The 2019 Honda Insight is a strangely normal hybrid

The 2019 Honda Insight is a very normal-looking car, which is kind of strange. It’s a far cry from the 2000 edition, which was a tiny, two-seat, streamlined suppository with skirted rear wheels that was America’s first hybrid and is still the most efficient car without a plug to putter down her highways at 61 … Continue reading “The 2019 Honda Insight is a strangely normal hybrid”

The 2019 Honda Insight is a very normal-looking car, which is kind of strange.

It’s a far cry from the 2000 edition, which was a tiny, two-seat, streamlined suppository with skirted rear wheels that was America’s first hybrid and is still the most efficient car without a plug to putter down her highways at 61 mpg. (It’s EPA combined rating of 53 mpg was only surpassed last year.)

Sales were much lower than its fuel economy, however, with a high of just 4,700 in 2001. So the Insight was put on hiatus a couple of years later, but rebooted in 2009 as a four-door hatchback that looked like a bad copy of the Toyota Prius it was trying to be. Unfortunately, it arrived at a time when Honda was off its game, delivering cars with refinement far below what was expected of the brand. Popular in its Japanese homeland, not even a perfect storm of The Great Recession and the highest gas prices in a generation could turn it into a hit here. Honda put out of its misery at the ripe old age of five in 2014.

Since then, the Insight badges were left sitting on the shelf at American Honda as the Civic and Accord and CR-Z hybrids did their best to take on Toyota in the gas-electric space. Without much luck.

But now, staying true to its decade or so lifecycle, the Insight is back, and you’d never recognize it. It’s based on the platform of the Civic sedan, but has a more sophisticated style than its sibling and none of the visual quirks of its previous generations.

2019 Honda Insight (Honda)

The interior is even more distinct from the Civic and has a high-end feel. There are large puffy inserts in front of the passenger and on the doors, and the driver is treated to an instrument cluster that pairs an analog speedometer with a multi-functional digital display. As with the Civic, the Insight is spacious for a compact and has a low and wide stance.

2019 Honda Insight (Honda)

Priced at $23,725, the Insight falls between the similarly subdued $23,085 Hyundai Ioniq and odder-than-ever Toyota Prius at $24,395 in the hybrid price hierarchy. But its true position among them is tougher to peg.

The Insight’s ride quality is unsurpassed by any car at this price point, regardless of what’s under the hood. It’s smooth around town, composed in curves and sportier than most, if not exactly sporty. It’s also quiet, at least when it’s operating under pure electric power. Which is often, but not often enough.

2019 Honda Insight (Honda)

Honda uses an uncommon drivetrain layout that combines a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine with a unit comprised of a generator and electric drive motor. The motor draws its energy from the lithium-ion battery tucked inconspicuously under the rear seats until the charge gets too low, then summons the four-cylinder to crank the generator. As there isn’t a conventional transmission, there also isn’t any annoying vibration when the engine starts up as there is in most hybrids, which is a boon in stop and go traffic.

There is noise, however. Sometimes lots of it. The engine, which is a little gruff, sets itself at whatever rpm it deems necessary to meet the power demands and just sits there groaning. Going uphill, it’s as if you have your foot to the floor and need to change gears, but don’t. No hybrid is perfect in this regard, but the Insight isn’t even close.

It’s much better suited the Midwest than the mountains. On flat terrain, the engine is used less frequently and runs slower when it is. The payoff for any pain is at the pump. I hit 50 mpg in the top of the line Touring I tested, which has an EPA combined rating of 48 mpg, while lower trims are listed at 52 mpg. That’s short of the Prius and Ioniq, which max out at 56 mpg and 58 mpg, respectively, but both are less powerful than the 151 hp Insight.

2019 Honda Insight (Honda)

All Insight models are well-equipped, and even the EX comes with a standard safety package that includes automatic emergency brakes, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, but without Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. The mid-level LX gets those, along with the camera-based Lane Watch passenger blind spot monitor and a 60/40 rear seat pass-through to a large flat trunk made possible by the modern slim battery pack design. Leather upholstery, premium audio, heated seats and those automatic windshield wipers that I know you must have kick in with the Touring at a max price of $28,985.

You’ll spend thousands more on a loaded Ioniq or Prius, so the efficiency advantages are pretty much a wash for your wallet. You’ll have to decide about saving the planet, not to mention your hearing.

2019 Honda Insight

Base price: $23,725

As tested: $28,985

Type: 5-passenger, 4-door front-wheel-drive sedan

Engine: 1.5-liter 4-cylinder with electric motor

Power: 151 hp, 197 lb-ft

Transmission: Direct drive

MPG: 51-55 city/45-49 hwy

Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com’s Automotive Editor.

2019 Acura RDX Test Drive: Back to the future

Second time looks to be the charm for Acura’s third-generation RDX. Allow me to explain that calculus.

When the compact SUV was first introduced in 2007, it was essentially a luxed-up version of the Honda CR-V that was powered by the first turbocharged four-cylinder engine the automaker ever offered in the United States.

But it wasn’t a great one. It was a little weak and rough around the edges, and the RDX didn’t find as many buyers as expected. So when it was redesigned for 2012, Acura swapped in one of its silky naturally-aspirated V6 engines to right the ship. It did, and it was smooth sailing from there.

