hard, in half city and half highway routes. I am also impressed with the revised Toyota Electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT). It has a sequential shift mode, which responds more like a traditional automatic than a rubbery CVT.

The XSE is attempting to dress the part of a sporty sedan, but actually, all the extra trim is creating a lower drag coefficient. The piano black front grille with a sport mesh insert is hiding an active grille shutter for better aerodynamics. There are additional front tangential vents, and some are active. Even though the black rear spoiler does add an attractive touch, Avalon is not a sports sedan. Consequently, the only more over-the-top model than the XSE is the incongruent TRD (non-hybrid only).

Standard equipment XSE list is long with smoked-chrome LED reflector headlamps and LED DRL lights, which creates a more stylish frontend than the Lexus ES or LS. The headlights also switch from low to high beam automatically. The full complement of safety features is standard across the Toyota model lineup, namely the Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P). It may seem like a familiar list for every modern car these days, but not every manufacturer includes all the following: Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, and a dynamic radar cruise control. Toyota also includes a Blind Spot Monitor and a Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.

The cabin is quiet and refined for a car in the $40K price range. The real aluminum trim and leatherette material flow well across the dash and around the leather seats, armrests, and soft headliner materials. The roofline has been lowered but after one gets in, the front and back seat bolsters are supportive and comfortable for five average-sized persons with plenty of leg and headroom. The sound insolation is excellent, and the road noise is almost undetectable. Engine noise does protrude into the cabin under hard acceleration.

The 9-inch digital touchscreen display sits in a prominent and easy to read position at the top of the center console. The Toyota interface is far less complicated than the Lexus touchpad and allows the passenger to participate! The infotainment system also receives Apple CarPlay and has Android Auto as an option. The ambient lighting in the cup holders, console, doors, are nice touches. A wireless IQ phone charger is included in the upper models.

Another feature (Hybrid Limited) includes a 10-inch color Heads-Up Display (HUD) that can be customized. This can display helpful information such as a speedometer and navigation readout. Drivers can also add TSS-P indicators, audio, phone, outside temperature, and hybrid system operations. Toyota’s luxury amenities are highlighted in their simplicity of use and the added assistance to the driving experience.

Intuitive controls, excellent handling and ride, and great fuel economy make the 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid a top pick for Consumer Reports© [April 2020] and for me in the large sedan category. I would consider the Avalon Hybrid as a next sedan purchase- in the Limited trim- which suits my taste.

2019-2020 Volkswagen Arteon 2.0

By Jim Powell

The Volkswagen Group still remains one of the largest automotive manufacturers in the world, even after trouble with diesel powertrains. Through the challenges of the Covid-19 virus, the VW group has not only survived so far, but they have also upped their commitment to the US market at the time of this writing. Even with their sights set on all electric-powered vehicles, they continue to develop turbocharged cars and SUV’s for the US market with a German-flair.

Their new revised luxury sedan is called Arteon was introduced in 2019. It is a compelling sports sedan built upon the new MQB platform shared with Atlas and Atlas Sport. Built for the European and Chinese markets in recent years, it replaces VW’s slower-selling CC. It is a small step up in luxury over other VW sedans but creates some questions about VW’s business plan.

2020 Arteon prices start at $36,000, which is $13K more than a 2020 Passat. The 2020 Arteon Elegance model is dressed up with even more bells and whistles, using a new infotainment screen and interface. However, VW has priced itself into the Audi A4 and even A6 territory with these expensive accessories. Our tested 2019 SEL Premium R-Line AWD topped out at $46,710 with lots of luxury amenities and all-wheel drive. Even so, Arteon is worth a test drive.

For this price, one gets a dramatic coupe-like design with frameless side windows, VW/Audi’s 4MOTION AWD, turbocharged 2.0-liter engine with 8-speed automatic transmission, and 20” wheels. All the modern safety features include active start/stop automated cruise control, lane control, and blindspot detection, and a really good lane-keep assist.

VW has included automatic emergency braking for highway and streets with animals and people, which VW labeled as Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian. VW has a great driver-assist package. However, these are not really autonomous driving systems, and the driver must always pay attention and steer the car.

