If you like the value of the Corolla but favor an SUV body-style, the Corolla Cross is calling. Already offered as a sedan, hatchback and hybrid model with a high-performance variant joining soon, a Corolla crossover SUV just seemed inevitable. Priced from $23,410 including destination it’s a welcome alternative to the slightly more expensive CH-R which favors style over practicality and can’t be had with all-wheel drive. Thought it’s not much to look at this well-appointed XLE grade packs a lot of usefulness and features into its elevated body which clears an impressive 8+”. For those who are intimidated by the size and fuel economy of a traditional SUV but crave its commanding view and 5-door versatility, the Corolla Cross slots in nicely. Rated at 30mpg with a nearly 400 mile driving range it’s a value proposition that asks few sacrifices of its owner. With adequate sizing in the front, middle and rear, a roof rack and the ability to tow 1,500 pounds, the Corolla Cross presents as a do-it-all for the car shopper on a budget. Its least desirable trait comes from the powertrain – a CVT mated to the modestly powered 2.0-liter engine with its 150 pound-feet of torque which can at times cast a pall on the driving experience but I’m guessing it would hardly bother the typical Corolla Cross owner. The Corolla Cross is more than just another utility vehicle – it’s one that strikes a compelling balance in every aspect of its offering.
The vaunted Golf R; the pinnacle of performance for VW’s humble hatchback. For the enthusiast crowd, the allure of a speedy little 5-door hasn’t wavered which is why Volkswagen is leaving the base Golf off of their American car menu and instead is exclusively importing the GTI and Golf R; the models the drivers want. And this all-new Mk8 keeps to the Golf R’s tenets of being fast, glued to the road, fun-to-drive and within financial reach of mere mortals. Don’t worry manual lovers; a 6-speed is still available but this DSG automatic-equipped Golf R with all of its features as standard carries an MSRP of $45,885. It only comes in 3 colors and if you’re shift-for-yourself curious the stick costs $800 less, delivers 15 fewer pound-feet of torque and loses 3mpg. This Golf R is so good at what it does I sometimes feel like I’m just along for the ride. Either way we should all be glad that VW hasn’t abandoned this car – a nice counterpoint to the EV revolution.
The 3-row CX-9 is Mazda’s largest vehicle with seating for up to 7. But this generation is now in its 7th model year and though there’s much here that I still like Father Time is taking its toll.
If you’re like me you generally stray from popular trends instead preferring individuality and exclusivity in your purchases. And that doesn’t mean having to spend lavishly; it simply reflects your desire to not follow the herd. Case in point; the CX-9. 265,000 Americans decided to buy a Toyota Highlander last year and rightfully so…it’s an excellent, family-friendly 3-row SUV. But you like stuff not everyone else has and Mazda sold only 35,000 of these in 2021 and it’s not because it can’t compete with the top-sellers it’s just an underdog story from a small Japanese automaker. Now, I’m not here to tell you it’s better than the competition – it has some interior packaging and feature faults for sure – plus it doesn’t offer and powertrain choices – but if you have to check the license plate before getting into your SUV in the store parking lot just to make sure it’s actually yours, the CX-9 is an intriguing alternative. The styling and the drive are my favorite parts of the CX-9. It still looks amazingly sharp and this Soul Red paint is incredible.
There is no more Civic Coupe or Civic Hybrid but there is a stellar new sedan, frisky Si model and an upcoming high-performance Type R. And when you begin with a car that’s this good you might as well make as many variants as possible. So here’s the Hatchback, priced with a $1,000 premium over the Civic with a trunk for a starting MSRP of $24,365 including destination. How much different is it than the sedan? It’s 5” shorter, can be had with a 6-speed and takes cargo volume with the seats up to over 24 cubic feet or the same as an HR-V. That’s basically it. And the sedan does have a couple of advantages…more paint choices and better gas mileage. This top-of-the-line Sport Touring trim comes only in black, white or gray and in an apples-to-apples comparison loses up to 3mpg when equipped with the standard CVT. But if you crave this kind of short throw shift for yourself fun make sure you choose one of the 4 Hatch trims that starts with the word Sport otherwise you’re getting a CVT…not a bad one but still. And then if you want the stick and the turbo? Well, you’re looking at it…you’ve got to go Sport Touring. The good news is that the manual is a no-charge option and the turbo is actually more fuel efficient than the 2.0-liter base engine. In typical Honda fashion there’s just about zero personalization options but at least everything you see here is standard for an as-tested price of $31,260. And for that price you are getting a well-stocked car with leather, sport pedals, heated seats, a moonroof and the full panoply of driver assistance features. And it’s the Sport Touring that’s the only hatch that gets such goodies as parking sensors, rain sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rear view mirror with garage door opener, a power passenger seat though one without height adjustment, and more substantive stuff like wireless phone projection, the big touchscreen with navi, an awesome sounding 12-speaker Bose sound system with sat and HD radio, a wireless phone charger, rear USB ports, and the bigger and better driver info screen. Outside, this is the only one to get fogs and dual exhaust finishers. With sharp styling, an exciting drive and SUV-fighting cargo room, the Hatchback is yet another variation to the Civic lineup worth keeping.
The new Kona N – a performance SUV within financial reach. $35,445; that’s the modest price of the Kona N – one of the most unique enthusiast cars on the market today…or shall I say SUV. However you describe the Kona N, this is Hyundai at its nuttiest and I mean that in a good way. The high-performance N story began with the Veloster and has since spread to the Elantra and now the Kona with more to come later this year. Available in white, black, blue or red with a 2.0-liter turbo, 8-speed dual-clutch transmission, a limited slip, electronically controlled shocks and summer-use Pirelli rubber, the Kona N is a front-wheel drive hooligan. With 276 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque delivered more linearly via what Hyundai dubs “Flat Power” technology, this is a torque-steering, exhaust-popping, rigid ride with fun technology built-in. Names like Grin Shift, Grin Control and Corner Carving Differential intertwine with N Mode infotainment creating a video-game-like atmosphere. There’s launch control, all sorts of ways to measure and monitor your performance and even built-in racetrack layouts with lap timers. This Kona is a hoot. It’s super stiff and gives you the feeling that you’re driving a rally car. Short for N Grin Shift, when you press this button it’s like inserting a sugar IV needle into a kid’s arm; 20 seconds of over-boosted turbo and the most aggressive shifting available when rapid acceleration is required. Kudos to Hyundai for producing something this crazy that isn’t so over the top that it’s completely impractical. This one’s for the driver who craves automotive personality.