2019 Chevrolet Cruze

It’s now or never to make an impression

If you’ve picked up a car magazine in the last few months, you’re probably aware that Ford is getting out of the car business in the U.S. and GM is now focusing (see what I did there?) on crossovers, trucks, and electric cars.  So you’d think that the people at Chevy’s small car division would be putting their best product forward in an attempt to change Mary Barra’s mind about killing off the Cruze.


Well, the Cruze isn’t the worst thing on 4-wheels, but at the nearly $23,000 price point in this LT trim, it should lean more towards “WOW” than “whatever”.  The base L version has a MSRP of $19,000 minimum and can go over $30K with the 9-speed automatic diesel with a few option packages and accessories.  It’d take A LOT of miles to break even and justify the diesel’s jump in price even with 48MPG highway rating.


The base 1.4L turbo 4 had a class typical 8 second 0-60 time with a not-so-typical EPA besting 40mpg on the highway on our 225 mile day trip.  I hope the tuners will try to up the boost and make an unsuspecting sleeper pending of course if the engine block can handle it.


For 2019, the Cruze gets a mild styling refresh to differentiate itself a little more from the slightly larger Malibu, but the similarities are still there.


I thought the rear end was a little too similar to the Corolla & Sentra.  How about some narrow LED taillights to set it apart?


The trunk was surprisingly large for a midsize car and even more surprising was the spare tire that has already seen some use.   I didn’t need the trunk at all during my day with the Cruze, so I left it alone.

After I turned it back in, I wonder if a previous renter hadn’t done some damage to the car.  There was a fairly loud ‘clunk’ coming from the rear at take-off that made me suspect that it had sustained some suspension damage that wasn’t visible without being on a lift.


The dark cloth front seats were comfortable and supportive and I had zero fatigue after 90 straight minutes of driving.  The passenger seat was not power operated and could only go 4 ways manually.

The cabin was quiet even during a brief passing moment of 80mph.  Judge all you want, but I didn’t want to be in the way of a fast approaching fully loaded semi truck.

The handling was pretty good considering the tires could have been better.  They seemed noisier than they should have been on less than perfect road surfaces.  Granted, GM got a gigantic volume discount since that was the standard issue tire across the entire fleet, but I’d be curious to see the difference on a set of high quality Michelins.


The driver’s seat surround was acceptable at this price point, but the dash and door panels screamed cheap to the touch and the eye.


Since I’d already driven and scoped out a Malibu and Impala, the radio and HVAC controls needed no learning curve.  It was odd to be in a car so new that there was still a never used radio station preset.  I liked that the USB and power outlet were prominent and not in the center storage compartment.


On this particular rental I purchased the prepaid gasoline option since the tank was about 3/8 full at pickup and that was exactly the amount I planned on using for the day.  The dashboard went from “53 miles to empty” to “Fuel level low” so I don’t know exactly how close I was cutting it, but I definitely came out ahead since the prepay was 29 cents per gallon less than the pumps in town AND the needle was below obviously below “E”.  It’s a similar feeling when your GPS says “7 hours to destination”, therefore I accept the challenge to make it there in 6 1/2 hours or less.


The dashboard is an obvious sibling to the Impala and Malibu and just as easy to read at a glance.  The 160mph speedometer is just plain silly.  If this car could reach 125mph on a flat road or even downhill, I’d be very surprised.

Things of note:
Don’t procrastinate if you want one, they probably won’t be around much longer.
EPA states 28City/38Highway and I achieved shocking 40mpg in mostly highway driving.
Would people consider a Trax instead of this?
Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
I liked the Cruze ok, but I have a few friends that have had one and they were maintenance and repair nightmares with very few miles.  I wouldn’t bother mentioning that fact if they drove like a Nascar driver, but that’s not the case.  Replacing the radiator once before it hits 100,000 is not ok, but replacing it before 50,000 miles is completely unacceptable.  I’d like to think that was a single model year problem or a bad batch of plastic that had built-in defects.  No way I’d buy a new one, but I’m curious what condition a well-maintained version would be with 75,000+ miles.  Since it was so super efficient and comfortable for two people, I’d rent it again, but only if a similar Corolla wasn’t available to scope out for a day.
Chevy if you’re listening . . .
What will fill the affordable fuel efficiency void if the smallest thing made is a crossover or an expensive hybrid?
On a scale from 1-100: (1- never / 100- now and forever!)
Buy it now – 15
Buy it later at half the current price – 45
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 50 (file most of those points under ‘efficiency’)
Oooh and ahhh factor – 20
Recommended to rent – 55

RIGHT UNDER THE WIRE before midnight.