The 2.0-liter TSI® engine, used in VW Group vehicles across the world, produces 268 hp and 258 lb-ft. of torque. Power comes on early in the rev-range so stoplights feel more fun. The eight-speed automatic transmission feels crisp enough but is too eager to shift up through the gears in ECO mode- always seeking higher fuel mileage. Normal, Comfort, and Sport modes fix this issue, and paddle shifters are standing-by for more control.

There is no torque-vectoring rear axle option on the Arteon, so the typical Audi Quattro AWD system tends to pull the car around the corners instead of pushing it around like a rear-wheel bias system. Arteon continues to demonstrate the VW/Audi signature feel of controlled understeer. For a more sporty experience, try the Acura’s TLX with the Super-Handling AWD. For a more comfortable and secure experience, the Arteon stays planted on all road surfaces and maintains grip in all kinds of corners.

A real upgrade over other VW’s is the adaptive suspension, giving the Arteon a great ride on all road types and at all speeds. Volkswagen’s DCC® adaptive damping suspension is superior to many other sports sedans. It electronically controls the dampening and rebound of the suspension with noticeable precision into a very capable corning machine in SPORT and a cross-country cruiser in COMFORT mode. Fully customizable, VW allows the driver almost endless steering, drivetrain, and acceleration settings.

Style is what this handsome sedan is all about. We can see VW’s new styling direction with long, sleek lines that run across the body and the integration of Daytime Running Lights (DRLs), taillights, and huge attractive grilles. Fender flares, low hood, and short overhangs give Arteon a unique stance and create a low 0.30 coefficient of drag

Arteon is actually a 4-door hatchback. It also sits on a wheelbase that is 5 inches longer than the previous CC sport-hatch. The view from the driver’s seat is like seeing the road from a go-cart and provides good forward visibility aided with the self-adjusting LED headlights. The huge B-pillar somewhat hampers the view out the side, and the rearward view is more limited.

However, a crystal clear backup camera and screen with cross-traffic detection is very helpful when reversing. Parallel parking this sedan is also easier with VW’s automated Park Assist. The “Overhead View Camera” gives a 360-degree view around the car.

Arteon is not small at 191.4 inches long, and 73.7 inches wide. It sits lower than some sedans at 56.5 inches tall. Fortunately, It has a large cargo space behind a 60/40 split rear seat and gets a ski pass-through for move versatility. The cargo area is larger than the similar BMW 4-Series Grand Coupe and the Audi A7 Sportback models. It has 3 more cubic feet than the similar-sized Kia Stinger.

The interior ambiance is modern VW excellent fit-n-finish, with some upscale materials. VW adds some interior style, similar to their Audi cousin’s cabin, with air vents and panels flowing together across the front and into the doors. Again, there is really not enough of a departure from Jetta or Passat to feel $36K special.

The premium features include a new adjustable digital instrument readout, a panoramic sunroof, nighttime ambient lighting, and a massaging driver’s seat. All controls and screen touch buttons work logically in the center console. The three-zone Climatronic® automatic climate control is standard and very simple to operate with actual buttons and knobs.

R-Line models also get contrast stitching in the leather, paddle shifters, black headliner, stainless-steel sport pedals, and stainless-steel door sill plates with the R-Line logo. The SEL Premium models feature a 700-watt Dynaudio sound system with 13 channels and 12 speakers.

The Nappa leather seating surfaces and a memory setting make for comfortable long trips. Nice ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and a leather-wrapped multifunction and heated steering wheel keeps hands and backsides happy.

The cabin is quiet on the open road. Only the sound of the engine enters the car under hard acceleration. Even the optional 20-inch wheels and tires are well isolated from the platform, and road-noise is barely noticeable over uneven terrain. The R-Line also includes a badging, a unique front bumper with gloss-black finish air intakes, and a rear spoiler.

I really enjoyed the style and road-worthiness of this new sedan with a hatchback. It is comfortable, competent, and confident in the corners. The Arteon is also expensive and blurs the line between VW and Audi. The real premium upgrade is a coupe-like shaped sedan with four doors and a larger, more usable backseat with 40.2 inches of rear legroom and 37.0 inches of rear headroom. All 2019-2020 Volkswagen Arteons come with their “People First Warranty” which translates into a six-year or 72,000-mile Bumper-to-Bumper New Vehicle Limited Warranty.

