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AUTO REVIEW: 2019 Lexus LS 500 AWD: Luxuriously Rugged or Ruggedly Luxurious?

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Lexus’s new flagship LS 500 had an all-new platform. That gave it a lower profile. It was longer, lower and sleeker with a longer wheel-base than the outgoing LS. The car had the brand’s signature spindle grille which looked even more prominent with the long hood and short trunk.

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By Frank S. Washington, AboutThatCar.com

DETROIT – The first thing I noticed about the 2019 Lexus LS 500 when they dropped it off was that it seemed heavier than when I drove it in San Francisco during its launch.

The feeling of being heavier didn’t mean that the car was sluggish, bigger or slower for that matter. It was powered by a new 3.5-liter twin turbo V6 that made 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to a ten-speed automatic transmission.

Not that it matters with a car that retails for $103,635 but mileage was not bad for a full-size sedan with this kind of power. The LS 500 AWD was rated at 18 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg combined.

Lexus’s new flagship LS 500 had an all-new platform. That gave it a lower profile. It was longer, lower and sleeker with a longer wheel-base than the outgoing LS. The car had the brand’s signature spindle grille which looked even more prominent with the long hood and short trunk.

Cold weather tends to slow traffic down, even on dry pavement. I didn’t do any hard accelerating, sharp cornering or stressed related braking. And the full-size LS sedan had all the condiments that you’d expect in a full-size luxury car. I’ll get into some of that a little bit later.

After three or so days of driving around, I had forgotten about the feeling of extra weight, but I had figured out where it came from. This Lexus LS 500 had all-wheel drive and that added roughly 200 lbs. more to the rear-wheel drive model that I had tested in San Francisco. I could give somebody a big smooch because of it.

When I woke up on Saturday it was snowing. According to the weather folks it had been snowing since 2:30 a.m. and it continued to snow until 4 p.m. maybe longer. That made for slush and rut-filled streets initially.

Then it started getting colder; I’m talking single digits. When it does that after lots of snow, the frigid temperatures transform the stuff into something akin to sawdust. It’s soft, it looks fluffy and it is dry. No moisture but it is still easy to get stuck in the dry mush.

About that only thing that I was miffed about was that I couldn’t find out that much information about the Lexus 500’s all when drive system. It was a full-time all-wheel drive setup, but I could not find out how much torque went to the front wheels or whether it was scalable depending on slippage.

But I can tell you this: my LS 500 AWD was solid in the snow, slush and sawdust and I never changed the drive mode. There was very little slippage and when there was the car got back on track in a few seconds.

In these kinds of conditions, hard acceleration or hard braking would be lunacy. Lane departure warnings or gentle corrective steering was not happening because there were no lanes for the camera to identify me crossing over.

However, the blindside alert did work as did the front cross traffic alert which flashed yellow arrowheads across the bottom of the 24-inch heads up display when I had stopped at an intersection.

But all that was outside. Inside was a luxurious cabin that was loaded with creature comforts. In this weather the most important was heated seats, they were cooled but I didn’t care at this point. There was a matching heated steering wheel and the rear seats were heated as well.

One thing about cold weather, oft times driving in it is a solitary affair. That means I had no one in the back to check out the 18-way power seats. Nor could the power sun shade screens in the side windows be enjoyed. The power shade screen in the rear window meant the back cabin space could be privatized.

Climate controls for the rear cabin were back there as well and you could control the audio system, well, some of it from the rear. In other words, this LS 500 was set up to be chauffeur driven.

Up front was just as impressive. It was quiet, spacious and elegant. Wood inlay was abundant. Leather seating was comfortable; everything was power including the tilt and telescoping steering wheel and the headrests fore and aft.

The interior was chocolate and the exterior a deep blue that Lexus called Mica. The leather seats were quilted perforated and the wood was a light dark pattern put together with sliced wood veneer to form a herringbone pattern.

The headliner was ultra-suede and the side panels were ultra-suede as well. The control mouse was actual a contact pad that moved the pointer on the infotainment screen with rubs of my finger. I didn’t like it, but I grew accustomed to it with time.