It quickly moved into a strong second place on the sales charts behind the larger MDX. That looks set to change with the all-new 2019 RDX, which has been the brand’s most wanted since it arrived in showrooms, powered once again by a turbocharged four-cylinder.

ACURA MDX SPORT HYBRID TEST DRIVE:

Video

The engine is one of several turbos spread across the Honda/Acura lineup these days. The 272 hp 2.0-liter comes with a 10-speed automatic transmission and is proof that a decade of hard work can pay off. It’s very good. There’s lots of grunt, and Acura dialed in a deep, rich sound with a digital assist.

(Acura)

The RDX rides on its own platform this time around, one that features a sporty five-link rear suspension and a super stiff structure engineered to give it a premium feel and accommodate a big hole in the ceiling for a standard panoramic sunroof. The wheelbase is longer than a CR-V’s and the richly appointed passenger compartment is a little roomier, but the RDX’s chic roofline cuts into cargo space. The spare tire is mounted beneath the vehicle, however, which may prove to be inconvenient at the worst time possible, but leaves room for a couple of handy storage bins under the floor.

(Acura)

Prices start at $38,295 for a front-wheel-drive RDX, which beats most of its competitors by thousands, and a loaded all-wheel-drive model rings up at $48,395.

Four trim levels are available, with the top of the line Advanced getting a head-up display, computer-controlled suspension system and a pair of heated and ventilated front buckets with adjustable side bolsters and leg supports. They are remarkably comfortable and dressed in high-quality leather. So is the bridge-like center console, which feels so good you just want to wrap your arms around it.

It’s also home for one of the RDX’s signature features, the so-called True Touchpad Interface for the infotainment system. The pad is designed to mirror the screen mounted up on the dashboard so you don’t have to reach for it or draw your eyes too far away from the road. It works well when you’re trying to access icons located in the corners of the screen, but isn’t so accurate in the middle. Swiping through menus or browsing radio stations is a tedious process. Once you have all of your customizable desktops and favorites set up – not something you want to try while driving – it’s not bad, but I never got the sense it was any better than just having a closer, traditional touchscreen with auxiliary knobs like the Accord offers. That said, it’s much better than the similar setup found in some Lexus vehicles, or any dial-style controls.

(Acura)

The RDX does have one of the those, but it’s only for choosing from its selection of Snow, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ drive modes, each modifying the drivetrain’s eagerness, steering feel and suspension stiffness as appropriate. There’s a noticeable difference between them, and I found myself switching to sport anytime the road started getting hilly and twisty. Acura’s been trying to get its groove back, and the RDX has it in this setting. Sport+ is a bit too much for a vehicle like this, as it lets engine rev way too high before it switches gears, (but you’ve got to kick that VTEC in sometimes, bro.)

All things considered, the Ohio-built RDX is an excellent value and a far more engaging car to drive than its archrivals, the Lexus NX and RX, which bookend it in size. Acuras have always been a sensible choice in the luxury SUV segment, and this one ignites more senses than any Acura SUV before it.

———-

2019 Acura RDX

Base price: $38,295

As tested: $48,395

Type: 5-passenger, 4-door all-wheel-drive SUV

Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder

Power: 272 hp, 280 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

MPG: 21 city/27 hwy

Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com’s Automotive Editor.

2018 Jaguar E-Pace Test Drive: Welcome to the family

The Jaguar E-Pace has an Easter egg painted onto the bottom left corner of its windshield. It depicts a Jaguar with a cub. Cute.

(Fox News Autos)

It’s supposed to symbolize the model’s role as Jaguar’s baby SUV to the larger F-Pace. The only problem is, they’re different species.

Although the two look a lot alike — and are gorgeous for SUVs as far as I and all of the heads they turn are concerned — an X-ray examination reveals it’s all a façade.

The F-Pace was Jaguar’s first SUV (Jaguar)

The F-Pace is built on a chassis that’s also used by Jaguar’s sedans and the Range Rover Velar, but the E-Pace is related to the Range Rover Evoque. The F-Pace platform is primarily rear-wheel-drive, the E-Pace front-wheel-drive. There’s no missing link between them, the vehicles are fundamentally unalike.

But they do share a beating heart. Two of them, actually. They’re 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines, rated at 247 hp and 296 hp, and are the only ones offered in the E-Pace, while the F-Pace can also be had with a selection of supercharged V6 and V8 engines, not to mention a diesel.

But the more-powerful version does the trick in both of these urban jungle cats. It’s more than adequate and a good value proposition in the F-Pace, and turns the little E-Pace into something of a muscle machine. You’ll find it bundled in the R-Dynamic trim level, which starts at $47,395, a big jump up from the E-Pace’s starting price of $39,595.

But you get more than power. All USA-bound E-Paces have standard all-wheel-drive, and the R-Dynamic adds leather upholstery, automatic emergency brakes and built-in WiFi. Available options run the gamut from a 360-degree camera to adaptive cruise control and a full panoramic sunroof. Unfortunately, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration costs $300 for the pair, because they are necessities given Jaguar’s so-so native infotainment system. All-in, it’s not hard to tally up more than $60,000, which is a lot for a small SUV, but in line with Jaguar’s luxury competitors.