2020 Mazda CX-5

By Jim Powell

Mazda CX-5 seems to embody the characteristics of the Mazda Corporation. Vehicles can be fun to drive, affordable to own, nice to look at, and functional people-transporters. Not just coincidentally, the CX-5 is Mazda’s best-selling vehicle in the U.S. Now, they have spruced up the interior and added more amenities in a model labeled Signature. I was able to test the updated 2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature for a week and was convinced Mazda continues to sharpen its image.

The 2020 Mazda CX-5 has become quieter on the inside with engineers focusing on improving the noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) and reducing road noise. The driving experience is still spirited, and the suspension is fairly firm, but the whole livability of this Crossover is more sophisticated. The Signature trim badge comes with a well-appointed interior with really comfortable Caturra Brown Nappa leather on the seats and around the steering wheel, and real wood trim around the cabin. I do wish the front seats were a little wider for some of us more substantial people.

An automatic dimming rearview frameless mirror with Homelink® is a small thing but never found on a Crossover costing $37,055. The more usable technology is a windshield-projected HUD “Active Driving Display” that can read and display things like stop signs and speed limits ahead of time, even severe weather. Mazda’s exclusive Traffic Sign Recognition with the Mazda Navigation System is pretty cool. Along with the Signature trim badge, the ambient mood LED lighting, and black headliner is a nice touch. The Signature trim also gets a 360° view with front and rear parking sensors and 19-inch Dark Silver aluminum alloy wheels.

Because oil prices dropped dramatically just before the U.S. was shut down with the Covid-19 Pandemic, gas prices have dropped back to where they were years ago. Thus, the craze for Crossovers and SUVs will undoubtedly pick up again. The beauty of the mid-sized Mazda CX-5 is that it’s curb weight of 3,825 lbs. gets down the road with some real speed, 5-passengers, and great handling. It does all this with 22 mpg in the city and a good 27 mpg highway. I averaged 24.7 mpg around the town and one road trip- with the AWD powertrain.

Mazda calls its suite of safety gizmos i-Activsense features for all the 2020 CX-5 models. Modern safety includes many cameras, sensors, and computers working to help vehicles from getting into accidents. The Mazda Radar Cruise Control can control the CX-5 all the way down to a stop and go traffic pace. Mazda’s Advanced Smart City Brake Support with day and night pedestrian detection watches for creatures big and small. The Smart Brake Support with Collision Warning and Lane Departure Warning with Lane-Keep Assist and High Beam Control looks for other vehicles.

But Mazda engineers have been working on some clever features like G-Vectoring Control Plus, which keeps the Crossover heading the intended direction around bends in the road. An all-new feature is some software that works with the all-wheel drive system, titled “Off-Road Traction Assist.” This assist works on uneven terrain to transfer torque to diagonal wheels by reducing the engine torque and braking on the wheels without traction. Thus, the wheels still on the ground get torque to help the vehicle regain traction and to continue the forward momentum. Simple but effective.

The Signature trim comes with Mazda’s turbocharged Skyactiv-G 2.5T engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. This engine generates 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque with premium (93 octane) fuel. Even though this is only an increase of 10 lb-ft of torque, the power gain is noticeable, especially with a load of cargo and passengers. With regular (87 octane) fuel, the engine delivers 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque of turbocharged acceleration. Even so, the best news for 2020 is a smoother and quieter engine with a new Engine Harmonics Enhancer that continuously tunes through computer management.

Our 2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature Crossover included all premium features like a new eight-inch full-color touchscreen display and a very nice sound system. Fortunately, Mazda has continued to offer some actual dials and buttons for many controls, including a volume knob. Unfortunately, the screen deactivates the touch feature when the vehicle is moving, forcing the driver or passenger to use the joystick/dial in the center console for infotainment-scream control.

The beautiful shape and driving dynamics are standard on all the CX-5 models. Compared to most of the mid-size SUVs on the road, the CX-5 is a favorite among automotive journalists and enthusiasts. The ride is always controlled, the steering is responsive, and the body stays flat in hard corners. The turn-in is sharp, and the rear independent suspension stays planted to guide the backend. The ride is fairly firm on ruts and city potholes, yet it settles down on uneven highway pavement.

The CX-5 is a capable Crossover vehicle. It is also an SUV for anyone who does not want to tow anything over 2,000 lbs. The cargo space is usable and carries 4 large suitcases standing up. However, if you want to carry a 4×8’ sheet of plywood, a bigger SUV is required. In other words, it is larger than an urban sub-compact; it has more precise handling than any off-road machine, and the CX-5 fits the bill for small families. Just test-drive it with your kid’s car seats in place, due to the medium-sized backseat before you buy.