The LS was loaded with equipment you’d expect in this price range. LED adaptive headlights, a premium audio system, 20-inch wheels, panoramic sunroof, an adaptive air suspension, the Lexus safety system which included pre-collision with active braking, active steering assist, pedestrian alert, road sign assist, front cross traffic alert and driver and front passenger massaging seats were among some of the creature comforts and safety equipment.

Of course, there was a navigation system, Bluetooth, voice controls, satellite radio and adaptive cruise control. But none of that mattered when it was 10 degrees with the promise of the same sort of temperature the next day.

This was real life and driving the 2019 Lexus LS 500 AWD made it bearable, even pleasant and not nerve wracking. It was a real luxury car for the real world.

Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com

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AUTONETWORK: 2019 Lexus NX 300h

NNPA NEWSWIRE — This combination had an EPA rating of 33 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 31 mpg combined. We thought that was a little on the low side. But 30 mpg is the magic number for fuel efficiency and the Lexus NX Hybrid topped it across the board.

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The base price of the 2019 Lexus NX 300h was $38,735 Add a lengthy list of options, a $1,025 freight charge and our test vehicle had a sticker of $49,354. (Photo: Frank S. Washington)

By Frank S. Washington, AboutThatCar.com

DETROIT – The Lexus NX 300h is yet another hybrid from the luxury automaker.

This one combines the output of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and what Lexus called a small high torque electric motor. Power can shift between the gas engine and the electric motor or they can operate in tandem. Combined they supply 194 horsepower to the NX 300h.

Transferring that power to the pavement is an electrically controlled continuously variable transmission or ECVT. We don’t know if there is any advantage to this type of transmission versus a regular CVT. But it seemed to convey a little more oomph to the pavement under normal conditions.

This combination had an EPA rating of 33 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 31 mpg combined. We thought that was a little on the low side. But 30 mpg is the magic number for fuel efficiency and the Lexus NX Hybrid topped it across the board.

As most who are familiar with hybrid systems know, regenerative braking changed the electric motor into a generator that captured the kinetic energy of the wheels when the brakes were applied. Then it was stored in the nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) hybrid battery pack.

In EV drive mode, under certain conditions, the NX 300h can run solely on the electric motor for up to 1 mile at lower speeds (below approximately 25 mph). We tried this by driving around the block, well several blocks. The crossover hybrid stayed in electric mode but when we got to 25 mph, the gasoline engine kicked in just like Lexus said.

Lexus also said a Hybrid System Indicator and fuel consumption indicator, located in a 4.2-inch TFT screen, help coach the driver to operate the vehicle as economically as possible. Never saw it, never looked for it, ergo we never paid any attention.

But we did notice that all the instruments were digital. The speedometer and the power gauge; all the numbers were digital, but they were inside a three-dimensional ring. Thus, they looked analogue. It was a nice illusion.

The all-wheel-drive system (with intelligence) was standard. Instead of transfer gears and a driveshaft to the rear wheels, the system employed a second, independent electric motor to drive the rear wheels when needed to help maintain optimal traction. Since thank goodness winter was not upon us at the time of the test drive, this feature was not needed. And our test vehicle did sport the optional 18-inch wheels.

We climbed into the 2019 Lexus NX 300h and found the interior busy but nicely done. The floating infotainment screen was set back atop the dash; almost like it was on a downward slope. There was a cascaded look. The vents were next, followed by the climate control gauges and temperature setting.

The center-stack dropped down abruptly and there were the audio controls, the gear shifter beneath and the drive mode selector which was a dial. We were intrigued by the CD player; most of them have gone to the automotive obsolete museum. We checked it out and found it provided excellent sounds.

Farther back on the console was the Lexus haptic pad. Lexus called it the remote touch interface (RTI), which uses a touchpad with palm rest in the center of the console. The RTI helps the driver access various functions while staying focused on the road. The front-seat passenger can also easily operate the RTI.

It is a control mouse and can be unnerving for first time users. Inside the center console were 2 USB jacks, a 12V socket and an auxiliary jack grouped closely together.