In keeping with its mixed lineage, the E-Pace features interior styling that borrows a fair amount of DNA from Jaguar’s F-Type sports car. Notably its pistol grip gear shifter and the grab handle on the center console for the front passenger, but also the overall vibe of the design and materials. It's not glitzy and glamorous, and there’s a bit too much bare plastic, but the look is sporty and unique.

On the functionality front, rear legroom is snug and the seatbacks don’t fold perfectly flat, which makes it hard to get the most out of the cargo space. But there’s plenty of it, despite the sloping hatchback.

As far as the ride is concerned, I have to tell you that my first few miles behind the wheel were a little disappointing, but only because I’d literally just stepped out of Jaguar’s new battery-powered I-Pace SUV. It’s about the same size as the E-Pace, but its seamless electric drive and supple air suspension system make its conventional cousin feel like it’s from the Stone Age.

Video

Once I reacclimated, however, the E-Pace revealed a solid blend of comfort, handling and response. It’s not the pure magic you get in pricier Jaguars, but even with the 20-inch wheels and thin tires that the top of the line R-Dynamic HSE rides on it’s never too rough, the steering is lively and the engine makes highway merges a breeze. And while you likely won’t see too many E-Paces intentionally going off the beaten path, those Range Rover bones give it some light off-road chops and the ability to wade through 20-inch-deep water. This is one kitten that’s not afraid to get wet.

(Jaguar)

All things considered, that Easter Egg is just as much about E-Pace customers as it is about the car, depicting Jaguar’s hope that newcomers who buy this entry-level model will grow with the brand. But that only works if their first experience is a good one.

It was for me.

———-

2018 Jaguar E-Pace

Base price: $39,595

As tested: $62,090

Type: 5-passenger, 4-door all-wheel-drive SUV

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder

Power: 296 hp, 295 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

MPG: 21 city/27 hwy

Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com’s Automotive Editor.

2018 Ford Mustang GT test drive: Survival of the fittest

The Mustang isn’t Ford’s best-selling car, but it will be soon.

That’s because it will be the only true car the company sells in the U.S., as the brand switches to a lineup of mostly trucks and crossovers in a couple of years.

It’s doing alright now, though. The Mustang outsells the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger here, and Ford says it’s been the best-selling sports coupe in the world since the latest generation launched three years ago.

To keep the ball rolling, Ford updated it for 2018 with mildly redesigned front and rear styling, more soft-touch trim in the cabin and an available full-digital instrument cluster. But the biggest changes are heard and felt, not seen.

(Ford)

Ford dropped the Mustang’s tried and true V6 engine, made its 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder the new base motor and gave the GT a more powerful V8. The 5.0-liter truly is one now, thanks to a switch from liners to spray-in cylinder coatings that increased its displacement from 4970 cc to 5030 cc.

A blend of port and direct fuel injection, along with a freer-flowing intake and sky-high 7,500 rpm redline help to increase output from 435 hp to 460 hp, making this the most powerful Mustang GT ever. (At least until the new Bullitt edition arrives later this year with a promised 480 hp.)

There’s a 10-speed automatic now, but a six-speed manual is still standard at the GT’s starting price of $36,090. Believe it or not, the stick accounts for more than half of GT sales these days. Either can be had with a few semi-autonomous driving assist features, including radar cruise control and pedestrian-detecting automatic emergency brakes.

Performance Pack Level 2 is accentuated by a lower, more aggressive stance, aerodynamically balanced high-performance front splitter and rear spoiler – all designed to add more downforce to attack curves for an exhilarating feel behind the wheel. (Ford)

That’s great stuff on the street, where the Mustang remains an excellent cruiser, even without the optional computer-controlled MagneRide shock absorbers that are worth their weight in gold, not to mention their $1,695 price tag.

For the track, Ford offers two Performance Package options that make it quicker in a straight line and a round curves. The first costs $3,995 and comes with wide, sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires on dark 19-inch wheels, a stiffer chassis and suspension with heavy duty springs, Torsen limited slip differential, Brembo front brakes, sportier stability control and anti-lock brake calibrations and a larger radiator to keep things cooler during hot lap sessions.

Ford claims one of these fitted with the 10-speed and set to its Drag Mode with launch control enabled will do 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds, while the rest of the changes sharpen the handling without messing up the on-road ride too much. It’s a nice compromise for someone who uses their Mustang as a daily driver but likes to put it through its paces sometimes.

(Ford)

If you prefer doing the latter most of the time, you’ll want to check the box for the Performance Package 2, which costs $6,500, but is mandatorily bundled with another $2,000 package of comfort and entertainment features. It steps things up with foot-wide Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, standard MagneRide shocks, more extreme tuning across the board, and a jutting chin splitter that produces downforce to squeeze the front tires into the tarmac and can take out someone’s ankles if you’re not careful with it. The only caveat is that you can only order the PP2 on GTs with manual transmissions. Sorry, lazy boys and girls.

(Ford)

Mustang Vehicle Engineering Manager Tom Barnes says the goal was to create a car that felt really alive. The kind of car that a track rat looking for the best handling might build for themselves, but with the bonus of factory integration and tuning for all of the modifications.