Happy New Year! ! ! !





2018 Mazda CX-5

Favorite SUV so far?

Mazda’s SkyActiv technology has been around for a while now and the mix of power and fuel economy continues satisfy a lot of buyers in a class that is largely dominated by the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.


The 4-cylinder 176hp engine isn’t a rocket ship by any means, but 0-60 to 8.5 seconds is respectable for a SUV that’ll get 30mpg in a mix of city and highway driving.   The 6-speed automatic performed without a hitch under heavy acceleration or casual highway cruising.


The fuel filler door was unusually large.  When refueling, the option is to put the cap on the what seemed to be a slightly magnetic black pad to the right or hanging it on the metal cradle on the filler door itself.  It seems like a setup for a possible alternative fuel port.  An electric outlet next to a gasoline filler door sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but maybe it could be for hydrogen or CNG.  More than likely I’m just reading too much into it and it’s just wasted space.


The rear styling is obvious Mazda since the taillights have the same pointy cat-eye shape as the MX-5 Miata, 3, and 6 models.


The cargo area swallowed the poinsettia bush (way too big to be called a single ‘plant’) that a friend gave to me after the 4th Sunday of Advent.  Her forever curious dog was at risk of eating some of it and I didn’t know poinsettias can make dogs really sick.  There was no cargo net in sight which is common in most SUVs now, but it is sold as a $60 dealer accessory.


The front fascia, including the unmistakable grille, shares a lot of styling cues from the rest of the Mazda line.  On a positive note, how could the car overheat with a grille opening that huge?  The small headlights and the huge hood that nearly goes all the way to the fender corners really differentiates the CX-5 from everything else.


The lane departure warning and traction control buttons are surrounded by. . . 4 blank nothings.  I looked on the Mazda website to see what these blank buttons could be, but what a disappointment to learn that they are also useless blanks on the [supposed] maxed out Grand Touring.  After a little more digging on other Mazda models, the $7,000 less expensive Mazda 3 has the same exact panel.  What’s the point of that since the CX-5 and 3 are manufactured in 2 different places?   I promise I’ll try not to beat a dead horse about blank buttons next year.


The front seats were very comfortable and looked amazing.  The 2-tone leather and suede looked very expensive and if they age well years down the road, this particular feature should help immensely with future resale value.  My 2 weekend dinner buddies commented this was their favorite vehicle so far mainly attributed to seat comfort.  The rear seats were just as cozy and had the same suede inlay as the fronts.


The center console was an odd combination of buttons (first Mazda rental so far), but very easy to learn.  The NAV button is misleading as it doesn’t have standard mapped navigation, just a digital compass display.  The sport setting next to the gear shifter just means that in ‘sport mode’ that the transmission only utilizes 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th gears.  I think that’d help on a steep incline to prevent the constant downshifts, but not much use otherwise.  The gear shifter in manual mode would nearly do the same thing.  The mute button on the lower right was useful when talking in the cabin.


The climate control buttons were perfectly laid out and I wouldn’t change a thing.  Every button did exactly as expected.  The heated seats are a welcome addition to ANY car in December.  The passenger seat sensors were much less sensitive to where I could put a few bags on the seat without the need of a seatbelt to keep the warning chimes off.


The dashboard display was also excellent.  The fixed speedometer and tachometer were clear and sharp in all lighting and the changeable display on the right was also easy to see in any configuration.  The windshield wiper and headlight stalks contained no surprises either.


Is it odd to love a steering wheel design?  If so, so be it!  I loved the chrome Mazda logo and the polished aluminum inlay at the bottom.  The steering wheel thickness was confident and comfortable where ever my hands happened to land.  My employer will be relieved to know that I don’t use the horn on every rental, but a cell phone addicted guy in a Chevy Dually prompted me to honk at 55mph.  I had an Integra years ago that had rusted horns that became inoperable shortly after I bought it.  I replaced it with a 3-tone air horn that was so loud, 18-wheelers were confused at what was behind them.  The CX-5 didn’t need an air horn, but I’d prefer one with more volume.


The CX-5 was all business from the side.  There’s nothing really polarizing about the style except the unusually wide hood, which is neither good or bad nowadays, but it’s difficult to differentiate it from the less expensive CX-3 from any distance.