The slightest slivers of dark wood trim were on the dash and the doors. And the NX Hybrid had a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel. It was heated as well. The rear seats also were power tilting and there was a power liftgate.

The rear seats were firm but bordered on being hard. There was plenty of headroom as well as legroom. They could also flip down in addition to tilting.

There was a 360-degree surround view camera with overhead view. The NX Hybrid had Lexus’ safety package that included lane departure warning and correction and collision warning. It had a navigation system, Enform app suite, rearview camera with cross traffic alert, a moonroof and premium LED daytime running lights.

A smart key with push button start and lock and unlock, power folding outside mirrors, Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa capability were part of the creature comforts. And of course, there were heated and cooled front seats.

The base price of the 2019 Lexus NX 300h was $38,735 Add a lengthy list of options, a $1,025 freight charge and our test vehicle had a sticker of $49,354.

Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com

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AUTO REVIEW: 2019 Subaru Forester

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The vehicle seems to have had just about every creature comfort: stop/start, automatic lock and unlock, eyesight driver-assist technology, torque vectoring, Bluetooth, a navigation system, heated front seats, power driver’s seat, satellite radio, voice controls, it had dual 2.1 USB jacks in the rear, plus one more in the front and an auxiliary jack and 12V socket.

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By Frank S. Washington, AboutThatCar.com, NNPA Newswire Contributor

DETROIT – Even before my week test driving the 2019 Subaru Forester was up my opinion had been reached. It was very satisfying to the point of being a very impressive midsize crossover that delivered on a number of levels.

Under the hood was a 2.5-liter Boxer engine, meaning horizontally opposed four-cylinder that made 182 horsepower and 176-pound feet of torque at 4,400 rpm.

The Forester had an EPA rating of 26 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg combined.

This new engine provided more than enough oomph in day-to-day driving. I really don’t care for CVTs but this one was not bad. Acceleration was good and it was fairly quiet, for a continuously variable transmission.

The first driving characteristic I noticed about the Forester was its handling. It was Go-Kart precise. Just the slightest turn of the wheel and the midsize crossover went in the direction the wheel was turned. Reaction time to driver input was almost instant.

Styling was new for 2019 too. Subaru said it was more rugged. The exterior had shoulder lines that followed around the pillars to emphasize height and strength. Prominent wheel arches emphasized the standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system’s functionality. Subaru is one of the few manufactures that make all-wheel-drive standard.

The front, side and rear under guards were also standard on all models, with color finish according to trim line. New LED headlights were standard on all models. The wheelbase was increased to 105.1 in. from 103.9 in., with the gain benefitting rear seat legroom, which is now 39.4-in., a 1.4-in. increase.

I got into the rear seats and found them comfortable. There was plenty of headspace, hip room and I think three people could sit in the back seat in relative comfort. And because the Forester sits deceptively high, the drive tunnel was not that much of an intrusion into the interior space.

What’s more, the moonroof was larger than most I’ve seen.

Subaru’s signature hexagonal grille incorporated active grille shutters, which optimize aerodynamics to help reduce fuel consumption. Wider rear door openings and a steep C-pillar angle make ingress/egress and installing a child seat easier. All Forester models feature lower body side cladding, which helps protect against mud, rocks and other road debris.

My only complaint was that the frame for the C-pillar glass was light gray while the rest of the interior was black. I could see it out of the corner of my eye, and it was distracting. I thought it was a vehicle in my blind spot at first, and then I thought it was somebody in the street and after I discovered what it was it was still disconcerting.

As Subaru said, there was outstanding outward visibility. Strategically designed pillars and generous glass area ensure an excellent all-around view from inside, and all models feature a standard rear vision camera. But they need to dump that light gray frame for the C pillar window.

Anyway, that was my only gripe. And I believe that is a choice of interior color. The cargo space was upped during the redesign to 76.1 cu. ft. with the rear seats folded. The automatic lift gate width was 51.3 inches. This Subaru Limited trim also had roof rails with integrated tie-down hooks.