Consider this top-rated and reliable CUV, especially if you love to drive on more than straight roads. Even though a manual transmission is no longer available, the 6-speed auto with paddle shifters is still very engaging in the canyons. The 2020 Mazda CX-5 Sport prices start at $25,090 for FWD and $26,490 for the i-Activ™ All-Wheel Drive drivetrain. The CX-5 Signature starts at $37,055, with the turbocharged 2.5-liter and the AWD included. Overall, this dynamic CUV is great fun and also a great value.

2019 Toyota Yaris iA Sedan

By Jim Powell

When one climbs into the revised Toyota Yaris iA sedan, one would think they had seen this interior in another vehicle, in fact from another manufacturer! It is no secret that Toyota needed a better sub-compact, inexpensive sedan. After several models under the extinct Scion brand, the newest Toyota Yaris is designed and built by Mazda. Just to confuse even more of the public, this model is labeled with theiA badge. Another note to confuse customers even further, Toyota has rebadged the 2020 Mazda 2 Hatchback as the 2020 Toyota Yaris with a new interior and 1.5-liter powertrain.

Whatever the name, this 2019 Toyota Yaris iAis still on sale and is a well-built and logically designed sedan that fills the entry-level segment of Toyota’s line up. Availability of the Yaris iA is also good news since the Mazda2 sedan has not been offered in the US.

After a week of running around town and a few trips on the freeway, I am sure this is a better car than Toyota’s first-generation Yaris. So many of the rough characteristics of the earlier models have been addressed. The cabin is quieter and the road noise is diminished considerably. Mazda’s design team has taken lessons from their own Mazda-3 and Mazda-6 and applied them to the Mazda-2.

This is a small car taking up only 171 inches in length and 67 inches in width. The seat height is slightly higher than some competitors so ingress and egress was suitable for even taller drivers. This is not a Crossover (CUV) but has good room and a decent backseat for a total of 4.5 passengers.

Also, Toyota has kept the starting price at a very low $15,450. Because it is a sedan and not a subcompact CUV, the cost of ownership is also lower. The fuel mileage is close to a hybrid with 32 city / 40 highway / 34 mpg combined.Without much effort, our mileage was 41 mpg on the highway.

Yaris comes with a 6-speed manual transmission in the baseL and also theLE trim level which adds fog lights, keyless start, and 16-inch alloy wheels. The Yaris XLE sedan gets a 6-speed automatic gearbox, leatherette upholstery, LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, and a rear spoiler with an MSRP of only $16,450. This can be a good value, however all 2019’s are missing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto software for the Mazda-based infotainment system. Toyota adds this to the 2020 models.

Power still comes from a rather weak 1.5-literDOHC 16-valve 4-Cylinder engine with Variable Valve Timing w/intelligence (VVTi). It produces 106 hp up at 6,000 rpm but the 12.0-1 compression ratio means that driving in the upper rpm’s can add some fun to an otherwise economic-focused sedan. The Yaris is not a sports car but it could use just a few more horses for safer merging and passing.

The chassis is relatively firm and the suspension keeps the Yaris planted on the road at higher speeds. Using MacPherson struts in the front and a torsion beam in the rear, I rather enjoyed steering the Yaris through canyons, even at 75 miles per hour. The larger stabilizer barsand the electric power steering worked well enough to help me feel confident in the corners, even in high winds (which are common in Southern California high deserts).

The Yaris also gets Mazda’s touchscreen infotainment system which gives the driver the choice of controlling audio and communication apps with a center control knob, voice recognition, or using a finger on the center 7” screen. There are also steering wheel controls for simple operations. This bright touchscreen gives a high-contrast picture in all but the most brilliant sunshine and it displays the standard backup camera image. Satellite radio with a “SiriusXM® All Access” 3-month trial is included. This older system even includes an auxiliary audio jack with a USB port down on the console.

Compared to the Honda Fit, Yaris is lacking in interior space. However, the fit-n-finish and simple drivability make this car a contender in the small, entry-level sub-compact sedans. The handling is agile compared to a Nissan Versa or Hyundai Accent, and the manual transmission makes Yaris fairly fun to drive.