Things of note:
Entry MSRP is $24,100 for the base sport version, this Touring starts at $2,000 more.
Achieved an impressive 29.9 mpg thanks in part to the 6-speed auto and lighter than normal acceleration.  EPA estimates seem too conservative at  24CITY/30HWY.
A maxed out Grand Touring with every option and accessory is $36,500.
Imagine the fun with a turbo.
Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
I don’t have the need or desire to buy a SUV, but this is undoubtedly one of my favorites I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding in or driving – rental or otherwise.  This would be very comfortable for 4 people on a short in-town night out or a cross-country road trip. I’d be fine with being assigned a CX-5 again, although I want to try others in the class first.
Mazda if you’re listening . . .
It’s hard to mess with a good thing, especially since the RAV4 and CR-V engineers are always in the chase, but more than one powertrain should be available.
On a scale from 1-100: (1- never again / 100- every time)
Buy it now – 45
Buy it later at half the current price – 80
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 55
Oooh and ahhh factor – 45
Recommended to rent – 85

I’ll have one more review before the year end!  Within the next few weeks I’ll be adding “Unusual Cars of Iceland” plus my favorites from 2018.


2017 Hyundai Accent

Not the smallest Hyundai

After our Icelandic rental of an i10, I had to scope out an Accent to see how it compared.  This 2017 model (I’ve only seen one 2018 Elantra and have yet to see a 2019 Hyundai of any type in our fleet) was the only Hyundai available and it had over 30,000 miles on the odometer.  It is probably on it’s way to a retail or wholesale lot sooner than later.


The Accent is one of the few vehicles in our fleet that doesn’t have Bluetooth capability.  Granted, this is a $16,000 car, but Bluetooth should be a pretty inexpensive safety addition just to keep drivers focused on the road instead of a phone.


Compared to the i10 we had in Iceland, this 4-cylinder 137hp Accent was a rocket ship.  The 6-speed automatic was a much needed while improving fuel economy also.


The front seats were very similar to the i10 in that they were not very supportive on the lower back.  A long-trip would be very unpleasant even though the highway ride was much better than I thought possible in a car this small.


Rear seat legroom was night and day different from the i10.  This is supposedly a 5-passenger hatchback, but even 3 teenagers would be snug in the backseat as it is not very wide.  The rear seats were more supportive and comfortable possibly due to lack of use.


If you had told me the Accent would have a tiny cargo area, I’d immediately have to show you pictures of the i10 trunk!  The Accent’s cargo hold was easily 2 times and probably closer to 3 times bigger.


The console was very reminisce of the smaller i10, but lacking the extra power outlet for the backseat.  The light color interior has held up remarkable well considering so many rental cars with anything but black cloth or leather show stains nearly immediately.   The gear shifter felt surprisingly firm, but calling it ‘sporty’ would be a stretch; not at all what would be expected in a bare bones econobox.


The rear end has the distinctive Hyundai tail lights and rear reflectors that are common throughout their fleet.  After driving the Accent in the dreary weather all day, I wonder if any carmaker will figure out how to make the rear windshield wiper obsolete and use wind and aerodynamics to clear the water on the rear glass.


The center stack was typical except for the recirculate button seemed to be tacked on at the bottom as an afterthought.  The sound system could have been better if the rear speakers had worked, but the bass was impressive coming from only the 2 front speakers.  Purely coincidental that the SiriusXM radio was playing a weather appropriate song.  The Accent has a CD player, but for 2019 a CD Player is no longer available and Bluetooth is standard.


As shown in the i10 blog last week, it’s 4-speed auto revved at 3000rpm at 90kmh (about 55mph) and the Accent was much better off at only 1800rpm.  The digital center is very sparse as it only 2 trip odometers and fuel economy other than what’s displayed above.


This particular Accent was missing the antenna add-on that would have helped with radio reception in parking garages, but still worked ok without it.  I’d guess one of the many car washes this Accent has seen took care of that antenna a while ago.


LED headlights weren’t available on the Accent line in 2017, but standard on the loaded Limited trim for 2019.

