The 2024 Subaru Impreza RS Is Trying To Find Itself

In a crowded compact hatchback segment, the normal Impreza has some challenges.

Subaru has some long-standing credibility among two very distinctly different owner bases, helping it enjoy success for decades. If you’re the enthusiast driver who wants to hit the canyons, autocross, or track, the Impreza WRX and STi variants have had your attention. Should you be the outdoorsy type who loves to hit your local farmers market and explore hiking trails, Subaru offers a handful of models in varying sizes to meet any demands you have.

The Impreza has been a decent car that ticks lots of boxes for Subaru drivers, offering affordability, practicality, reasonable size, and all-weather drivability. In this RS trim, the Impreza gets cool badges, sportier black-painted exterior trim, and dark gray wheels while the interior is treated with cooler black and red seats, aluminum pedals, and trim accents in gunmetal and simulated carbon fiber. Sadly the Impreza STi is gone for now, but the WRX is still in the lineup for drivers who want a quicker Subaru.

With an all-new Impreza rolled out for 2024, Subaru has made a full slate of updates to its popular compact model, with hatchback competitors including the Honda Civic and Mazda 3 in its sights. How does it compare?

The Main Figures

Under the 2024 Subaru Impreza RS’ hood you’ll find a familiar 2.5-liter direct-injected 4-cylinder boxer engine which produces 182 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque. With a CVT as the only available transmission in the Impreza, which is definitely the natural choice for its owners, and like all Subaru models, the Impreza RS has standard symmetrical all-wheel-drive. The base Impreza gets a 2.0-liter, 150-horsepower engine, so the RS gets a nice bump, and the WRX gets 271 horsepower if you crave more juice and a manual transmission option. EPA fuel economy estimates for the Impreza RS are 26/33/29 (city/highway/combined).

The Honda Civic hatchback (depending on trim level) has a choice between a 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated motor (with 158-horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque) or a 1.5-liter turbo (punching up to 180-horsepower and 177 lb-ft). The Mazda 3 hatchback’s standard N/A 2.5-liter produces 191 horsepower and 186 lb-ft, and the 2.5 turbo in the Mazda 3’s top trim bumps up to 227 horsepower and and 310 lb-ft on regular unleaded while pushing out 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque on premium unleaded. Honda only offers front-wheel-drive in the Civic, and the Mazda 3 is equipped with FWD too, except in the Premium Plus trim that comes with all-wheel-drive.

Pricing for the 2024 Subaru Impreza begins at $22,995 for the base trim, and the quicker RS starts at $27,885. After adding options including a power moonroof, Harman Kardon audio system, and premium Oasis Blue paint, this Impreza RS I tested hit a total MSRP of $31,045 after destination. This price puts the Impreza RS in-line with upper hatchback trim levels in the Honda Civic and Mazda 3 depending on which interior creature comforts are important to you.

The Grocery Getting Hatchback You Expect

For city duty, the new 2024 Subaru Impreza RS gets the job done. The 2.5-liter boxer engine isn’t quite quick, but it’s fine as a daily driver. The Honda Civic provides similar power from a much smaller engine, and Mazda’s standard 2.5-liter feels more robust, and it’s turbocharged version blows the segment away. If you need more power from your Impreza, the WRX is the way to go. The Impreza’s CVT isn’t helping win this enthusiast driver over, tuned more for economy and smoothness than fun. Mazda uses conventional gears in the 3, and Honda still makes the best CVT out there (even if I still loathe those ‘boxes).

Suspension tuning is good, with a ride that’s responsive but not overbearing while avoiding any dullness. Subaru gave the steering a bit more weight than I expected from a compact hatchback, which isn’t a bad thing. Although that steering feels a bit artificial at low speeds. Subaru’s all-wheel-drive gives it a bit more rotation than ordinary compact hatchbacks, but the Mazda 3 holds a serious advantage in the dynamics department, and the Civic is in between them both.

Compact enough to squeeze into any parallel parking spot, the new Impreza isn’t bloated, and the visibility out of the cabin is good at any angle, which is refreshing in an age of oddly thick C pillars on hatchbacks. The Impreza RS’ cabin gets sportier black seats with thicker red bolsters that did a good job of keeping me comfortable on a trip to Houston and back while sticking me in place when I tossed it around a twistier road. On a quick dinner run with friends, the Impreza’s back seat was fine for them, but you’ll want to only stuff your kids back there for longer drives.

A low floor of the Impreza’s cargo area makes loading up your groceries or camping gear easier, the hatch has a simple cargo cover to hide your belongings, and there’s a small storage bin concealed beneath the trunk’s floor. The back seat folds 60/40, in case you have a ton of things to stash in the Impreza. Deep cupholders keep your drinks steady, the door pockets have big spots for reusable water bottles, and the center armrest has a bunch of space for small belongings to be tucked away.

Subaru redesigned the interior of the new Impreza, and the upgraded infotainment system option quickly grabs your attention. Now boasting an 11.6-inch screen, the Impreza moves into the current area of tech-heavy cabins. This Impreza RS tester was upgraded with the Harman Kardon audio system, which is impressive for a car in this segment.

Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can be managed from the screen in a massive vertical display, while some menu selections have shortcuts at the bottom. The Impreza definitely has a bigger screen than both the Honda Civic, which has a slightly smaller touchscreen, and the Mazda 3 that still relies on a puck to control its screen and system. A wireless charing pad is concealed beneath the infotainment panel, with aux, USB-A, and USB-C ports above it for additional devices.

Not Quite The Adventurer

Despite the impressions you’ve got from Subaru over the past couple decades, not every owner is a camping, farmer’s market shopping, animal hugging hippie. Those buyers will still enjoy the Impreza having all-wheel-drive and decent practicality for getting to an outdoorsy adventure. At least the AWD system will come in handy when the weather sucks.

Just don’t try to attack the trails with the Impreza RS. This is a street car fitted with all-season tires and ordinary ground clearance. It’ll get you to the hiking trailhead, but it’s not blasting over a gravel rally course. Should you crave the great outdoors and choppy off-road terrain behind the wheel of a new Subaru, opt for a Crosstrek or Forester instead. Even more enthusiastic adventure drivers should check out Subaru’s Wilderness lineup.

The Good And Not Great Things

As compact hatchbacks go, the new Impreza RS has some good looks. Edgy in the right ways, the reshaped exterior looks good. I definitely appreciate that the lower level Impreza didn’t get the extra body cladding that makes the WRX look oddly cheap. The RS’ black exterior trim pieces and dark grey wheels look cool, and give this Impreza a bit more style. The extra few hundred bucks on this Oasis Blue paint is a worthwhile spend too.

I appreciate that Subaru’s interior still uses knobs and switches for volume and climate controls, which is something I demand from a new car. Same goes for the plethora of buttons on the steering wheel, partially because they’re carryover components from previous Subaru models. The aluminum pedals and red stitching add that rally look a Subaru should have too.

For all the things Subaru does well in the new Impreza, there are some things that need to step up. Fit and finish in the Impreza’s cabin aren’t great for a $30,000 car in 2023, with both the Honda and Mazda doing a considerably better job with materials and design. Dated switchgear for the heated seats and windows aren’t great either.

I appreciate the larger optional infotainment display Subaru offers in the Impreza, but the iconography and font selection looks like some stuff thrown together by a junior front-end dev that was designing their first iOS jailbreak theme in 2010. The huge app buttons and low-resolution display don’t help this theme either.

An Improved Impreza, But It’s Not Enough

After a week behind the wheel of the all-new 2024 Subaru Impreza, I can’t figure out why someone would by this trim level and spec. Subaru made several of improvements over its predecessor, but this car still feels like it’s from 2017. There is nothing the new Impreza does exceptionally well, the cabin is filled with dated components, and there are lots of “meh” moments behind the wheel. If you want a more fun Subaru, there’s always the WRX, but that is definitely more expensive, has a CVT as the automatic transmission, and adds unattractive body cladding.

Subaru has some loyal buyers, but they need to head over to a Honda, Mazda, or VW dealer. A loaded Mazda 3 hatchback has all-wheel-drive and a considerably more powerful 2.5-liter turbo engine for a little more money. If AWD isn’t a requirement, and you don’t need a hatchback that’s focused on fun, the Civic’s Sport Touring trim level is a great option at the same price as the Impreza. At the end of the day, the VW GTI is definitely the hatchback I’d drop my cash on, continuing to lead the field as the fun to drive, pleasant to look at, and practical to use hatchback.

The 2023 Kia Sportage Steps Up Its Game

Long overlooked as a basic little crossover, Kia gives the new generation a big upgrade.

Kia’s Sportage started its life in the late 1990s as a pint-sized SUV, fitting modest budgets while offering some sort of cute-ute looks. Back then, it was a cheap little car that your high school daughter would beat up for a few years before maturing to a better car to take care of. Over the years, Kia has moved the Sportage up in segments at a slow pace, but for 2023 it is all new and grown up. Same goes for the brand itself, with a new design language and a trendy–almost confusingly futuristic–new badge.

Proportions have certainly increased, with the Sportage now in the same range as a Kia Sorento. Lots of tech and comfort improvements have also been added, making the Sportage a contender against the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Mazda CX-50 (which I recently reviewed). With those competitors enjoying sales success for quite some time, is Kia’s upgraded crossover worthy of stealing some market share? Time to find out.

The Key Specs and Updates

It’s easy to do a double-take with the 2023 Kia Sportage, thanks to its all-new exterior which employs that Kia calls its “Opposites United” design language, part of Kia’s global brand transformation and tagline “Movement that Inspires.” Agency-heavy copywriting aside, the new look is cool, sporting sharper and more muscular lines, edginess that isn’t overdone, and headlight housings that employ boomerang-shaped daytime running lights. Built on Kia’s third-generation N3 platform, the Sportage Hybrid’s chassis is stronger and lighter than before, aimed at better driving dynamics and safety.