The incredibly responsive steering is the first thing you notice as those huge contact patches go to work, but the overall grip is monumental. During a couple of laps around a short circuit at the Monticello Motor Club, the PP2 felt right at home. It requires a recalibration of your expectations of what a Mustang GT should be able to do before you start getting anywhere close to the most out of it.

Unfortunately for me, it was a rainy, and those nearly slick steamroller tires turn into skates on anything resembling a puddle, so my time flying in it was limited. You have to tread lightly when things get wet. On public roads, the front tires keep your hands busy as they chase ruts and ridges in the pavement, too. Otherwise, a PP2 GT remains a very comfortable car. I drove one equipped with a set of racy and very huggy Recaro seats two hours from the office to the track and would happily do it again.

In fact, I did just that in the other direction at the end of the day.

———-

2018 Ford Mustang GT W/PP2

Base price: $44,590

Type: 4-passenger 2-door rear-wheel-drive coupe

Engine: 5.0L V8

Power: 460 hp, 420 lb-ft

Transmission: 6-speed manual

MPG: 15 city/25 hwy

Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com’s Automotive Editor.

2018 Ford Mustang GT test drive: Survival of the fittest

The Mustang isn’t Ford’s best-selling car, but it will be soon.

That’s because it will be the only true car the company sells in the U.S., as the brand switches to a lineup of mostly trucks and crossovers in a couple of years.

It’s doing alright now, though. The Mustang outsells the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger here, and Ford says it’s been the best-selling sports coupe in the world since the latest generation launched three years ago.

To keep the ball rolling, Ford updated it for 2018 with mildly redesigned front and rear styling, more soft-touch trim in the cabin and an available full-digital instrument cluster. But the biggest changes are heard and felt, not seen.

(Ford)

Ford dropped the Mustang’s tried and true V6 engine, made its 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder the new base motor and gave the GT a more powerful V8. The 5.0-liter truly is one now, thanks to a switch from liners to spray-in cylinder coatings that increased its displacement from 4970 cc to 5030 cc.

A blend of port and direct fuel injection, along with a freer-flowing intake and sky-high 7,500 rpm redline help to increase output from 435 hp to 460 hp, making this the most powerful Mustang GT ever. (At least until the new Bullitt edition arrives later this year with a promised 480 hp.)

There’s a 10-speed automatic now, but a six-speed manual is still standard at the GT’s starting price of $36,090. Believe it or not, the stick accounts for more than half of GT sales these days. Either can be had with a few semi-autonomous driving assist features, including radar cruise control and pedestrian-detecting automatic emergency brakes.

Performance Pack Level 2 is accentuated by a lower, more aggressive stance, aerodynamically balanced high-performance front splitter and rear spoiler – all designed to add more downforce to attack curves for an exhilarating feel behind the wheel. (Ford)

That’s great stuff on the street, where the Mustang remains an excellent cruiser, even without the optional computer-controlled MagneRide shock absorbers that are worth their weight in gold, not to mention their $1,695 price tag.

For the track, Ford offers two Performance Package options that make it quicker in a straight line and a round curves. The first costs $3,995 and comes with wide, sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires on dark 19-inch wheels, a stiffer chassis and suspension with heavy duty springs, Torsen limited slip differential, Brembo front brakes, sportier stability control and anti-lock brake calibrations and a larger radiator to keep things cooler during hot lap sessions.

Ford claims one of these fitted with the 10-speed and set to its Drag Mode with launch control enabled will do 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds, while the rest of the changes sharpen the handling without messing up the on-road ride too much. It’s a nice compromise for someone who uses their Mustang as a daily driver but likes to put it through its paces sometimes.

(Ford)

If you prefer doing the latter most of the time, you’ll want to check the box for the Performance Package 2, which costs $6,500, but is mandatorily bundled with another $2,000 package of comfort and entertainment features. It steps things up with foot-wide Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, standard MagneRide shocks, more extreme tuning across the board, and a jutting chin splitter that produces downforce to squeeze the front tires into the tarmac and can take out someone’s ankles if you’re not careful with it. The only caveat is that you can only order the PP2 on GTs with manual transmissions. Sorry, lazy boys and girls.

(Ford)

Mustang Vehicle Engineering Manager Tom Barnes says the goal was to create a car that felt really alive. The kind of car that a track rat looking for the best handling might build for themselves, but with the bonus of factory integration and tuning for all of the modifications.

The incredibly responsive steering is the first thing you notice as those huge contact patches go to work, but the overall grip is monumental. During a couple of laps around a short circuit at the Monticello Motor Club, the PP2 felt right at home. It requires a recalibration of your expectations of what a Mustang GT should be able to do before you start getting anywhere close to the most out of it.

Unfortunately for me, it was a rainy, and those nearly slick steamroller tires turn into skates on anything resembling a puddle, so my time flying in it was limited. You have to tread lightly when things get wet. On public roads, the front tires keep your hands busy as they chase ruts and ridges in the pavement, too. Otherwise, a PP2 GT remains a very comfortable car. I drove one equipped with a set of racy and very huggy Recaro seats two hours from the office to the track and would happily do it again.

In fact, I did just that in the other direction at the end of the day.

