Tuesday, 6 December 2016

2017 Toyota C-HR Euro-Spec

Designed for Europe but going global.Sometimes you need more than flowers or chocolates or even a dewy-eyed kitten to say, “Sorry.” Sometimes you need a subcompact crossover. That’s the case with the new Toyota C-HR, which will be coming to the U.S. next year and which is at least as much an apology as it is a car, one delivered from the automaker to its European buyers.

More precisely, its non-buyers. While Toyota dominates in much of the world, it has always struggled to gain traction in the land of cheese and sauerkraut, particularly in the hard-fought hatchback segment. Last year the Toyota Auris, a British-built version of the Corolla, sold just 140,000 units across the Continent, barely more than a quarter of what the Volkswagen Golf managed. Hence the need for a Euro-focused crossover to add some sales magic and compete with entries such as the Nissan Qashqai and the Peugeot 2008.
The original plan was to make the C-HR exclusively for Europe, but then other markets—including the United States—got a look at it and became interested. It’s not just Europe that likes small crossovers, after all. Keen lobbying has seen the C-HR confirmed for other markets, including America, although we’ll be getting a different engine from the Euro-spec versions that we drove there. The name is both silly and a misnomer: According to Toyota, it stands for “Coupe High Rider.” Although it has been made to look slightly coupe-ish, in reality this is a four-door crossover with the rear door handles incorporated into the C-pillars. The styling is radical by any standard and positively revolutionary for a brand as generally conservative as Toyota. It’s clear that lots of pent-up creativity has been expended in its creation (let’s hope there’s some left for the upcoming Supra), and although coupe and SUV are pretty much dog and cat in design terms, the fusion here works reasonably well. The cabin is only slightly less out there, with a swoopy design fitting around the hard points of some familiar Toyota switchgear, including the same digital clock that the company has fitted into the dash of seemingly everything it has built for at least three decades. There’s a slightly overwrought diamond theme going on in the cabin, too, with the shape featured everywhere from the ventilation controls to the embossing of the headliner and the door panels. There’s decent space in the front and—against expectations—in the back as well, although the tiny side windows induce claustrophobia.

Europe will be getting the option of a 114-hp 1.2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a 1.8-liter hybrid that pretty much repackages the Prius’s gas-electric powertrain. (Both the C-HR and that hybrid hatch are based on Toyota’s TNGA platform.) Sadly, neither of those powertrains will be coming to the States, at least not initially. Chief engineer Hiroyuki Koba has confirmed that the U.S. will be restricted to a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which will make up for its relative lack of sophistication with a dose of extra power: 144 horsepower and 140 lb-ft. We’ll have to wait until the car arrives stateside to tell you what that engine is like in the C-HR, as we didn’t get a chance to sample it at the European launch.

Americans should be disappointed at not being offered the 1.2-liter turbo, which is a sweet little engine that makes up for its relative lack of firepower with a torque output that’s too flat to be accurately described as a curve—the peak 136 lb-ft is available from 1500 rpm all the way to 4000 rpm. There’s enough midrange punch to minimize objections to its extremely low, 5600-rpm redline. It feels quicker than its factory-estimated 11.4-second zero-to-62-mph time suggests, especially when working with the slick-shifting six-speed manual that will be standard in Europe, and which even has a rev-matching function to help smooth downshifts.

There’s also a continuously variable automatic, which will be the only transmission choice in the U.S. By the standards of such things it’s not too bad, allowing the engine to coast along on its brawn at lower speeds or during constant-velocity cruising. Requests for acceleration, however, produce the familiar slurring soundtrack as the engine and gearbox both give their best. The hybrid drives pretty much exactly like a Prius, the electrical assistance making it quieter under gentle use but not making it feel much quicker.

2017 Volkswagen Golf R It plays on a higher level.

Overview: The R is the chief of a sprawling Volkswagen Golf tribe, joining most of its family members on Car and Driver’s 10Best Cars list, and is the hottest Golf ever to prowl U.S. roads. The Golf R gives VW hot-hatchback parity with the Ford Focus RS and a formidable weapon against the soon-to-arrive Honda Civic Type R. The structure is exceptionally rigid, something the R shares with the rest of the family. Amplified by the standard Haldex all-wheel-drive system (dubbed 4MOTION by VW’s marketers), overall grip is exceptional and approaches the magic 1.00-g threshold. Braking is close to sports-car levels, and power from the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder is abundant, peaking at 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. The cosmetic treatment is typical Golf—i.e., understated—a word that also applies to the interior. That means the Golf R is much more of a wallflower than either the Focus RS or the Civic Type R, which might be a positive or negative attribute, depending on your personal perspective (and perhaps your age). There’s no shortage of contemporary infotainment, but the leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel and the supremely supportive leather buckets reflect the true nature of the beast. Like its stablemates, the R’s hatchback body provides practicality and versatility, just as this line of cars has delivered since its 1974 debut. But performance is the key here, and this Golf raises its quickness and athletic competence to an all-time high.

What’s New: Introduced in 2015, the newest Golf R rolls into 2017 with a few changes. Top-trim cars with the Dynamic Chassis Control system (adaptive damping, firmer suspension tuning, 19-inch wheels) now come standard with automatic high-beams as well as last year’s Driver Assistance package (lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and parking sensors). A six-speed manual became the default transmission last year. We’ve tested Rs with both transmissions, and compared to a Golf R with the optional DSG automatic, the stick-shift car trims 80 pounds from the curb weight and $1100 from the sticker price—but it adds 0.7 second to the zero-to-60-mph run.
What We Like: It requires more resistance than we possess to be indifferent to a car with the Golf R’s performance résumé. The blend of power—particularly the torque curve, which approximates the flat topography of Nebraska—and agility, plus all-wheel-drive grip and outstanding braking make this hottest of Golfs easy to drive fast. In addition to eager responses and ample power, it’s also very forgiving. And while we appreciate the crisp engagements of the six-speed manual gearbox, we’ll admit that the lightning action of the dual-clutch automatic is habit-forming. Think of the DSG-equipped Golf R as an Audi S3 (the two share the same powertrain) but with hatchback usefulness and a $2565 rebate.