Now seven inches longer overall, the 2023 Kia Sportage boasts a wheelbase growth of three inches, while only increasing its height and width by half an inch. In stretching the wheelbase, there’s more interior volume for people and their stuff, enabling the Sportage to now offer a class-leading 41 inches of rear legroom while also providing 39 cubic feet of rear cargo space. Loads of insulation have been added to the new Sportage, to reduce wind and road noise, and to give its occupants a more luxurious ride.

Powertrain upgrades are welcomed, with the somewhat tame 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder benefitting from a 44kW permanent magnet electric motor that produces a combined 227 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. In standard form, the Sportage hybrid is fitted with front-wheel-drive, which boasts 43 MPGs (same EPA ratings for city, highway, and combined) and over 500 miles of cruise range, and the tester I was supplied was upgraded to all-wheel-drive, which slips to 38 MPGs.

In its modest LX trim, with front-wheel-drive, the 2023 Kia Sportage starts at a base price of $27,490, the middle EX model starts at $31,190, and the range-topping $36,190 Prestige AWD I tested added Shadow Matte Gray paint, a cargo mat, cargo net, cargo cover in the batch, and carpeted floor mats (somehow still an option on a car over $30k) to hit a total MSRP of $38,530 after $1,295 for destination. Compared to a similarly-equipped Honda CR-V hybrid, the Sportage has a considerable power advantage combined with the expected price break Kia usually has over its rivals.

Family Hauling Goodness

Ignore the badge when you slip into the Kia Sportage, and you’ll think you’re in a more premium class of car both when you look at the cabin and when you hit the road. On the handling front, the all-new Kia Sportage is certainly more pleasant than I expected from a mid-sized crossover, but nothing in this segment can outdo the slightly more expensive new Mazda CX-50 that’s fantastic to drive. That said, Kia did a great job with the dynamics, making the Sportage much more appealing to drive than many crossovers in this segment. Ride smoothness is great too, when middle-child crossovers typically get suspension calibrations that are jittery at best.

All-wheel-drive probably helps the Kia’s agility, in a world where boring FWD crossovers reign. The steering feel is a bit over-boosted in the hands of this enthusiast driver, but the ordinary motorist will appreciate the ease of steering inputs over any city streets and while parking at the supermarket. Unless you live in a climate with extreme winters and a long gravel driveway, where you’ll appreciate the Prestige trim’s heated windshield, skip the all-wheel-drive option to not only save a few bucks, but to extend your fuel economy.

The Sportage certainly feels like a bigger crossover, which depending on your family’s needs might be a bit too much. If you’ve only got two small kids, maybe the Honda HR-V I recently tested is a better fit. Should your family include teenagers who have active extracurricular lives, you’ll appreciate having a ton of space for their long legs and gear to stuff in the back. Especially when your hands are full, and you kick your foot under the bumper to engage the Sportage’s hands-free power tailgate.

Kia has certainly stepped up its cabin quality, and the seats for all five occupants are big and plush. The 2023 Sportage benefits from cooler features including a massive single screen that actually holds two 12-inch displays for the instrument cluster and infotainment screen, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto installed. While my iPhone 14 Pro was plugged into the USB-C port, it was quick to overheat and stop charging, which wasn’t ideal when the wireless charging point required precise placement to activate (something that was difficult to manage, when the surface was prone to allow my phone to slide about).

I like the 360º camera system that neatly integrates into the infotainment screen, paired with the remote parking assist, making sure that any curb rash or dings of neighboring cars are definitely your fault and not the car’s. The Kia Access App allows access to features like remote climate control and door lock/unlock when synced with your Apple and Android-based smartphone or smartwatch.

The upgraded insulation is a noticeable improvement in the 2023 Kia Sportage, and the wind and road noise are at levels I’ve experienced in nicer models from Mercedes and BMW. Climate controls are easy to reach, with buttons for the controls that matter, and there’s a stylish puck for the transmission selector. Upgraded Harman Kardon audio is a nice feature in the Prestige trim too.

The Highs and Lows

While a big shift in the design department, I appreciate Kia’s attempt to catch the attention of buyers who want a cooler look from their crossover. There are certainly lots of angles, but unlike the design language on lower level family of Hyundai offerings (which I loathed in the new Elantra sedan I reviewed), the Kia styling is cool without pushing too hard. The floating grille and angular lighting assemblies stitch together nicely, and the theme carries well from front to back of the Sportage’s body.

Angles aren’t too wild inside the Sportage’s cabin either, and I like the shapes used for the climate vents that are flanked by a cool metallic trim. Kia gave the Sportage lots of smart interior features like blind spot camera displays that neatly incorporate into the instrument cluster when using your indicator, coat hangers that are sculpted into the front seats’ headrests, and USB-C charging ports placed high into the side and edge of the front seat so that rear passengers don’t waste cable length for charging and using their iPad or Nintendo Switch on a road trip.

There are a couple small complaints I have with the 2023 Kia Sportage, but they aren’t big hangups. While trying to look a bit cooler than the other moms’ crossovers, I am not a fan of using matte paint on the Sportage. Save that finish for properly performance-focused cars and bodies. I spotted a fellow Sportage driver on the road during my test week, and a normal metallic shade looked good on this Kia.

Integrating digital displays for the instrumentation and infotainment was done with a lesser screen, and the lower-resolution gauge cluster isn’t great to look at. Same goes for the climate control panel, which uses digital controls that look like buttons, and washes out in bright daylight. Particularly while wearing polarized sunglasses. Adding a bunch of pixels would help these features move up in class considerably.

While leading its segment in rear cargo volume, the new Sportage’s boot could have a bit more storage solutions to offer than a simple small concealed bin under the floor. For growing families, and all their things, crossovers need to offer versatility and better solutions for packing away your belongings in a stable manner. Triple-digit highs during a Texas summer don’t help the ventilated seats nor climate control system’s attempt to keep you cool, with the Sportage’s seats barely feeling like the fans were on and the A/C struggling to cool the cabin when at its coldest setup.

A Massive Improvement, Doesn’t Lead The Pack

Kia did a good job with this all-new Sportage, giving it a reasonably powerful drivetrain, loads of space inside, and a big stack of the tech features crossover buyers demand. The added efficiency of the hybrid powertrain boosts driving range and MPGs, giving the Sportage an advantage over its competition while still offering an engine that doesn’t suffer to deliver those EPA figures (looking at you, Honda CR-V). Even with my tiny complaints, I think the Sportage is a good crossover to consider. Over a RAV4 or CR-V, the Sportage is certainly a solid option.

I applaud Kia for moving the Sportage up in class, giving it a styling theme that is more appealing than most other boring crossovers, and for providing a cabin experience that feels more expensive. The challenge is that, at the price point of a loaded Sportage, I’d rather spend the money on a nicely-equipped Mazda CX-50 I reviewed that has even nicer appointments in its upper trim, looks great inside and especially outside, and provides a considerably more enjoyable driving experience.

VW Atlas Cross Sport Tries To Be The Cooler Big SUV

The chopped version of the big German SUV finds itself in an awkward spot.

VW’s large SUV offers good functionality and space for a family, as I noted when I first drove it in 2021, but felt it didn’t get enough respect as a reasonably-priced three-row SUV. Unfortunately the Atlas doesn’t get much love from buyers because there are more long-standing American options that often get picked as repeat purchases.

The German marque wanted buyers to give the Atlas another look, so it followed the crossover coupe trend, carving up the big SUV to give it slightly smaller proportions and smarter styling lines. Does that make it a better choice in a field full of bigger SUVs?

The Key Details

The VW Atlas Cross Sport’s competition includes the Chevy Blazer, Ford Edge, and Honda Passport (which I reviewed not long ago, in its off-road TrailSport trim) Compared to its full-size variant, the Atlas Cross Sport has a tapered roofline, taking away the option for a third-row seat. Losing five inches of overall length and two inches of height, I definitely like this shape more than the big body Atlas I reviewed after its refresh a couple years ago.

VW offers the Atlas Cross Sport with its 235-horsepower (with premium unleaded) 2.0-liter turbo standard and the 276-horsepower 3.6-liter VR6 as an optional upgrade on upper trim levels. Front-wheel-drive comes standard, with VW’s 4MOTION all-wheel-drive optional, and the AWD option allows Atlas Cross Sport drivers to also tick a box to add VW’s Active Control, which enables several terrain drive modes. Trim levels are SE and SEL, with technology package options to add more goodies.

Base price for the 4-cylinder Atlas Cross Sport is $35,150, and all-wheel-drive adds another $2000 to the sticker. Opt for the VR6, and the price begins at $41,070, with 4MOTION taking the figure up to $42,970. My tester is the base SE trim, with the tech package and added panoramic sunroof, hitting a total price of $40,575.

The Functional Family Hauler

Big SUV or not, the Atlas Cross Sport is nice to drive, providing dynamics you expect from VW. The steering is remarkably sharp for a vehicle of this size. You will be reminded of the Atlas’ proportions, and the suspension is nicely tuned for a hint of response, but without feeling harsh at all. Just don’t go tossing the Atlas around, thinking you’re in a GTI, because this is still a big car. The base 4-cylinder isn’t so hot in a big SUV, more suited to the GTI hot hatch it’s shared with. Having to lug around 4,400 pounds is a task the 3.6-liter VR6 is better at, which I appreciated having in the three-row Atlas I tested a couple years ago.