———-

2018 Ford Mustang GT W/PP2

Base price: $44,590

Type: 4-passenger 2-door rear-wheel-drive coupe

Engine: 5.0L V8

Power: 460 hp, 420 lb-ft

Transmission: 6-speed manual

MPG: 15 city/25 hwy

Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com’s Automotive Editor.

The 2019 Honda Insight is a strangely normal hybrid

The 2019 Honda Insight is a very normal-looking car, which is kind of strange.

It’s a far cry from the 2000 edition, which was a tiny, two-seat, streamlined suppository with skirted rear wheels that was America’s first hybrid and is still the most efficient car without a plug to putter down her highways at 61 mpg. (It’s EPA combined rating of 53 mpg was only surpassed last year.)

Sales were much lower than its fuel economy, however, with a high of just 4,700 in 2001. So the Insight was put on hiatus a couple of years later, but rebooted in 2009 as a four-door hatchback that looked like a bad copy of the Toyota Prius it was trying to be. Unfortunately, it arrived at a time when Honda was off its game, delivering cars with refinement far below what was expected of the brand. Popular in its Japanese homeland, not even a perfect storm of The Great Recession and the highest gas prices in a generation could turn it into a hit here. Honda put out of its misery at the ripe old age of five in 2014.

Since then, the Insight badges were left sitting on the shelf at American Honda as the Civic and Accord and CR-Z hybrids did their best to take on Toyota in the gas-electric space. Without much luck.

But now, staying true to its decade or so lifecycle, the Insight is back, and you’d never recognize it. It’s based on the platform of the Civic sedan, but has a more sophisticated style than its sibling and none of the visual quirks of its previous generations.

2019 Honda Insight (Honda)

The interior is even more distinct from the Civic and has a high-end feel. There are large puffy inserts in front of the passenger and on the doors, and the driver is treated to an instrument cluster that pairs an analog speedometer with a multi-functional digital display. As with the Civic, the Insight is spacious for a compact and has a low and wide stance.

2019 Honda Insight (Honda)

Priced at $23,725, the Insight falls between the similarly subdued $23,085 Hyundai Ioniq and odder-than-ever Toyota Prius at $24,395 in the hybrid price hierarchy. But its true position among them is tougher to peg.

The Insight’s ride quality is unsurpassed by any car at this price point, regardless of what’s under the hood. It’s smooth around town, composed in curves and sportier than most, if not exactly sporty. It’s also quiet, at least when it’s operating under pure electric power. Which is often, but not often enough.

2019 Honda Insight (Honda)

Honda uses an uncommon drivetrain layout that combines a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine with a unit comprised of a generator and electric drive motor. The motor draws its energy from the lithium-ion battery tucked inconspicuously under the rear seats until the charge gets too low, then summons the four-cylinder to crank the generator. As there isn’t a conventional transmission, there also isn’t any annoying vibration when the engine starts up as there is in most hybrids, which is a boon in stop and go traffic.

There is noise, however. Sometimes lots of it. The engine, which is a little gruff, sets itself at whatever rpm it deems necessary to meet the power demands and just sits there groaning. Going uphill, it’s as if you have your foot to the floor and need to change gears, but don’t. No hybrid is perfect in this regard, but the Insight isn’t even close.

It’s much better suited the Midwest than the mountains. On flat terrain, the engine is used less frequently and runs slower when it is. The payoff for any pain is at the pump. I hit 50 mpg in the top of the line Touring I tested, which has an EPA combined rating of 48 mpg, while lower trims are listed at 52 mpg. That’s short of the Prius and Ioniq, which max out at 56 mpg and 58 mpg, respectively, but both are less powerful than the 151 hp Insight.

2019 Honda Insight (Honda)

All Insight models are well-equipped, and even the EX comes with a standard safety package that includes automatic emergency brakes, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, but without Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. The mid-level LX gets those, along with the camera-based Lane Watch passenger blind spot monitor and a 60/40 rear seat pass-through to a large flat trunk made possible by the modern slim battery pack design. Leather upholstery, premium audio, heated seats and those automatic windshield wipers that I know you must have kick in with the Touring at a max price of $28,985.

You’ll spend thousands more on a loaded Ioniq or Prius, so the efficiency advantages are pretty much a wash for your wallet. You’ll have to decide about saving the planet, not to mention your hearing.

2019 Honda Insight

Base price: $23,725

As tested: $28,985

Type: 5-passenger, 4-door front-wheel-drive sedan

Engine: 1.5-liter 4-cylinder with electric motor

Power: 151 hp, 197 lb-ft

Transmission: Direct drive

MPG: 51-55 city/45-49 hwy

Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com’s Automotive Editor.

2019 Acura RDX Test Drive: Back to the future

Second time looks to be the charm for Acura’s third-generation RDX. Allow me to explain that calculus.

When the compact SUV was first introduced in 2007, it was essentially a luxed-up version of the Honda CR-V that was powered by the first turbocharged four-cylinder engine the automaker ever offered in the United States.

But it wasn’t a great one. It was a little weak and rough around the edges, and the RDX didn’t find as many buyers as expected. So when it was redesigned for 2012, Acura swapped in one of its silky naturally-aspirated V6 engines to right the ship. It did, and it was smooth sailing from there.