The 2020 Hatchback Yaris has a few more amenities and would be a step up in style. Driving impressions on the newest Yaris (Mazda2) are coming soon. Meanwhile, the Toyota Yaris Sedan will fill the bill for a first-time buyer on a budget.

2020 Kia Soul Turbo

By Jim Powell

Advertising is all about getting people’s attention. Friends still talk about the hamsters rocking out in a Kia Soul in the middle of Super Bowl commercials back in 2010. Hundreds of hamsters running on cage wheels while the cool gangster/hamsters cruise by in a new red Kia Soul was a brilliant aid. Ten years later, Kia has upped the volume just a bit with modern styling and even electrification in the 2020 Soul EV.

I had the chance to spend a week in the new Kia Soul Turbo, listening to my tunes. Kia claims that “music has been an overarching theme for Soul since its inception,” and one can sense that theme even more in the 2020 interior. This third-generation has turned up the volume with “emotional visualization of sound” shapes. Thankfully, Kia also focused on holding more road-noise outside the cabin. The small changes in exterior aerodynamics also have helped reduce wind noise and get a couple more mpg’s.

Exterior updates include new headlights with slimmer daytime running lights and turn signals. There is a larger front grille and flared front fenders. The vertical rear window and taillights have been reshaped and most will recognize the image as a “Cool Soul.” On the practical side, the new platform and structure will support some weight on the roof, and engineers have included roof rack mounting points.

There is more performance in the revised 2.0-liter gas engine, but the constant-variable “IVT” transmission combination would not be my first choice in drivetrains. All the new power is transferred through a mileage-oriented acceleration engine management software, which takes some of the fun out of the quirky Soul.Enthusiasts who love to drive should opt for the 6-speed manual transmission.

The iconic shape and profile seem very similar to the first-generation Soul, yet it rides on an all-new platform. The new “GT-Line” and “X-Line” models add some performance cues but the car is still a reliable commuter. The handling for the 2020 Soul is more secure and grounded to the pavement during high-speed lane-changes. Braking is more accurate and steering is more precise. Kia has added a new level of sophistication to the 2020 Soul with better driving dynamics. Yet, Kia did not forget to keep the 2020 Kia Soul funky enough to be fun.

The new 10.25-inch wide color display is intuitive. Like all Kia vehicles, the controls are logical and easy to reach, even for shorter drivers. There is an upscale feel to the materials used on the inside of the cabin, and also a new Head-Up Display [HUD] is optional on the higher trim levels. The seats are more supportive upfront and the cabin is a nicer place to be for road trips. Some think this updated Soul is more “mature” but I feel the Kia Soul is more conducive to longer road-trips.

They also include their host of safety features called “Kia Drive Wise” on all models. The driver-assist features include Forward Collision Avoidance (FCA) with pedestrian detection, Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), Lane Changing Assist (LCA) with steering inputs, Blind-spot Collision Warning (BCW), and Rear Cross Collision Warning (RCW). Available highway safety is increased with their Smart Cruise Control (SCC) and High Beam Assist (HBA).

Nice touches include available wireless charging, dual auto climate control, and more speakers on the upper trims. Soul continues to show-off their signature tweeters in the front and bumps up the mood lighting options. Customizable lighting emits a soft glow from the center door panels and a unique 3D pattern surface on the upper door panels. It can also be synchronized with the music playing through the audio system. This can be pretty cool or pretty distracting, depending on your tolerance and level of fatigue one experiences while driving at night. It can also be turned off if your head is pounding right along with the large subwoofer bass.

Unique to Kia/Hyundai/Genesis is a Driver Attention Warning (DAW) system that monitors the driver’s face for signs of sleepiness or distraction. I found this system did not understand some “head-banging” rock-n-roll music, driver-seat dancing, sing-along moves that made me famous in high school. The readout warned me and wanted me to take a break much sooner than needed!

There is always a compromise when revising a funky fan favorite to meet the needs of the masses, aiming to attract buyers of the Boomer Generation with the most buying power. Kia has done a good job of keeping the 2020 Soul fresh and minimizing the compromises while delivering an updated ride and interior, and still keeping some hamster funk and fun. They have done this all while keeping the 2020 Kia Soul affordable with a starting MSRP at just $17,490. My Soul GT-Line Turbo started at $27,490 with all the goodies.

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