Seats are big and cushiony, but could use a bit more lateral support, and I’ll go into other thoughts on the seating surfaces in a moment. Despite not having a third-row seat, the Atlas Cross Sport still boasts a cavernous interior that five passengers will be comfortable riding in, so long as there are kids in the back seat. Cargo space in the rear hatch is gargantuan, with a pair of bins straddling each side of the boot, but I do wish there was a hint more organizational features designed into the Atlas Cross Sport.

VW’s updated MIB3 infotainment system is on-board, with an 8-inch touchscreen that incorporates wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also a wireless charging pad tucked under the center cluster. Volkswagen’s digital cockpit is standard on all Atlas Cross Sport models, and I appreciate how tidy the instrument cluster layout is, no matter which view you choose. I stuck with the more conventional look, but there’s a massive map view that’s helpful when you’re on a road trip.

Some Positive Points

When VW gave the Atlas a refresh a couple years ago, it was a big improvement. Not that the first generation was unattractive, but this new Atlas looks sharp and clean. No overly fake flares and angles, and no absurd body cladding to give a false impression of ruggedness. Even the vents in the front bumper are real.

Inside, Volkswagen was practical with the Atlas’ function, providing lots of spaces to tuck away your stuff, while being intuitive and close within reach. Since the switchgear in the Atlas is based on parts used in VW models for over a generation, we avoid the capacitive touch button setup that was my only big gripe in the Mk8 GTI I reviewed last year. There are real buttons and knobs everywhere you want them, even if they’re the same bits you get in the base model Golf that costs half as much as the Atlas.

Not So Wonderful Things

The base 4-cylinder SE trim of the Atlas Cross Sport has no drive modes for the powertrain nor terrain. You’ve got to upgrade to the bigger engine and then tick another option box to get both of those features, so the setup is a bit plain if you want more customization and personality. Because the four-banger is and engine more appropriately used in smaller, lighter cars in VW’s lineup, it’s working overtime in the Atlas, making a dent in its fuel economy. EPA estimates are 21/25/23, but I only achieved 20 during my week-long test.

When I discussed the comfort of the seats earlier, I didn’t dive into the coverings themselves, which is made from leatherette. I’ve felt some decent faux leather over the years, and the grade used in the Atlas Cross Sport is not great. The stitching work along the edges and door cards looks a bit cheap, and the fake carbon fiber look weave along the bolsters doesn’t make much sense. Not great from what should be considered a somewhat premium brand and model. The Honda Passport I reviewed holds an advantage here, but the Atlas is nicer inside than a Chevy Blazer or Ford Edge.

VW’s MIB infotainment works nicely, and has a responsive touchscreen, but having a very spartan UX theme and iconography makes you have to extend the time looking at the screen to tap the right app or make adjustments, which isn’t great while driving. Opt for the technology package if you’re buying a base model Atlas Cross Sport, which fits dual-zone climate control, keyless access, and remote start, even though I think those should be standard on a car in this class in 2023.

It’s Not Bad, But It Doesn’t Stand Out

VW did a good job of making the Atlas more attractive by offering this Cross Sport body style. I think it’s the right Atlas to get, if you want a big VW as your family car. By taking away some of the dimensions of the three-row Atlas, you’re still getting an SUV that feels big while only being a two-row seating model. While it’s better than many of the competitors VW feels it has, the Atlas Cross Sport slid into another class, almost by accident.

Now viewed as a two-row SUV, there are other crossovers that are more attractive than the Atlas Cross Sport in several ways. The Honda Passport is good, reliable, and looks the part as a rugged smaller SUV, but it’s not as great as engaging to drive. Instead, I think Mazda’s new CX-50 I recently enjoyed is the right choice for a two-row midsized crossover, not just because of its cooler styling, but its interior is more upscale, and the driving impressions are better than any affordable crossover I’ve tested.

The Audi SQ5 Sportback Tickles Your Quick Crossover Fancy

You don’t have to be boring if you want a crossover, and Audi provides a quick one.

Crossovers. We all see them everywhere. Mostly in grayscale shades, boring as ever, and driven to do the most basic tasks, while having little to no personality. From time to time, manufacturers decide to inject some personality and performance, offering more enjoyment for those who want a practical crossover’s functionality but crave the twisties on the weekend. Even as mild upgrades, the fun crossover looks to entertain those drivers who need a car that ticks several boxes.

No stranger to pepped-up variants, Audi has slapped its “S” badge on several models in its lineup for decades, offering subtle styling upgrades to match reasonable performance improvements. Competing with the quicker forms of the BMW X3 and Mercedes GLC, the Audi SQ5 provides clean styling, loads of good features, and more fun in its crossover package. Now offered in a sportback body, Audi gives its popular mid-sized crossover a coupe-like roofline to appear slightly cooler.

The Key Specs

Shared with several Audi S models, the SQ5 gets Ingolstadt’s 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 that produces 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. While it’s down on power versus the BMW X3 M40i and AMG GLC 43, the SQ5 sportback pushes those figures through an 8-speed automatic and quattro all-wheel-drive to sprint from 0-60 MPH in 4.7 seconds (matching the Benz, and 0.3s slower than the BMW) on its way to a limited top track speed of 155 MPH (when fitted with summer tires). Take it easy on the accelerator, and you’ll likely hit the EPA’s fuel economy estimates of 19/24/21 MPGs.

Audi’s pricing with most of its models is smart, with three distinct trim levels offered–Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige–for the SQ5 Sportback. The Premium model starts reasonably-equipped at $59,200, the Premium Plus adds more features at its $63,300 starting figure, and the Prestige model starts at $68,500 (adding Bang & Olufsen audio, Audi’s virtual cockpit instrument cluster, OLED headlights, acoustic glass for the windscreen and front two windows, top-view parking cameras, heated steering wheel, and heated and chilled front cupholders).

This Prestige SQ5 Sportback I tested added Florett Silver Metallic paint, S Sport Package (sport adaptive air suspension, sport rear differential, red brake calipers), 21-inch wheels and summer tires, Nappa leather seats, and the black optic package that gives the exterior gloss black details to hit a total price of $76,515.

Upmarket Daily Functionality

More engaging than your typical crossover, the Audi SQ5 Sportback is an enjoyable place to spend your commutes and errand runs. You’ll definitely be the cool parent in the school pickup line, but without looking like you’re trying too hard. Your kids and coworkers alike will appreciate that you opted for the more fun variant of the people hauler when you take them along, thanks to plenty of punch underneath, even when you’re being somewhat tame behind the wheel. In the comfort drive mode, the SQ5 is composed without feeling too disconnected, a reminder that you opted for the fun crossover model. Even with 21-inch wheels opted, the SQ5 was reasonable over Austin’s poorly maintained city streets.

The exterior lines of the SQ5 Sportback are clean yet stylish, which is a refreshing change compared to many crossovers that are overly angular while pretending to have more character. More subtle than sporty, the shade of silver selected for this SQ5 Sportback was of high quality, but I’d suggest picking one of Audi’s cooler paints (like the lovely District Green I tested a while back on both the SQ5 crossover and S5 Cabriolet).

Anyone who slides into the SQ5’s cabin will appreciate the extra lateral support that doesn’t feel too forceful, and I love the red leather option detailed with quilted stitching. Just give me a ventilated seat option for hot Texas days. Four adults can comfortably fit inside the SQ5’s cabin, with room for five occupants if there are kids in the back seat. If you really need more space to spread out, you’ll need to step up to a three-row Audi Q7.

Because it has the coupe-like roofline, the SQ5 loses a hint of cargo volume. Down to 25 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 52 with them folded flat, rather than the standard SQ5’s 26 and 54, respectively. I couldn’t identify a meaningful drop in headroom in the back seat versus the conventional SQ5 I drove previously. This Audi finds itself with a bit more space than the GLC, and less than the X3’s volume. There’s plenty of practical storage nicely placed throughout the cockpit, and I love how the wireless charging tray slides forward and back to either give you quick access to your phone or hiding away when you want to use the heated and cooled front cupholders.

Audi neatly balances sportiness, luxury, and a cool factor within its cabin, with the SQ5 Sportback getting a familiar look and feel to other models in the lineup. The SQ5’s cool ensemble of leather, alcantara, and carbon fiber is fantastic. I’m praising Audi for sticking with a theme that has worked for years, thankfully continuing to employ physical buttons, knobs, and switches throughout its interior, with exceedingly intuitive placement. The screen on the climate control knob displaying the temperature is a smart touch too.

The MMI display has high resolution too, making it easier to read while looking like it belongs in a much more expensive car, supplemented by wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The BMW X3’s cabin is a bit bland, and the Mercedes GLC’s layout might be too space age for some. The Audi virtual cockpit allows drivers to tweak the instrument cluster to their liking, and I went with the minimized display that only showed the digital tachometer and speedometer while hiding the side displays.

Hauls More Than Groceries

With a longer than usual coffee run or any escape from reality, the SQ5 is a decent performer. It’s no RS6 Avant (which is my favorite fast four-door or wagon I’ve reviewed), but that’s nearly double the cash to throw in your driveway. As a performance crossover with all sorts of cool tech features and an extremely comfortable cabin, the SQ5 Sportback gets the job done. Over some fun Central Texas roads, the SQ5 Sportback was certainly fun to toss around, I didn’t go into this test expecting it to be a top-notch sport sedan, so I give it good marks in the fun department.