Things of note:
No Bluetooth capability.
EPA states 26City/36Highway and I achieved an expected 29 in mostly city driving.
More than double the horsepower of the i10 and only weighs 500lbs more.
Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
The much improved Yaris and the class leading (according to some co-workers) Focus are night and day better than the Accent.  The Yaris is much more comfortable and the Focus’s we have in our fleet are mostly the Titanium loaded trim level.  That might be why the Accent’s are being phased out and not replaced as the company appears to be upgrading the segment’s class.
Hyundai if you’re listening . . .
Regardless of price, this is as small as necessary for the USA.  Please leave the i10 to the Europeans.
On a scale from 1-100: (1- nay / 100- yay)
Buy it now – 20
Buy it later at half the current price – 35
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 35
Oooh and ahhh factor – 30
Recommended to rent – 30

2018 Chevrolet Camaro

For the driver and a friend. . . only ONE friend


Before you think, WOW!  What was the Camaro ZL1 like?  The base Camaro doesn’t have anywhere near 455hp like the ZL1, but it was a capable performer even with ‘only’ 275hp.  Even so, it wasn’t too shabby with the accelerator.


The little 2.0L turbo 4 was anxious to go at the slightest tap of the gas pedal, but the exhaust note had no hint of the desired V8 growl.  It actually sounded so poor that I wondered if the car didn’t already have an exhaust system leak.  There’s PLENTY of space between the engine block and the grille for a bigger turbo or any list of mods.

I asked my friend in the backseat,

“how’s the seats back there?”

Without hesitation she said “It sucks!  If I was an animal, I’d be a turtle and just stay in my shell!”


The front passenger and I laughed of course, but after closer inspection, I felt a little guilty having both of my 5’7″ friends in either seat.  The front passenger seat was tight with the power seat up about half way to allow minimal leg room in the back.


My driver’s seat was back almost all the way which left less than 2″ of legroom for a poor soul that would have been behind me.  Needless to say, this is really only meant for 2 front seat occupants.  Even an infant car seat would be a difficult squeeze in the back.


The rear view highlights the wide body and narrow cabin.  Outward visibility from all angles is horrible, but as they say “If you are going fast enough, you only need to be aware of what’s in front”.  The base Camaro looks pretty good for a sub-$30,000 coupe, but it’s definitely a mild toned-down version of the much more in-demand V-8s.  Since this Camaro is so stripped down, maybe Chevy views it as a blank slate for the customers that want the endless add-on and customization possibilities.

20181222_101021I’m surprised that halogen headlights are still the standard and not the more modern LED or Xenon bulbs, but halogen blends with the retro styled center console.


There was very little storage space in the Camaro.  The center console has capacity for some spare change, a phone, a phone charger, and some fast food napkins but that’s about it.  Only two cupholders in the entire cabin would leave the backseat passengers to holding their drinks for the trip duration.


I liked what Chevy did with the retro styled vents, but they scored a big fat zero on practicality of the rest of the controls.  The temperature is controlled by the left metal trim surround and the fan speed is controlled by the right, but the fan speed dial doesn’t work when the defrost setting is on.  It seems you are at the mercy of the auto setting until you change the setting to ‘face’ or ‘foot’.  I fiddled with it at several stoplights, but it was unnecessarily frustrating to figure it out completely.  The rest of the climate control buttons were also very small and only lit by a tiny amber light.  It’d be very difficult to see what was activated in direct sunlight.  The standard issue 6-speaker stereo was very good and here’s an odd trick that improved it.  I lowered the power seat enough to where my knee wasn’t blocking the door speaker resulting in a drastic improvement of sound quality.  That was a strange first!


The driver’s seat was comfortable on my legs, lower back, and my sides.  As you can see in the picture, there was a strange crease in the seat bottom fabric that wasn’t on the passenger seat.  I can’t comprehend how that could happen without having permanent internal damage.  Did something collapse in there?  Someone enlighten me!


Compared to many of the other cars I’ve rented this year, the Camaro was one of the few that could actually get use from the steering wheel paddle shifters.  It’s a big no-no to track a rental car, but at least laps around a track would make sense in this [albeit] automatic Camaro vs. the Continental of a few months ago.  Also an oddity, I think the 4-cyl turbo could get near that 160mph speedometer maximum.  The 125mph (200kmh) speedometer maximum on last weeks Hyundai i10 would have been a terrifying experience.



The trunk opening was miniscule also.  I’m sure the wasted space setup is for the optional convertible top, but it’s really pointless to have so much covered dead air below the trunk hinges.