What We Don’t Like: The Golf R might benefit from a diet—albeit a mild one. Yes, all-wheel drive adds pounds. And yes, the (front-drive) GTI is less than 300 pounds lighter. But paring even 50 pounds would add more zeal to the R’s responses. Speaking of responses, one of the very few staff kvetches on the Golf R dynamic scorecard is turbo lag. If the transmission is a cog or two out of optimum and revs are low, that wonderfully flat torque plateau is preceded by a slow climb to the sweet spot. There’s also a price/value issue here, since a Golf GTI will duplicate about 90 percent of the Golf R’s performance for some $10,000 less.
Verdict: The Golf R is an all-around athlete and a formidable performer by any reckoning.

2017 Honda CR-V Honda's latest compact crossover plies a steady course

Honda has had its ups and downs over the past few years, but the CR-V is one of the rocks upon which the house stands. Through October 2016, the compact crossover accounted for almost one-quarter of Honda’s annual volume in North America. And the automaker knows that if you want the bread to keep rolling in, you don’t mess with the butter. Indeed, the old CR-V is selling so well that the new model is having a secret launch of sorts. Due to go on sale December 21, the new CR-V has been discussed only in muted tones, so as to keep sales of the current model humming.

Top Secret

Honda needn’t have worried. The new CR-V doesn’t exactly get tail fins, an optional V-12, or an anti-gravity drive. In fact, while steering the 2017 model around Northern California during the launch event, no one even noticed the new CR-V. No doubt this is the way CR-V buyers would like it, because even first-timers new to the model come in expecting to find the reliable, well-packaged, family-friendly, affordable, and none-too-controversial vehicle they’ve heard about. It’s steady as she goes with the 2017 CR-V.

Even so, Honda feels it has turned up the luxe on the model a bit, adding big-car features such as the Honda Sensing suite of safety countermeasures on EX and higher trims, some shoulder to the styling, and an altogether more serious and imposing face. It’s almost as if Lee Iacocca were calling the shots; the new CR-V adds chrome filigrees here and there, including an embrace of the industry’s burgeoning mania for upturned chrome hockey sticks as body-side decoration. Well, what’s good enough for BMW and Range Rover should be good enough for Honda. LEDs for the taillights, daytime running lights, and turn signals are another clue that this is the new car, as are the optional full-LED headlight clusters. We’ve come a long way from the spunky original CR-V, with its rear-mounted spare tire and spindly suspension bits visible underneath.

Honda pushed a little harder in the interior. A 7.0-inch touchscreen (now with a radio volume knob!) is the centerpiece of a pleasantly upscale dashboard with an unusual three-zone instrument cluster. Honda, perhaps significantly also a motorcycle maker, has been one of the braver companies when it comes to moving past the well-worn, two-dial convention of tach and speedo. In the CR-V with its all-digital TFT cluster, the tachometer (not much needed in a vehicle that no longer offers a manual transmission) becomes a band at the top, and the speedometer is a digital readout, both executions of which seem appropriate for this car. Honda knows its buyers well, as evidenced by some of the small changes, such as twin 2.5-amp USB ports in back, the reconfigured center storage bin designed for what real people stash, and reshaped door pockets with drink holders that will accommodate bottles as large as one liter in size.
Passengers get a little more space, thanks to a 1.6-inch wheelbase stretch, which gives rear-seat occupants another 2.1 inches of legroom, moving the rear seat up from economy to a very generous economy-plus. Likewise, the cargo area grows nearly 10 inches longer with the rear seats folded; Honda’s photos proudly display a full-size mountain bike inserted upright, albeit with the front wheel removed.

Enter the Turbo

You can have one of two engines but only one transmission, a continuously variable automatic (CVT). The base LX uses the 2.4-liter twin-cam direct-injected inline-four from the Honda Accord, here delivering 184 horsepower and 180 lb-ft, while a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft goes into the EX, EX-L, and Touring models. The latter engine is what we sampled, and we can report that it gives unobtrusive, sturdy service with ample torque in the basement and ground floor as it goes about its quotidian task of moving the CR-V, the curb weight of which Honda puts at 3300 to 3500 pounds depending on the trim and driveline.
Honda’s determination to put some excitement back into its products manifests in the CR-V with excellent chassis dynamics and sharp steering. A stiffer steering column and fluid-filled suspension bushings are said to deliver both better ride compliance and more precise path control. You can rush this car if you need to without everything falling apart and your passengers screaming for relief. It holds a corner with confidence and connects you with a direct line to the pavement. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that one of project leader Takaaki Nagadome’s first jobs at Honda was body engineering for the original NSX.

As in the Civic, the CR-V’s automatic is continuously variable on paper but feels like a conventional step-gear transmission in motion. It “upshifts” at the top of each ratio, the numerical value of which is known only to the software. It could be said that the Honda CVT gives us the best of both worlds: step-gear familiarity combined with continuous variability that is invisible to the driver. And, unlike conventional automatics, there’s virtually no kickdown shock when you leg the accelerator for passing.