As is fitted to many Audis, the drive select system provides three default drive modes, with one individual mode to suit your tastes. Similarly to my other reviews of fun Audi models, I do wish there was a bigger spread in the feel and behavior of the drive modes, particularly in the dynamic one. I did make sure to have the sport engine and exhaust sounds enabled in my individual setup, to make the SQ5 have a bit more grunt than the usual crossover I’d encounter during my drive. I have to poke fun at the fake quad exhaust pipes molded into the SQ5 Sportback’s rear bumper, with the real ones more basic and concealed behind there.

The optional sport differential definitely gives this SQ5 Sportback more effective rotation in the bends, but there’s a bit too much boost with artificial sensations and electric assistance felt trough the perfectly thick steering wheel. I found that putting the steering in sport through the individual drive mode actually gave the SQ5 more realistic feedback in any driving condition. While not as fast and precise as the PDK in the Porsche Macan, the SQ5’s 8-speed automatic offers shifts that are still quick and smooth while helping propel this crossover ahead.

Managing the SQ5’s weight transfer is easy, thanks to the adaptive air suspension, but giving it the beans on a demanding stretch of road will make the brakes and average performance Pirelli P Zero rubber remind you that this crossover coupe is carrying around 4,300 pounds of German metal. When I evaluated the traditional crossover-bodied SQ5 two summers ago, I flogged it along the Angeles Crest Highway in Southern California, and aside from the brakes getting a bit hot during longer stints, it performed well in a demanding environment. Your weekend escape to a backroad should be just fine.

District Green looked fantastic during a sunrise session on the Angeles Crest Highway.

Quick Crossover Coupes Can Be Good

Sporty crossovers are all the rage these days, allowing drivers more grateful ingress and egress while boasting more cargo space than a quick sedan. I can appreciate enthusiast drivers that previously opted for fast four-doors or coupes wanting the flexibility of a one-car solution found in the SQ5. It’s comfortable for longer hauls, looks great, packs plenty of tech features, and provides enough fun for the weekly back road sprint.

Should you want more fun from a fast crossover, the Porsche Macan S or GTS might be your best bet versus the AMG GLC 63 or BMW X3M Competition, but expect to spend a lot more cash over the SQ5. If you’re not hot on the SQ5’s crossover shape, but still want some extra storage practicality, Audi’s S5 Sportback (and quicker RS5 that I tested) hits the sweet spot with a more subtle sedan-like body. Against the BMW X3 M40i or Mercedes-Benz GLC 43, the Audi SQ5 definitely gets my pick.

The 2023 Honda HR-V Is A Little Crossover Gem

In a sea of boring compact crossovers that have no personality, this little Honda swims to the top.

Pint-sized crossovers are everywhere, replacing a generation of compact sedans and hatchbacks plenty of people owned for ages. As manufacturers looked to capitalize on the desire for crossovers on a budget, too many of these little utility vehicles got the short end of the fit and finish stick, and left plenty to desire in the driving enjoyment department.

In its previous generation, the HR-V was based on a dated platform borrowed from the Honda Fit, which wasn’t the greatest thing to drive. Thankfully Honda gave its popular HR-V a big update for 2023. With a new chassis, more stylish exterior lines, and a much needed interior upgrade, Honda’s most affordable crossover aims to please a wider range of buyers who want to tote more people and gear without breaking the bank.

The Useful Figures

Honda’s HR-V is the entry level crossover in its lineup, packing room for four adults (or five occupants, with three kids in the back seat) and decent space for all their stuff. All 2023 Honda HR-V trim levels are powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that produces 158 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel-drive is standard on all HR-Vs, with Honda’s Real Time all-wheel-drive available for an additional $1,500, with a CVT as the only transmission selection. EPA fuel economy estimates are 26/32/28 for the front-wheel-drive model, and only give back the slightest MPGs with all-wheel-drive, at 25/30/27.

As trim levels move up, Honda neatly packages features and convenience into each HR-V option. Pricing for the HR-V’s base LX trim starts at $23,800, the mid-level Sport is $25,900, and the range-topping EX-L starts at $27,900. The EX-L I tested added all-wheel-drive and Nordic Forest Pearl paint (another $395) to hit an MSRP of $30,590 after destination.

The Zippy City Car

As little crossovers go, the 2023 HR-V is actually fun to drive. With 158 horsepower and decent torque–which isn’t too shabby for a little car–Honda’s entry crossover zips around nicely. Though it has a CVT mated to that engine, Honda’s ‘box actually engages effectively, rather than hampering any hint of performance or drivability. Some of its competition should really reevaluate how a CVT should operate. t

Honda’s brake auto hold feature is fantastic for city driving, allowing you to take your foot off the pedal and relax a bit when stuck at a red light. Honda Sensing–which is a comprehensive suite of safety features–comes standard on the HR-V, continuing to provide exceptionally functional lane keeping and adaptive cruise control systems that some more expensive cars don’t execute nearly as well.

Steering feel is great, feeling a bit more like a Civic Si than an entry-level crossover, and the ride quality is quite good over any drive. There are normal, eco, and snow drive modes featured in the HR-V, and hill descent control is ready with the push of a button, should you be tackling more complicated terrain than the local grocery store parking lot. Just don’t mistake this HR-V for an off-roader when you take the family on a camping trip, having reasonable all-season tires fitted to the EX-L’s slightly cooler painted and finished wheels.

Cabin appointments in the new HR-V are great, taking lots of cues from the updated Civic I tested last year, with considerably better fit and finish than the last generation. The leather seats are soft to the touch yet perfectly supportive, with a cool mix of contrasting stitching and perforations, and the front seats heat up nicely when desired. Not a fan of infotainment screens that are seemingly slapped atop a dash, at least Honda’s system is easy to use, also offering a high-resolution display.

What really surprised me in the HR-V is the amount of passenger volume offered inside what’s Honda’s smallest car. Even in the back seat I had plenty of legroom. The HR-V’s rear storage area is big too, with the cargo capacity increasing considerably when the back seats fold flat with a 60/40 split. If you need more space inside and out, Honda did just give a big update its CR-V too. As you’d expect from Honda, the HR-V also has lots of little places to stash your things, even keeping your phone stable when it’s tucked away.

The Good And Not Great Things

The trend of adding harsh edges and fake vents to cute-sized crossovers is a terrible one, and I’m happy to see that Honda gave the updated HR-V more subtle and clean exterior lines. Even the body cladding on the fenders is tidy, using painted panels rather than the cheap-looking gray plastic too many OEMs are slapping on small crossovers.

I like this new interior styling language Honda has applied to its models, giving not only a strong sense of continuity no matter which model you hop behind the wheel of, but also refining a cockpit that’s neatly balancing intuitive and cool. That HR-V benefits from this cabin design language, and the EX-L trim gets good doses of contrasting-stitched leather to coat the dash, door cards, and center console. Actual buttons and knobs are used extensively inside the HR-V, with Honda avoiding the often employed capacitive touch controls and screens by other manufacturers.

Smart shortcut digital buttons added to the bottom of the infotainment screen are a cool touch too, making use of the system customizable depending on your needs. In this EX-L trim, I like that Honda gave the HR-V wireless charging in addition to wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but didn’t skimp on the USB ports throughout the cabin for all occupants. The ambient lighting system is kinda minimal, but it’s one more upgrade in the top trim level HR-V.

The use case for the HR-V had to include moms handling the day-to-day needs of the family, and the rear hatch has a load-in floor that seems a bit high for a small crossover. On days when errand runs involve heavier items, this is one tiny complaint I have on behalf of shorter HR-V drivers. Cargo space is definitely big for what appears to be a small crossover on the outside, but I wish Honda gave the HR-V’s rear hatch area more practical storage solutions–like netting and concealed pockets–for tucking away your stuff.

While clean in its design, and smart to allow for customized displays, the HR-V’s instrument cluster is a bit basic in its layout and color theme. It’s easy to let your eyes blend in all the numbers and indications on the gauges without some sort of contrasting needles and dials. Cool appearances aside, the new hexagonal dash vents are begging for dust, dirt, and hair to get stuck behind them, leading to difficulty cleaning after years of ownership. Honestly my negatives about the HR-V are minimal, with none of these being reasons to avoid this pint-sized Honda.

A Great Little Crossover On A Budget

An inexpensive compact crossover doesn’t have to cheap out with its looks, features, nor quality, and thankfully Honda got the memo. The new HR-V is a great option for those who want a decent crossover that packs a bunch of good features and driving dynamics into an attractive package that doesn’t beat up your monthly budget.

While I feel that more drivers should opt for hatchbacks rather than compact crossovers, to keep the driving sensations more fun while lowering the center of gravity, I’m not shifting the tide of buyers happily lining up to drive these cute-sized utes. Luckily manufacturers are stepping up the crossover offerings while making them more enjoyable to drive, with only modest price increases. If you’ve got to stick an affordable little utility vehicle in your driveway, the new Honda HR-V is a great choice to make.

Hyundai Elantra Limited Is A Bit Too Basic

Spotted at your favorite rental lot and often overlooked on the road, is this affordable sedan one you want?

In the past few years, Hyundai has reshaped its Kia and Genesis brands, but the mothership hasn’t done a lot with its core models. I’ve definitely enjoyed the Kia and Genesis models I’ve tested in recent years, but haven’t spent a lot of time in Hyundais. Focused on its great new EVs, crossovers, and SUVs that pad the balance sheet, the affordable sedans in Hyundai’s lineup aren’t getting a lot of attention.

Though compact sedans aren’t big sellers these days, the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Nissan Sentra still ship in decent numbers, so the Elantra should try to keep up. With that sort of competition getting more attractive, better equipped, and more enjoyable to drive, I wanted to see if the Hyundai Elantra’s nicely equipped trim level could sway my attention away from its Japanese rivals.