It quickly moved into a strong second place on the sales charts behind the larger MDX. That looks set to change with the all-new 2019 RDX, which has been the brand’s most wanted since it arrived in showrooms, powered once again by a turbocharged four-cylinder.

ACURA MDX SPORT HYBRID TEST DRIVE:

Video

The engine is one of several turbos spread across the Honda/Acura lineup these days. The 272 hp 2.0-liter comes with a 10-speed automatic transmission and is proof that a decade of hard work can pay off. It’s very good. There’s lots of grunt, and Acura dialed in a deep, rich sound with a digital assist.

(Acura)

The RDX rides on its own platform this time around, one that features a sporty five-link rear suspension and a super stiff structure engineered to give it a premium feel and accommodate a big hole in the ceiling for a standard panoramic sunroof. The wheelbase is longer than a CR-V’s and the richly appointed passenger compartment is a little roomier, but the RDX’s chic roofline cuts into cargo space. The spare tire is mounted beneath the vehicle, however, which may prove to be inconvenient at the worst time possible, but leaves room for a couple of handy storage bins under the floor.

(Acura)

Prices start at $38,295 for a front-wheel-drive RDX, which beats most of its competitors by thousands, and a loaded all-wheel-drive model rings up at $48,395.

Four trim levels are available, with the top of the line Advanced getting a head-up display, computer-controlled suspension system and a pair of heated and ventilated front buckets with adjustable side bolsters and leg supports. They are remarkably comfortable and dressed in high-quality leather. So is the bridge-like center console, which feels so good you just want to wrap your arms around it.

It’s also home for one of the RDX’s signature features, the so-called True Touchpad Interface for the infotainment system. The pad is designed to mirror the screen mounted up on the dashboard so you don’t have to reach for it or draw your eyes too far away from the road. It works well when you’re trying to access icons located in the corners of the screen, but isn’t so accurate in the middle. Swiping through menus or browsing radio stations is a tedious process. Once you have all of your customizable desktops and favorites set up – not something you want to try while driving – it’s not bad, but I never got the sense it was any better than just having a closer, traditional touchscreen with auxiliary knobs like the Accord offers. That said, it’s much better than the similar setup found in some Lexus vehicles, or any dial-style controls.

(Acura)

The RDX does have one of the those, but it’s only for choosing from its selection of Snow, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ drive modes, each modifying the drivetrain’s eagerness, steering feel and suspension stiffness as appropriate. There’s a noticeable difference between them, and I found myself switching to sport anytime the road started getting hilly and twisty. Acura’s been trying to get its groove back, and the RDX has it in this setting. Sport+ is a bit too much for a vehicle like this, as it lets engine rev way too high before it switches gears, (but you’ve got to kick that VTEC in sometimes, bro.)

All things considered, the Ohio-built RDX is an excellent value and a far more engaging car to drive than its archrivals, the Lexus NX and RX, which bookend it in size. Acuras have always been a sensible choice in the luxury SUV segment, and this one ignites more senses than any Acura SUV before it.

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2019 Acura RDX

Base price: $38,295

As tested: $48,395

Type: 5-passenger, 4-door all-wheel-drive SUV

Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder

Power: 272 hp, 280 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

MPG: 21 city/27 hwy

Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com’s Automotive Editor.

2018 Jaguar E-Pace Test Drive: Welcome to the family

The Jaguar E-Pace has an Easter egg painted onto the bottom left corner of its windshield. It depicts a Jaguar with a cub. Cute.

(Fox News Autos)

It’s supposed to symbolize the model’s role as Jaguar’s baby SUV to the larger F-Pace. The only problem is, they’re different species.

Although the two look a lot alike — and are gorgeous for SUVs as far as I and all of the heads they turn are concerned — an X-ray examination reveals it’s all a façade.

The F-Pace was Jaguar’s first SUV (Jaguar)

The F-Pace is built on a chassis that’s also used by Jaguar’s sedans and the Range Rover Velar, but the E-Pace is related to the Range Rover Evoque. The F-Pace platform is primarily rear-wheel-drive, the E-Pace front-wheel-drive. There’s no missing link between them, the vehicles are fundamentally unalike.

But they do share a beating heart. Two of them, actually. They’re 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines, rated at 247 hp and 296 hp, and are the only ones offered in the E-Pace, while the F-Pace can also be had with a selection of supercharged V6 and V8 engines, not to mention a diesel.

But the more-powerful version does the trick in both of these urban jungle cats. It’s more than adequate and a good value proposition in the F-Pace, and turns the little E-Pace into something of a muscle machine. You’ll find it bundled in the R-Dynamic trim level, which starts at $47,395, a big jump up from the E-Pace’s starting price of $39,595.

But you get more than power. All USA-bound E-Paces have standard all-wheel-drive, and the R-Dynamic adds leather upholstery, automatic emergency brakes and built-in WiFi. Available options run the gamut from a 360-degree camera to adaptive cruise control and a full panoramic sunroof. Unfortunately, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration costs $300 for the pair, because they are necessities given Jaguar’s so-so native infotainment system. All-in, it’s not hard to tally up more than $60,000, which is a lot for a small SUV, but in line with Jaguar’s luxury competitors.