The traction control defeat and ‘Mode’ buttons for the Touring/Track/Ice-Snow settings was prominently placed like drivers would change that regularly.  Maybe for the SS or ZL1 models, but I think that’s lost on the target market 4-cylinder crowd.

We all know someone that had a maintenance nightmare 3rd generation Camaro and time will tell if the 2018 models will be the same or better.  I’m anxious to hear repair histories of the 5th and 6th generations after 120,000 miles of daily use.

Things of note:
MSRP starts at about $26,700 for the base 4-cyl.
Achieved an impressive 26.9 mpg thanks to the 8-speed auto. EPA says 22CITY/31HWY.
Top shelf ZL1 convertible easily can reach $75,000.
Imagine the fun at 400 fewer pounds.
Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
Not even when I was 16 years old was a Camaro on my wish list of first cars.  Granted, when I was 16, the 3rd generation F body was selling like crazy, but I never had a poster in my bedroom.  I’d rent one again, but only if I had no chance of having any people in the back seat.  Plus, I have yet to test out the 2-door Mustang or Q60.  There’s so many choices of 275hp vehicles that are bigger, sound better, more comfortable, and equally fun to drive to recommend buying one.  I understand that Chevy’s target audience is most interested in the name badge and 50+ year heritage.
Chevy if you’re listening . . .
How much weight could be saved if this was a 2-seater?
On a scale from 1-100: (1- nay / 100- yay)
Buy it now – 25
Buy it later at half the current price – 45
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 75
Oooh and ahhh factor – 40
Recommended to rent – 55

2018 Hyundai i10

Even smaller than it sounds

I had an amazing vacation to Iceland and this was our rental for the week.  Thankfully there was only 3 of us because the car was stuffed to the gills with 3 suitcases and 3 passengers.  I know all the pictures look like they were taken at sunrise or sunset, but this time of year, Iceland only gets a little over 4 hours of sun per day and we saw direct sun very little all week.  Add a mix of clouds and precipitation, and it looks like either early evening or 2am all the time.


It’s tiny in every regard except the front legroom, but that’s only if the seats are all the way back leaving only several inches of legroom for the [hopefully] petite passengers in the backseat.


I don’t think a car like this would fly at all in the US as the only attraction would be the price.  Size wise, the smart car is the only thing comparable, but it’s a 2-seater.  The prices of these start at 2.190.000 Icelandic Krona . . . translating to about US$18,000.  I talked with a local briefly about cars and he said that all autos are roughly double the price from the US.  That makes sense since this is one class smaller than the domestic Accent.  If you want a fairly common Hyundai SUV found here in the states, the base price of a Hyundai Santa Fe is $64,700 in Iceland.  Needless to say, every large vehicle on the road looked out of place!


I don’t think it’s a horrible looking vehicle, but it definitely wouldn’t be on my short list to purchase either.


Primarily the reason not to purchase is pictured here.  Powering the i10 is a 3-cylinder 66hp engine with a 4-speed transmission.  Luckily, it weighs just shy of 2100 lbs.  Hyundai’s primary focus was obviously the low-as-possible MSRP.  The jaunt from 0-60 can be an intimidating process if you are trying to merge into one of the many round-a-bouts in Iceland, but thankfully most of the other cars on the road are also tiny and slow.  I found a range of 0-60 times anywhere from 12.6 to 16.0 seconds, but I’d estimate the 0-60 was in the 14 second range as I can’t find an accurate count anywhere on the web in English at least.  It became clear at our first gas station fill up why smaller is definitely better since the only gasoline choice is 95-octane (!) and it’s about $6.70 per gallon.  The commonplace state-side Ford F-series trucks, Escalades, and V8 powered sports cars that we’re accustomed to are very rare.


At about 55mph, the tiny 1.0liter is pumping out 3000 rpm, which translated to an abysmal 33.3mpg overall for our week with the A10.  The mileage was so low that I questioned if the tank was full when we got it, but the gas gauge looked identical at pick-up time and drop off.  Most of the mileage was from highway driving to the touristy stuff, so getting to 40mpg would seem to be a challenge.


The ride wasn’t as bad as expected even with the loud studded snow tires.  I’m sure it’s a requirement of some type either mandated by the government or rental car agency that certain months of the year all cars need to have these installed.  My state of Kentucky allows unrestricted use of these road damaging tires, but 10 states don’t allow them at all and the rest have seasonal restrictions.  Luckily, the roads in Iceland were very smooth and well maintained.