The Key Specs

Standard trim level Hyundai Elantra models are all powered by a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that produces 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, and are driven by what Hyundai calls its Smartstream® Intelligent Variable Transmission, which is basically a CVT. The enthusiast spec Elantra N Line upgrades to a 1.6-liter turbo that pumps out 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 7-speed twin-clutch gearbox.

Where the lower trim level Elantras get cloth interior, this Limited upgrades to leather while also adding dual-zone climate control, 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster and navigation screens, ambient interior lighting, Hyundai’s smart cruise control system, and a couple more safety systems than the more basic trim levels.

A base model Elantra SE starts at $20,950, and this Limited rim adds a lot more standard equipment to hit an MSRP of $27,655. If one wants a bit more fun out of their compact Hyundai sedan, the Elantra N Line is $27,500. Hyundai also provides massive warranty coverage including a 5-year / 60,000 mile new vehicle, 10 years / 100,000 miles for the powertrain, and 5 years and unlimited miles of 24/7 roadside assistance.

Simple As A Daily Driver

The Elantra Limited’s powertrain is definitely lackluster. Designed more to accommodate fuel economy (boasting EPA fuel economy estimates of 30/40/34 MPG) than driving enjoyment, I had a difficult time dealing with the off-the-line acceleration. Boasting just 147 horsepower, the Elantra is down on power to the base trim level Civic, and 33 down versus the comparable trim’s 180. The Elantra’s CVT is odd too, not keeping in sync with my right foot nor the engine’s powerband, and seemingly adjusting tension erratically when trying to merge onto or accelerate along the freeway.

Steering inputs are somewhat vague, but the weighting is decent. Suspension feel is a bit firm for a compact sedan, especially versus the N Line model I tested when it arrived a couple years ago. Brake pedal sensations are about what you’d expect from an affordable compact sedan, and the Kumho all-season rubber providing reasonable grip with a moderate dose of road noise. Hyundai supplied three drive modes–normal, sport, and smart–which give it a hint more personality, and either make it feel a tiny bit more fun or more eco conscious. The Elantra definitely feels more engaging than the Nissan Sentra, but the Civic and Corolla have a considerable advantage.

Cabin space is really good for a car in this segment, with the front seats looking a bit sportier while being more supportive than the rear ones. Leather coverings in the Elantra aren’t of the best quality, but don’t expect a lot in a car at this price. Hyundai gave the Elantra a massive trunk, but I wish there was some sort of organizational pockets or a more functional use of this cavernous void.

The Elantra’s front cupholders have a neat feature that allows you to flip over the divider to make the spots deeper, but there isn’t any sort of springy device within its edges to stabilize your tasty beverages, so I ended up spilling my coffee with the slightest bump or turn.

Big 10.25-inch displays make up the instrument cluster (that changes its look depending on the drive mode engaged) and infotainment system, which are becoming the industry standard. I do wish Hyundai used a bit more color in its iconography, because all of the buttons are blue, making you take your eyes off the road if you want to swap functions or apps.

The Highlights And Low Points

I will continue to praise manufacturers for using hard buttons rather than touchscreens for audio, climate control, and systems on the steering wheel, even if its by accident that the switchgear has been used in a car for several years. Hyundai gave the Elantra a nicely intuitive cabin, and all the buttons are big and simple.

Tech goodies include wireless mobile charging, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Android users can use their phone to engage Hyundai’s digital key. Apple iPhone users aren’t so lucky. The Bose audio system provides a quality experience, even if the speakers are fitted to hard plastic panels and limited insulation throughout the cabin which don’t love a bass-heavy track.

While I averaged 34 MPGs during my week-long test in the Elantra Limited, I couldn’t help but gripe about how underpowered it felt. I’d happily trade some fuel economy for more pep under the hood. Hyundai also has some strange styling cues throughout the Elantra, and it’s just too busy for no good reason. Angles everywhere! The exterior goes wild with sharp edges and fake vents, making it seem even lower grade than it already targets itself to be.

Once inside, the low-rent look continues, which is unfortunate, because the Elantra is a humble car that fits the budget of many buyers. Integrating slightly nicer materials would do this mid-level Hyundai a lot of favors, with a cabin that’s riddled with too much hard plastic. I also question the logic behind fitting a massive grab handle along the center console for the passenger. Did someone on the design team have plans to do some wild hooning in the Elantra?

There’s More To Consider At This Price Point

Hyundai is banging out some freakishly cool EVs that look stunning inside and out, yet the sedans in its lineup are getting left out in the cold. People still want affordable, reasonably-sized sedans, and this car shouldn’t just be experienced when it’s the option you and your coworkers got stuck with on a three-day trip to Omaha because you didn’t have a high enough status with Enterprise or Hertz. The Hyundai Elantra deserves to be better, and needs to become a car people want to buy.

Honda gave the new Civic some great looks, high quality fit and finish, solid driving impressions, and fantastic all-around value, and it’s definitely my pick in this class. Toyota continues to deliver a Corolla that ticks all sorts of boxes for compact sedan buyers, even if it’s a bit beige for my liking. At a price point that’s on-par with the competition, Hyundai needs to design and deliver more advantages than good warranty coverage and cash incentives to move the Elantra off dealer lots. Otherwise it’ll continue to lose market share to its rivals.

Mazda Has A Crossover Conundrum With The CX-5 And CX-50

Offering a pair of small, affordable crossovers in the same segment on the same showroom floor at the same time isn’t a great idea. Particularly when one is newer, more attractive, and better sorted.

When I sync up with my local press fleet manager about every month or so, we go over a wave of cars we schedule at a time, and typically I have zero confusion about what’s selected and planned. Recently I had a real head scratcher on my hands when I saw my schedule included both the new Mazda CX-50 and the CX-5 I’m already familiar with. I knew Mazda had a new practical-sized crossover in the CX-50, but didn’t realize the CX-5 wasn’t send out to pasture upon its arrival.

Mazda’s CX-5 has been around for over a decade, and has had a couple updates, but it was due for a rebuild… or outright replacement. Competing with other crossovers including the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, and Hyundai Tucson, the CX-5 has a good option for plenty of families. What’s strange is that it is still on sale as a new car, when its spiritual successor has arrived in the form of the CX-50. Rather than my usual review of one car at a time, I decided to talk about both, and point out the reasons you’d want one of these Mazda crossovers over the other.

The Specs, Similar Yet Different

Both Mazda crossovers are powered by four-cylinder engines (turbocharged in these higher trim levels), with all-wheel-drive now standard across the model range. With a 2.5-liter turbo, Mazda gives both the CX-5 and CX-50 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque with regular unleaded, and bumps up to 256 horsepower and 320 lb-ft if you fill the tank with premium. These are great figures for a practical little crossover.

Where the CX-5 is 180 inches long, 72 wide, 66 tall, and sports 62-inch wide tracks and a 106-inch wheelbase, the CX-50 is 185 inches long, 75 wide, and 64 tall, with a 110-inch wheelbase (and no track listed). The CX-5 has a minimum ground clearance of 7.9 inches, and the CX-50 clears 8.6. Towing capacity for the CX-5 is 2,000 pounds, and the CX-50’s higher two trim levels bump that up to 3,500 pounds.

Base pricing for the entry-level trims of both the CX-5 and CX-50 begin at $27,000, and I tested the top-level Turbo Signature trim of the CX-5 and the Turbo Premium Plus CX-50, which add all the tech and comfort goodies you’d want. The CX-5 tested hit a total MSRP of $41,655, and the CX-50 is $43,170.

The Outgoing Sensible Daily Driver

Rather than a plain experience behind the wheel, the Mazda CX-5 is actually an enjoyable little crossover to drive. The 2.5-liter turbo makes it considerably quicker than other compact crossovers I’ve tested, making any errand run more fun. Shifts from the 6-speed automatic are reasonably seamless, with somewhat tight gear ratios to provide quick acceleration in any situation.

Steering feel is slightly heavy yet precise, although when parking at a grocery store or making a quick U-turn, there’s a considerable amount of driver input needed. Ride quality is definitely on the firm side, which isn’t a thing I’ve noticed in other Mazda models, and it was uncomfortable when driving in downtown Austin. It felt like Mazda used spring rates intended for a full-size pickup in the CX-5.

Mazda’s interior design is clean and modern, with comfortable and supportive seats for all five passengers (if you’re sticking kids in the back seat). The front two occupants are treated to heated and ventilated seats, which are nice for a practical crossover, and the outer two rear passengers get heated seats, but the control for those is made into the center armrest. The leather used in the CX-5 certainly feels more premium than you’d expect in an affordable crossover. Cargo space in the hatch is good for the weekend’s errand runs, but if you need to fold the back seat down flat you’ll either need to remove the headrests or move your front seats up a lot.

The CX-5’s switchgear setup is slightly dated, using bits that have been in the Mazda parts bin for a decade. At least there are buttons and switches rather than touchscreens for the systems. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are installed in Mazda’s infotainment system, but you still have to plug in your phone, so if you want to take advantage of the wireless mobile charging tray you won’t be doing so with CarPlay running.

Fuel economy achieved during my test was 19 MPGs, which is less than the EPA estimated 22/27/24. Thank the tighter final drive ratio that kept RPMs up higher than expected from a small crossover during daily cruising, even while I behaved myself with the accelerator and didn’t make much use of the sport drive mode (which will quicken the CX-5’s throttle response and personality ever so slightly).

Mazda equips the CX-5 with loads of safety and driver assistance systems, but the adaptive cruise control system nor lane keeping assistance are really smooth, and could take a page from Honda’s book. Overall, the CX-5 is good, but it’s clear it has been on the road for a while in its current form, and was ready for upgrades.

