Brady Holt
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2020 Subaru Legacy - Driven

2020 Subaru Legacy - Driven

Resisting the idea that sedans must become interesting

One automaker after another is facing a new reality: Most people prefer SUVs to cars. That’s nothing new to Subaru, whose cars have played second fiddle to its crossovers ever since it turned the midsize Legacy station wagon into the Outback in 1995.

A crossover before the term “crossover” existed — before even “car-based SUVs” had really emerged on the scene — the Outback was a Legacy with some butcher detailing and, soon after its launch, a higher ground clearance. Since then, the Legacy has dwindled from Subaru’s flagship to a minor part of the company’s lineup, while the Outback has become its No. 1 product. Last year, the company sold five times as many Outbacks as Legacys.

Other companies’ buyers stuck with sedans longer. That’s probably because Subarus’ famously standard all-wheel-drive system already attracted the type of buyer who wanted more utility than a sedan. But now, nearly across the board, sedan sales are falling as crossover sales rise.

Some automakers have responded by discontinuing their sedans. Many of the survivors are focusing on what makes sedans stand out from SUVs: low, sleek proportions and a sporty driving experience. The latest iterations of the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry have all dialed up their style and their performance chops. The idea is that if someone still wants a car today, they really want a car — something beautiful, something fun, something interesting.

The redesigned 2020 Subaru Legacy, meanwhile, isn’t really any of those things. It sticks firmly to the old-school midsize sedan rules: a smooth ride, a big back seat, a fuel-efficient powertrain, and easy outward visibility. And, just like it has for decades, it comes standard with the same all-wheel-drive system that you’d find in a Subaru crossover. There’s little pizzazz to the design, which is nearly indistinguishable visually from the previous-generation 2015-2019 Legacy. The driving experience isn’t zesty like an Accord or like some past Legacy generations. This is a sedan that blends into the background, and Subaru doesn’t use discounted pricing to lure the remaining sedan shoppers. Even the Legacy’s storied all-wheel-drive advantage is dwindling; the Nissan Altima recently introduced an optional AWD system, and the Toyota Camry is following suit this year.

The Legacy is a safe, comfortable, no-nonsense midsize sedan. The new generation is roomier than before, it gets better gas mileage (especially if you opt for the optional new turbocharged four-cylinder, which replaces last year’s thirsty six-cylinder), and it has a bigger infotainment screen on most models. If you think excitement is overrated, you don’t have to count out this Subaru — though we’re going to go over its shortcomings as well. Prices start at $23,645, including the mandatory $900 destination charge.

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2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio - Driven

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio - Driven

An exotic car competing against everyday luxury SUVs

“An Alfa Romeo SUV?” asked the older man parked beside me. “What does it cost to get into an Alfa Romeo SUV?”

“The base price is around $40,000,” I replied.

The man whistled, an automatic response to the stratospheric sum he’d clearly been imagining. Then he paused as the true figure sank in. He looked at his Toyota RAV4, a similarly sized crossover that approaches $40,000 with all the options. Then he looked again at this 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio. “That’s actually not bad.”

It definitely isn’t......

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2020 Nissan Rogue - Driven

2020 Nissan Rogue - Driven

This aging compact crossover still has the goods

It’s far too easy for car aficionados to dismiss an aging vehicle. “Just look at that dashboard — straight out of 2014. And that hopelessly uncompetitive engine, ugh; to keep up, it needs at least 11% more horsepower. Junk!”

Now, we’d never suggest that cars never fall behind the curve. Quite the contrary, it happens all the time in today’s fast-paced marketplace. But when a vehicle gets the important stuff right from the start, especially if it also benefits from updates over the years, it can still be a great choice in its segment throughout its lifespan. And that’s precisely the case we’re finding with the 2020 Nissan Rogue compact crossover, one of America’s best-selling vehicles. The Rogue still brings a handsome face, a pleasant driving experience, great gas mileage, and a spacious cabin. And it’s now laden with advanced driver-assistance technology, even on the base model.

True, the Rogue hasn’t changed much since its current generation debuted as a 2014 model. Yes, its interior still has the sort of humdrum plastics and plain shapes that most newer competitors have moved away from. And its 170 horsepower is undoubtedly on the low side for the segment these days. The Rogue isn’t one of the compact crossovers that brings a high degree of luxury, sporty performance, or overall pizzazz. But we’d challenge its critics to spend a week in one, study how it compares to its competitors, and still write it off as a tired relic. We found the Rogue to be a solid family vehicle at compelling prices, and we were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed our time with it — and with the glowing praise it received from passengers. Prices start at $26,39, including destination charge.