The dash was very well laid out and crystal clear, but it’s very generic.  A dearly departed friend from high school had an early 90’s Geo Metro for several years and similarities between the two were borderline comical.  It’d be very easy to complain about everything the Hyundai was lacking, but simplicity is probably best when driving in a foreign country.


In a normal array of buttons and tech found in between the 2 front seats, all the i10 has is an extra power outlet.


The stereo was bare bones and no CD player or satellite radio either, but there was an unusual number of radio stations and 103.9 FM was an especially good one.  They played music on there that I hadn’t heard in years and missed hearing.  A very pleasant surprise was the heated front seats.  A huge disappointment was the lack of A/C.  There’s probably only a handful of days where cooling the inside of a car is necessary, but on more than one occasion we needed it to defog the windows.  The windows eventually cleared every time, but we were baking in the cabin until the inner glass was warm enough not to have inside condensation.  Use of an a/c compressor would have removed the moisture without baking the passengers.  We only saw snow 1 day and it was in the mid-30’s to high-40’s the rest of the time we were there.  Aside from the day of bone chilling 50mph winds(!) it wasn’t the stereotypical trip to the far north Atlantic.  Besides the auto transmission, I’d confidently say that heated seats were the only option on this car.


The driver’s seat was only tolerable for short trips.  There was zero lumbar support and the only useful adjustment was the recline, which would intrude noticeably to anyone in the back seat if the driver was over 6 feet tall.  The steering wheel mute button for the stereo was useful and unusual in the other rental cars of this size I’ve seen.


When we picked up the car, the data sheet said room for 4 adults and 1 suitcase.  I thought it was a joke, but we instantly learned that it was indeed a single suitcase trunk.  After adding a small backpack to the right, the trunk was as full as possible.  This car would have been impossible with 4 adults + luggage.

This rental car and trip in general was proof positive that Americans are definitely obsessed with bigger vehicles than necessary.

Things of note:
Huge difference in performance with extra passengers and luggage
66hp for a 4-wheeled passenger car would NEVER be ok stateside
It’s lacking a lot, but you get what you pay for.

Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
If I ever had the need to move overseas, the i10 would be near the bottom of my shopping list.  It’s borderline acceptable if you never plan to have passengers or the slightest inkling of cargo, but how can any car buyer guarantee that?  I’d be curious to see what the gas mileage would be on a 5-speed manual.  Even if money is tight, I’d opt for a larger rental or a used car purchase that has a little more oomph.
Hyundai if you’re listening . . .
The company must be doing something right because the i10, i20, and i30’s were all over Reykjavik, but a 6-speed manual or automatic would do wonders for fuel economy and performance.
On a scale from 1-100: (1- nay / 100- yay)
Buy it now – 10
Buy it later at half the current price – 20
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 15
Oooh and ahhh factor – 40 (due to it’s perplexing small size to this foreigner)
Recommended to rent – 30


2019 Jeep Compass Trailhawk

Shortest review Ever

As I mentioned in my Highlander review, this was my first assigned vehicle of the day that was an unbelievable disappointment at start-up.

I was on my way to a friend’s house for a dinner date and I got this tiny Jeep for 3 people.  Just two miles later, I returned it.  The cabin was tiny, the engine was loud and weak, plus the transmission was jerky when downshifting AND upshifting.


To pour salt on the wounds, the base price of these is over $28,000.

Base price!

That type of cabin noise is only acceptable and expected for a car at half the price.


It’s only redeeming quality was the interior where I expect is the reason for the inflated price.  The seats were black with red piping and stitching accents that looked great.

I may try a similarly classed Cherokee in the future, but no way I’d rent a Compass again if I was going to have even 1 extra passenger at any time.  If I hear enough outcry, I may try it again if I’m going solo throughout the rental.

2019 Toyota Highlander

You get what you pay for(?)

I initially rented a Jeep Compass Trailhawk for the day, but after driving it only 2 miles, I immediately went back in for an exchange.  More on that in a later [abbreviated] review.


At first glance on the side, it slight resembles a Grand Cherokee.  I think that’s in part due to Jeep has a similar styled wheel and the oddly distinctive rear tail light.


But the front is all Highlander.  When I first sat down in the driver’s seat, it was apparent that this was much closer to the base model than the fully optioned one.  The blacked out spots for the non-existent fog lights could have been made a little smoother.  The rounded center inset piece is even shaped like a light bulb.