The Successor Steps Up

The CX-50 certainly grew in size compared to the CX-5, but the big improvements come from the exterior design department. The CX-5 was a decent looking little crossover, in a world of cute utes that have all sorts of angles and fake vents for no good reason, but the CX-50 is downright attractive. Punchier fender flares, a more pronounced fascia, and more angular bumpers make the CX-50 way more appealing than most crossovers queueing to pick up the kids from school.

While the CX-50 carries over the more than competent powertrain from the CX-5, Mazda did some serious updates to the suspension, because despite the fact it ditched the independent multilink setup on the CX-5, the torsion bar rear suspension copes with corners and bumps impressively. Attribute some of the ride quality to the wheelbase that’s four inches longer than the CX-5. The slightly larger diameter steering wheel (and it’s nicer controls) that’s borrowed from Mazda’s big brother CX-9 helps make tighter turns easier too.

Seating surfaces are treated to even better leather than the CX-5, with the CX-50 I tested sporting nice contrasting stitching. Even the CX-50’s dash gets more leather and cool stitching, completing a much more upmarket cabin. The CX-50 offers better interior volume for both occupants and cargo than the CX-5. With the back seat up, there’s still more space than inside the CX-5, and I found that the rear seats went flat without the headrests hitting the front seats in our intended positions. If you need to tote more kids and gear than the CX-50 can handle, the CX-9 I tested–and it’s CX-90 upgrade–will get the job done.

While it gets a bigger infotainment screen than the CX-5, and just like the setup in the bigger CX-9 I evaluated, the CX-50 continues to utilize Mazda’s somewhat spartan and average software. Thankfully Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are installed, but I’d like to see Mazda incorporate USB-C ports in its models, so I don’t have to keep around outdated cables for my iPhone. Wireless charging pads and newer iPhones also don’t play along nicely, with the metallic back heating up quite a lot when on the wireless charger for more than a quick errand run.

The Mazda CX-50 gets my same complaint on the fuel economy front as the CX-5. During my week with the CX-50, I made a road trip to Houston for a weekend, and did considerably more highway miles. Because the final drive gear ratio is still tight in the CX-50 (4.41 in the CX-5 vs. 3.84 in the CX-50), I was hitting about 2,500 RPMs at highway speeds, and on the three-hour drives between Austin and Houston, the MPGs took a hit, yielding just 18 on average. Not great for a reasonable family crossover powered by a four-banger, but the CX-50 does get an extra half gallon of fuel capacity over the CX-50.

As an upgrade over the CX-5, Mazda added an off-road drive mode to the CX-50, which is a nice feature for families who go on adventures over less than smooth terrain. Although the Goodyear all-season rubber is okay, if you want to really tackle the trails, opt for the CX-50’s Meridian Edition. While it’s a slightly lower trim level than the Premium Plus I tested, it gets more rugged looks and gear, but also adds a set of all-terrain tires wrapped around more sensible 18-inch wheels. Honda’s Passport TrailSport I reviewed last year is another option for a slightly more rugged approach to a two-row crossover.

Mazda Cannibalized Its Own Car

Mazda claims the CX-50 isn’t a replacement for the CX-5, with them both being on sale at the same time, but let’s not kid ourselves. The CX-50 is the new middle child in the Mazda crossover lineup, and it’s a great one. Mazda did a similar thing when the CX-30 launched, keeping the CX-3 around for a little longer before giving it the axe, and that didn’t make sense either.

It’s as if Mazda had a pair of fraternal twins, but one got all the great genes, and the other got some good ones. Both were physically attractive, played sports in high school, and got good grades, but one made the varsity tennis team yet kicked ass at chess, and got a scholarship to Rice while the other played occasional intramural sports and had to do a couple years in community college before transferring to U of H. They’re both good kids, and live good lives, but we all know one is the parents’ favorite.

Not only is the Mazda CX-50 better looking inside and out, but it’s considerably more enjoyable to drive than the CX-5. The price point is similar too, which makes the CX-50 even easier to choose. Especially if you’re doing conventional financing. Sure, Mazda has some big lease incentives to move the CX-5, but that should give an even better indication that the CX-50 should be the crossover you take on all your family’s adventures and I think it’s the new class leader.

The 2023 VW Jetta GLI Could Be A Little Bit Better

As affordable fun sedans go, the Jetta has been a great contender for a long time, but how good is it now?

I’m a sucker for a fun little sedan, and appreciate companies that continue cranking out new ones. Volkswagen has been shipping the Jetta GLI for decades, giving its loyal buyers a slightly more performance-oriented variant of its compact sedan at a reasonable price. While it’s based on the same MQB platform as VW’s GTI, this Jetta feels like it’s half a generation behind the updated Mk8 GTI I reviewed last year.

The Jetta got a refresh for the 2022 model year, and the 2023 carried over mostly unchanged, with only minor cosmetic updates and remote start being fitted. Having played with plenty of practical four-door enthusiast models, including the all-new Honda Civic Si, I had to see if VW’s quick Jetta still gets the job done.

One thing I have to mention: During my test, some jerk in a parking lot dented the passenger rear door and didn’t leave a note, so I feel bad that the car got injured on my watch.

The Useful Specs

For 2023, VW simplified the order sheet for the Jetta GLI, now only offered in the nicely-equipped Autobahn trim level. Equipped with the same 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder as the Mk8 GTI I reviewed last year, the GLI pumps out 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. As you’d expect from a smaller performance model, the GLI has a 6-speed manual fitted standard, with an option for a 7-speed DSG.

Pricing for a base model Jetta S starts at $20,655, and the more-equipped and quicker GLI with the 6-speed manual is $32,680, with the DSG option adding $800 to the sticker. The GLI I tested was shipped with the DSG, and added Pure Gray paint, the gloss black package (which adds gloss black wheels, roof, wide mirrors, and rear spoiler), and thanks to the global parts shortage the ventilated front seats weren’t installed, so there was a $200 credit that brought the total MSRP to $34,270 after destination.

A Peppy Daily Driver

Practicality is fantastic in the Jetta GLI, providing a car you’ll have no gripes after spending several hours commuting in. While it’s a sportier trim level than the more basic Jetta models, the GLI is still refined and smooth when in the comfort or eco drive modes, yet ready to pick up the pace when you are, thanks to a potent boosted 4-banger under the hood. Steering feel is remarkably light yet precise, making any city driving or parking lot maneuvering simple.

In the custom drive mode, I put the engine in eco, and firmed up the suspension and steering, to make the GLI feel a hint more playful while being mindful of fuel consumption. After my week-long test, with mostly city miles covered, the GLI scored 28 MPGs on average, which is just below the EPA’s 26/36/30 estimates.

I like the cabin layout of the Jetta, which is a no-nonsense setup. There’s a dash of style, including a grippier steering wheel to remind you you’re in the fun trim level, but it’s still quite German and intuitive. The instrument cluster employs VW’s digital cockpit, allowing you to customize the layout and data displays across the 10.25-inch screen. I retained a more conventional look with a speedometer and tachometer flanking each side of the display. Because the 2023 Jetta carries over a slightly older infotainment system than the Mk8 GTI I reviewed, there’s an actual volume knob next to the touchscreen that incorporates wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Seats in the GLI are great, while nicely balancing between subtle and sporty, with great support right where it’s needed. Even the back seats have a hint more lateral support than in a normal affordable sedan, so that your passengers can stay in place if you’re taking the fun route to lunch during your workday. Space in the back seat is good too, so your coworkers won’t feel cramped, and the kids will have plenty of room for activities.

The front seats heated up quickly when tested during a cold front I recently experienced, but sadly the missing ventilated seat feature didn’t get tested during more typical warm days in Central Texas. Trunk space is massive, albeit a bit simple when it comes to storage needs. I wish VW gave the Jetta a bit more in the way of storage features in its cavernous boot. Standard safety features are aplenty, with VW’s full stack of active and passive systems to keep you in good hands on the road.

Can It Entertain The Enthusiast Driver?

Sneaking out to your favorite nearby winding road is definitely enjoyable in the Jetta GLI, so long as you don’t think you’re in a true performance car. The turbocharged engine is punchier when configured in the sport drive mode, with a bit more exhaust noise allowed (some of which is coming through the speakers). 258 lb-ft is no small figure in a smaller sedan, and VW made sure plenty of that torque is available across the mid-range where you want it. Do expect some moderate turbo lag at lower RPMs, especially when pulling away from a stoplight.

If you want to have the most fun on twisty roads, opt for the manual transmission. The DSG in the Jetta GLI was a bit frustrating when I used its manual mode, because it never let me have full control over its shifts. I could never rev up to anywhere near the redline, because the automatic upshift would kick in a good 1,000 RPMs before it, while also being a bit slow to change. Downshifts seemed labored too, even with the car dialed into its sportiest engine and transmission settings. Where the Mk8 GTI gets a cool, tiny nub for its automatic shifter, this Jetta GLI gets a more conventional shift lever, which seems dated by comparison.

The custom drive mode allows you to play with the dynamic chassis control, steering weight feel, suspension firmness and response, and e-differential capability, but just put the drive mode into sport when you want to have fun. That setup does the job perfectly, giving you quick engine response, just heavy enough steering, and a chassis that doesn’t feel too rigid while keeping body roll tidy. I’d like the sport suspension mode to be slightly firmer, to better distinguish itself over the normal mode, but it’s still good. Because of the larger proportions and increased weight of the Jetta over its GTI sibling, there is a hint more flex if you’re tossing the GLI more aggressively, but there really isn’t a big compromise if you want the extra cargo space over the hot hatch GTI.