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2019 Infiniti QX50 - Driven

2019 Infiniti QX50 - Driven

A decidedly ordinary replacement for a quirky luxury crossover

Infiniti was early to what has become one of the industry’s hottest market segments: the compact luxury crossover. The 2008 EX35 was much more of a car than an SUV, a slightly elevated, slightly roomier version of the acclaimed G35 sports sedan. Infiniti bet big that buyers would sacrifice utility for performance — and it bet wrong. Despite beating most competitors to the market, and even after numerous upgrades over the years (including a longer wheelbase and a name change to QX50), it never made a splash. Later arrivals were able to emulate the more successful compact luxury crossovers and avoid Infiniti’s mistakes.

So not surprisingly, for its first full redesign in more than a decade, the 2019 Infiniti QX50 similarly gravitates toward the class norm. It became taller and wider, adopting more SUV-like proportions. It switched from a V6 engine and a rear-wheel-drive platform to a turbocharged four-cylinder and front-wheel-drive (still with optional all-wheel-drive). All of that mirrors such top rivals as the Acura RDX, Lexus NX, and Cadillac XT4, though a few other competitors still have rear-wheel-drive roots.

But beyond being merely typical, the QX50 is decidedly ordinary as well. It checks general boxes for the luxury crossover class without managing to dazzle. It neither fun and sporty nor vault-like in its serenity. Its infotainment isn’t cutting-edge. It has advanced engineering behind its variable-compression engine, but the real-world effect is less notable.

To be sure, calling a luxury car “ordinary” compared to its peers is no great insult. That means it’s meeting the high standards of its class, even if it doesn’t exceed them. So if you’re looking for a comfortable, quiet, respectably spacious, and generally easy-to-drive small luxury crossover, the QX50 is one of many potentially attractive choices. Prices start at $37,645 including destination change.

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2019 Toyota Prius - Driven

2019 Toyota Prius - Driven

The iconic hybrid still stands out from the pack

Every morning when I get to work, I wind my way up to the roof of a six-story parking garage. And every evening, I wind my way back down. It’s a good half-mile round trip at plodding speeds. In a normal car, I watch the trip computer’s fuel economy readout tick down as I circle round and round through the garage. But in the 2019 Toyota Prius, I can go all of the way down and even most of the way up using purely electric power — burning no gas at all.

That’s the beauty of a well-executed hybrid: It often uses the least gas in circumstances where normal cars would use the most: Bumper-to-bumper traffic, neighborhoods with a four-way stop at every corner, or crowded parking lots. As long as you keep a gentle touch on the throttle — and in these conditions, there’s no reason not to — you can watch your mileage rise rather than fall. And this isn’t a plug-in hybrid that costs more and requires charging infrastructure; the Prius’s battery recharges as you drive normally, capturing energy from the gasoline engine and braking friction.

To be sure, the Prius hatchback is hardly the only hybrid on the market on which such technology achieves similar results. The Hyundai Ioniq hatchback, Kia Niro wagon/crossover, and the Honda Insight sedan are all newer designs than the current Prius, which dates back to 2016. There’s even an all-new 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid, which puts the Prius mechanicals in the body of a brand-new sedan. All these models rival or even beat the Prius’s EPA fuel economy ratings, and they all cost a little less; the 2019 Prius starts at $24,725. But the Prius still has the best blend of real-world utility and efficiency. It’s impressively spacious, and it’s more willing to putter around with its gasoline engine shut off than the Honda, Hyundai or Kia are.

Toyota has added another unique strength for 2019: a class-exclusive all-wheel-drive system, which is optional equipment on certain Prius trim levels. The car’s controversial exterior design also got a makeover this year, though its equally contentious interior design (and aging infotainment system) did not. Nor did it get a horsepower boost to address complaints about leisurely acceleration. Let’s go through the full rundown on how the iconic hybrid fares in today’s marketplace.

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2019 Chevy Silverado 1500 - Driven

2019 Chevy Silverado 1500 - Driven

Few bragging rights, but not such a bad truck

In the world of half-ton pickup trucks, Ford has emerged as the market’s technological innovator. The F-150 boasts lightweight aluminum all over its body and turbocharged “EcoBoost” engines under the hood, employing every bit of wizardry to maximize performance and fuel economy without diminishing capability. Meanwhile, the Ram 1500 has doubled down on decadent luxury, with a gorgeous cabin and smoother ride quality. And the redesigned 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500? What’s its specialty? Well. It’s a truck, too.