This isn’t exactly an interior picture that would be in 2019 Highlander literature.  I think the only thing that could compare would be an old Ford Cargo Van with an am/fm radio surrounded by blanks.  Both of those just look awful and screams cheap.  I don’t think that’s appropriate for ANY vehicle that costs nearly $35 grand.


I see the styling cues to the RAV4, but the Highlander is noticeably much larger.


With the backseats folded down, the Highlander could be a viable option to Santa’s sleigh.  The Sienna would be only marginally bigger in available cubic feet of storage.


With the 3-person backrow seats up, I think 3 teenagers would be comfortable back there as long as the middle row seats were moved up a little.  But if 7 passengers and the driver were making a multi-state trip, the Sienna would definitely be the better choice.


The 295hp 8-speed automatic performed well although at 25mph, the transmission seemed unsure whether or not to downshift 1 or 2 gears.  It was acceptable, but it was not nearly as smooth as the Kia Optima (did I just say that?) from last week.  But with those 2 extra gears, the much bigger and heavier Highlander can deliver nearly 30mpg on the highway.


The center stack is reminiscent of the Camry from a few months ago, but the sound system was a such a disappointment that even the $19000 Sentra tops it performance and sound quality.  According to Toyota’s website, there’s 5 different variations of Entune and JBL stereos available for the Highlander.  The one on this 2300-mile example was the base Entune with only 6 speakers with the top shelf JBL units have 12 speakers.  As a testament to the width of the 8-seat Highlander, I immediately noticed that the tune knob was a long arm stretch from the driver’s seat.


The larger than normal steering wheel buttons were welcomed after several recent vehicles had a less intuitive layout.  Adaptive cruise control is standard, but can be defeated if the ‘cruise on’ button is pushed in and held for 2 seconds.


The dashboard is bare bones with only a narrow changeable screen in the center.  The trip computers relating to gasoline usage were spot on accurate.


Hidden down below the USB, aux, and 12v outlets is the traction control defeat button and other weather driving assist buttons.


I’d never seen a pass thru shelf for plugging in electronics for a passenger vehicle, but here it is! There was plenty of space on this shelf that went from the gear shifter to the passenger door for 4 devices to sit and charge or for simultaneous aux port sound system use.  I wonder how long the plastic cover will last in rentals before it disappears forever?


The center console could store more than enough snacks for a week long trip.  Toyota measures it at 24.5 liters or nearly 6 1/2 gallons.  There’s another 12V plug in and the tray is movable back and forth.


The middle row seats were spacious and the seats were comfortable, but lacking in the thigh support.

I’ve been exposed to previous model year Highlanders from a volunteer job I had a few years ago.  I would drive a 2012 Highlander Hybrid up to 300 miles in a day and it never had a hiccup.  I’m no longer associated with that organization, but when I left 2 years ago it had 210,000 miles and still going strong.  They also had a base 2013 Highlander that had about half as many miles, but still ran like a top.

I see no indication why this 2019 model would not have a different long-term outlook as far as build quality to any previous Highlanders.  Why would Toyota mess with a good thing?

Things of note:
MSRP starts at $34,500 for the base AWD V6.
Achieved a predictable 22.9 mpg. The EPA says 20CITY/29HWY.
Top shelf Limited trims can reach $50,000 with minimal additional options.
295hp is a fair medium for fuel economy and power.
Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
I know more than a few people that have early generation Highlanders and they are top tier when it comes to reliability.  300,000 miles is not uncommon on a 2005 with plenty of life still left to go and not even an oil leak.  I’d expect the same from this generation, but the hybrid battery is always hit or miss depending on driving conditions and climate.  I’d rent a Highlander again when hauling a lot of cargo or 6 other passengers, but first, I want to scope out and compare the Pathfinder and Explorer that are in this class also.
Toyota if you’re listening . . .
These seem to be the king of longevity in this class and it’s very telling when looking at prices of comparible used SUV’s with over 100K miles.  How difficult would it be to get an ultra-efficient diesel to the American market?   I hope for the 2020 models and beyond that SiriusXm will be standard in every vehicle.  I’ve recently been in various Yaris, Corolla, Camry, RAV4 models, and now a Highlander that didn’t even have satellite radio available.
On a scale from 1-100: (1- nay / 100- yay)
Buy it now – 55
Buy it later at half the current price – 80
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 40
Oooh and ahhh factor – 30
Recommended to rent – 75