Braking is positive in the GLI, with nice pedal feedback and solid confidence when needed to scrub speed ahead of tighter corners. What bugs me about the GLI I tested is the fact that it was equipped with all-season tires, just as VW did with the GTI I reviewed. Performance trim levels, particularly press cars, need the good rubber, because all-season tires compromise the fun factor. I appreciated that Honda ticked the option box for performance summer tires on the new Civic Si I tested, which give it a leg up on this Jetta GLI that could have been more enjoyable with stickier rubber.

The Good And Not Great Things

To better differentiate itself versus a more conventional Jetta, VW gave the GLI lots of cool styling treatments, particularly around its exterior. I like the more aggressive grille, hints of red trim, red brake calipers, and the classic GLI badge. This isn’t just another boring sedan, it’s the fun one, so it needed some good details.

Cabin treatments in the GLI are sporty yet subtle too, with little doses of red throughout the black cabin, but the seats are definitely cool. I dig the red backing in the leather that pops from under the perforations, and the red contrasting stitching is another nice touch. I’ve seen other compact cars better execute use of ambient cabin lighting, but I appreciate VW including it in the GLI.

The 2023 Jetta GLI gets the 7th generation Jetta’s climate control panel, which uses real knobs and buttons. This is something I absolutely hated about the new Mk8 GTI‘s interior. This GLI does get the steering wheel controls featured in the new GTI, which utilize capacitive touch switches rather than physical buttons, and they’re not good at all. There’s zero feedback, and they’re easy to accidentally engage when you’re giving the GLI any steering inputs.

Fun, But Not Fantastic

The GLI is definitely a more entertaining version of the VW Jetta, offering more power, sharper handling, neat styling touches, and a slightly higher cool factor. The trouble is that it needs to step all of these aspects up a notch to better position itself. Considering VW has the GTI on the same showroom floor, buyers should definitely gravitate toward the iconic hatchback over this sedan that could easily be mistaken as a basic four-door.

Then we get to the price. At $34,000, the Jetta GLI is not cheap, and is barely less expensive than the GTI I reviewed. For that figure, I’d wander over to the nearest Acura dealer to check out the all-new Integra before making a decision on my next fun sedan. If you don’t need leather seats or a sunroof, and are happy to row your own gears through what might be the best gearbox fitted to a new sporty four-door, I’d suggest getting a Civic Si to save a considerable amount of cash while enjoying a much more favorable driving experience.

The Mercedes EQS 580 SUV Is A Fine Electric Yacht

Boasting top-notch luxury in an electric package, this big Merc tries to carve out a new niche.

As upper-tier EVs go, the marketplace doesn’t offer much if drivers want an SUV. Tesla has rested on its laurels for far too long with the Model X, and at its price point, it’s lacking the quality a premium electric SUV should have. Rivian has the off-road capable and smartly-designed R1S, and BMW launched the polarizing iX, but the well-heeled driver who wants more from their luxury SUV doesn’t have a lot of options. Mercedes wants to fix that.

Mercedes has launched a couple crossovers in addition to the EQS sedan (that I tested last year) under the EQ brand, but there was a gap in the big SUV segment that seemingly needed to be filled. With bigger proportions and optional seating for seven, does the Mercedes EQS SUV accomplish something substantial?

The Useful Specs

The Mercedes EQS SUV is a new platform that carries five occupants in standard form, with a third row seat option to tote two more kids. Powertrain options include a single-motor with rear-wheel-drive fitted standard on the EQS 450+, sporting 355 horsepower and 419 lb-ft of torque, and the EQS 580 upgrades to Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel-drive and a dual-motor setup that pumps out 536 horsepower and 633 lb-ft of torque.

Despite its 6,200-pound curb weight, all those battery-powered ponies help the EQS SUV sprint from 0-60 MPH in just 4.5 seconds, which is nothing to scoff at. Electric cruise range is stated as 285 miles, and charging is managed with DC fast charging on-board, offering up to 200 kW that can juice up the EQS SUV from 10% to 80% in just 31 minutes.

Pricing for the Mercedes EQS SUV starts at $125,950, which is nearly identical to the EQS sedan I experienced, and slightly less expensive than the traditional S-Class, yet about $20,000 more than a Mercedes’ ICE-powered GLS SUV. With three trim levels–Premium, Pinnacle, and Exclusive–offered, this Exclusive model tester includes all the lower trim features and upgrades with rapid heating and massaging front seats, four-zone climate control, MBUX interior assistant, a cabin air purifying system, and Mercedes star logo projectors in the front grille and under the doors.

Options on this tester include an upgraded two-tone interior, an augmented reality heads-up display, microfiber headliner, heated second row seats, third row seats, thicker glass and sound deadening, 21-inch wheels, two sets of wireless headsets for the infotainment system, and a 110v household charging cable to hit a total MSRP of $147,990.

Daily Driving Is Not Boring

As you would expect from a top-notch Mercedes, cruising in the EQS SUV is enjoyable. Power is smooth and balanced when you don’t smash the accelerator, reminding you that electric torque is more immediately available than in an ICE powertrain. This massive Merc can definitely plant you into the seats if you bury your right foot, but it’s not boasting silly 0-60 figures achieved by the likes of a Tesla Plaid or a Lucid Air.

Steering is light and effortless, albeit a bit more artificial than this enthusiast driver prefers. Rear axle steering is hilariously effective in the EQS, making the turning circle resemble one you’d expect from a Miata rather than a full-size SUV. Bumpy city streets are neatly minimized, thanks to Mercedes’ adaptive air suspension, even if the big electric chassis feels a bit more floaty at highway speeds. The EQS SUV’s suspension automatically lowers its ride height at over 68 MPH to reduce drag, which is smart.

There are three distinct drive modes to choose from, in addition to a customizable setup, to please any driver. I kept the powertrain in the more civil setup, and had the sport suspension activated to give smoother response and less of a boat-like feeling. I’m not sold on the Goodyear range-optimized summer tires this EQS SUV had equipped, which exhibit a fair bit of road noise coupled with average grip.

A 285-mile electric range which isn’t fantastic for a massive luxury EV, when Lucid is pushing toward 400 miles, but most Mercedes drivers aren’t likely to take this on lengthy road trips. Mercedes’ charging app in the infotainment provides lots of data points, including details on what features you’re using that either help or hurt your range. Luckily the fast charging capability of the EQS SUV makes for quick juicing stops, even if public charging infrastructure is still far from reliable. Mercedes is likely betting that EQS buyers utilize a charger in their home garage.

Where the EQS SUV shines is in the cabin, upholding Mercedes’ “The Best or Nothing” tagline. Interior appointments are nearly identical to the EQS sedan I tested, which also reminds me of the cabin of the ICE-powered Mercedes S-Class sedan I also reviewed, and that’s a good thing. The blend of cool and luxurious is perfectly executed inside the EQS, and I love the space age ambient lighting that somehow works well with fine leather, just enough brushed metal, and open-pore wood trim on the doors and center console. Thanks to the SUV body, the cabin feels downright huge, with a little help from the light-colored headliner and massive panoramic sunroof. Wireless Apple CarPlay is installed in MBUX, and the Burmester audio system is clear and powerful, pumping your favorite tunes through cool metal speaker covers.

Seats are wonderfully comfortable, providing cushioning in all the right spots, with heating that fires up quickly, and a handful of massage modes to keep you relaxed while avoiding any soreness after a long day of driving. Second-row legroom is spacious, with a full range of adjustment to suit even the tallest passengers, and I appreciate Mercedes fitting the second row’s center armrest with a wireless phone charging pad. The third row is definitely designed with younger kids in mind, and even with the back seats up, the EQS SUV has a bunch of cargo volume, which increases dramatically when you hit the button to power-lower the two rear rows. I’m not sure I’d opt for my tester’s white carpets, which are prone to getting filthy with ease. Kids are not going to be kind to them.

The Pros And Cons

Mercedes dove head-first into the EV pool, focusing its energy into new platforms for the EQ models, and the EQS SUV expresses an upscale look that also encourages better efficiency. The drag coefficient doesn’t get as low as the EQS sedan’s .20, and while Mercedes doesn’t publish that figure, it has to be good if Mercedes is going to design an egg-shaped SUV at this price point.

Some may not dig the front appearance of the EQS SUV, but I think the design language of the EQ line is cool, and I like the three-pointed stars neatly spread across the EQS’ fascia. The 21-inch AMG wheels look slick though, giving the EQS a hint of sportier style. Power-activated door handles are a little wonky to use, having a slight delay to open when you pull the handle.

Because there’s no drivetrain running through a central tunnel in the cabin, Mercedes provides a big storage space and strap under the center console that’s perfect for charging devices, tossing your purse, or concealing fast food bags when you don’t feel like making dinner.

Tech for the sake of tech is my least favorite trend in the automotive industry. Physical buttons and knobs are useful for vital functions like audio and climate systems, to ensure drivers keep their eyes on the road, yet OEMs are replacing them with screens. I don’t love the EQS SUV’s steering wheel controls that are too easy to accidentally hit when driving and have no positive sensations, and incorporating the climate controls into the huge center touchscreen is a choice I’ll never approve of. I do love the look of the 55-inch Gorilla Glass-covered Hyperscreen that stretches from pillar to pillar, incorporating the driver instrument cluster, center infotainment system, and a secondary infotainment screen in front of the passenger.

Tipping the scales at over 6,200 pounds, the Mercedes EQS SUV reminds you that it isn’t exactly light when you seek out curvy roads, but that’s the compromise when stuffing a ton of batteries into a luxury SUV package. Despite lacking a conventional engine, Mercedes does not utilize the front of the EQS SUV as a cargo area like other EVs it contends with. The hood doesn’t actually open, and the only compartment you’ll spot in the front of the car is the washer fluid filler door on the driver side fender.