It’s easy to be harsh on a redesigned vehicle that doesn’t clearly move the needle from its predecessor. And the latest Silverado is the model’s second-straight cautious redesign. There hasn’t been a radically improved Silverado since 2007. Even some famously loyal pickup buyers appear to be shifting their allegiances, with Ram recently overtaking Chevy for the No. 2 sales slot.

All that being said, the 2019 Silverado remains a competitive truck in many respects. Like all the competition, it has a comfortable cabin with an available giant back seat, a quiet ride and tons of optional luxury gear. Like all the competition, it has absurd towing and payload limits that make a mockery of the “half-ton” moniker. And like the other leading full-size pickups, its available V8 engines deliver strong acceleration and surprisingly acceptable fuel economy. All this is to say that Silverado is in the same approximate league as the Ford and Ram. It just doesn’t have a particular standout specialty, even at similarly sticker-shock-inducing price points. Being basically OK at everything isn’t going to win many hearts, but neither is it a complete disaster — especially in a market segment with few models to choose from.

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2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Driven

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Driven

A magical machine that only keeps improving

It’s so difficult to make a truly special automobile, and so easy to lose the formula over the years. If a great car succeeds, automakers are tempted to further expand its appeal — often diluting its original glory. And if a great car fails to attract buyers, well, that “problem” usually solves itself as the model fades into obscurity. But the Mazda MX-5 Miata has escaped those pitfalls, remaining stubbornly true to what’s always made it glorious. It’s tiny, it’s light and it’s relatively affordable. It’s low and rear-wheel-drive in an era where tall front-wheel-drive cars dominate. It’s an open-top sports car that’s devoted to driving pleasure rather than spec-sheet victories. It’s a survivor that only manages to improve, rather than be diminished, as the years go on.

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2020 Kia Telluride - Driven

2020 Kia Telluride - Driven

A three-row crossover that’s no mere family-hauler

As I photographed the 2020 Kia Telluride in a Maryland park, a fellow visitor peeled off from his family to ask about the car. It made sense. Full-size crossovers like the Telluride are the chariot of choice for many families today, thanks to their three rows of seats and long lists of amenities. And the all-new Telluride had just hit the market. But as it turned out, the man wasn’t eyeing the Telluride for himself. It was his teenage daughter who’d sent him across the parking lot to check out this newly released SUV. It looked cool, she told him, kind of like a Range Rover. And she wanted one.

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2019 Chevrolet Blazer Driven

2019 Chevrolet Blazer Driven

The Camaro of midsize crossovers...kind of

Think about what makes a Chevy Camaro different from other cars. Its engines are powerful and its suspension is beautifully composed. Its headlights and windows are sinister little slits. You spin its big dashboard vents to adjust the climate control.

The new 2019 Chevrolet Blazer transfers some of that Camaro magic into the midsize crossover class. The exterior design certainly evokes that sporty coupe rather than the Blazer’s heritage as a hardy off-road machine. And inside, sure enough, you spin the big dashboard vents to adjust the climate control. Even the driving experience is a little bit special, with nimbler handling than the midsize crossover norm and a powerful 308-horsepower V6 engine. With the Blazer, though, fun is relative. This is basically a shortened Chevrolet Traverse, not a tall Camaro. On the other hand, the Blazer’s styling sacrifices less functionality than the Camaro’s. Even if it’s less roomy and has worse visibility than most midsize crossovers, it’s still a midsize crossover — and not even one of those dubious “coupe” models that the Germans keep cranking out.

We’ve probably all heard critics grouse and grouse about the Blazer being reborn as a crossover, rather than returning to its roots as a traditional SUV. (Chevrolet discontinued the old pickup-truck-based Blazer in 2005.) But whatever it’s called, the new Blazer fills an obvious hole in the Chevy crossover lineup - between the compact Equinox and the full-size Traverse. It’s priced from $29,995 to $50k-plus and faces competitors that include the Ford Edge, Honda Passport, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Nissan Murano. While the Blazer’s relatively tight cargo space and fast-rising prices make it a tough sell on paper, it’s not without merit once you get to know it. Join us as we share more of what we’ve learned from spending a week in a 2019 Chevrolet Blazer.

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