In keeping with its mixed lineage, the E-Pace features interior styling that borrows a fair amount of DNA from Jaguar’s F-Type sports car. Notably its pistol grip gear shifter and the grab handle on the center console for the front passenger, but also the overall vibe of the design and materials. It's not glitzy and glamorous, and there’s a bit too much bare plastic, but the look is sporty and unique.

On the functionality front, rear legroom is snug and the seatbacks don’t fold perfectly flat, which makes it hard to get the most out of the cargo space. But there’s plenty of it, despite the sloping hatchback.

As far as the ride is concerned, I have to tell you that my first few miles behind the wheel were a little disappointing, but only because I’d literally just stepped out of Jaguar’s new battery-powered I-Pace SUV. It’s about the same size as the E-Pace, but its seamless electric drive and supple air suspension system make its conventional cousin feel like it’s from the Stone Age.

Video

Once I reacclimated, however, the E-Pace revealed a solid blend of comfort, handling and response. It’s not the pure magic you get in pricier Jaguars, but even with the 20-inch wheels and thin tires that the top of the line R-Dynamic HSE rides on it’s never too rough, the steering is lively and the engine makes highway merges a breeze. And while you likely won’t see too many E-Paces intentionally going off the beaten path, those Range Rover bones give it some light off-road chops and the ability to wade through 20-inch-deep water. This is one kitten that’s not afraid to get wet.

(Jaguar)

All things considered, that Easter Egg is just as much about E-Pace customers as it is about the car, depicting Jaguar’s hope that newcomers who buy this entry-level model will grow with the brand. But that only works if their first experience is a good one.

It was for me.

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2018 Jaguar E-Pace

Base price: $39,595

As tested: $62,090

Type: 5-passenger, 4-door all-wheel-drive SUV

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder

Power: 296 hp, 295 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

MPG: 21 city/27 hwy

Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com’s Automotive Editor.

2018 Ford Mustang GT test drive: Survival of the fittest

The Mustang isn’t Ford’s best-selling car, but it will be soon.

That’s because it will be the only true car the company sells in the U.S., as the brand switches to a lineup of mostly trucks and crossovers in a couple of years.

It’s doing alright now, though. The Mustang outsells the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger here, and Ford says it’s been the best-selling sports coupe in the world since the latest generation launched three years ago.

To keep the ball rolling, Ford updated it for 2018 with mildly redesigned front and rear styling, more soft-touch trim in the cabin and an available full-digital instrument cluster. But the biggest changes are heard and felt, not seen.

(Ford)

Ford dropped the Mustang’s tried and true V6 engine, made its 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder the new base motor and gave the GT a more powerful V8. The 5.0-liter truly is one now, thanks to a switch from liners to spray-in cylinder coatings that increased its displacement from 4970 cc to 5030 cc.

A blend of port and direct fuel injection, along with a freer-flowing intake and sky-high 7,500 rpm redline help to increase output from 435 hp to 460 hp, making this the most powerful Mustang GT ever. (At least until the new Bullitt edition arrives later this year with a promised 480 hp.)

There’s a 10-speed automatic now, but a six-speed manual is still standard at the GT’s starting price of $36,090. Believe it or not, the stick accounts for more than half of GT sales these days. Either can be had with a few semi-autonomous driving assist features, including radar cruise control and pedestrian-detecting automatic emergency brakes.

Performance Pack Level 2 is accentuated by a lower, more aggressive stance, aerodynamically balanced high-performance front splitter and rear spoiler – all designed to add more downforce to attack curves for an exhilarating feel behind the wheel. (Ford)

That’s great stuff on the street, where the Mustang remains an excellent cruiser, even without the optional computer-controlled MagneRide shock absorbers that are worth their weight in gold, not to mention their $1,695 price tag.

For the track, Ford offers two Performance Package options that make it quicker in a straight line and a round curves. The first costs $3,995 and comes with wide, sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires on dark 19-inch wheels, a stiffer chassis and suspension with heavy duty springs, Torsen limited slip differential, Brembo front brakes, sportier stability control and anti-lock brake calibrations and a larger radiator to keep things cooler during hot lap sessions.

Ford claims one of these fitted with the 10-speed and set to its Drag Mode with launch control enabled will do 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds, while the rest of the changes sharpen the handling without messing up the on-road ride too much. It’s a nice compromise for someone who uses their Mustang as a daily driver but likes to put it through its paces sometimes.

(Ford)

If you prefer doing the latter most of the time, you’ll want to check the box for the Performance Package 2, which costs $6,500, but is mandatorily bundled with another $2,000 package of comfort and entertainment features. It steps things up with foot-wide Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, standard MagneRide shocks, more extreme tuning across the board, and a jutting chin splitter that produces downforce to squeeze the front tires into the tarmac and can take out someone’s ankles if you’re not careful with it. The only caveat is that you can only order the PP2 on GTs with manual transmissions. Sorry, lazy boys and girls.

(Ford)

Mustang Vehicle Engineering Manager Tom Barnes says the goal was to create a car that felt really alive. The kind of car that a track rat looking for the best handling might build for themselves, but with the bonus of factory integration and tuning for all of the modifications.

The incredibly responsive steering is the first thing you notice as those huge contact patches go to work, but the overall grip is monumental. During a couple of laps around a short circuit at the Monticello Motor Club, the PP2 felt right at home. It requires a recalibration of your expectations of what a Mustang GT should be able to do before you start getting anywhere close to the most out of it.