Mercedes Filled A Gap In The EV Space

Rather than being simple commuting appliances, manufacturers are now crafting distinct segments of performance, luxurious, and stylish electric models. The EQS SUV is certainly luxurious, well-built, and enjoyable to drive for hours at a time, but I struggled with the feeling that it didn’t leave a meaningful impression on me. That’s not a total complaint, but I wish it had some killer feature other than fine cabin appointments to make it stand out versus Rivian, Tesla, or others in this pricier EV segment.

At $145,000, the Mercedes EQS 580 SUV is a fine electric vehicle, but is the nicer fit and finish worth the extra $40,000 over the Rivian R1S that can conquer any terrain, haul ass over any surface, and fit all your family and their gear in a package that’s still reasonably cool and refined? I’m not so sure. What I do know is that anyone who steps inside the EQS SUV will be treated to a top-level Mercedes experience that happens to be powered by electricity rather than gas, and that might be exactly what the German marque set out to accomplish.

The VW Mk8 GTI Is A Pleasant Upgrade

A New Generation Of The Iconic Hot Hatch Has Arrived, But How Good Is It?

For decades, the Volkswagen GTI has enjoyed being the go-to hot hatch for enthusiast drivers who crave a fun, practical car. Arriving in Europe in 1976, and landing on U.S. shores in 1983, the GTI has been a massive success for longer than I’ve been alive. Growing up from a truly inexpensive, basic, and peppy little three-door hatchback, VW has kept it real, making reasonable upgrades with regard to power and features in the GTI over the previous seven generations. When I tested the Mk7 GTI two years ago, I looked at it as a sendoff for what I considered the best generation of the model’s extensive history.

With this new eighth generation, VW has given the GTI a full makeover, with a bump in power output while receiving fresh exterior looks and a redesigned, more tech-focused interior that brings the hot hatch into the current decade. VW has a good group of competitors aiming to take its spot atop the hot hatch throne, with Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota in the mix. Thankfully the hot hatch market is still a healthy one, but is the VW GTI still the right one to buy? I took a week-long test to sort that out.

The Useful Specs

The 2022 VW GTI packs a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produces 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque (up 13 and 15 ticks over the Mk7 GTI, respectively), giving it an advantage over the updated Honda Civic Si I reviewed earlier this year. With your choice of a 6-speed manual transmission or a 7-speed DSG, this tester was equipped with the two-pedal setup. The Mk8 GTI can sprint from 0-60 in 5.1 seconds, which is about 0.7 seconds quicker than the last generation. Top speed is still limited to 155 MPH, which no one should ever try to hit in a little hatchback.

Built on Volkswagen’s long-used MQB modular platform, the GTI shares its underpinnings with several fun compact VAG models. With a full slate of touch-ups to the suspension and chassis, VW claims this new generation of the GTI is more composed yet more capable in the corners. Making several design changes with the body, the Mk8 GTI also looks a bit more upmarket while offering some striking angles. The cockpit receives plenty of changes too, giving the GTI a more modern take on the hot hatch cabin you’ve been familiar with for ages.

Offering three trim levels, VW added a bit more standard equipment to the base S trim, with the SE and Autobahn trim levels still available as the price increases in reasonable chunks. The base price of the GTI S starts at $29,880, SE models begin at $34,630, and the Autobahn has an MSRP of $38,330. The test model VW sent me is the SE trim level, painted a fantastic shade of Kings Red, with Titan Black–and plaid–cloth interior, optioned with the 7-speed DSG (an $800 option), which hits a total MSRP of $36,485.

The Enjoyable City Hatchback

It should come as no surprise that the Mk8 GTI is a great city car that can serve a small family nicely while being a fun weekender. With the standard Golf no longer in the VW lineup, the GTI is the only hatchback from the German manufacturer offered to Americans, with the push for people to buy the Taos crossover. VW also axed the 3-door GTI option, with the 5-door being the only way to take this hot hatch home, which is the practical option for most people.

Sticking to its roots, the Mk8 GTI makes any boring commute or errand run more entertaining. As the car market has cranked up engine specs to levels few people can truly handle, the GT packs enough juice under to satisfy your thirst for fun. Sneaking in and out of slower traffic is definitely enjoyable in this new GTI, and never was I thinking it was lacking power. VW’s refinements to the GTI’s suspension make it cope with bumpy downtown streets with ease while still offering good feedback. EPA fuel economy estimates are 25/34/28, and I managed 27 MPGs during my week with the GTI. Not bad considering I was driving it with more fun intended, rather than trying to optimize efficiency.

Updating the styling of the GTI was done perfectly. Sharper lines are done tastefully, and the new headlight housings add a hint of anger to the package. The Mk8’s wheelbase matches the previous generation, at 103.6 inches, but the overall length bumps up to 168.8 inches. At 57.6 inches high and 70.4 inches wide, a more planted look is given to the Mk8 GTI, met with wide front air intakes at the front and a punchier shoulder line. Sporty 18-inch wheels complete the refreshed GTI’s look wonderfully without looking too busy.

With proportions that fit four people and their stuff, the new GTI might be small next to traffic filled with crossovers, but it’s perfectly sized for reasonable people. The updated seats look the part of a modern hot hatch, while the plaid pattern in the center material gives a nod to GTIs of yesteryear. The front buckets definitely keep you in place when playful driving happens, with lateral support nicely designed where it’s needed. Cargo space isn’t massive, so don’t expect to take a family of four on a road trip with the Mk8 GTI, but the hatch will easily carry a week’s groceries and handle a few roller bags.

A new cabin design theme adds a more tech-heavy setup, with a new 10-inch infotainment screen commanding your attention in the center console. VW gives the new system Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which are frankly better to use than the native software. Screen taps and swipes are a little on the slow side, which isn’t great for this new system. The all-digital instrument cluster is a nice upgrade compared to the somewhat basic analog dials in the Mk7 I reviewed, with all sorts of ways to configure your GTI’s ideal display. Digital controls make their way to the steering wheel too, which don’t have any feedback when using them, and are easy to accidentally tap when turning the wheel.

My biggest gripes with this new setup are divided between the lack of a volume knob–opting for a digital slider instead–and the same style of buttons for the climate control. Neither of these are backlit, so making adjustments at night is a complete guessing game. Why VW overlooked illuminating these controls is a mystery, and losing physical temperature buttons or a volume knob is something too many OEMs are doing to otherwise good cars.

Playing In The Twisty Stuff

Escape the daily grind, and seek your nearby curvy farm-to-market routes, because that’s where VW’s eighth-generation GTI shines. Opt for the sport drive mode, and the GTI quickens its pulse without feeling too feisty. I liked the custom drive mode to let the suspension feel a little smoother, but even the sport setting wasn’t too firm when I gave the GTI a good flogging. The turbocharged engine doesn’t exhibit much lag at all, and the throttle response is steady and direct. Exhaust notes from the GTI aren’t the most inspired, but it’s not too boring either. I’d also like a bit more real noise from the tailpipe rather than some fake tones sneaking through the cabin speakers.

While most GTI buyers will opt for the DCT, to reduce the effort needed to motor around, VW still offers a slick-shifting manual for the purist. Being an analog driving experience fan, I have no complaints with the dual-clutch ‘box in this Mk8 GTI, with a stubby little shifter like Porsche uses for the 992 with a PDK. Hooked up to an electronically-controlled limited-slip differential that adds to grip and confidence in the corners, the front-wheel-drive GTI doesn’t exhibit the usual torque-steer twitch typically felt in front-drive cars equipped with a mechanical LSD. When providing quick steering inputs, the Mk8 feels smooth and precise, as one would expect from this iconic hot hatch. Brake feel was a bit on the soft side, but never did I feel like the GTI wasn’t equipped with enough braking power to control and scrub speed as needed.

VW threw a ton of suspension upgrades at the Mk8 GTI, and compared to the Mk7 I love, this new generation feels more compliant yet easier to stuff into a fast bend. 225/40/18 H-rated Pirelli P Zero All Season rubber is definitely the limiting factor in truly unlocking the fun times behind the wheel of the Mk8 GTI. Damping is great, considering the S and SE trim levels stick with traditional dampers. If you want adaptive dampers, you’ll have to spend a bit more cash for the Autobahn trim, which also gets leather seats and a few other comfort upgrades in the cabin, but the 19-inch wheels wrapped with summer performance tires are a big advantage. Craving the ultimate performance from your hot hatch? VW still offers a Golf R variant that packs 315 horsepower and all-wheel-drive.

The Popular Hot Hatch Improved, But It Isn’t Perfect

With a history spanning generations of loyal buyers, VW continues to satisfy the demand of an enthusiast driver with the new Mk8 GTI. This iconic hot hatch may be inching its way upmarket while increasing its price, but VW is still delivering a fantastic driving experience in a practical package. Not without gripes in the cabin, thanks to some button-less controls, the new GTI is still a wonderful successor to the Mk7 I praised. The challenge is that the GTI now has some great competition in the form of the Civic Si and Hyundai Veloster N.

Even though it’s down on power versus the GTI, I still prefer the handling dynamics of the new Honda Civic Si I tested, which had sharper steering feedback and more enjoyable sensations in quicker corners. Honda only offers the Si as a sedan, which gives the GTI one advantage in my eyes. The Si also has one of the best feeling shifters currently fitted to any new car, and costs $8,000 less than the GTI SE. With a price that sneaks up near $40,000, the GTI is pricing itself against Honda’s Civic Type-R, which is due for a new generation later this year. However you decide to spend your money, I can easily say you’ll still be happy opting for this new GTI.