I thought the interior was really nice. It was soft black leather with gray stitching. It was particularly nice around the front door panels; so supple that it felt like a thick cloth.

The instruments were black with white numerals reversed out. And the vehicle seems to have had just about every creature comfort: stop/start, automatic lock and unlock, eyesight driver-assist technology, torque vectoring, Bluetooth, a navigation system, heated front seats, power driver’s seat, satellite radio, voice controls, it had dual 2.1 USB jacks in the rear, plus one more in the front and an auxiliary jack and 12V socket.

It had its own Wi-Fi hotspot, lane departure alert and assist, blind spot alert, rear view camera with cross-traffic alert, a navigation system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, cloud apps, streaming capability, ride modes, and adaptive cruise control. And there was a pod atop the dash that gave you average mpg; mine was 22.9, then mpg in real time, range, interior and exterior temperature, the lock and the climate control reading.

The 2019 Subaru Forester was a great vehicle with great handling, a very good ride, good gas mileage and good interior space with what they called a panoramic sunroof. The sticker I thought was astoundingly low, $33,465.

Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com

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AUTO REVIEW: 2020 Kia Telluride

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The new Telluride comes in four trim lines: LX, S, EX and SX and they all can be equipped with front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. Its chassis was comprised of 59.4 percent high strength steel and that no doubt was one of the reasons for its rock-solid road performance.

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By Frank S. Washington, AboutThatCar.com, NNPA Newswire Contributor

GATEWAY, Colo. – Kia may have hit on the right product at the right time with its all-new 2020 Telluride, a midsize but large three-rowed crossover.

We came here to southwestern Colorado to put the Telluride through its paces. We went down Colorado 141 over the Dolores River which cuts through of course the Dolores River Canyon with its 1,200-foot red granite canyon walls. Look beyond and you can see 12,000-foot mountains all round.

Kudos to Kia for picking this place; they could have found a much easier path. C141 is a narrow two-lane twisting affair. We climbed from our base camp, the Gateway Canyons Resort and Spa which was at 5,000 feet up to Telluride (yep, the vehicle is named after the town) which was at more than 9,000 ft.

But I’m ahead of myself. The Telluride is the first SUV designed by Kia in the U.S. specifically for the U.S. market. It was styled in Irvine, California and will be built at Kia’s assembly plant in West Point, Georgia.

It is indeed the company’s new flagship and they wanted it to be bold and boxy; their words not mine. It is the largest Kia ever built and it can seat seven or eight passengers, depending on whether the second row has captain’s seats or a bench seat.

The Telluride had a long broad hood. The design made the tiger grille wider and taller. Dual headlights were stacked; it had inverted “L” taillights with LED stripes. The windshield was upright and the sides were smooth but bulging and that conveyed strength. And there were elongated nameplates on the edge of the hood and on the lip of the liftgate.

This Kia was the real deal. It had skid plates with twin exhaust tips that let you know it can go off-road. Grab handles were integrated into the center console for such occasions. I passed up the off-road course in favor of pushing back to basecamp.

Under the hood was a 3.8-liter direct injection V6 that made 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque at 5,600 rpm. This engine was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It is the only engine available and it gets 20 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined for front wheel drive. All-wheel-drive gets 19 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg combined.

This engine is why I first thought they could have picked a better place for the Telluride’s national launch. Any engine will lose horsepower with altitude, especially if is not getting forced oxygen as in a turbocharger of supercharger. A couple of times the Telluride’s engine worked hard as we climbed a particularly steep stretch of road. But to be fair, on a straightaway with enough distance, and there were not that many, the pedal got pushed to the metal and our Telluride got up to 120 mph before we let up. Power test passed!

And while I’m at it, the Telluride’s handling was spot on. I thought steering was a little loose, but the sport utility went where we pointed it without a lot of deviation. What’s more, for a vehicle that weighed more than two-tons, the suspension prevented a lot of sway and yaw.

The 2020 Telluride had an independent front suspension with MacPherson struts, coil springs and stabilizer bar. In the rear, it had an independent self-leveling multi-link suspension with stabilizer bar. The ride height was automatically calibrated depending on load.