Unfortunately for me, it was a rainy, and those nearly slick steamroller tires turn into skates on anything resembling a puddle, so my time flying in it was limited. You have to tread lightly when things get wet. On public roads, the front tires keep your hands busy as they chase ruts and ridges in the pavement, too. Otherwise, a PP2 GT remains a very comfortable car. I drove one equipped with a set of racy and very huggy Recaro seats two hours from the office to the track and would happily do it again.

In fact, I did just that in the other direction at the end of the day.

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2018 Ford Mustang GT W/PP2

Base price: $44,590

Type: 4-passenger 2-door rear-wheel-drive coupe

Engine: 5.0L V8

Power: 460 hp, 420 lb-ft

Transmission: 6-speed manual

MPG: 15 city/25 hwy

Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com’s Automotive Editor.

The 2019 Honda Insight is a strangely normal hybrid

The 2019 Honda Insight is a very normal-looking car, which is kind of strange.

It’s a far cry from the 2000 edition, which was a tiny, two-seat, streamlined suppository with skirted rear wheels that was America’s first hybrid and is still the most efficient car without a plug to putter down her highways at 61 mpg. (It’s EPA combined rating of 53 mpg was only surpassed last year.)

Sales were much lower than its fuel economy, however, with a high of just 4,700 in 2001. So the Insight was put on hiatus a couple of years later, but rebooted in 2009 as a four-door hatchback that looked like a bad copy of the Toyota Prius it was trying to be. Unfortunately, it arrived at a time when Honda was off its game, delivering cars with refinement far below what was expected of the brand. Popular in its Japanese homeland, not even a perfect storm of The Great Recession and the highest gas prices in a generation could turn it into a hit here. Honda put out of its misery at the ripe old age of five in 2014.

Since then, the Insight badges were left sitting on the shelf at American Honda as the Civic and Accord and CR-Z hybrids did their best to take on Toyota in the gas-electric space. Without much luck.

But now, staying true to its decade or so lifecycle, the Insight is back, and you’d never recognize it. It’s based on the platform of the Civic sedan, but has a more sophisticated style than its sibling and none of the visual quirks of its previous generations.

2019 Honda Insight (Honda)

The interior is even more distinct from the Civic and has a high-end feel. There are large puffy inserts in front of the passenger and on the doors, and the driver is treated to an instrument cluster that pairs an analog speedometer with a multi-functional digital display. As with the Civic, the Insight is spacious for a compact and has a low and wide stance.

2019 Honda Insight (Honda)

Priced at $23,725, the Insight falls between the similarly subdued $23,085 Hyundai Ioniq and odder-than-ever Toyota Prius at $24,395 in the hybrid price hierarchy. But its true position among them is tougher to peg.

The Insight’s ride quality is unsurpassed by any car at this price point, regardless of what’s under the hood. It’s smooth around town, composed in curves and sportier than most, if not exactly sporty. It’s also quiet, at least when it’s operating under pure electric power. Which is often, but not often enough.

2019 Honda Insight (Honda)

Honda uses an uncommon drivetrain layout that combines a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine with a unit comprised of a generator and electric drive motor. The motor draws its energy from the lithium-ion battery tucked inconspicuously under the rear seats until the charge gets too low, then summons the four-cylinder to crank the generator. As there isn’t a conventional transmission, there also isn’t any annoying vibration when the engine starts up as there is in most hybrids, which is a boon in stop and go traffic.

There is noise, however. Sometimes lots of it. The engine, which is a little gruff, sets itself at whatever rpm it deems necessary to meet the power demands and just sits there groaning. Going uphill, it’s as if you have your foot to the floor and need to change gears, but don’t. No hybrid is perfect in this regard, but the Insight isn’t even close.

It’s much better suited the Midwest than the mountains. On flat terrain, the engine is used less frequently and runs slower when it is. The payoff for any pain is at the pump. I hit 50 mpg in the top of the line Touring I tested, which has an EPA combined rating of 48 mpg, while lower trims are listed at 52 mpg. That’s short of the Prius and Ioniq, which max out at 56 mpg and 58 mpg, respectively, but both are less powerful than the 151 hp Insight.

2019 Honda Insight (Honda)

All Insight models are well-equipped, and even the EX comes with a standard safety package that includes automatic emergency brakes, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, but without Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. The mid-level LX gets those, along with the camera-based Lane Watch passenger blind spot monitor and a 60/40 rear seat pass-through to a large flat trunk made possible by the modern slim battery pack design. Leather upholstery, premium audio, heated seats and those automatic windshield wipers that I know you must have kick in with the Touring at a max price of $28,985.

You’ll spend thousands more on a loaded Ioniq or Prius, so the efficiency advantages are pretty much a wash for your wallet. You’ll have to decide about saving the planet, not to mention your hearing.

2019 Honda Insight

Base price: $23,725

As tested: $28,985

Type: 5-passenger, 4-door front-wheel-drive sedan

Engine: 1.5-liter 4-cylinder with electric motor

Power: 151 hp, 197 lb-ft

Transmission: Direct drive

MPG: 51-55 city/45-49 hwy

Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com’s Automotive Editor.