My point is the Telluride was rock solid on the road. There wasn’t any bodyroll that I remember, the nose didn’t rise up under hard acceleration nor did it dip during hard braking. There was a lot of that as we came up on curves sooner than expected.

Its cabin was wide. There was no center stack. Kia was one of the earliest automakers to emphasize horizontal interior layouts. And it really looked good in the Telluride. Plush leather seats were comfortable and the wood and metal trim which looked great and had some grainy texture wasn’t wood or metal. It was a proprietary process that really worked.

The new Telluride comes in four trim lines: LX, S, EX and SX and they all can be equipped with front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. Its chassis was comprised of 59.4 percent high strength steel and that no doubt was one of the reasons for its rock-solid road performance.

There was a choice of four drive modes: smart, eco, sport and comfort which modified the settings for the powertrain, drivetrain and steering. In addition to the four regular drive modes in FWD, Kia said the AWD model owners can opt for snow and AWD lock too. Drive on demand will distribute torque between front and rear wheels depending on driving conditions.

During normal driving in eco and comfort modes the system delivers from 20 to 35 percent of the torque to the rear wheels. In snow, smart and sport the system delivers power evenly to all four wheels. Oh, the Telluride can tow up to 5,000 lbs. too.

Got to report that the navigation system in the first Telluride we tested did not work. These were early production models thus, they were ready for sale. We swapped with an internal who got the system to work by rebooting it. I don’t know what that took but all I can say is that it is not unusual for a computer to need rebooting but it’s not good either. The competition is way too good for even minor glitches; that’s Kia’s challenge with the launch of the Telluride which is currently on sale; don’t get tripped up by the small stuff.

The automaker has stocked the Telluride with a bunch of creature comforts and driver, as well as safety, assists.

Blind spot collision avoidance assist will track lane changes and if it detects a vehicle in the Telluride’s blind spot will apply brakes to the front wheel on the opposite side.

Rear cross traffic collision avoidance will also apply brakes to avoid a collision, lane following assist will keep the Telluride in the center of the lane and safe exit assist, if the system detects an object approaching from the rear, it will override attempts to deactivate the electronic child safety lock until the detected object has passed.

The heads-up display has been made more informative. It will provide turn-by-turn navigation, speed, and smart cruise control and blind spot warnings. But polarized sunglasses will still wash it out.

Driver talk uses a microphone to enhance communications with rear occupants in the second and third row. (Think kids.) Quiet mode can cut audio to the second and third row so audio choices of the front passengers can only be heard in that row. (Think adults.)

The rear occupant alert uses ultrasonic sensors designed to detect child or pet movement in the second or third row after the Tellurides doors have been locked. It can issue audible alerts to the driver.

The list of creature comforts is long. A 10-inch infotainment touch screen, 10-speaker premium audio system, surround sound system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a half dozen USB charging ports, and a Bluetooth system that allows two phones to be connected for audio streaming are included.

The Telluride had downhill brake control and hill start assist, smart cruise control with stop and go ability, lane departure warning and tire pressure monitoring.

There was UVO, Kia’s control system for remote start and door lock pre-conditions the cabin temperature, seats and steering wheel before you get in the car.

If the driver does leave someone in the back seat, the vehicle will alert the driver through a cluster message, then through vehicle alarm and then it will send a message to the owner’s smart phone.

Kia said the 2020 Telluride is the largest SUV in its class at 197 inches long with a 114.2-inch wheelbase. It can be shod with either 18-inch or 20-inch wheels. The sculpted rear fascia camouflaged the skid plates nicely; there was 87 cu. ft. of cargo space with the second and third row seats folded and a low and wide cargo door.

They’ve thought of little things like the heated and cooled second row seats and the third-row seat back tilt.

Pricing starts at $32,735 for the LX front-wheel-drive and tops out at $44,535 for the SX all-wheel-drive.

Kia has got the right vehicle to muscle its way into the large midsize utility market. And buyers seem to agree.

Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com

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